At several points during every Chicago Wolves season, general manager Wendell Young offers his thoughts on the team with his “State of the Pack” insights. When he answered questions in November, the Wolves ranked among the top handful of teams in the Western Conference. At this juncture, the Wolves are holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot — but there’s little difference between the fifth and 10th teams and plenty of time to become re-established as a primary threat to capture the Calder Cup.
Q: When we sat down for the first State of the Pack in November, you felt very good about the team’s work ethic and everything else. How would you describe how you feel about the team today?
A: “I’m a little disappointed with where we are. I’m excited one night and disappointed the next night. We haven’t been consistent enough. That’s within games and from period to period. We have a great weekend, then don’t play well the next game. We’re trying to figure out why that level…we don’t have a team that’s all about skill. We’re about hard work. That’s one of the things we took pride in at the start of the season and that’s why we got off to such a great start.
“On some nights, I’m not seeing it. I’m not seeing the enthusiasm we had before. That’s a little disappointing.”
Q: How much of that can be attributed to the seeming reality that every team goes through a bad phase? And how much of it is you’ve had that phase already and it’s February and it’s time to get after it?
A: “When I hear that, don’t all the teams play the same amount of games? Shouldn’t they be not as enthused too? But I see enthusiasm on other teams. When we played Rochester (on Feb. 3), they got in here late at night and played the next morning and they were more enthusiastic than us.
“I think the work ethic is something you can control. You can’t control the officiating. You can’t control bad bounces and all that. Bad stuff happens in a game. But one thing you can definitely control is how hard you work.”
Q: One of the things (head coach) John Anderson said recently was, “Championship teams don’t take days off.”
A: “Championship teams aren’t going to win every game, but they’re going to work hard every night. We’ve left it to the third period sometimes – and we don’t have a stellar record when we’re losing entering the third period. I see some teams in our league and in hockey in general that have a lot of comebacks going into the third, but we’re not that team.”
“With all that said, there are nights where we’re a team to be reckoned with. If we play like that every night, we’d be better. I think we’re where we deserve to be in the standings. We’re right in the middle of our conference. We can make a step to go forward or we can make a step to go backward. We’re teetering on which way this season is going to go.”
Q: The NHL trade deadline is March 2. What are you focused on at this point in the year? I assume you’re exhausting every avenue to try to make sure the team takes a step forward.
A: “From my standpoint, I put a little fear into the players. I’ve already fired a warning shot across the bow that there could be changes – whether that’s through trades or through bringing other players in. Tryouts are over. We’re playing to win. It’s time to step up. If you’re not bringing what we think you can bring to the table, you’re not going to be in the lineup. And I don’t care who it is. I’ve made that clear to the coaches. The only thing you can control with the players is the amount of ice time.”
Q: This is a time when general managers are on the phone all the time. What have your phone calls been like?
A: “When you’re not in the top part of the standings, people start calling. That’s what I told our players. ‘When you’re sitting on top of the league or your conference, not many GMs call you because they think everything’s great and you don’t want to move anybody or change anything.’
“You start slipping a bit, that’s when they start calling and asking if you’re ready to purge your team and throw your season away. I’ve been getting the calls. I bet everyone under us (in the standings) has been getting the calls too.”
Q: Aren’t you usually the guy who’s trying to pirate players away from other teams?
A: “Exactly. I like to poach (laughs). But I told the players, ‘I don’t like getting calls. It’s not a good feeling.”
Q: What do you think of the goaltending this season from Jordan Binnington and Matt Climie?
A: “Our goaltending has been good. We’ve gone from Jake Allen, who was the best goalie in the league last year, and we haven’t had a huge dropoff. Goaltending has not been an issue. Very few games can you sit back and say it was the goalies. Our goalies have saved us most of the year.”
Q: Who else have you been pleased with?
A: “Pat Cannone has probably been our best forward – the most consistent. Shane Harper’s goal output has been really good. Ty (Rattie), of course, played in the All-Star game and has been up in the NHL. Brent Regner and Mathieu Brodeur have been rock-solid on defense. It’s tough to find other guys who’ve been consistent. We’ve gone through periods where guys have been good.”