May 14, 2019

By Tom Witosky

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Gerry Mayhew’s face told the story of the Iowa Wild’s elimination from the Calder Cup Playoffs Monday night

“There was a lot of hurt in the locker room after the game,” a clearly disappointed Mayhew said after the Chicago Wolves won the best-of-seven series with a 3-1 win at Allstate Arena. “This just sucks.”

Mayhew, who parlayed his best season in the AHL with an outstanding nine-goal explosion in the playoffs into his first NHL contract with the Minnesota Wild, wasn’t the only one expressing disappointment.

“It's just tough to swallow,” said Cal O’Reilly, the team captain and leading scorer during the regular season. “You shouldn't get yourself eliminated in the second round with the team we had. Still I am very proud of the guys. We battled hard all year.”

The loss brought an end to the Wild’s first playoff run in its franchise history after a 3-2 series victory over division-rival Milwaukee in the Central Division Semifinals. The Wild’s run into the playoffs at the end of the regular season sparked new attention to the team from central Iowa fans, not to mention extending the record-setting season into mid-May for the first time ever.

Among the team’s accomplishments were:

--The first playoff appearance in franchise history and its first playoff series win.

--The most regular-season wins for the Wild in the team’s six-year history.

--The most home wins in the regular season.

--The highest regular season attendance in the club’s history, as well as playoff attendance – 27,505 in five games – which exceeded expectations and nearly exceeded those of Iowa’s two opponents combined (30,759) in their home arenas despite having four fewer games.

Monday’s loss turned on a quick two Chicago goals late in the second period after Iowa defenseman Hunter Warner scored the Wild’s only tally on a floating wrist shot from the blue line that unexpectedly got past Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk.

Warner’s goal, which came right at the end of a power play, tied the game at 1-1 after Curtis McKenzie rifled a shot past Wild goalie Andrew Hammond earlier in the second period.

While on a power play, the Wild turned over the puck in their defensive zone, leading to a quality scoring chance for the home side. Gage Quinney centered the puck to Daniel Carr, the Wolves’ top scorer, who redirected the puck into and eventually past Hammond.

The puck trickled across the goal line before the Wild defenders could stop it. Leading 2-1, the Wolves then pushed harder and within seconds, Cody Glass scored.

Defenseman Nic Hague had taken a shot from the point that was blocked in the slot by forward Stefan Matteau. With both teams searching for the loose puck, forward Cody Glass knocked it into the back of the net for his fourth of the playoffs.

Head Coach Tim Army said after the game he thought the rebound originated with a hand pass by Matteau.

“I think Matteau caught it and played it between his legs. I thought it was a hand pass,” Army said. “But nothing you can do about it and that makes it three to one.”

Army said he thought Iowa played very well in the first and third period and for the majority of the second period too.

“It's never a good way to end,” Army said.  “Everyone put their heart soul into it since the end of August. This is no easy answer for that.”

At the same time, Army said many of the young players including Ryan Donato, Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway will learn a lot from the experience with the Wild in the playoffs. The trio was sent down to Iowa from Minnesota after the NHL team failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“This series was a battle,” Army said. “There's a lot of different things that happened in the 11 playoff games that will be really good for them. And that will only help them gain experience in these situations for the future.”

Donato agreed the experience would help him and other players the next time they play in a playoff atmosphere. He also said he appreciated how the team welcomed him.

“These were extremely welcoming, every single one of them,” Donato said. “They were extremely personable and made sure the guys from up top felt comfortable when they were sent down. They made sure we were ready for the playoffs.”

Army, who completed his first season as the Iowa bench boss, said the sting of the loss would keep him from putting the season into perspective right away because “we expected to be practicing tomorrow and playing on Wednesday.”

But, Nate Prosser, a veteran NHLer who joined the Wild in February after being placed on waivers by Minnesota, said that losing the series would hurt for a while, but can’t wipe away the many accomplishments of the team this season.

“There are a lot of positives to take from this season,” Prosser said. “We obviously got into playoffs and got past Milwaukee and pushed these guys to six games. It hurts right now but take a little time off and look back and they’ll realize this is a good team, a good squad and a good group of guys.”  

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