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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wolves win two over IHL rivals; home ice advantage

To start with, the Wolves have clinched home ice advantage in the first round of the Western Division playoffs, which will start in about ten days. In addition, the Wolves have won two games in a row this weekend, which is putting distance between them and the Milwaukee Admirals, but also keeping them on the heels of the now first place Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights.

The Knights won one game this weekend. They faced two weak opponents in the San Antonio Rampage and the Houston Aeros, and came up with three points despite the loss because of an overtime point in Houston.

The victory of the Wolves over the third place Milwaukee Admirals was a surprise. The Admirals, who have dominated the Wolves this season, had billed the event as a guaranteed overtime in a ticket promotion to fans. The first period action, and the start of the second period was dominated by the Wolves, who went up 4-0, before the Admirals came back and tied the game 4-4. A power play goal by Nathan Oystrick put the Wolves over the top to best their old International Hockey League rivals at the Bradley Center Friday.

On Saturday night, at the Allstate, the Wolves dominated another IHL rival, the Grand Rapids Griffins, in the Griffins eighth straight road game loss. The Wolves came out and were cruising along beating on the Griffins when a mishandled puck allowed the Griffins to score on an empty net during a Wolves power play, tying the game 1-1 in the first period. The Wolves came back to dominate the first period, putting 14 shots on Griffin goalkeeper Stefan Liv, compared to the Griffins just five shots on goal and ended the period up 2-1. However the Griffins answered in the second period, again tying the game 2-2 before the Wolves scored three more times. The final here was 5-3, Chicago.

Peoria was given some hope with the Wolves win. The Rivermen are chasing the North Division Griffins, and trail them by three points for the last North Division berth. The Griffins face the third place North Division Hamilton Bulldogs three times in the next seven days, and then face the last place North Division Toronto Marlies at home to end the season. The Rivermen face the first place Admirals and then play a home and home series against the Knights before ending the season against the Admirals in Milwaukee on Sunday.

The Manitoba Moose have captured the North Division banner for the year. They shut out the Rivermen last night for the honor. If Peoria plays in the North Division, they would face the Moose in the playoffs. It is the first ever division crown for the Moose franchise, who have a hot new goalie in the pipes. Dov Grumet-Morris has stopped 105 of 106 shots on goal in three starts, with a GAA of .32 and two shut outs.

The Norfolk Admirals will probably not place first in the East Division at this point. The East is very tight, with the Hershey Bears leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by two points and the Admirals by four points. The Admirals, an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, with the affiliation, and the players and coaching staff, moving to Rockford next season, lost to the Bears on Saturday 6-1.

One of the tightest races still to be determined is for the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Division, with the Albany River Rats and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers now separated by just one point in the standings. They actually faced each other last night and, as if this race couldn’t get any more interesting, the final score was 3-2 in a shoot-out, thus the one point lead by the Rats.

There is a rumor that there is a division in New England that goes home to their beds after every game. There is reportedly a race here too, with the sixth place team, the Portland Pirates, holding 82 points and the third place team, the Worcester Sharks, just 89 points.

Over in the United Hockey League, congratulations to the Chicago Hounds. In their inaugural season, the team has made the playoffs. They will be playing the Fort Wayne Komets in round one. The Rockford IceHogs have been assured of a playoff bid for sometime, and Illinois hockey fans, we will see one of the biggest rivalries in the state for the last time ever here: the Hogs face the Quad City Mallards in round one.

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