The Colorado Eagles dropped their season opener 3-2 to the Chicago Wolves on Friday night in front of a packed crowd at the Budweiser Events Center.
The Eagles are entering their first season in the American Hockey League, as the Avalanche affiliate, after coming off back-to-back ECHL Kelly Cup Championships. Although the opening roster featured five familiar names from the teams previous season, there are many new faces in the locker room — including head coach Greg Cronin.
Cronin has spent the previous seven seasons coaching at the NHL level with the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. He has also tallied a total of 160 games at the AHL level having served as head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers from 2003-05.
While it may be a new league with new faces, the fan support has remained a constant. The building was jam-packed from puck drop and their vocal support, orchestrated by cowbells, never let up.
”It’s a great crowd. I mean that’s like having a sixth skater on the ice when you have that support,” Cronin said following the game. “It’s very unusual in the American League — in most buildings — to have this much of a crowd in there.”
Prior to tonight’s game, it was announced that defenseman Mark Alt will serve as the team’s captain for the 2018-19 season. Alt, who was selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, has totaled 78 points in 260 career AHL games. The team will lean on the veteran to help bring the young Eagles squad together.
The Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, finished first in the Central Division last year. They feature a veteran roster that includes goalie Oscar Dansk who carried a .946 save percentage in four games last year for the Golden Knights.
The game started with the Eagles dictating the pace and controlling the speed but the period proved ineffective for both teams as the clock ticked to zero without a goal between the two.
The Eagles powerplay struggles continued from the pre-season as they went 0-3 with the man advantage through one.
”Going into the game, our primary objective was to try and slow them down and control the pace of the game,” Cronin said. “I thought, for the most part, we did a good job 5-on-5. Special teams, a lot of penalties both directions and that creates a different feel for the game.”
Chicago would take the lead with just over eight-minutes remaining in the second when Erik Brannstrom took a pass from his defensive pairing and buried a slapshot from the point, glove-side, on Eagles goalie Spencer Martin.
The Eagles maintained pressure and quickly respond when forward A.J. Greer outhustled two defenders through the neutral zone for a loose puck and put a sharp angle shot into the net while being hooked and slashed by two Wolves players.
”I kind of poked the puck behind the defenseman and just hustled and tried to protect it,” Greer said following the game. “Got slashed and just used my body to pull it to my forehand shot... it was good, it was a nice feeling.”
The goal marked Colorado’s first ever as a member of the American Hockey League.
The Wolves took the lead for the second time with 4:34 remaining in the period. The Eagles were on another penalty kill when all four players collapsed toward the left corner. The puck was fed across the slot to a wide-open T.J. Tynan who easily found the back of the net and gave his team a 2-1 lead.
Chicago controlled every aspect of the game in the third period but the Eagles were able to find a late-game equalizer when forward Igor Shvyrev redirected a shot from the point into the Wolves net.
The building erupted and, after a few short minutes, the two teams were headed into 3-on-3 overtime.
The celebration was short lived though as just 48-seconds into the extra period, Wolves defenseman Brannstrom took off on a 2-on-1 and was able to beat the Eagles Goalie with a slapshot from the left circle for the win.
”Nobody likes to lose, you know we got a point which is a good thing,” Cronin said following the loss. “We haven’t even talked about overtime. They have three veteran guys and they were smart. They dragged the puck out to the neutral zone and they knew we were tired. That’s a smart move.”
It was a tough loss for a young Eagles team but there were many positives. Their chemistry improved throughout the game and zone entries and exits tightened up.
The last few days have brought a lot of moving parts to the roster, and coach Cronin hasn’t had much of an opportunity to get a feel for the group. To come away with a point against a veteran group like Chicago isn’t a bad result and shows the potential in this team.
The two face off again tonight for the second of a two-game series at the Budweiser Events Center with a puck drop scheduled for 7:05 PM.