Saturday night marked the final game of the season for both the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs. After a challenging year, the Wolves clinched the Sam Pollock Trophy as the Central Division champions last week.
Saturday night marked the 11th time the IceHogs and Wolves have met this season. With the schedule structured to be all division games this season, it made for great rivalry play. The Wolves won seven of the first ten matchups entering Saturday, looking to go 8-3 overall in 2021 against Rockford. As for the 'Hogs, they were looking to go 2-for-2 against the Wolves in the last two games of the season to close 2021 out on a high note.
Saturday's opening period was possibly the fastest pace one has ever experienced in a hockey game. Although there were plenty of shots exchanged between the two clubs, the first 11 minutes of the period featured very few stoppages.
However, a hard hit on Brandon Hickey started the fireworks in the season finale. Hickey had to leave the ice and head to the locker room after taking a rough ride into the boards.
The most notable fireworks came via a scrap between David Warsofsky and IceHogs forward Riley McKay. The quick fight set up some additional extracurriculars after a few whistles following the fight, which occurred at the 16:20 mark of the period.
Just before the conclusion of the period, IceHogs defenseman Cole Moberg committed a boarding penalty, sending the Wolves to the power play at the 19:37 mark.
It felt like the Wolves were going to start the second period with a lot of power play time. However, the Wolves scored just six seconds into the power play. A beautiful feed from Philip Tomasino found Sean Malone's stick in front of 'Hogs goalie Tom Aubrun to give the home team an early lead.
The teams entered intermission with fairly even numbers. The Wolves had seven shots on goal, while the IceHogs had nine of their own. However, the Wolves took their 1-0 lead into the first intermission at Triphahn Ice Arena.
The middle frame was full of action. Both the Wolves and IceHogs had ample opportunities to score, but both goaltenders played very well. The Wolves added to their lead first, thanks to Carolina Hurricanes' 2019 second-round pick, Jamieson Rees.
Just before Rees tallied at 5:02, Tommy Novak found Rees streaking down ice, opening up a two-on-one opportunity for the Wolves. With Tomasino charging up ice with him, Rees held on to the puck and made a sweet toe drag before beating Aubrun to extend the lead to two.
As play continued, the IceHogs finally found some momentum. At 17:43 in the second, defenseman Cole Moberg tallied his first goal of the season with assists from Chad Yetman and Michal Teply. The goal cut the Wolves' lead in half at the time.
Neither team scored the rest of the period. The Wolves registered 11 shots on goal to Rockford's eight, but each team added a goal, giving the Wolves the 2-1 lead entering the second intermission.
The third period featured plenty of action, as both teams recorded their highest shot totals of the day per frame in the third. That said, both Aubrun and Antoine Bibeau stood tall, preserving the 2-1 score deep into the third period.
After a lack of scoring, the Wolves finally added the dagger tally, putting the game out of reach for Rockford. On the power play, Jamieson Rees had a head of steam as he skated up the left wing boards, taking a check after he entered the Rockford zone. However, as he was hit, he found David Gust in the mid-slot, and the wide open Gust didn't miss, tallying his second goal of the season. The goal extended the Wolves' lead to two once again.
The local product's goal sealed the win for the Wolves. The Wolves finished the 2021 campaign with a sparkling 21-9-1-2 record and captured the Central Division title.
Saturday's game was a perfect way for head coach Ryan Warsofsky and company to finish strong. When speaking with the media after the game, Coach Warsofsky said the team let their foot off the gas after capturing the division title. He said they met as a group on Saturday morning to remind guys to give it one last game before beginning their summer.
The team did just that. Backed by a strong game from Bibeau, the Wolves captured their 21st win of the season in just 33 games. It's safe to say the Wolves made the most of the crazy season, winning a division title with two organizations worth of players, countless COVID-19 hiccups, and playing in their practice facility in front of no fans.
Now that the season has concluded, the Wolves will look very different in the fall. Notable players such as Tanner Jeannot, Tommy Novak, Philip Tomasino, and others will return to Milwaukee next season when the Admirals take the ice. Numerous contributors from the Wolves this season wouldn't have been in Chicago had it not been for the strange season.
That said, players such as Jamieson Rees, Seth Jarvis, Joey Keane, Cavan Fitzgerald, Ryan Suzuki, and others will return to the Wolves as the team will exclusively support the Carolina Hurricanes in the fall.
What's On Tap Next?
With the conclusion of the 2021 season, the Wolves now prepare for life in the fall. The team will return to Allstate Arena and hopefully play in front of a full building in Rosemont. The players and coaches will return home for the summer, firing back up again when NHL training camps open sometime in September.
As for coverage of the Chicago Wolves, follow along with On Tap Sports Net for season recaps, player profiles, and further analysis to feed your hockey craving all summer long!
From the On Tap Sports Net crew, thank you for reading along this season. We're looking forward to continuing our great AHL coverage in the fall.