New Wolves GM Young has big shoes to fill

by Lindsay Kramer ||

youngThe vacation was planned a long time ago, back when Wendell Young figured some time with family in his hometown of Halifax would be relatively immune to the demands of hockey.

Then Young went and blew it, got himself named new general manager of the Chicago Wolves, and suddenly business was an inescapable travel companion.

"Hopefully I’ll relax a little bit, but I’ll still be on call," Young said last week while waiting for a connecting flight to Halifax. "I’ll be fine. It’s knowing all the ins and outs I have to find out, returning calls from agents. The way the world works now, I’m not too far away from my job with computers and phones."

The way Young would prefer things, he’d never be far away from the Wolves, period. Which is one hint that he might be exactly the right man to fill some very big skates.

Young was picked to replace highly successful GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who moved on to an assistant GM job with the Blackhawks. If the shrewd Cheveldayoff was the face of the Wolves, Young is right behind.

The 46-year-old has been part of the franchise since its inception 15 years ago. He is the Wolves all-time goalie leader in games played (322), wins (169), saves (8,467), minutes (17,912) and shutouts (16). His jersey number No. 1 was the first number ever retired by the Wolves on Dec. 1, 2001, following his retirement from an 18-year professional playing career. For the last six seasons he’s worked as the team’s assistant coach and executive director of team relations.

Young is also a 10-year veteran of the NHL, but if it seems like he’s been part of the Wolves’ fabric forever, that’s been by his design.

"Even when I played, I had a chance to leave. I never wanted to leave," he said. "I had calls from NHL teams, had a chance to leave in the coaching ranks. I’m much different than most people. They strive to go to the NHL. That’s not my gig. I’m a pretty simple guy. I’m comfortable with my situation."

It’s easy to feel that way when every few years you’re part of the team picture in front of a championship trophy. Young was a member of Chicago’s 1998 and 2000 Turner Cup title squads, and was also behind the bench as a coach for the Wolves 2008 Calder Cup victory.

He is the only player in hockey history to have won all four North American championships: the Stanley Cup, Turner Cup, Calder Cup and Memorial Cup. If dealing with the expectations of winning was the top prerequisite for the GM job, the interviews should have started and stopped with Young.

"If you’re not committed to winning, shame on you, and I will address it," Young said. "We have a commitment from the top to the bottom to win. It’s been like that year after year. I don’t see it (his job) as pressure. I’ve been given great assets. We don’t see ourselves having a successful year until we win a championship."

It’s not easy for an MVP

girouxEven the best prize on the AHL free-agent market was subject to the economic realities of the times.

Playing under a one-way contract last season, Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux had one of the top seasons in recent history in winning the MVP and leading the Bears to the Calder Cup. Giroux’s 60 goals in the regular season were the most ever by an AHL left wing. He followed that up with 15 more goals in 22 postseason games, and the 75 goals scored total are the most ever by an AHL player in one regular season and postseason combined.

Giroux also posted the longest goal-scoring streak in league history, tallying at least once in 15 consecutive games to break the previous record of 14 straight held by NHL legend Brett Hull.

His offseason pot of gold? He couldn’t squeeze another one-way deal out of any team, not even the Caps. So he took a two-way deal from Washington to stay in the organization.

"It didn’t work out the way I was hoping," said Giroux, 28. "It was a slow process for everyone who is a free agent. That’s just the way it is. It’s not a step back. If that’s what they offered, that’s what it is."

Giroux’s potential return to the Bears could set him up for the first failure he’s experienced in a while — trying to better last year’s celestial effort. But Giroux switches that around by eyeing a different standard of success.

"If I have to go back to Hershey I will work hard to go back to the NHL. I will try to improve in different areas," he said. "I think it’s playing better without the puck, playing better defensively, prove I can be on the ice in different situations. I’m not going to be on the first line (in the NHL). If I’m on the third line, I need to increase my energy for the other guys and be more physical."

bannisterHe’s coming to America

Defenseman Drew Bannister will play hockey in North America this season.

While that might superficially seem like the restating of another summertime transaction, it carries intrigue because Bannister has lived overseas long enough to be elected the head of some nations.

Bannister was all set to take off for Switzerland this year when Ottawa stunned him with a one-year, two-way deal. That was enough to make him cut short his seven-year hockey tour, which included stops in Finland, Russia and Germany.

The last time that Bannister, 35, played in the United States was 2001-02, with Cincinnati and Anaheim.

"Obviously, I was very comfortable over there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. This will definitely be a test to myself to see where I am," he said.

"There’s no expectations of me. But there’s also no pressure on me. I’m going to go in there, enjoy my time, do what’s asked of me."

Even broadcasters are moving up

Even after the regular season passes well into summer, Lake Erie takes seriously its responsibility of shipping talent to the NHL.

michael_200.jpgIn June, coach Joe Sacco and assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre were named to the same spots with parent club Colorado. Last week, radio voice John Michael got the call, landing a spot with FOX Sports Ohio to join their Columbus Blue Jackets broadcast team as an in-game reporter and postgame show host.

"It’s been a great thing for the Monsters organization," Michael said. "It has been a great place for launching players and coaches and broadcasters into the National Hockey League. I feel fortunate that I’ve been with some fantastic organizations that have allowed me to progress a quickly as I have."

And therein lies the rub. The 15 players who were recalled during the season, as well as Sacco and Lefebvre, were working toward that goal all their lives. Michael, 37, has been plugging away for the relatively short span of nine years.

Michael was well into a career as a construction litigator and trial lawyer when in 2000 he decided he wanted to explore broadcasting. He sat down in front of a television and put together a resume tape from a college football game.

"I enjoyed practicing law. But you wake up in the morning and say, ‘Is this something I want to do for the rest of my life?" Michael said. "A lot of people thought I was nuts at the time. If I didn’t do it then, I never would have done it and I always would have asked myself ‘what if?"’

He elbowed his way into radio action with high school and small college sports in his native Pittsburgh, doing his court work by day and game calls at night.

That eventually led to a radio job with the Hagerstown Suns baseball team, and then he moved on to Springfield of the AHL. He stayed there for two seasons before becoming the first voice of the Monsters the past two years.

He remains a dual threat, also doing some legal work for Lake Erie and the Cavs. Law is now more a hobby than a necessity. Michael said when he left that field full time he was making in the six figures annually. He said he started out at four figures in broadcasting but now shouldn’t have to worry about moonlighting in the NHL.

"The money gets a little bit better along the way," he said.