Tonight marks the first of what will likely be many playoff series between the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs. For the players and die-hard AHL fans, this is a battle to determine who the better team is in the Western Division.
For hockey fans in Chicago however, it is that and something more. It is a battle between a Chicago team and a Chicago affiliate. The IceHogs are affiliated with the Blackhawks, so an area- hockey fan that knows little to nothing about the Wolves might root for the team from Rockford. Of course, those who love to see winning hockey or those who have been long fed up with Bill Wirtz’s mismanagement of the Hawks when he was alive will most certainly root for the Wolves.
While the Hawks have made the playoffs only once since the 1996-97 season, the Wolves have made the playoffs every year since their inception except one. To go with that, the Wolves have collected three championships in that period. Chicago fans are known to embrace winning teams, so rooting for the Wolves has been a no-brainer.
As a Wolves fan, I have to say I have respect for some of the players the IceHogs have since several were called up to play for the parent club at some point during the regular season. Most notably, Corey Crawford impressed me during his Hawks stint, and I thought he would be a more reliable backup than Pat Lalime. Don’t be surprised to see him give Wolves scorers Jason Krog, Darren Haydar, Brett Sterling and others fits. Hopefully, he’ll be a Blackhawk full-time next season.
Chicago hockey fans had been dreaming for this matchup since the Calder Cup Playoff brackets came out. The new rivalry developed this season with the entrance of the IceHogs into the league and has the potential to become as fierce as the one the Wolves have with the Milwaukee Admirals. No doubt there is as much bad blood among fans as there is among the players.
Whoever comes out as victor will have high expectations for the conference finals. The IceHogs won the Colonial Cup last year in what is now the new International Hockey League. The Wolves have made the conference finals in each of their last two playoff appearances. No matter what the outcome of the series is though, Chicago hockey fans will agree on one thing: the AHL team here has looked great for years and the AHL team there proves the future of the NHL team here is something to be excited about.