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Rocky Thompson has confidence in ‘battle-tested’ Wolves

Coach Rocky Thompson and the Wolves enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. | Ross Dettman, Chicago Wolves

Want to know about the turnover the Wolves have gone through this season? With 42 points, Brandon Pirri is the team’s sixth-leading scorer.

He also hasn’t appeared in an AHL game since Jan. 5.

Despite losing Pirri to a recall by the Golden Knights and former top defenseman Erik Brannstrom in a trade to the Senators’ organization, the Wolves (44-22-6-4, 98 points) are in their usual spot. They open the AHL Calder Cup playoffs Friday night against the Grand Rapids Griffins as the Central Division champions and the Western Conference’s top seed.

“I think we’re in a good place mentally,” coach Rocky Thompson said. “We’ve been battle-tested this year. We’ve faced a lot of adversity, and our guys have persevered through that. We’ve had multiple players, really as a team, being able to step up.”

The losses of Pirri and Brannstrom and the periodic absences of key contributors Daniel Carr, Brooks Macek, Tomas Hyka, Gage Quinney and others forced the Wolves to come together in different ways. Thompson said that challenge “galvanized” the team as it had to rely on the depth of its roster and a commitment to its game plan.

“It identified that we needed to play a certain way,” Thompson said. “If we play that certain way, we give ourselves an opportunity every night to have success, and our guys as a group bought into it.”

And with Hyka and Quinney ready for the playoffs and buying in, that mentality will be even more beneficial.

In March, the Wolves won 10 games and took control of the division and conference races.

“Everybody just came together in this style that we play, and it snowballed in a positive direction,” Thompson said.

The Wolves have to keep things going in that positive direction. They play a Grand Rapids team that they beat in five of eight meetings this season.

But the Wolves entered last season’s playoffs with the best record in the Western Conference, and that didn’t help them much as they were swept in the first round by the rival Rockford IceHogs.

Obviously, that’s something they want to avoid. As impressive as their regular season was, winning a division title and finishing with the most points isn’t what the Wolves were aiming for.

Thompson likes where the team is emotionally as it heads into what he hopes is a long playoff run.

“I think there’s a positive confidence within our [group],” Thompson said, “that we can face a lot of different situations and continue to persevere.”

Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Saturday night in Rosemont. If necessary, Game  5 would be April 28 at Allstate Arena.