The Golden Knights have been out of the NHL playoffs since their controversial first-round playoff exit in April but fans may want to tune in to a different Cup chase this June.
The team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, begins the Calder Cup Final against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) on Saturday. The Wolves are filled with some of the Knights’ top prospects and they made an impressive run through the Western Conference to reach the championship series.
“It’s been an awesome year,” said defenseman Nic Hague, one of the Knights’ top prospects. “All year we’ve just seemed to find a way to battle through adversity. We’ve sustained some injuries but we keep hanging around and now we find ourselves in this position. It’s going to be really exciting. All the guys in the room are amped up to get this thing going and hopefully win a championship.”
The Wolves reached the final by finding the right blend between experience and potential. Hague and center Cody Glass are the headliners in a group of prospects that includes players like forward Keegan Kolesar and defensemen Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff and Dylan Coghlan.
But the group is led by veterans like 27-year-old Daniel Carr, who played six games for the Knights this season and was named the AHL MVP after scoring 71 points in 52 games. Forward Curtis McKenzie, 28, forward TJ Tynan, 27, and defenseman Griffin Reinhart, 25, have also led the young guys.
“I think I can speak for basically everyone when I say this year’s been a lot of fun,” Carr said. “We’ve got a really good group of people. That goes a long way to making it enjoyable. That’s been key to our success.”
The prospects’ play should get Knights fans excited because Hague adjusted well in his first full season of pro hockey and scored 32 points in 75 games. He’s played on both special teams units and stepped up his game after fellow blue line prospect Erik Brannstrom departed in a February trade for forward Mark Stone.
“(We’re) thrilled with the way (Hague) has played this year and how much he has improved,” director of hockey operations George McPhee said Feb. 25 when discussing the trade. “So it certainly makes doing something like this a lot easier when you know you have other good young players coming.”
Glass has spent less time with the Wolves, as he was called up April 2 after his junior season concluded. The fifth overall pick in 2017 acclimated well and scored five points in six regular season games and 12 points in 17 playoff games.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” coach Rocky Thompson said. “What he’s done is just got better since he acclimatized here. He’s been bringing offense. He’s playing second line center, power play, some penalty kill.
“I’ve been really happy with his progress. It’s not an easy situation but he’s very coachable.”
Glass’ all-around efforts provided an extra boost that helped the Wolves get past the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Iowa Wild and the San Diego Gulls to reach the Final. Now only the Checkers, the league’s best team in the regular season, stand between them and the Calder Cup.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought series,” Hague said. “It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be a lot of fun. These are the kind of games that as a player, you want to be in.
“You want to be playing for a championship. We’re all really excited for it. I’m really looking forward to getting it going on Saturday.”
Calder Cup Final schedule
All games on NHL Network; Games 2,3 and 5-7 on NHL Network Radio (SiriusXM 91)
Game 1: Saturday, 3 p.m. at Charlotte, N.C.**
Game 2: Sunday, 3 p.m. at Charlotte, N.C.
Game 3: Wednesday, 4 p.m. at Rosemont, Ill.
Game 4: Thursday, 4 p.m. at Rosemont, Ill.***
Game 5*: June 8, 4 p.m. at Rosemont, Ill.
Game 6*: June 13, 3 p.m. at Charlotte, N.C.
Game 7*: June 14, 3 p.m. at Charlotte, N.C.
**Delayed on NHL Network (Will be shown 11 a.m. Sunday)
***Delayed on NHL Network (Will be shown 10 a.m. Friday)
Calder Cup Final at a glance
Chicago Wolves vs. Charlotte Checkers
98 (4th) — Regular season points — 110 (1st)
250 (T-4th) — Goals for — 255 (2nd)
199 (5th) — Goals against — 189 (3rd)
20.7 percent (6th) — Power play — 19.7 percent (T-10th)
82.2 percent (11th) — Penalty kill — 86.6 percent (1st)
+125 — Series price (Westgate) — -145