It took Nathan Longpre quite a while to get his name back on the Chicago Wolves scoresheet. Twenty games, in fact.
Longpre's first-period goal in the Wolves' 2-1 victory over the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday was the first time he'd scored since Nov. 16. He hadn't even picked up an assist since the slump started just on the heels of a three-point performance.
"I don’t know how long it’s been, but when you get a goal, and to (put the team) ahead, it’s a good feeling on the bench and in the locker room coming out next period," Longpre said. "It got the boys fired up and resulted in the win."
The goal was the result of excellent passing and teamwork. Duluth, Minn., native Cade Fairchild started the play in the Wolves' zone with a pass up the right wing boards to Sebastian Wannstrom in the neutral zone to spring an odd-man rush.
Wannstrom carried the puck across the IceHogs' blue line before sliding it into the slot for Longpre, who snapped a wrist shot past Jason LaBarbera for his third goal of the season.
After being a healthy scratch in Friday's game, Longpre found a way to contribute in a more flashy way than by his unsung work on the team's penalty kill, which ranks seventh in the AHL.
"I was given the shot (Saturday)," he said. "I want to stick in the lineup. I'm just trying to do everything possible to be the guy and keep playing for this team."
CHORNEY'S STICK WORK MAY HAVE SAVED THE DAY
With the game tied 1-1 about five minutes into the third period, Wolves goalie Jake Allen strayed from his net to play the puck, but turned it over instead.
With the net left unguarded, defenseman Taylor Chorney put himself in position between it and the player with the puck in time to stop a shot with the blade of his stick, keeping the game tied. It was the second time in the game Allen had a miscue while playing a puck.
Whether or not Chorney's "save" would have changed the outcome, it certainly would have changed the complexion of the third period.
But instead of offering immediate praise for Chorney's play, Wolves coach John Anderson couldn't help but do a little teasing first.
"Our D’s probably coughed up a few like that and Jake’s had to make a few saves like that, so it’s just a little thank you for Jake," Anderson said, his customary sly grin in place. "It was a great play by Chorney. He had a real strong game."
Chorney later assisted on Ty Rattie's game-winning goal, giving the Wolves' captain his first point since Dec. 28, a seven-game span.
CROWDED HOUSE BOOSTS WOLVES ATTENDANCE
Not surprisingly, attendance at Allstate Arena is down from last season when the Wolves benefitted from being the only game in town during the NHL lockout. But even going back farther than that, this season's crowds have been disappointing by Wolves' standards.
That made Saturday's crowd all the more remarkable. The Wolves drew 16,005 fans to the game against the IceHogs, including about 6,000 Girl Scouts. It was their largest crowd since April 11, 2009, when they drew 16,019.
The huge turnout helped the Wolves jump St. John's for fifth in AHL attendance. Through 19 home dates, the Wolves are averaging 6,742 fans per game. Prior to Saturday, that average was 6,227.
Anderson provided some information Sunday about three Wolves players who continue to stay out of the lineup: defenseman Joel Edmundson, and forwards Cody Beach and Tyler Shattock.
Edmundson remains out with a concussion, though Anderson listed him as day-to-day. As of Sunday, Edmundson hadn't skated, but has been able to work out.
"He’s feeling better now, and he should be ready to go hopefully by next weekend," Anderson said.
Shattock was knocked out by a vicious virus that put him down for nine days. Anderson said he's getting better, but after missing that much time he didn't want to rush Shattock into the lineup.
Meanwhile, Beach is out indefinitely while dealing with a family matter. This is the second player this season to take a leave for personal reasons. Center Alexandre Bolduc missed eight games in November after his mother suffered a brain aneurism.
"(Beach) is out until the matter gets cleared up," Anderson said. "Hockey is just a game, when you think about it, after all is said in done. We want to make sure the things that are really important outside of hockey are taken care of.”