Sunday notebook: Wolf returning to form

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Calgary Wranglers netminder Dustin Wolf is back for more.

Fresh off being named both the AHL’s top goaltender (for the second year in a row) and most valuable player last season, the 22-year-old Calgary Flames prospect is once again shutting down opposing AHL offenses. His 28-save effort gave the Wranglers a 2-1 victory against Colorado in their home opener Saturday afternoon and moved Wolf to 4-0-0 with a .921 save percentage on the young season.

Wolf’s work in 2022-23 made him the first goaltender to be named AHL MVP since Hartford’s Jason LaBarbera in 2004 (LaBarbera is now goaltending coach of the Flames). In leading the Wranglers to the AHL’s top regular-season record, Wolf also paced the league in wins (42), save percentage (.932), GAA (2.09), minutes (3,238), saves (1,540) and shutouts (seven). He captured a spot on the AHL First All-Star Team for the second season in a row, making him the first AHL goaltender ever to do so in his first two pro campaigns, and was co-MVP of the 2023 AHL All-Star Challenge in Laval. And he also won his NHL debut with the Flames on April 12.

The last team in the AHL without a regulation loss this season, the Wranglers (4-0-1-0) are hosting Colorado again this afternoon.

Mads Sogaard stopped 42 shots as Belleville pulled out a 2-1 home win against North Division rival Toronto on Friday night. Following a 2022-23 season disrupted by injury, the 22-year-old Sogaard is 3-0-1 with a 1.73 GAA and .944 save percentage as he works to get back on track. With a strong summer of training behind him, the 6-foot-7 prospect, a 2019 second-round draft pick, still very much remains in the parent Ottawa Senators’ plans.

“It hasn’t always been easy,” Sogaard acknowledged. “I am just trying to be the best I can be, take my game to a new level. I think I put in the work in the summer. I think I did the right things. A big thing for me is I want to be available this year… to stay healthy and play as much as possible, and take that next step to get ready to play in the NHL at some point.”

The Iowa Wild have added defenseman Andy Welinski on a professional tryout deal. Welinski, an AHL All-Star in 2018, has played 286 games in the AHL along with 46 NHL contests, and slotted right into the Wild lineup for their games against Chicago and Rockford this week.

Welinski fills a blue-line void left by Daemon Hunt, who was recalled and made his NHL debut with the parent Minnesota Wild on Friday.

After a 2021-22 campaign limited to 24 games by injury, Lias Andersson put together a 31-goal effort last season with Ontario and secured himself a free-agent contract with the Montreal Canadiens. That deal reunited him with Canadiens executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton, who was the general manager of the New York Rangers when they chose him seventh overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Now 25 and assigned to Laval to begin the season, Andersson posted his third two-goal game of the season in a 7-4 loss at Rochester on Friday, and ranks second in the league with seven goals on the year. His production is all the more needed with Rocket captain Gabriel Bourque expected to be out of the lineup for six to eight weeks following knee surgery.

Ontario’s 4-1 win on Friday afternoon Henderson against the Silver Knights completed a 4-0-0-0 road swing for the Reign. Rookie defenseman Brandt Clarke, the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, supplied a goal and two assists in the win and has already amassed five points and 30 shots on goal through six games.

The Reign will try to extend their winning streak to five games this afternoon at home against Abbotsford.

Hockey fans in Western New York have seen the Buffalo Sabres’ future on display this week in Rochester, where the Americans have had three recent first-round picks up front.

Matthew Savoie (ninth overall in 2022) headed to the Amerks on a conditioning assignment following an injury in Buffalo’s prospects tournament, joining second-year Amerks Jiri Kulich (28th overall in 2022) and Isak Rosen (14th overall in 2021) in the lineup. Head coach Seth Appert put the trio together against Charlotte on Wednesday night, and Kulich and Rosen each provided a goal and an assist while Savoie chipped in a helper in a 4-3 win. Savoie then tallied his first pro goal in Friday’s 7-4 win over Laval.

The Rochester lineup also features a pair of first-round picks on the blue line in Kale Clague and Ryan Johnson.

The Dallas Stars have sent 21-year-old forward Chase Wheatcroft to Texas. Undrafted out of the Western Hockey League, Wheatcroft finished second in league scoring to NHL first-overall pick Connor Bedard last season, piling up 107 points in 68 games with Prince George and earning an entry-level deal with Dallas.

Dallas also signed undrafted forward Kyle McDonald, who had three goals in his first six AHL games after netting 34 goals last season in the Ontario Hockey League with North Bay.

Utica had top prospect Simon Nemec back on the blue line for Saturday night’s home visit from Rochester. The 19-year-old defenseman, who went to the New Jersey Devils as the second overall pick of the 2022 NHL Draft, had been out of action since an opening-night injury. Last season he stepped straight into the AHL logged 65 games with the Comets, picking up 12 goals and 34 points to rank second on the team’s back end.