Hungry like the Wolves: Ice the Hogs, then split with Checkers

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 Chicago Wolves are proving to be one of the best teams in the AHL, largely because they’re not dependent on the influx of talent from the NHL lockout. Though the Wolves are benefiting from the presence of Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev, and Andrew Ebbett, they’re getting big contributions from Brett Sterling, Andrew Gordon, and Nathan Longpre, players who are signed exclusively to the Wolves.

It also doesn’t hurt that they’re getting some of the best goaltending in the AHL from Eddie Lack, who would only be out of the Wolves’ lineup if Luongo was traded without a veteran replacement coming the other way. Lack has been in net for 6 of the Wolves’ 7 wins, with a .915 SV% and a 2.56 GAA.

No Canucks prospects, however, are dominating in the AHL right now, not like Justin Schultz is for the Oilers’ affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons, with his league-leading 15 points in 10 games, or Mikael Granlund for the Wilds’ affiliate, the Houston Aeros, with 12 points in 8 games. Then there’s Roman Horak for the Flames’ affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, who has an incredible 10 goals – goals, not points – in 9 games.

The top prospect on the Wolves right now is Zack Kassian, who has a respectable 7 points in 11 games. I’m sure, however, that Canucks fans would love to see him doing a little more dominating this season. Certainly, some fans would be keeping a close eye on Cody Hodgson this season, who has 10 points in 9 games. If that fact causes any of you to throw a conniption fit, consider this: Hodgson has broken his hand and will be out for “a couple weeks,” so who knows how effective he’ll be over the remainder of the season.

The Wolves have played 3 games since our last update, one against the Rockford IceHogs and two against the Charlotte Checkers, picking up two victories.

November 2nd: Wolves 6 – 3 IceHogs

Chicago Tribune

Wolves’ goaltender Eddie Lack stopped 29 shots for his fifth win of the season.

At 2:46 into the second frame, Jordan Schroeder tallied his third of the year off a set-up by Tim Miller, who earned his first point of the year, to make it 3-1 Wolves. Then it was defenseman Peter Andersson being the set-up man, putting Bill Sweatt in perfect position on the power play to score off a pad rebound by Hutton.

The Wolves tried slamming the door on a Rockford comeback when defenseman Chris Tanev took a pass from Zack Kassian at 10:31 in the third period and did something he hadn’t done in the AHL since 2010 – score.

Canucks Army

The thing that really stands out about the Wolves as a team is their speed. They are remarkably quick to counter-attack, and break out of their own zone. The most impressive of the bunch in that regard is Bill Sweatt, who has been playing with a jet pack strapped to his back the past few games. He has been flying, and was among the best of the Wolves skaters once again.

Schroeder continued his resurgence in this game, winding up with three points on the night. It’s tough to say if he meant to do what he did to set up the first goal of the night, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He pulled off a no-look, backhand pass from behind the net that would make even Steve Nash jealous. Gordon was the beneficiary, burying it as he was left wide open in the slot.

I feel obligated to report that Kevin Connauton and Kyle Beach “fought”. And by that, I mean that Connauton had him in a headlock for 20 seconds, before they were broken up.

November 4th: Wolves 1 – 4 Checkers

Chicago Tribune

When a little extracurricular activity broke out in front of the Checkers net after the whistle, Chicago’s Zack Kassian and Charlotte’s Jeremy Welsh each got two minutes for roughing, but Sterling was also sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. It took all of eight seconds on the power play for the Checkers to regain the lead when Zach Boychuck redirected a pass from Bobby Sanguinetti over Climie at 18:01.

Canucks Army

Jordan Schroeder and Bill Sweatt have been back together for most of the season but have had a variety of wingers. Andrew Gordon took a turn with them on Sunday and the trio was far and away Chicago’s best line. Sweatt has really been a threat of late; his speed has always been evident but it’s clear he worked hard this offseason on his strength. He was winning puck battles along the boards all game.

Zack Kassian got to play with Nathan Longpre and Steve Pinizotto, a grouping that seems to be working and might even happen in the NHL.

The rest of the lineup was pretty mediocre, including the Ebbett-Sterling-Davies ‘Mighty Mouse’-themed line, even if they did score a goal off a lucky bounce.

November 6th: Wolves 2 – 1 Checkers

Chicago Tribune

The Wolves howled back early in the second. Brett Sterling, riding a three-game point streak, carried the puck through a tight Charlotte defense and fired a shot at Ellis. The rebound ricocheted right into the path of Pinizzotto, who rifled his first score of the season 1:04 into the period.

Pinizzotto jumped on another rebound and flipped home his second goal of the game at 12:50 of the second period.

The Wolves tried to make it a two-goal game moments later, but Zack Kassian’s apparent score was waved off because of goalie interference.

CBS Chicago

Center Steve Pinizzotto delivered his first two goals for the Wolves — his first goals in a regular-season game since April 1, 2011 — to pull Chicago (7-3-1-0) into a tie with Charlotte for the most points in the American Hockey League with 15.

Goaltender Eddie Lack (6-2-0) stopped 24 shots to earn the win.

Hungry like the Notes:

  • Major kudos to YouTube user wolfkeeper80, who is uploading high-quality, long-length highlight packages for many Wolves games this season. You’re bound to see more of the game watching his videos than the two to three minute videos the AHL normally provides. You can see his videos for the IceHogs and the second Checkers games above.
  • Matt Climie isn’t having a great start to the season. He is now 1-2 on the season, with a .907 SV%. His loss to the Checkers is his second straight start in which he has given up 4 goals against. It seems pretty likely that Lack will be starting the vast majority of the Wolves’ games this season.
  • Jordan Schroeder hasn’t had the best start to the season, but he finally broke out with 3 points against the IceHogs. Schroeder now has 6 points in 11 games so far, which is remarkably similar to his pace from last season when he scored 44 points in 76 games. His assist on Andrew Gordon’s game-opening goal against the IceHogs was particularly nice, a blind, backhand pass from behind the net. It’s entirely likely that Schroeder was looking for Bill Sweatt with that pass, but we won’t hold it against him.
  • Speaking of Sweatt, my goodness that guy has wheels. It was his speed on the outside that created the havoc that eventually led to Gordon’s goal. He also added a goal of his own against the IceHogs. It’s surprising that he hasn’t earned a longer look at the NHL level with that speed, but he hasn’t produced much in the AHL and doesn’t have the size to play on the fourth line. His best fit is likely the third line, but the Canucks already have an abundance of third-line wingers.
  • Zack Kassian picked up 2 assists against the IceHogs, but was held pointless over the next two games, though he did have a goal disallowed against the Checkers. He currently leads the team in goals and penalty minutes, but has been overtaken in points by Sterling. He has Sterling to thank for his first assist against the Hogs, as Kassian did well on a backcheck to disrupt a 2-on-1 and Tanev fed it ahead to Sterling, who did everything else on the goal, essentially beating all 4 Rockford penalty killers to score.
  • Speaking of Tanev, he picked up his first two points of the season in that game, then added another assist in the Wolves’ 2-1 victory over the Checkers. His goal was his first professional goal since 2010 with the Manitoba Moose, but it was a beauty, as Tanev jumped up into an odd-man rush and contributed to, then finished off, a very nice passing play with Kassian and Steve Pinizzotto.
  • Pinizzotto was the hero in the second game against the Checkers, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win. His first came on a rebound after Sterling did all the hard work, with his second also coming on a rebound after Anton Rodin was stopped. He’s now tied with Kassian with 7 points in 11 games and is looking very comfortable with the Wolves. He’s definitely a fourth-line option for the Canucks once (if) the season starts up again.
  • His drive to the net on Pinizzotto’s second goal illustrates how Rodin is getting into high-traffic areas and playing a more physical game, but it’s particularly nice to see it pay off with a point. His assist on the goal is his only point in 8 games so far this season.
  • Kevin Connauton fought Kyle Beach in the game against the IceHogs. Sort of. They mostly just wrestled, while twirling in a circle. The French judge gave them a 6.5.
  • One last note: Kassian has a killer moustache right now. With that ‘stache and his missing tooth, he’s trying really hard to look like a hockey player from the ’70s. It’s working.
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9 comments

  1. Colby
    November 7, 2012

    hate to be THAT guy, but I think its Justin Shultz who is the oilers prospect

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 7, 2012

      I could have sworn that’s what I typed. Well, crap.

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  2. Canucklehead_in_T.O.
    November 7, 2012

    I was at the Checkers game on the 4th. You can kinda-almost–sorta-but-not-really see me in the highlights package video posted above (I’m wearing a Burrows jersey and sitting two rows behind the Wolves bench….). Despite the Wolves’ mostly uninspired performance, I enjoyed myself immensely. SO GOOD to see live hockey again!
    Here are the things I learned from the game:
    - The Wolves’ PP is atrocious. Like, Canucks-last-April atrocious. Ick.
    - Zack Kassian is a generally curmudgeonly fellow. I think he needs a hug.
    - Billy Sweatt can SKATE. Holy moly. Would love to see him playing with the Canucks sometime soon.
    - Climie is….not fantastic.
    - Eddie Lack (who I only saw in the warm-up) is a TALLLL man. He also flips his hair like a shampoo model in a way that only Luongo could rival.
    - Nolan Baumgartner looks fantastic in a suit. Holy moly.
    - Attending an AHL game and sitting REALLY close to the ice during Movember is not the most aesthetically enjoyable experience one could wish for.
    - Sterling is a scrappy little dude. Apart from his ill-advised shoving of the Checkers goaltender, I really liked his game.
    - The Checkers’ arena was thoroughly entertaining, and came complete with cheerleaders called, in an act of incredibly un-ironic misogyny that only North Carolina could pull off, the “Checkmates”. WTF.
    - There are actual, honest-to-goodness hockey fans in Charlotte, North Carolina. Who knew?! Pleasantly surprised by the crowd, their hockey knowledge, and their support of their team. (Less impressed by the aforementioned cheerleaders) I did see one or two other Canucks fans in the crowd, so that was nice. Good to know I’m not alone down here!)
    - My ticket, which was in the SECOND ROW, cost THIRTY DOLLARS! I suddenly miss the NHL a hell of a lot less than I did on Saturday. Hooray for the AHL! Long Live the Lockout!

    Thanks for all the Wolves coverage, PITB-friends! Hope you’ll keep it up, even if/when the Big Boys start up again; I know I will!

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 7, 2012

      Yeah, the Wolves’ PP is terrible. Really baffling too, considering the talent they can put on the top unit.

      Sterling is fantastic. It’s a crying shame he hasn’t stuck with any team in the NHL, but his size is his downfall. He is a beast at the AHL level, though.

      Checkmates? That’s incredible. And terrible. But mostly incredible. Wow.

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      • Harrison Mooney
        November 7, 2012

        Still not as good as the Iowa Chops calling their dancers the Baby Backs. Dancing pieces of meat? Maybe a little too on the nose.

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  3. Pukeko
    November 7, 2012

    As Canucks fans we certainly do expect a lot of Kassian don’t we?! Expecting him to lead the league in points, fight, and PIMs- it’s a tall order for a 21 year old… But things could be worse; imagine expecting- no demanding- the same things out of Nazem Kadri!

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 7, 2012

      Actually, I’d rather he not fight at all and I’d prefer he stay out of the penalty box. The kid’s got a ton of raw talent and I’d much rather he use those soft hands and great vision to set up and score goals than use his fists to settle scores. Having the ability to throw down in your back pocket is useful, but I don’t want that to become a regular occurrence for Kassian.

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  4. Gimmic
    November 7, 2012

    Tanev!!!!!!!! Wooooo hoooooo! Goal!!!

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  5. Pukeko
    November 7, 2012

    Agreed Daniel. What struck me watching him immediately after the trade last season was his skating. He’s got great footspeed and great hands, and yes, on the ice is a far better stage for those than in the box. My point is only to a) suggest that tempering expectations might be a good start for a 21 year old who plays a style of game that takes time to develop and b) burn the Leafs a little while I was at it. For the record, I think Kassian is a rare talent, and that trading for him was a far more calculated move than Mike Gillis gets credit for. As always thanks for the analysis of all things Canucks.

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