HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – Separated by just 72 miles, the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs renew their rivalry in the postseason for only the third time Thursday night in Rosemont.

“They’re physical games. They’re heavy games – lot of hits, some fights, low scoring,” described Wolves centerman Jack Drury. “I think the fans on both sides bring a lot of intensity in the crowd. All of the players know the meaning of it, so it will be fun.”

“I would expect it to be pretty physical. Two teams that probably don’t like each other,” noted head coach Ryan Wasofsky. “This has been a rivalry long before I was here and it will be a rivalry long after I leave. You can tell the players it’s going to be fast, it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be intense – but until you experience that and it’s hitting you square in the face, it’s hard to really communicate that.”

Since there were no playoffs the past two seasons due to COVID, the Wolves technically played in the last Calder Cup Finals three years ago. After securing the league’s best record in a dominant regular season this year, the expectation is for the Wolves to reach the Finals again.

But, the team isn’t taking anything for granted.

“It’s kind of like entering a deep, dark tunnel right now,” explained Wolves goalie Alex Lyon. “There is going to be tough times and there is going to be good times. I think you have to anticipate those and just prepare for everything.”

“We can’t get focused ahead of what we’re trying to get to,” Warsofsky remarked. “We’re not going to talk about the Calder Cup. We’re going to talk about winning the game on Thursday. It’s that simple. If we do that, we’re going to catch ourselves in a bad spot. We kind of just have to focus on where our feet are.”

Warsofsky was an assistant on the Charlotte Checkers team that beat the Wolves for the championship in 2019. The AHL’s youngest head coach now gets his turn to lead a team to a title in the top role.

“It’s just sticking with what we do and how we need to play. We meet as a group daily to discuss how we want to play, our style. Our players know it. It’s not any confusion with how we want to play. It’s just keeping them sharp, keeping the engaged.”

The 34-year-old Massachusetts native and his wife Caroline welcomed their second child, baby girl Lucy, just last week – an early postseason gift.

“The timing couldn’t have been better. I’ll remind her of that in 10-15 years when she understands what’s going on. Great timing. The schedule lined up perfectly. If I was on the road, I probably wouldn’t have made it. The man above was kind of looking out for me there.”

His family just got bigger and Warsofsky hopes his jewelry collection does too after another championship run.