There’s something really magical about AHL intro ceremonies. From the actual fireworks to the pillars of fire rising from the structures that I imagine are meant to represent two wolves, there’s something at once solemn and hilarious about the way the ice lights up as the players skate out.
This was especially true last night as the Chicago Wolves took on the Grand Rapids Griffins, seeking to extend their win streak to five games. “Solemn and hilarious” is probably the best way to describe the feel of much of the game: we saw a focused passing game and a solid performance by goalie Matt Climie, coupled with an inordinate amount of broken sticks and more than a handful of whiffs and missed passes from both teams. When both teams played well, they played beautifully; when they didn’t, it felt like watching the initial montage in The Mighty Ducks. To be fair, miscommunication and failed passes happen in hockey. It’s a fast-paced game, and you can’t be everywhere at once. And I will say that the majority of the game was characterized by smart passes and clever hockey. Still: somebody needs to buy these guys some better equipment.
The Griffins’ Ryan Sproul nabbed the first goal a little less than halfway through the first period, but the Wolves didn’t relinquish control for long. Just a few minutes later, Nathan Longpre scored a gorgeous short-handed goal by wrapping his stick around the net to catch Griffins goaltender Tom McCollum out of his crease. After the game, Wolves head coach John Anderson called Longpre the team’s fastest skater, particularly in terms of getting to the puck. Longpre certainly showed it in the game, registering one goal and two assists by the time the third period came to a close. Of the goal, he said that the team had been told to “be aggressive on our PK,” which was apparently advice that he took to heart.
After the Wolves goal to tie the game at 1-1, the energy on the ice shifted. Play got faster, and a bit more brutal; several times over the course of the game fights wanted to break out and were broken up by the linesmen. Frankly, I’m glad the fights weren’t allowed to play out. The game didn’t need it–both teams were playing well, the energy was up, and nobody had delivered a particularly dirty hit that needed avenging. These were just examples of frustration at the close score devolving to the lowest common denominator, not the noble “on-ice policing,” that we all like to pretend fighting is.
Maybe the increase in the game’s speed can be blamed, but after the second goal, the Wolves seemed to struggle to make their passes connect. There were several widely missed passes and miscommunications on their part, while the Griffins seemed to hold it together. The period ended with the Wolves on a two man advantage.
The second period was only four minutes deep when Sergey Andronov scored his season’s first goal thanks to a series of beautiful passes from Cade Fairchild and Longpre. Shortly after, Dmitrij Jaskin padded the one-goal lead with a goal of his own thanks to a pass from Fairchild and Corey Locke.
Despite giving up a goal to Griffins center David McIntyre just a few short minutes later, and the equalizer less than a minute into the third period thanks to a smart backhand from right winger Tomas Jurco, Matt Climie played a strong game. His record going into the match was a rough 0-3-0, so this was an important battle for him. “It’s been kind of a tough start, for the team and me personally, so it’s nice to continue that momentum and continue the streak,” he said after the game. “Definitely the anxiety was there… it was tough to kind of get a feel for the game. But I felt that as the game kind of moved on, I felt more comfortable and felt my game was getting better.”
Arguably Climie proved himself best in that last period. After the equalizing goal from Jurco, the Wolves had a few panicked minutes, with messy shots and scattered passes. The passes seemed to fall through mostly when they were a surprise. That is, when a sudden opportunity presented itself, only half of the party seemed aware of it, and the other let the puck slide by. Maybe this comes down to on-ice communication or maybe just hockey sense.
A delightful short-handed goal from Taylor Chorney–tying the franchise record for shorties in a game–would ultimately be the game-winner. Of the record-tie, Coach Anderson joked, “Yeah, we’re taking penalties just so we can score goals, because our power play isn’t doing so good.” Personally, I thought that when the Wolves gave themselves time to think and make smart passes, their power play looked fine–but then again, I’m a Columbus fan, so maybe my idea of a good power play is kind of skewed.
As the clock wound down, more time than the Wolves would have liked was spent in their zone, and Climie showed that his three consecutive losses were not indicative of his talent or ability. He kept his composure as the puck stayed right in front of his crease, and despite the mess Climie kept the net clean to bring the Wolves to victory.
“It was jut one of those things, just kind of for the guys,” Climie said of those frantic last seconds. “I knew they’d battled hard for me all game and I just kind of had to do my job and keep the puck out and keep the wind streak alive.”
Well, he did.
The Wolves next match is against this Friday at 7 p.m. for an Amtrak Rivalry contest. They will once again face Grand Rapids at home on Saturday, November 23 at 7 p.m.