Oct 232011
Chicago Wolves GM Wendell Young

Photo credit: Chicago Wolves

The Canucks’ new AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, finally won their first game of the season the other night, a 2-0 shutout of the Rockford IceHogs. To help Canucks fans learn more about the organization from the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois, we had an opportunity to ask Wolves GM Wendell Young some questions and he obliged:

CHB: You started your NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks and played your last game as a pro with the Chicago Wolves. What were your first thoughts when the Wolves and the Canucks organizations formed this new affiliation?

Wendell Young: I think the Canucks and the Wolves were destined to be together. It is unique that I did start my career drafted by Vancouver. Now I am part of the management affiliated with Vancouver. The two teams are very similar; they both have the same vision of wanting to win.

CHB: Did you always know you were going to pursue a management career in hockey after your playing days were over? What made you pursue this career?

Wendell Young: I really never thought I would be a part of management or coaching until later in my career. I started to realize that I could be a part of management because I love business and I love hockey. So when you combine the two it is a perfect job for me as the general manager. I control a lot of things personnel wise and I also control the business side of things

CHB: For us Canucks fans who are now just starting to learn about the Wolves, tell us a bit about the organization. From everything we’ve heard, ownership and their commitment to winning is top-notch, and the organization itself is often regarded as the gold standard of AHL teams. What is it about the Wolves that separates it from other AHL teams? How do the Wolves separate themselves from Blackhawks?

Wendell Young: First of all, from day one we have been a first-class organization. Owners, Don Levin and Buddy Meyers, made a conscious effort from the start to treat the players with respect and that is the way it has been run from the top down ever since. We are a managerial team in the American Hockey League and that’s how we treat our players. We have a premiere organization, if not the premiere organization, in the American Hockey League. Vancouver is confident that their players and assets are in good hands and are treated properly. We have a tradition of winning and we provide every asset for the players to succeed. From our practice arena, to the coaching staff and the support staff, everything is here for players to get better.

The Wolves are a different organization than Blackhawks. We do not compete against the Blackhawks. Basically, we are different in every aspect, from on the ice to off the ice.

CHB: You’ve won everywhere you’ve been: Memorial Cup as a junior, Calder Cup with the Bears as a player and with the Wolves as a coach, a couple of Stanley Cups with the Penguins, Turner Cup with the Wolves. How do you share your winning attitude, character and experiences with the young players you now manage?

Wendell Young: The big thing with winning cups is that you learn how hard you have to work. We stress hard work here. One key component besides having the talent, which we feel that we do is that the team is very close. We have bonding activities for the players throughout the year. Our core covenant in this is family first. When I say family first I mean personal families as well as wives, girlfriends, moms and dads. We feel we are a family all year and we try to bring our team together.

CHB: I remember reading somewhere that your favorite Family Guy character was Stewie. Why him?

Wendell Young: I like Stewie because he is sarcastic and that is my personality. I get told I am too sarcastic sometimes. He fits my personality, dry humor and sarcasm. Sometimes my sarcasm gets me in trouble.

CHB: The Wolves have had an up-and-down, last four years. Especially with a mostly new group of players and prospects, what are your expectations of this year’s team?

Wendell Young: As every year, the expectations are to win the Calder Cup and to be a championship team. We don’t put a team together to go to the playoffs. Our standards are that we put our team together to win a championship.

CHB: Is there a player (or players) you’d advise Canucks fans to specifically look out for and who may be ready to take their pro careers to the next level?

Wendell Young: We have an abundance of skill here and a lot of players who have potential to play at the next level. I think Adam Polasek’s competitive nature will put him into the National Hockey League. Bill Sweatt has a great chance to continue the progression up. I think the biggest name we have here is Eddie Lack. I think we have one of the best goalies in the American Hockey League. Quite honestly, he might even be better than some of the NHL goalies, he’s that good. So we have a lot of players that I think can really step it up and I think if Vancouver has a need we have their type of players.

Sep 112011

The Canucks Young Stars Tournament is about to start. Want to read about the top forwards? Already got you covered. Now it’s time to preview the best young defensemen the Canucks have to offer.

Kevin Connauton

Before I start I’ll admit that I’m already a big Kevin Connauton fan. I thought he was impressive when he was with the Vancouver Giants and he got quite a bit of well deserved attention during training camp last season. He posts excellent Twitter pics of nights at the Roxy and of winning giant stuffed pigs at the PNE.

Although he admittedly did not have an amazing season with the Manitoba Moose last year, I still held out hope that as the injuries piled up he would get the call to pack his bags and head to Vancouver. No, he wouldn’t have been the best choice, and he wasn’t, and most likely still isn’t ready to make the NHL jump, but I just like watching him play.

Maybe it’s the fact that he puts up impressive points for a d-man. During his only season with the Giants he shattered franchise records for single season points (72) and goals (24) by a defenseman. He was also the top scoring d-man and rookie in the league, which earned him a spot on the WHL’s First All-Star team and votes of his fellow players declared him to have the hardest shot in the league.

Hopefully, now that he’s had a year to adapt to the pro calibre of play, Connauton can up his game, continue to improve in his own end and shine not only in Penticton this week, but all season with the Wolves.

Sawyer Hannay

If the name Sawyer Hannay doesn’t sound familiar, that’s probably because he was the Canucks’ 7th-round pick in 2010 and he’s been playing all the way out in Halifax for the last three years.

Last season he racked up 164 penalty minutes in 58 games. According to hockeyfights.com this included 18 fights. As you’d expect, he’s good at it too, in the quick sampling I did of the available Youtube clips he seems to win a lot more often than not.

Don’t expect to see him anywhere near a Canucks roster this season, but he could liven up the tourney with a some fisticuffs. He’s currently serving a one-game suspension for taking an aggressor penalty during a Halifax Moosehead preseason game.

Adam Polasek

Hailing from the Czech Repulbic, the 6’3″, 200 lb. Adam Polsek has spent the last two seasons with the PEI Rockets of the QMJHL. He’s shown some serious promise, but more importantly, he’s quite skilled at reading plays and putting himself where he needs to be.

Yann Sauve

Yann Sauve is the only Canucks prospect playing this week who has some NHL experience under his belt, even if it is only five games.

Sauve split last season between the Victoria Salmon Kings, Manitoba Moose and the Canucks, but just a few months before he was called up by Vancouver after the team suffered yet another round of defensive injuries, there was some doubt if he would be playing at all.

Last September, when the Quebec native was crossing a street in Vancouver, he was hit by a car and suffered a concussion that kept him sidelined for three months. Fortunately, he hasn’t suffered any lasting performance issues, and put up decent minutes in 39 games with the Moose last season.

Hopefully this season will give him a fresh and healthy start to work with.

And what has he learned from last season? As he told Ian Walker of the Vancouver Sun, “To look both ways before crossing the street”. At least the kid has a sense of humor about it.

David Honzik

David Honzik is the only goalie officially associated with the Canucks coming to Pentiction this week. He was drafted by the Canucks in the third round this summer.

Some observers weren’t particularly impressed with his stats with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL last season (3.54 GAA,  .884SV%), but a closer look shows that those stats were skewed by an inconsistent start to the season. Once February hit, however, Honzik just took off, carrying his team through the first round of the playoffs and earning comparisons to a certain Pekka Rinne.

Even Honzik himself was at a bit of a loss to explain his improved performance.

“Sometimes I have luck because I’m pretty big in the net,” the 6’2 Czech Republic native told Patrick King. “Pucks just hit me. Sometimes I don’t understand how (I) stop pucks too.”

While the Canucks and the Wolves are pretty much covered as far as goalie talent goes, it will be interesting to see in Honzik can figure out what he did to stop some pucks in the Spring and bring it out this Fall.

So what do you think? Anyone I didn’t list that you’ll be keeping an eye on?

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