Wolf Pack Preview: Puck set to drop on Season 25!

Wolf Pack season preview!

By Ricky Milliner
wolf pack season preview
Oct 1, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) makes a save on New York Rangers right wing Lauri Pajuniemi (49) during the third period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-2022 season is officially here for the American Hockey League and the Hartford Wolf Pack. As the league prepares for their 86th season, the Wolf Pack will be celebrating their 25th anniversary in Connecticut’s capital city.

For the third straight season, the Rangers have built a well rounded roster for their farm team. Hartford will be aiming for post season play as the club has made progress towards that goal since the 2019-2020 season.

Unfortunately, the 2020-2021 season was a modified, shortened season with no playoffs. This year, the league is operating near to normalcy and clubs are ready to battle a normal schedule.

Hartford will begin their opening weekend with a three in three (3 games in 3 nights) facing three familiar foes. You can view the schedule preview here. Let’s see the latest from Hartford.

Wolf Pack Training Camp Concludes

The Wolf Pack participated in three preseason games last week. Hartford concluded with a record of 1-2. The club faced Providence once and Bridgeport twice.

Wednesday, October 6th vs Providence

In the first game against the Providence Bruins, Hartford secured a 4-2 victory. François Brassard stopped 17 of 18 shots and played for 39:57. Charles Williams played the final 20 minutes of the game, stopping 7 of 8 shots. Lauri Pajuniemi debuted with Hartford, collecting two goals with a +/- of +3. Jake Elmer and Cristiano DiGiacinto had the other Wolf Pack goals. The game was a good outing for the mix of players on tryouts and the prospects.

Friday, October 8th vs Bridgeport

The Wolf Pack fell short by a score of 4-3 against the Bridgeport Islanders. Adam Huska stopped 18 of 20 shots and played for 40 minutes. Tyler Wall stopped 5 of 7 shots while playing for 17:55. The Pack had a dominate second period, generating chances and out shot the Islanders 16-4. However, they managed on goal in the frame. After tying the game in the third, Bridgeport scored late to secure the win.

Lauri Pajuniemi recorded a goal and assist to bring his total to three goals and one assist in two preseason games. Other goal scorers in the game included Zach Giuttari and Austin Rueschhoff.

Saturday, October 9th vs Bridgeport

The final preseason game in Bridgeport was rough for the group as the Islanders pulled out a 6-3 victory. Bridgeport had a four goal outburst in the second frame to put the game out of reach for Hartford. Keith Kinkaid stopped 11 of 17 shots and played the first two periods. Tyler Wall played in the third, stopping 3 of 3 shots.

The goal scorers in this contest were Jonny Brodzinski, Anthony Greco, and Tim Gettinger.

Jacksonville Ice Men receives reinforcements

Throughout training camp, Hartford reassigned prospects to our new ECHL affilate, the Jacksonville Ice Men. Training camp for the Ice Men begins this week. Their first regular season game begins on Saturday, October 23rd against Florida.

The following players are in Jacksonville:

Jake Elmer (F)

Zach Berzolla (D)

François Brassard (G)

Charles Williams (G) (Released from Hartford and is signed by Jacksonville)

Season Preview

Wolf Pack roster
Kris Knoblauch (AHL/Wolf Pack)

Kris Knoblauch and Wolf Pack are ready to battle in their 72 game schedule. As the club bolstered up on forwards and defenseman, other clubs in the Atlantic Division had a busy off-season to enhance their roster and address deficiencies.

“Hartford head coach Kris Knoblauch on the 2021-22 AHL season: “The level of play is going to be much higher than last [season].””

Patrick Williams on Kris Knoblauch

The goal for the upcoming season is to develop while win. Playoffs is on the radar on Hartford’s coaching staff as well. The Wolf Pack have not made the post season since the 2014-15 season.

“We haven’t seen playoff hockey here in Hartford for a long time. We feel that if this team didn’t make the playoffs [that] it would be a disappointment.”

Kris Knoblauch

Hartford will have a strong opportunity to snap the playoff drought as the club was well constructed by the Rangers. The well-rounded roster includes dynamic forwards, a strong blue line, and a reliable goaltending dual.

On the forwards, the Wolf Pack have strength in face offs with the centers. They have Morgan Barron, Tanner Fritz, Jonny Brodzinski, Patrick Khodorenko, Greg McKegg, and Justin Richards. Each forward will bring a different element to the games. Barron and Brodzinski will provide the offensive punch while Fritz will provide grit and depth. Khodorenko and Richards will provide further depth and be able to assist with the power play or penalty kill. McKegg will provide experience and leadership to the prospects.

Additional offensive weapons include Lauri Pajuniemi, Tim Gettinger, Anthony Greco, and Ty Ronning. In a tough division, you can never have enough scoring power on a nightly basis. Depending on the line combinations, the Wolf Pack will have four solid lines with high end talent, grit, experience, and forwards who are able to help assist the defense in their own zone or the neutral zone.

The Wolf Pack may have the best defensive look throughout the AHL this season. The blue line consists of Anthony Bitetto, Zac Jones, Tarmo Reunanen, Matthew Robertson, Braden Schneider, Hunter Skinner, and Zach Giuttari. On paper, those players are solid. The Wolf Pack will have a mix of offensive and defensive blue liners.

“Watching the Rangers and it dawns on me that Hartford should be a really good AHL team. Lots of good defensemen will be ticketed for Hartford because there just won’t be room in New York. And that’s good for the organization.”

Dan Rosen

Tarmo Reunanen returns after having a successful 2020-21 season with the franchise. He proved that he is able to provide reliable offense while being able to perform well on his own end of the ice. Reunanen will be a key cog on the power play and provides reliability. He’s near NHL ready which is great news for the organization.

After playing in 10 games with the Rangers last year, Jones joins Hartford in his first full professional year. The 20 year old prospect is another promising player with a high ceiling. While being able to produce points, he will be able to give opponents difficulty in the Pack’s defensive zone. He does the little things, which matters as a defenseman.

Anthony Bitetto will be able to mentor the prospects based upon his prior experiences in his playing career. Bitetto has not played in the AHL since the 2016-17 season (three games). The five full seasons in the NHL will help guide the prospects in situations, especially in late of the games or in momentum swings. He will have a similar role to McKegg. I would not be surprised if he was given the “A” as well in the season.

The goaltending will be a superb tandem that will complement the defense.

Keith Kinkaid has shown strides in the AHL and NHL levels. The 32 year old veteran will solidify Hartford’s chances of winning games throughout the season.

Kris Knoblauch has stated that Kinkaid will be the starter for the Wolf Pack.

Why Vitali Kravtsov Should Take AHL Assignment

vitali kravtsov trade
Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov and other Rangers prospects practice at the Rangers training facility in Greenburgh Sept. 5, 2019.

In the final round of cuts, Vitali Kravtsov was assigned to Hartford to start the 2021-22 season, which was not expected. Originally seeing the move, I expected the prospect to be in Hartford short-term while he further sharpens his skill set.

In the ideal world, this would be a situation similar to Filip Chytil in the 2019-20 season. The forward started in Hartford and spent nine games before heading up to New York full time. Kravtsov could have a similar timeline this season.

Chytil performed well in Hartford that the Rangers had to bring him up and let him stick on the roster. If Kravtsov came in performing well and making noise, then the Rangers will have to give him another look.

Instead, the forward refused to report to Hartford and now wants out. This is a tough situation for both sides. Focusing this on the AHL level, Kravtsov had the opportunity to make noise once again. The Wolf Pack have a solid roster and he would enhance the group. This may not what he wanted, but taking the assignment is critical. Otherwise, drama unfolds like what we are seeing playing out now.

The prospect has a good ceiling. Now Hartford will lose a prospect for the upcoming season as he had opportunity to play top minutes depending on the lines.

Wolf Pack Broadcast Changes

In the off-season, the voice of the Wolf Pack Bob Crawford and Hartford’s front office were unable to come to terms with a new contract. As a result, Hartford loses their longest tenured front office veteran and had to search for a new voice of the team.

Alex Thomas joined in August as the Broadcasting and Public Relations Manager for the club. He will be the new voice of the Wolf Pack for all 36 home games and potentially select road games. The Wolf Pack once again will broadcast through Mixlr.

You can follow the new voice of the Wolf Pack on Twitter at @Alex_Thomas14.

Watch Hartford for FREE this weekend!

The AHL announced that AHLTV will be free on opening weekend.

What’s better than All-Access? Free Access. Catch the AHL Opening Weekend October 15th-17th for FREE!

AHL

Hartford will have thee games this weekend for you to watch. Check them out and see when Hartford plays this weekend down below. All you have to do is create an account to view the games.

Wolf pack Add Another Assistant Coach

Two days before the opening of the 2021-22 season, Hartford announced another addition to the hockey operations.

NEWS: Wolf Pack announce Casey Torres as new assistant coach. Details: https://bit.ly/3DIZopX

Hartford Wolf Pack

Torres will become the second assistant coach for Hartford. Steve Smith joined the club in August to replace Gord Murphy.

Prior to joining the organization, Torres spent the last five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a scout. In addition to his scouting career, Torres served as the head coach of the Greater Kingston Front U16 AAA team in 2015-16. In his earlier career in hockey operations, Torres had various roles such as assistant coach and video coach.

The Wolf Pack will have another eye on the bench which is helpful.

Meet The Pack!

Here is your 2021-22 Wolf Pack roster:

Forwards (14): Ty Roning, Mike O’Leary, Tanner Fritz, Greg McKegg, Justin Richards, Austin Rueschhoff, Jonny Brodzinski, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Tim Gettinger, Anthony Greco, Lauri Pajuniemi, Morgan Barron, Patrick Khodorenko, Cristiano DiGiacinto.

Defense (8): Anthony Bitetto, Zach Giuttari, Zac Jones, Tarmo Reunanen, Matthew Robertson, Braden Schneider, Hunter Skinner, Jeff Taylor

Goalies (3): Keith Kinkaid, Adam Huska, Tyler Wall

Wolf Pack Add Two Additional Players

At the conclusion of training camp, forward Cristiano DiGiacinto earned himself a spot with Hartford after a successful camp. The 25 year old was invited to training camp through a tryout.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie joins Hartford to add grit and toughness in the lineup. The 35 year old veteran is not afraid to drop the gloves and defend his teammates. The signing is essentially to replace Mason Geertsen (claimed through waivers by New Jersey).

Upcoming Games

Hartford’s 72 game slate will begin on Friday. October features four home and away games for the club. This month is balanced between the two.

Friday, October 15 vs Bridgeport Islanders (New York) at 7pm, XL Center

  • This is the first of ten meetings in the season series against the Islanders. Last season, Hartford went 8-3-1 in 12 meetings against Bridgeport.
  • The club will face Bridgeport twice in October, with the first visit to Bridgeport on October 31st.
  • Bridgeport added a few veterans to their lineup. Chris Terry and Austin Czarnik are players to keep an eye on in the game. Both forwards will give the Wolf Pack a hard time on the scoresheet. Czarnik is a familiar name to Hartford as he has given the Pack difficulties while with Providence in the past seasons. Hartford must shut them down.
  • Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.

Saturday, October 16th vs Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis) at 7:05pm, Mass Mutual Center

  • Hartford will face Springfield the most this season with 12 meetings in the season series. The Thunderbirds did not participate in the shortened season last year.
  • Springfield changed affiliations in the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season. Previously the Thunderbirds were the affilate of the Florida Panthers.
  • Sam Anas is a player to look out for. Prior to signing with Springfield, Anas spent four seasons with Iowa followed by a season with Utica. The high potent forward is able to produce a high amount of points and is one of the top veteran performers in the league.
  • Listen – News Radio 560 WHYN. Watch – AHLTV.

Sunday, October 17th vs Providence Bruins (Boston) at 3pm, XL Center

  • This will be the first of ten meetings against the arch rivals. Last season, the clubs split a 12 game season series.
  • The next game against the Bruins will be in Providence on November 19th.
  • The Bruins will have a huge veteran presence. Aaron Ness, Steven Fogary, and Cameron Hughes will provide a strong experience on the Bruins roster.
  • Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.