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Chicago Wolves align with Canucks

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10-21-09 Wolves name new coach Don Lever at the Allstate arena ... sun-times photo by al podgorski

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Updated: June 28, 2011 5:01AM

Big changes are under way for the Wolves.

The team officially announced its affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks on Monday and said coach Don Lever won’t be retained. Wolves general manager Wendell Young said he expects to hire a ­replacement in two to three weeks.

“We have a list and the Vancouver Canucks have a list, and we’ll sit down and find the best fit for our team,” Young said at a news conference at Harry Caray’s restaurant downtown.

Young is well aware that the Canucks have become the Blackhawks’ biggest ­rival. But when it came time to find a new NHL affiliate, Young put rivalries aside and chose the team he thought would be best for his franchise.

“It didn’t even go into the process,” Young said. “They’ve got a great franchise, a great group of players. Honestly, they have the same philosophy as us. They want to treat their players so well that their players want to stay and play. We couldn’t find anybody better.”

The Wolves needed a new ­affiliate after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. The Wolves had been affiliated with the Thrashers since joining the American Hockey League in 2001.

Young said a number of teams were involved and interested but he couldn’t pass up the Canucks’ core of players and success.

The only reason the announcement didn’t come sooner was because the Canucks were in the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

“I don’t know if you guys noticed or not, the Vancouver Canucks had a very busy schedule,” Young joked.

But even with that busy schedule, Canucks GM Mike Gillis made sure the Wolves didn’t find another franchise before his team’s season ended. He said the Wolves immediately jumped to the top of the Canucks’ list when their affiliation with the Manitoba Moose ended.

“We very early settled on the Wolves as the best and most confident partner for us,” said Gillis, the NHL’s executive of the year. “We’re very happy to have solidified this relationship and know that we’re going to have the opportunity to win.”

Despite the new affiliation, Young said the Wolves will keep their own identity. Their colors, for example, will stay the same.

But the roster will look at least a little different. Some of the players from last year will return, joining a solid group of draft picks from the Canucks’ organization. Those players likely will stay with the Wolves throughout the season because of the strength of the Canucks’ roster.

“We’re fortunate that they don’t have to rush their players up,” Young said. “We’ll see our players develop a lot longer here.”

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