GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (0-0-0-0) AT CHICAGO WOLVES (0-0-0-0)
AT LONG LAST, OUR 27TH OPENER
A whopping 334 days since the last time the Chicago Wolves played a game that counted in the standings, the Burgundy and Gold return to the ice tonight for the latest season opener in the organization’s 27-year history.
Many things have changed since the Wolves earned a 3-2 overtime victory over the Rockford IceHogs on March 8 at Allstate Arena — the team’s final game before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the American Hockey League’s 2019-20 season to be suspended and, ultimately, canceled. It marked the first time in the AHL’s 84-year history a postseason champion was not crowned.
So what happened during Chicago’s 11-month offseason? Well, the Wolves merely changed their NHL partner, their head coach, their entire roster and their home rink. That’s all.
THE NEW COACHES AND PLAYERS
After spending the last three seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights, the Wolves signed a three-year partnership in September with the Carolina Hurricanes. That, in turn, led to Ryan Warsofsky being named as the Wolves’ head coach. The 33-year-old Warsofsky ranks as the AHL’s youngest coach, but he boasts plenty of experience. He served as the Charlotte Checkers’ boss last year and ran the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2016-18. Between that time, Warsofsky served as the top assistant for the Charlotte squad that defeated the Wolves in the 2019 Calder Cup Finals.
Patrick Dwyer, Warsofsky’s assistant last year, joins the Wolves as an assistant alongside returning assistant Bob Nardella. Fun fact: Dwyer and Nardella played together for the 2005-06 Wolves. Dwyer was in his rookie season of a 14-year pro career while Nardella played his 13th and final year as a pro.
As the Wolves launch into their 31-game regular-season schedule, the coaches are guiding a roster that features a mix of Carolina Hurricanes prospects and Nashville Predators prospects. Why are there players from Nashville’s organization? When the AHL gave the official green light to its 85th season on Jan. 4, the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville’s long-time AHL affiliate) were one of the three teams that could not field a team.
Wolves owner Don Levin, who holds significant admiration and respect for Nashville president of hockey operations and general manager David Poile and Milwaukee owner Harris Turer, helped arrange a one-year affiliation between the Wolves and Nashville to ensure the Predators’ prospects have a place to play this season. Several Admirals coaches, including head coach Karl Taylor, are commuting multiple days per week to help everyone improve.
NEW VENUE FOR THIS SEASON ONLY
While the Wolves were happy to be among the 28 AHL teams committed to playing this year, current Illinois Department of Public Health COVID-19 safety protocols prevent the Wolves (or any Illinois-based professional team) from welcoming fans into the stands. With that in mind, this year’s home games are being played at the Chicago Wolves Training Facility at the Triphahn Center in Hoffman Estates.
The Wolves have a robust testing system in place and are enforcing strict safety guidelines in order to maximize the health and safety of the players, coaches, support staff and everyone else who comes near the team’s home rink.
WE ARE THE WOLVES
In the Wolves’ first 26 seasons, 647 players suited up in the Burgundy and Gold. When goaltender Ville Husso made his NHL debut for the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 15, he became the 377th player in Wolves history to play in the NHL. That means 58.3 percent of all Wolves have reached the pinnacle of the sport. That ratio is even higher for Wolves goaltenders — as 42 of 57 (73.7 percent) have played in the NHL.
Through Wednesday’s games, 31 former Wolves have seen action this NHL season and they have played for 14 teams: St. Louis (8), Vegas (7), Montreal (4), Anaheim (2), Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago, Detroit, Edmonton, Minnesota, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington.
THE EXHIBITION GAME
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 27: (at) CHICAGO 6, ROCKFORD 1
- Rookie forward David Cotton scored two goals as part of a four-goal explosion in the third period as the Wolves won their lone preseason contest at Triphahn Center.
- Forwards Lukas Craggs and Jason Cotton also scored in the third while rookie Jamieson Rees opened the scoring in the second and forward Sean Malone (SHG) posted the game-winning goal.
- Goaltender Antoine Bibeau earned the win with 16 saves on 17 shots in the first two periods; Jeremy Helvig stopped all eight shots he saw in the third.
BY THE NUMBERS
0: For the first time since the Chicago Wolves’ first season in 1994-95, every player on the Opening Night roster is new to the organization. The bulk of last year’s roster was signed to deals with the Vegas Golden Knights organization, so those players made the move to Nevada during the offseason to play for the Golden Knights or the new Henderson Silver Knights (AHL). The Wolves had one familiar name in camp — veteran goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who posted a team-best 2.38 goals-against average for the 2017-18 Central Division-winning Wolves — but Kaskisuo was recalled from loan by Nashville (NHL) on Jan. 25 to join the team’s taxi squad.
1: When the Wolves played their first game on Oct. 1, 1994, at Detroit, brothers Ted Crowley and Joe Crowley were part of head coach Gene Ubriaco’s 18-man lineup. (In fact, Ted scored the first goal in franchise history.) That made them, obviously, the first pair of brothers to play in the same game for the Wolves — and there has never been another. That will change tonight if rookie forwards Jason Cotton and David Cotton both make their professional debuts. Jason, who turns 26 Sunday, and David, 23, signed with Carolina (NHL) on March 24 after completing their college eligibility. Jason was a finalist for the 2020 Hobey Baker Award for scoring 20 goals in 34 games for Sacred Heart. David, scored 15 goals in 32 games for Boston College. Both played and scored in last week’s 6-1 exhibition win over Rockford. Jason scored to open the third-period scoring, then David provided the game’s final two goals.
3: The Wolves always have prided themselves on featuring local players on their roster — and this season should be no exception. There are three players on the Opening Night roster who grew up in the Chicago area: forward Lukas Craggs (Elmhurst), forward David Gust (Orland Park) and defenseman Joey Keane (Homer Glen). Craggs, a 2014 York High School graduate, was the only one to play in last week’s exhibition. He scored a goal and launched five shots in the 6-1 win.The 21-year-old Keane was drafted by the New York Rangers in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He spent most of last year with Hartford (AHL), but was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in February. He earned AHL All-Rookie honors last year with 9 goals and 28 assists in 57 games split between Hartford and Charlotte.
4: While the Crowleys are the only set of brothers to play for the Wolves in the same game, there have been three more brother combos to suit up for the Wolves overall: Shawn and Jamie Rivers, Kip and Kevin Miller and Chicago natives Gregg and Nick Naumenko. Not only can the Cottons add themselves to this list tonight, but the Suzukis can join the list as well. Rookie center Ryan Suzuki, Carolina’s 2019 first-round pick, figures to be in the lineup. If so, he joins older brother Nick on the all-time Wolves roster. Nick, one of Vegas’ first-round picks in 2017 and now with the Montreal Canadiens, made his lone appearance for Chicago in Game 3 of the 2018 Central Division Semifinals against Rockford. He was still nearly four months shy of his 19th birthday.
8: For the fourth time in the last five years and the eighth time since the Wolves and the Grand Rapids Griffins became part of the same league in 1996, Grand Rapids serves as the Wolves’ foe for their home opener. Chicago holds a 2-4-1-0 record in the previous meetings, which includes last season’s 8-5 loss on Oct. 5, 2019, before 8,619 fans at Allstate Arena. Overall, the Wolves have fashioned a 16-8-1-1 record in their home openers over the years. That’s a .654 points percentage. In their first 26 season openers, the Wolves own a 13-8-2-3 mark. That works out to a .596 points percentage.
|Saturday, Feb. 6||at Rockford||Rockford MetroCentre||3 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Thursday, Feb. 11||vs. Grand Rapids||Triphahn Center||2 p.m.||AHLTV|
|Saturday, Feb. 20||vs. Iowa||Triphahn Center||7 p.m.||AHLTV|
All times Central.