Champion Wolves create memories to last a lifetime
Champions never sleep.
This should be the phrase the Chicago Wolves stitch onto a T-shirt for head coach Ryan Warsofsky and assistants Patrick Dwyer and Bob Nardella.
Why? Well, because while many coaches don't get much shut eye during the course of a season, this trio took it to an entirely different level after the Wolves captured the Calder Cup last weekend.
The clincher -- a 4-0 victory in Springfield -- ended at 8:31 p.m. Saturday. The players, coaches and staff celebrated into the wee hours of the night before catching early-morning flights back to Chicago.
But instead of heading home, Warsofsky, Dwyer and Nardella kept the good times rolling at Richie's Restaurant in Schiller Park.
They arrived shortly after 7 a.m.
And didn't leave until 4 p.m.
"We went to Richie's after we beat Rockford, we went there after we beat Milwaukee and we went there after we beat Stockton," Warsofsky said. "So we had to make it four in a row. It was quite a trek with no sleep. But you're going on adrenaline too."
And when he finally got home?
"My wife put me to bed," Warsofsky said with a chuckle.
This was the Wolves' fifth championship, with the others coming in 1998 and 2000 (in the IHL) and 2002 and 2008 (in the AHL).
We all know every hockey player's dream is to lift the Stanley Cup, the greatest trophy in sports. But there's still something awfully special about being a part of a title-winning team at the minor-league level.
"I know it's not the Stanley Cup, but it's still a pretty high level of hockey," said captain Andrew Poturalski. "It's professional sports. Everybody's fighting and competing for the same thing. ... It's something we'll remember for the rest of our lives. ...
"Some of these young guys, they might take it for granted now. But you never know. You might not make the playoffs again in your entire career."
Every AHL team is a mix of prospects and veteran players, and many believe they should be in the NHL. The Wolves, who are the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, are no different.
Poturalski (AHL-best 101 points), Stefan Noesen (AHL-best 48 goals) and Josh Leivo, who set a Wolves record by scoring 15 postseason goals, are all doing everything they can to earn a full-time NHL opportunity.
Former Blackhawks forward Richard Panik, 31, came to the Wolves on loan in March and could have been a big distraction. Instead, he found his game after a disappointing season and scored in Games 1 through 4 of the Calder Cup Finals.
Both goaltenders felt they should have started every playoff game. Multiple forwards thought they should be playing more. Up-and-coming high draft picks were trying to earn their stripes and hoping to get noticed.
To be sure, it's a different world in the AHL.
"For guys to buy into something bigger than themselves can be really difficult," said Warsofsky, who at 34 became the youngest coach to win a Calder Cup since Peter Laviolette in 1999. "I think we had a great mix of leadership that set the tone. We really believed that winning breeds development and winning breeds individual success if you do it as a team.
"You're going to see some guys that get paid this summer and get one-way (NHL) contracts. They're gonna reap the reward for what we just did.
"No one can take that away from us -- ever. You're a winner for the rest of your life and I think that's important."
Warsofsky's squad lost just four playoff games and accomplished some pretty amazing stuff en route to the title as:
• The Wolves outscored Springfield 18-4 in the Finals after dropping Game 1.
• The Wolves became the first team to post two shutouts in the Finals since Hartford in 2000.
• Alex Lyon and Pyotr Kochetkov became the first pair of goalies to produce shutouts in the Finals.
• Leivo recorded 29 postseason points, third-most in team history.
• Panik notched goals in nine straight Finals games (four this season; five in 2013).
• Forward Jack Drury set a rookie record for points in a postseason with 24, blowing away the 19 registered by Zach Whitecloud and Cody Glass in 2019. It's also the most points by an AHL rookie since Jamie Benn's 26 in 2010.
It was a particularly special campaign for Drury, whose dad, Ted, played for the Wolves and lost in the 2001 IHL Finals. The 22-year-old, a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2018, scored 20 goals in the regular season and figures to be with Carolina in 2022-23.
"We don't compare too much, but my whole family -- him included -- was just so excited for our team," said Drury, who lived with his parents and three younger brothers in Winnetka all season. "This whole playoff run I don't think they missed a game. It was really cool for them all.
"It's kind of special being at home and winning at the same time."
Drury, Poturalski, Noesen, Kochetkov and most of the rest of the squad reconvened one last time at Allstate Arena Tuesday to celebrate with the fans.
Now, comes a well-deserved break.
When next season dawns, a few of these players will return.
Most, however, will be in different locales, hoping to chase down that NHL dream. Portualski -- who won a Calder Cup with assistant coach Warsofsky in 2019 with the Charlotte Checkers -- will likely be among the latter.
But he'll never forget his time in Chicago and all of his incredible teammates.
"We got so close over this year," Poturalski said. "Everyone loves each other. ...
"The last minute there counting down, everyone was so excited. ... For everyone to embrace and celebrate and hug each other and throw all your gear off -- it was just so much fun. ... Just the pure emotion of everyone running into the circle, that's the stuff that gives me chills.
"That's the really cool part of winning -- just celebrating together."