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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

Rees’ OT Goal Caps Wild Game One Win for Chicago

Photo Courtesy: Ross Dettman

Rees’ OT Goal Caps Wild Game One Win for Chicago

Rosemont, Ill. – The anticipation was palpable heading into Friday night’s contest between the Chicago Wolves and the Stockton Heat. Both teams held strangleholds on their respective divisions since January during the regular season, and both teams romped through their divisional brackets in seven games each to advance to the Western Conference Finals. As the top two teams in the AHL, the stage was set for an all-time classic of a series that was to begin in Allstate Arena, with Chicago stealing the #1 seed away from Stockton on the last day of the regular season.

In the seven years in Stockton, the Heat had never met the Wolves in any game action before Friday night. It was going to be a matter of who could size up the other side and take advantage of whatever inch was given from two rosters deep in every position on the ice.

In the end, it was Chicago that found a way to come out of this wild affair with an overtime win that completely filled the billing of a heavyweight match to take a 1-0 series lead in this Western Conference Final.

First Period

As expected, both teams really took the time to feel each other out initially with absolutely zero in-game experience against the other side. At the end of a penalty kill, an effort shift from Josh Leivo drew a tripping call and the Wolves’ powerplay went to work. After a shot from Joey Keane found its way through traffic, Leivo picked up the rebound and buried it past a sprawling Dustin Wolf for the game’s opening marker.

Early on, the Wolves pushed the pace of play against the Heat, outshooting the visitors 6-0 in the opening half of the period. Stockton, however, would cash in on their first shot as a gritty shift in the offensive zone paid off. Luke Philp put the puck towards the net, which bounced off Keane in front of Alex Lyon and into the net to tie the game 9:11 into the opening frame.

The goal seemed to spark Stockton’s attack, as they got some great looks on net from Justin Kirkland and Juuso Valimaki that were met by Lyon. Two more minor penalties against Chicago allowed the Heat to set up with the man advantage, but the Wolves’ penalty killers were up to task. Despite the slow start, Stockton managed to outshoot Chicago 11-10 in the opening frame, but the score remained tied going into the intermission.

Second Period

Early on in the middle frame, Stockton wasn’t getting as high of volume chances as they had in the latter half of the first, but they made sure to make their looks count. Walker Duehr was able to get the puck at center ice, speed through and split the Wolves’ defenders before beating Lyon to give the Heat the 2-1 lead just 2:43 into the period. Less than two minutes later, Eetu Tuulola caught Lyon hesitating to play the puck and moving back into the net, banking a tight angle shot off the inside of his pad and into the net to extend the Stockton lead to 3-1.

Chicago had made a habit of climbing out of deficits all year, and even though Stockton had stifled their chances so far, they wouldn’t be able to hold them forever. It took to the halfway mark of the period but Jack Drury stole a breakout pass at center ice and went the other way to Jalen Chatfield, who fired a perfect low shot that beat Wolf and brought the Wolves within one.

With renewed vigor, Jamieson Rees drew a tripping call and the momentum started to shift back to the Wolves. Back on the power play, it was Leivo again with his second of the night, beating Wolf just in front of the crease to tie the game at 3-3.

The Wolves kept buzzing, piling shots on Wolf all the way to the buzzer, where he was forced to make one last big save before the period ended. Despite outshooting Stockton 17-6 in the second, the Wolves found themselves tied going into the intermission.

Third Period

The back and forth chances continued, with either side refusing to make that backbreaking mistake until Connor Mackey cleared the puck over the glass for Chicago’s third power play of the evening. Again, Chicago worked the puck around the zone, wearing out Stockton’s defenders for a chance to cash in. As it has been all season long, it was Stefan Noesen on the doorstep to put away the rebound on the Keane shot to restore the Wolves’ lead at 4-3.

That lead would last all of 59 seconds, as Connor Zary got behind the Wolves’ defense where a stretch pass found him and he beat Lyon to knot the game up once again at 4-4.

The intensity continued to build, with chances going back and forth for both sides desperately trying to break the deadlock and assert themselves in this opening game. A flurry of chances with the clock winding down was turned away from Wolf and for the first time this postseason the Wolves found themselves headed to overtime.

Overtime

It took all of 2:26 of extra time to find a hero – Chatfield sped around the boards in the offensive zone to open up space for Richard Panik, who fired a low shot on net. A collision with Wolf and his defender allowed space for Rees to pick the rebound up and bury the overtime winning goal into the empty cage to seal the Game One victory for the Wolves.

Three Stars:

  1. Josh Leivo – 2 goals, 1 assist
  2. Stefan Noesen – 1 goal, 1 assist
  3. Jamieson Rees – Overtime goal

Takeaways:

  • These two teams had been destined for this matchup for months and you couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the series. High-paced action at both ends, physical play, dramatics to tie it all down. This game is what the playoffs are advertised as and it completely lived up to the billing. How they’ll manage to top this one, we’ll have to find out on Monday.
  • The Wolves are going to have to tighten things up however. Some of the penalties were sloppy and took them off their rhythm. There were several occasions with a Stockton forward all alone unmarked in front of Lyon with free looks to the net. Still, Chicago is not one to bend to the adversity as seen here and they’ve shown the ability all postseason to find ways to win even when their game isn’t 100%.
  • Special teams was the difference. The Wolves went 3-for-3 with the man advantage while Stockton put up an 0-for-4 performance. Chicago even had a glorious chance on a Drury shorthanded breakaway that was turned away by Wolf. Stockton had the best PK unit in the league in the regular season, but they’ll need to regroup after that one.

Looking Ahead:

Game Two is Monday, June 6 at Allstate Arena at 7 PM CST. The series will then turn to Stockton for a three-game set.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinWolves.

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