Weekend notebook: Lajoie leading pack of young Wolves | TheAHL.com


📝 by Patrick Williams

Fresh off his season debut with the Carolina Hurricanes this week, defenseman Max Lajoie was back at it with the Chicago Wolves.

Lajoie’s week began with a recall to the Hurricanes, a move that came just in time for the team’s trip into Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Monday.

Lajoie was one of five members of last season’s Calder Cup champion Wolves in the lineup for Carolina. He was joined by Jalen Chatfield, Jack Drury, Stefan Noesen and Pyotr Kochetkov, who turned in 27 saves for his first NHL shutout in a 3-0 Hurricanes victory.

Playing the left side of a pairing with Chatfield, Lajoie registered one shot in 13:51 of play in his 68th career NHL game. From there, it was back to the Wolves.

“[A call-up] is always exciting, and it’s always a new opportunity,” Lajoie said following practice Wednesday.

While the 25-year-old’s work toward securing a full-time NHL role continues, his more immediate work is with the Wolves as they continue their adjustment to a heavy offseason makeover. Last season’s success prompted several key departures as other NHL organizations quickly signed the talent that helped win the Calder Cup. Lajoie is one of only eight players on the current Chicago roster who also competed for the Wolves in postseason play this past spring (along with Drury and Kochetkov, who remain with the Hurricanes).

At 4-6-1-0 and last in the seven-team Central Division, the Wolves play three games this weekend, beginning with the front end of a home-and-home in Rockford tonight.

The Wolves handed over considerable responsibility to Lajoie when they named him their captain Nov. 8. He replaced Andrew Poturalski, who signed with the Seattle Kraken in the offseason.

“I was super-happy,” Lajoie said of becoming the 14th captain in team history. “It’s a huge honor. It shows [the Wolves] trust me in leading the team and showing the young guys how to be a pro on and off the ice. It was a huge opportunity for me.”

Taken in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, Lajoie is early in his sixth pro season. He came to the Carolina organization from Ottawa in a trade for forward Clark Bishop on Jan. 12, 2021. Last season he finished with 33 points (four goals, 29 assists) in 60 games before playing all 18 playoff contests and collecting eight points (four goals, four assists). After three seasons in the Ottawa organization, including 107 games with the Belleville Senators, the deal was a good opportunity for Lajoie.

“The fresh start was nice,” Lajoie said. “It gives you a chance to have new eyes look at you and see what you can bring to their team.”

Lajoie played for head coach Troy Mann for a portion of his tenure with Belleville, and cites him as a strong influence in his development.

“I would say [Mann] was really one of the best coaches I’ve had,” Lajoie said. “He taught me how to be a good pro on and off the ice. Just the way he carried himself as a coach, he was very approachable, and he was kind of a player’s coach at the same time. But you had a bunch of respect for him because he just wants you to work hard. He was amazing.”

Now Lajoie wants to impart those same lessons to his Chicago teammates.

“We have a lot of young guys this year,” he said. “It’s definitely a learning process. But I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far.”

After a 110-point season, the Wolves entered last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs as a strong favorite. But they still had to go out and actually make it happen. That mentality was honed months before those games in May and June.

“Even when we started the [postseason],” Lajoie said, “we had a feeling that we weren’t going to get beat. You need that confidence.”

If the Wolves are to defend their title, the groundwork must be put in place early in the season.

“There are a lot of new young guys on the team,” Lajoie continued, “and they’re learning. It’s going to take more time than usual. But I think they’re doing a pretty good job, the young guys, and you can kind of tell even after a month or so it’s been getting better and better.

“These guys [have] super high-end skill, but at the same time you’ve got to learn how to play in the AHL.”

The San Jose Barracuda kick off a five-game, eight-day road trip with a visit to the Tucson Roadrunners in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week on Saturday evening (9 ET/6 PT).

The Barracuda are coming off a 3-0 win over San Diego on Wednesday, in which Strauss Mann recorded 21 saves for his first career AHL shutout. Mann, a U.S. Olympian in 2022, spent last season in the Swedish Hockey League before signing with the Sharks in April. He also spent three seasons at the University of Michigan and was named the Big Ten’s top goaltender in 2019-20.

Mann is part of a crowded crease in San Jose, one that includes veteran Aaron Dell, who spent last season with the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans, and 23-year-old Eetu Makiniemi, acquired from Carolina in the Brent Burns deal on July 13. Mann began the season with Wichita in the ECHL, and was named that league’s Rookie of the Month for October.

The Roadrunners had an eventful two-game home set with the Henderson Silver Knights to begin their week. The visitors dealt the Roadrunners a 7-1 defeat on Tuesday, but Tucson responded a night later with a 6-2 win. Making back-to-back starts for the first time this year, Ivan Prosvetov rebounded from the loss to stop 29 of 31 shots on Wednesday.


🏒 Milwaukee Admirals forward Juuso Parssinen headlines the latest group of AHL players to make their NHL debut in the last week. Parssinen, who had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 10 games with Milwaukee before his recall to the Nashville Predators, scored in his first NHL game last Saturday against the New York Rangers. He added a pair of goals and an assist Thursday night to propel the Predators past the visiting New York Islanders, 5-4.

Cleveland Monsters defenseman Marcus Bjork also picked up a goal in his NHL debut last Saturday in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ contest against the Islanders. San Jose Barracuda defenseman Nick Cicek made his NHL debut with the Sharks on Tuesday, and then recorded an assist Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings. Texas Stars forward Matej Blumel scored his first NHL goal on Sunday; Blumel had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in nine games with Texas. And Springfield Thunderbirds blueliner Tyler Tucker played his first NHL game with the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.

In all, 18 AHL players have made their NHL debuts this season.

🏒 The San Diego Gulls will have Willie O’Ree on hand for a ceremonial puck drop before their meeting with the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday. “Willie O’Ree Day” is being held throughout San Diego County.

Now 87 years old, O’Ree broke the AHL’s color barrier with the Springfield Indians in October 1957, and did the same in the NHL with the Boston Bruins in January 1958. A long-time resident of San Diego, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

🏒 Iowa goaltender Zane McIntyre was recalled by the Minnesota Wild on Thursday after Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on injured reserve. McIntyre’s only previous NHL action came in 2016-17, when he made eight appearances with the Boston Bruins. McIntyre’s recall leaves the Iowa crease in the capable hands of rookie Jesper Wallstedt, who made headlines last Saturday by making 37 saves and scoring a goal in a 5-2 win at Chicago, his first career AHL victory. Wallstedt, who turned 20 this week, was the 20th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft by Minnesota. Hunter Jones, a second-round pick in 2019, was summoned from ECHL Iowa to join the AHL Wild.

🏒 Are the Syracuse Crunch back on track? This last week has provided some encouraging signs for Syracuse. A perennial contender, the Crunch started the season 2-6-1-2, but have since reeled off three wins in a row, including an 8-3 romp of Utica last Saturday and a 5-4 shootout win in Springfield on Wednesday in a game they had trailed 4-1 midway through the third period. Alex Barré-Boulet (four goals, 17 assists) at 21 points and Darren Raddysh (six goals, 13 assists) at 19 points enter the weekend one-two in the AHL scoring race.

🏒 Lengthy road trips are a fact of life in the Western Conference, and the Abbotsford Canucks have started their longest one this season.

On Wednesday, the Canucks opened a six-game, 12-night trip across Canada with a 4-2 loss in Laval. The Canucks are in Toronto for two games this weekend, including a Saturday afternoon date at Scotiabank Arena — home of the Maple Leafs — and then return to Laval before a two-game visit to Calgary next week. The Canucks (5-5-0-1) will follow the trip with a six-game homestand beginning Nov. 29 against the Bakersfield Condors.

🏒 Offensive ace Tyler Benson is back in Bakersfield, assigned on a conditioning loan Thursday. Benson, 24, sustained a knee injury in training camp with the Edmonton Oilers and has not played a game this season. A Second Team AHL All-Star as a rookie in 2018-19, Benson played a career-high 29 games in the NHL last season while adding 12 points in 18 games with Bakersfield.

The Condors, who had a five-game winning streak halted by Colorado on Tuesday, host Calgary tonight and Saturday.

🏒 A six-game road trip concludes this weekend for the Charlotte Checkers, who knocked off the Hartford Wolf Pack in a shootout Wednesday, 3-2. The Checkers are 2-3-1-1 on the road this season, with both victories coming in Hartford; Charlotte is 4-0-1-0 overall against the Wolf Pack already this season.

Charlotte is in Bridgeport and Springfield to close out the trip before hosting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday.

🏒 Alex Galchenyuk has two assists and eight shots in three games since joining the Colorado Eagles on a tryout contract last week. With Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Bakersfield, the Eagles (8-5-1-0) moved into first place in the Pacific Division and are on a 5-0-1-0 run despite a steady parade of players to and from the parent Colorado Avalanche. The Eagles are back home this weekend for a pair of games with the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

🏒 The Hershey Bears are back to their winning ways once again. At 8-2-2-0, the Bears are off to their best start since 2006-07, when they went 10-1-0-1 in their first dozen games. Hershey is 7-0-1-0 at home this season following three consecutive wins last weekend at Giant Center, and have won six straight overall entering tonight’s visit to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Rookie Hendrix Lapierre, taken 22nd overall by Washington in the 2020 NHL Draft, has six points (two goals, four assists) in his last four games and is tied for the team lead with 10 points overall.

🏒 Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms own a three-game winning streak as they prepare for games tonight and Saturday in Providence against the league-leading Bruins (10-1-1-1). The Phantoms added Artem Anisimov in on a professional tryout; Anisimov was injured while with the Philadelphia Flyers during the NHL preseason. A veteran of 771 NHL games, Anisimov began his North American career with the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2007 and finished fifth in the AHL in scoring (81 points) in 2008-09. The Bruins bring an eight-game point streak (7-0-0-1) into this weekend’s home set with the Phantoms.

🏒 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was recalled by Buffalo on Thursday after the Sabres’ Eric Comrie was injured this week. Luukkonen has played in nine of Rochester’s 13 games this season and is tied for the AHL lead with six wins. With Luukkonen off to Buffalo, the Amerks have Michael Houser and Malcolm Subban on their roster going into this weekend’s home-and-home match-up with Utica, a set that will close out Rochester’s stretch of 15 consecutive games against North Division opponents to start the season.

🏒 The Utica Comets will pay homage to their AHL roots this weekend when they debut their new red-white-green Utica Devils-style uniform Saturday against Rochester. The team is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the AHL’s arrival in the city.

Utica was home to the Devils, a New Jersey Devils affiliate like the Comets, from 1987 through 1993, and was home to the likes of Martin Brodeur, Bill Guerin, Jim Dowd, Slava Fetisov, Bobby Holik, Scott Pellerin, Jason Smith and Eric Weinrich, among others.

The Amerks are a fitting opponent for the new look’s debut. They are one of only three AHL clubs (along with Hershey and Providence) that faced the original Utica entry.

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