HARTFORD, CT – Friday night was a party 583 days in the making. The Hartford Wolf Pack opened the doors to the XL Center to fans for the first time in nearly 600 days on Friday night. They treated those in attendance to a thrilling 2-1 victory, as Morgan Barron, who tied for the team lead with ten goals a season ago, scored the winner 7:50 into the third period. Barron blasted a one-time shot by Jakub Skarek after a perfect pass from Jonny Brodzinski.
There’s no time to bask in the victory, however. The Pack are right back at it tonight as they take the short trip north to Springfield to meet the Thunderbirds for the first time since March 8th, 2020.
Tale of The Tape:
This will be the first of twelve meetings between the Wolf Pack and the Thunderbirds this season. Each side will host six meetings, with this being the only one in October. The Pack will again travel to Springfield on November 12th, while the T-Birds fly into Hartford for the first time on November 26th.
Springfield got the last laugh in 2019-20, claiming a 4-1 victory at the MassMutual Center in the last meeting on March 8th, 2020. Chase Priske scored the winning goal for the Thunderbirds in what was the eighth meeting between the teams at that time. The season was paused due to COVID-19 four days later, and eventually cancelled. The Thunderbirds did not participate in the 2020-21 season.
Hartford did enjoy success in the season series, however. The Pack won five of eight meetings between the teams and finished with a 5-3-0-0 head-to-head record. All-time, the Wolf Pack are 17-21-1-1 against the Thunderbirds.
Wolf Pack Outlook:
The Pack kicked off the 2021-22 season last night with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Bridgeport Islanders on home ice. F Lauri Pajuniemi scored his first career AHL goal to tie the game 1-1 18:14 into the first period. Barron, who led the team lead with 21 points a season ago, scored the winner on a one-timer off a Jonny Brodzinski feed at 7:50 of the third period. G Keith Kinkaid made 30 saves in the win. He’s now 3-0-0 as a member of the Wolf Pack.
“Keith came up really big in the first,” Head Coach Kris Knoblauch said after the victory. “He made some huge saves; we gave up way too many chances. I do think we got better as the game went along, the second, I thought we were about even in the third period. Just a little sleepy.”
The Wolf Pack won’t have time to sleep, however. Even after collecting two points in the Home Opener, there is still business to attend to. In addition to tonight’s tilt with Springfield, the Wolf Pack will return home on Sunday afternoon to host the Providence Bruins at 3:00 pm to complete the first three-in-three weekend of the season.
While the start of last night’s game may not have been what the club was looking for, the penalty kill appears to be in mid-season form. The group killed off all five Islander powerplays and was a big reason why Hartford found a way to win.
“The penalty kill was very good tonight,” Knoblauch added. “It was one of the strongest parts of our game. One thing I like about our penalty kill is I think we’ve got seven forwards that we used on penalty kill time. That’s with (Greg) McKegg, who is a big part of our group.”
The Thunderbirds are kicking off a new era tonight at the MassMutual Center as they open their 2021-22 slate. The club is playing its first game as the primary affiliate of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. Previously, the Thunderbirds had been the affiliate of the Florida Panthers.
Head Coach Drew Bannister makes his debut tonight behind the Springfield bench. Bannister previously was the Associate Coach of the Utica Comets (2020-21) and Head Coach of the San Antonio Rampage (2018-2020). Bannister follows the Blues to Springfield after their stint in San Antonio.
The T-Birds made several key additions during the off-season. The club added F Sam Anas, who signed with the Blues on October 10th, 2020, and was assigned to the T-Birds on October 7th, 2021. Anas led the AHL in scoring during the 2019-20 season with 70 points (20 g, 50 a) in 63 games with the Iowa Wild. Springfield also added veterans in the form of F Nathan Walker, F Matthew Peca, D Steven Santini, and G Charlie Lindgren.
The T-Birds are kicking off a back-to-back set that will see them play host to the Islanders tomorrow afternoon at 3:05 pm.
WATCH: AHLTV (Free preview weekend)
Single game tickets for the 2021-22 Hartford Wolf Pack season are on-sale now! To secure your seats and join the fun for this milestone 25th anniversary season, visit www.hartfordwolfpack.com.
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ABOUT THE HARTFORD WOLF PACK: The Hartford Wolf Pack has been a premier franchise in the American Hockey League since the team’s inception in 1997. The Wolf Pack are the top player-development affiliate of the NHL's New York Rangers and play at the XL Center. The Wolf Pack has been home to some of the Rangers newest faces including Igor Shesterkin, Filip Chytil, and Ryan Lindgren. Follow the Wolf Pack on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.