Wolves players, coach rally around Pirri’s successful call-up with Golden Knights

One year ago, Brandon Pirri was among the Chicago Wolves team leaders in goals, assists, and points. Today, he’s an NHL regular with the Vegas Golden Knights and that is something his former coach and ex-teammates are all rallying around.

Beginning this season with the Wolves in the American Hockey League, Pirri instantly began building off of last year’s strong campaign. His 18 goals and 24 assists led the team at the time of his mid-December call-up to Vegas, and Pirri hasn’t looked back.

In 27 games for the Golden Knights since his promotion, the Toronto, Ontario native Pirri has registered 11 goals and 16 points and his example is a major source for optimism in the Wolves locker room.

“I think everyone in this locker room is happy about the success he’s having right now with Vegas,” said Wolves forward Reid Duke.

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Not only has Pirri scored some important goals since his call-up, Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson said he’s been impressed with his 200-foot game and his ability to respond as well.

“He had a little bit of a drought there, but I thought he’s responded really well in the last couple of games,” said head coach Rocky Thompson. “He’s played some really good games, and he’s helped Vegas particularly in their last game get back in the win column. He’s a big piece of their puzzle now.”

“I watch every game that Vegas plays, and we’re very happy for Brandon. We’re very proud of him too because he was here for quite a while with us. And to see one of your players that you’ve grown close with have success is special. He’s got a great family, and he’s got a little boy here, who I think might even be with him over in Vegas.”

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But even for those on the Wolves roster who have yet to capitalize on an opportunity with the Golden Knights, Pirri’s success can be a motivating factor. For example, forward Daniel Carr currently leads the Wolves with 30 goals and 71 points through 52 games this season and perhaps another call-up for him could be on the horizon.

Coach Thompson certainly sees a parallel between Carr’s play right now and the play that saw Pirri earn a prolonged opportunity with the Golden Knights. Carr played six games with Vegas in November, but was sent back to the Wolves after only managing a single point during the brief stint.

“He has to do what he’s been doing, just like Brandon [Pirri] did,” Thompson said. “Carrsy’s [Daniel Carr] doing the same thing that Pirri did. And in my opinion, if needed, he can do it. He can actually take that step to the next level. I believe he can.”

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This image belongs to the Chicago Wolves

Carr and his Wolves teammates would love to join Pirri with the Golden Knights and while the task may seem daunting in the immediate future, their former mate’s success is proof that hard work and perseverance could eventually pay dividends.

Inspired by dad: New Jersey Devils former first round pick Stefan Matteau is searching for a path back to the NHL

For players who are selected in the first round of the National Hockey League’s annual entry draft, the likelihood of their careers spanning at least 100 games is high. But for Chicago Wolves forward Stefan Matteau, who was an opening round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2012, the clock is ticking.

The 25-year old Matteau, who is the son of beloved New York Rangers legend Stéphane Matteau, currently sits at just 64 games played in the NHL after the Devils and the Montreal Canadiens gave up on him prior to his arrival with the Vegas Golden Knights organization.

Matteau was less than four months old when his father scored perhaps the biggest goal in Rangers history in 1994, a double overtime thriller in game seven of the eastern conference finals at Madison Square Garden against New Jersey. The Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup later that spring, their first championship in 54 years.

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Stéphane Matteau (center) celebrates his memorable series clinching goal in double overtime in game seven of the 1994 eastern conference final, against the New Jersey Devils at MSG. This photo belongs to USA Today.

Little did the elder Matteau know at the time, but less than 20 years later, his toddler would break into the NHL wearing a Devils uniform.

Although Matteau only played in 44 games with the Devils, and his time in the organization only lasted for parts of four seasons, the Wolves second year centreman does not view his time spent playing there as a wasted opportunity.

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Stefan Matteau was drafted in the first round (29th overall) by the New Jersey Devils in 2012. This photo is courtesy of NHL.com

With the Devils, Matteau was reunited with longtime offseason training partner Dainius Zubrus, who played nearly 1,300 games before retiring from the NHL in 2016. Indeed, Zubrus’ longevity is only supported by the fact that he and Matteau were teammates, fifteen years after being an adversary to his father.

“My first year in the league, and even five or six years before that, I was working out with Dainus Zubrus,” said Matteau. “I got drafted by New Jersey, and then he took me in. Him and his family took me into their home, I got to live with them, which was pretty sweet. He’s definitely been a role model for me,” he added.

After falling out of favor in New Jersey, Matteau was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in 2016, the team he grew up idolizing. And while he only got to suit up for 12 games with the Habs, he said it was nevertheless a dream come true.

“For the rest of my life I’ll be able to say that I played for the Montreal Canadiens, and I’m pretty proud of that,” Matteau said.

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Stefan Matteau during his stint with the Montreal Canadiens. This image is courtesy of http://www.sportsnet.ca

When the Canadiens opted not to retain Matteau’s services following a year spent with their American Hockey League affiliate, he signed a two-way contract in July of 2017 with the Vegas Golden Knights.

During their inaugural season in 2017-18, Matteau only managed to play in eight games with the Golden Knights and has instead been relegated to the AHL. Like all of his Wolves teammates, his goal is to play in the NHL, but it appears that he won’t be receiving a promotion any time in the near future.

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Vegas Golden Knights forward Stefan Matteau battling for positioning during an exhibition game against the Anaheim Ducks in 2017. This photo belongs to NHL.com

This season, he is on pace for his worst season statistically, since entering the professional ranks in 2012-13. Through 48 games with the Wolves, Matteau has only managed to find the back of the net on three occasions and has only registered eight helpers.

His minus-7 differential is second worst on the team, and that is an area where defensive minded forwards are usually expected to shine. But the plus-minus stat isn’t the only metric by which a player’s defensive awareness is quantified, and according to Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson, it doesn’t tell the entire story in regards to the type of season his forward is having.

“He’s a big part of our penalty kill,” coach Thompson said. “At one point this year halfway through the season, we had the worst penalty kill in the league, but now we’re climbing the ranks with the penalty kill, [which is] a monumental step for our hockey team and Stef is a big part of that,” added his coach.

Despite his lack of offensive production this season, Thompson believes that Matteau can still develop that part of his game.

“I think offense is still there for him, and it’s not something he can give up on. I certainly haven’t given up on that, and I think he’s just right there ready to turn the corner with it again,” he said.

Likewise, Wolves forward Reid Duke acknowledged that Matteau’s game exhibits several key attributes, including an ability to play in all situations.

“A player like that can kind of play anywhere. He’s so versatile, and he’s got a lot of attributes in his toolbox which is probably great for a coach to have,” Duke expressed. He can play up and down your lineup, on your power play or your penalty kill,” said Duke.

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CLEVELAND, OH – JANUARY 26: Chicago Wolves center Stefan Matteau (23) shoots the puck during the first period of the American Hockey League game between the Chicago Wolves and Cleveland Monsters on January 26, 2019, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And according to forward Brooks Macek, Matteau’s work ethic and physical brand of hockey are trademarks of No. 23’s game.

Normally, votes of confidence from your head coach and teammates are nothing to sneeze at for any professional athlete, but Matteau’s reduced role with the Wolves this season has felt more like a fall from grace. The former highly touted prospect had higher expectations for himself at the start of the campaign, ones which he doesn’t believe he’s met.

“It’s really fun to be a part of this team, don’t get me wrong, but just a bit tough for me personally,” said Matteau, who speaks to his father about his play on a regular basis.

“If I’m struggling, he calls me and he says ‘Stef, I’ve been through this a thousand times, I know what’s going on, I know how you’re feeling.’ So, it’s nice to be able to relate that way, and give me tips, and just take it one day at a time,” he said.

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This image belongs to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League

Matteau remembers being inside NHL locker rooms before making it there as a player, and that’s because his father used to let him hang out in there during the latter portion of his career. So, when his father offers hockey advice, Matteau listens.

These days however, his father speaks to high school students in New York City about the importance of mental health, and the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction. After recently opening up to the New York Times about his own struggles, Matteau’s father has decided to use his platform to help others as well, which is something that is an inspiration to his son.

“He’s just a good person, he’s pretty easy to talk to, pretty easy to get along with, so any advice that he has is definitely worth listening to,” Matteau said of his father.

If his father’s on-ice and off-ice perseverance is any indication, Stefan Matteau might just have it in him to overcome the adversity he is facing. And that is precisely what he needs to do if he’s going to find a path back to the NHL.

Wolves forward Reid Duke is no longer a junior player in the Western Hockey League, that much is certain

Reid Duke no longer plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings or the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, and it’s pretty obvious that the 23-year old will need to regain his confidence if he’s going to be a difference maker at the professional level.

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Reid Duke scoring a goal during his final year of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. This image belongs to http://www.brandonwheatkings.com

Since becoming the first player to sign a contract in Vegas Golden Knights history, Duke’s young career has taken a bit of a bumpy road. After sustaining a separated shoulder during training camp in 2017, he missed all but 14 games with the Chicago Wolves last season.

“There’ve been a couple ups and downs, but it’s nice to finally be playing. It was a long break off of hockey last year, so I’m very happy with just playing. You kind of take that for granted sometimes,” said the Calgary, Alberta native.

In 44 games this season in the American Hockey League, Duke has only managed to register seven goals and nine assists, along with 33 penalty minutes; a far cry from the 37 goals and 71 points he contributed when he starred during his final year of junior hockey.

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Reid Duke prepares to take a face-off with the Chicago Wolves. This photo is courtesy of Getty Images. 

But Duke is aware he’s yet to live up to the lofty expectations that the Golden Knights had for him coming out of junior. He knows this season hasn’t gone exactly as planned from a personal standpoint, even though the Wolves sit atop the AHL’s central division with 73 points.

“[I just need to] use my speed. You look at the team that Vegas has, and they play so fast. Every one of their guys knows how to play with pace, and keeping things a little bit simpler,” said Duke.

While it’s not uncommon for a first year pro to take a step back in their development before taking two steps forward, Duke still has a ways to go if he wants to get to the next level. When he was drafted in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft by the Minnesota Wild back in 2014, many scouts saw him as a good two-way center who could play a strong 200-foot game.

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Reid Duke on draft day in 2014. This image belongs to NHL.com

“When you get to that next level, there’s not too much time and space, so you gotta take advantage of your opportunities and you want to help out in any way you can, whether that scoring or blocking shots on the penalty kill. They’ve been in contact with me lots, and they’ve been very supportive. It’s a really good organization to be a part of,” said Duke.

For Duke to make more of an impact, he will need to trust his instincts a lot more in the latter portion of the Wolves season, and next year. He exhibits a great shot, and overwhelming speed. If he can simplify his game, and not worry too much about meeting expectations, his ability to produce at the pro level may finally take shape.

Habs fall 5-1 to Penguins, now head out west for crucial three-game road trip amidst tight playoff race

Tonight in Montreal, the Canadiens missed out on a golden opportunity to give themselves some breathing room in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, when they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1.

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Now, there is a four-team logjam battling for just three spots.

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As well, Habs goaltender Carey Price missed out on an opportunity to tie Jacques Plante for most wins in the history of the organization with 314.

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During the first period, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby made some history of his own, when he passed Jaromir Jagr and moved into second place for points by a Penguins.

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As has been a common theme all season, the Canadiens power play was unable to convert on all three of its chances Saturday. If the team wants to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, they will need to deploy a more efficient attack on the man-advantage.

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Montreal now heads to the west coast, for three crucial games against the Kings, Sharks, and Ducks, before returning home to take on the Red Wings. Historically, the Habs have struggled in California, but in order to keep pace with the Penguins, Blue Jackets, and Hurricanes, the team will need to earn some points on this road trip.

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After playing in Europe for the past five seasons, Brooks Macek returned to North America hungry like a wolf

When Brooks Macek didn’t receive a single contract offer from a North American team following a junior hockey career that was split between the Tri-City Americans and the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, he opted to embrace an opportunity that the Iserlohn Roosters of the Deutsche Eishockey League (DEL) presented to him.

At the time, Macek was only 21-years-old and he and his girlfriend viewed the opportunity to play in Germany as an chance for them to travel and experience a new lifestyle together overseas. But his decision wasn’t only about a romantic adventure with his partner, who is now his wife.

Macek’s father, Ralf, was born and raised in the German town of Geldern, making Brooks a Canadian-German dual citizen. And this factor undoubtedly inspired him to target the DEL for on-ice employment.

Furthermore, the chance to play with a couple of former NHL players in Iserlohn was a major incentive for Macek at that time.

Mike York was there my first couple years, so I got to play with him for a while,” the Winnpeg, Manitoba native recalled. “Another guy was Deron Quint who actually played for the original Winnipeg Jets,” added Macek.

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Ex NHLer Michael York (left) in 2002-03 during his stint with the Edmonton Oilers, and Deron Quint (right) of the Winnipeg Jets during the 1995-96 regular season. These photos are property of Getty Images and were assembled courtesy of http://www.MakePhotoGallery.com

And those were just a couple of the “pretty cool players” Macek got an opportunity to play with and learn from on the other side of the pond, during his time with the Roosters.

“All the guys were great. When I went over I was only 21, so I was like a really young guy in that league. Most of the guys who go over there, they’ve already had their time here in North America playing in the AHL, and then they make the move over that way. Not usually right after junior, but all the guys were great.”

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Brooks Macek prepared for a defensive zone face-off during his time with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL

In 2016, Macek joined the Munich EHC Red Bulls of the DEL as a free-agent, and that’s where he put forth his most productive season in professional hockey. During the 2017-18 campaign, he led his team with 26 goals and registered 44 points through 51 games to finish second on the roster in overall scoring.

Macek didn’t just light up the scoresheet in 2018, though. He also captured his second consecutive league championship with the Red Bulls, and won a silver medal for Germany at the winter olympics in Pyeongchang.

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Brooks Macek (second from the right) celebrates with teammates from Germany’s national team, after capturing silver at the 2018 winter olympics in Pyeongchang.

Following his fifth season playing in Germany, Macek finally received the offer that never came after his final year of junior hockey, when the Vegas Golden Knights came calling last summer.

“I never had a chance with an NHL team, and I think every hockey player around the world’s dream is to play in the NHL one day. So I think when Vegas presented an opportunity, I was more than happy and more than excited to take it,” Macek revealed.

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Brooks Macek preparing for a preseason game with the Vegas Golden Knights last September. This photo belongs to NHL.com

But even though Macek and the Golden Knights came to a contractual agreement, the deal was not of the one-way variety, meaning that he would likely need to prove his worth to the organization via their American Hockey League affiliate; the Chicago Wolves.

Going into his first AHL season, the five-foot-10 Macek was acutely aware of certain adjustments he would need to make to his game in order to sustain the same level of success that he had in Europe over the last couple of years. He knew that a return to North America would mean a smaller ice surface than he had grown accustomed to in the DEL.

“I think with the smaller ice, you just have to make your plays a little quicker, keep your head on a swivel, and know what you’re going to do with the puck before you even get it. I find because of that there’s a lot more mistakes, a lot more scoring chances,” he explained.

So far, it has been a successful year for the Wolves, who sit atop the central division standings with 70 points. And to his credit, Macek has assimilated more than seamlessly.

“He’s been great obviously. It’s been a pretty terrific first year for him,” said Wolves teammate Reid Duke.

As one of the team’s elder statesmen at age 27, Macek’s contribution has not only been felt on the ice, but as a mentor off of it as well.

“He’s a pretty quiet guy, but y’know, when he does speak up, y’know it’s important. And he’s a really good guy in the dressing room, just his nature, he’s kinda calming and a bit of an older guy so he’s really looking out for the younger players,” added Duke.

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Brooks Macek celebrates a goal with teammate Gage Quinney (This photo belongs to the Chicago Wolves)

On the ice, Macek exhibits several high-grade attributes that have helped him compile 23 goals and 30 assists through the first 55 regular season contests. Only his line mate, Daniel Carr has outproduced those totals, and Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson points to the veteran having a quick release on his shot as a prime reason for his success offensively.

Thompson also believes that Macek has a high hockey IQ, which allows him to elude opposing defenders and put himself in scoring positions more frequently.

Even in practice, his Wolves teammates are often baffled by how difficult it is to defend against Macek, “He’s got an amazing shot, and he’s a pretty opportunistic player, so whenever he’s making plays or shooting the puck they seem to go in,” said forward Stefan Matteau.

Although it’s typically a difficult task to get hockey players to praise themselves, Macek is aware that he is producing at a high level for the Wolves. But like most hockey players, he is also quick to deflect questions about himself, and move the spotlight in the direction of his teammates.

“Obviously it’s been a pretty good season for a lot of the guys on the team. We’re scoring a lot of goals this year, and I think we might be first in the league in goals for,” he admitted.

With the Wolves approaching the final quarter of their season, and sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, Macek and his teammates have their sights set on achieving even more. And personally, Chicago’s sniper remains focused on getting better each and every day.

“I think I can work on everything in my game. I think you have to keep working on every aspect of your game to get better. I mean if you’re not getting better, then chances are you’re getting worse,” he said.

This philosophy might also help Macek achieve his dream of playing in the NHL.