Wolves cruise to Central Division crown
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan -- First-year forward David Cotton recorded his first hat trick and rookie goaltender Beck Warm stopped 35 shots as the Chicago Wolves clinched their fourth division title in five years with a 7-0 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins Wednesday night at Van Andel Arena.
Forwards Sean Malone and Sheldon Rempal and defensemen Max Lajoie and Frederic Allard also produced goals for the Wolves (20-8-1-2), who claimed the Sam Pollock Trophy awarded to the Central Division champion.
The Wolves led the six-team division from start to finish as they won their first seven games during the American Hockey League's abbreviated 2021 season and never wavered.
"It feels pretty good," said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. "This has been a short year, but really it has been a long, draining year mentally and physically. I'm really happy for our guys."
The Wolves jumped on top 12:17 into the night as Cotton won possession of the puck behind the net and spied Malone open just outside the crease. Malone accepted Cotton's backhand pass and chipped a backhand pass over goaltender Calvin Pickard's left shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
Just 76 seconds later, Cotton and Malone teamed up for a power-play goal that gave the Wolves a 2-0 lead. Phil Tomasino (3 assists) claimed the puck along the half-wall and steered a pass toward the top of the crease. A Griffins defenseman reached out to break up the pass, but Malone lifted his stick to allow the puck to travel to Cotton for a quick wrister past Pickard.
"We felt like we didn't play that well in the first period," Warsofsky said. "So we talked to the guys during intermission and said, 'Let's try to approach this like a playoff game and see what we can do. I thought they responded well.' "
Chicago boosted the margin to 3-0 with three seconds left in the second. Shortly after a power play created by Rempal came to an end, forward Anthony Richard deftly chopped a loose puck across the slot to Rempal for a quick flip over Pickard's glove.
The Wolves piled on four insurance goals in the third period. Lajoie made it 4-0 at 4:48 when he launched a shot from the left point that whistled through traffic into the back of the net.
Then center Tommy Novak set up in the left faceoff circle and spied Cotton alone at the bottom of the right circle. Cotton whipped the puck into the open net for his 13th goal of the year -- tying fellow rookie Tomasino for the team lead and pushing the Wolves' advantage to 5-0 at 8:10.
After the Griffins (15-11-3-1) took multiple penalties, Cotton earned the Wolves' first hat trick of the season when he knocked home a rebound for a power-play goal at 15:41. Allard capped the scoring with another power-play tally from the slot at 16:51.
Warm (8-3-1) earned his second shutout of the year while Pickard (0-1-1) registered 25 stops.
"Beck was outstanding in the first period," Warsofsky said. "The confidence he played with all night, he was right back to where he was at the beginning of the year."
The Wolves wrap up their season with a home-and-home series against the Rockford IceHogs. The rivals meet 6 p.m. Friday at the MetroCentre and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Wolves Training Facility in Hoffman Estates. To see all the action, visit AHLTV.com.