Defenseman Mark Cundari may be new to Chicago Wolves fans, but he's no stranger to 10 of his Wolves teammates. Cundari, along with fellow newcomer Adam Cracknell, played with the Peoria Rivermen in 2012-13.
Near the end of the regular season, Cundari was shipped to the Calgary Flames organization as part of the deal that brought ex-Wolves defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues. After playing half of this season with the Abbotsford Heat, Cundari was loaned to the Wolves as compensation for trading leading scorer Corey Locke to the Heat. The Flames retain Cundari's NHL rights.
Cundari joined the Wolves on Jan. 23, and played his first game in the new sweater two days later. After being held off the scoresheet in his debut, Cundari has rolled up two goals and three assists in the four games since, which includes two assists in Saturday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Iowa Wild.
"Cundari’s given us a little bit of stability back there with the offense, plus he lays some big hits out there," Wolves coach John Anderson said prior to the game. "He’s not a very big guy, but he’s 6-feet wide, so he’s pretty solid on his skates."
One of the things the Wolves found attractive about Cundari is his ability as an offensive defenseman. The Wolves are desperate to get their power play clicking, and have experimented with combinations all season. Yet it remains mired in last place in the 30-team AHL (11.1 percent). Their 23 power-play goals are the fewest in the league.
"I’ve been in the league for four years now and every time we played (the Wolves) they seemed to have a pretty dominant power play," Cundari said. "So when I got here and they said the power play’s clicking at like 10, 11 percent I was just in shock really. I’m going to do what I can to help it get out of this slump."
So far, Cundari's impact on that unit has been minimal. After failing on its only two man-advantages against Iowa, the Wolves are 2-for-24 on the power play since Cundari's arrival.
Keep in mind, though, despite Cundari's familiarity with half the team and the two assistant coaches (Dave Allison and Scott Allen), he's new to Anderson and his systems, which rely on players' instincts far more than technical structure.
"I was used to an extremely systematic approach and here there’s more of a creative tempo where they give the players all the freedom to do whatever it is they want out there," Cundari said. "That’s good, but it can work against you if you have no idea, no chemistry to what’s going on out on the ice."
That chemistry is coming though. He jumped into the play quite a bit Saturday, and assisted on both goals by Ty Rattie.
The first gave the Wolves a 2-1 lead with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Cundari took a pass from Alexandre Bolduc in the high slot, stepped around a defender and backhanded the puck to Rattie for a one-timer from the left face-off dot.
After the Wild tied it late in the third, the Wolves won it with 29 seconds left in overtime when Cundari walked the blue line and hit Rattie with a pass down the right. Rattie pushed the puck ahead before uncorking a blast from the top of the right face-off circle for his team-best fourth game-winning goal.
In only five games with the Wolves, Cundari has already produced 50 percent of the points he accrued in 32 games with the Heat (four goals, six assists).
“I’m just playing the same game I’ve been playing all year, just now I’m in an organization where I’m able to show more of my offensive ability,” Cundari said prior to Saturday's game. “It paid off those first couple of games. I just hope it continues.”