it was 24 years ago today…
On Oct. 14, 1994, the Chicago Wolves hosted their first home game. More than 16,000 fans poured through the then-Rosemont Horizon’s doors to find out whether these guys really were animals.
Wayne Messmer sang an inspirational national anthem — his first since being wounded in the throat by a gunshot six months earlier — with Nancy Faust accompanying him on organ. When Todd Harkins scored the first goal just 1:14 into the game, fans threw raw meat on the ice. And by the time goaltender Wendell Young and the Wolves wrapped up their 4-2 victory over the Detroit Vipers, a love affair between a hockey team and a city had begun.
It’s fitting that the Wolves meet the Milwaukee Admirals on this anniversary because the Admirals are the only American Hockey League team that was a part of the International Hockey League along with the Wolves in 1994-95 — and these two teams have been together every year since. It’s also a great matchup because the Wolves and Admirals are two of the six AHL teams that have yet to lose a game.
…and now it’s “chicago wolves day”
To commemorate the anniversary of our first game and celebrate our accomplishments on and off the ice, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has declared today to be Chicago Wolves Day in Illinois. As the proclamation states:
“WHEREAS, the Chicago Wolves have entertained more than eight million Illinoisans with first-class, winning and affordable professional hockey and an outstanding indoor firework and pyrotechnic show since their first home game on October 14, 1994; and,
“WHEREAS, the Wolves have brought four league championships, six conference championships and nine division titles home to the Land of Lincoln; and,
“WHEREAS, the Wolves have built such talented teams that 350 of their players have reached the National Hockey League; and have come to live and play hockey in the great state of Illinois from Canada, The Bahamas, Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Tanzania and Ukraine; and,
“WHEREAS, the Wolves founded the Adopt-A-Dog Night program that has enabled almost 1,500 homeless dogs to be adopted during Wolves games and find loving homes, and provided more than 5,000 dogs vaccinations and support in underserved neighborhoods of Chicago; and,
“WHEREAS, Chicago Wolves Charities has raised more than $6 million and distributed these monies to dozens of worhty charities throughout the state; and,
“THEREFORE, I, Bruce Rauner, Governor of the State of Illinois, do hereby recognize October 14, 2018, as CHICAGO WOLVES DAY in Illinois, celebrating the team’s 25 years of sport, talent and charity.”
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Right wing Brooks Macek needed just three shots Saturday night to put together the first hat trick of his career as a professional playing on North American soil. Macek is 26 years old, but this is his first season here as he spent the last five years playing in Germany. Macek led the DEL in goals last season with 26 in 50 games. Saturday’s spree against the Grand Rapids Griffins marked Macek’s first hat trick on this continent since March 9, 2013, when his Calgary Hitmen crushed Lethbridge 9-0 in Western Hockey League action.
4: The Wolves have allowed just four goals this season, which ranks second in the AHL in goals allowed (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has allowed 3 in 3 games) and goals-against average (1.33). Chicago’s defense has gotten off to an even better start only twice before. The 1997-98 eventual Turner Cup champions gave up just 3 goals in the first three games with Wendell Young in net. The 2014-15 squad also gave up just 3 goals in the first three as Matt Climie handled two games and Jordan Binnington played the other.
5: Saturday’s win gave the Wolves their fifth 3-0 start in their 25-year history. Why might this be a valuable omen? Because three of the previous four 3-0 starts happened to Wolves squads that wound up as the Last Team Standing. The 1997-98 group started 3-0 on its way to the Turner Cup championship. The 2001-02 team, which was the first to play in the AHL, started 3-0 on its way to the Calder Cup championship. The 2007-08 crew opened 6-0 on the way to the Calder Cup title. Only the 2012-13 team, which began 4-0, failed to reach the pinnacle.
6: Defensemen Zac Leslie posted a career-high +5 plus/minus rating on Oct. 6 at Colorado, then he pushed his season total to a +6 as he scored the game-winning goal and posted a +1 in Saturday’s 5-1 win over Grand Rapids. Center Gage Quinney, meanwhile, has been a +3 each of the last two games. Leslie’s and Quinney’s +6 plus/minus rating shares the league lead with four other players.
9: The Wolves have scored 13 goals while allowing just 4 this season and their +9 goal differential ranks as the third-best spread in the AHL. Central Division mate Iowa stands at +11 (16-5) while Atlantic Division leader Charlotte stands at a +10 (18-8). The Manitoba Moose, another Central Division squad, claims the basement in goal diffential with a minus-13 in four games. The Central Division boasts three of the AHL’s six remaining unbeatens: Chicago, Iowa and Milwaukee.
353: If you’ve suited up for the Wolves, chances are better than 50/50 that you’ve also played in the National Hockey League. When Daniel Carr, Curtis McKenzie and Zach Whitecloud made their Wolves debuts on Oct. 5, they became the 351st, 352nd and 353rd players (out of 614) who have competed for the Wolves and in the NHL. That 58.4 percent overall success rate is even higher among goaltenders. Of the 54 players who’ve tended the net for the Wolves over the years — starting with original goaltenders Ray LeBlanc and Wendell Young and continuing through current Wolves Max Lagace and Oscar Dansk — 37 boast NHL experience (68.5 percent).