Coming into the 2018 season, Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright had a challenge for his players. “I want you to show up hungry,” Wright told his team. “Pretend you’ve never won the Vandy, never won anything. Show up with something to prove, a chip on your shoulder, ready to work hard and fight for the title.”
The Wolves appear to be ready for their coach’s challenge. Michigan finished the first week of the season undefeated, outscoring their opponents 17-7 and establishing themselves as the class of the tough Western Division.
“We’ve definitely heard the talk,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes. “That we’re too old, over the hill, that our offense isn’t good enough. But we’re ready to show all the doubters that we’re on top of our game, and nobody’s going to beat us without a fight.”
The highlight of the week was a pair of games against their biggest rival, the defending division champion Anchorage Igloos. On Opening Night, the teams faced off in Cadillac Place. The Wolves scored a pair of goals 80 seconds apart in the first period to seize the lead and bring the crowd to its feet. Anchorage tied it up early in the third, but RW Benoit Poulin slapped home the game-winner 51 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory. During the rematch on Friday at Arctic Circle Arena, the Igloos were thirsty for revenge. But the Wolves fired 38 shots at netminder Ty Worthington, and rookie LW Scot Davenport tipped one home midway through the third period to emerge with a razor-thin 2-1 win.
After Friday’s game, Igloos coach Sam Castor indicated that the division might be in for a long season. “Man, Michigan’s a tough squad this year,” Castor told reporters. “They’re always tough competitors, but they’re playing with a little extra edge this year. They’re swarming, not giving an inch, slowing down the flow. They’re already in top form, and that’s going to make it tough for the rest of us.”
As always, Michigan’s success begins in its own end. Their defense is holding opponents under 24 shots per game, by far the best mark in the league. And when the occasional shots do get through, goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist is there to stop them. He finished the week 4-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .956 save percentage.
“Having The Bear in net is a great security blanket for a defense,” said D “Mad Max” Madison. “But we don’t let that make us soft. We’re still out there blocking shots, denying net-front presence, and doing the dirty work in the corners and along the wall. The Bear can bail us out, but we’re making sure he doesn’t have to.”
Wright is pleased with the way the team has responded to his challenge. “Success hasn’t dulled the edge with these guys,” said the Michigan coach. “They’re putting in the work and the effort. They know this division isn’t going to be a cakewalk, and we’re going to have to battle for every inch. If we can keep up this intensity and work ethic all season, I like our chances.”