Let us be the first to wish you a healthy and happy Thanksgiving. There’s a lot to be thankful for this year as life starts to return to normal. One of those things to be thankful for is the return of hockey and fans to the XL Center in Hartford. It’s one of those things that always seemed like a given from October to April, that fans would flock to downtown Hartford to support their team. That was taken away in March of 2020 and wasn’t given back until just over a month ago on October 15th.
This year, I’m thankful for a healthy family, healthy friends, and a dream job working for the Wolf Pack and bringing you the action via Mixlr and AHL TV from the XL Center. We all have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Down in the locker room, the Wolf Pack have quite a bit to be thankful for as well, including a five-game point streak.
Banking Those Points
Hartford just keeps finding ways to get points on a nightly basis. Since we last talked, the Pack took a 4-3 decision against the Bridgeport Islanders, fell 2-1 in overtime to the Providence Bruins, then stormed back to beat the Hershey Bears 7-3. It was a wildly entertaining week that featured comebacks and displays of the ability to handle adversity.
While the Wolf Pack collected points in all three games, they also trailed in all three games at some point. Wednesday night featured a hot start, with Justin Richards scoring his first goal of the season less than three minutes into the game. The wheels came off from there, however, and the Pack surrendered three unanswered goals to trail 3-1 at the intermission.
Alex Whelan, Tanner Fritz and Morgan Barron returned the favor in the second period, pushing the Pack to a 4-3 victory to extend their winning streak to three games at the time.
On Friday, trailing 1-0 after two periods in Providence, the Wolf Pack locked things down, got a Ty Ronning goal in the final regulation stanza, and collected a point in a 2-1 overtime loss.
On Saturday night, the Pack played arguably the wildest game of the season. Hartford got goals from Anthony Greco and Patrick Khodorenko in the first period, dominating the frame and taking a 2-0 lead into the break. The Pack then were dominated in the second period, giving up three unanswered goals and struggling to even clear their own zone. Trailing 3-2 after forty minutes, Hartford turned in their best period of the season, scoring five times in the third to win 7-3. Lauri Pajuniemi and Jonny Brodzinski both scored a pair, while P.C. Labrie scored his second of the season in the middle of the outburst.
There are certainly things to work on for this team. The Pack can’t go long stretches in games where they are the second-best team on the ice and spotting opponents three unanswered goals. That said, Hartford is still finding ways to win thanks to excellent goaltending, one of the league’s top penalty kills, and timely depth scoring. Those are traits that have been with the team all season, and traits that make this team very dangerous.
The Road Ahead
The Wolf Pack will get a full week of practice under their belt before opening a massive three-game set with the Springfield Thunderbirds. This is a perfect opportunity for the Wolf Pack to make a real push for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Firmly in second place right now, the Pack can do themselves a massive favor by taking at least two of three meetings from Springfield.
Like Hartford, this Springfield team is deep, has great goaltending and a strong mix of young prospects and proven veteran players. These two teams have solidified themselves as the two best teams in the Atlantic with Thanksgiving now upon us. This series is going to, rightfully, feel more like the playoffs than a late November affair.
The sides will meet at the XL Center on Friday night at 7:00 pm, before concluding a back-to-back set on Saturday at 2:05 pm at the MassMutual Center. The miniseries concludes on Wednesday night back in Hartford with another 7:00 pm puck drop.
Tickets are still available at www.hartfordwolfpack.com. Do yourself a favor and get down to the XL Center on Friday night folks, this is the kind of hockey we’ve all missed over the last 19 months. This is a heavyweight bout that should be wildly entertaining.
This N’ That
Pajuniemi’s two goals in 64 seconds on Saturday night displayed what makes him such a promising young player. His first goal was a deflection of a Ronning shot off the wall. Pajuniemi used his size and physicality to win space in front of the net and got his stick on a shot to fool Zach Fucale. His second goal displayed his speed and shot, as he was able to create separation and then wire a quick but heavy shot for the lead. Pajuniemi continues to develop and has now settled in nicely with a top-six role. He’s a player who could make a huge difference the rest of the way for the Pack.
Speaking of young players, we should also give Whelan quite a bit of credit. Loaned to ECHL Jacksonville after training camp, Whelan was recalled shortly after the start of the season and has been a mainstay in the bottom-six since then. He’s chipping in some offense, is physical on the forecheck, and has played his role to perfection. Depth is key for any good team, and Whelan is giving the Wolf Pack responsible, strong play on a nightly basis. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled his loan and how he has responded to getting a chance.
Have a healthy and happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We’ll see you Friday night in downtown Hartford!
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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.