Wolves center Steve Martins, here working against Toronto in the Western Conference finals, has his team going for the Calder Cup. The best-of-seven series begins Thursday at Allstate Arena.
Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves
John Anderson's hope when he traveled to Kitchener, Ontario on Sunday was to watch his son Spencer experience what he did in 1975 when he won a Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup.
It wasn't to be, though. Spencer and the Kitchener Rangers lost to Spokane 4-1, and Anderson entered a mournful locker room afterward instead of the joyous one he had taken part in as a junior player.
"They were all crying," Anderson said. "I know how good it is to win. I really wanted him to win and experience that. You hate to go all that way and lose your chance. I just felt so bad."
Watching his son endure that agony of defeat reminded Anderson of his own monumental losses. Memories of the Chicago Wolves' 2005 Calder Cup Finals loss to Philadelphia and the 2001 Turner Cup loss to Orlando flooded him.
When he and the Wolves returned to practice earlier this week in preparation for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Calder Cup Finals, which begin tonight at the Allstate Arena, Anderson brought the team together and shared how devastated his son had been after the loss. It was a pain he didn't want his second family to experience as well.
"To get so far and not make it, that's not a feeling he wants anyone to go through," Wolves veteran Steve Martins said. "He had it the last time he went to the Finals. He said it was the worst thing ever. He wants us to realize that now that we're here we have to seize the moment.
"You do not want to feel like his son Spencer on the ice when the other team is carrying the cup," Martins added. "He just made a point. He was quite emotional about it. I think it really struck a chord with all the players; I know it did with me."
Seizing the Calder Cup now may also be just as important because the Wolves could look much different next season.
Anderson is expected to be a candidate for the NHL coaching openings in Atlanta and Toronto. Wolves general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was a finalist last season for the Phoenix Coyotes' GM opening and is likely to be considered elsewhere.
As for players, back-to-back AHL MVPs Jason Krog and Darren Haydar will probably look around for organizations who will give them a better opportunity to play in the NHL. Brett Sterling, who has scored the most goals in the AHL over the past two seasons, is expected to be given a longer look with the Thrashers. Twenty-year-old rookie goaltender Ondrej Pavelec may give Kari Lehtonen competition for his job next season in Atlanta.
For now, though, the Wolves are only thinking about the Calder Cup. The Wolves did not see Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the regular season and have been able to accumulate only so much video on the Penguins.
"It's hard watching because different teams don't use the things we do," Anderson said. "They're in the same boat as us. It's kind of a guessing game. After the first game, everyone will know what everyone is doing."
So far what the Wolves have done is rely on Pavelec's goaltending (he has stopped 503 of 542 shots in the playoffs), their power play (27 of 54 total playoffs goals have come from man-advantages) and their penalty kill (only 12 goals allowed in 18 playoff games).
For either team, Wolves captain Darren Haydar knows its comes down to lot more than numbers to win a cup. It's a message he has been spreading throughout the locker room.
"For all the younger guys who haven't been in the championship, I have a little bit of experience - I've been in the finals once before, I've won it once before," Haydar said. "Getting deep in the playoffs I know tough how it is mentally. I think that's the biggest thing for guys is knowing physically everyone's in the same shape. It's just a matter of being mentally sharp for each and every shift."
AHL Calder Cup Finals
Wolves vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
(Best of seven series)
Thursday: at Wolves, 7 p.m.
Sunday: at Wolves, 3 p.m.
Wednesday: at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 6 p.m.
June 6: at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 6 p.m.
June 7: at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 6 p.m.*
June 10: at Wolves, 7 p.m.*
June 12: at Wolves, 7 p.m.*
* If necessary