When the Wolves practiced Thursday morning at Allstate Arena, Cracknell was the first non-goalie on the ice. He took advantage of the time to take some shots on goaltenders Jake Allen and Matt Climie and basically act like a 28-year-old professional. To further that impression, Cracknell shrugged off any suggestion he might serve as a role model in this regard.
“That’s just me,” Cracknell said. “I go out there early, but that’s just my way to get a feel for the warm-up. I don’t do much off the ice in the way of a warm-up, so it’s nice to go out there and feel the puck a little bit and get ready for the weekend any way I can.”
For those just joining the Wolves’ hunt for the Calder Cup, which resumes with Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Allstate Arena, Cracknell is in the midst of his second playoff run this spring.
When the St. Louis Blues battled the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Cracknell played in five games on the Blues’ fourth line. He scored the first goal in the series and averaged 12 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time per game. These simple numbers don’t do enough to convey how much Cracknell invested in that series.
“It’s draining,” Cracknell said. “Throughout the week, you try to rest as best as you can, but your mind is going the whole time about nothing but hockey and how you’re supposed to play. Once it was over, it was a shock and a lot of exhaustion. Mostly mentally.”
Immediately after the series concluded, Cracknell was offered the opportunity to rejoin the Wolves, for whom he delivered 25 points in 28 games during the second half of the regular season.
“The body wanted to, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready to make a full commitment to come back,” Cracknell said. “I was here for two months with these guys. I knew a lot of them before, I got to know a lot of new guys and to be a part of this team. I know what caliber of team we have. We have a team that can win a championship and I want to be a part of that and help in any way I can.”
Cracknell returned to the Wolves the morning of the Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 3 and wasted no time helping out. He scored two goals in the first period to set the tone for a 4-0 victory over Rochester. He has three points in three Calder Cup playoff games.
Each time Cracknell scores, he helps himself as much as he helps the Wolves. As an unrestricted free agent for next season, he gets the chance to impress and earn his next NHL deal. But, again, the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, native views the playoffs more in terms of Ws and Ls than dollars and cents.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “I think any hockey player would have made the same decision to come back and get the opportunity to play instead of sitting on the couch watching.”
ANOTHER FISH STORY
After casting aspersions on head equipment manager Craig Kogut’s fishing ability in yesterday’s blog, it’s only fair to tell the other side of the story today. During Wednesday’s Blarney Bassmasters tournament at Fox Chain O’Lakes, Kogut reeled in a three-pound largemouth bass to claim the biggest catch of the day and the $65 prize that accompanied it.
In other fishing news, head coach John Anderson only chuckled when asked about his outing in Waukegan with Wolves owner Buddy Meyers and others. He suggested the blog check in with Meyers to find out how the afternoon went. Stay tuned for details.
FACIAL HAIR AND HABERDASHERY DETAILS
Several Chicago Wolves are growing playoff beards. Forward Nathan Longpre might be leading the pack while head coach John Anderson leads in style points with his Fu Manchu. Pictures are coming soon and we’ll set up a poll to vote for the finest facial hair.
Meanwhile, though none of the Wolves hail from Chicago, they’ve taken to supporting other professional franchises with their choice of caps they wear as they leave practice.
Christian Hanson walked out of Allstate Arena on Thursday wearing a White Sox cap, Eric Selleck donned a Bears cap and Derek Nesbitt had an old-school Cubs cap. Keith Aucoin, of course, repped for the Boston Red Sox as did Tyler Shattock. The outliers? California native Shane Harper had a green Oakland A’s cap while Sweden native Sebastian Wannstrom, who has grown quite fond of Air Jordans, broke out his Brooklyn Nets cap.