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Monday, April 16, 2007

Exciting loss closes regular season for Wolves

In the American Hockey League, the regular season ended Sunday. Two races were decided on Sunday involving three teams within a short driving distance of Chicago. The Chicago Wolves and the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights fought a fairly even game until penalties with less than four minutes remaining gave Chicago its best shot at evening the score.

Chicago needed a regulation win in the game to take the division crown from Omaha and was, at that point, behind by one goal. Pulling the goalie, Chicago put a 5-3 power play on the ice at 17.07 but failed to stop an Omaha empty net goal that iced the game and the season for the Knights at 19.09.

It was an outstanding effort by Michael Garnett, who took the loss. He stopped 29 pucks among an onslaught of Omaha. Warren Peters of Omaha and Cory Larose of Chicago both scored two goals in the game. Game winner Curtis McElhinney stopped 24 shots in a determined Chicago effort.

The Knights face the Iowa Stars in the first post season divisional semi-finals. Here are the results from this season in that contest:

2006-10-27 Omaha @ 2 Iowa 1 Final
2006-12-26 Omaha @ 2 Iowa 5 Final
2006-12-31 Omaha @ 5 Iowa 1 Final
2007-02-16 Omaha @ 2 Iowa 1 Final OT
2007-03-30 Omaha @ 3 Iowa 1 Final
2007-04-03 Omaha @ 2 Iowa 1 Final
2006-10-26 Iowa @ 3 Omaha 4 Final
2006-11-04 Iowa @ 3 Omaha 0 Final
2006-12-16 Iowa @ 1 Omaha 3 Final
2006-12-29 Iowa @ 3 Omaha 1 Final
2007-01-19 Iowa @ 1 Omaha 3 Final
2007-03-07 Iowa @ 3 Omaha 0 Final

Chicago will face the Milwaukee Admirals in their first post season divisional finals. The Wolves have been on the receiving end of the Admirals all season, with wins at the Bradley Center for the Chicagoans in the last two weeks.

Since joining the AHL, the Wolves and the Admirals have only met one time in post-season play. That was in 2004 and the Admirals defeated the Wolves in six games, the Rochester Americans in five and when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins lost in four games, that gave the Admirals their first banner in more than a decade and the Calder Cup.

The Admirals and the Wolves have met two other times in post season play in the International Hockey League, with the Wolves topping the Admirals in 1998 and again in 2001.

Milwaukee has qualified for the playoffs every year since 2003. The Houston Aeros sent them home in 2003 after three games. The Admirals had beaten the Rochester Americans in three that year to get to the conference finals. In 2005 it was the team formerly known as the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, now the Portland Pirates, who sent them home in four games. Last year they made the Calder Cup finals, finally losing the series to the Champion Hershey Bears at the Bradley Center in six. Along the way, Milwaukee bested the Iowa Stars in seven, the Aeros in 4, and the Griffins in four.

Chicago qualified for post-season play every season of its eleven year history, except last. The Wolves won the Calder Cup in 2002 with wins over the Mighty Ducks in three, the Grand Rapids Griffins in five, the Syracuse Crunch in seven, the Houston Aeros in five to win the cup at home against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in five games.

The Wolves were eliminated from the 2003 cup race with wins against the Griffins in four and a loss to the Hershey Bears in five. The 2004 race saw the Wolves defeat the Griffins in four before losing to the Admirals. In 2005 the Wolves made it to the finals of the cup race, with series wins over the Aeros in five, the Ducks in five, the Manitoba Moose in four, before being swept by the Philadelphia Phantoms in four.

Milwaukee’s Sheldon Brookbank was awarded the Eddie Shore award for defense this season. While Pekka Rinne was ranked sixth among league goalies. The Milwaukee penalty kill is ranked third in the league at 86.1 percent. Rich Peverly is the ninth ranked player for short handed goals, with four and is the 18th ranked player for goals with 30 in the regular season.

Darren Haydar of the Wolves received the league’s Les Cunningham award for Most Valuable Player Award and the John B Sollenberger Trophy for leading scorer in the league. His +/- rating of +24 ranked him eighth among players in defense. Rookie Brett Sterling received the Willie Marshall award as the leader in goal production and the Dudley Red Garrett Award for Rookie of the Year. Defenseman Brian Sipotz tops all league defensemen with a +/- rating of +34 and was recognized by the club for outstanding public service. Derek MacKenzie, who is currently playing with the Atlanta Thrashers, tops all league players with five short handed goals. Brad Schell was named ECHL MVP and to the league's All-Star first team. He scored 110 points this season, including 85 assists which places him fourth in the league among all-time assists.

The Wolves power play is third ranked in the league at 20.4 percent.

Brookbank, Sterling and Haydar were all named to the AHL’s first team All-Stars. Chicago’s Nathan Oystrick was named to the second team All-Stars.

The contest between a high-powered offense and a high powered defense has been in Milwaukee’s favor this season. Results from the Atlanta Thrashers/ New York Rangers series and the Nashville Predators/ San Jose Sharks series will effect the AHL races if Atlanta and Nashville are terminated before either the Wolves or the Admirals. Here are the results for the season:

2006-10-13 Chicago @ 7 Milwaukee 5 Final
2006-12-26 Chicago @ 5 Milwaukee 4 Final OT
2007-01-06 Chicago @ 2 Milwaukee 4 Final
2007-04-06 Chicago @ 5 Milwaukee 4 Final
2007-04-13 Chicago @ 4 Milwaukee 3 Final SO
2006-10-14 Milwaukee @ 5 Chicago 1 Final
2006-12-16 Milwaukee @ 3 Chicago 2 Final SO
2007-03-10 Milwaukee @ 6 Chicago 4 Final
2007-03-17 Milwaukee @ 5 Chicago 4 Final
2007-03-30 Milwaukee @ 5 Chicago 1 Final

Also decided on Sunday was the last open berth in the playoffs. Peoria needed a win and for Grand Rapids to lose to take the fourth berth in the North Division. Grand Rapids got thumped by Toronto 5-1 in their final road game. However the Admirals shut the Rivermen down 4-0 in the final game of the regular season in Milwaukee. The Griffins go on to face the Manitoba Moose in the first round of the North Division playoffs.

Here are the results of the season for that series:

2006-11-07 Grand Rapids @ 1 Manitoba 2 Final
2006-11-08 Grand Rapids @ 1 Manitoba 2 Final
2007-03-23 Grand Rapids @ 2 Manitoba 3 Final SO
2007-03-24 Grand Rapids @ 3 Manitoba 4 Final SO
2006-11-03 Manitoba @ 0 Grand Rapids 4 Final
2006-11-04 Manitoba @ 4 Grand Rapids 5 Final SO
2007-03-16 Manitoba @ 3 Grand Rapids 2 Final SO
2007-03-17 Manitoba @ 3 Grand Rapids 2 Final

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