Saturday night’s date with the Rockford IceHogs isn’t just the Wolves’ season opener, it will be their first game at Allstate Arena in 587 days.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that prevented fans from attending, the Wolves played their home games during an abbreviated 2021 season at Triphahn Community Center & Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates. Now the Wolves are back home and eager to skate in front of supporters instead of mostly empty bleachers and fan cutouts at their practice facility.
While Triphahn is a nice venue and serves the Wolves well, it’s not meant to host regular-season games in one of the top hockey leagues in the world. The lack of fans added to the unusual feeling, and defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald is looking forward to a more normal setting.
“It will mean a lot to us as players, finally playing in front of fans because last year we were just at a practice rink,” said Fitzgerald, who skated in 30 games for the Wolves last season. “Usually, we get to feed off the crowd a little bit here and there, so it will be definitely awesome to see everybody back in those seats and cheering us on.”
During what he called an “interesting” year, Fitzgerald said it was a little tougher to get the energy going for every game last season, and that the Wolves tried to feed off each other and create their own boosts instead of relying on fans. Apparently that worked, as the Wolves were 12-3-0-1 at Triphahn.
“We got into a rhythm for sure,” Fitzgerald said.
Now back in Rosemont, Fitzgerald and the Wolves will have to find their rhythm in a home arena the current players haven’t called home.
A lot can happen in almost 600 days, and plenty has since the Wolves beat the IceHogs 3-2 on March 8, 2020. Over the ensuing period, the Wolves switched affiliations, going from the Golden Knights to the Hurricanes. Coach Rocky Thompson was replaced by Ryan Warsofsky, and the roster completely turned over.
For Warsofsky, Saturday night will be his first game at Allstate Arena since June 8, 2019, when he was an assistant for the Charlotte Checkers who beat the Wolves in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals to win the AHL championship.
“We’re all excited, from the coaching staff to the players to the support staff to the front office, everyone’s excited,” said Warsofsky, who’s entering his second season with the Wolves. “It’s been a lot of work to get back in front of our fans and I’m excited to get behind the bench and in front of the fans and hopefully put a good product on the ice, a winning product.”
Beyond their home rink, the Wolves’ upcoming campaign should be more normal in other ways.
In addition to Carolina, the Wolves also served as Nashville’s affiliate after Milwaukee chose to sit out last season, but the Admirals are back this time around. The Calder Cup playoffs, which haven’t been contested since 2019, will return in 2022.