Chicago Wolves drop two of three weekend games

Lucas Elvenes and Patrick Brown lead the way on offense for the Wolves; Dylan Ferguson makes his AHL debut.

The Chicago Wolves almost, but not quite, came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Rockford IceHogs on Friday night in Rockford. While defenseman Jaycob Megna and forward Gage Quinney eventually got on the scoresheet for the Wolves, they weren’t able to find the equalizer, ultimately losing 3-2 to the IceHogs.

On Saturday, the second game in a three-in-three stretch, the Wolves were looking for a little bit of redemption against the IceHogs. And with only one win under their belts so far, the Wolves were hoping for a little momentum to jumpstart their season.

The IceHogs struck first on Saturday, with Tyler Sikura recording his first goal of the season at 12:22 in the first period. While goaltender Garret Sparks made the first stop, the rebound came directly out to Wolves defenseman Brayden Pachal, and the puck bounced into a largely empty net off of him.

Paychal made up for his error in positioning less than three minutes later after he found forward Lucas Elvenes with a cross-ice pass which beat IceHogs goalie Matt Tomkins.

A scoreless second period saw players including Quinney, Tye McGinn, Dylan Coghlan, and Keegan Kolesar with excellent chances, but no scoring to show for it. Philip Holm, a former Wolves defenseman, gave Rockford the lead back at 4:50 in the third period, snapping a shot over Sparks’ shoulder. A late power play for the Wolves resulted in some back-and-forth play, included a shorthanded rush for the IceHogs that Sparks shut down. Play rushed the other way and Curtis McKenzie managed to slip a puck between Tomkins’ legs, tying the teams up at two goals each.

In overtime, both teams looked to be playing to get to the shootout, particularly as time ticked down and players held onto the puck more than they attempted to create chances. With about 18 seconds left on the clock, however, the Wolves turned over the puck in the offensive zone. It wound up on the stick of Tyler Sikura, who raced in on a breakaway and scored on Sparks.

The overtime loss didn’t weigh too heavily on head coach Rocky Thompson, who sees the early struggles of the season as a teaching moment for the players. “We’re a young team. I thought we made young mistakes,” he said. “We had some moments, we made some good plays, too. Our game’s just not tight enough right now, particularly without the puck, which is normal this time of year.”

With a high number of rookies on the roster, Thompson knows his team has a long way to go. “The learning curve is hard in the American League. It humbles you quick. You see how good it is and how tough it is to generate offence. At the same time, you get scored on a lot if you don’t play the game the right way. So I think those, believe it or not, are good things because you’re eager to learn when you come here.”

On Sunday night, the Wolves welcomed the visiting Milwaukee Admirals. Goaltender Dylan Ferguson got the nod for his first career AHL start.

With both the Wolves and the Admirals playing on the final night of a three-in-three, the crowd wasn’t treated to the most beautiful, precise game of hockey. Both teams adopted a more methodical, grinding style of play. Gone were many of the breakaways and odd-man rushes of the past two nights. Turnovers were high and accuracy on passes and shots were low, given the number of posts that both teams hit. While the Wolves peppered Milwaukee goalie Troy Grosenick with shots throughout the night, very few looked like challenging saves. The vast majority went into his glove or directly into his chest.

The Wolves found themselves down 2-0 by the end of the first period, but forward Patrick Brown came to the rescue in the second, scoring twice in the back half of the period. He scored first just as an Admirals penalty expired, tapping in a loose puck that just barely slid across the goal line. Brown’s second goal came at the 17:40 mark of the period on a delayed penalty. Elvenes shot a pass towards Brown that he put in while Grosenick was already down and unable to move back across the crease for the save.

A scoreless third period and an overtime which saw a handful of shots, but nothing other than calm saves on the part of the goalies, gave way to a shootout. Quinney and Brown both converted on their shots while Milwaukee forwards Dan Carr and Cole Schneider were unable to beat Ferguson.

After the game, Ferguson credited both Garret Sparks and Vegas Golden Knights goaltending development coach Mike Rosati with helping him calm down and maintain focus after allowing two goals.

“I would say I was a little too fired up,” Ferguson said. Talking to Sparks and Rosati “was a big turning point for me in my mindset. [...] I just kind of cleared my mind and did what I could.”

Thompson was proud of his young goaltender’s debut performance and didn’t see his excitement as a detriment to his game. “He’s confident and I think that’s one of his biggest strengths is that he doesn’t let the moment kind of get control of his emotions.”

The Wolves improved their record to 2-3-1-0 on the season with Sunday’s win. They next see action on Oct. 23, as they face off against the Texas Stars.