Back-to-back proves fruitful for Wolves with All-Star break looming
CHICAGO—Wolves forward Curtis McKenzie arrived at Allstate Arena less than 16 hours after Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Rockford Ice Hogs. Almost every weekend in the AHL, teams play on back-to-back nights. But less common are Saturday night games followed by Sunday matinees, where less than 24 hours separate opening puck drops.
McKenzie drinks coffee before every game to hype him up, but on days like Sunday, he needed more than a small boost.
“Today is probably going to be a two-cup day,” McKenzie said before Sunday’s game. “I knew it before I even came to the rink.”
The Wolves lost 4-0 Sunday to the Milwaukee Admirals. The team moves to 3-5 on the season in Sunday back-to-back matinees, a strong deviation from their .607 winning percentage in regular season games. Sunday’s loss became a staple for how fatigue and a lack of rest can drain a team just past the midway point of the 2018-19 season.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t ready,” said Wolves coach Rocky Thompson after the loss. “We weren’t physically ready to play the game the way we needed to.”
Thompson tried shortening shifts early in the game to preserve energy for the team, but it did not result in any quick goals to put his club on top. Forward Alex Gallant decided to take matters into his own hands midway through the first period, initiating a lengthy fight with Admirals right winger Mathieu Olivier.
“I thought if I had a good with that guy the boys would get fired up and that’s definitely what I was trying to do,” Gallant said.
The fight rose the crowd’s energy, but not the Wolves’ energy on the ice. With less than one minute left in the first period, the Admirals scored a power-play goal to put them up 1-0.
By the third period the Wolves trailed by two goals, within striking distance for a team that stormed back with a pair of power-play goals to send Saturday’s game into overtime. But the fatigue became too much to overcome.
“I don’t think we made [the Admirals goalie] make one tough save tonight,” Thompson said. “We had probably 8-10 opportunities to actually force him to make a save and we just missed the net or didn’t even get the shot off—that’s on us.”
A lack of execution became a product of the team’s lethargic behavior according to Thompson. The loss pushed the Wolves into a tie for second place in the Central Division with the Iowa Wild. A two-game road trip becomes the next beast for the Wolves to conquer before the AHL All-Star breaks gives players a five-day break. The Wolves return to Allstate Arena on Feb. 2 to finish out the final three months of the AHL season.