The Chicago Wolves long have been a member of the American Hockey League, but this season was new for everyone: new affiliate, new coach, new players.
And while the Wolves struggled early in the season, they had no problem finding leaders.
The team’s top three scorers — TJ Tynan, Brandon Pirri and Teemu Pulkkinen — have been driving forces on and off the ice, offering a reassuring glimpse of the future for the NHL’s Golden Knights.
“It’s one thing to be vocal, and that’s an important part of leadership, but it’s another thing to lead by example,” Wolves coach Rocky Thompson said. “I think those guys have done a great job all year, and our team has followed them in their direction.”
The three 26-year-old veterans have been the most consistent players all season. Tynan leads Chicago in points, assists and plus/minus; Pirri tops the Wolves in goals with 24; and Pulkkinen is a tenacious shooter with a team-high 164 shots.
Tynan and Pirri also served as locker room leaders — as alternates to captain Paul Thompson. Thompson, also a Golden Knights prospect, spent time with the NHL team while still lacing up for every Wolves game.
The group led the Wolves through a rough start to the season — they were once last in the league — but the positive attitude has paid off. Chicago (33-19) now is second in the tough Central Division, seven points behind the Manitoba Moose, with the playoffs in sight.
“You try to lead by example, but you don’t have to do that much when guys are in there working hard every day,” Pirri said. “We’re all working toward the same thing, and that’s playing on a winning team, hopefully getting noticed and getting an opportunity in the NHL.”
Duke makes debut
Reid Duke, the first player signed by the Golden Knights, was injured during Vegas Rookie Camp in September, and after undergoing shoulder surgery, the center finally made his first Wolves start March 3.
Duke has played four games since then, and while he has no points, he’s beginning to find his groove.
“I just want to keep getting better,” Duke said. “I think I’m getting my legs back under me finally, but it still takes a bit of time to get back into the feel of it and to get back to the level that I felt like I was at in the summer. Playoffs are right around the corner, so I just have to keep building.”
With the regular season winding down, the small details start to count, and the Wolves have a solid handle on one area of the game: shooting.
Chicago is seventh in the league in shots per game with 31.57 and is limiting opponents to 28.56. The Wolves average more than three goals a game and allow fewer than three.
“I think we defend well, we have good fundamentals when we’re defending that allow us to make turnovers or deny shots,” Rocky Thompson said. “We want to be possession-driven, we want to go to the net.”
Contact Emily Polglaze at email@example.com. Follow @enpolglaze on Twitter.