With seven key players called up for the Vancouver Canucks' camp expected to start Sunday, veteran Brett Sterling made an argument to join them, scoring three times in just over eight minutes in the first period to lead the Wolves to a 3-1 win over the Abbotsford Heat in the American Hockey League.
"Our team, with a lot of new guys in the lineup, we were able to battle and play a great team game tonight," said Sterling, who now has 13 goals and 13 assists to lead Chicago in scoring.
Chicago goaltender Matt Clime said players who don't usually see a lot of ice time stepped up in a big way.
"With having bodies out of the lineup, it gives a chance for younger guys to step up and it's a good opportunity to play a lot more minutes," he said. "Sometimes teams play more desperate when they know that everyone has to pull their weight when we don't have the guns in the lineup."
That desperation was not lost on the opposition.
"Usually a wounded dog hunts best — that's life," said Heat head coach Troy Ward. "They were more wounded than we were, and I thought they played with a little better desperation. We're going to have our nights where we'll beat people. We just didn't play that well."
Brad Hunt had two assists for Chicago (16-12-5), now 3-1-1 in its past five.
Clime stopped 26 shots to get the win, keeping the Wolves in the game when the Heat did generate scoring chances. He has started 15 of the last 16 games for Chicago with No. 1 goalie Eddie Lack nursing a sore groin.
"You watch some of the saves (Clime) made, those were highlight-reel saves," said Sterling. "Hopefully we see a couple on (TV). That stick save and everything. He kept us in that game early. Making those saves, that's what we needed, getting them at the right time. It could have been 3-2 or 3-3.
"He played unbelievable."
Ben Walter scored for Abbotsford (17-11-7). Leland Irving made just seven saves in the first period before being replaced by Danny Taylor, who made 20 stops the rest of the way.
Walter opened the scoring for the Heat on the game's first power play at 4:08 off a redirection. Krys Kolanos sent a crisp cross-ice pass to Paul Byron at the face-off dot and he quickly centred the puck to Walter in front.
"We took penalties early in the game and gave them a little momentum," said Clime. "We gave up that power play goal but we rebounded well. We carried the play the last half of the first and it carried over into the second."
Abbotsford continued to press for more but Clime stood tall, making a number of point blank saves, combining skill and luck.
"I felt that early save off Kolanos, where he had the wide-open net, I thought that was a big save," said Clime. "If he scores that goal it's a whole different game. It kept the momentum on our side and didn't really give them much after that. I felt that was really the turning point."
The Wolves tied the game up at 10:17 on a power play of their own when Sterling beat Irving with Andrew Gordon screening in front.
Sterling struck again just two minutes later, this time deflecting Hunt's point shot through Irving's legs.
The Los Angeles native completed the natural hat trick at 18:33. With Gordon going to the net Sterling's centring pass banked off Irving and in.
"We were able to get some bounces — obviously that third one was pretty lucky, but I'll take it any way I can get it right now," said Sterling.
The two teams meet again Saturday but the Heat and Wolves are expected to look very different as NHL camps begin. Though the Flames haven't made an announcement yet, up to seven players may be heading to Calgary tomorrow.
"Tomorrow the league really changes," Ward said ominously.
Notes: Sterling's three goals came in a span of eight minutes 16 seconds. Bill Jennings holds the record for the fastest hat trick in AHL history. He scored three times in 57 seconds for Indianapolis in 1941. ... Sterling, in his seventh year as a pro, surpassed 400 career AHL points in Chicago's 6-1 win over Oklahoma City last Sunday.