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Jack LaFontaine debuts for Chicago Wolves

The rookie netminder picked up his first shutout.... in a 1-0 shootout loss.

Photos: Dale Woltman/Chicago Wolves

Game 36: Wolves 1, Stars 2

Goaltender Jack LaFontaine made his AHL debut in this game, yet another stop in his somewhat unconventional path to professional hockey. LaFontaine is the seventh goaltender used by the Wolves this season.

LaFontaine didn’t have much work in his debut game, facing just 17 total shots. Until the final minutes of regulation, where the Stars had several chances, the Wolves were actually on pace to allow the fewest shots in franchise history (the record currently sits at 15). LaFontaine spent long stretches of the game without seeing any action at all — in the first period, for example, the Stars had three shots in the first 5:39, and then no shots for the rest of the frame.

The rookie netminder looked calm and collected in net, without much scrambling or allowing himself to be pulled out of position. The lone goal he allowed in regulation came off of the rush, where there appeared to be some disorganization on the part of the Wolves players in front of him.

The Wolves’ goal came from — you guessed it — Andrew Poturalski, who converted just as a power play had finished.

Despite the Wolves dominating this game for 60 minutes, the Stars had the better performance in overtime. Jack Drury had the only shot for the Wolves, while Maxim Letunov had a stellar chance but lost control of the puck before being able to get a clear shot off. The Stars’ winning goal came off of a three-on-two rush after a Wolves turnover.

After the game, coach Ryan Warsofsky praised LaFontaine’s play, despite the loss. “He’s a confident kid. He’s calm. He has a plan on how he wants to attack it and he made some big saves tonight,” he said. “I don’t think we gave up a lot, but when we did, he was there.”

LaFontaine took the loss in stride, as well as his reassignment to the AHL. “To be a part of an organization like this, I don’t see it as a demotion. [...] I’m looking forward to what the future holds,” he said. For LaFontaine, the plan for his time in the AHL is to just keep playing and growing his game while with the Wolves.

Scoring: Andrew Poturalski, 1 G; CJ Smith, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A

In net: Jack LaFontaine, saved 15 of 17, 0.882 Sv%

Game 37: Wolves 4, Griffins 1

For as sleepy as the Wolves seemed against the Stars, they came out firing against the Griffins just a few nights later, outshooting Grand Rapids 17-2 in the first period alone. Games against Grand Rapids are always spirited affairs, with both teams racking up frequent penalties. This game was no exception, with the physicality ramping up as the Griffins continued to struggle.

A strong second period, featuring three power play goals from the Wolves, helped put this game out of reach for the Griffins. Stefan Noesen scored twice, bringing his total goals on the season up to 20. The veteran forward has already surpassed previous career highs in terms of goals and total points, and is just two assists away from a new career high there, as well.

Max Lajoie and Maxim Letunov scored as well, and while the Griffins got on the board early in the third period, their late-game push wasn’t enough to even up the score.

The Wolves are currently undefeated against the Griffins and have outscored them by a margin of 27 to nine this season. The veteran trio of Noesen, Poturalski, and Smith lead the way, with over 40 points between the three of them against the Griffins this season.

Ryan Suzuki played his first game since October 29. While Suzuki’s specific injury hasn’t been clarified, he did say that his return has been a long process. “It’s been a long journey, three months of hard work that the trainers and all the staff are helping me get to this point, so it’s a good feeling for sure,” he said.

Suzuki’s line got the opening draw of the game, and he also saw some time on the power play. “That was my first career start, so that was definitely something pretty special for me,” Suzuki admitted.

After playing 26 games for the Wolves last season, Suzuki looks to continue to develop his game here. “It’s a big step from junior hockey. The guys are bigger and so I think protecting the puck and working on balance and stuff like that is a big key, especially in this heavier game,” he said when asked about a focus for this year. “I think that’s just been the biggest thing I was working on this summer and, you know, just quick first couple steps and speed always helps.”

Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 2 G, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 G, 1 A; Maxim Letunov, 1 G; CJ Smith, 2 A; Andrew Poturalski, 2 A; Ivan Lodnia, 1 A; Sam Miletic, 1 A

In net: Alex Lyon, saved 15 of 16, 0.938 Sv%

Game 38: Wolves 0, IceHogs 1

Jack LaFontaine joined a very small club of goalies whose first professional shut-out also came in a loss. The Wolves and IceHogs dueled for 65 scoreless minutes, with LaFontaine and Arvid Soderblom both standing tall for their teams. He’s the first Wolf with that dubious honor since Jake Allen in 2014.

For the third consecutive game, the Wolves allowed a near franchise-low in shots against and controlled play for the vast majority of the game. The shots that they did allow tended to be dangerous, however, and LaFontaine had to make several excellent shots despite once again not facing much action.

With the game remaining scoreless through overtime, play turned to a shootout. Michal Teply and Lukas Reichel both scored for Rockford to secure the win; Stefan Noesen converted for the Wolves.

Despite the loss, the Wolves’ defensive play has been strong. “We want to hold on to the puck as long as we can, and then when we don’t have the puck, we want to be really locked in defensively with what we’re doing. And if everyone does their job, when we don’t have the puck, we play with good structure,” Warsofsky said. “We could suffocate teams and we’ve done that the last few nights, we just can’t kind of push over the top there offensively.”

Looking at LaFontaine’s play, Warsofsky said that he’s calm and confident. “He made some really big saves for us tonight. Some big grade A’s, a couple in overtime there. He’s got a bright future, he’s just got to continue to work and get better, just like every one of our guys.”

Scoring: none

In net: Jack LaFontaine, saved 16 of 16, 1.000 Sv%