When Wendell Young retired from his 18-year professional playing career in 2001, he went to lunch with then Chicago Wolves General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
“What do you want to do next?” Cheveldayoff asked.
“I told him I wanted his job,” Young laughed. “Chevy said, ‘Well it’s not going to be available for a while,’ and I said, ‘Well, when it is, I’d be interested.’”
Eight years later, Cheveldayoff headed to the National Hockey League and the position became available. Young was interested. So were the Wolves.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Wendell Young,” effused Wolves Chairman of the Board Don Levin upon the announcement of the former goaltender’s promotion.
Young, who wrapped up his on-ice career between the pipes in Chicago after 10 seasons in the National Hockey League, is still the Wolves all-time leader among goaltenders in games played (322), wins (169), saves (8,467), minutes (17,912) and shutouts (16). He was on the ice for the 1998 and 2000 Turner Cup championships and his jersey number “1” was the first number ever retired by the Wolves on Dec. 1, 2001.
His resume made him a shoe-in for an off-ice role within the franchise, but he says his focus didn’t shift from stopping slapshots to management until late in his career.
“I don’t think I ever aspired to be a GM until the end of my career when I sort of began to see myself as an administrator,” Young said. “I kind of ran the room at that point - in a good way – and I saw myself as an organizer.”
His counterparts in the Wolves office saw the same thing, and were determined to keep the valuable asset around. Young had covered a lot of ground in his hockey career, which included 11 professional teams, but he was in no hurry to leave the franchise he’d begun to call home. He spent two years as executive director of team relations before returning to the ice as an assistant coach from 2003 to 2009.
“From Day 1, when Gene Ubriaco brought me in, I saw what kind of organization we had and what kind of ownership we had here and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Young said. “I’d come from the NHL and I’d never seen an organization like this, so that speaks volumes of the Wolves.
“The organization is first class. From being a player to being in management to being a coach - I’ve seen the way it is from every platform. You are expected to win, but you are given every opportunity to win. The city of Chicago itself and the people are phenomenal. When I first came here, I didn’t know that I’d stay and my kids would be Chicagoans, but in hindsight, it was a no-brainer for us to stay in Chicago.”
His progression through the different roles within the hockey world has seemed something of a no-brainer as well. Each position he has held, from goaltender to coach, has broadened his knowledge of the business and deepened his understanding of the game, making his various next steps feel like a natural progression.
“You see a lot of goalies in broadcasting and management after their careers and I think it’s because goalies sit back and see things and analyze the game differently,” Young said. “Player, executive, coach and GM are all different job descriptions, but they all have one common theme and that’s to win. It’s just people rowing at different parts of the boat to get to the same destination.”
There is no question what that destination will be under the new GM, who happens to be something of a winner. Young is the only man in hockey history to have won all four North American championships: the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992; the Turner Cup with Chicago in 1998 and 2000; the Calder Cup with Hershey in 1988 and the Memorial Cup with Kitchener in 1981.
“I won a championship as a player and I won as an executive. I won as a coach and now I’d like to win it as a GM,” said Young, who has a history of getting what he wants.
Just ask him about that lunch with Chevy.