Griffins’ Second Period Surge Buries Wolves

Griffins’ Second Period Surge Buries Wolves

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena featured two teams that could mildly be described as desperate for points. Both the Chicago Wolves and Grand Rapids Griffins found themselves on the outside looking in on the Central Division playoff picture for a majority of the 22/23 season. Both clubs trailed the final playoff spot by double digits, and a run had to start somewhere – what better place than the home of the 2022 Calder Cup champions?

Chicago will see a number of changes to their lineup that will see them dress up to 17 skaters: Malte Stromwall and Cavan Fitzgerald were scratched after Saturday night’s game, while Zack Hayes moved into the lineup to try and fill the gaps.

“This is our whole year, let’s be honest.” Head coach Brock Sheahan said of his shorthanded lineup. “It’s this league to a certain extent. A lot of guys in and out of the lineup, but I think our guys are getting better. Hopefully we can keep pushing and add consistency.”

Zachary Sawchenko (9-13-1-1 / 3.27 / .896%) would get the start for the Wolves opposite Victor Brattstrom (2-6-2 / 3.68 / .887%) for the Griffins. You don’t have to look long at the numbers to see the struggle for both goalies and the need for a fresh start.

The Wolves got off to a fast start, but four quick second-period goals from the Griffins would propel the visitors to a 5-3 victory over Chicago to conclude their final home stand before the All-Star break.

First Period

For the second game in a row – the Wolves got off to a hot start. Unlike Saturday, they have learned to finish off those chances. Just a few minutes into the game, Vasily Ponomarev’s offensive zone fightback drew the puck to Ronan Seeley, who fired a shot past Brattstrom for the early 1-0 lead.

Ronan Seeley scores his first and second professional goals in rugby matches. @Chicago_Wolves | #GRvsCHI

— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) January 29, 2023

After a couple of Griffins chances that were stopped by Sawchenko, the Wolves quickly went the other way. On a two-on-one rush, Noel Gunler’s shot grazed Brattstrom’s glove, but Ryan Suzuki was able to follow up on the fluttering puck and slam it home. With a 2-0 lead just 6:19 in and the puck on their stick for most of the period, the Wolves were in prime position to run away with this one.

“I feel we are playing better hockey, which is a good sign.” Sheahan said of his team’s start. “We just have to be more consistent with it.”

But as this season has shown – time and time again – Chicago can’t take their foot off the gas or it bites them. Just after the expiration of a minor penalty on Griffin Mendel, the Griffins executed a tic-tac-toe pass that left Elmer Soderblom unmarked on the side of Sawchenko’s net. Soderblom buried the puck in the open cage to bring the Griffins to a 2-1 deficit.

Heading into the second period, all the Wolves had to do was keep playing their game and avoid the mental mistakes.

Second Period

The Wolves had their chances early in the middle frame – especially from the stick of Jack Drury on the doorstep which Brattstrom denied not once but twice. One that the Wolves would love to have, but didn’t break back.

Then the floodgates opened. Taro Hirose cut through the middle of the Wolves’ ice and drew all attention to him when he left a pass to Simon Edvinsson on the right side of the tape. The No. 6 overall pick in 2021 blew the one-time chance to tie the game at 2-2 at home.

Hold that thought – 22 seconds later and a Hayes turnover at the Griffins blue line led to a freak rush the other way, and a nice feed from Austin Czarnik to Soderblom for the tap gave the Griffins their first lead of the game given at 3-2.

But wait! There is more! A minute and twenty seconds later, Edvinsson dropped a puck to Jakub Vrana, who wired a wrist shot low block to beat Sawchenko and in the blink of an eye, the Griffins had a 4-2 lead. Three goals in 1:42 led to the boo birds coming out at the Allstate Arena, and coach Sheahan called his timeout to calm his team.

“We were just trying to get back to the way we played for the vast majority of the game before that. I thought we carried the play, played the way we wanted to play. We had four big breakdowns in five minutes that really cost us the game.”

Despite the regrouping, the leaks in the wall continued to pour. Five minutes after Vrana’s goal, Joel L’Esperance cut to the net off the boards and fired a backhand that Sawchenko beat to the far post to give Grand Rapids a three-goal lead. Despite a period and change to play, the fourth goal of the second for the Griffins felt like the backbreaker for a Wolves team that just couldn’t cut down on the breakdowns.

The second period ended mercifully for the Wolves without another goal against, but the damage was done when they trailed 5-2 heading into the third.

Third Period

It would be in the final frame where the Wolves got their first taste of the man advantage after killing four of their own penalties in the first two periods. The Wolves would capitalize when Suzuki hit a pass through sticks and bodies to Seeley at the other end, who fired home another heavy shot that would beat Brattstrom and cut the deficit to 5-3. Seeley entered the weekend without a goal in his first professional season and walked away with three markers on the weekend – a testament to his developing game that has gotten stronger as the season has gone on.

Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for the Wolves. Despite pulling Sawchenko with plenty of time to work, the Griffins hung on and minimized any Wolves threats on Brattstrom. Grand Rapids would put in the hard work to stop the Wolves’ offense and skate out of Allstate with a 5-3 win over Chicago.

Three Stars: Elmer Soderblom – 2 goals, 1 assist Jakub Vrana – 1 goal, 1 assist Ronan Seeley – 2 goals Away: The Wolves have been hot out of the gate lately, except for the Tucson series. They get the jump on teams and get ahead of them early. Consistency is going to take some time for young teams, but hopefully the good play from the opening scrimmage can be sustained later in the games. Can the Griffins make this Central Division race interesting? Matt Luff returned this weekend, with Vrana finding his groove and Soderblom’s continued development bringing a ton of offensive firepower to this team. Talent has never been the issue for Grand Rapids – consistency throughout the series and discipline will be what determines this team’s run to catch a Rockford team suddenly dropping like a rock and watching the playoffs from the couch. Look ahead:

Grand Rapids heads back north to face the Milwaukee Admirals on Tuesday night, while Chicago heads to Cleveland on Friday and Saturday for a weekend series before the All-Star break in which both team captains – Brian Lashoff and Max Lajoie – represent their teams in Laval.

“He’s a real pro.” Sheahan said of Lajoie. “He was incredible for our group. He was consistently our best player all year. He’s doing it the right way, he deserves it, and I’m excited for him.”

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Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for field pass hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHWolves.

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