THE WILD WIRE - OFFSEASON BLOG #1May 31, 2019
The 2019 Calder Cup Finals begin Saturday as the Chicago Wolves and Charlotte Checkers play Game 1 from Bojangles Coliseum.
As a sports fan, I’m almost always rooting for someone, even if “my team” isn’t playing. Sometimes it’s the underdog. Sometimes it’s just the opponent of the city I can’t EVER root for (being from Philadelphia that list is long: New York, Boston, Dallas, any division rival of a Philly team, etc. etc. etc.). Sometimes I know someone personally on the team competing for a title – whether that be a player or staff member. So, for me, it varies.
As an Iowa Wild fan, who are you rooting for?
On one hand, you have the big, bad Chicago Wolves – a hated rival of many AHL fanbases and the team that knocked the Wild out of their bid for the Calder Cup.
On the other side, you’ve got the Charlotte Checkers, a franchise that made the jump from the ECHL back in 2010 and a team the Wild hasn’t faced since the 2016-17 season.
Having not seen Charlotte in person but following them from afar, I’d say they have to be the favorite. Their regular season was insanely productive, as they racked up 110 points (eight points better than the next closest team). They are 11-3 in the playoffs, including a Conference Finals victory over the defending champion Toronto Marlies. Offensively, they’re scoring just less than four goals per game. Their roster boasts plenty of experience, as well as some budding NHL prospects, and their goaltending is rock solid, with Alex Nedeljkovic and Dustin Tokarski putting up great numbers.
The Chicago Wolves have been a great story this season too. They are a team which battled adversity in a much different way than most teams en route to the final postseason round. How, you ask? Well, once the Wolves made their run up the Central Division standings in the second half of the season, they never really looked back. They didn’t have to play a bunch of “playoff games” in late March and April as their postseason chances were all but locked up.
Instead, the adversity they faced came with their roster roulette – with injuries mounting throughout the regular season and into their first-round series against Grand Rapids, they had to really hunker down defensively and play a committed team game to keep rolling. Once they got through the Griffins, they got some of the cavalry back as they prepared to face the Wild. Their Game 6 box score in the Western Conference Finals against the San Diego Gulls had them at what I’d consider “full capacity” from a health perspective. And, now they’ve had a few days off to rest up some more.
Head Coach Rocky Thompson has this team believing in one another, and from what I gathered back in the Central Division Finals, this Wolves team truly loves the staff and the culture that’s in place. Don’t underestimate that type of environment in the playoffs. Teams that care for each other and are willing to sacrifice for the greater good tend to have long playoff runs. To me, that sums up the Chicago Wolves. Sure, they’ve got talent and experience. But they are having fun playing right now and they are committed to doing things the right way. Kudos to their coaching staff and players for making that come together.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE WILD FROM 2018-19
Man, what a great season it was for the Iowa Wild. Great crowds, countless records shattered, the team’s first-ever playoff appearance…it was a season I’ll never forget.
A big thank you to all those who helped make it possible – from our staff here in Iowa to the folks in Minnesota who supported us, to all those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes and provided the team with the best resources possible to make this such a successful campaign!
To the fans, you all are awesome! The atmosphere this season at Wells Fargo Arena was spectacular and the love on social media and out in the community was something special. I know this is just the beginning – I’m fully confident we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg on what is becoming a great hockey town.
Now to just a couple of quick thoughts on where the Wild ultimately fell short:
- Injuries – Losing Mason Shaw in the opening round against the Milwaukee Admirals was a crucial blow to this team’s chances of winning the Calder Cup. Shaw had become such a big factor for the team down the stretch, eating up valuable minutes at center and playing a huge role on the team’s penalty kill. Add in his locker room personality and tenacious effort and it was a massive hole in the lineup when he went down. Then Matt Read got banged up in Game 5 against the Wolves and was unable to play in the season-ending Game 6. Again, another untimely injury as Read’s leadership and knack for big plays in big moments were certainly missed in that final game against the Wolves.
- 11 Games In 23 Days – That was the hand the Wild were dealt in the postseason. By not closing out the Milwaukee series in Game 3 or 4, Iowa was forced into a ton of hockey at a time where the players start to wear down.
- Game 1 vs. Chicago – It turns out the Wild really did need a split in the first two road games in Rosemont. It’s always talked about in a best-of-seven series – “the visiting team just wants to get one of the first two games” – and ultimately, a 0-2 deficit was too much for the Wild to overcome. Despite having almost no turnaround time between Game 5 in Milwaukee and Game 1 in Chicago, the Wild found themselves leading the Wolves 2-1 entering the third period in Game 1. But a defensive zone turnover led to Nic Hague’s goal, which tied the game at 2-2. The Wolves eventually won in overtime and claimed the early momentum in the series.
I hope everyone enjoys their summer. The Minnesota Wild host their annual development camp in late June, which will be here before you know it! We’ll have some stuff for you that week, so please keep checking back for fresh content.
And don’t forget the NHL Network is airing the Calder Cup Finals!
- Wild Joe Radio