Back in March, I said that barring an exceptional turn of form the Hartford Wolf Pack were heading to yet another Spring with no playoffs. A four-game losing streak to start the month of March seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. But the return of captain Jonny Brodzinski sparked a record of 11 wins in 14 games to close out the regular season, which helped the Wolf Pack clinch a playoff spot with games to spare.
It has been a trying few seasons for Wolf Pack fans. Amidst what initially looked like another failed season, discourse returned among Rangers fans addressing whether or not Hartford should even be the Rangers’ affiliate location. A slew of high draft picks failing to develop has sparked questions about the qualifications of the organization’s development coaches. Some even appear to believe that sending prospects to Hartford is akin to sending them to Siberia.
Halfway through the season, it was difficult to gauge whether or not the most recent top prospect banished to Siberia, second round pick Will Cuylle, was having a season beneficial to his development. He was one of the few players on the team that offered a goal threat, but the team was one of the lowest-scoring in the league. That all changed in the second half of the season.
After a short call-up to the big leagues, Cuylle returned to the AHL and scored 24 points in 27 games to close out the season, finishing the year with 45 points in 69 games and leading the team in goals with 25. There is no question that he has progressed this season and is still on track to potentially make an impact as a middle-six player in the NHL one day.
Ryan Carpenter and Brozinski were key cogs in improving the offensive output as well – maybe demotion from the NHL to Hartford is not a death sentence after all – and it would also be silly to not mention Zac Jones and his 31 points in 54 games, providing the Pack with a legitimate offensive threat from the backend.
The team closed out the year scoring four or more goals in all but four of their last 14 games, and they have gained youthful scoring reinforcements in the form of Adam Edstrom, Bryce McConnell-Barker, Adam Sykora, and Brett Berard. In goal, Louis Domingue was outstanding to close out the regular season and will provide the Wolf Pack with the confidence inexperienced teams need in goal.
The Word on the Birds
Now the high-flying Wolf Pack come up against a Springfield Thunderbirds team that clearly gives them trouble. They are responsible for five of the Wolfpack’s last eight losses. It is not hard to see why, as they are a good team with some strong prospects and solid AAAA players, such as Martin Frk, Scott Perunovich, Adam Gaudette, Jake Neighbours, and Josh Leivo.
Joel Hofer is another name some fans might recognize as well; he backstopped Canada to Gold at the 2020 U20 WJC and has had a strong season, posting a .924 save percentage.
we can CONFIRM that there will be $2 beers and $1 hot dogs at Friday's playoff game.
— Hartford Wolf Pack (@WolfPackAHL) April 18, 2023
This will be a challenging match-up for the Wolf Pack, but hey, it’s the playoffs and anything can happen. They enter as arguably the AHL’s hottest team and have every chance of winning this three-game series despite facing off against their bogey team.
The Pack will host the Thunderbirds at the XL Center on Friday ($2 beers and $1 hot dogs should provide plenty of incentive) with at worst a 1-1 series tie, as the Pack took Game 1 last night in dominating fashion. Let’s go Wolf Pack!