Photo: Bill Sweatt, shown here in earlier season action against Abbotsford, excelled locally in 2011-12 for the Chicago Wolves, who saw their season end on Friday to San Antonio in the Calder Cup Playoffs’ first round. Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves
First year with Chicago’s Wolves ends in first-round defeat
by Mike Slodki
ELBURN—If it’s not navigating the puck or avoiding checks into the boards, it’s packing boxes.
The activity never stops for the Elburn native Bill Sweatt, moving back to Colorado Springs for the offseason, after his 2011-12 season with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves that ended in the fifth game of the first round Calder Cup series against the San Antonio Rampage on Friday.
“We were down 2-0 in the series, and won games three and four, and took it to double-overtime in game five before we lost,” Sweatt said. “It was great to play in Chicago, and I was able to show teammates the area a little bit. I enjoyed every second of it.”
A left-wing, Sweatt was the Blackhawks’ next draft pick after Patrick Kane in 2007, and was involved in a trade with former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before the 2010-11 season, Bill and brother Lee signed with the Vancouver Canucks organization and starred for the AHL affiliate Manitoba Moose.
With the Winnipeg Jets returning to the National Hockey League, Vancouver switched its top affiliate to the Wolves, giving Sweatt a chance to play at home, of sorts.
“Hockey is big here, like it was when I was growing up. The Blackhawks have new ownership and won the Cup, and youth hockey seems bigger here. It’s more intense,” Sweatt said.
Sweatt scored 16 goals and supplied 18 assists on Wolves duty, with a goal and assist in the five-game playoff series that ended with a 3-2 loss.
Sweatt has played internationally as well as in Winnipeg, Manitoba last year, and even got called up for the parent club for two games in 2011-12.
The former Colorado College star has an idea of a common thread in any playing environment.
“Everywhere is different. We had really good fans here, and it was sold out most games (at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.). Internationally, though, instead of booing something they don’t like, they’ll whistle,” Sweatt said.
Sweatt feels good about being with the Vancouver organization, which saw an abrupt end to its Stanley Cup dreams with a first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
“They had someone present at a lot of the games, mostly before the trade deadline. It motivates you a little more when you see someone from the office there,” Sweatt said.
Sweatt played under the coaching eye of Craig MacTavish, a player on four Stanley Cup teams, and a former coach of the Edmonton Oilers.
“He wasn’t a screamer; he only really got on us when we had a five- or six-game losing streak,” Sweatt said. “He was on an even keel and would really work with us individually.”
Sweatt and the Wolves will try to rebound next year for their first Calder Cup since 2008.
“I think we never changed our style of play, even after being down 2-0. We were able to push it to game five, and San Antonio is a good team. We were still a good team at the end,” Sweatt said.
In the meantime, it’s time for some “R and R” before Sweatt’s nuptials in August. Then it’s back to the grind for Sweatt, who has a year left on his original deal with the Canucks.
If that means suiting up for a squad by where he once called home en route to skating on NHL ice, so be it.
“It was great to get there (into the NHL). My end goal is to stay there, not just for two games,” Sweatt said.