When the Chicago Wolves took to the ice last Saturday for their season-opening tilt against the Rockford IceHogs, two things happened for the first time in quite a while. This was the team’s first game at the Allstate Arena in front of fans in 587 days. Last season, they played all their home games at their practice rink.
Saturday also marked the first time the Wolves had a captain since Paul Thompson wore the “C” on his sweater during the 2017-18 season. The honor went to 27-year-old forward Andrew Poturalski, who was making his debut for the Wolves. The Williamsville, NY native has the right combination of skill and experience to lead Chicago back to AHL prominence.
Poturalski & Warsofsky, Together Again
Before Saturday, the last time Poturalski was at the Allstate Arena was a memorable night. On June 8, 2019, he scored two goals to lead the Charlotte Checkers to a 5-3 win over the Wolves, clinching an American Hockey League (AHL) championship in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals. He was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for being the most valuable player of the 2019 postseason. In 18 playoff games, Poturalski scored 12 goals and 23 points. Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky was also in the building that night as an assistant coach for the Checkers.
Since that memorable night, Poturalski spent the last two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks organization, and the Carolina Hurricanes switched their AHL affiliation from the Checkers to the Wolves. When Poturalski re-signed with the Hurricanes this past summer, he was reunited with Warsofsky, as he took over as head coach when Mike Vellucci resigned shortly after the Calder Cup win.
“The Canes are obviously a good NHL team,” said Poturalski. “They play a great style of hockey. I thought it was a good opportunity to play for Ryan down here in Chicago. He’s a coach that I trust, and I’m familiar with. Hopefully, it will be a good opportunity for me to keep building up my game, push me to get better, and get me to the next level.”
Warsofsky is familiar with what Poturalski brings to a team, both on the ice and in the locker room. It sounded as if naming him captain was a very easy decision.
“Guys gravitate towards him,” said the Wolves head coach. “He’s won at this level. He’s a skilled player. He can make plays and is calm in the moment. He’s got great experience. I think he’s ready for this. I think he needs to lead this team and step up just like the rest of our leaders. It puts some onus on him, and that’s good for him.”
While Warsofsky knows what to expect out of his captain, Poturalski appreciates his coach’s approach to the game.
“He’s a no-nonsense type of guy,” he said of Warsofsky. “He’s young and up and coming. He’s got a ton of energy and pushes us every day in practice. He just wants to get the most out of everybody. He cares about everybody. I think he’ll be great for us moving forward.”
A Lot to Learn from Opening Loss
Poturalski’s first game as Wolves’ captain did not go as planned. He did earn an assist on C.J. Smith’s second-period power-play goal. However, the Wolves lost 5-3 despite outshooting the IceHogs 43-22.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted,” he said after the loss. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a win for those fans, but it’s good to see them back in the building. They brought a lot of energy, and the place got pretty loud when we scored there in the third. It’s fun to play in front of them again.”
The veteran of 300 AHL games, Poturalski knows one game does not decide the fate of an entire season. Now that the announcement of his captaincy and the first game back in front of fans are behind him and the team, they can collectively focus on the big picture.
“It’s an honor,” he said about wearing the “C” on his sweater. “I’m thrilled to represent this organization and the team. I’m going to do my best to support everybody and be a good leader. Hopefully, we bring another championship to this team.”
The Wolves have a great history of success in both the AHL and defunct IHL. All you have to do is look at the banners that hang from the Allstate Arena rafters. Poturalski has an excellent track record too. In addition to being the 2019 playoff MVP, he led the entire league last season with 34 assists and 43 points for the San Diego Gulls. He has produced and won everywhere he’s gone in his hockey career. The trio of Poturalski, Warsofsky, and the Wolves seem like a match made in hockey heaven.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.