2022-23 Hartford Wolf Pack: A season of accomplishments

Hartford Wolf Pack
Wolf Pack celebrate a goal Bobby Trivigno and Zac Jones fist bump. Photo: John Mrakovcich / Hartford Wolf Pack)

The 2022-23 season was a tremendous success for the Hartford Wolf Pack and their fans. Most importantly, it was even more so for the front office and New York Rangers management.

From clinching a playoff spot in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs to growing the fanbase this was a year to remember.

Unfortunately, Hartford’s magical playoff run ended at the XL Center in front of 4,596 on May 17th. The Pack were swept by the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) in a best-of-five series (0-3). Despite the sweep, Hartford competed hard in the Atlantic Divisional Finals (round 3).

Let’s look back and reflect on this great season.

2022-23 Hartford Wolf Pack

Hartford Wolf Pack vs Hershey Bears
Hartford Wolf Pack vs Hershey Bears (Photo: John Mrakovich/Hartford Wolf Pack)

At first glance, the sweep seemed like a tough ending. While it was, the group was close in Games 1 and 3 of the series. In game 2, they did not find themselves until late in the third with approximately 10 minutes remaining. A lot of “what ifs” were in play against Hershey that sealed their fate.

From a front office perspective, Hartford averaged 4,647 fans in 36 home games and have drawn the highest season average since the 2010-11 season. However, the 2010-11 season drew more as the team hosted an outdoor game, which skewed numbers higher. If you exclude that, then the Rangers affiliate has drawn the highest attendance since the 2006-07 season.

For Rangers management, they have seen growth from the young prospects, especially in the second half of the season and playoffs. Bobby Trivigno raised his game considerably in the later weeks of the season and playoffs. Zac Jones regained his confidence and was outstanding leading to a possible role with the Rangers next season. Dylan Garand had a good rookie year in the regular season, then became lights-out in the playoffs. Meanwhile, veterans like Jonny Brodzinski, Turner Elson, and Ryan Carpenter helped push the roster to excel and go as far as they did.

On Ice Accomplishments

The first and foremost accomplishment is snapping an 8-year playoff drought.

It also gave key Rangers’ prospects in Hartford had a taste of postseason action. After this year’s run, I expect the returning players to be hungrier to return and be better than ever.

The journey

Considering they were a low seed (5th) in the Atlantic Division, the Wolf Pack were viewed as a team that would likely be out the first round. Especially after the Rangers called up key players like starting goalie Louis Domingue and captain Jonny Brodzinski.

The Wolf Pack faced the Springfield Thunderbirds, who gave them trouble all season (Hartford was 3-7-0-2). Every metric favored the St. Louis Blues AHL affiliate in a best-of-three. However, the opposite happened as Hartford swept the Thunderbirds in dominant fashion.

The sweep raised eyebrows around the American Hockey League and in the next round of the playoffs, Hartford faced the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Providence Bruins.

Similar to Boston, Providence had a strong regular season. They were the third best team in the league and had a strong record of 44-18-8-2. The Bruins had a loaded roster with quality veterans and upcoming prospects able to roll 4 lines. Their defense was strong and Providence’s goaltender Brandon Bussi was one of the toughest to beat this season.

Maybe it was rust with the Bruins being off for two weeks as they had a bye in round 1, but Hartford came out strong and swept this best-of-five series.

It all came to an end in the Atlantic Division Finals, although Hartford and their fans should be really proud.

Team Development

Will Cuylle had an excellent rookie season with Hartford. In 69 games, the forward collected 25 goals and 25 assists. In addition to his production, Cuylle brought an edge to his game and was not afraid to be physical when needed. He is NHL ready, considering how well he performed. I expect him to compete for a spot in New York in September.

Zac Jones was essential to Hartford’s defensive core when he joined in December. He immediately made an impact to the roster, providing reliable production and sound defense. Jones has shown ability to perform well at both ends of the ice in the AHL. From the organizational standpoint, Jones could be the guy for the Blueshirts third pair next season. The prospect collected 8 goals and 23 assists in 54 games.

Ty Emberson was fun to watch. The young defenseman made strides in his second full year in the AHL. He’s not only a good passer, but plays well on defense. Emberson blocks shots, gets in the way of opponents, and plays smart. He is also extremely disciplined and stays out of the box. This season, he was paired with Jones most often and the combination was excellent. Both players are able to handle and play top minutes. Emberson has a lot of potential and is a great candidate to return.

Bobby Trivigno ended his rookie season on a high note after struggling in the first half of the season, often rotated in and out of the lineup. Through 57 games, Trivigno recorded 7 goals and 19 assists. The playoffs featured another level as he was able to score 2 huge goals and looking strong. He was not afraid to mix it up and became very noticeable on the ice in clutch situations.

Tanner Fritz achieved a career high in points with the Wolf Pack. Through 67 games, the veteran notched 10 goals and 33 assists for 43 points. His previous high was 42 points in the 2016-17 season with Bridgeport. Despite a tough first half of the season, Fritz found his offensive game in the second half. Fritz knows how to set-up his teammates and became very dependable for offense. The veteran also has good leadership skills to help guide the locker room.

Jonny Brodzinski is the perfect captain for Hartford. Despite missing time due to call ups, he never missed a beat with the team. This season, Brodzinski recorded 21 goals and 27 assists in 47 games, just a point shy of tying his career-high. Had he spent the entire season in Hartford, he would’ve easily surpassed those numbers (49 points in the 2016-17 season with Ontario). In addition to his strong game, the veteran is a great leader. He helped push Hartford, especially in the second half of the season and playoffs.

Other notable mentions for growth this season were Tim Gettinger, Lauri Pajuniemi, Matt Rempe, and Karl Henriksson.

Off Ice Accomplishments

The Wolf Pack’s front office had a record year. At the XL Center, the atmosphere was great and a noticeable change. The team achieved their highest season average since the 2010-11 season (note: team hosted an outdoor game that season which skewed the average to 5,695).

Through 36 regular season home games, the Wolf Pack recorded a 4,647 average. Excluding 2010-11, this is the best average for crowds since the 2006-07 season. In addition, Hartford recorded an average of 5,042 through 4 home games in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. The total number of fans for the season (including playoffs) is 187,453 fans. The XL Center hosted 18 games with 5,000+ fans.

Throughout their playoff run, Hartford gained media attention in the state in addition to greater interest of the team. The regular season also built up the community’s interest to support the Rangers affiliate.

Hartford continues to be a good hockey market. The future looks promising with the team interest plus a strong front office.

Regarding the Wolf Pack lease, one more year remains on their original deal (extended one year because of COVID-19). Expectation is that a new lease will be ironed out.

Another aspect to keep an eye on is the XL Center. There are currently plans for the XL Center to overhaul the lower bowl. Bids for construction and estimates will be received throughout the summer. The plan estimates over $100M. If the construction estimates go beyond the original estimates significantly, then there could be further discussion in relation to the renovation aspect. Stay tuned. On a related note, the sports betting facility will become operational on September 1st.

I will share further updates as they progress.

Quick Look Ahead

The Wolf Pack and Rangers have key decisions this summer on shaping their respective rosters. Considering the cap restraints, Hartford has an opportunity to sign players to American Hockey League deals. This keeps the player off the NHL books but also means they can’t be called up.

Heading into the offseason, the Pack only have 1 player signed to an AHL deal next season (Blake Hillman). There is potential to add quality players depending on the situation.

The coaching staff led by Kris Knoblauch and GM Ryan Martin will want to go on another run. Since the playoffs are essential for prospect development, I’d expect moves will be made to ensure another berth.

There’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the Wolf Pack next season. They have a taste for the playoffs and the returning players will want more of it.

Stay tuned for future articles this off season. Next up, a look at contract statuses for Hartford.

Ricky Milliner is a Hartford Wolf Pack season ticket holder. While growing up, he discovered hockey by attending a... More about Ricky Milliner

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