After rough start, Chicago Wolves set to make history
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History will be made Wednesday night when the Chicago Wolves play at San Diego. The only question is how much.
The game also represents the franchise's first in California since joining the American Hockey League in 2001. The Wolves haven't played on Golden State ice since May 3, 2000, the night they wrapped up their Western Conference Semifinal series sweep against the Long Beach Ice Dogs on their way to the International Hockey League's Turner Cup championship.
And if the Wolves defeat the San Diego Gulls in regulation or force overtime, then they'll set a franchise record with a 15-game point streak. That would break the record set by the 2007-08 team that dominated from Day 1 and captured the 2008 Calder Cup championship.
Wednesday's contest also serves as the midpoint for the Wolves' AHL season -- 38 games down, 38 games to go -- and provides a convenient timestamp to explain how the Wolves have lived two seasons within their half-season. Here's a quick Wolves refresher course:
Painful start: During the first two months of the season, the Wolves were hit by injuries -- both to their players and those competing for the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas, the Wolves' new NHL partner, lost both of its goaltenders in the first month and recalled the Wolves' pair of goalies -- Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk -- to fill the void.
Around the same time, the Golden Knights recalled top prospects Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore. Other top Wolves players such as former Blackhawks forward Brandon Pirri missed games due to injury.
The Wolves struggled to figure things out offensively and defensively and lost a lot of 1-goal verdicts. After a 3-2 loss on Dec. 8 at Cleveland, they ranked 29th among the AHL's 30 teams in points percentage and last in points.
"I think right now, it's trying to get across the message not to be frustrated," Wolves captain Paul Thompson said at that time. "We have to keep working. We have a good group in here and we know we can turn things around."
AHL standings through Dec. 8
Rk. Team W-L-OTL-SOL Pts Pct.
1. Toronto 19-5-0-0 38 .792
28. Binghamton 8-12-3-0 19 .413
29. WOLVES 6-12-4-1 17 .370
30. Springfield 9-16-1-0 19 .365
New life: Then Wolves woke up early on Dec. 9 for a noon game at Cleveland and turned it all around. They earned a 3-0 shutout over the Monsters -- the AHL-record 50th shutout for goaltending legend Michael Leighton -- and head coach Rocky Thompson's team hasn't stopped winning since.
In just one month's worth of games, the Wolves have vaulted from 29th to 12th in the overall standings and from seventh to second in the Central Division with that franchise-record-tying 14-game point streak.
AHL standings from Dec. 9-Jan. 9
Rk. Team W-L-OTL-SOL Pts Pct.
1. WOLVES 12-0-1-1 26 .929
2. San Diego 9-2-0-0 18 .818
3. Rochester 9-3-0-1 19 .731
4. W-B/Scranton 8-3-1-0 17 .708
Moving forward: Head coach Rocky Thompson appreciates the streak, of course, but that's not how he evaluates his team as it hits the midway point.
"What I look at is, 'Are we getting better?' " Thompson said Friday night after the Wolves knocked off Manitoba, the league's top-ranked team, in overtime.
"I think the answer is yes. We continue to get better. Now, it's not monumental. It's little steps … this is our first win against this team. They're a team that's extremely good and talented. Dynamic. So this was another step in the right direction and we want to continue to build on those things."