Goaltender Eddie Lack makes a save during the Wolves training camp at Triphahn Community Center and Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates Goaltender Eddie Lack makes a save during the Wolves training camp at Triphahn Community Center and Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves
12 October 2012

The Wolves' Pursuit Of The Calder Cup Begins!

The Chicago Wolves won the American Hockey League’s Midwest Division last season and claimed the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Not bad, right?

General manager Wendell Young concluded otherwise.

“I thought we had a heck of a team last year,” Young said. “Some people would have been happy with winning our division, but not us. I think we underachieved. We expect to win it all. We put teams together to win championships, not just to make the playoffs.”

That’s Young’s mindset again as the four-time champion Wolves launch their bid for the 2013 Calder Cup. With former Columbus Blue Jackets and Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel at the helm, the Wolves open their 19th season at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday when the Rockford IceHogs visit Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

The Wolves retain the guts of last year’s division-winning team --- they welcome back seven of the top 10 point-scorers along with top-flight goaltending tandem Eddie Lack and Matt Climie --- but Young’s offseason search and the National Hockey League’s ongoing lockout have combined to provide even more talent.

Among other moves, Young lured high-scoring left wing Brett Sterling back into burgundy and gold. The 28-year-old Sterling, who scored 55 goals as a rookie in 2006-07 and ranks third on the Wolves’ all-time goals list with 143, was reunited with right wing Darren Haydar during preseason practices and games.

“I thought we’d bring somebody back who knew the organization and was a natural goal-scorer in Sterling,” Young said. “We added a little more grit with (left wing Guillaume) Desbiens. We’ve got some great young players coming in at center with (Alex) Friesen and (Alex) Mallet. So, from that standpoint upfront, I think all of the pieces are coming together.”

Thanks to the NHL lockout, more pieces came the Wolves way. Centers Andrew Ebbett and Steve Pinizzotto, right wing Zack Kassian and defenseman Chris Tanev (who played 34 games for the Wolves last year before being promoted to Vancouver for good) will sharpen their skills for Chicago.

After guiding the Wolves through an intense preseason camp and to a 2-1-0-1 exhibition record, Arniel believes his team fits his aggressive style.

“Aggressive isn’t fighting,” Arniel said. “Aggressive is speed and attacking. Whether it’s neutral zone or offensive zone or “D” zone, we want to be aggressive. We don’t want teams to have time to make plays or have space to make plays. We want to be aggressive on the puck all the time.”

“I think that’s one thing we didn’t do enough last year,” Young said. “We weren’t aggressive enough. We didn’t attack the puck. We were passive. Force players to make good plays. If they beat you with a good play, so be it.”

The Wolves finished tied for 23rd on the power play (15.4 percent) and tied for 14th in goals per game (2.80) last season. Arniel expects the team to improve markedly in both areas as the newcomers join forces with potent returnees Haydar, Jordan Schroeder, Bill Sweatt, Anton Rodin, Andrew Gordon and Nathan Longpre.

“I mean, we’ve got some skill,” he said. “We’ve got the ability to score goals and make plays. We have some pure goal-scorers, some people who put the puck in the net for a living.”

Though the Wolves set a franchise record last season by allowing just 193 goals, they have fortified the blue line by adding veteran defensemen Derek Joslin, Patrick Mullen and River Forest native Zach Miskovic to a core that includes Kevin Connauton, Mark Matheson, Brad Hunt and Yann Sauve.

Lack (2.31 goals-against average) and Climie (2.52 GAA) will handle the goaltending for the second year in a row. “I think that’s one of the strong parts of our game,” Arniel said. “You get goaltending like that, it’s certainly going to help you win a lot of hockey games.”

“I think Eddie should be a dominant goalie,” said Young, who holds all of the Wolves goaltending records. “He was dominant at times last year. He should be the best goalie in the American League. That’s what he should shoot for.”