Wolves oust Stockton 3-0, advance to Calder Cup Final
The Chicago Wolves have enjoyed quite a bit of success in their nearly 30 years of existence.
Winners of four league championships (two IHL and two AHL) as well as more than 1,100 regular-season games the Wolves are consistently one of the country's most successful minor-league franchises.
History works both ways, though.
So while these 2021-22 Wolves racked up a remarkable 50 victories in the regular season they were also in danger of becoming just the fourth AHL team to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven playoff series.
But coach Ryan Warsofsky's squad will not be adding their name to that list as the Wolves advanced to the Calder Cup Finals by beating the Stockton Heat 3-0 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at Allstate Arena on Tuesday. Game 1 of the Cup Finals will be at Allstate Arena at 3 p.m., and Game 2 is Monday at 7 p.m.
Ivan Lodnia snapped a scoreless tie when he took a perfect no-look pass from Spencer Smallman and ripped home a shot with 11:25 remaining. Lodnia never saw the puck go in and raised his arms only after seeing the fans' reaction.
"I shot it and I didn't know where it was," said Lodnia, a third-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2017. "It just got in the back of the padding. ... I just saw the fans get up, so I assumed it went in."
Andrew Poturalski, who led the AHL with 101 points, put the game away when he scored on a breakaway with 1:20 remaining. Josh Leivo scored into an empty net 35 seconds later.
Wolves goalie Pyotr Kochetkov stopped all of Stockton's 28 shots.
"It's unbelievable," Poturalski said. "That group in there -- every single guy has contributed. It's just so much fun coming in every day. It doesn't feel like a job. We all truly love each other and we're excited to be in the spot we're in. "But we know the job's not done and we've still got another series to win. We'll enjoy it tonight and focus on whoever we're gonna play."
The Wolves will face the winner of Wednesday's Game 7 between the Laval Rocket and Springfield Thunderbirds.
The Wolves were less than a minute from sweeping Stockton last Wednesday, but the Heat tied Game 4 with 49 seconds remaining, then prevailed in OT. Stockton claimed Game 5 in OT as well and the Wolves limped home staring at the wrong side of history.
Not that Warsofsky was looking at it that way.
"We talked about it yesterday as a group," Warsofsky said. "There's a lot of guys who have gone through some experiences in there -- Josh Leivo, (Stefan) Noesen, Poturalski, (Stelio) Mattheos.
"We're trying to learn from this and build off of it, but at the end of the day we're playing on June 14th. This is pretty fun. We have to enjoy that because you don't know when those opportunities are going to come again."
Getting back to history, the Wolves became just the second Western Conference team since 1998 to advance to consecutive Calder Cup Finals. (The AHL didn't have a postseason in 2020 or 2021 due to the pandemic). The 2019 Wolves fell in five games to the Charlotte Checkers, who had Poturalski, Mattheos, defenseman Jesper Sellgren as well as Warsofsky, who was an assistant coach.
Now they all have a chance to close another great chapter for the Wolves.
"When I took this job ... I knew how much winning was a part of this organization," Warsofsky said. "And not to be selfish, but I wanted to be a part of it. ...
"This is arguably the (best) minor-league hockey (team) when it comes to winning championships. Why wouldn't you want to coach here? Why wouldn't you want to play here? You walk into our practice rink, you walk into the arena here and you see the banners and you see the pictures -- there's no better feeling in the world than winning a championship.
"And I think we have a group in there that has a big goal and that's one of them."