In case you stopped counting, there were 587 days between Chicago Wolves games at Allstate Arena. The last time the team set foot in their home arena — on March 8, 2020 — they won in overtime to the longtime nemesis Rockford IceHogs.
By that time, there had already been whispers suggesting life as we knew it was going to slowly grind to a halt. Standing around post-game with media members and Wolves staffers had an eerie feel to it; so did walking out into the night, afterwards. A few cars were still scattered across the parking lot; my fellow media members and I stood at our cars awkwardly. Maybe we’d see each other in a few days. Maybe we wouldn’t.
We all know what happened next. The NHL suspended its season; the AHL eventually cancelled its entirely. In the interim, the Wolves ended their affiliation with Vegas and partnered instead with Carolina. When the Wolves returned to play in 2021, they did it out of their practice rink, an arena that’s part of a suburban park district, to an audience of staffers and team officials. At home, we watched games with funky camera angles over imperfect streams; we called into post-game Zooms to ask questions of a coach and players who we’ve never met in person.
It’s been a long, strange 587 days.
The last time Wolves coach Ryan Warsofsky played a game at Allstate Arena, he was lifting the Calder Cup with the Charlotte Checkers. When he made his return, it was to begin the path of guiding his new team back to the top.
In a media session before the start of the season, Warsofsky made it clear that he isn’t spending too much time thinking about those days in Charlotte. He’s not spending a lot of time thinking about last season, or the potential weirdness that will come when the Wolves first face down the Milwaukee Admirals — a team dotted with players who temporarily donned a Wolves jersey last season.
He’s thinking about the season one game at a time, just like last year. Every day is a new day. Every game is a new game, a new chance for a player to impress or seize a roster spot. He’ll deal with Milwaukee when he has to. But for right now, Warsofsky and the Wolves are just worrying about what tomorrow brings.
Game 1: Wolves 3, IceHogs 5
The Wolves’ triumphant return to Allstate Arena began much in the way that it ended: with a matchup against the Rockford IceHogs.
The game ended quite a bit differently, though, with Rockford walking away with the win this time. While the Wolves dominated the first period in terms of shots and possession, they were unable to crack Rockford’s first-year goalie Arvid Soderblom. Two special teams goals broke the scoring drought in the second period — a power play goal from C.J. Smith and a shorthanded goal by Ryan Suzuki.
But that’s about where the train went off the rails for the Wolves. Slightly over a minute after Suzuki’s goal, a Wolves turnover led to IceHogs defenseman Evan Barratt opening scoring. The IceHogs rattled off four straight goals, and while a late power play goal from the Wolves made things interesting, they couldn’t capitalize on any of their chances. Alex Nylander sealed the deal with an empty net goal for the IceHogs, sending the Wolves home frustrated after squandering a strong start to their season.
Hear from Captain Andrew Poturalski in tonight’s postgame sound! pic.twitter.com/oheboDDvRD— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) October 17, 2021
Scoring: Eric Gelinas, 1 G; Ryan Suzuki, 1 G; C.J. Smith, 1 G; Joey Keane, 1 A; Josh Leivo, 1 A; Andrew Poturalski, 1 A; Josh Jacobs, 1 A; Dominik Bokk, 1 A
In net: Alex Lyon, saved 17 of 21, 0.810 Sv%
Next game: Friday, October 22 at Milwaukee, 7:00 pm Central.