When John Anderson thinks about how he’s on the verge of coaching his 1,000th regular-season Wolves game, he doesn’t really reflect on the number of times he’s stepped behind their bench.
For him, it’s a reminder of how much time it’s been since he was hired by the franchise on Sept. 4, 1997. His three children grew up in the area and even when he left in 2008 to coach the Atlanta Thrashers, Anderson kept his house in a place that he now considers his home.
“It’s been really life-changing, when you think about it,” Anderson said. “If you had asked me 20 years ago ‘You think you’re going to live the rest of your life in Chicago?’ I would have said ‘Are you crazy? Why Chicago?’ But here I am.”
Anderson’s been with the Wolves for 999 regular-season games, and 1,000 will be Saturday when they play at the Grand Rapids Griffins. In his 13th season over two stints in Chicago, Anderson is 569-317-24-89 with four league championships and seven 100-point campaigns, creating a culture of high expectations along the way.
“To have a coach like him is such a bonus for us,” said senior adviser/director of hockey operations Gene Ubriaco, who’s been with the Wolves since their inception. “What makes him a great coach – he gets the most out of what he’s got. You have an average team he’ll get them over the hump. You have a good team he’ll make them better. There’s not too many guys that can do that.”
Anderson’s had to do that with different kinds of teams since the fall of 1997. When he was hired, the Wolves were members of the International Hockey League – a league geared more toward experienced veterans. Now the Wolves are in the American Hockey League, where the goal is player development as much as victories.
Still, Anderson’s found ways to win and also leave a mark on the players he’s coached.
“It’s one thing to be able to coach 1,000 games period, but to be able to do it with one franchise, and a very successful one at that, is a testament to just how much he’s liked,” said former Wolves center Steve Martins, who was a member of Anderson’s 1998 and 2008 league champions. “It also is a testament to how he’s a winner. Everywhere he’s been, he’s won.”
Anderson’s won plenty with the Wolves and been a big reason why they’ve managed to carve out the niche they have in the Chicago sports scene. But the franchise has also left a sizable mark on him as well.
“It’s like part of my life. It’s kind of like a marriage. It’s more than a job to me,” Anderson said. “It’s really been my career in coaching. I treat it not like a job. It’s way more important to me than just a job. I can’t explain why. It becomes part of my extended family. Something I’m very proud of, being a part of this organization.”