ROSEMONT, Ill. – Sunday afternoon came around, and the Chicago Wolves were riding an absolute roller coaster of emotion into the final leg of a 3-in-3 weekend. From seeing their 12-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt with an 8-0 loss to Rockford on Friday night, to having to scramble for goaltenders on professional tryouts (PTO) just to be able to play this weekend, the Wolves would find their last obstacle of the weekend come to Allstate Arena in the form of the Cleveland Monsters – a team that Chicago had lost every game to in last year’s abbreviated season.
The goalie du jour for Chicago was Daniel Mannella, signed to a PTO on Saturday, while Billy Christopoulos – signed early on Sunday – would serve as the backup. With Alex Lyon called up to Carolina and the next three goalies on the depth chart – Eetu Makiniemi, Beck Warm, and Michael Lackey – all injured the Wolves found themselves in a crisis in net, but as they had operated all season the mentality was “next man up.”
The Wolves still had a seat at the top of the Central to show they belonged, no matter who was in the net that day.
The game, however, couldn’t have started out worse for the Wolves. The Monsters went up on a Cole Fonstad goal just 35 seconds into the contest, and surely there were flashbacks to Friday’s horrific loss to Rockford in the back of the mind for the Wolves. Unlike Friday, the Wolves kept their feet moving and the Monsters responded with heavy, physical play. Josh Dunne led the way with several big hits targeting some of the Wolves’ skilled players in Jack Drury and Andrew Poturalski.
One of those hits turned into a power-play opportunity for Chicago that Drury cashed in on courtesy of a Poturalski setup. The tensions didn’t stop there, as Poturalski skated by the Monsters bench with some words for the players – a move that cost him an unsportsmanlike minor penalty.
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) January 9, 2022
Just over two minutes later, Artyom Serikov powered a heavy shot through traffic that beat Monsters goaltender Jet Greaves and put the Wolves ahead 2-1 towards the end of the period. Though that was all to be said for the scoring, the Monsters refused to let up on their physical play, and for stretches of the first, it appeared as though they were more interested in grabbing a Wolves sweater than they were in playing the puck. As a result, they skated into the intermission down a goal.
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) January 9, 2022
Early on, the Wolves looked like they were going to run the Monsters out of the building with their offensive zone pressure, but the game of hockey is one full of weird bounces and bad luck. On a Cleveland dump in, Mannella came out of his net to play the puck, only to watch it carom off the stanchion right to Jake Gaudet alone out front, who tapped it in for his first of the season. The Monsters would then step ahead and take the lead on the back of a power-play goal by Dunne at 9:44.
The Wolves just couldn’t get into the rhythm of their game in the second. Uncharacteristic sloppy passes, a distinct lack of communication in the offensive zone, and when they did find momentum, there was a penalty to negate it. Chicago skated into the intermission down a goal looking to salvage points from a rough weekend in unfamiliar territory with so many names missing from the lineup and, perhaps most indicative of all, being outshot by Cleveland 27-22 after 40 minutes.
The Wolves responded to a lackluster second with all guns blazing coming out of the gate. Poturalski, showing why he wears the “C” on his chest, came up with a huge goal just a few minutes into the period to tie the game up. From that point on, the wheels really fell off the Monsters’ wagon. Chicago continued to hold onto the puck for the entire period. It sounds like hyperbole, but Cleveland failed to even register a shot on net against the Wolves for the entire third period. When they did get the puck, defenders like Max Lajoie were there to clog up the shooting lanes and keep the puck away from Mannella. For the most part, however, the Monsters barely even saw the puck for the final 20 minutes.
Again – Cleveland seemed more interested in throwing Wolves around than playing hockey, and it fell apart for the Monsters when Thomas Schemitsch sucker-punched Drury after an exchange of words and then sucker-punched him again. Assessed a ten minute misconduct, one of Cleveland’s best defenders was done for the night, and the Wolves cashed in on the resulting power play as Stefan Noesen tucked the puck home for the 4-3 lead that would hold up as the winner. That was it – Mannella would never see another puck except for a fluttering chance with nine seconds left that was initially ruled a shot and then taken away. The Wolves put the vice grip on Cleveland and refused to let go until the final buzzer sounded and Chicago skated off with the win, outshooting the Monsters in the final frame by a total of 13-0.
- The best defense is keeping the puck 200 feet away from your net, and the Wolves epitomized that on Sunday. That responsive effort in the third period was one of the best the Wolves have given all year – a big statement considering the gaudy numbers the team has put up all year as they sit comfortably at the top of the division
- This coming week could feature yet another new name in net. Jack LaFontaine was signed to an entry-level contract by the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. A third-round pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft, LaFontaine is the reigning winner of the Mike Richter award given to the best goaltender in the NCAA. The hope is that LaFontaine will provide some desperately needed stability in net considering their current situation.
- Andrew Poturalski continues his absolute tear this season, becoming the first player in the AHL to hit the 40 point mark in his 26th game of the season. He has 16 points in his last six AHL games.
The Wolves are back in action Wednesday when they host the Griffins at Allstate Arena before traveling to Des Moines this weekend for a showdown with the Wild.
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