The Wolves - an affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers - are the only AHL team that has a full television package, not to mention that they've never had a losing season since their inception in 1994. (These two things helped make Wolves hockey more popular than Blackhawks hockey for many years, especially when the old Hawks owner refused to broadcast the home games in the local market.)
In fact, their win tonight clinched their playoff berth for the Calder Cup.
Allstate Arena is small, seating about 17,000 at capacity for hockey games. (I would've guessed more like 11,000, but the seats are narrow.) And, like many of the "farm" teams (AHL/ECHL), tickets are quite inexpensive in comparison to NHL games - you can get season tickets starting as low as $360 (40 game season); and single tickets running from $10-25. (Compare that to the Blackhawks, where you pay $35 for the nosebleed seats.) So it's little wonder that at prices like these, you see a lot of family attendance. The AHL knows it, and goes out of its way to make the games as family-friendly as possible; there's even a "no-alcohol" seating section.
The Wolves' mascot is named Skates. He is a big ham and spends the entire game having fun with the fans. Occasionally he brings out some friends and parties, as happened today during the first intermission:
You know, seeing commercials of mascots beating each other up, etc., is not nearly as funny as seeing it happen live. Especially when the mascot is a giant soda bottle.
If you're one of those who don't think hockey is exciting enough, the Wolves kick it off with a pyrotechnic display that includes flames and fireworks. For some reason, this made me think of the old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin comes across Hobbes listening to Tchaikovsky, and he asks Hobbes what he's listening to. The tiger replies that it's the War of 1812. Calvin lights up with glee as he listens to the cannons, and decrees that classical music isn't boring at all.
And although many Blackhawks fans would say that the cheering and clapping during the National Anthem is meant in support of the song, I must say that it was really nice being in an arena where people weren't doing that. Instead, a lot of people were actually singing along (as do I), and really only had a big rallying cheer on the line "home of the free".
It may be a sign I've watched too much TV/movies in my life, that I saw a guy with the jersey "Crabb" and my first thought was "Where's Goyle?" (Harry Potter reference, for those who don't get it.) And on seeing a Rampage jersey with "Picard" on it, ... well, let's leave it at calling it "gleeful nerdosity". There was a #1 on the Rampage team - the goalie - but he wasn't named Riker.
In all, a very solid, exciting game, complete with OT and a shootout. Wolves goaltender Drew MacIntyre gave a performance on par with Ryan Miller's Olympic ones, scoring a career-high 45 saves.
There was part of somebody's private hockey collection - in this case, sticks - on view at the Arena. Hockey stick design has changed little in 100+ years, although the composition has changed.
The coolest thing I saw there - yeah, even better than the hockey game itself - was several of the dogs on display for the Holzy's Hounds Adopt-a-Dog program. The Wolves have teamed up with the City of Chicago's Department of Animal Care and Control to not only help get dogs adopted, but to help promote the idea that adoption (vs. breeding facilities) is a great way to bring a new animal into your life.
In talking with one of the people who was helping with the dogs, she said some nights they've managed to adopt out most or all of the dogs they have available, which may be 15 or more. (From the Holzy's Hounds page: "Prospective owners are required to go through a screening process and pay a $65 fee, which includes spaying or neutering, all vaccinations, a Chicago pet license and a Wolves dog collar.")
Seeing those dogs just reinforces how resilient pets can be, and how clearly grateful they are to have a second chance at life.
One of the dogs they had there today was a female pit bull rescue. Her ears had been docked, and you could tell by looking at her body that she had had a hard life - multiple scars; and signs that she'd probably had one or more litters of puppies. Due to her breed, it limited her perspective adopters, so she had been with the rescue group a long time. (As one volunteer told me, "Most people who are interested in pit bulls might put her back in the situation she was rescued from; and most people who don't know the breed are scared of them, thanks to the image they have in the media.")
But among many friendly dogs, she was one of the friendliest, eagerly taking pats and hugs and rubs from people of all ages, joyfully licking faces, and very calm, despite the busy crowds. (You can see from her picture, above, as she earnestly gazes at one of her many admirers.) I'm glad to report she found a new home by the end of the game.
As it turns out, the Wolves aren't the only AHL team that helps sponsor pet rescue groups. What a wonderful way for pro athletes to reach out to help the community.