For the last 25 years the Sudbury Wolves have built a factory, one that produces NHL talent at a higher rate than any other CHL club.
The numbers come from the 2015 Future Watch edition of the The Hockey News (THN), which has the Sudbury Wolves as the best hockey factory in the CHL.
THN says that the Wolves have produced 20 NHL players over that time frame, three more than the London Knights and ahead of teams like the Portland Winter Hawks, Kamloops Blazers and the Windsor Spitfires.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the recognition is there is a games played quota. The study did not look into players who played a handful of games at hockey's highest level, and the requirement was at least 200 NHL games played.
For Wolves owner Mark Burgess this was a huge honour, as his family has owned the team for that 25-year stretch.
“I don’t know if it caught us off guard, we know we had a number of players in the NHL, but we’re humbled by the fact that we have been able to develop that many NHL players, and to be number one in all of the CHL is really overwhelming,” said Burgess.
President and General Manager Blaine Smith has been with the club for 27 years and for him it means the organization is doing the right things.
“There is the reassurance that we are drafting well, recruiting well and developing well, and I think any time you have a significant number of players playing in the National Hockey League that’s a feather in the cap for the organization,” said Smith.
“For the last 25 years we have had the same ownership group so there is a lot of stability here.”
Because the list is only for the last 25 years, names like Pat Verbeek, Randy Carlyle, Ron Duguay, and Mike Foligno were not on the list.
There are however some household names like Sean O’Donnell, who logged 1,224 games in the NHL, Glen Murray, Mike Fisher, Taylor Pyatt, Nick Foligno, Mark Staal, Mike Smith and others.
On the current roster there were three players at NHL camps recently, Kyle Capobianco, Matt Schmalz, and Chad Heffernan, the first two are fresh off having their names called in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Names like David Levin and Dmitry Sokolov have NHL potential written all over them, and this is now becoming a recruiting tool for the team.
“We’re proud of this, when we can go to Dmitry Sokolov who is in Omsk (Russia) and talk to his agent in New York and say ‘hey listen we can do our job here, we develop NHL players.’ I think that is going to help the development and recruiting of players and I think that has shown in the last three months,” said Burgess.
Both Burgess and Smith credit the scouting, coaching, management and having great players to how they took this title, but believe the community plays a big factor.
“These kids move to Sudbury and they’re all in, they come up here and they’re exposed to media, and a lot of teams in Southern Ontario don’t have that same microcosm of the Nation Hockey League. It’s not just about hockey, it’s about community work, it’s about going to school and being responsible in the community which is really a part of being an NHL player. It’s a great environment for them to continue to develop,” said Burgess.
“I think playing up in Sudbury, it’s the big game in town, it’s really like a mini NHL setting and I think it bodes well for players to play here,” said Smith.
That all being said, the NHL talent has not translated to the ultimate goal in the CHL, a Memorial Cup.
In comparison the four other teams on the list have at least one Memorial Cup win, Kamloops has three, Windsor has two, and London and Portland each have one win in the last 25 years.
All of this while Sudbury has yet to make an appearance.
Maybe it is because of timing, maybe other factors are to account for that, both Smith and Burgess can agree that it’s NHL caliber players that win championships, but it’s about surrounding them with the correct group of players.
“It’s always team first, because it’s the best team that wins as opposed to just having the best players. The year we went to the (OHL) finals in 2007 an undrafted goalie named Sebastian Dahm was really the key reason we went as far as we did. These are the types of players who make a difference in how far teams go.”
It’s something the two are looking to fix.
“You don’t win unless you have top players. You look at the Oshawa Generals last year, they had a number of NHL drafted players on their team and they loaded up at the deadline. That’s the types of things organizations need to do to be successful, we know that, attempts in the past have failed, but we’re going to continue to strive forward,” said Smith.
The Wolves are coming off the worst season in franchise history, which is certainly not the way to correct it, however the credit of their development skills has helped with the healing process.
“Obviously last year is one that we want to move on with, but certainly when this story came out it takes a little bit of the sting out, because you always question yourself when you have a bad year,” said Burgess.
There is no question the Sudbury Wolves organization have put some exciting clubs on the ice, and the 2015-2016 roster will continue that trend.
The question becomes, which one of the Wolves will be next in the NHL.
“People may not realize that when they come down to 240 Elgin Street that they are going to see future national hockey league players. I honestly believe that we have a number of kids who can play in the NHL,” said Burgess.
And will they help bring Sudbury a banner first?