Weekend watch list: Feb. 9-11

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

The Hartford Wolf Pack will make a bit of history tonight, and they will do so against a familiar opponent.

On Oct. 3, 1997, the Hartford Wolf Pack began their inaugural season with a game against the Providence Bruins. Tonight against their long-time in-state rivals from Bridgeport, the Pack join an exclusive club as they skate in regular-season game number 2,000.

Hartford will become just the ninth team in AHL history to play 2,000 games based in the same city, joining the Hershey Bears, Rochester Americans, Springfield Indians/Kings, Providence Reds, Cleveland Falcons/Barons, Providence Bruins, Syracuse Crunch and Buffalo Bisons in that club. The Phantoms franchise has also eclipsed 2,000 games, playing in Philadelphia, Adirondack and Lehigh Valley.

The Wolf Pack arrived in Connecticut’s capital city as the new AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, a union that now stands as the second-longest uninterrupted affiliation in the league. The Pack found success quickly, qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of their first 12 seasons, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in their inaugural campaign and winning the Calder Cup in 2000.

Along the way, plenty of talent donned Hartford colors. Wolf Pack stars Ken Gernander, Jean-Francois Labbe and Brad Smyth, along with head coach John Paddock, are all in the AHL Hall of Fame. Chris Kreider, Igor Shesterkin, J.T. Miller, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Graves, Dan Girardi, P.A. Parenteau and Dan Cloutier are among the alumni who came through Hartford.

After several difficult seasons, the Wolf Pack are finding success once again. They reached the postseason in 2023 for the first time in eight years, and currently sit fourth in the Atlantic Division at 23-13-5-0. Off the ice, Hartford is drawing 5,359 fans per game at the XL Center, their highest average attendance in 20 years.

At long last the Toronto Marlies are back home.

Displaced from Coca-Cola Coliseum by the annual Toronto International Boat Show, the Marlies went 5-2-1-1 over a 21-day road stretch and return home to face the rival Laval Rocket tonight (7 ET) and Saturday (4 ET, TSN2, NHL Network).

After a 5-2-1-1 road trip, the Marlies will host the rival Laval Rocket tonight and Saturday afternoon. The Marlies find themselves in a tight battle in the North Division, tied for third with Rochester at 46 points but just three points up on seventh-place Utica.

The Rocket are in sixth place, two points back of the Marlies.

Former Rocket forward Joseph Blandisi (2-9-11), Alex Steeves (6-4-10) and Logan Shaw (6-3-9) paced Toronto’s offense over their nine-game trip, and the Marlies’ special-teams play helped carry the team as well as Toronto went 8-for-37 (21.6 percent) on the power play while killing off 29 of 34 shorthanded situations (85.3 percent).

The Springfield Thunderbirds host the league-leading Hershey Bears in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week on Saturday evening (7 ET).

It is the Thunderbirds’ annual Ice-O-Topes Night at the MassMutual Center as the teams pay tribute to the Springfield of The Simpsons.

The Thunderbirds are fifth in the Atlantic Division at 47 points, and are 14-6-2-2 on home ice this season. They are looking to snap a nine-game winless streak against the Bears (0-7-1-1); Hershey has earned points in 15 straight meetings with Springfield (13-0-2-0).

At 36-8-0-2, the defending Calder Cup champion Bears are playing at an .804 pace; the best record in AHL history was achieved by the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers (57-13-10, .775).

Springfield’s Adam Gaudette and Hershey’s Pierrick Dube are tied for the AHL lead with 24 goals apiece this season.

An AHLTV account is required to watch the AHLTV Free Games of the Week, but no subscription is needed. Visit AHLTV.com for details.