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 Chicago Wolves as it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to Canucks hockey for quite some time.
The Chicago Wolves kicked off their season with four straight wins, but there were signs of trouble in paradise. Three of those wins came after regulation, with two of them in the shootout. They just weren’t wrapping up games in 60 minutes and have had trouble closing games out. That’s not a recipe for long term success.
While the Wolves had outscored their opponents 4-0 in the first two periods of their first four games, third periods had gone a little sideways, as they had been outscored 6-4 in the final frame. That’s where the bulk of the damage was done on Saturday: the Wolves just couldn’t handle the Heat in the third period, as they scored three goals in under six minutes to seal the victory.
It raises the question of whether conditioning could be an issue for the Wolves or whether it is a side effect of them opening the scoring, then resting on their laurels. Neither would be positive, but the second option is at least fixable by coaching. Conditioning is a much more difficult issue to deal with and can be especially tough for AHL teams, which frequently play on back-to-back nights and occasionally have three games in three nights as will be happening to the Wolves next weekend.
Or it could just be the first five games of the season, with any supposed trends being a result of such a small sample size of games.
Saturday’s game was televised on Sportsnet One, which also showed the game between the Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs. While it wasn’t quite Hockey Night In Canada, it was a reasonable substitute. At the very least, it was Stevia, rather than Sweet ‘N Low, to HNIC’s sugar.
October 20, 2012: Wolves 1 – 4 Heat
Hungry like the Notes:
First off, my apologies for the video, which only shows the Heat’s goals. The Wolves have yet to upload their own highlight pack. On the plus side, this video features the golden pipes of Harrison Mooney on colour commentary.
This was the first sellout of the season for the Heat, with 7046 in attendance. If only every game in the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre could feature the Canucks’ AHL affiliate. Wait a minute…
Ryan Walter was interviewed about the Heat’s struggles to attract fans during the third period, specifically about the difficulties of being the Calgary Flames’ affiliate in the middle of Vancouver Canucks’ territory. I was massively disappointed by his response, as he missed a great opportunity to say something like, “We may be the Flames’ affiliate, but we’re Abbotsford’s team.” Instead, he talked about the opportunity to see future NHL players and praised the Flames for providing the Heat with good prospects. While those two things may be true, they’re not going to attract hockey fans to the arena to cheer for the Heat.
That said, the Flames have given the Heat some good prospects. Sven Baertschi was dominant against the Wolves, tallying a goal and an assist, the latter of which was thoroughly impressive, knocking a puck out of mid-air from behind the net to Ben Walter, who fed Dustin Sylvester for the tap-in. Roman Horak was solid as well, scoring his 4th goal of the season. He now has a goal in every game for the Heat to start the year.
Baertschi also showed the physical side of his game, picking up a charging penalty for a leaping hit in the second, then throwing Zack “Button-Mashing” Kassian to the ice with one arm in a third period puck battle in the neutral zone. It was the only time in the game Kassian came out on the losing end of a physical battle.
In fact, Zack “The Fact” Kassian was once again the best player on the ice for the Wolves, picking up another goal and winning another fight. He threw a few big hits, controlled the puck well, and showed some confidence in the second period by driving through two Heat defenders in the second period as if he was Ryan Kesler against the Predators.
Zack “Practical Magic” Kassian’s goal showcased his wicked wristshot. After a nice pinch down the boards by Yann Sauve kept the play alive, Kassian took advantage of the turnover and stepped into the slot like he was Tab A. The speed of his release was impressive, and it found a hole under Barry Brust’s right arm.
It seems like Brust is a little bit crazy, and not the endearing kooky kind of crazy like Eddie Lack. Near the end of the second period, Nathan Longpre drove the net for the Wolves and Brust slid out of his crease, tripping Longpre and sending him flying into the boards behind the net. Fortunately, Longpre was able to twist around and take the impact on his back rather than head. Then, at the end of the game, Jordan Schroeder drove around the defence, but before he could cut toward the net, he was cut off by Brust diving headfirst at him with a pokecheck, a good 6 feet out from the net. After the puck was frozen, Brust hit Wolves defenceman Brad Hunt with a flying tackle. It was a bizarre sequence.
How did the puck get frozen with Brust face first on the ice, a full body’s length away from his net? Tyler Ruegsegger made a sliding pad-stacking save on Hunt, then laid on top of the puck while Hunt, Rodin, and Gordon jammed away at his torso. In the dying seconds of a 4-1 game. That guys either nuts, or he’s gutsier than Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. In fact, if Ruegsegger doesn’t immediately get the nickname “Rugy” out of this and have fans chant his name at Heat home games, there’s something wrong with the world. Rugy, Rugy, Rugy, Rugy…
Canucks’ 2012 second round pick Alexandre Mallet was a healthy scratch on Friday, but was back in the lineup on Saturday and made an immediate impact. Said impact was on poor Rugy Ruegsegger, who had no idea Mallet was coming and got flattened like Rudy Ruettiger in a Notre Dame practice. Carter “Adam” Bancks stepped up to defend Rugy’s honour and got promptly flattened by Mallet in the ensuing fight. He also showed poise with the puck and looks like a likely candidate for more ice time as the season continues.
After a solid performance on Friday, Kevin Connauton was a little less impressive on Saturday, mainly in the defensive zone. he got turned inside out on a give-and-go in the second period and was unable to get to Sylvester in front of the net in time to prevent him from scoring the gamewinning goal. He definitely had his good moments in the defensive zone, particularly on a 2-on-1 when he both took the pass away and forced the puck-carrier to shoot earlier than intended, but he showed some of the rough edges that still need to be smoothed out before he’s NHL-ready.
Anton Rodin isn’t the biggest player on the ice, but he has shown his willingness to engage physically and win puck battles. I was impressed with his stickhandling in high traffic areas in this game: on two separate occasions he was knocked to the ice, yet retained possession of the puck. The first time he was knocked to his knees, but was able to get back up without losing the puck, while the second time he managed to swing the puck to Jordan Schroeder for an offensive chance.
The Wolves’ powerplay is woeful. They are now 1-for-25 so far this season and it’s something they’ll need to sort out soon rather than later. They have the personnel, but just haven’t found the right combination. On Saturday, Jordan Schroeder was moved to the point on the first unit in place of Chris Tanev, which seemed to provide a bit of a spark. He looked completely out of sorts, however, when the Heat broke up a pass and he had to defend a shorthanded breakout. I have a feeling that experiment won’t last.
Pro tip: when you’re 6’1″, you should not try to fight someone who is 6’7″. Steve Pinizzotto is 6’1″. Chris Breen is 6’7″. Guess what Pinizzotto tried to do.
Despite the invasion by Canucks’ fans, the Heat still had home ice advantage for one simple reason: they know the boards. Two of the Heat’s goals were created by intentionally banking the puck off the end boards. For Baertschi’s goal, the puck bounced off the boards directly into the slot, where he blasted a one-timer. For Horak’s, the puck banked off the corner directly to the net, where he picked it up in the confusion and chipped it over an out-of-position Eddie Lack.
Lack showed some of his inexperience in this game, particularly on the first goal, when he unnecessarily came out of the net to play the puck at the left faceoff dot instead of leaving it for Joslin, who had plenty of room to pick up the puck and make a play. Lack’s clearing attempt was picked off by Adam Estoclet at the blue line. To Lack’s credit, he quickly cut off Estoclet’s shooting angle as he maneuvered back into his crease, but Estoclet wasn’t alone and Bancks’ eventual backhand goal into the empty net was an inevitability.
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