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Chicago Wolves opening night sunk by Milwaukee Admirals

After falling behind early, the Wolves pushed for a comeback but couldn’t quite make it all the way.

Photos: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Game 1: Chicago Wolves 2, Milwaukee Admirals 5

The Chicago Wolves opened the 2022-23 season with a banner raising, complete with their trademark pyrotechnics as the Calder Cup was presented on a podium surrounded by fireworks. The staff and players returning from last season gathered to watch three new banners rise up to the rafters.

The excitement for the start of the season, and the warm reception for returning players like Jack Drury and Pyotr Kochetkov, helped get things started on Saturday night. But every celebration has to end some time. The Milwaukee Admirals scoring on two consecutive shots in the first period served as a stark reminder that the defending champs are going to have an uphill battle if they want to top the league again.

Despite the always intense rivalry between the Wolves and Admirals, this game got off to a cautious start. The Wolves largely controlled play in the first period. Milwaukee didn’t register their first shot on goal until 4:24 into the period, and then proceeded to go nearly another 10 minutes before registering another. That next shot just happened to be a goal for the visitors.

With Jamieson Rees in the penalty box, the Admirals took to the power play. Veteran forward Mark Jankowski followed up on his own shot attempt by lifting the puck over Pyotr Kochetkov’s pad as the goaltender was already down. The Admirals’ next shot, coming a little over a minute later, also slipped past Kochetkov. Rookie forward Markus Nurmi was able to get into the zone unimpeded and unleashed a shot that evaded Max Lajoie.

The Wolves tied things up in the second, with both Vasily Ponomarev and Stelio Mattheos recording goals. Ponomarev rushed towards the net and lifted a puck over Admirals defenseman Kevin Gravel, who’d dropped to the ice to try to block the shot. Mattheos’s goal came slightly over a minute later. Mattheos won a board battle behind the Admirals net and managed to get the puck out to Tuukka Tieksola. Tieksola’s shot was stopped by Admirals goaltender Devin Cooley, but the rebound came out to Mattheos, who converted on his chance.

The Wolves largely controlled the second period, but a scrum at the net in the final minute of play gave the Admirals the advantage again. With seemingly all players converged on the net, forward Tim Schaller poked the puck into the net for the Admirals’ third goal of the night.

Late in the third period, it looked like the Wolves had evened things up again, when a puck deflected off of Mackenzie MacEachern’s skate. A lengthy review ensued, however, and the goal was overturned. MacEachern was determined to have kicked the puck into the net, a call which he disagreed with. “Yeah, it did hit my skate, obviously,” he said. “Do I think it was kicking motion? No, but I’m a player, they’re there to ref and to make the calls. It is what it is, it’s a part of the game.”

The Admirals recorded two quick goals at the end of the third period, including a goal from Roland McKeown which was set up by former Wolf Phil Tomasino, and an empty net goal with 48 seconds left.

Overall, this was a relatively clean game between the two rivals with only three penalties being issued, and one of those was handed out in the final seven seconds of the game. Of course, things had to get spicy at some point, with a good amount of pushing and shoving after the final whistle. Pyotr Kochetkov drew cheers when he skated up to Cooley at center ice; the confrontation was short lived, however, as officials swiftly skated in to break things up.

From coach Brock Sheahan’s perspective, he thought his team had a decent start. Milwaukee’s power play goal, however, changed the tone. “Once they scored the power play goal, our level dropped. They took control, got that second goal,” he said. “I liked our push back at the end of the first. [...] Our structure wasn’t great, I’d like to see us give up a little bit less, but on the whole, I think we generated more.”

The chemistry between players is a work in progress, too. Like any early-season hockey, the game was marked by many pucks missing their passing targets while players grow to learn each other’s tendencies and positioning. With very little time to prepare — both preseason games largely featured depth players and players loaned from the ECHL, while the bulk of the Wolves were at the Hurricanes training camp and NHL preseason — Sheahan admits that he’s still learning who will be best paired together. “I stuck pretty true to the lines that we had. I thought we were going pretty well, made a few adjustments as we went on there in the third, but that’ll be a work in progress,” he said. “Some practice, and just getting to know each player, too. I got an idea when we were in Carolina but seeing them with us more will help with that.”

Thanks to the peculiarities of AHL scheduling, the Wolves have nearly a week off before their next game, when they face Manitoba on Friday, then head to Rockford on Saturday night. They’ll have plenty of time to get some solid practice in and work on developing some chemistry on their lines.

Scoring: Stelio Mattheos, 1 G; Vasily Ponomarev, 1 G; Anttoni Honka, 1 A; Noel Gunler, 1 A; Tuukka Tieksola, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 18 of 22, 0.818 sv%