📝 by Patrick Williams

Most American Hockey League teams would find going down 3-1 in a Calder Cup Playoff game to goaltender Dustin Wolf and the Stockton Heat to be a rather concerning predicament.

And rightfully so, as Wolf won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s top goaltender in 2021-22, along with spots on the First AHL All-Star Team and the All-Rookie Team. He helped the Heat finish second overall in the league during the regular season, and was coming off three shutouts in a four-game series win over Colorado during the Pacific Division Finals.

But not the Wolves.

“We didn’t get worried at all,” Wolves forward Jamieson Rees told reporters after the team’s come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Friday night. “We just kept playing our game, and good things happened.”

Good things did indeed happen for the Wolves, who replied twice in three minutes midway through the second period to tie the contest, struck again in the third period to claim the lead, withstood Stockton’s game-tying goal 59 seconds later, and then put away the win 2:26 into OT when Rees banged in a loose puck before Wolf could scramble back into position.

The preaching that head coach Ryan Warsofsky did all winter long had paid off in the Wolves’ first game on the June calendar. It is an approach that they will take to Game 2 tonight at Allstate Arena, and then on to Stockton as the series continues later this week.

“I think it starts day one,” Warsofsky said going into the series. “And we just keep preaching as a staff: ‘Stay in the moment. Let’s keep working on whatever that task is that day.’

“I think in life, a lot of people ― and it’s all of us, right? ― we always look towards the future. What’s next? What’s coming down the road? What’s the next challenge? And that could be a positive or it can be something that we worry about.

“Let’s try not to have that anxiety and stress creep into our life and our games. It kind of becomes contagious through the room. I think we’ve done a good job of that as a staff, whether that’s with our goaltending, with our defenseman, with our forwards, just preaching it day in and day out.”

So whether it is a snowy January day, a long midseason road trip, or practice leading into the Western Conference Finals, the Wolves aim for that same steady, worry-about-now approach.

“Just be in the moment, be present in the moment, whether that’s day one of the regular season, day 42… just be in the moment,” Warsofsky elaborated. “It’s a game day, prepare for our game. It’s a practice day, let’s try to get better. I think that’s credit to the players, it’s credit to the leadership group of relaying the coaching staff’s message up and down the room.

“We just try to be the hardest-working group on a Tuesday in November or a Thursday practice before the conference finals. Nothing’s really changed.

“We don’t talk about wanting a Calder Cup. We just talk about having a really good Thursday practice.”

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