7 things you might not know about the Chicago Wolves
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The Chicago Wolves have been a staple on the local professional sports scene for nearly a quarter-century.
While more than 8 million fans have flocked to Allstate Arena to witness the Wolves since Don Levin, Buddy Meyers and Grant Mulvey founded the franchise in 1994, even Wolves die-hards don't know everything about the four-time league champions.
Curious which local business makes the arena shake during the pregame show? Which suburb formed a partnership with the Wolves to bring two professional-sized ice rinks (and more) to town? How many Wolves have played in the National Hockey League?
From the Wolves to Super Bowls and beyond: Wood Dale-based Strictly FX was a fledging company in the mid-1990s when Levin hired them to blow the roof off Allstate Arena with their fireworks, pyro and lasers. It wasn't long before Prince became their first musical client and the NFL asked them to handle Super Bowl halftime shows.
All these years later, a Strictly FX crew still shows up every night at Allstate Arena to deliver an award-winning pregame show -- even as other crews are entertaining music fans all over the globe with their remarkable creations.
Lately, they've been on the road with Coldplay and Roger Waters and supplied the lasers wizardry for the Grammy Awards show.
Skating to the top: The gap between the Wolves and the NHL is as thin as the blue line.
More than 325 Wolves -- nearly 60 percent of the players who have worn the burgundy and gold uniform over the years -- have competed in the NHL. That number includes 51 current and former Wolves who've appeared on NHL rosters during the current season.
Every player who moves from the AHL to the NHL is expected to contribute immediately. For example, forward Alex Tuch scored a goal for the Wolves on Saturday, Oct. 14. He hopped a flight to Las Vegas the next morning and delivered a goal and an assist for the Golden Knights that night against the Boston Bruins -- and added another goal two days later against the Buffalo Sabres.
Hoffman Estates practice home: In 2003, the Wolves and the Hoffman Estates Park District formed a partnership that led to the Triphahn Center being enlarged to include a pair of new rinks and other niceties.
While the full-sized rinks primarily are used for youth hockey teams and figure skaters of all ages, the Wolves reserve the late mornings for their practices. Next to the rinks, the Wolves built a luxurious dressing room, training room and other necessities that rival NHL teams' facilities.
Broadcasting to the masses: The first local professional hockey team to televise all of its games -- home and away -- was the Wolves. Though some games were broadcast from the beginning, the Wolves delivered all 80 regular-season games and the playoffs on Comcast Cable for the first time in 2003-04.
(Bonus tidbit: Hall of Fame broadcaster Pat Foley has been a part of three Stanley Cup championships with the Blackhawks, but his first championship call came alongside Billy Gardner for the Wolves in the 2008 Calder Cup Finals.)
Olympics involvement: When the Winter Olympics hockey competition begins later this week, chances are good you'll see a former Chicago Wolves player in any game you watch.
Twelve former Wolves are spread across six countries' rosters -- the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic and the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The Wolves are represented on the USA roster by James Wisniewski, Noah Welch, John McCarthy and Jim Slater.
First outdoor practice: Would you believe the Wolves have never held a practice outdoors in team history? That changes on Sunday, Feb. 11, when head coach Rocky Thompson's team takes to the Chicago Wolves Ice Rink at Parkway Bank Park in Rosemont for an hourlong workout.
Fans are encouraged to attend the free practice that starts at 3 p.m. and concludes with everyone being welcomed on to the ice to skate with the players.
Who makes the masks? When a Wolves goaltender needs a custom mask with a sick design, Warrenville resident Don McClelland answers the call.
He has created nine masks for the Wolves over the years -- including one for Kari Lehtonen as he embarked on his 14-season professional career. He produced his latest Wolves masterpiece last month on behalf of Finland native Kasimir Kaskisuo, who requested his pair of huskies -- Sisu and Chief -- be included in the design.
McClelland, whose work can be seen at macmasks.com, also produces customized work for local high schools and men's leagues.