Nearly a year after the AHL suspended play due to COVID-19, the league kicked off their 2021 season on Friday night. The Wolves opened play of their 27th season hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins at Triphahn Arena in Hoffman Estates, IL on Friday.
The Wolves open the season with a brand new roster. No player on the Wolves roster has worn the Wolf-head sweater before this season. To say this team has a lot of new faces is quite an understatement.
The first period of play was heavily dominated by the Wolves. With loads of young talent, the Wolves came out flying early on. An early power play generated four shots, but Griffins’ netminder Pat Nagle stood on his head, denying every chance.
Around the seven-minute mark of the period, the Wolves had an excellent chance to take the lead. Despite being short-handed, Anthony Richard found himself one-on-one with Nagle. However, he was denied by the Griffins’ goalie and the visitors rushed the other way.
At the 7:38 mark, Kyle Criscuolo buried a chance from Riley Barber to give Grand Rapids the early 1–0 lead. Michael Rasmussen tallied the secondary assist on the play.
Although the Griffins led, the first period’s pace was driven by the home team. The Wolves’ efforts were finally rewarded when Tom Novak scored Chicago’s first goal of the season after getting the puck through Nagle. Cavan Fitzgerald recorded the primary assist and Philip Tomasino picked up the secondary assist, the first professional point of the young man’s career.
The Wolves and Griffins entered the first intermission deadlocked at one-all, but the Wolves dominated play early on.
As the middle frame opened, it was clear after a couple minutes of play that the Griffins woke up. The Wolves continued to play fast, but the game looked much more competitive than it did during the first period.
However, the Wolves didn’t waste much time getting on the board. At the 2:09 mark of the second period, the Wolves scored on the power play to take their first lead of the night, 2–1. 2020 first-round pick Seth Jarvis scored his first professional goal, with Dominik Bokk and Tomasino picking up their first- and second-career points, respectively.
The Wolves added quite a few quality chances throughout the rest of the second period. A near shorthanded breakaway for Anthony Richard, as well as a strong penalty kill unit as a whole, led to plenty of excitement for the Wolves in the second period.
That said, the Wolves happily took their lead into the second intermission over their rival.
The third period was defined by trading chances. Both netminders stood tall as their opponents pressed. Without any scoring action, Cavan Fitzgerald let off a simple point shot at the 13:01 mark that had eyes, finding the back of the net and extending the Wolves lead to two goals.
The Wolves held on, securing their first win of the 2021 season.
The Wolves impressed tonight against the Griffins with effort and talent emerging to the forefront. Seth Jarvis, Dominik Bokk, and Philip Tomasino all looked fantastic for the Wolves.
The youth shined in the season opener for the Wolves. But the most impressive part? These guys looked like they belonged. For most young players, the transition from juniors to the AHL is a massive leap, usually requiring a number of games for the adjustment to set in. However, Tomasino, Bokk, and Jarvis all stood out rather than being overshadowed. All three registered their first-career pro points and will be a massive part of the Wolves roster this season.
Another significant point of emphasis was the effort and speed shown by the Wolves this evening. Coach Ryan Warsofsky spoke to the media after the game, noting that “it was a really good effort.” The Wolves look like a team that will be a problem for the rest of the AHL this season if they continue to play the way they did on Friday.
Additionally, the goaltending was near spotless. Antoine Bibeau held strong in net for the Wolves, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced. When asked about Bibeau and the confidence he instills in a young team in front of him, Warsofsky said, “He was really good, he got better as the game went on… Beebs did his job tonight.” It’s safe to say that Bibeau will be a huge asset for this young Wolves team in 2021.
Finally, the youth as a collective group stood out, especially with the amount of confidence instilled in them by Coach Warsofsky. “They have a lot of skill,” said Warsofsky. The Wolves’ Coach will likely be leaning heavily on the young stars because of their talent level this season.
The Wolves return to action on Saturday, February 6th as they travel to Rockford to take on the IceHogs at 3:00 PM CST. Stay tuned to On Tap Sports Net for coverage of the Wolves all season long.