Days before the Chicago Wolves opened the 2011-12 season, general manager Wendell Young set the team's bar at its customary level.
"We say if we don't win a championship, then it's not a successful year for us," Young said. "We don't even like just to make it to the finals. I think we have a team to win it."
Though it took some time for the Wolves to live up to Young's expectations -- they didn't take their first Midwest Division lead until March 10 -- Craig MacTavish's team is peaking at the right time.
One small example of the team's timing? The organization scheduled playoff ticket sales to begin Wednesday morning. The players obliged by clinching the franchise's customary playoff berth Tuesday night.
"Making the playoffs is always a top priority for the Wolves organization,"said Mike Gordon, the Wolves' President of Business Operations. "We are excited to bring the fans our 15th playoff appearance in 18 seasons."
When the American Hockey League playoffs begin next week, the Wolves have a legitimate chance to bring home their fifth championship.
"We're playing extremely well," said right wing Darren Haydar, the Western Conference's captain in the 2012 All-Star Game. "We're playing confidently and we seem to be playing more consistently leading up to the playoffs, which is going to win us a lot of games."
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, the Wolves rank fourth in goals allowed thanks to the goaltending tandem of Eddie Lack (20-19-3, 2.26 GAA) and Matt Climie (20-11-0, 2.52).
Right wing Mark Mancari (29 goals) shares eighth place on the league's goal-scoring list while Haydar (20 goals, 34 assists) and center Jordan Schroeder (20 goals, 23 assists) have been averaging a point per game for the last three weeks.
But before the Wolves can focus on collecting their first Calder Cup since 2008 (the playoff schedule will be revealed on Sunday night), they have big regular-season finales Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
The Wolves' 7 p.m. game Saturday against the Milwaukee Admirals doubles as the team's final Adopt-A-Dog Night of the year -- and the Wolves and their fans are gunning for a milestone.
If 19 fans visit the South Lobby and adopt a dog from the Animal Care and Control shelter in Chicago, then that means 1,000 dogs will have found homes since the program began in 2001.
"To me, one dog is a huge accomplishment," said Don Levin, the team's co-founder and chairman of the board. "One thousand dogs? I don't even know what to say. It's so gratifying. Whenever I see someone adopt a dog at a game, I go over and shake their hand."
Levin, who has adopted six dogs over the years, will join the rest of the Wolves' top brass on the ice before Saturday's game to present Haydar with the 2011-12 Dan Snyder Man of the Year award. Snyder, who played for the 2002 Calder Cup champions, was a terrific presence in the community before passing away on Oct. 5, 2003, due to head injuries suffered in a car accident.
Haydar devoted countless hours this season to causes close to his heart, including multiple initiatives that raised money to fight cancer. One fan spent more than $4,000 in January to purchase one of Haydar's game-worn Cancer Survivor specialty jerseys.
"I got to play against Dan," Haydar said. "Not that I knew him personally, but through the organization you get to know what type of person he was. It's definitely an honor to be put in that category."