The Wolves entered Thursday's game looking to improve to 4-0 on the young season. There were a number of lineup changes, including players such as Jason Cotton and Brandon Hickey seeing their first action of the season. Goaltender Beck Warm also made his AHL debut on Thursday.
The Wolves' story this season has been the youngster's exceptional play. Philip Tomasino, Seth Jarvis, and Ryan Suzuki, among others, have carried the Wolves through their first three games. A fourth win on Thursday would give the Wolves a major confidence boost in the early portion of the season.
The first period began with great pace from both teams. Wolves broadcasters Jason Shaver and Billy Gardner discussed the pace of play during these home games thus far. They mentioned that the Wolves' rink looks smaller, making for a faster game to the naked eye.
The Wolves were partially outplayed early in the period, with Grand Rapids quickly racking up nine shots compared to the Wolves' two. The teams traded a penalty or two early but neither team could capitalize on the power play. Despite being outplayed, the Wolves cashed in on a power play chance of their own.
After Turner Elson cross-checked Jeremy Davies, the Wolves were poised to make the Griffins pay. A rush led by Seth Jarvis created momentum for the Wolves as they entered the zone. Jarvis dished the puck to David Cotton, who found Davies trailing on the play. Davies shot the puck, but the bid was stopped by Kevin Boyle. However, the rebound was buried by none other than Jarvis, who scored his fourth goal in as many games, and third on the power play, to give the Wolves the 1-0 lead.
Both teams traded chances the rest of the period, but neither goalie budged. The Griffins ended up outshooting the Wolves 12-8, but the Wolves took the one-goal lead into the intermission.
The second period felt very similar to the opening frame. The Griffins continued to out-chance the Wolves throughout the period. That said, neither team took advantage of the seven combined penalties in the period.
The Wolves quickly changed the momentum after a Grand Rapids power play in the second half of the period. After the Griffins man advantage expired, the Wolves found themselves with pressure on the Griffins. However, a loose puck found David Cotton, who skated around the back of the net and tucked his first professional goal home to stretch the Wolves lead to 2-0.
Not long after Cotton's marker, the Griffins got one back. On the power play, Kyle Criscuolo buried his second goal of the year, and the second goal for the Griffins this season, on a puck that laid in the blue paint next to Beck Warm.
The goal was the only damage the Griffins inflicted during the period. At the end of the period there was some dramatics after David Cotton boarded Michael Rasmussen. Rasmussen retaliated by high-sticking Cotton, drawing blood in the process. After tempers settled, the Wolves ended up with a power play due to the double minor from Rasmussen.
The Wolves entered the third period with 39 seconds remaining on that man advantage, and up 2-1 through two.
The Wolves found themselves shutting the Griffins down late in the final frame. However, it didn't come without adversity. Roughly six minutes into the third, the Griffins struck and tied the game at two. Dennis Cholowski buried his first goal of the season after Beck Warm made an incredible first save moments before the goal. Tyler Spezia and Brian Lashoff assisted on the goal.
The Wolves quickly bounced back after the Griffins' pressure. David Cotton, Ryan Suzuki, and Sheldon Rempal executed a beautiful three-on-one opportunity, concluding with David Cotton scoring his second goal of the game, giving the Wolves the lead once again, 3-2. Suzuki picked up the assist.
The Wolves controlled play for much of the third period then. To cap the game off, Tanner Jeannot added an empty net goal shorthanded to put away the Griffins. Keane and Jarvis tallied assists on the marker.
The Wolves hung on and won 4-2, advancing to 4-0 on the season.
Where do I begin? The Wolves showed incredible grit and focus in today's game, although outplayed by the Griffins. Great games came from David Cotton, Seth Jarvis, and Beck Warm, as well as the defensive unit for the Wolves.
David Cotton was sensational for the Wolves on Thursday, scoring two goals and adding an assist on his way to first star of the game honors. "He's a big body that protects pucks really well down low" said Coach Ryan Warsofsky. "He sees the ice well and can make plays." Cotton certainly showed that size today, standing out all over the ice and making huge plays when needed.
"Not everyone that plays this game is able to have a 6'3" frame... in that sense I have to get engaged and use my body and protect pucks down low" said David Cotton. "I also feel like I possess that finesse in my game and make plays, not just bump and grind all the time." That finesse was on display today, as evidenced by the two goals he scored.
Seth Jarvis was another forward who stood out today. Jarvis now has as many goals as games played this season, cashing three of his four tallies in on the power play. Jarvis added his third PPG today by going hard to the net. Although Jarvis is a smaller player, he doesn't fear going to the front of the net. Jarvis also added his second assist of the season on Tanner Jeannot's empty net goal.
The final player worth mentioning is Beck Warm. Warm made his pro debut in Thursday's game and played admirably. He made 36 saves on 38 shots and is a major reason why the Wolves won today. Coach Warsofsky commented on how good Warm was too.
Warm was tested early and often on Thursday, I asked Beck about how today's game helps his confidence, especially with the Carolina goalie situation in flux. "Definitely helps the confidence a lot, it was an awesome first experience at pro", said Warm. "I'm just pumped to keep things going here, keep playing, and getting more comfortable."
The Wolves have the weekend off, returning to play on Tuesday night in Rockford. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 PM CT.