The Chicago Wolves launch their 21st season – and 14th as a member of the American Hockey League – at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allstate Arena. After directing the Wolves to the Midwest Division title during his first year in charge since the 2007-08 season, John Anderson feels even more comfortable and confident as the opener beckons.
ChicagoWolves.com caught up with Anderson after Thursday’s pair of 45-minute practices and an impromptu X-and-O session with prized defensemen Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm, who needed to be brought up to speed on breakouts and other strategy after working out with the Wolves for the first time.
Q: You’ve been with a lot of these guys for a month…and some of these guys for 24 hours…
A: Actually, about two hours.
Q: Keeping in mind the different time frames you’ve had to work with each player, where is this squad overall?
A: I think we’re going to find out this weekend, but my gut feeling is two things: One, we do have (14) guys from last year who I’ve coached before. That’s a good thing, so they can help out the new guys. Whereas last year, we had nobody I’d coached before.
Two, I think we’ve gotten faster and I think we’ve gotten deeper as a team. It’s the deepest team that I’ve had here. I’ve got five lines – plus an extra – that should all be playing in the American Hockey League, if not the National Hockey League.
And I’ve got to sit four forwards each night and a couple defensemen because of injury. I think we’re very deep. We’ll see. Sometimes you get surprises. I think the American League is continually getting stronger.
Q: Who do you see as the primary goal-scorers here?
A: I’m hoping ‘Rats’ (Ty Rattie, who ranked among the top five in the AHL last season with 31 goals). I think Pat Cannone’s going to surprise a few guys. I think Yannick Veilleux’s got a real good shot. I think he’s going to get chances to score. Rob Bordson. Jeremy Welsh. John McCarthy is showing really good signs.
I’m not sure who’s going to take over, but I have a gut feeling is that it’ll probably be Rattie. But I’m an equal-opportunity coach. Anybody who wants to lead our team in goals is very welcome to do so.
Q: AHL Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen isn’t here anymore. Can you size up Matt Climie and Jordan Binnington for us?
A: I really haven’t seen “Climes” a lot this year because he’s been up (at NHL training camp). We just really got him back. He looks fitter and more agile than last year, which is really good. I didn’t really give him a ton of chances to show what he could do because Jake took the ball and ran away with it. I think he understood that. But he’s going to start Saturday night.
“Binny”’ is still yet unproven. He played a real good game for us last year. I’m excited about him. He’s really calm and cool. He’s going to get his chance to shine too.
Q: At this point, there’s no plan for a 53/23 split of games like Jake had over Matt last year?
A: No. But you have to remember this: Our schedule at the start is like a college schedule, with games only on the weekends, so both are going to play. I can’t have one guy sitting for three weeks and expect him to go do really well. I’ve talked to both of them. ‘Here’s the original situation and here’s the plan and we’ll see what happens.’
Q: The Wolves have veterans this year such as Colin Fraser, who has three Stanley Cup championships on his resume, and Brent Sopel, who won a Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. Is it any more or less important these days to have a veteran presence?
A: I don’t think it’s any more or less important, but I still think it’s very important to have good ones. Good in the sense of how they play, and good in the sense of how they play in the sandbox with others. Some veterans have an attitude problem. They think everything should be given to them. I certainly don’t see that here. Our guys are looking to help people out there.
Q: Is this team built a little differently than last year? There were the big names here – Keith Aucoin, Corey Locke, Mark Mancari – who were a little older. Now most of the veteran guys are 26-27 years old.
A: I think the guys are a little hungrier. They’re certainly getting faster. One thing I did find out about the league: (Calder Cup champion) Texas was really a fast team. The game was faster. We have to keep pace.