During the second intermission of the Wolves’ 3-2 overtime victory against the Rockford IceHogs, coach Rocky Thompson addressed his team.
He told his players they were in the game because of goalie Garret Sparks, who had stopped 28 of 29 shots. Despite being outshot 29-9 through 40 minutes and struggling to make any plays against an active IceHogs team, the Wolves were down only 1-0, and Thompson told them they still had a chance to get something from the game.
Part of the message was to stop talking to the officials, and Thompson also said he told his players to “free yourself and go out there and prove you want it more without being undisciplined.”
“I loved the response of our guys,” Thompson said.
“We didn’t play the best game tonight, but we really played hard for each other. It was like a playoff game. It was emotional, and guys bore down.”
Thompson was correct, and the Wolves rallied.
Trailing 1-0 after Philipp Kurashev’s first-period goal, the Wolves got two goals from Curtis McKenzie in the third period to take a 2-1 lead.
The IceHogs’ MacKenzie Entwistle tied the score with 5:58 left in regulation to send it to overtime, where Dylan Coghlan’s power-play goal won it for the Wolves at the 3:24 mark.
Instead of falling further behind the IceHogs, the Wolves (27-26-5-3, 62 points) jumped into a tie with them for the Central Division’s fourth and final playoff spot. The victory and swing of points might not have saved the Wolves’ season, but it didn’t hurt.
“You never know,” Coghlan said. “There’s always those seasons where it comes down to the wire, and [with] one or two points, it could be us and them in the last weekend going into the playoffs and not knowing who’s going to get that third or fourth spot.
“It definitely felt like a playoff atmosphere out there, and as you can tell by the penalty minutes, it got pretty feisty. That’s what we expected coming into it, and I thought we did well with it.”
The teams combined for 50 penalty minutes, and there were times, especially late in the second period, when it felt like a line brawl was a distinct possibility. That didn’t happen, and the Wolves prevailed despite getting outshot 40-25.
McKenzie said the Wolves eventually found a way through the IceHogs’ forecheck by trying to get pucks behind Rockford instead of trying to stickhandle through.
“Just keep going north with the puck and playing simple,” McKenzie said. “Move it quickly and work as a unit. That was a great hockey game. Not exactly how we want to start it, but the guys were excited all night to go. It was fun to close one out.”
The Wolves are 1-1-0-1 on their six-game homestand.
“It’s tight [in the] standings,” McKenzie said. “We talked about it before the game. Especially these games where teams are ahead of us, we need to win.”