With Pyotr Kochetkov’s AHL debut this weekend, the Chicago Wolves have officially used eight different goalies this season. While injuries have contributed to the carousel in net, the Wolves currently have a wealth of riches to choose from. Kochetkov, Alex Lyon, and Jack LaFontaine are all healthy and available to play at the moment, and all three have proven to be more than capable in net. (Beck Warm was reassigned to the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals today and is presumably recovered from his injury.)
For Lyon, the experienced veteran of the team, this isn’t actually a new situation for him. The 29-year old played two games for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2018-19 season, where the team ran through eight different goalies as well. (That team, by the way, set an NHL record for most goalies used in a season.)
“To me, this is just a minor goalie conundrum,” Lyon said after he backstopped the Wolves to a win over the Iowa Wild on Saturday. For Lyon, he’s taking the season day by day and isn’t spending too much time focusing on the increased competition for playing time. “My role is to go up [to the NHL] and play well and come down and play well and hold the ship here. [...] I take a lot of pride in being a jack of all trades, just try to bring a good attitude and a good work ethic to the rink every day. That’s all I can do.”
Game 44: Wolves 3, Admirals 4
Stop me if this sounds familiar — the Wolves had the lead, gave up the lead, and very nearly crawled back from a two-goal deficit, but ultimately ran out of time. That’s the story of this week’s game against the Milwaukee Admirals, which saw the Wolves leading 2-0 after the first period, only to surrender four straight goals in the second. Josh Leivo drew the Wolves within one on a power play early in the third period, but despite putting 12 shots that period on Admirals goaltender Devin Cooley, they weren’t able to find the equalizer.
Letting the other team get back into a game that the Wolves had well in control has been a frequent frustration of head coach Ryan Warsofsky this season. While the Wolves controlled the first period, they were slow to start the second and quickly let the Admirals take over. The Admirals, who have been one of the hottest teams in the AHL recently after struggling through the beginning of the season, scored just 22 seconds into the second period en route to dominating that frame. Former Wolf Cody Glass had a goal and two assists and led the Admirals with six shots on goal.
Scoring: Josh Leivo, 1 G; Stefan Noesen, 1 G; David Gust, 1 G; Jack Drury, 2 A; Andrew Poturalski, 2 A; Joey Keane, 1 A
In net: Alex Lyon, saved 17 of 21, 0.810 Sv%
Game 45: Wolves 5, Wild 3
Pyotr Kochetkov introduced himself to Wolves (and Hurricanes) fans in somewhat epic fashion as he gathered his first North American win in his AHL debut. Things didn’t exactly start auspiciously, however, as the Iowa Wild scored on their first shot of the game. Granted, it came off of a terrible turnover at the blue line, but Kochetkov looked slightly lost on the play. Even though it was a goal that most goalies would have surrendered without some heroics, the quick goal against certainly raised some eyebrows.
Kochetkov and the Wolves recovered quickly enough, however, with Josh Leivo and Stefan Noesen scoring power play goals in the first period. The Wild ended the first period with a power play goal, and then retook the lead early in the second period. Neither goal could particularly be pinned on Kochetkov; the power play goal came off of a rebound and some chaos in front of the net, and the other was a strange backhanded shot that Kochetkov could likely not see clearly because of traffic in front.
The rookie goalie stood tall through the rest of the second period, stopping 13 of 14 shots. Perhaps the move that has already cemented his place as a fan favorite, however, was his reaction after being barrelled over by Wild forward Kyle Rau and clipped in the face with a stick. What’s a young goalie to do? Oh, just stand up and challenge the visitor’s bench:
How do you become an instant fan favorite? Take a stick to the mouth then chirp the bench! #LetsGoCanes pic.twitter.com/qLfaDr2nX7— Greg Boysen (@GregBoysen) February 20, 2022
Kochetkov’s spirited reaction got the fans going as a spirited second period drew to a close — a period in which the Wild team was held on their bench until all of the Wolves had left the ice. (Both home and away teams access their respective locker rooms through the same tunnel in the Allstate Arena — fights breaking out between players as they’re exiting have occurred in the past.)
With the Wolves trailing by one, it was time for Stefan Noesen to take over the game. He’d already had a strong performance in the game, leading the team in shots and being one of the first to jump into the fray after Kochetkov was hit in the second period. Noesen re-tied the game early in the third period, followed a few minutes later by a Joey Keane power play goal.
Noesen capped off his excellent performance with an empty net goal in the final minute of play. Remarkably, the goal was his first professional hat trick.
Stefan Noesen @TheAHL career:— Mark Stencel (@Wolves1994) February 20, 2022
First 154 games: 5 two-goal games
40 games this season: 7 two-goal games
(no hat tricks in his AHL career)#IAvsCHI
Stefan Noesen has played in 194 career @TheAHL gms and finally recorded his first career hat trick last night (12 career 2-goal gms)— Mark Stencel (@Wolves1994) February 20, 2022
His 7 goals in 7 gms this season vs @IAWild are now the most by a #Wolves player vs the WILD in a single season
Wolves again play Iowa at 3pm today pic.twitter.com/xVJLhiEmsB
And, of course: the new guy gets the game puck.
Ladies and gentlemen, by popular demand … Pyotr Kochetkov. #WeAreChicagosTeam pic.twitter.com/f3nCtDiOOK— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) February 20, 2022
This was the 10th time this season that the Wolves put at least 40 shots on their opponent. They’re 7-3-0-0 when recording 40 or more shots, with losses against Rockford twice, and Manitoba once.
They've gotten 40+ shots 10 times this season!— Sarah Avampato (@WriteSaidSarah) February 20, 2022
10/16 vs Rockford (43)
11/17 @ Grand Rapids (48)
11/28 vs Grand Rapids (44)
12/5 @ Iowa (43)
1/8 vs. Iowa (45)
1/17 @ Rockford (45)
1/23 @ Manitoba (41)
1/28 vs. Grand Rapids (40)
2/11 @ Rockford (47)
2/19 vs Iowa (40) https://t.co/L6aw7jckR6
Asked about the win, which ended a three-game slide for the Wolves, Noesen cited the team’s commitment to playing the right way to get results. “I’m a perfectionist, I like things done exactly how they should be, but we have such a young group, it’s kind of the learning curve of being a leader and being a veteran, a captain. So just kind of took it upon ourselves to start doing things the right way again.”
Welcoming another goalie to the team has been easy for the Wolves, said Noesen. “You can just tell he’s got all the tools right there. We know we can rely on [any of our goalies] to make a save when we need to.” He also didn’t hesitate to stand up for Kochetkov after getting hit. “I don’t really know what happened on the play, I saw him go down and I kind of jumped in, but it’s important for him to know that we have his back and, you know, I didn’t hear about what he did. But I think he’s a little fiery and that’s what we love.”
Warsofsky commended Noesen for jumping in to support Kochetkov. “[Noesen’s] a team player, he wants to win, cares about his teammates, so nice of him to jump in there.” In regards to Kochetkov, Warsofsky was somewhat familiar with him, having watched him in the leadup to the 2019 draft. “He’s a big goalie that can move really well. He got really comfortable after the first period, it looked like. Settled down, played the second, third, period, and made some big saves. We decided we were probably going to start him when he got here, get him some days of practice and let’s throw him into the fire.”
The plan going forward is to continue to rotate between Lyon, LaFontaine, and Kochetkov, to make sure that all three are getting enough minutes to develop and stay sharp.
Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 3 G; Joey Keane, 1 G, 2 A; Josh Leivo, 1 G, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 3 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A
In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 30 of 33, 0.909 Sv%
Game 46: Wolves 5, Wild 1
The Wolves turned back to Alex Lyon to close out their weekend against the Wild in another performance that saw the Wolves dominate. The game started out physical, with roughing penalties being handed out within the first minute of play after a scrum at the Wolves’ bench. Clearly the officials wanted to set the tone for the game, knowing how physical the previous day’s match had gone. It only marginally worked; the rest of the first period was relatively benign but the second period featured six separate penalties and physicality after nearly every stoppage in play.
While the Wild focused on trying to play rough, the Wolves focused on scoring goals. Jesper Sellgren opened scoring when he jumped up to join the play, scoring off of a bad-angle shot along the goal line.
FROM WITH !#CHIvsIA pic.twitter.com/rpRCqv21FP— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) February 20, 2022
Stefan Noesen scored the second goal of the game and his fourth in two days when he was in the right place at the right time. A shot from Andrew Poturalski bounced off of the crossbar and fell to Noesen’s stick for an easy goal for the veteran.
Noesen opened scoring in the second period as well, which was the culmination of a wild (pun slightly intended) shift of play which saw an attempted clear by Wolves defenseman Daniel Brickley go awry, bouncing off of a Wild player and nearly careening into the Wolves net. Brickley recovered the puck to send it up the ice on the play that would ultimately result in Noesen’s goal.
Wild goaltender Hunter Jones was pulled after the Wolves’ fifth goal, a stoppable shot from CJ Smith. Zane McIntyre, in net for the second night, was perfect in relief, but the damage had already been done.
RUN. IT. BACK.#WeAreChicagosTeam pic.twitter.com/6vOPO09ssJ— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) February 20, 2022
While a highly emotional game like this one could be a challenge for a team, but Warsofksy welcomes these moments. “Playoff hockey is going to start ramping up in March and April, but it’s good. It’s an experience that we need. We’re gonna be in these types of games. Down a goal, up a goal, emotional games. So it’s a good learning experience for our group.”
On the back of his performance this week, Stefan Noesen was selected as the AHL Player of the Week. All told, he recorded six goals in three games and currently leads the AHL in goals. His next closest competition is Sheldon Dries of the Abbotsford Canucks, who currently has 26 goals.
Scoring: Stefan Noesen, 2 G; Andrew Poturalski, 1 G, 1 A; CJ Smith, 1 G; Jesper Sellgren, 1 G; Josh Leivo, 2 A; Jack Drury, 1 A; David Gust, 1 A; Daniel Brickley, 1 A
In net: Alex Lyon, saved 24 of 25, 0.960 Sv%