A look at the Hartford Wolf Pack season and what’s next for Rangers AHL affiliate

hartford wolf pack
Nick Merkley (photo by: Kelly Shea / Hartford Wolf Pack)
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The Hartford Wolf Pack came into this season filled with promise and great expectations to make the playoffs. Given their performance in the first half of the season, in addition to a well crafted roster, a potential lengthy playoff run was not out of the question.

As the regular season ended for the Wolf Pack on April 24th, that was it for the club’s 25th anniversary season. Once again, the City of Hartford would not see an AHL playoff game.

The last time Hartford made the postseason was in the 2015, which the Wolf Pack advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. While memories of that run remain a fond memory in the minds of Pack fans, they desperately want to see their favorite team back in playoff action.

Hartford Wolf Pack miss playoffs again

The Pack’s start to the 2021-22 season gave indication that the playoff drought was going to end. While Hartford’s performance was spotty in December to February due to various factors, the group was playing well enough to secure points and stay afloat within the Atlantic Division.

Suddenly, the losses began to accumulate in the last two months of the season. As Hartford was dropping pivotal games to opponents, the Bridgeport Islanders were gaining steam in the final stretch. After all was said and done, Hartford’s biggest rival secured the final playoff spot for sixth place.

Hartford was officially eliminated on April 22nd when the club dropped a regulation loss to the Charlotte Checkers while Bridgeport secured the playoff berth with a win against the Springfield Thunderbirds. Hartford’s last two games were meaningless.

Three words come to mind when reflecting on this season: disappointment, inconsistency, and collapse.

The Wolf Pack were one win away from securing a playoff spot. And what’s even more frustrating is how many winnable games they had down the stretch that they failed to get it.

How Hartford’s 25th Anniversary Season ended is a tough pill to swallow. The roster was well equipped, with good veterans on the team, and a solid coaching staff.

So what went wrong? After soaking in the season, I cannot pinpoint one specific reason why Hartford collapsed. Usually there is one significant issue that derails a season. In the Wolf Pack’s case, everyone failed each other. From the roster to management, they all played a partial portion in the downfall of the season.

What’s next for the Rangers AHL affiliate?

Hartford Wolf Pack
Hartford Wolf Pack (Photo by: John Mrakovcich / Hartford Wolf Pack)

Looking ahead as the Wolf Pack prepare for their 26th season in October, there is room reconstruct the roster. Hartford’s General Manager Ryan Martin will get his first full summer to craft his new roster for the Rangers American Hockey League affiliate.

While the blue line will be mainly intact for the upcoming season, there are openings to fill for forwards and goaltending. Hartford’s diverse group of defensemen will learn from this season and should make strides.

Recently signed NCAA free agent Bobby Trivigno will have a full season to make an impact. Brennan Othmann, who has been a dominant force in the OHL should play a starring role as well. Other prospects should also be given a chance like Will Cuylle, Ryder Korczak and Adam Edstrom.

Note: Brennan Othmann can join the Pack next season only after the OHL season ends. He is fully AHL eligible in 2023-24.

Management will also look at some potential free agents to round out the roster.

The group finished with a record of 32-32-6-2 for 72 points (.500). That ranked themseventh in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference, and 25th in the AHL. Things can only go up from here.

Breaking down the Wolf Pack season

Quality First Half

Through 36 games from October to January, Hartford compiled a record of 20-11-3-2 for 45 points. In the standings perspective, Hartford bounced between first to fourth as the season progressed.

Excludes final game in January.
(Game 37 begins second half
of season)

The group built themselves a strong cushion against the mid to bottom tier teams in the Atlantic Division. October to November was a great start for the club. Despite a moderate volume of transactions in the first half of the season, the group remained and continued to produce wins.

Then COVID-19 hit the Wolf Pack after Thanksgiving, which wiped out games in the first two weeks of December. All of Hartford’s positive moment was stopped and the group was rusty when returning back to the ice to play.

Hartford had a two week gap of games from November 27th to December 12th. Despite the stoppage, the Wolf Pack managed to secure points. As COVID-19 became rampant in the NHL, Taxi Squads were reimplemented created gaping holes on AHL rosters. The Wolf Pack managed the storm well, floating around .500 and found ways to win.

Despite the significant challenges the roster faced, the group rose to the occasion, especially when experienced players such as Jonny Brodzinski, Keith Kinkaid, Tim Gettinger, Zac Jones, and others were called up throughout the bumpy couple of weeks.

Hartford’s depth players such as Tanner Fritz, Ty Ronning, Patrick Khodorenko, and Austin Rueschhoff were given additional roles and excelled. The players called up from Jacksonville and on Professional Try Out (PTO) chipped during their brief time with the team.

Where it all went wrong

Hartford Wolf Pack
Zac Jones (Photo: Kelly Shea /Hartford Wolf Pack)

Second Half Begins With Good & Potential Worry

Hartford’s second half of the season began on January 29th and the Pack were still playing well compiling a 5-4-1 record in February.

While the record indicated essentially .500 hockey, there were weekends which Hartford showed potential to play as strong as earlier in the season. Other weekends began to show struggles. As the season continued, I expected struggles to come up, and they did.

One weekend in particular that caused slight concern was February 19th and 20th as Hartford played Providence (3-1 loss), then Bridgeport (2-0 loss). A few games prior, Hartford’s offense began to dissipate. Production was less and the group was unable to bury chances as often as they did before.

There were also games where the blue line struggled, and despite all the hiccups, it was enough to stay afloat in the standings.

The Collapse

Hartford’s last 25 games took all the warning signs the team displayed earlier and reared its ugly head. The last two months were a stunning disappointment for the team. Hartford, who once seemed a sure shoe-in for the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs would fall out.

Last two wins was after
Hartford was eliminated
from playoffs.

The Wolf Pack compiled a 7-16-2 record in the final 25 games. They were really done in thanks to the two largest road-trips of the season. They also suffered one lengthy losing streak in April and a string of losses in March.

In Hartford’s five game road-trip, the group lost four straight (3/12 to 3/18). The struggles continued as the group went 2-8 from March 12th to March 30th. The defense had continual struggles, giving opponents continual grade “A” scoring chances each game. The offense was inconsistent as well, with some nights not being able to generate much at all.

Add in the NHL’s trade deadline, Hartford faced changes with losing Morgan Barron and Anthony Bitetto. Hartford lost Tarmo Reunanen as well in the AHL trade deadline. The moves were good for Hartford, with the exception of Barron’s trade. The group lost a talented center. However, the group had offensive reinforcements with the addition of Nick Merkley and Maxim Letunov. That boost was not enough. Even with the addition of Bobby Trivigno in April, the group was in a tailspin unable to right themselves.

The penalty kill unit suffered immensely in the last two months of the season. From being one of the best to one of the worst. In fact, Hartford gave up 14 short-handed a goals, which was the second most in the league. The unit was unreliable and teams were able to convert on Hartford’s mistakes, from taking the penalty to the execution of the penalty kill. The power play was in the same boat for struggles. They had opportunities and were unable to convert (20th in AHL).

The Wolf Pack’s final nail on the coffin essentially occurred during their April road-trip, a season long seven game stretch. Hartford compiled a 1-5-1 record at a time where points where critical and Hartford’s offense struggled. The offense was unable to register even strength goals for nine straight periods (4/13 to 4/16). In the span of the three games with lackluster offense, the Wolf Pack managed to register two power play goals while giving up seven goals.

The snowball of bad momentum continued to haunt the club. Entering the final weekend, Hartford was essentially living on a prayer. They had to win out and hope that Bridgeport dropped their last two games. The final blow to post-season hopes happened on April 22nd as Hartford lost their fourth straight game against Charlotte (2-1). The Bridgeport Islanders clinched the final playoff spot by defeating the Springfield Thunderbirds by a a score of 4-2.

The final two games ended with a bang for Hartford. Despite the shock and disappointment, the group finished strong in their last two games of the season. They defeated Bridgeport by a score of 3-2 for the final road game of the season, then return home to defeat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by a score of 6-3.

As we sit today watching the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs, we could only imagine Hartford’s potential playoff run if the season was not derailed from COVID-19, injuries, transactions, and the lengthy struggles. For instance, Bridgeport sneaked into the playoffs and swept the Providence Bruins in the best of three in the Atlantic Division First round. The Islanders were the underdogs in the playoffs prior to their elimination on May 16th against a tough Charlotte Checkers club. The Checkers defeated the Islanders in four games (3-1).

Stay tuned for additional upcoming articles this off-season from Hartford as I dive into potential free agents, contract statuses, scheduling, and much more!

Have a great summer everyone and I’ll report back from the XL Center in October 2022.

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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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