Levin living 'Wolves' until playoffs are over
By Mike Spellman Daily Herald Sports Writer
Posted on June 02, 2002
It's not surprising to see Chicago Wolves owner Don Levin shooting
the breeze with fans before a game. The man loves his fans and loves
talking hockey with them.
But once the puck drops, outgoing Don takes off and nervous, intense
Don takes over.
Going through cigarettes faster than a death-row inmate, Levin
stands - he never sits during a game - at his usual perch near the
broadcast bubble on the west end of the Allstate Arena, keeping a
keen eye on the action along with principal owner Buddy Meyers.
"I'm nuts," Levin said. "A woman in the office called me the other
day and said she wanted to set up a meeting, and the message I sent
back was, 'See me after the playoffs when I have my mind back and
we'll talk about it.'
"It's always on your mind. There's never a time it's not on your
mind. You could be doing something else and in the back of your mind
it's there. As the day wears on you start feeling it more ... and
you're helpless, there's nothing you can do."
It's exactly that passion that has earned Levin a special place in
the hearts of the players, coaches, management and fans. It has also
earned the Wolves a couple of IHL Turner Cup championships since the
team's inception in 1994.
This season the Wolves joined the American Hockey League, and from
the some-things-never-change department, they are one victory away
from winning their first Calder Cup. It's the fourth time in five
years the Wolves have advanced to a championship round.
"This team has two goals: winning a championship and looking out for
its players," said Wolves veteran Rob Brown. "Because of that, it's
Treating his players well is just common sense, according to Levin,
who founded D.R.L. Enterprises in 1969. D.R.L. is a company that has
holdings in various industries, from medical equipment leasing to
motion picture production and distribution.
"The players are your commodity," he said. "Why not be nice? They're
the ones that are making me happy. They're the ones that are winning
championships. It's a pleasure."
The Wolves' owner said it's not unusual for his players to deliver
the occasional hip check to him or give him a shaving cream handshake.
"It's nice because they accept me as family," said Levin, who was
named the IHL's Executive of the Year after the 1999-2000 season.
The fact that Levin and family can clinch the Calder Cup on Monday
night at the Allstate Arena is quite an accomplishment, considering
the team was almost completely overhauled following its loss to the
Orlando Solar Bears last year in the Turner Cup Finals.
This year, a handful of familiar faces such as Brown, Steve Maltais,
Dallas Eakins and Bob Nardella, were joined by a dozen or so former
After an ordinary season (37-31-7-5), the seventh-seeded Wolves had
to play their way into the playoffs with a three-game series against
Cincinnati. That was followed by series victories over top seeds
Grand Rapids, Syracuse and Houston.
The merger between the Wolves and the now-defunct Solar Bears
occurred after the Wolves began an affiliation with the NHL's Atlanta
Thrashers, the former affiliate of the Solar Bears. Though it seemed
like a potent mix of players, it certainly wasn't smooth sailing from
"The real issue was combining the Orlando players and the Chicago
players and making them into a team," Levin said. "It took a long
time. And with the call-ups (to Atlanta) and all that happened,
finally getting people back. They jelled and became a team. It
happened at the right time.
"There's no differences in that locker room anymore. There are no
more different teams - they're all the Wolves. That's a tribute to
(coach) John Anderson."
It's also a tribute to Levin, according to Thrashers GM Don Waddell.
"It shows through the entire organization - the coaches, the staff
and the players - when you get an owner that cares," Waddell
said. "To me, that's the best kind of owner to have.
"The one thing about Don is that he's into it, but in a positive way.
I've seen it where owners get emotionally tied (to a team) and try to
make decisions based on their emotions. He doesn't do it. He lets the
hockey department, led by Kevin (Wolves GM Cheveldayoff), make those
The good news for Wolves fans is that as long as he's still standing,
Levin plans on being a fixture at the west end of the Allstate Arena.
"Even though I'm nuts and it makes me crazy, I wouldn't give it up,"
he said. "I love it."