Daily Herald
It's Wolves' present over Hawks' future in this round
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 5/14/2008 12:06 AM

Reaching the conference finals is nothing new for the Wolves.

But for the Blackhawks, it's no small measure of how far their minor-league program has come that they sniffed a second-round victory and came within a bounce or two of winning it.

Not sure if Bob Pulford's hair was even gray the last time the Hawks could say they sent 19 players to the NHL club at some point during the season and still won a minor-league playoff series.

This all while having perhaps the worst name in sports: the Rockford IceHogs.

Like the Rockford "Blackhawks'' wouldn't have worked? And the Indian head would have been a bad looking crest for the jersey? Or was a hog chewing on a hockey stick just too much logo to resist?

If that doesn't keep John McDonough up at night, nothing will.

Of course, we can sit here and ponder the 10-year lease Pulford signed to play in Rockford, believing that McDonough would have done everything in his power to have his best prospects playing right here in Rosemont for an owner, Don Levin, he admires.

And had all the upper-management changes that took place last fall happened a year earlier, before Pulford signed that contract, who knows where the Hawks' AHL club might be skating today.

But, as usual, I regress, if not entirely digress.

The story is and will be that the Wolves have another shot at a Calder Cup Finals appearance after eliminating Rockford with a 4-1 victory in a raucous Game 7 on Tuesday night at the Allstate Arena.

And while the Wolves live to fight another fortnight, beginning Friday night at home against Toronto, not to be overlooked on the final night of their season is the sterling job done by Rockford GM Al MacIsaac and coach Mike Haviland.

"That's a great hockey team we had to beat, but we knew that coming in, and we knew it would be hard,'' said Wolves goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who was spectacular again Tuesday. "They put 19 guys in the NHL this year. That has to be a good team.''

Haviland not only prepared all those kids to play in the NHL but took every call-up and injury in stride, replaced the bodies and made the pieces fit.

Meanwhile, MacIsaac always seems to find a Jordan Hendry or Travis Moen at some insane outpost, and this year he landed Derek Nesbitt, who was playing for the Gwinnett (Ga.) Gladiators of the ECHL.

All Nesbitt did was come in and score 17 goals and collect 35 points in 46 games.

As for Haviland, his club finished second in the division even after losing five of his top six defensemen, and nearly pulled off the second-round upset.

This Rockford pair is headed for the NHL, and now it's merely a question of where and when, and the Hawks would do well to keep that in mind.

But that is a conversation for the summer. In Rosemont, hockey is alive after the Wolves survived a 3-2 series deficit and are primed for yet another Calder Cup run.

"The last time we faced Toronto, they beat us 8-3 up there and it cost us a chance to secure home ice for the conference that night,'' said Wolves coach John Anderson. "It's the teams with the two best records in the Western Conference, and it's a going to be a battle.

"We'll not be taking them lightly.''

The Wolves' victory Tuesday does more than delay by a few weeks Pat Foley's return to the West Side.

It also gives Chicago hockey fans a chance to see more postseason action, something Hawks fans can only hope they get to see again in the near future.

"It was a great Game 7 that really wasn't decided until very late in the game, and you can't ask for more than that,'' Anderson said. "I think the fans they brought out enjoyed a great hockey game, and I know our fans enjoyed it.

"Hopefully there's several more weeks of that to come.''

brozner@dailyherald.com