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07 October 2011

Wolves Drive To The Calder Cup Starts Saturday

Whenever Wendell Young swivels left in his office chair, the Chicago Wolves general manager gazes at the white greaseboard attached to his wall.

Skates charges out of the tunnel for the first in the 2011-12 season Sat., Oct. 15 at the Allstate Arena. Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Whenever Wendell Young swivels left in his office chair, the Chicago Wolves general manager gazes at the white greaseboard attached to his wall.

The greaseboard holds approximately 60 strategically located magnets; each of them with a different player’s surname written on it.

On the right half of the board? The depth chart for the Vancouver Canucks -- the Wolves’ new affiliate. As you might guess about a club that reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last season, that half of Young’s board teems with talent.

On the left half of the board? The depth chart for the Wolves. As you might guess about a club that features several stalwarts from last season -- as well as several top prospects from the Canucks’ loaded organization -- this half of Young’s board teems with talent as well.

As the Wolves prepare for their first games of the 2011-12 season (7 p.m. Saturday at San Antonio and 5 p.m. Sunday at Houston), Young sounds confident their roster can fulfill the franchise’s only desire.

“We say if we don’t win a championship, then it’s not a successful year for us,” Young said. “We’re about winning championships, not making the playoffs. We don’t even like just to make it to the finals. I think we have a team to win it. This year’s team is actually really exciting in that way.”

When Young addressed the fans that attended the Wolves’ Season-Ticket Pickup Party on Tuesday night, he outlined the team’s balance.

“I think we have a good mix of everything,” Young said. “We’ve got some guys (that are good) on power-play. We’ve got penalty-kill. We’ve got some grit. We’ve got good defense. We’ve got really good goaltending. It’s tough to find a hole in us.”

Goaltending has been a strength since Young and Ray LeBlanc shared the job for the Wolves first team in 1994-95. Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec did yeoman’s work in recent years, but Wolves skating and skills coach Kenny McCudden suggested this year’s combo of Eddie Lack and Matt Climie might turn out to be the franchise’s best tag-team.

“We’ve had tremendous goaltending here in the past,” McCudden said, “but those guys never had the second guy with them.

Lack, 23, earned AHL all-rookie team honors last year with the Manitoba Moose while Climie posted a 2.64 goals-against-average for San Antonio – and played 1 game for the Phoenix Coyotes.

“It’s a really, really strong tandem,” Young said. “We’ve got the rookie goalie of the year in Lack and Climie’s a truly proven pro goalie. We’re in a position where I feel we have two No. 1s.”

The Wolves promise to have plenty of firepower on their first two lines. At right wing alone, the team features 2010-11 AHL first all-team selection Mark Mancari and second-team pick Darren Haydar.

Mancari, who played 20 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season, produced 32 goals and 32 assists in 56 games with Portland before signing as a free agent this summer. Haydar piled up 27 goals and 47 assists for the Wolves.

“I’m sitting with some scouts the other day in Peoria (for a Wolves exhibition win) and they couldn’t believe some of the passes he was making,” Young said of Haydar. “Just world-class passing.”

In the practices leading up to Saturday’s opener, 21-year-old Jordan Schroeder (the Canucks’ 2009 first-round pick) and Wolves returnee Michael Davies served as the centers for the top lines with swift Elburn, Ill., native Billy Sweatt and Darren Archibald working at the left wing.

“Schroeder was a 10-goal guy last year,” Young said. “He could be up in the 25-goal area at this level. Sweatt has tons of speed. He can use his speed to his advantage. Davies’ passing is his forte. Phenomenal skill.”

The defense features a mix of proven veterans and intriguing prospects. Yann Sauve, Vancouver’s second-round selection in 2008, and Kevin Connauton, the Canucks’ third-round pick in 2009, will be prominent on the blue line along with 22-year-old Sebastian Erixon, Wolves favorite Mark Matheson, Taylor Ellington and 20-year-old Adam Polasek.

“Erixon can skate and move the puck,” Young said. “He kind of reminds you of Tobias Enstrom that plays in Winnipeg. Sauve is a smart player. Connauton can shoot the puck. Polasek had a great year as a junior. He has a big body and plays hard. Matheson was probably our most consistent defenseman last year.”

Wolves coach Craig MacTavish has been around the block enough to know that optimism floweth over at this point in the year --- but that same experience allows him to make an honest judgment of his roster.

“All the indicators that you look for as a coach are there,” MacTavish said. “Good effort. Good toughness. Good enthusiam. Good work ethic. I’m really happy with our execution level right now.”

Might this be a team that doesn’t stop playing until June?

“On paper, we have a great team,” Haydar said. “Now it’s putting it on to the ice.”

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