Coming to a different country, I knew it was going to be different. I struggled on the ice at first, but it wasn’t just on the ice. It was everything around it, too. So I needed time to get used to it. I’ve found my game now and I’m ready to go and help the team. - David Wolf
GLENS FALLS, NY -- Everything about David Wolf’s pro hockey career is new this year.
It’s the 25-year-old forward’s first season in North America, living in small-town Glens Falls, N.Y., a world apart from his home in Hamburg, Germany, a city of 1.8 million people.
He’s fluent in English, but it’s not as comfortable as his native tongue and he’s had to try new foods, adapt to cultural differences and learn a whole new style of play.
“Everything is an adjustment,” said Wolf, a 6-foot-3 left winger. “Coming to a different country, I knew it was going to be different. I struggled on the ice at first, but it wasn’t just on the ice. It was everything around it, too. So I needed time to get used to it. I’ve found my game now and I’m ready to go and help the team.”
Night after night, he’s done just that in ways that sometimes don’t show up on a score sheet.
After a slow start to the season, Adirondack propelled up the standings with a nine-game November win streak. Then came three straight losses, followed by six more wins in the Flames’ next seven outings.
Coach Ryan Huska said there was a direct connection between the team’s brief slide and Wolf’s absence due to injury. “The one thing, when you think of David Wolf, is work ethic,” Huska said. “He always works on the ice. His feet are always moving and he’s a hard guy to play against. I felt when we had our run of games, that’s when David got more of a chance to play. And I thought our team started to play harder when we won those nine in a row.”
“When David went out of the lineup I thought we sagged a little bit in that department,” the coach said. “That’s back again since he returned to the lineup. So he’s a very important piece of our puzzle here. The nice part about David is that he’s got the ability to play with really offensive guys and he’s got the ability to play with some checking line guys, too.”
Wolf’s contributions will be especially important this weekend as the Flames take on the top two teams in the AHL’s Western Conference, with a chance to grab a share of first place overall. Adirondack (22-14-1-1) hosts conference leader Oklahoma City (23-8-2-2) on Friday, to wrap up a five-game homestand, before traveling to Utica (22-7-5-0), which has a three-point lead over Adirondack in the North Division standings, on Saturday.
Wolf signed a one-year, two-way free agent contract with Calgary last May after seven seasons in Europe. His three most recent campaigns were with the Hamburg Freezers in the DEL, where he chalked up a combined 43 goals (111 points).
“I’ve always tried to be a leader in my career,” Wolf said. “The last few years I led my team in points. I played a big role back home. I didn’t know what kind of role I was going to have here. But I’ve tried to contribute and earn my role here. It’s getting better and better. I’m getting more ice time. You’ve got to prove that you can do it. That’s my focus, to play hard every night, game in and game out.”
He scored his sixth goal of the year in the Flames’ latest contest, a 6-2 victory over San Antonio on Tuesday.
But it was a game-winning assist he made, in his first game back from injury, that best personifies his approach to the sport. On Dec. 10, at home against Hamilton, Wolf fed Max Reinhart with a picture-perfect, cross-ice pass that Reinhart buried for a 3-2 overtime victory.
He credited defenceman Corey Potter’s initial pass for making the play possible.
“I kind of saw Potsy coming from the outside,” Wolf said. “I hoped he was going to make that pass to me and not dump it. He made it and I knew Riney (Reinhart) was coming back door, so I kind of got lucky and hit him right on the blade. He finished it really good.”
Back home, in Europe, dumping pucks into the zone is considered a lazy way to play the game, which Wolf wants no part of. “You never dump the puck deep,” he said. “You always try to find a play.”
It’s one of several differences he’s noticed since coming to North America.
“I struggled the first seven or eight games because of the smaller ice surface,” Wolf said. “It’s a totally different game back home. There’s not as much contact as there is here, and it’s definitely way faster here. You’ve got to make decisions a little bit quicker.”
His 10-day stint on the sidelines might have been a blessing in disguise, as it made him realize just how much he wants to play. “It’s no fun just watching the other guys,” Wolf said. “They’re having success. I want to be a part of it. That’s why I’m over here. I want to play hockey. I want to help the team win.”