Wolves lose Calder Cup Finals, but impressive set of players will be seen again
While the overjoyed Charlotte Checkers celebrated the franchise's first Calder Cup championship at the Allstate Arena on Saturday night, the door to the Chicago Wolves' locker room swung shut.
To be sure, the group inside was sad and dejected after dropping a 5-3 decision in front of a postseason-high 8,535 fans.
But their coach could not have been more proud.
Proud of the way they battled through injuries. Proud of the way they fought through playoff adversity. And most of all, proud of the way they stuck together and did absolutely everything they could to hang with the wildly talented bunch from Charlotte.
Said Rocky Thompson: "I told the players, 'You shouldn't be sad. I know it's tough when you don't win championships, but you shouldn't be sad when … you did everything you could.'
"I'm proud of that. I'm really proud of that for them because that's rare. It really is rare."
Charlotte dropped Game 1 of this series but used its speed, size and incredible goaltending to win four straight games. The Wolves, playing without Daniel Carr and Stefan Matteau, did manage to battle back from a 3-1 third-period deficit in Game 5, but late goals by Gage Quinney and Cody Glass proved too little, too late.
"That's going to be a tough pill to swallow for sure," said veteran leader T.J. Tynan. "I don't think (our one series win) indicated how we played really. All the credit in the world to them. They played great hockey.
"For us it was a special group. I told those guys in there that it was a lot of fun. Everyone worked their (butts) off. Really proud of everyone in that room for sure."
Matteau's perseverance in Game 4 epitomized this Wolves group to a T as the 25-year-old actually played through a lacerated kidney for almost two-thirds of the contest.
"That's old school right there," Thompson said. "And there were other guys all banged up too. Stuff you would never know. Our defensemen -- I don't know there's a single one that was healthy in there.
"They just did it for their team, they did it for their brothers."
And they almost pulled off an epic comeback in Game 5 by scoring a pair of goals in the final minutes.
With Charlotte leading 3-1, the fans exploded when Gage Quinney scored with 3:06 remaining to make it 3-2. Thompson pulled Dansk for the extra attacker, but the Checkers quickly found the empty net with 1:47 remaining and were back up by two.
Never a team to give up, the Wolves made it 4-3 on Glass' seventh goal of the postseason with 38.1 seconds remaining.
The Checkers ended the Wolves' season, though, on yet another empty netter and were soon a mob scene of red and white at the west end of the arena.
Although the Wolves' playoff run did not end in the franchise's fifth title, it did give much-needed experience and exposure to many players. We figure to see at least a few of the following in the NHL very soon:
• Glass, the Golden Knights' first-ever draft pick who combines a deadly shot with impressive on-ice awareness. His 10 goals in 28 games with the Wolves included a pair of overtime winners in the playoffs. Said Tye McGinn: "He makes the right plays, he's good on draws -- he's just an overall 200-foot-game player. It's good to see out of a young kid like that. Vegas has a great player and a great kid on their hands."
• League MVP Daniel Carr. Even though Carr was injured for Games 4 and 5 of the Finals, he did more than enough to open eyes across the NHL. Don't be surprised if he signs with Edmonton.
• Keegan Kolesar, the gritty forward who has a nose for the net and a solid shot. A third-round pick by Columbus in 2015, Kolesar is also a sensational quote and someone every scribe who covers the NHL should hope makes a team.
• Defensemen Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan and Zach Whitecloud. Coghlan missed most of the playoffs with a broken jaw, but he possesses a wicked shot and racked up 10 power-play goals in the regular season. Hague (a second-round pick in 2017) and Whitecloud are also gifted offensively and big reasons the Wolves were able to push the pace this season.
"I hope guys learned a ton and they're able to use it to the next level," said Curtis McKenzie, who took 6 shots on goal in Game 5. "They did a heckuva job all year. It's a long season coming from junior or college … to come in and play against men with this schedule.
"To go all the way to the Finals and battle injury -- and to just keep working and get to this point -- it's pretty amazing."