HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – The Chicago Wolves took down the Grand Rapids Griffins, 5-2, on Thursday to extend their win streak to five games.
Despite winning by three goals, Wolves Head Coach Ryan Warsofsky felt as though there were some things that still need to be worked on by the team to have success in the future. Warsofsky also touched on some positives and explained the goal of an AHL team.
Winning Isn’t Always the Goal
Five straight wins is always nice for a team to secure. However, for the Wolves, it isn’t the only goal. Getting players ready to play in the NHL is a key function of an AHL coach. “Individually, guys need to improve in certain areas to play at the National Hockey League, and that’s what we’re here to do,” explained Coach Warsofsky of his job as an AHL coach. “We want to win; we want to have success. But ultimately, we want guys to play in the National Hockey League.”
The Penalty Kill Can Create Opportunities
On March 28, the Rockford IceHogs gave the Wolves penalty kill a run for their money, scoring three out of five times when Chicago was down a man. The Wolves flipped the script while playing against the Griffins by denying Grand Rapids a goal during all five of Chicago’s kills.
Coach Warsofsky explained that one of the keys to a successful penalty kill is the mentality of the player on the ice who probably isn’t going to end up on the stat sheet, especially since things like blocking shots and clearing a puck 200 feet are not typically tracked. “I think the biggest thing of being on the penalty kill is having some pride to do it, “ explained Warsofsky. “It’s not a pretty job. It doesn’t really end up on the score sheet.” He dove even deeper to explain the penalty kill is another chance for people to have their eyes on a player. “That’s an opportunity to sit in front of scouts’ eyes. That’s an opportunity to play in front of management at different situations,” Coach Warsofsky said of the importance of the penalty kill.
According to Coach Warsofsky, throwing someone on the PK allows coaches to see another aspect of the player’s game. “If a certain player is not on the power play, let’s put him on the penalty kill. Let’s see if he can wow us or get him some confidence that way,” said Warsofsky.
Bad Tendencies Lead to Individualistic Play
In the second period, the Griffins put 23 shots on net from all over the ice. Warsofsky stated Grand Rapids was able to pepper Wolves goaltender Petr Mrazek with shots because they weren’t closing the gap between players quick enough. ‘We just need to get on teams a little bit quicker. We take a little bit of a breath and create some space,” explained Coach Warsofsky. “Players that have space at this level — that have a lot of skill — can make you pay.” The Wolves saw how space could bite them in the bum when the Griffins scored the first goal of the night. “We gave four feet of separation. Rebound, and it’s in the back of the net,” said Coach Warsofsky.
But, it also comes down to the fact the Wolves were depending on having an NHL-caliber goaltender in net to bail them out. When that happens, the bad habits begin to take form.
“I thought we thought we had Petr down here and was our savior,” Coach Warsofky explained. “And he was just going to stop 50 tonight and we were going to ride off in the sunset with a victory.” From Warsofsky’s standpoint, even the third period was “average at best”.
Then, he proceeded to expand on the less than stellar play. “At the end of the day, you create bad habits. Not just as a team, but individually,” said Warsofsky. “You get your focus level down because you think you can make it easy. You’ll play with the puck — you may think you could try to do something creative at our blue line or their blue line — and turn one over.”
Coach Warsofsky also explained that these bad habits lead to a depending on a single player instead of working together as one. “We’re going to get a guy sent down that we think is going to take us to victory.” He then went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s a team sport. We need to play as a team. We got away from that and we tried to individualize and we were fortunate to win the hockey game today.”
Veteran Defenders Have Been An Asset
For the bulk of the season, veteran defense has been a bright spot for the Wolves. Coach Warsofsky explained just how helpful it is to have an entirely veteran crew of defensemen on the roster, “They kind of steer the boat. They’ve done a good job of that, and it’s important that we do have the leadership in the backend.” He expanded upon the importance of the defense by saying, “Just to play in certain situations: last five minutes., late in games, up a goal, down a goal. Those guys kind of set the pace and the tone.”
Going forward, Wolves fans can expect to see Warsofsky throw players into situations they typically wouldn’t find themselves. As he said, the AHL is for developing players to get to the NHL. You can’t find out the full set of skills a player possesses unless you throw them into every situation possible. Luckily, the Wolves have a nice mix of veteran and rookie presence to help make the process a little less bumpy.