CHICAGO – Pop quiz, smartypants.
Name the sports franchise in this town that has had a winning record every season for the past 20 years. Name the team that has won four championships and played in more than 1,500 regular-season games without a single sub-.500 record.
Hint: It’s not the Cubs. They’ve had 12 losing seasons since 1994.
Hint: It’s not the Bears. They’ve had 10.
Hint: It’s not the Blackhawks. They’ve had nine.
Hint: It’s not the White Sox. They’ve had eight.
Hint: It’s not the Bulls. They’ve had seven.
Have you figured it out yet?
The answer is the Wolves, who quietly and consistently have put up winning season after winning season at the highest levels of minor league hockey. The franchise started during the 1994-95 season in the International Hockey League and switched to the American Hockey League in 2001-02, winning two titles apiece in each league.
Obviously, the Wolves’ formula for success is incredibly complicated.
“It’s actually pretty simple,” Wolves owner Don Levin said. “As long as you’re doing it, you might as well win. As long as you’re doing it, why not do it well?”
Aiming high is one thing. Hitting the target is another.
Hockey can be wildly unpredictable, with games often decided by a funny bounce or a quick deflection or a hot goaltender. The degree of uncertainty is even greater in the AHL, where rosters frequently are in flux as players are called up to the NHL or shuffled back to the minors.
As the top minor-league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, the Wolves are expected to help develop young talent while chasing as many victories as possible. Levin made both goals possible, Wolves coach John Anderson said, by signing talented veterans with NHL experience to play alongside the Blues’ young prospects.
One of those veterans is Keith Aucoin, a 35-year-old center who spent parts of eight seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders.
Go ahead. Try to tell him that a minor league team’s win-loss record doesn’t matter.
“Yeah, it does matter,” Aucoin said. “I think the best way you’re going to develop a player is by winning. You thrive off of those experiences and you learn from them.
“When you’re in a losing atmosphere, you’re not going to develop. I’ve been on a lot of teams that have been bad, and people don’t like each other and it’s just not fun going to the rink.
“Winning is everything, really. And this organization has done it for a long time.”
They’re doing it again.
At 31-17-4-2, the Wolves are in the thick of a crowded playoff race with 22 games to go in the regular season. Five games remain against the rival Rockford IceHogs, whose home rink is about 70 miles west of where the Wolves play at Allstate Arena.
So while the Blackhawks take aim at another Stanley Cup championship this spring, the Wolves will pursue their third Calder Cup title since 2002.
“It’s not as much about having a winning record,” Anderson said. “It’s about winning outright.
“I believe we can win a championship here this year. I believe in the guys we have out there. We work hard and we have great goaltending.”
They also have a Wolves emblem on their sweaters.
After 20 years, that stands for something.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.