One game at a time, Wolves stay focused on the moment

📝 by Patrick Williams

Often Grand Rapids is the American Hockey League city of choice in Ryan Warsofsky’s number-one message.

Milwaukee sometimes slips into his most consistent talking point.

Last night it was Rockford. Pick a Central Division rival.

Time-wise, November is a Warsofsky go-to as well.

To stay current, Springfield made it into Warsofsky’s post-game comments last night, too, if only to downplay the significance of where the Wolves now stand. Tonight, the Chicago Wolves are going to play for the Calder Cup, taking a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 at MassMutual Center (7 ET, AHLTV, NHL Network Radio).

The message remains: stay in the moment.

Asked about being one win from the Calder Cup, Warsofsky started, “Yeah, I think we’re excited, right? This is what you play for, this is what you coach for.”

But he quickly pivoted back on message. Warsofsky knows that the Thunderbirds will be playing for their season tonight.

“We’re focused on getting our bodies ready,” he continued. “We play another hockey game. There’s no talk about winning championships in that room. Just another day in the office, and we’re going to get ready. We’re going to rest up for tomorrow. We’ll have our morning skate. We’ll do our treatments and our meetings like it’s a Wednesday in Rockford or a Saturday in Springfield.”

Warsofsky himself has stayed true to his message all season long whether it was a November practice, one of the many regular-season Central Division battles with the IceHogs, or a win last night that brought the Wolves to within one win of their first Calder Cup championship since 2008. Today is the focus. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today’s to-do list. Warsofsky has been unyielding in his dedication to that directive.

Chicago’s Game 4 win last night featured several familiar plotlines.

Star Carolina Hurricanes prospect Pyotr Kochetkov shut down 39 of 41 Springfield shots. A fellow top prospect, forward Jack Drury, contributed his ninth goal of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Captain Andrew Poturalski, the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs with Charlotte in 2019, delivered another goal off a neutral-zone takeaway. Josh Leivo, the leading scorer in these Calder Cup Playoffs, served up an empty-net insurance goal. Chicago scored first for the 15th time in 17 playoff games and also converted twice on five power-play chances.

And after the game Warsofsky honed in on an area needing improvement. This time he wanted his players to cut down on penalties after going shorthanded nine times.

“You can’t kill off [that many penalties],” Warsofsky said. “It’s just too hard, minutes-wise, for the guys that play power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5. We’ve got to be better at that for sure going forward.”

Just another day for the Wolves, which is exactly the message that Warsofsky continues to stress at every opportunity.

An assistant to Mike Vellucci on Charlotte’s Cup team three years ago, Warsofsky is in his third season as Carolina’s AHL head coach. He continues to press familiar points, one key being the Wolves playing to their relentless, puck-hungry identity in which their committed defensive play generates offensive opportunities. The Poturalski goal in Game 4 was one such example.

“I think we needed to just get to our game, get to our identity,” Warsofsky said of last night’s win. “Our players know what our identity is. We talk about it enough. We watch it.

“We see it have success, so when we play the right way, we believe we will get offense from that.”

For as talented as the Wolves can be on many nights, it is that steady attention to small nuances of neutral-zone play or breakout options rather than big-picture talk of a championship has become one of their most identifiable features this season.

So as Warsofsky frames it, tonight is just another game in Springfield.

“We’re just getting ready for the hockey game.”