ROSEMONT — Even as his hometown team, the Chicago Blackhawks, began the defense of their second Stanley Cup in four years this week, Patrick O'Malley plans to continue his 20-year run as a dedicated Chicago Wolves season ticket holder, despite the fact they play 40 miles from his Garfield Ridge home.
Like other Chicago fans of the suburban minor league hockey club, O'Malley appreciates the friendliness of the club and its staff, the affordability of the tickets and the fact the Wolves have never had a losing season in their 20 years of playing.
"They're just the nicest people to deal with," said O'Malley, who has had the same seat in the Allstate Arena's upper deck for the two decades of the team's existence.
Sixteen percent of the team's season ticket holders are from the city, according to team spokesman Lindsey Willhite, who would not reveal the exact number of season ticket holders. The Wolves averaged about 8,230 fans for each of their 38 home games last season, Willhite said.
"Certainly on the Northwest Side of Chicago, we draw really heavy," said Mike Gordon, the Wolves' president of business operations, who has a master's degree from DePaul University. "We've never considered ourselves a suburban thing. We've always considered ourselves a Chicago metropolitan entity."
The Wolves' 2013-14 campaign, in which they plan several "20th season" promotions, begins Friday, with the home opener scheduled for Oct. 12.
That day also is Larissa Gasinski's 26th birthday. Gasinski, from the O'Hare neighborhood, has had four season tickets with her family — mother Christine, father Jim and brother Steven — for 12 years, but they were coming to Wolves games long before that.
"Because of the Wolves, it increased my interest in hockey," said Gasinski, a Loyola University Chicago graduate who plays forward on the MsConduct Chicago women's hockey club. "It's just such a great family organization."
Surviving 20 years in the minor league hockey business is a long shot — most of the teams from the Wolves' inaugural 1994-95 season in the International Hockey League no longer exist — and Gordon believes the strong corps of fans who return year after year is the biggest reason why.
Those supporters, who came out for an open house at Allstate Arena earlier this week, include Belmont Cragin resident Matt Chin, who has bought two season tickets in the upper level for 19 years. Chin, 46, also is a member of the Wolf Pack booster club, and, when he can't attend games, donates the tickets back to the Wolves, who then give them to nonprofits.
Chin, an Albany Park native who graduated from Lane Tech High School and the Illinois Institute of Technology, said he appreciated that the Wolves' players and front office personnel are always approachable. He also said he's made many friends with fellow veteran season ticket holders.
"It's amazing that after all this time, that you keep the same relationships," said Chin, moments after he said hello to Norwood Park resident Mario DeRam, a Wolves season ticket holder for 15 years.
DeRam noted the affordability of a Wolves game compared to the Blackhawks' ticket prices. DeRam, a Taft High School alum, pays $27 for his season ticket three rows from the glass in the stadium's southwest corner. An equivalent ticket for a Hawks game at the United Center would cost between $180 and $230.
"You really get your money's worth," said Christine Foss, of Avondale, who has owned two season tickets a few rows behind the penalty boxes with her husband, Bob, for 19 years. "You can actually see the players' faces, up close and personal."
It also doesn't hurt that the Wolves have been consistent winners. It took them only three years to claim their first league title, and they've lifted championship cups three times since.
Said DeRam: "No team is expected to win every single game, but you can see that they really take it to heart when they lose. Everyone within the organization, from owner Don Levin to the trainer, they want to win."