Rozner: Young, hungry Wolves chase another Cup
If NHL justice were a reality, the Vegas Golden Knights would probably be playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time.
And the franchise is only two years old.
If not for one of the worst calls in playoff history -- a major penalty for the sin of winning a faceoff late in Game 7 against San Jose -- Vegas might be on its way to winning a Cup.
That nightmare notwithstanding, Vegas has important work left as the Knights' AHL affiliate in Chicago is three wins away from a Calder Cup.
The series is tied at 1-1 and the Wolves will face Charlotte Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at Allstate Arena with a chance to win the title if they sweep at home.
It speaks to what quickly developed into a great alliance between Chicago and Las Vegas.
"It's been better than we could have hoped, with two division titles in two years as a partner," said Wolves GM Wendell Young. "That doesn't happen a lot, especially in the American League because there's so much turnover in personnel.
"A big component for us is they did so well in expansion and getting so many good players that they don't have to rush their young guys.
"(Vegas GM) George McPhee has the same philosophy as us in that he wants his guys to develop and wants them in a winning atmosphere.
"That was a stipulation for us. We want to develop and win and by winning you develop.
"And George McPhee has the philosophy that when a player gets called up, he gets called up to play. He's going to be NHL ready, which makes guys stay a little longer. That translates well for us.
"Plus, they've done a great job drafting. We've got maybe the best, young defense in the league."
Young has seen a lot in 10 years as GM, including six division titles with five different head coaches and four different NHL affiliations.
But there's nothing the 55-year-old Young hasn't seen as a player, coach or executive the last 40 years, including 25 with the Wolves.
He's the only player in hockey history to win the Memorial Cup (1982), the Calder Cup (1988), the Stanley Cup (1991, 1992) and the Turner Cup (1998, 2000).
"Different teams do it different ways, but I like the Vegas philosophy that guys are put in roles at our level and those are the roles they're going to play in the NHL," Young said Tuesday morning while he watched his team practice in Rosemont. "They needed a top-six player and a goal scorer and they called up Brandon Pirri. They didn't call him up to play fourth line and be a physical presence.
"Sometimes, they want a fourth-line, physical guy, and that's what we send them.
"The Vegas philosophy is we're going to put the player in a position to succeed here and in the NHL."
It helps that the two sides quickly agreed on Rocky Thompson as their new head coach two years ago, and Thompson is already on the NHL's radar.
But common ground has been easy to find with Vegas.
It's a unique arrangement that the Wolves are owned independently by Don Levin, yet work to develop AHL players for an NHL team while trying to win every year.
It doesn't work with every NHL team. It works with Vegas because the goals are the same.
"Winning started 25 years ago with Don Levin and Buddy Meyers from Day 1," Young said. "It puts more pressure on management and the coaches, but I wouldn't want it any other way. We're not here just to make the playoffs.
"I remember as a player negotiating a contract with Don. I said I wanted a bonus for winning the first round or second round.
"He said, 'I'm not paying you to lose. I'll give you a bonus for winning the championship, a big bonus.' That's all Don has in mind."
Even after all the rings and all the celebrations, including four Turner or Calder Cups with the Wolves, Young has no less desire to win today than he did when he was an 18-year-old goaltender for Kitchener, which won the Memorial Cup in 1982.
"If I didn't have that feeling, I wouldn't be here," Young said. "I have the same drive and I hate losing. I had a hard time ever letting my kids win anything.
"I told the players, 'There's 31 teams in our league and 29 are home. There's two left and you should be proud of that. But …"
Young stopped and smiled and looked out at his team.
"But we want to be champions," Young said. "For the players, winning a championship is something that stays with you for life. Some players never experience that. I want this very much for them."
Twelve wins down, three to go.