The NHL Lockout has finally been resolved, giving me a constant flow of Canucks stories to cover. Not to worry, however, I'll still provide your weekly Wolves updates. Since starting this series, I have grown quite fond of the Canucks' farm team, and I'd like to keep it that way and help others realize how great this team really is.
Last week, the Wolves had come off a 1-2-0-0 stretch to fall to 12th in the conference. During the first week of January, the team had games against the Milwaukee Admirals, Grand Rapids Griffins and Oklahoma City Barons, with the Wolves in desperate need to climb further up the standings.
Let's see if they pulled through.
Thursday, Jan. 03: Chicago @ Milwaukee
After three days off, the Wolves met up with the Admirals (Nashville Predators' farm team) on Thursday. Assistant Captain Andrew Gordon opened the scoring just over half way through the first, but Milwaukee blueliner Victor Bartley answered just two minutes later. Kevin Henderson gave the Admirals the lead in the second, but Jordan Schroeder and Darren Haydar would each tally to send the visiting Wolves to the dressing room up one. Chicago wasn't able to expand on its lead, however, opening the door for Mark Van Guilder to tie the game early in the third. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, which seemed headed for overtime, Austin Watson of Milwaukee put one past Matt Climie to rile up the home crowd and send Chicago packing empty handed.
No Chicago players really stood out in this tilt, although Gordon did receive a third star for his efforts, which resulted in his sixth goal of the season. Gordon also picked up an assist on Schroeder's power-play goal in the second.
Saturday, Jan. 05: Grand Rapids @ Chicago
Chicago returned home after their loss in Milwaukee to face the highly skilled Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings' farm team). Canuck prospect Zack Kassian broke the ice halfway through the first, but the Griffins answered with two quick goals from Luke Glendening and Gustav Nyqvist. Early in the second, Glenending added his second of the game to put Grand Rapids up 3-1 heading into the final frame. The Wolves managed to make a game of it in the third with goals from Andrew Ebbett and Mark Matheson to send the game to overtime. Five minutes was not enough for a conclusion, as the two teams needed a shootout to settle the game. Despite Haydar scoring the first goal of the shootout, Tomas Tatar and Chad Billins of Grand Rapids came up big, each scoring to give the Griffins the victory.
Chicago played a strong game, and some positives can be taken from the fact they fought for a point despite being down 3-1 going into the third. Both Ebbett and Matheson received stars in the game. Ebbett had one goal and one assist, while Matheson scored the third Wolves' goal to tie the game in the third.
The defeat was Matt Climie's fifth loss in a row after starting December with five wins in six games.
Sunday, Jan. 06: Oklahoma City @ Chicago
Does the loss of players to the Canucks training camp help or hurt the Wolves in comparison to other teams?
Finally, we have Sunday, Jan. 6: the Christmas morning of the hockey world. The lockout resolution didn't just mean the NHL would be back, but that every AHL team would be losing a few players to NHL training camp, if not for the entire season. This forced the Wolves to play without Kassian, Ebbett, Schroeder and Chris Tanev—but the losses to Oklahoma City were much more costly. The Barons will now (for the remainder of the season) play without Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz (who currently lead the AHL in points by a significant margin) and fellow NHL star Taylor Hall.
After Brad Hunt scored Chicago's third unanswered goal to put the Wolves (or what was left of them) up 3-1 in the second, Oklahoma City answered with two of their own to notch it up at three. Luckily, Chicago went on a tear in the final 13 minutes with goals from Brett Sterling and Derek Joslin, as well as a short-handed empty netter from Andrew Gordon to trump the Barons 6-3.
Matt Climie ended his five-game losing streak with 42 saves on 45 shots, while Sterling and Joslin picked up the first and second stars of the game. Sterling picked up two assists in addition to the game winner in the third period. His second assist of the game on Hunt's goal marked the 400th point of his AHL career. Joslin scored his first and second goal of the season in his 27th game.
With a 1-1-0-1 record and three of a possible six points this week, the Wolves remained idle in 12th place in the Western standings but still have games in hand against the rest of the conference. The upcoming week is a slow one for the Wolves, who play just two games on Friday and Saturday, both in Abbotsford. The Heat are currently sixth in the West with a 17-10-3-4 record.
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