“They want to protect the goalies, and I think that’s the right thing to do,” Wolves defenseman Taylor Chorney said of last night’s heartbreaking end-of-game power-play, which ultimately led to a 2-1 loss to Grand Rapids. “What really stinks is just the timing of the whole thing, two minutes left in the game … it was a great hockey game.”
It really was. Both teams came out strong, with particularly solid defense played by the Wolves all game. An early first period goal from the Griffins, thanks to a smart series of passes from Tomas Jurco and Alexey Marchenko to Calle Jarnkrok, put the Wolves at a deficit that Grand Rapids held on to for much of the game. But the early goal wasn’t representative of play on the ice. Moments when Grand Rapids controlled the game were hard-earned and short-lived.
“We came out flat in the first five minutes, and then I thought we controlled the game,” said Wolves head coach John Anderson. The Wolves certainly played like they had something to prove. Defensively, the Wolves played a solid and consistent game; offensively, they struggled to follow through on multiple opportunities. But I’m not sure that these were the kinds of misses that you can blame on skill or bad hockey sense–mostly it seems like the Wolves are plagued with bad luck. Though the offensive plays occasionally got messy and flustered, that’s better attributed to the energy of the game and determination of both teams than to the play itself.
“To be honest, we don’t put a ton of thought into it,” Chorney said after the game when asked about whether the game’s low score concerned him. “We’ve just got to keep focusing on playing the right way, and when we’re taking care of the puck and skating, goals are going to come. The last couple of games, maybe not, but at the same time, it’s a good league. When you’ve got two teams coming together, it’s not going to be a 6-5 game.”
Chorney has a point. The scoring opportunities earned by the Wolves were, by and large, earned. The handful of “almosts,” that the Wolves couldn’t quite capitalize on were the result of smart, tough play. Of course, “almosts” don’t win hockey games, but they do make them fun to watch. In fact, most of the Wolves early shots were due to beautiful breakaways or clever stickwork, not messy scrums in front of the net. Though they were outshot 6-3 in the first period, they more than made up for it over the next two periods, when Grand Rapids was barely able to get more than a few shots off.
“That goes back to taking care of the puck,” said Chorney. “When we’re not forcing pucks through the middle and putting it in the right areas, that really helps us out, and it showed on the shot clock tonight.”
It seemed like the teams matched each other throughout the game. When one team got a little sloppy, the other team followed suit; when the level of gameplay picked back up, it did so on both sides. With just one minute left of play in the second period, that kind of smart hockey payed off for right winger Shane Harper, who earned the Wolves only goal for the night after the puck ricocheted of the post (and Griffins goalie Petr Mrazek) into the back of the net.
The third period went the way of the first and second. Anderson noted the game’s physicality, saying, “We try and finish all our checks. We’re not a big, strong team but we’re capable of getting in people’s way.” There were certainly more than a few points where gameplay got mean, more so as the clock ticked down.
(I maintain that the penalty box would be more effective–and more hilarious–if we made players draw their feelings in crayon while they sat.)
Goalie Matt Climie showed firm composure and made some great saves. There were moments when his team asked a lot of him, and he was able to deliver, holding off the Griffins until that last fateful minute when an ill-timed power-play handed the game to Grand Rapids. Griffins forward Patrick Eaves scored the game-winner with assists from Jurco and Mitch Callahan.
The Wolves will face the Iowa Wild at home on Wednesday, November 27 at 7 p.m.