The Chicago Wolves have been sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, waiting to learn who they would face in their first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. For the 2021-22 AHL season, the league instituted a new playoff format. That format saw the Rockford IceHogs defeat the Texas Stars in the Central Division Play-In Series, 2-0. The final spot in the Central Division Semifinals was determined with the play-in this season and the winner was guaranteed a tough task.
The Chicago Wolves won the league this season with 110 points. After learning the IceHogs were their opponent, the stage was set for game one on Thursday. However, despite success during the regular season against the Wolves, the IceHogs were metaphorically carved up by the Wolves, 6-2.
A Lukas Reichel goal at the 6:16 mark set the tone for the visiting IceHogs. However, that lead didn't last long. Two straight Wolves goals in the final minute of the frame ultimately gave the higher-seeded Wolves the 2-1 advantage.
Cavan Fitzgerald's marker tied the game at 19:04. After a pass down low by the Orland Park native David Gust, Fitzgerald buried a shot from the point with some traffic in front. However, just before the horn, AHL goals leader Stefan Noesen gave the Wolves an early edge.
Chicago handled the second period and blew the doors off the game. Paced scoring from some of the Wolves' talented depth furthered their lead. A Rockford turnover in their own zone proved deadly. Stelio Mattheos was fed with a pass from Jamieson Rees that pushed the lead to two. The Wolves added with a Joey Keane blast that was ultimately credit to rookie sensation Jack Drury and David Gust turned defense into offense with his wild little play.
Stefan Noesen's second goal in the opening minute of the period ultimately put the fork in the 'Hogs. Although Evan Barratt tallied for Rockford before the final horn, the Wolves had control of the game from the end of the first period forward With the Central Semifinals being a best-of-5, the Wolves need two more wins to secure a date in the Central Division Finals.
The Wolves are clicking on all cylinders at the right time. Despite a bit of a slow start, Chicago shook off the rust from a week off and handled the IceHogs at Allstate Arena. Encouraging signs included Stefan Noesen continuing his reign of dominance, and the depth scoring coming through for the Wolves in a big way.
The Rockford IceHogs had a strong season against the Wolves. That said, playoff hockey really is a different beast. The IceHogs appeared to be no match for the Wolves in the first game. That said, it's understandable. The Wolves are considered a legit contender for the Calder Cup and the IceHogs appear to be more of an up and coming team.
What's On Tap Next?
The Wolves and IceHogs do battle on Saturday at Allstate Arena once again. Puck drop is slated for 7:00 p.m. CDT in Rosemont, IL. This is a perfect opportunity to get out and see some playoff hockey as the Wolves continue their quest for a fifth championship in franchise history.