04 October 2013

State of the Pack - October Update

Chicago Wolves General Manager Wendell Young has been busy. Since the team's season ended in April, he has facilitated a partnership change, hired a new coach, welcomed an almost entirely new roster of players into the fold and made the Wolves one of the most buzz-worthy teams in the American Hockey League. Before heading to Texas for opening weekend, Young took a time out to shed some light on where the Wolves are post-training camp and who surprised him in the preseason.

The Wolves play their first games this weekend. How are you feeling?

I feel like we have too many good players. There are going to be hard decisions to make. We have too many veterans and too many players who can play who won’t get a chance to. On some teams you have players who have to play by default. We’re going to have players who don’t play by default. That’s tough.

When do you have to start making those decisions?

You know, it’s a fluid thing. As time goes on, guys will play their way onto the team and guys will play their way off. It’s a nice issue to have, too many good players. When you’re struggling to find players that’s different. But when you have so many good players, it says something about your organization.

How do you feel like the preseason went?

I thought it was really good! Right from training camp, it was the most competitive camp and the most uptempo camp we’ve ever had here, and that reflects well on everyone from the coaching staff to the management to everyone who watched. It was intense. Even the scrimmages and stuff, with the amount of fights there were and how competitive it was, it shows you what the mindset has been. It was a good measuring stick of where guys are.

If you could assess the three games your guys played, how do you think they did overall?

There was a method to our madness with those games. We wanted to build up to the last game. The first game was mostly guys we invited to come out to training camp who were trying to make the team. As an organization we feel that if you’re at camp, you should have the chance to show your skills in a game, not just a scrimmage. We got a little bit closer to our opening game lineup in game two and by the third game it was predominantly guys who will be in our lineup, with a few exceptions. It was a transition throughout and we feel good about what we saw over the course of those games.

Are you expecting any more players to come down from the NHL in the near future?

No. It’s sad when you’re hoping you don’t get any more players. I’m almost hoping they call somebody up just to make some of our decisions easier. We have tough decisions to make about who is going to be in our lineup, especially with the added factor of having six really, really good veterans. It’s not like we have a veteran who is kind of on the borderline. We have six quality veterans and someone has to sit (American Hockey League teams can only dress five veterans per game). Someone isn’t going to be happy. We have Mark Mancari, Alexandre Bolduc, Keith Aucoin, Taylor Chorney, Corey Locke and Chris Porter who are our vets, and then Sergey Andronov is a vet exempt. From that group, it’s not easy to pick who sits.

Mancari got quite the reaction from fans at that final preseason game. What has it been like having him back?

It has been really great. We didn’t want him to leave last year. We made a pretty strong pitch to bring him back, but he wanted to try his hand in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Once he felt that wasn’t working out like he hoped, and he heard we were trying to change things around with our team for this year, he was a high priority to bring back and he was high on St. Louis’ list too.

Has anyone surprised you so far, based on what you’ve seen in training camp and the preseason?

I don’t think anyone surprised me because I had seen a lot of these guys and I knew what they could do. I think our younger guys like Joel Edmundson and Jani Hakanpaa, I hadn’t seen them as much outside of the recent camps, but they don’t play like first-year pros. They’re great guys. They play with poise. Those are probably the two big surprises for me. But overall, I don’t think we have any other surprises, but I don’t think we have disappointments either, so that’s a nice thing to be able to say. When everyone is doing what you expected and more, you feel good about that.

We asked Facebook fans to submit some of their burning questions for Wendell to answer. Here, he tackles a few:

Ronald Wray asked: “What do you think of this year’s group of guys?”

“I think we have an awesome group of guys, personality wise, character wise and skill wise. Our young guys coming in from the St. Louis organization, combined with our coaching staff and the players we have signed, it’s all the right ingredients for us to be really successful.”

Josh George asked: “What are some of your favorite parts of your job, and what do you wish you didn’t have to do?

I put it in the perspective of, I get to play fantasy hockey for real. I have had this conversation with a couple NHL GMs and I made them aware that what we do for a living is playing fantasy hockey for real, just like people do online but we do it with real dollars and in real points and with your job really on the line. If you lose in a fantasy hockey league, it’s not so bad, but you lose out here and you may not keep your job. That’s the big part of it. It’s really just the sport I love. Even my bad days are good days, comparatively. I really don’t like to travel, so that’s a downside. There are long hours you have to put in. I think the biggest part is that I have to tell some players they aren’t good enough for the team. They might be good enough for other teams but they aren’t good enough for this team. That’s the toughest part, is controlling someone’s life and future like that.

Patrick Downey asked: “What do you expect from the independent players and the St. Louis Blues players working together?”

I think it’s the same type of mix we have always tried to have. There might be more St. Louis players than Wolves players but we have a really good mix of people. It doesn’t happen by accident. We look at the ingredients and we try to put together the right crew. We look at who we are getting from St. Louis and we say, “Okay, we also need this, this and this” and we go get that as free agents. This year we have a great partnership where we can also target the players we want and it all just kind of works. The relationship has been awesome.

Da Tallcoolone asked: “Do you feel that regaining John Anderson is exactly the spark needed to bring another cup to Chicago?”

“Absolutely. The one commonality among all our championships over the years has been John Anderson. He has been such a constant for us. When we introduced him at the season ticket holder party (on Sept. 30), it was like introducing a rock star. He had a line of 15 people waiting to talk to him all night. He’s beloved in this city and by Wolves fans and the players love him too. They know he can lead them to a championship. We’ve been talking about player signings all this time but Johnny Anderson has been the biggest signing this organization has had in a long time.

Philip E. Tornabene asked: “Who will give the team fighter coverage this season, and have you and John picked a captain?”

“No captain yet. We haven’t addressed that. There are some great candidates, but it’s not just about playing ability as much as character, and leadership. In terms of coverage, we have plenty of guys here who can handle themselves. We have a lot bigger bodies this year. Lots of guys over 6-foot-3. I think these guys can take care of themselves and I’m not really worried about that at all. We’re going to be a tough team all-around this season.”

The Chicago Wolves open their season with back-to-back games this weekend at the San Antonio Rampage (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) and Texas Stars (Saturday, 7 p.m.). Catch all the action on the U-Too (26.2) or at ahllive.com. Get your tickets for the Wolves home opener on Oct. 12.