Wolves, playoffs separated at berth

By Etheria Modacure

The season began with a rocky road for the Chicago Wolves. They went on a season-high seven–game losing streak, had trouble winning home games and leads were quickly surrendered. This subpar record eventually had an impact on the team’s playoff aspirations during the last weekend of the American Hockey League season.

After a 2010–2011 campaign in which the Wolves (39-30-5-6, 89 points) battled for a playoff spot in April, the team with four league championships was unable to reach the postseason for the second time in franchise history. They were eliminated from the playoffs on April 9 after the Oklahoma City Barons’ victory against the

Texas Stars.

The Wolves entered the contest trailing the Barons by three points and needed two victories and two losses by Oklahoma City to reach the Calder Cup Playoffs. It was a bittersweet evening for the team because it defeated the San Antonio Rampage 6-3 on the brink of elimination, but it wasn’t enough to extend its season.

“It’s very disappointing as far as I’m concerned,” said Wolves Head Coach Don Lever.“[This is] a team that should be in the playoffs, but we just didn’t play well enough in a lot of games. Everybody is accountable for it, including myself.”

Losing isn’t something this franchise has been associated with because it has never finished a season below .500. The inconsistency displayed by the team was apparent from the start when Lever says he noticed his players relying more on individual assets than working together as a team.

Dogging the team were the frequent changes made by the organization regarding player movement and trades. In the thick of a playoff race with other West division foes, the Wolves’ NHL affiliate, the Atlanta Thrashers, traded forward Nigel Dawes to the Montreal Canadiens. Dawes was the leading goal scorer with the Wolves at the time and had finished a two-goal performance against the Rockford Icehogs on Feb. 23.

“We had a lot of changeovers, we had a lot young guys,” Lever said. “They made a lot of trades at the deadline that didn’t really help us. Guys we needed to pick up for us in the last three weeks had a rough time getting it going. You get yourself in a position where if you’ve got to make the playoffs, your best players have to be your best players.”

The main problem addressed by Lever was the team’s home record at 19-15-1-5. The team had the opportunity to build momentum through a homestand but failed to do so by losing five out of seven games at the Allstate Arena from Jan. 5 to Jan. 16.

“We put ourselves in a big hole early when we lost seven in a row on the road,” Lever said. “We fought back, and I thought it was the turning point of the season when we came home and had a seven game homestand. We only won two of seven. That and our play against Texas was the difference of the year.”

The Wolves lost all six contests to their divisional foe, the Texas Stars, this season and finished the season 23-23-2-4 against their West Division opponents.

For left winger Darren Haydar, missing the playoffs isn’t what he envisioned after returning from a brief stint with the Lake Erie Monsters.

“It’s unacceptable in the Chicago Wolves organization,” Haydar said. “It’s extremely disappointing. One reason why I came back here was to play late into the season and play for a Calder Cup championship. We ended up shooting ourselves in the foot too many times this year, and it cost us the postseason.”

Haydar finished the season leading the team with 26 goals and was on the last Wolves team to win a Calder Cup championship in 2008. The veteran left winger said the team gave up too many late goals, and their play dipped in their final 15 games. They went 7-6-2-1 in those games.

With some Wolves players becoming free agents after the season concludes, Haydar suggested they should remember prospective teams are looking for winners. He mentioned he was getting ready to enter next season hungrier to return

to the postseason.

“For some guys, they’ve got next year,” Haydar said. “Some guys are [going to] be looking for jobs, and people want to hire guys who have won before.”