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Veteran presence, consistency helping Wolves find success

Wolves win four of six games, including crucial wins over Grand Rapids. Also, Pyotr Kochetkov scored a goal.

Jonathan Kozub / Point Shot Phot

The Chicago Wolves continue to put together a solid stretch of work, winning four of their last six games. They have also won six of their last 10 and have points in a seventh allowing them to slip ahead of the Grand Rapids Griffins in the standings.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Wild, who the Wolves are desperately trying to chase down for a playoff spot, have won three of their last 10 games. The Wolves don’t see the Wild again until April, but they do have several games against Grand Rapids coming up that will be crucial if they have playoff aspirations.

Game 49: Chicago Wolves 5, Grand Rapids Griffins 4 (OT)

Despite the strong recent play for the Wolves, old habits are hard to break, and they were on full display in both this game and the subsequent game against Tucson. The Griffins ended the first period with a 2-0 lead, despite the Wolves doubling them up in shots (14-7).

The first goal against occurred off of a misread Griffins play. Wolves players all focused on Danny O’Regan, who executed a last-second pass to Alex Chiasson, who wasn’t covered. The second Griffins goal came after a Wolves shot was intercepted. Eemil Viro sent a long stretch pass to Joel L’Esperance, who went to the net. William Lagesson was able to chase him down and did a good job of avoiding a penalty while attempting to defend, but L’Esperance protected the puck well, and a poke check by Pyotr Kochetkov was unsuccessful.

Despite being down after the first period, the Wolves came back strong in the second, once again dominating the shot count (20-11). They also dominated on the score sheet, recording three goals in slightly over a minute. Max Lajoie, Jack Drury, and Griffin Mendel all scored to give the Wolves the lead.

A buzzer-beater goal from O’Regan at the end of the second period tied things up for the Griffins however. Max Lajoie lost control of the puck behind the Wolves’ goal line; the Griffins sent the puck out front to O’Regan, who wasn’t picked up by either Anttoni Honka or Mackenzie MacEachern, the nearest players to him.

Once again the Wolves took the setback in stride, with Lajoie giving the team their lead back just 2:38 into the third period. The lead didn’t last though, as Dominik Shine scored a few minutes afterwards to tie things up again. Shine’s goal came after a rebound off of Kochetkov’s blocker eventually found Shine, who had joined the play late.

Overtime belonged to the Wolves, who kept the Griffins without a shot during the extra time. The Wolves did have nearly two minutes of a penalty to kill thanks to a holding call on Antonni Honka with six seconds left. The Wolves were also without the services of Jack Drury, who had a minute of his own penalty (a coincidental minor with Grand Rapids’ Albert Johansson) left to wait out.

Honka ended up saving the day with 1:24 left in the game. MacEachern battled for a puck in the Wolves’ zone and, despite the Griffins fans calling for a penalty, ended up winning the puck. Ryan Suzuki set Honka free through the neutral zone; Honka evaded two different Griffins players while skating with the puck and then went bar down for the game winning goal.

Scoring: Max Lajoie, 2 G; Jack Drury, 1 G; Griffin Mendel, 1 G; Anttoni Honka, 1 G; Ryan Suzuki, 2 A; Ronan Seeley, 2 A; Mackenzie MacEachern, 1 A; Josh Melnick, 1 A; Vasily Ponomarev, 1 A; Logan Lambdin, 1 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A; Nathan Sucese, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 19 of 23, 0.826 sv%

Game 50: Chicago Wolves 2, Tucson Roadrunners 6

More of the Wolves’ old defensive habits popped up in this game, although unlike in the game against Grand Rapids, they weren’t able to stage a comeback. The Wolves allowed five goals through the first two periods before finally getting on the board.

Both Roadrunners goals in the first period came after sequences in which the Wolves had strong chances to score but were unable to capitalize. The second goal in particular came after a Jamieson Rees attempt; play quickly cycled back to the neutral zone where Roadrunners forward Cameron Hebig chased down the puck, splitting the Wolves defense in the process. Hebig’s shot was stopped but defenseman Curtis Douglas collected the rebound to score.

The Roadrunners opened the second period by scoring twice in just under a minute. The first goal, scored by Hebig, came off of a fairly innocuous dump in. The puck stalled behind the Wolves’ net; the Roadrunners had a strong forecheck and Ronan Seeley, the only Wolves player to get back in time, lost his footing as he crossed the goal line. Boko Imama centered the puck out in front to Hebig, who was unchallenged as he took the shot.

The next Roadrunners goal came on the power play, where Michael Carcone, who currently leads the AHL in points, scored from the same spot in the right circle that he nearly always scores from. The teams played to a draw for around ten minutes after that, until the Roadrunners picked off a Wolves pass in the neutral zone. Antonni Honka seemed to struggle to make a decision on which Roadrunners player to cover as Laurent Dauphin and Ryan McGregor both came towards the net, and effectively, covered neither, allowing McGregor to score.

The Wolves would get on the board with their next shift, however, thanks to Jack Drury. Drury’s eighth goal of the season came after a Wolves’ faceoff win where he easily skated in on the Roadrunners goaltender to score. After Drury’s goal, play slowed down considerably, with each team registering only one shot each in the final four minutes of the period.

The Wolves came out strong in the third, outshooting the Roadrunners 3-0 through the first six minutes of the period. Tucson scored on their first shot, however, with Ryan McGregor recording his second of the game. Jean-Sebastien Dea had an excellent shift where he outworked any Wolves player who challenged him; Dea’s shot attempt didn’t get to the net but it did land on McGregor’s stick, who was able to shoot over Max Lajoie’s block attempt and into the net.

The Wolves scored just over two minutes later, after Roadrunners goaltender Ivan Prosvetov turned over the puck after settling it down behind the net. Josh Melnick, currently playing the best season of his AHL career, scored from right in front of Prosvetov. While the Wolves outshot the Roadrunners 6-3 during the final ten minutes of the game, the four goal deficit was too much to overcome.

Scoring: Jack Drury, 1 G; Josh Melnick, 1 G; Logan Lambdin, 1 A; Jamieson Rees, 1 A; Anttoni Honka, 1 A

In net: Zach Sawchenko, saved 15 of 21, 0.714 sv%

Game 51: Chicago Wolves 2, Tucson Roadrunners 1

After struggling against Tucson the night before, the Wolves played a much stronger game this time, no doubt buoyed by having Pyotr Kochetkov back in net. The teams traded shots all throughout the first, with the Wolves penalty kill going to work twice. The current league-best penalty kill allowed only one shot on the first opportunity, and two quick shots on the second, but surrendered no goals.

The Wolves, who are 15-8-2-2 when scoring first, got on the board late in the first period. While credit was initially given to Vasily Ponomarev, on review it revealed that new acquisition Zach Senyshyn deflected the puck in through traffic at the front of the net, giving him his first goal as a Wolf.

The Wolves started the second period on the power play but weren’t able to generate much momentum. The Roadrunners had the majority of shots through nearly four minutes of play, but the recently returned Mackenzie MacEachern tipped a shot in as he was skating past the Roadrunners net to give the Wolves a 2-0 lead. MacEachern now has nine points in 11 games since his return from injury.

Roadrunners forward Boko Imama scored off of a Wolves turnover along the boards midway through the second period, but after that, the pace of play slowed down considerably for both teams. Both goaltenders were perfect through the third period and the Wolves ultimately walked away with their first win against the Roadrunners this season.

MacEachern, who has looked energized since returning from injury, spoke about his return. “It’s been tough, it’s never easy sitting out three, four months and then getting back, especially this time of year, especially when everyone’s playing a good style hockey and playoffs are right around the corner.” After taking some time to adjust in the first week after his return, MacEachern says everything lately has been seamless for him.

The Wolves know they have work to do if they want to climb back into a playoff position. MacEachern said the plan is to “just keep chipping away” as they approach the end of the season. “It’s going to be a fun end of the year. I think we’re kind of pushing for that last spot, which is going to be fun. [...] I think we’re having a lot of fun recently, that’s been the best part about it all. It’s enjoyable coming to the rink, so just kind of keep that energy going forward.”

Coach Brock Sheahan was proud of the adjustments the team made after previously struggling against Tucson, particularly in their ability to slow down the game. For Sheahan, getting players back from injury, like MacEachern, has been crucial for the team’s recent success. “Mac’s been huge for us in all areas, just his presence in the locker room, in practice. Obviously in games, we have more depth throughout our lineup with an NHL player, so he makes a big difference, really helps with the young guys.”

Sheahan also credited the younger players with improving their play as well throughout the season. When asked about some of the other changes for the Wolves since their early season struggles to now, Sheahan immediately cited stability in the roster. “I think that we’ve had more continuity in our lineup, [...] we’ve had some chemistry built. And then our younger players, guys that are first or second year pros are starting to understand how to play at this level and buying in to how we play.”

Scoring: Zach Senyshyn, 1 G; Mackenzie MacEachern, 1 G; William Lagesson, 1 A; Nathan Sucese, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Vasily Ponomarev, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 28 of 29, 0.966 sv%

Game 52: Chicago Wolves 4, Grand Rapids Griffins 3

The Wolves began a three game road trip in thrilling fashion. After going down by two goals in the first period, the Wolves came roaring back, scoring four straight goals through the second and third periods.

Grand Rapids’ first goal came after a sequence of extended possession, where goal scorer Chase Pearson knocked a shot down out of the air and into the net. Their second goal, around 10 minutes later, came off of a somewhat harmless shot from a distance. Kochetkov made the initial stop, but the puck was loose in the blue paint and Matt Luff was able to tuck it into the net.

The Wolves answered quickly at the start of the second period thanks to a power play tally from Vasily Ponomarev. Josh Melnick also had a highlight-reel goal when he evaded Griffins players and faked out goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. Jack Drury scored his ninth of the season with the help of some excellent passing between Max Lajoie and Anttoni Honka.

Ponomarev scored the game winning goal midway through the third period, off of a one-timer. The Griffins drew within one after they pulled Nedeljkovic for the extra attacker, but they only took two shots in the closing minutes of the game and weren’t able to push the game to overtime.

Scoring: Vasily Ponomarev, 2 G; Josh Melnick, 1 G 1 A; Jack Drury, 1 G; Anttoni Honka, 2 A; Jamieson Rees, 2 A; Malte Stromwall, 1 A; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Cavan Fitzgerald, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 20 of 23, 0.870 sv%

Game 53: Chicago Wolves 4, Manitoba Moose 1

I could tell you about this game, or I could just show you Pyotr Kochetkov’s first AHL goal.

You’ll be shocked to know that the Moose did not appreciate Kochetkov’s excitement.

Scoring: Jack Drury, 2 G 1 A; Ronan Seeley, 1 G; Pyotr Kochetkov (yes really), 1 G; Josh Melnick, 2 A; Jamieson Rees, 2 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 39 of 40, 0.975 sv%

Game 54: Chicago Wolves 3, Manitoba Moose 5

The Moose had their revenge on the Wolves after the previous game, which almost felt inevitable. The Moose scored twice in the first half of the first period, although a first period goal from Ponomarev and an early second period goal from Mackenzie MacEachern tied things up. The Wolves traded goals in the second period, with MacEachern scoring his second goal of the game (both on the power play) just minutes after the Moose retook the lead.

The Moose dominated the third period, however, scoring twice in order to secure the win. Kochetkov once again found himself getting riled up by his opponents, taking a tripping penalty late in the game which led to him once again wanting to fight, well, anyone who gets in his way.

Kochetkov’s two consecutive games of 22 penalty minutes has rocketed him up the leaderboard for penalty minutes on the team. Why not! Let’s live a little!

Scoring: Mackenzie MacEachern, 2 G; Vasily Ponomarev, 1 G; Max Lajoie, 1 A; Alexander Pashin, 1 A; Ronan Seeley, 1 A

In net: Pyotr Kochetkov, saved 23 of 27, 0.852 sv%