The Chicago Wolves personified the “next man up” mantra during their five-game Central Division Semifinal win over the Grand Rapids Griffins. Down 2-1 in the series, and with seven key players out with injury, the Wolves forced a fifth and final game. On Sunday afternoon, the Central champions advanced to the next round with a 4-2 win.
Wolves Overcome the Odds to Advance
The Griffins got off to a fast start in Game 5 with a handful of quality scoring chances right off the bat. Goaltender Oscar Dansk was sharp early, stuffing a Wade Megan breakaway attempt just a minute into the game.
Villi Saarijavi, playing in his first game of the series, put the Griffins on top by taking advantage of a slow line change by the Wolves and scoring off of the rebound from a Chris Terry shot. The 1-0 lead would hold up into the second period.
No team enjoyed a 2-0 lead during the first four games of the series and that trend continued when Cody Glass tied the game 3:41 into the middle frame. After keeping the puck in the offensive zone for well over a minute, Glass fired a shot from the high slot, through a terrific screen and into the back of the net for his second goal of the series.
In the previous four games, the team that broke the 1-1 tie went on to win and that remained true after the Wolves scored their fifth power-play goal of the series. At 5:31, Tomas Hyka got to a loose puck at the left side of the net and slammed it home.
Kolesar Takes Over, Griffins Lose Their Cool
Keegan Kolesar increased the lead to 3-1, at 13:08, when a blocked shot came to him in the slot and he quickly fired the puck past Harri Sateri. Kolesar struck again, three minutes into the third period, by potting a perfect pass from Curtis McKenzie.
“It’s amazing,” said a smiling Kolesar after the win. “We’re not as old as we were last year, but the leadership group has done a great job of keeping us all in check and leading by example. All the older guys have shown us the ropes and we’ve rolled with it.”
Shortly after Kolesar’s second goal, the wheels came off for the Griffins. They would spend eight of the next 12 minutes shorthanded as they took four straight careless penalties, including a bench minor for a player throwing a water bottle at an official while the puck was in play.
Colin Campbell added his third goal of the series, in the final minute of play, but it was far too late to mount a serious comeback. In the end, Dansk made 30 saves to get the Wolves into the Central Division Finals.
Wolves Keep Their Cool in Order to Advance
For much of the series, the Griffins did their best to get under the Wolves’ skin by baiting them into penalties and walking the fine line between tough and dirty. It worked in their two wins, but when the Wolves resisted the urge to retaliate, they went on to win.
“Celebrating this right now feels much better than punching a guy in the face on the ice and getting a two,” Kolesar said about focusing on hockey the last two games. “We did everything for the win here – we tried to look the other way as much as we could.”
Head coach Rocky Thompson praised his team’s focus after picking up the first Calder Cup series win of his coaching career.
“We stayed disciplined,” he said. “That was the biggest thing for us tonight. The key is when we were able to have success in this series, we were able to stay disciplined and I give our guys a lot of credit.
“What I take pride in is the effort the team puts forward. I really appreciate that from the players. They give everything they have and they put the team first. That is something very special and I give the guys all the credit in the world.”
T.J. Tynan, who had three assists in the series-clinching win, revealed that the urge to get even was never that great within the locker room.
“I think if you are just focused on the hockey game and getting that win to extend your season, I don’t think it’s that hard (to not retaliate),” he said. “We did that today and we did the same thing in the last game. I was really proud of our group for keeping our composure and not getting into it with them.”
Player of the Series
The Wolves had plenty of key contributors to their success in the series, much like they did during the entire regular season. Hyka, Tye McGinn and Tynan all finished with six points in five games while Kolesar led the way with four goals.
McGinn had points in each of the first four games, but Tynan’s play in the final three games give him the honor. He had big goals in Games 3 and 4, scoring in back-to-back games for just the second time this season. He then picked up assists on three of the four Chicago goals on Sunday.
“It’s a great feeling after a hard-fought series like that,” Tynan said after his big performance. “You want to keep going with these guys. They are a great group of guys and a great locker room. It is always fun to extend your season.”
The Wolves await the winner of Monday night’s Game 5 between the Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Wild. No matter which team advances, the Wolves will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series.