ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)–An IceHogs-Chicago Wolves game is always must-see hockey around here. A playoff series between them takes that must-see mantra to a whole new level, and we’ll see it starting tomorrow night.
When the Hogs and Wolves get together there’s bound to be some bad blood. Most of it has to do with geography. Both teams are in Illinois, and they’re only an hour drive apart by the tollway. Some of it is because they face each other 12 times during the regular season. Some of it is driven by the fan bases. The fans interact a lot at the games because of the short drive from one location to the other. The players have only been a part of the rivalry for a short time, but they get it how big it is.
“We definitely feel it in the room there that it means a lot to the city,” said IceHogs defenseman Ian Mitchell. “I think every game it’s probably going to be a great crowd, being so close our fans are going to travel well, and theirs will probably travel well too.”
“That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to the most is just like, packed barn there, packed barn here,” said IceHogs defenseman Isaak Phillips. “If we beat them here, it’ll be crazy. The fans will go nuts.”
Defensmen Alec Regula feels the same vibe. “We love playing them, and we love beating them too, so you can definitely feel it in the air when they come here, and we go there.”
The IceHogs have never won a Calder Cup. They’ve never reached the finals. The Wolves franchise has reached the Finals four times and won the Cup twice. This Wolves team is probably the Cup favorite this year. It set a franchise record by winning 72 percent of its regular season games.
What makes them so good?
“I think it’s their offense,” said Phillips. “They play a really forceful game, and they’re always pinching, and they’re all five in the picture all the time.”
“They attack the net well,” said Regula. “On turnovers and on mistakes they’re really good at trying to score right away.”
Six players in the league made the AHL’s postseason All-Star first team. Two of them are Wolves forwards Stefan Noesen and Andrew Poturalski. Noesen’s 48 goals led the league. Poturalski accounted for 101 points. He has led the league in scoring two straight seasons.
The Wolves not only had the AHL’s best record, but they had a league-best goal differential of +67. They led the league in power-play chances per game (3.37), and they ranked first in the league in fewest goals allowed per game (2.55).
Despite all that, the IceHogs were the one team that handled them in the regular season. The Hogs were 8-3-0-1 against the Wolves.
Is there an explanation for why the IceHogs played so well against the Wolves?
“We have our thoughts, but we’re going to keep them to ourselves,” said IceHogs Interim head coach Anders Sorensen. “I do know our guys enjoy playing them, the matchup. We know they have a good team. We have a respect for them, but we’re ready to take them on here.”
While the IceHogs won the vast, majority of the regular season games with the Wolves, all of the games were close. Seven of the 12 were decided by one goal.
The IceHogs and Wolves have met only twice before in the playoffs. They split those two series. Thursday night’s game one will be played in Rosemont at Allstate Arena.