First-year Wolves forward Tim Stapleton has played every game this season with the Chicago Wolves, and he is leading the team in goals scored (10), which is not a surprise to anyone since he scored 28 goals last year with the Toronto Marlies.
But the 27-year-old's roots to the Wolves run deeper than him wearing the Wolf head on his sweater every game. In 1994, a 12-year-old Stapleton attended the first ever Wolves game with his Triple-A hockey club Team Illinois.
"I was young," he said. "I don't really remember much, but I know I was there."
The Forest Park-born right winger is back where it all started. It began in Oak Park playing for the Eagles, a team coached by his dad Chris, the main influence in Stapleton's career.
"It was good playing for him," he said. "My dad never played, but he built rinks in the backyard and knew a lot about it."
When Stapleton entered high school he played his first two years at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, and his last two years for the Chicago Chill.
After being drafted by the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL in 2000, Stapleton didn't see much immediate playing time in his first season.
"I didn't dress early and only played a few games, but by the end of the year I was playing a lot," he said.
Stapleton's performance led to a scholarship offer from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Stapleton committed. After one more season with the Gamblers, Stapleton left for school in Minnesota.
"I loved being away," he said. "It was a helpful experience, and I matured as a person."
Immediately at UMD, Stapleton saw action on the power play.
"I got to play right away, and I give the coaches credit for that," he said.
Undrafted after a successful college career, the 5-foot-9 Stapleton took his skills to Finland, and after a tryout with Jokerit in Helsinki Stapleton signed a one-year deal.
"Players are smaller and less physical. You get more time when you have the puck," he said.
Playing the 2006-2007 season in Helsinki, Stapleton won the SM-liiga silver medal, second place in playoffs, and finished second in playoff scoring. After one more year in Finland, Stapleton got his chance in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, he wouldn't get his first taste of NHL action until late in the season. In his first career game on Feb. 26, 2009 against the New York Islanders, Stapleton scored the game winner in a shootout, but his first NHL goal would have to wait two nights until the Leafs played the Ottawa Senators. It's a night Stapleton doesn't bring up much.
"It's an embarrassing goal," he said. "Jason Spezza actually shot it in his own net. I was just the last guy to touch (the puck)."
That brings us to now. Stapleton was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers on July 1, and now finds himself playing for the team that he saw its first game. Maybe most important, he gets to play in front of his family and friends.
"My family loves it. They want me to play in the NHL, but they're able to go to the games," he said, noting they weren't able to do much of that when he was in Green Bay, Minnesota, Finland and Toronto.
"My dad's more excited than me. He's more involved and he tries to analyze my game. It's great to know they're watching."