The Milwaukee Admirals have run the gauntlet since the team went through its overhaul around the NHL Trade Deadline. They swept the three-in-three weekend and followed up with a School Day Game victory in the midweek. What now? Create a new gauntlet.
This weekend the Admirals finish off a four-game home stand at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena with back-to-back games. Tonight it is the Chicago Wolves. Tomorrow it will be the Rockford IceHogs back on their radar. There is a three-game West Coast road trip looming next week. Before the Admirals can think about warmer weather they must first keep on the path established last weekend: one game at a time.
The Wolves enter tonight’s game with a record of 32-18-6-2 (72 points, 0.621 points percentage). They are second in the Central Division standings behind the Manitoba Moose (0.661) and are currently surging on a five-game winning streak while going 8-2-0-0 across their last ten-games played.
This season’s Amtrak Rivalry has been about as close as it can get. The Admirals record against the Wolves: 4-3-1-0. The Wolves record against the Admirals: 4-2-1-1. The Wolves are 1-1-1-1 this season at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and they have played three-games that have required overtime or a shootout to decide a result. These two won’t see each other again after tonight’s game until the month of April when the Admirals will see the Wolves in three of their final seven games of the 2017-18 regular season schedule.
To help preview tonight’s game I reached out to the great Samantha Hoffmann of Sin Bin Wolves. She was kind enough to help give us an inside look on the Chicago Wolves ahead of this game and let us know how things have been going across the divide of the Amtrak Rivalry.
~Q&A with Samantha Hoffmann~
Admirals Roundtable: It seemed like it could be a difficult season for the Chicago Wolves given the affiliation deal between both the Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues. How have they managed to do so well in 2017-18?
Samantha Hoffmann: Their season got off to a really rough start. They had an eight-game losing streak which stretched from November 8 to November 25, and then dropped the next three. During that stretch, it just seemed like they were getting every bad bounce and every stroke of bad luck out of the way for the rest of the season. There was not a good reason they were not willing games, and it has shown since because they’re now the second-best team in the Central. A lot of that is due to the success Rocky Thompson has experienced his entire coaching career, and he’s transitioned it from the OHL to the AHL. The team also gets along well with one another off the ice, and that chemistry clearly converts on it. They’ve had a lot of success with AHL-only contracted players like Brett Sterling and Kevin Lough who have found repeated and sustained success with Rocky’s systems.
AR: Do you think next season it will help when that affiliation agreement with Vegas stands alone or has Chicago benefited from having St. Louis still partially involved?
SH: A dual-affiliate system is extremely complicated, because you’re at the mercy of the injuries/performance of not just one NHL team, but two. This really impacted Chicago earlier in the season; their roster completely varied night-to-night. Next year will bring them much more stability because of this, but at the same time they will lose a few Blues-contracted players who have become cornerstones of this year’s team, like Beau Bennett and Wade Megan. Because of this, they’ll have to rebuild a few parts of the team akin to the transition from the 16-17 season and might drop a few games to begin next year. It’s also difficult because they’re not affiliated with an NHL team with a more established pool of prospects the way St. Louis is, but with the draft and free agency coming up hopefully Vegas will be able to find more of the role players it’s currently missing at the AHL level.
AR: The Milwaukee Admirals went through a rather hard shake-up recently with their roster. I wouldn’t expect anything that severe to have happened for the Wolves but what are some of this year’s storylines with our Amtrak Rivals?
SH: Goaltending. Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. The Wolves have used Kasimir Kaskisuo, Michael Leighton, Oscar Dansk, C.J. Motte, and Maxime Lagacé in goal this season due to injuries to VGK goaltenders. Just when it appeared the Golden Knights goaltending corps was finally healthy, and so was Chicago’s, Malcolm Subban went down with injury and Lagacé went back up to Vegas. It’s been a revolving door in the crease and that posed a challenge early in the season, but now Dansk and Kaskisuo are more confident than they have ever looked in goal and it’s playing in Chicago’s favor.
AR: Who has impressed you the most for the Wolves this season?
SH: Kevin Lough and Jake Bischoff. Lough was originally a PTO signee early from the Adirondack Thunder when the injury bug began to hurt this team. Entering the 2016-17 season, he was fresh out of college and a bottom-pairing defenseman in the ECHL who worked his way to being a cornerstone of the Thunder blue line by season’s end. Lough went from being someone here tentatively to signing an SPC and being a top-four guy for the Wolves playing in all situations and contributing massively. He’s one of the most dependable skaters on the roster, and fun to watch. Bischoff is playing in his first full season since leaving the University of Minnesota and was early on a top-pairing defenseman for Rocky. He’s quick, but the most impressive thing is his hockey smarts on the ice. He’s definitely the top defensive prospect in the Vegas system, and I see him becoming a top-four guy at the NHL level sooner rather than later.
AR: Have their been any surprises for the Wolves along the way this season?
SH: Kasimir Kaskisuo has developed so well in the Wolves. He didn’t get off to the best start in Chicago, and was the third goaltender on the Toronto Marlies roster before being loaned to the Wolves. Now, he’s confident in goal, stable, reliable – all the things you could want out of a starting goaltender. At this point, when Lagacé returns I can’t confidently say which of these three goaltenders will get to quarterback this team entering the playoffs, because they are all spectacular goaltenders and capable of starting and stealing games. It’s a good problem to have, and Chicago’s been lucky they haven’t seen Kaskisuo recalled from his loan yet.
AR: Looking at the landscape of the Central Division. How do you see this battle for playoff spots working out?
SH: Chicago and Manitoba are a lock. Chicago’s playing its best hockey even with injuries making their way through the Wolves’ line up while the Moose have been slipping a bit. I think the winner of the game between the two Saturday will be a good predictor of which will have the first seed come playoffs. With two games in hand on Grand Rapids and Milwaukee, Iowa should be a team which stays in playoff position, but both Grand Rapids and Milwaukee have been playing hot lately. My guess is Grand Rapids will have the fourth spot, though. I don’t see Rockford figuring into the playoffs with the goaltending injury in Chicago and that organization having a down-year.
AR: And, taking a peek at the NHL, how far do you see this incredible run for Vegas lasting in their inaugural season?
SH: I would absolutely love to see Vegas make it out of the first round of playoffs. They’re a lock at this point to see postseason hockey, but it appears they have lost a bit of their spark lately. However, they will have home ice advantage through most, if not all, of the Western Conference playoffs and it could work largely in their favor. My prediction is they will surprise and make it to the second round, but they have lost a lot of ground in the playoff picture recently and will only have the home ice advantage in the first.
A huge thanks to Samantha Hoffmann for taking the time to talk Chicago Wolves hockey with us! If you haven’t already I’d recommend giving her a follow on Twitter (@SinBinWolves) and also keep up with her awesome work with Sin Bin Wolves as part of the Sin Bin network. They’ll be a team worth checking in on – especially come April.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game? Are you expecting more of the same out of the recent run by the Milwaukee Admirals, an offensive improvement, or a setback? Is this yet another measuring stick type of game for the Admirals to start proving themselves against Central Division opponents ahead of them in the standings?
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