The Chicago Wolves made their fifth visit to the AHL/IHL
finals in eight years, but were swept by the Philadelphia Phantoms. The
four consecutive losses were just the second time the entire season Chicago
dropped four straight, the first time was way back in November.
Twelve Atlanta Thrashers prospects spent time
with the Wolves this season. Below is a review of their seasons.
The Wolves finished first in the league on
defense, holding opponents to just 1.78 goals per game. Game 4 was the
only time they allowed more than three goals during the playoffs.
Braydon Coburn – Coburn joined the Wolves
with just three games left at the end
of the regular season, but ended up getting in another quarter season’s worth of
games as the team lasted until the finals. Coburn slid easily into the
line-up alongside defensive partner 27-year-old Joe Corvo. He saw a bit of
time on special teams, more as the playoffs went on. The smooth skating
6’5 blueliner plays a solid, effective game. He has the skill to
contribute offensively, but needs to feel like his own end is taken care of
before he’ll demonstrate it.
Brian Sipotz – It was a very long season
for Sipotz, playing 93 total games, compared to a college high of 36 last
season. While he had just 11 points, it was a veritable offensive
explosion for the 6’6 blueliner, whose career high was three points as a
senior. His penalty minutes were remarkably low for any defenseman, let
alone a stay-at-homer his size, however, with just 31 in the regular season and six in
the playoffs. Sipotz had the best plus/minus amongst Thrashers prospects during
the regular season at +6. He played on the third pairing with Tim Wedderburn for a good part of
the year and into the playoffs. His contribution to the team was better
than expected for a rookie, but he has more work to do to refine his game before
the thought of time with the big club. He’s started to look for outlets rather
than chipping the puck out, but his stickhandling remains far below NHL
Paul Flache – Flache finished the regular
season third in points amongst defensemen who were with the club all season,
with 15. Paired with Kyle Rossiter and playing on both special teams, he lost his
roster spot when the team
gained Joe Corvo and Braydon Coburn and did not see time in the playoffs.
The 23-year-old will be looking for a new contract this summer and his solid season
should build a good case.
Derek MacKenzie — MacKenzie did not
score at the clip he did last year during the regular season, going from .56
points per game in 2003-04 to .42 points per game in 2004-05. During this
regular season MacKenzie was a key player on the penalty kill had six shorthanded goals.
At even strength, he played mostly with Karl Stewart and Brad Larsen. MacKenzie
did once again step his
game in the playoffs. He had the best plus/minus on the team during the
playoffs, and was tied for second on the team with five goals. His energy
level was a model for the rest of the team to follow. MacKenzie is the most NHL-ready of
the Thrashers forward prospects who played in Chicago, and will likely get an
opportunity again this season.
Karl Stewart — While MacKenzie’s
offensive production slipped a bit, Stewart managed to cut his nearly in half,
going from .58 points per game in 2003-04 to only .31 points per game in
2004-05. He did pull his plus/minus up in the later part of the season to
finish at +1. It had been worst on the team in late January. Stewart took
a career-high 226 penalty minutes this year, an astonishing number for a player
who isn’t an enforcer. He finished the season second in the league in minor
penalties with 68, behind only Darryl Bootland of Grand Rapids. Many of
Stewart’s penalties were the selfish variety, a case in point being a
boarding penalty that lead directly to the fourth and most devastating Phantoms goal in Game 4 of the finals. Such penalties will not endear him to any NHL coaches.
Stephen Baby – Though somewhat improved in
skating and puckhandling, Baby went from .38 points per game last season with
the Wolves to just .14 this year. Baby did have two
game-winning goals during the regular season, from the fourth line. He replaced
Stewart in the line-up in the playoffs when Stewart missed time due to
concussion-like symptoms. Baby was the only player on the team who ended the playoffs with a
negative plus/minus at -1, playing six games. Baby’s lack of development will
keep the 25-year-old out of contention for an NHL roster spot.
Colin Stuart – A rookie out of Colorado College, Stuart
did not see much ice time with the Wolves this season. Including the five
games he spent with the Gwinnett Gladiators in January, his 44 total games
played just barely exceeded his totals in college. He did not see any time in the
playoffs. The smart defensive forward will almost certainly see increased
time next season.
Kevin Doell – Doell managed 12 points in
45 games with the Wolves before breaking his jaw. When he returned from
injury, he was sent down to the ECHL where he had 15 points in 14 games.
He finished the season with the Gladiators, and though he was recalled back to
Chicago when Gwinnett’s playoff run was over, he did not see further playing
time with the Wolves. Doell turns 26 next month. Not talented enough to be a finesse player at higher levels, he’s also not big enough to be an effective checker.
Kari Lehtonen – Lehtonen ended the regular
season fifth in minutes played with 3378. He improved his numbers slightly
from last season, a .929 save percentage compared to .927, and a 2.27
goals-against versus a 2.41 last season. While he didn’t start the season
with a quality defense in front of him, it did improve with the additions of Tim
Wedderburn, Joe Corvo, Jay Bouwmeester and Braydon Coburn. Only two
defensemen who played in the playoffs started the season with the club: Travis
Roche and Brian Sipotz. Lehtonen raised his game in the
playoffs, with two shutouts and a .939 save percentage.
Michael Garnett – Garnett got 24 games in
during the regular season. He was sent to
Gwinnett to get some playing time in the fall, but did not play after a groin
strain was diagnosed. Garnett was better in the second half of the
season for the Wolves, and relieved Lehtonen when he suffered his own groin strain in the playoffs. Garnett was clutch when called upon,
winning both games. The 22-year-old will need to negotiate his next contract this
Defenseman Jeff Dwyer did not play in the
second half, nor in the playoffs. He has one year remaining on his
contract. Defenseman Libor Ustrnul played 27 games with the Wolves
before finishing his season with the Gwinnett Gladiators. His contract
concluded this season.
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