Hungry like the Wolves is an ongoing feature on Pass it to Bulis during the lockout, wherein we keep an eye on the Canucks prospects and property currently playing for the Wolves as it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to Canucks hockey for quite some time.
The AHL regular season kicked off this past weekend, with the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves playing the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, on back-to-back nights. You would think the combination of the NHL lockout and Blackhawks prospects playing in Chicago would lead to sellouts at Allstate Arena, but that just wasn’t the case.
The Wolves’ season opener on Saturday drew a very good crowd of 14,505, more than 6000 above their average attendance last season but still over 2000 short of capacity. Their game on Sunday was more sparsely attended, with 5113 in attendance. That said, those are still solid attendance numbers for the AHL, though I suspect the Wolves were hoping for more.
There are several players currently with the Wolves that would be with the Canucks if the NHL season had started on time, particularly with Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler, and Jason Garrison all injured. Jordan Schroeder likely would have the opportunity to play as the Canucks’ second line center, while Kevin Connauton, Yann Sauve, Adam Polasek, and Derek Joslin would have battled in training camp to be the 6th and 7th defencemen.
Even without the injuries, Chris Tanev, Andrew Ebbett, and Zack “Frequently Asked Questions” Kassian would have started the season with the Canucks, with Steve Pinizzotto also having a shot at a job on the fourth line, depending on whether Mike Gillis signed a free agent to fill the third line centre position or expected one of Maxim Lapierre or Manny Malhotra to take that job. Even Eddie Lack might have been with the Canucks if Roberto Luongo had been traded before the season started
Other Canucks prospects in action with the Wolves are Peter Andersson, Anton Rodin, Bill Sweatt, Alex Friesen, Alexandre Mallet, and Stefan Schneider.
The Wolves started the season with two wins, thanks to some key contributions by members of the Canucks’ organization.
October 13: Wolves 1 – 0 IceHogs (SO)
Jordan Schroeder, Bill Sweatt and Darren Haydar had the shootout goals as Scott Arniel won in his Wolves coaching debut.
Lack’s performance was the main reason for that, especially since the Wolves failed to capitalize on six power plays. He kept it scoreless with a pad save on a partial breakaway by Brandon Pirri late in the third and made quality stops throughout.
“I didn’t get my first shootout win until January last year, so this a little different to get it in the first game,” said Lack, who improved to 3-3 in shootouts with the Wolves after losing his first three. “It was a pretty good start for me and the team.”
Eddie Lack earned the shutout and was named the evening’s first star. He was generally solid, and didn’t miss a beat after being bowled over by Icehogs enforcer Brandon Bolig, but he was the second best goalie on the evening. Obviously you can’t argue with a shutout, and Lack was solid in the shootout (stopping three of four Rockford shooters) but he had an easier task than Hutton and had some puck-handling difficulties at times. On one particular sequence late in the first, Lack was caught nearly four feet out of his net on a Rockford scoring chances, though luckily the shot was blocked by one of Lack’s Wolves teammates.
I was very impressed with Kevin Connauton on Friday. When people talk about Connauton’s offensive game, his powerful shot and his defensive improvements – they often neglect to mention the fact that he’s got legitimate NHL size. Connauton is a big defender, and he did well to use his size to his advantage against the boards in Friday’s game. His speed, and offensive instincts are what set him apart however, and Connauton regularly gained the zone with his feet on Friday evening, and took three scoring chances for the Wolves (all of them off of one-timers).
Rodin, however, looks to be an improved asset. We expect him to flash some skill and puck handle extraordinarily well in traffic, but Rodin continues to impress me with his craftiness along the wall and appeared to me to be stronger in puck-battles tonight than what he showed last season.
October 14: Wolves 5 – 3 IceHogs
Zack Kassian isn’t going to score the pretty goals for the Wolves. But he will do the hard work necessary for someone else to score the pretty ones.
Using his large frame and good hands, Kassian battled along the boards in the Rockford zone before finding Bill Sweatt for a one-timer that capped a 5-3 victory for the Wolves on Sunday in front of 5,113 fans at Allstate Arena.
“Those are the things he needs to do,” Wolves coach Scott Arniel said of Kassian. “For him it’s not the tap-dancing, play-on-the-outside kind of game.”
Kassian also sent a buzz through the crowd when he laid out Ryan Stanton behind the IceHogs’ goal with a crushing hit late in the second period.
“I need to be a physical force out there,” Kassian said. “When guys have their heads down, I need to finish people. That was the perfect location to do so.”
Kevin Connauton looks ready to take the next step. He’s learned how to use his big frame effectively and was a tower of strength at both ends of the ice all night. His strong puck distribution was noticeable throughout the game. With his offensive talents, will he actually find himself ahead of Chris Tanev in the pecking order?
Eddie Lack didn’t have much to do in the first two periods, but what a performance in the third. Two of the goals – both on the powerplay – the Stork had next to no chance on, both slick cross-ice passes by Rockford’s Martin St. Pierre to open men, who wired one-timers past Lack. All 13 of Rockford’s third period scoring chances came in a ten-minute stretch, and included all three goals. But for Lack’s efforts, it could have been far worse.
Hungry like the Notes: