5 things to know about the 2017-18 Chicago Wolves
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With a new head coach, a new NHL partner in the Vegas Golden Knights and several new players with a reputation for lighting the lamp, the Chicago Wolves are eager to find out how far they can go during the 2017-18 season.
As the Wolves prepare to host their AHL home opener against the Ontario Reign at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allstate Arena, here are five things to know about the four-time league champions:
Playing 'Rocky Hockey'
New Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson -- fresh from leading the Windsor Spitfires to the Memorial Cup championship -- boasts an old-school background but new-school philosophies.
The 40-year-old Alberta native always does whatever it takes to win. During his playing days, that meant using his skills learned as a Golden Gloves champion to disrupt other teams' plans. He ranks 10th in AHL history in penalty minutes. These days, it means incorporating hockey's metrics into the game plan.
"The gas will be to the floor," Thompson said. "We don't want to defend. We want to play with the puck up ice and play hard. Ever since you were a little kid, you wanted to play with the puck. Now they've broken it down into analytics and possession numbers and all this stuff.
"What does it all equate to? The team that has the puck the most has the best opportunity to win. But what they don't say is it's also the most fun."
In the Wolves' first two games of the season last weekend in Texas, the team played at a feverish pace and racked up 10 goals with 73 shots.
Players with a pedigree
Twelve players on the Wolves roster boast NHL experience. Several players, including first-line forward Alex Tuch and top defenseman Shea Theodore, belong in the NHL but a numbers game means they get to spend time excelling for the Wolves.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who had more valuable players than they had roster spots, loaned Tuch and Theodore to the Wolves because they didn't need to pass through waivers like their other players.
Instead of being upset, they showed up intending to wreak havoc. The 21-year-old Tuch, a 2014 first-round draft choice, posted a hat trick in the Wolves' opener. The 22-year-old Theodore, a 2013 first-round pick, shares the AHL scoring lead with 3 goals and 2 assists in 2 games.
"The potential is there for them to become not just NHL players, but top-level NHL players when the opportunity comes," Thompson said.
Names you recognize
The Wolves were thrilled last week when Vegas picked up former Blackhawks forward Brandon Pirri and found a way to sneak him through waivers to Chicago.
Pirri joined the team's top line immediately -- serving as the center for Tuch and 2013-14 AHL goals champion Teemu Pulkkinen -- and that trio combined for 8 points in the Wolves' first game.
Wolves forward Stefan Matteau, a 2012 NHL first-round pick, was born in Chicago while his father, Stephane, was in the middle of a three-year stint with the Blackhawks. The younger Matteau has played in 56 NHL games.
Trophies to earn
The Wolves are the defending Central Division champions. In addition to trying to win their fifth division title in the past nine seasons, the Wolves are shooting for their fifth league title.
The 2018 Calder Cup playoffs will feature the top four finishers in each of the AHL's four divisions. This season, the Central Division features just seven teams as the Charlotte Checkers moved to the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division.
The Wolves will battle the Rockford IceHogs, Milwaukee Admirals and defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins for Central Division supremacy.
Dates to enjoy
Half the Wolves' 38 regular-season home games feature a giveaway at the door. New this season is Wolves Family Sundays, which includes a giveaway to a different prominent Chicago family attraction each time (think Brookfield Zoo, Museum of Science and Industry, Santa's Village and more) as well as half-price kids tickets available at the box office.
There are also high-profile theme nights such as Super Hero Night (Oct. 28), which features a giveaway from Marvel Universe Live, Star Wars Night (Dec. 2), American Girl Night (March 10) and more.