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Top 40 Countdown: No. 1

Is there any doubt who ranks as the No. 1 goal-scorer on the Chicago Wolves Top 40 Countdown, presented by Jewel-Osco?

When the Wolves played their inaugural game on Oct. 1, 1994, a 25-year-old forward from Quebec named Steve Maltais scored two goals. When the Wolves played their second game one week later, Maltais scored two goals again.

Over the course of Maltais’ 11 years in his No. 11 Wolves jersey, the question usually wasn’t whether Maltais would score a goal — it was how many might he score?

During Maltais’ first season with the Wolves, he delivered 57 goals in 79 games to lead the International Hockey League. He continued to dominate for several years more.

1995-96: 56 goals in 81 games (tied for second in the IHL)
1996-97: 60 goals in 81 games (first)
1997-98: 46 goals in 82 games (tied for first)
1998-99: 56 goals in 82 games (10 goals more than anyone else)
1999-2000: 44 goals in 82 games (first)

Not only did the Wolves rely on Maltais to be a dynamic scorer, they counted on their team captain to be in the lineup every day. From Dec. 20, 1996, to June 5, 2000 — when the Wolves captured their second Turner Cup at Grand Rapids — Maltais played in 350 consecutive games (298 in the regular season and 52 in the playoffs). The streak ended for a great reason: Because Maltais opened the 2000-01 season with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

And it wasn’t easy to keep the streak alive. In the 2000 postseason, Maltais lost five front teeth thanks to a slapshot — and didn’t miss a game. Days after that, he broke his nose — and didn’t miss a game. As Maltais told the Chicago Tribune: “At the end of that year, I had to get my nose done and teeth done and enjoy the summer winning the Cup.”

Maltais served as the Wolves’ captain for 10 of his 11 seasons, which meant he was the first to touch the Cup when the Wolves hoisted the Turner Cup in 1998 and 2000 and the Calder Cup in 2002.

“You always hear about winning a championship, but you don’t know the feeling until you actually win one, no matter what level you’re playing,” Maltais told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2006. “The first for us was in ’98 for the Turner Cup. Winning it again in 2000 was tougher because we were expected to. No one expected us to win in ’02. I treasure the three rings. I’ll wear one for special occasions.”

When Maltais decided to hang up his skates after the 2005 Calder Cup Finals at the age of 36, here were his final Wolves totals: 454 goals, 497 assists and 18 hat tricks in 839 regular-season games along with 63 goals, 65 assists and 2 hat tricks in the postseason.

On April 15, 2006, the Wolves hosted a pregame ceremony and lifted Maltais’ No. 11 to the Allstate Arena rafters. How to describe what he meant to the organization? Wolves owner Don Levin might have put it best to the Sun-Times:

“Every Chicago sport had a special guy. The Bulls had Michael Jordan, the Blackhawks had Bobby Hull, the Cubs had Ernie Banks and the White Sox had Minnie Minoso. Now, we have our guy, Steve Maltais.”

Want to enjoy the rest of the countdown that began nine months ago?

No. 40: Gage Quinney
No. 39: Tim Breslin
No. 38: Nathan Oystrick
No. 37: Ben Simon
No. 36: Curtis McKenzie
No. 35: Kamil Piros
No. 34: Mark Mancari
No. 33: Simon Gamache
No. 32: Guy Larose
No. 31: Wade Megan
No. 30: Shane Harper
No. 29: Michael Davies
No. 28: Karl Stewart
No. 27: Cory Larose
No. 26: Pat Cannone
No. 25: Brian Wiseman
No. 24: Colin Stuart
No. 23: Brian Noonan
No. 22: Tim Bergland
No. 21: Joey Crabb
No. 20: Jordan Lavallee-Smotherman
No. 19: Dan Currie
No. 18: Dan Plante
No. 17: Bob Nardella
No. 16: Brandon Pirri
No. 15: Steve Martins
No. 14: Spencer Machacek
No. 13: Kevin Doell
No. 12: Niklas Andersson
No. 11: Ty Rattie
No. 10: Scott Pearson
No. 9: Derek MacKenzie
No. 8: JP Vigier
No. 7: Steve Larouche
No. 6: Jason Krog
No. 5: Chris Marinucci
No. 4: Darren Haydar
No. 3: Rob Brown
No. 2: Brett Sterling