Through half a decade as members of the Ontario Hockey League, the Sudbury Wolves have stayed true to northern Ontario. From the pioneer era, 1972 ownership of Bud Burke, Joe Drago et al to the staying, time tested leadership of the Burgess family that spanned 30 years from 1986 to 2016, the Wolves den was home to close to 200 players from throughout the northeastern and northwestern regions of the province.
To be sure, the Wolves from the decades of the Burke, Drago and Burgess ownership groups went out of their way to make a priority of drafting and giving opportunity to players from northern Ontario. It went without saying when it came down to a choice of drafting a player of similar potential that the Wolves would opt for the northern lad, even if he wasn’t as hyped as a kid from southern Ontario or elsewhere. And in so many instances, it worked out rather well for the Wolves to sign or draft or just plain give opportunity to as many players as they could from the good, old north.
It might be said that the current ownership group of the Wolves, which purchased the OHL franchise in 2016 from Mark Burgess and his family, has also stayed true to the north, given that its general manager and coaching staff are all from the Sudbury area. But the Wolves of today have branded themselves as the “New Era” and have seemingly gone to lengths to distance themselves from the old guard of the franchise, almost as if to suggest that while this is now and that was then — that now is better than all of the history that came before. (Which it certainly isn’t.)
Anyway, enough about the “New Era” Wolves for now. After all, they have thus far not come close to achieving what they set out to do when, after acquiring the franchise in 2016, owner Dario Zurich boldly proclaimed that the Wolves would be Memorial Cup champions within five years. Well, not only has that not happened, the Wolves will have a losing record this season for the third time in five seasons since the “New Era” came on board. (Okay, in fairness, we will gave them another year or two to see if the “New Era” Wolves can bring a Memorial Cup championship to Sudbury, though right now they are not even the best OHL team in northern Ontario, being that they are so far in arrears of the Soo Greyhounds and North Bay Battalion.)
Okay, that sidebar out of the way, let us revert back to the good, old era Wolves from 1972 to 2016 and a few of the hundreds of examples of all of the opportunities that they gave to players from northern Ontario. In chronological order, here is one writer’s top 10 list of players from northern Ontario who became legends of the Wolf Pack.
• Ron Duguay. A local lad and one of the fastest, most electrifying players of his era to play in the OHL, the lanky forward starred for the Wolves from 1973 to 1977 and totalled 361 points in 245 games. With long, wavy blonde hair and a favourite of the young ladies, Duguay then went to to play in more than 1,000 National Hockey League games.
• Randy Carlyle. A high scoring defenseman and another local Sudbury product, Carlyle racked up 151 points in 139 games for the Wolves from 1973 to 1976 from his blue line position. He then skated in more than 1,000 games in the NHL before becoming a career NHL coach of many years.
• John Baby. Also a hometown Sudbury boy, Baby manned the blue line for the Wolves from 1975 to 1977 and in those two seasons put up 143 points in 122 games and was favourite of Wolves play by play man Joe Bowen who would exclaim “Johnny! Baby!” when the slick blue liner led a rush up ice.
• Mike Foligno. A heart and soul player who grew up in the heart of Sudbury, Foligno was a tough, high scoring right winger for the Wolves from 1975 to 1979. Playing in 258 regular season games, Foligno totalled 165 goals, 182 assists, 347 points. Often referred to as Sudbury’s favourite native son, Foligno returned home to coach the Wolves for six seasons after a lengthy NHL playing career of more than 1,000 games. After coaching in Sudbury, Foligno returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for many years. Amazingly, Foligno’s sons, Nick and Marcus, would not only play for the Wolves as well but follow their dad to the NHL as mainstay players. Like his dad, Nick has now played in more than 1,000 NHL games. Marcus, meanwhile, has now played in close to 700 NHL games.
• Rob Mazzuca. Now the veteran commissioner of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, Mazzuca was no slouch as a standout defenceman who was a first round pick (11th overall) of the Wolves at the 1979 OHL priority selections draft. Mazzuca, who hails from the Greater Sudbury community of Capreol, would play three full seasons for the Wolves from 1979 through 1982. A natural leader, Mazzuca was team captain during his final OHL season with the Wolves, which was the 1981-1982 campaign. Mazzuca suited up for 188 regular season games for his hometown Wolves. And from his defence position — and never playing for a Wolves team that had a winning record — Mazzuca totaled 32 goals, 102 assists, 134 points while racking up 423 minutes in penalties as a smart, skilled, hard rock defender.
• Mario Chitaroni. Small but sturdy and a forward with the heart of a lion and hailing from the small town of Cobalt, Chitaroni produced 211 points in 172 games with the Wolves over three seasons after being a sixth round pick by Sudbury from the New Liskeard Cubs at the 1984 OHL draft. He would go on to play at a high level in Italy for a number of years, playing well past the age of 40.
• Paul DiPietro. How the Soo Greyhounds missed out on a local player of such skill in their own back yard remains a head shaker to this day. An absolute steal by the Wolves in the fourth round of the 1986 OHL draft, DiPietro became a favourite of fans in Sudbury as a small centre who could shoot and score with flair. He played in 235 games for the Wolves and came through with 117 goals, 164 assists, 281 points. DiPietro went on to defy the odds and play in more than 200 NHL games before going off to Europe where he played at a high level past the age of 40.
• Terry Chitaroni. From small town Haileybury and the New Liskeard Cubs came another Chitaroni who remains pound for pound one of the toughest players to ever suit up for the Wolves. A second round pick by Sudbury in 1988, Chitaroni would play in 235 regular season games for the Wolves and score 97 goals, 160 assists, 257 points while racking up no less than 557 minutes in penalties as one of the more popular players in franchise history.
• Jeremy Adduono. A shrewd pick by the Wolves in the sixth round of the 1995 OHL draft from the Thunder Bay Flyers, Adduono was an all purpose forward who totalled 212 points over three seasons with the Wolves. He then played for the Canadian National Team and skated overseas for a number of years.
• Marc Staal. A big, rangy defenseman, the Wolves took Staal with the second pick of the first round of the 2003 OHL draft from the Thunder Bay Kings. Staal stood tall on the Sudbury blue line for four years, piled up 123 points and became a first round pick by the New York Rangers. 1,000 games later, Staal is still playing in the NHL.
Still a mainstay OHL franchise, the Wolves were served by many good general managers and coaches during the ownership days of Burke, Drago and Burgess. (Some bad ones, too.) One of the most loyal soldiers is Blaine Smith, who worked for the Wolves for 30 years in various capacities from advertising manager to general manager to president before being rudely cast aside by the “New Era” ownership a few years ago.
Oh well. With or without the “New Era” — the true north, original, vintage Wolves have enough good history of their own from 1972 to 2016 to feel rightfully proud of. The number of players just from northern Ontario alone who were either drafted, traded for, signed as free agents or just given a training camp tryout represent just one testament to the Burke, Drago, Burgess regimes that truly put the Sudbury Wolves on the OHL map.