The Checkers signed two players yesterday. Forward Matt Beca returns on another two-way AHL deal, and Defenseman Ryan Donald. Beca was under contract with the Checkers last season, but played the entire year with Florida of the ECHL. Donald, a former captain of Yale’s hockey team, spent the majority of last season with the Reading Royals of the ECHL. Full details on Beca and Donald can be found here.
I will update my list of contracts this week, with up-to-date details on signings, etc.
And now, the latest installment of the “Get to know the midwest division” series. This time, Chasing Checkers chats with Ted, who has a blog that follows the Chicago Wolves. Ted can be find on Twitter at @TedGruber. His blog is at http://www.chicagonow.com/the-instigator.
Chicago has often been compared to the Hershey Bears, in the sense it’s a team with its own identity and spends a lot of money beyond what the parent club provides for strength. They have a new affiliate in Vancouver this season, and I’d expect great things, and a drastic turnaround from their recent years with the former Atlanta Thrashers.
Chasing Checkers – What can you tell us about AHL hockey in Chicago? With the Blackhawks in town, do the Wolves get much media coverage? What’s the history of the team and the community? How has the city embraced the team, and the team the city?
Ted Gruber – As you know Chicago is the number 3 market in the United States and has plenty of tourist’s spots and is a great city during the summer. Winter has its moments but I love it because hockey season is happening and Wolves are always a team that focuses on winning.
The history for the team is pretty simple; the team was born in 1994 and found a home in the IHL. The organization won the Calder Cup their first year in the AHL (2002) the Wolves captured it again in 2008. The team strives to win and owner Don Levin isn’t afraid to spend the extra money to bring in a player to solidify that playoff spot and hopefully win the ultimate prize in the league. Taking chances on players before the season is always something the Wolves are willing to do and with an upper management that works very hard on scouting and player development.
When the Blackhawks were run by Bill Wurtz ($ Bill) the team was horrendous and the Wolves were the team to watch as they were consistently winning and had affordable tickets for families (which they still do) and were geared toward younger hockey fans. But as the Blackhawks began turning the corner, the Wolves still keep a great attendance and the love for hockey is stronger than ever in Chicago.
In terms of coverage the Wolves aren’t covered much in the media as the Chicago Bears, and Chicago Blackhawks are a big focus and the 2 baseball teams. The Tribune has their writer who tries to get more and more coverage which is a great thing because not many minor league teams in general get any at all. Hopefully more and more happens this fall/winter due to the new pairing of the Wolves with the Canucks as they are the rivalry of the team across town.
The city really cares for hockey and for any hockey winner it’s a great feeling for any person in Chicago and the surrounding areas. During the playoffs more fans make their trip to Allstate Arena and the Wolves last championship run had some great games in their 4 rounds of play. Hockey is becoming bigger and bigger each year and this is a testament to the Wolves.
More after the cut…
CC – Is there anyone Checkers fans should follow in the media or with the team to keep abreast of one of our new rivals?
TG – I have a few that you should definitely follow this season as they publish great insights about the Wolves.
Paul LaTour: Wolves writer for the Chicago Tribune. He posts mostly everything he discusses about the Wolves on his Twitter page.
Jason Shaver: Play by Play announcer for the Chicago Wolves. Shaver came to the team in 08-09 after a short stay in Houston. Jason tweets great news about the team and gives some great insight into things not only on the ice, but behind the scenes as well. Jason’s Twitter is righthere.
Wolfkeeper: A website dedicated to fans of the Chicago Wolves, which includes game day threads and other opinions from passionate fans.
CC – Prior to 2011/12, the Wolves were affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers, and will be transitioning into a relationship with the Vancouver Canucks? How is that transition going? Blackhawks and Canucks fans have a long-standing rivalry with each other. How will this carry over to the Wolves?
TG – I never cared for the Atlanta Thrashers because their management had no idea on how to draft, and how to develop players. They were so disorganized and never had a plan on what to do with their players and the result was when they brought somebody up too soon or too late.
With the Canucks it’s already beginning to be a great relationship because they are not only solidifying their club, but also the Wolves as well. Vancouver has been signing guys to 2 way contracts that can play in both leagues, as well as a few veterans. The veterans should be a great addition to the team and help the younger players just entering the league.
Many casual Wolves fans don’t even know or care who the affiliate is and just want to see hockey and bring their family to a weekend or mid-week game. Season ticket holders were hesitant at first including me but after it sunk in, we are comfortable with a team that has a true plan in place.
CC – Last season, the Wolves barely missed the playoffs. The Thrashers organization was lacking the same development depth that the Canucks are known for. What do you expect from a new Chicago Wolves team, with a new NHL affiliate? What three players should be on our radar to watch?
TG – The new Wolves this year are going to have 2 great goalies in net and tons of speed that they didn’t have really in about 3 to 4 years in terms of redline to redline. The defense also looks like it has become much stronger and has a few veterans that can really jump into the play if need be. It’s going to be refreshing for everybody involved, to see what this new crop of players can do wearing a Wolves sweater.
Three players that you need to watch this year are as follows
Eddie Läck (G): Very tall goalie who loves to use his size to see through screens and loves to challenged shooters. Lack was named to the All Rookie Team this past season and being very young is going to help him in the next few years.
Bill Sweatt: A local product from Chicago who is really an offensive minded left winger. He has a great speed and loves to use his hands to make moves around defenders. Being only 22 he has a great future in the Vancouver organization
Michael Davies: A signing by the Chicago Wolves who is very underrated by pro scouts due his lack of size. He has great hands and had some stellar goals last season with the team.
CC – What can you tell a new Western team about life in the West? Any expectations about the other cities and teams we will face, and what the travel is like? What about team rivalries? Who are the Wolves biggest rivals? Do you think this will change with a new NHL affiliate?
TG – Life in in Midwest has plenty of places you can visit especially being in Chicago and have a few days to venture off and tour the city. The food is the best and we are known for beef sandwiches and pizza.
Travel could be difficult at times from middle of November through March with the crazy amounts of snow and possible blizzards. Many flights are delayed during the winter months but when late March early April hits it’s great to be around when the weather warms up and hockey still going on.
The Wolves have had a great rival with the Icehogs back in 2008 when Rockford first joined the AHL That rivalry sort of died down over the last few years but I’m sure it will be renewed this year with the Wolves and Canucks connection. The team has also had a big rivalry with Milwaukee over the years and well before both teams joined the AHL. With only 90 miles separating each team many fans tend to visit each other’s arenas during the season.
CC – What prompted you to write about the Wolves, and what is your history with the team?
TG – I always thought the Wolves were never covered enough and starting covering the team last season. I think AHL is never looked as great hockey but many who attend instantly grow attached to it. With the Wolves their reputation is a great one and I was happy when I asked to cover the Wolves. I have been a season ticket holder for 7 years as well so being a fan/blogger you see everything and not afraid to discuss what is on your mind.