TWO MINUTES FOR THOUGHTS: NOVEMBER 16TH, 2023Nov 16, 2023
Time to catch our breath. To call the last seven days the busiest of the 2023-24 season would be an understatement. Since we last spoke in this space, the Wolf Pack have played four games and seen a coaching change.
There’s a lot to get to, so let’s not waste any time and dive right into the blog, shall we?
1.) Let’s start with the big news, Kris Knoblauch accepted the head coaching position with the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday and departed the Hartford Wolf Pack. What an amazing opportunity for Knoblauch, who was in his fifth season guiding the Wolf Pack.
Knoblauch did a lot of good in Hartford behind the bench. He was a big part of restoring the Wolf Pack after a few difficult down seasons. He, GM Ryan Martin, the entire coaching staff, the development staff, and management did an excellent job of putting the Wolf Pack back on the map as one of the high-end teams in this league.
The goal for players in the AHL is to make the NHL. That goal is the same for coaches, managers, broadcasters, ticket sales staff, marketing staff, you name it. Knoblauch accomplished that goal on Sunday, earning this well-deserved opportunity with the Oilers.
2.) On a personal note, it’s sad to see someone who you enjoy working with leave. Kris was terrific to me, even while I was truly learning the ropes of pro hockey. When I came to Hartford, I was a 27-year-old kid who had never worked full-time for a professional hockey team. Kris helped me learn the standards at this level, was extremely supportive of me, and was always willing to help wherever he was needed.
I’ll always be grateful for the lessons he taught me and the advice he gave me. I’ll always appreciate his kindness to me as well.
3.) The other side of this script? There are a lot of people, me included, thrilled by the opportunity that Steve Smith has received as the interim head coach. Smith is a veteran of over 800 career NHL games and is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion. On top of that, he has over a decade of assistant coaching experience in the NHL and has spent the last two seasons here in Hartford as an assistant.
Smith picked up his first victory on Wednesday morning, and you could tell how much that meant to him when he spoke postgame. Smith’s first availability as the interim head coach of the Wolf Pack can be seen here.
4.) Hard not to feel happy for Adam Sýkora following his first career AHL goal on Wednesday morning. Sýkora ripped a shot over the glove of Vadim Zherenko to give the Wolf Pack a 3-0 lead 18:53 into the hockey game. The emotion from Sýkora could be felt throughout the entire arena, and you could see just how happy and excited he was about the moment.
That is why we love this sport so much.
5.) Lost in the madness of the last few days is just how strong of a weekend veteran Riley Nash had. Nash struck twice in Hartford’s 3-0 victory in Bridgeport on Friday night, then tallied a clutch assist on Sunday afternoon. Nash cleanly won the faceoff to Nikolas Brouillard, who fed Jonny Brodzinski for the six-on-five tying goal that earned Hartford a point against the Bruins in Providence.
Nash added another assist on Wednesday and now has ten points (5 g, 5 a) in 13 games.
6.) Stick taps to Dylan Garand on his first shutout of the season on Friday night in Bridgeport. Garand turned aside 37 shots, including 15 in the final period. He's now 4-1-2 on the season with a save percentage of .927 and a goals-against average of 2.30. That save percentage ranks him eleventh in the AHL. It’s been a strong start to Garand’s second professional campaign.
7.) What a week it was for Louis Domingue, Garand’s partner in the crease. Domingue made 25 saves in his New York Rangers debut last Thursday night, shutting down the Minnesota Wild in a 4-1 Rangers victory. Domingue was named ‘Second Star’ of the hockey game and received a chorus of “Loooou” chants from the crowd for his efforts.
On Wednesday morning in his return to the Wolf Pack, Domingue made 23 saves to collect his fourth win of the season.
8.) That 23-save performance now has Domingue fifth in the AHL in save percentage with a .938 mark. He trails only Dennis Hildeby (TOR, .950), Olivier Rodrigue (BAK, .942), Oscar Dansk (CGY, .941), and Calvin Pickard (BAK, .939).
9.) Speaking of top-ten performances, Jonny Brodzinski’s two points on Wednesday (1 g, 1 a) have him now tied for ninth in the league in scoring with 14 points (8 g, 6 a). Brodzinski has only played in eleven games, which is tied for the fewest of any player in the top ten. Only Cleveland’s Trey Fix-Wolansky (4 g, 12 a, 16 pts) has also played eleven games.
In terms of scoring in the Atlantic Division, Brodzinski only trails the duo of Adam Gaudette (SPR, 18 pts) and Nathan Walker (SPR, 17 pts).
10.) Scheduling quirk! The Wolf Pack will play the Syracuse Crunch in Syracuse on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. The sides will then trek four hours to Hartford and play again on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. After that? The Wolf Pack and Crunch won’t meet again during the 2023-24 regular season.
After this home-and-home set, the Wolf Pack still have a handful of games against the North Division. They still have one more to go with the Utica Comets, four games with the Laval Rocket and Cleveland Monsters, and two each with the Belleville Senators, Rochester Americans, and Toronto Marlies.
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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.