Hungry like the Wolves: Taking down the IceHogs

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)

Chicago Tribune:

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.”

Canucks Army:

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

Chicago Tribune:

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.”

Canucks Army:

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:

  • Before reading too much into any of the performances in these opening two games, it’s important to note that the Rockford IceHogs finished last in the Midwest Division in 2011-12. They do have help from locked out NHLers like Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, and Marcus Kruger, but they’re one of the lesser teams in the AHL.
  • Poor Steve Pinizzotto has no luck. His first NHL call-up to the Capitals resulted only in him watching a game from the press box when Alex Ovechkin decided to play through an injury. He was then signed by the Canucks and made the team out of training camp, only to miss the entire season with a shoulder injury that was aggravated during the pre-season. Now the poor guy is back only to face an NHL lockout. He has yet to play a single game in the NHL. He’s basically the Jinx Malloy of the Canucks organiation.
  • Zack “Potato Mashin’” Kassian’s assist on Bill Sweatt’s goal in the game on the 14th was exactly what we need to see from Kassian: winning a battle along the boards (against Nick Leddy), then making a perfect pass with the defenceman all over him. Again, that’s an NHL defenceman he’s battling against there, so there is hope that he can bring that power forward game to the NHL.
  • Kevin Connauton picked up two assists over the weekend and had 7 shots in the scoreless first game, but more importantly he was only on the ice for one goal against, a powerplay marker. While plus/minus is a flawed statistic, it’s still a good sign that Connauton was a game-high plus-four in a 5-3 game. We already know Connauton has high-end offensive skill; if he can further develop the defensive side of his game, he’ll be in the NHL before too long.
  • Bill Sweatt seems to be the forgotten prospect in the Canucks organization, but with his speed and two-way ability he could have a future on the Canucks’ third line, particularly if he can start to add a few more points. His shootout goal on Saturday was the highlight of the weekend, a simple backhand-forehand deke, but performed at such a high speed that it completely undressed IceHogs’ goaltender Carter Hutton. Please, please, please do that more often, because it was awesome.
Tags: , ,

13 comments

  1. Fruzenius
    October 16, 2012

    Good to see our prospects working hard, but boy do I miss HD videos and the sounds of Shorty and Cheech

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  2. Canucklehead_in_T.O.
    October 16, 2012

    Wolves-related etiquette question:
    Having recently moved from the hockey wasteland of Toronto to the hockey wasteland of Durham, NC for Grad school (probably time to change my screenname), my only options for live pro hockey were the Hurricanes (but the lockout’s taken care of that issue, thank god, since who would want to admit to actually paying for ‘Canes tickets?!), or their AHL affiliate the Carolina Checkers (about whom I know nothing). My hockey withdrawal has reached the point where I am getting desperate enough to spend money on Checkers tickets, and will therefore be attending their home opener (against the Wolves) on Nov. 4.
    Now my question is this:
    Is it appropriate to wear a Canucks jersey to this Wolves game, since I don’t own any Wolves paraphernalia? Or should I be more subtle, and just stick to a Nucks hat? I want to clearly show my support for the Canucks/Wolves organization (and simultaneously separate myself from the hockey-illiterate bumpkins who populate this state), but I don’t want to be obnoxious. What should I do?
    Help me, PITB! You’re my only hope.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
    • Canucklehead_in_T.O.
      October 16, 2012

      Apparently, the ‘Canes AHL affiliate is the Charlotte Checkers, not the Carolina Checkers. My bad. Just shows how little I know (or care) about these guys…

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Daniel Wagner
      October 16, 2012

      From what I’ve seen at other AHL games, it’s pretty normal to see jerseys for a team’s NHL affiliate. That said, normally those jerseys are a lot more similar in colour and design than the Canucks are to the Wolves.

      I say go for it. Wear the jersey.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
    • Nee
      October 16, 2012

      I agree with Daniel. My impression from attending AHL and junior games is that people are a lot less anal about wearing the jersey of a team that isn’t on the ice.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
      • Canucklehead_in_T.O.
        October 16, 2012

        Excellent. Exactly the sort of confirmation bias I was seeking. Thanks, gents!

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
        • Nee
          October 16, 2012

          No prob. FYI, I’m actually female. : )

          I’d be curious to know how many girls post on this blog…I get the feeling that it’s a decently high amount.

          VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
          Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
          • Canucklehead_in_T.O.
            October 16, 2012

            I’m also female…though I think my girl card is about to be revoked for calling you a dude. Sorry!

            VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
            Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
            • abbyheat
              October 23, 2012

              also a girl. I’ve been reading this blog obsessively for over a year, I just never comment!

              VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
              Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Dani
      October 16, 2012

      I’ve been to a Wolves and Moose games in both Houston and San Antonio and, from what I’ve seen, any hockey jersey is acceptable. I used to wear a Team Canada jersey (only one I had) and got some teasing – eh, it’s Houston – but I’ve seen a lot of Penguins jerseys and Red Wings jerseys along with the Aeros jerseys.

      tl;dr – Where the Canucks jersey. You’ll be seeing a lot of Hurricanes jerseys.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • Dani
        October 16, 2012

        That’s supposed to say “a lot of Wolves and Moose games,” but whatever.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • John Andress
      October 17, 2012

      I do believe that being obnoxious stems from how you behave rather than what you wear. If you support your team (or it’s affiliate) in an enthusiastic but sensitive manner it cannot be unacceptable to the host organization. My personal rule is to remember that the teams are rivals and opponents, not enemies. Both sides are there for the game of hockey so should be accepting and tolerant of the fans supporting the opposing side. Enjoy the game.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  3. Rick
    October 16, 2012

    Yes, wear the Canucks jersey and cheer loud for the Wolves! When the Wolves come to play in Abbotsford against the heat, half the crowd is in Canucks blue.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)