The Farmies: Nikita Tolopilo keeps Abbotsford’s home-ice hopes alive with 27 saves in 3-2 victory over Calgary

Cody Severtson
1 month ago
In the 2022-23 season, the Abbotsford Canucks played a 12-game series against the Calgary Wranglers, where they picked up a grand total of 11 points while being outscored 36 to 31.
The moral victory at that time was that the Canucks rallied from earlier blowouts to hold Calgary to one-goal games in five straight outings, including four one-goal games through the Calder Cup Playoff quarterfinals.
My, how the turn tables!
The Abbotsford Canucks concluded a rollercoaster 2023-24 season with four-straight victories against those same Wranglers, outscoring them 13 to 7 in the process.
The four-straight wins gave them a 7-4-1-0 record and a .625 points percentage, which saw Abbotsford outscore their Division rival 37 to 32.
Their power play went 4/13 over these past four games, giving them a 7/49 record on the season against Calgary. Their penalty kill stopped 13 of 14 on this four-game stretch, improving their PK record against Calgary to a stellar 40/44.
It wasn’t pretty during the third period when the Wranglers tried to crush the Farm’s hopes and dreams of home playoff dates. However, those young, pesky Canuck farmhands clutched it up, making for an enjoyable Sunday of AHL scoreboard-watching ahead of Vancouver’s return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What a time to be alive!
Let’s get into it, folks!
Starting Lineup
Game #72
1st period
For Abbotsford’s final game of the season, they took on a loaded Calgary Wranglers squad, with Adam Klapka, Dustin Wolf, Sam Honzek, and Ilya Solovyov returning to the AHL lineup after finishing their seasons in Calgary with games against the Sharks and none other than the Vancouver Canucks.
The big man Klapka got things started for Calgary first with a wrister through traffic into Nikita Tolopilo’s chest.
Five minutes into a period featuring both teams exchanging fruitless dump-and-chase cycles, Matt Irwin sparked Ben Jones with a hit attempt in the neutral zone. The Calgary centreman went down awkwardly before skating to the bench. Not long after a TV timeout, Jones demanded a code-based fight out of Irwin, to which the veteran defenceman obliged, but he didn’t look that interested in fighting.
Jones took an instigator penalty for dropping the gloves first, giving Abbotsford a 5-on-4 power play opportunity. Colliton rolled out the following power play units on Saturday night:
PP1: Filip Johansson, Linus Karlsson, Aatu Räty, Tristen Nielsen, and Sheldon Dries
PP2: Max Sasson, Arshdeep Bains, Chase Wouters, Aidan McDonough, and Christian Wolanin
After two crisp wraparound attempts from Karlsson, Max Sasson recorded the power play’s best chance after two minutes, with a one-timer from the slot off a bang-bang setup from Bains and Wouters down the left wing.
Off the next draw, Wolanin went cross-ice to McDonough for a one-timer off the iron.
Upon the return to 5-on-5, the Canucks really settled into a groove, transitioning the puck with smart passes while playing a very physical brand of in-zone defence that kept Calgary to a single shot on net after 13 minutes of play.
The Wranglers’ puck management in the d-zone wasn’t up to snuff in the first period. Multiple giveaways resulted in excellent quick cycles for Abbotsford, which resulted in shots on net.
The physicality eventually got to the Wranglers, with Klapka drawing offsetting roughing minors after taking issue with Linus Karlsson’s post-whistle headlock.
Ten seconds into the 4-on-4, Matt Coronato drew a tripping minor against Sheldon Dries, giving Calgary their first power play of the night.
The Canucks PK trio of John Stevens, Nick Cicek, and Matt Irwin did excellently to hold the Wranglers to a single shot on the net and even sparked the best scoring chance of the 4-on-3.
After blowing the zone, Calgary’s Cole Schwindt attempted to play the puck back into the neutral zone for Matt Coronato, who had raced to the bench for a new stick. Coronato was nowhere near ready to rejoin the play, so Stevens crashed down on the loose puck for a shorthanded breakaway. Making matters worse for Calgary was Dustin Wolf losing his stick after deciding to sit back in his net instead of chasing down the loose puck. Fortunately for Wolf, Stevens rifled his shot off Wolf’s blocker.
Directing traffic in the dying seconds of the 4-on-3, Christian Wolanin got his knee behind a one-timer from Sam Morton.
Cole McWard then challenged William Stromgren at the point, deflecting his pass to Sam Honzek at the net front. This allowed Wouters to sweep the puck out of the zone to effectively kill Calgary’s power play opportunity.
Though he didn’t play much as the club’s seventh defenceman, I thought Elias Pettersson showed well in his minutes. Early in the game, he made a smart play after a particularly suffocating Calgary cycle to help the team execute a breakout and line change.
Jumping up to the blue line, Pettersson recognizes the Wranglers’ collapse and drops back for his partner Nick Cicek, who has the cleaner passing lane down the left wing instead of forcing a pass through the neutral zone.
It isn’t much, but the little things get noticed here on the Farmies—not forcing plays at the AHL level at Pettersson’s age is encouraging!
Later in the period, Pettersson waited for the opportune moment for a step-in check on Clark Bishop while defending a zone entry on the retreat. Unfortunately, Pettersson took the brunt of the force but was no worse for wear—skating back toward the net like nothing had happened.
Ah, to be young, spry, and able to walk things off.
After 20 minutes, the Canucks had outshot the Wranglers 10 to 6 while generally getting the better looks throughout.
2nd period
Less than two minutes into the second period, the Calgary Wranglers broke the stalemate with an awkward deflection past Tolopilo following a lazy clearing attempt from Linus Karlsson.
1-0 Wranglers: Calgary Goal, Sam Morton from William Stromgren and Yan Kuznetzov
It was an incredible deflection from the rookie Morton but a tough break for Tolopilo, who had no sights on the initial shot.
The Canucks weren’t too phased by the early goal and quickly rattled off four shots on Dustin Wolf while playing they’re hard-checking, heavy-forechecking brand of hockey. That heavy pressure along the boards resulted in more turnovers from Calgary, including this one that gave McDonough a tremendous scoring chance from point-blank range.
Midway through the period, Sam Morton got a step on Irwin behind the net, tucking a wraparound behind Tolopilo’s outstretched left leg for his second of the period.
2-0 Wranglers: Calgary Goal, Sam Morton (2) from Ilya Solovyov and Adam Klapka
Not to be deterred by the amount of ‘Dustin Wolf-ing’ that Dustin Wolf was doing, the Canucks equalized in short order soon after.
First, the Canucks halved the Wranglers’ lead, with Linus Karlsson capitalizing on a wildly out-of-position Dustin Wolf off a short pass from Arshdeep Bains into the slot. Wolf was swimming in his crease because of Karlsson’s initial one-timer shot that saw the rebound steered wide to Bains along the goal line.
2-1 Wranglers: Abbotsford goal, Linus Karlsson from Arshdeep Bains and Cole McWard
Karlsson’s 23rd of the season gave him 60 points in 60 AHL games, finishing as a point-per-game player for the first time in his brief tenure in North America.
Forty seconds after Karlsson’s goal, Tristen Nielsen got a late touch on a Nick Cicek howitzer off the blue line, deflecting the puck over Wolf’s right shoulder and bar down to equalize the game at two-apiece.
2-2 Tie: Abbotsford Goal, Tristen Nielsen from Nick Cicek and Sheldon Dries
It was slick.
After gaining considerable momentum with back-to-back goals to keep the club’s hopes of hosting AHL Playoff games alive, the game fell to a standstill, with the ice crew taking over 15 minutes to repair a broken pane of curved glass near the Wranglers’ bench.
Jordan Oesterle somehow took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for jawing at the referees during the extended break.
The Canucks’ power play was rather lethargic looking. Fortunately, Max Sasson drew an interference penalty against Jonathan Aspirot with a speedy entry attempt through the middle, giving Abbotsford 21 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time.
The Farm didn’t get much on the two-man advantage, just a perimeter shot from Wolanin into Wolf’s chest.
After denying a shorthanded chance from Bishop and Oesterle out of the box, the Canucks’ second power play group entered the zone for a quick passing sequence that opened enough space for McDonough’s one-timer into Wolf’s chest.
After the Canucks’ power play, Linus Karlsson drilled Artem Grushnikov with a hit from behind that sent him awkwardly into the half-wall.
On the PK, Wouters executed a brilliant intercept at the Canucks’ blue line, springing Stevens ahead for a breakaway after muscling Jeremie Poirier off the puck.
For the second straight time, Wolf foiled Stevens on the shorthanded breakaway attempt.
Despite giving up a two-goal lead, the Canucks rallied back to end the middle frame, having outshot their Division rival 15 to 8.
Elsewhere in the Division, the Ontario Reign defeated the Colorado Eagles 7-3 in regulation, giving the Canucks hope that securing home playoff dates for the opening round was still within arm’s reach.
3rd period
The Canucks opened the period successfully, killing Karlsson’s boarding penalty, holding the Wranglers to zero shot attempts.
A few minutes later, Sasson draped his arm around Jonathan Aspirot, sending Abbotsford back to the PK. Stevens and Wouters continued their stellar night of penalty killing, blocking several shot attempts and sprawling down to take away the Wranglers’ shooting options through the middle.
In the dying seconds of the Wranglers’ third power play, Cole Schwindt was left all alone in the slot for a chance to break the tie. Tolopilo sprawled out to deny Schwindt’s wraparound attempt, and Aatu Räty swept a loose puck from out of the crease to deny the Wranglers a tap-in.
The Wranglers’ early power play opportunities gave Calgary a considerable edge in momentum. The Canucks did well to answer back, but the tight-checking play that was present in their play through the first two periods was seldom seen during the third.
Incredibly, after getting dominated for the better part of 12 minutes, the Canucks pressed with a point shot from Nick Cicek, resulting in a rebound goal from team MVP Arshdeep Bains to break the tie.
3-2 Canucks: Abbotsford Goal, Arshdeep Bains  from Sheldon Dries and Nick Cicek
Incensed by the Canucks’ lead-taking, the Wranglers popped off with five straight shots on Tolopilo.
Dries and Bains nearly combined to ice the game away for Abbotsford after the former dropped below the goal line for a centring pass to the latter that caught the two-time AHL MVP completely off guard.
With less than two minutes to go in the game, Trent Cull pulled Wolf for the extra attacker, leading to an absurdly high number of scrambly chances for Calgary, including this fantastic toe save from Tolopilo to deny Mitch McLain an equalizer.
Thanks to Tolopilo’s critical toe save and blocks from Wolanin, Cicek, Wouters, and Stevens helped the Canucks withstand the Wranglers’ barrage. The Farm concludes their 2023-24 season with wins in eight of their final ten.
Despite a shaky 2024 stretch of schedule, the club finishes with 40 wins.
More importantly, the team finished with enough points to secure home playoff dates for the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, should the Ontario Reign hold the Colorado Eagles to a single point on Sunday.
Final score
Abbotsford Canucks defeat Calgary Wranglers 3-2
CanucksArmy’s Three Stars
Though this opinion certainly constitutes recency bias, it’s impossible not to give the first star of the night to Nikita Tolopilo for holding down the fort in the third period. The Wranglers were all over the Canucks, and that toe save of his on Mitch McLain could prove the difference between road playoff games and home playoff games. Overall, it was a really impressive performance from Tolopilo to keep Abbotsford’s home-ice dreams alive.
The second star of the night is a tie between Chase Wouters and John Stevens. Though they didn’t factor in the scoring, both were integral to the club’s success on the PK. Their shot blocking and overall effort to disrupt the Wranglers’ cycle was crucial. Through Abbotsford’s final four games of the season—all against Calgary—the PK allowed just a single goal on 14 opportunities, totalling nearly 23 minutes of ice time.
The third star of the night is another tie between Linus Karlsson and Arshdeep Bains. Karlsson for the goal that ended his sophomore campaign as a point-per-game player in the AHL while also sparking the club’s comeback, and Bains for his goal and assist that saw him finish the season with the team lead in 5v5 scoring with 34 points in 55 games.
Next up on the Docket
The Farm will be watching the Ontario/Colorado game on Sunday. A point or less against the Ontario Reign will secure home-ice advantage for Abbotsford during the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

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