Hartford Wolf Pack Weekly: Will Cuylle and Jonny Brodzinski guide playoff push

Hartford Wolf Pack Will Cuylle
Will Cuylle takes to the ice for the Hartford Wolf Pack (Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack/Calvin Spohn)

As we enter the final full week of March, the Hartford Wolf Pack continue to show resiliency in their late season push for a spot in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. The club secured four of six points last week and snapped a four game skid.

In the two games Hartford won last week, both against Bridgeport, featured a moment in the season where they were “must win” contests. The Wolf Pack had their backs against the wall for both outings as the Islanders continue to hold down the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Entering both games, Hartford was three points behind Bridgeport. A regulation or overtime loss would be quite damaging considering there is limited time to recover from a five point or more deficit. Instead, the Wolf Pack came up big to remain in playoff contention.

Hartford will be playing their final three-in-three weekend of the season beginning Friday against the Springfield Thunderbirds. A critical six points is up for grabs as the club has to push further if they want to snap the franchise’s lengthy playoff drought. There’s a lot to unfold folks.

Buckle up as there are only 11 games remaining on the schedule.

Hartford Wolf Pack Weekly

Hartford Wolf Pack
Hartford Wolf Pack celebrate a goal (Photo: John Mrakovcich / Hartford Wolf Pack)

Aiming for Sixth Place

As you may have noticed in the last couple of weeks, the Bridgeport Islanders continue to hold down the final playoff spot. On Friday, Hartford dropped 4-2 decision against the Springfield Thunderbirds while Bridgeport secured a 5-2 win against Syracuse. The Wolf Pack had to win the following night against Bridgeport, which they were successful in doing so.

Analyzing the standings in the Atlantic Division, Hartford’s primary focus is sixth place. Fifth place is a reach for the club unless they go on a winning streak in addition to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms going on a losing streak. The Phantoms hold fifth with 68 points as Hartford is five points behind.

However, the most realistic spot is sixth place, which is currently held by the Bridgeport Islanders. Bridgeport is 28-25-7-1 for 64 points. Hartford is 26-24-4-7 for 63 points. The team with the most points will claim the last playoff spot in the division.

Despite struggling in the 12 game season series early on, Hartford has fought back and tied the series at five apiece. There are two games remaining between the teams, with both at the XL Center. The club went 3-3 at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport. In Hartford thus far, the Wolf Pack are 2-2 against the Islanders. The recent games in the series are interesting, as Hartford have exploded offensively in the last two of three games (9-0 Hartford on 3/4, 7-5 Hartford on 3/15).

Here’s a breakdown of the Islanders final 11 games (5 home, 6 away). The strength of the remaining schedule is .667.

  • One game against the following opponents:
    • Laval Rocket
    • Belleville Senators
    • Springfield Thunderbirds
    • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
    • Hershey Bears
  • Two games against the following opponents:
    • Hartford Wolf Pack
    • Lehigh Valley Phantoms
    • Providence Bruins

Focusing on Hartford, the club has a tougher schedule ahead with the same number of games remaining. The strength of schedule for the Pack is .680. The club will have to find a way to win, especially against Springfield as the club only has two wins against the club.

Here’s a breakdown of the Wolf Pack final 11 games (7 home, 4 away).

  • One game against the following opponents:
    • Toronto Marlies
    • Lehigh Valley Phantoms
  • Two games against the following opponents:
    • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
    • Bridgeport Islanders
    • Providence Bruins
  • Three games against the following opponents:
    • Springfield Thunderbirds

The Wolf Pack must find a way to secure wins on home ice. Currently Hartford is 12-12-0-5 at the XL Center. The club is slightly better on the road, standing at 14-12-4-2. Considering the large crowds since January, now is the time to utilize the home ice advantage and pull out wins. Everyone’s excited for the playoff push in Hartford.

You can view the latest playoff primer below.

https://theahl.com/23playoffprimer

Wolf Pack Notes

Will Cuylle’s Dependable Offense

The Rangers prospect continue to generate offense in the late stages of the season. Cuylle is having a strong first full season in the American Hockey League. The forward had a three point night (one goal, two assists) against Bridgeport last Wednesday, followed by a goal last Friday. Even in games where he is held off the scoresheet, Cuylle continues to generate quality chances and has shown nifty passing skills.

He’s also providing grit to the lineup and is willing to drop the gloves. Cuylle is a well-rounded player that has impacted Hartford’s season significantly. His development continues to progress and he has grown throughout the season. If Hartford makes the playoffs, this will be an exciting time to see how he performs under a new type of pressure.

Through 58 games, Cuylle leads the Wolf Pack roster in points with 37. The forward has secured 21 goals and 16 assists to date. He’s racked up 53 penalty minutes as well.

Captain Brodzinski Continues to Lead

Since rejoining the roster from New York, Hartford’s captain continues to provide offensive firepower to the lineup nightly.

Brodzinski is giving his all on the ice to help push Hartford to get into a playoff spot. He’s key voice in the locker room, especially during this push. As the pressure mounts with less games remaining, it can get overwhelming, especially for the younger players. Having a strong leader helps ease the pressure and continue to refocus the group in times where Hartford may drop a critical game.

On the offensive side, the center has many multi-point games. Brodzinski has points in the last eight of 11 contests (11 goals, four assists). The forward is not afraid to shoot the puck. Through 37 games, Brodzinski is second for points on the roster. He has 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points.

Veteran Adam Clendening Impacts Blue Line

In nine games with Hartford, the 30 year-old veteran bolstered the defensive core. Clendening has provided steady and sound defense, especially in moments where the pressure is high in the late stages of the game or the opponent is pushing Hartford. He has shown strong capability on making excellent passes and help Hartford in transitioning (which they had struggles with in the past). He is engaged on ice and has become reliable on the back end. He also mentors the young defensive core which helps.

Clendening has points with Hartford in six of nine outings.

Off Ice: XL Center Latest Renovation Plans Unveiled

After the initial plan to overhaul the XL Center for a cost of $250 million was unable to secure funding and support from Connecticut’s legislature, the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) focused on a slimmed down renovation plan for the aging XL Center, focusing on the event level and lower bowl portion of the arena.

Last year, Oak View Group (OVG) became interested in renovating the facility and continues to be in negotiation with CRDA on a partnership between the parties.

CRDA and OVG are in negotiations, Freimuth said, that could lead to the company contributing β€œtens-of-millions” of dollars to the project through an agreement that extends its management of the facility another 20 years. Under discussion now is how any operational profits might be split. 

Hartford Business Journal

Announced last week at CRDA’s monthly meeting, A $107.2M plan was unveiled to the public for the first time, with details of the estimated amount and the focus of the renovations. OVG will be focusing on drawing more concerts to the venue, which requires extensive renovation to premium seating (event level suite, event level clubs, lodge seating, etc.) and back of house operations (additional loading bays, new rigging, staging, etc.).

Importantly, it would also redesign the loading bay areas to allow up to six tractor trailers simultaneous access, rather than just one or two under the current configuration.

That is important to allow performers to quickly load and unload, a key cost factor when considering a venue.

Hartford Business Journal

From the standpoint of the Rangers AHL affiliate, a potential renovation will benefit the club. Currently Hartford is signed through a five-year lease with the current lease ending at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. Negotiations for a new lease is expected between Madison Square Garden (MSG) and OVG with CRDA. Depending on when the plan is finalized and if becomes official, Hartford could have an opportunity to have a long-term lease. In the AHL, a long-term lease is considered 10 years, which Providence and Bridgeport has currently.

While the renovations target critical infrastructure, it will be completed in phases to ensure the Wolf Pack and events for University of Connecticut (basketball, hockey) can continue from October to April. One notable aspect is the plan is the change of no longer needing to acquire the atrium space for renovations. In the previous plans, that was essential and the CRDA had difficulty acquiring the space from the atrium owner (Northland). If the plan runs along smoothly, the plan is for renovation to launch in November or December, followed by closure of the XL Center from May to September in 2024 and 2025.

For more information on the renovations, check out the two articles below:

Hartford Business Journal- CRDA targets $107.2M upgrade to Hartford’s XL Center

One Timers

  • Ryan Carpenter has points in the last two of three games (two goals, one assist).
  • Lauri Pajuniemi has points in the last five of eight games (three goals, four assists).
  • Tim Gettinger has points in the last eight of 11 games (three goals, eight assists).
  • Ty Emberson has points in the last two of three games (three assists).
  • Will Lockwood recorded three assists last Wednesday against Bridgeport.

Wolf Pack Upcoming Games

Friday, March 24th vs Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis) at 7pm, XL Center

  • This is the 10th of 12 meetings in the season series. Hartford is 2-5-0-2 against the Thunderbirds thus far.
  • Entering the week, Springfield is 32-22-2-5 for 71 points. That ranks the group fourth in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Springfield is 7-2-0-1 in their last ten outings. However, the club enter the week on a two game skid (0-1-0-1).
  • Veteran Martin Frk leads the Thunderbirds in points with 56. Through 56 games, Frk has 28 goals and 28 assists. The veteran is ranked 11th in the AHL for points. Experienced forward Matthew Highmore is second on the team for points at 54. Through 58 games, Highmore recorded 15 goals and 39 assists. He is ranked 17th in the league for points.
  • Listen – Mixlr. Watch – AHLTV.

Saturday, March 25th vs Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis) at 6pm, XL Center

  • This is the 11th of 12 meetings in the season series. At the XL Center, Hartford is 1-2-0-1 against Springfield. This is the final meeting between the clubs in Hartford. The final meeting will be held in Springfield on April 15th, the last game of the season for the Wolf Pack.
  • Listen – Mixlr. Watch – AHLTV.

Sunday, March 26th vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh) at 5:05pm, Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza

  • This is the fifth of six meetings in the season series. Hartford is 2-0-1-1 against the Penguins thus far. The final meeting will be held in Hartford on April 14th.
  • Entering the week, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 25-26-5-5 for 60 points. That ranks the group last (eighth) in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference. The club is 3-4-3 in the last ten outings and are 2-3 in the last five games.
  • Penguins prospect Valtteri Puustinen leads the active roster for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in points at 49. Through 61 games, the forward has 21 goals and 28 assists. Forward Drake Caggiula is second on the active roster in points with 45. Through 55 games, the forward has 17 goals and 28 assists.
  • Listen – Mixlr. Watch – AHLTV.

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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