📝 by Patrick Williams
Throughout Courtney Mahoney’s 26 years with the Chicago Wolves, there have been four championships, two leagues, more than 1,000 wins, personal awards, and the countless hours that come with working in an American Hockey League front office.
Boil it down for Mahoney, though, and those 26 years more than anything come down to what hockey can provide ― and what it can do for others.
The feeling to “just to be down in the tunnel, to sip out of the Cup and just be like, ‘This is why you work in sports’ is just tremendous,” Mahoney explains.
Those benefits are what Mahoney receives from a life in hockey. What she gives in return is far more abundant. Whether it is a community member in need, a dog seeking a home, or someone taking in a hockey game for the first time, Mahoney’s contributions vary from charity work all the way to the nightly scramble coordinating the team’s well-known pre-game pyrotechnics display.
Mahoney joined the Wolves in 1996 out of the University of Wisconsin, starting in the team’s community relations department and growing into a role that continues to expand all these years later.
“I just was really lucky,” Mahoney said of her start with the Wolves. “Don Levin (Wolves chairman of the board and governor) really kind of empowered me early on, especially when it came to community. I felt like [he] gave me the faith in me to give me autonomy on how we wanted to do things. And obviously as long as you [were] doing them right and doing them well and making an impact on the community, I could continue.
“I’ve grown up with [Wolves general manager] Wendell [Young]. He’s kind of my surrogate father, his whole family. They’re just both great mentors, just how they manage and how they handle their business. It’s where I’ve learned that from, and it’s my goal here creating [that] environment.”
The faith that Levin and Young have shown has been justified in turn.
Name a front-office task that has needed completion, and chances are that Mahoney has done it at some point. While president of business operations Jon Sata handles the revenue side of the organization, Mahoney coordinates the other side. Her portfolio ranges from merchandise to community relations and fundraising, to assisting players with their off-ice needs, to game operations, to overseeing the club’s creative initiatives ― which may range from a billboard to a ticket flyer.
No night is the same, either. One task Saturday night might involve wrangling a choir for the national anthem. Sunday afternoon’s agenda could include a pre-game ceremony.
“You can’t get complacent at all,” Mahoney said of putting on a show. “Not even for a single game, because it’s somebody’s first game, and you just want to give them the very best experience.”
Mahoney captured the AHL’s Ken McKenzie Award in 2008-09, the honor given to a front-office member for outstanding promotion of their team. The Wolves’ Mahoney-led community relations staff was also honored by the league in 2011-12 and 2019-20. And last month Dr. Sandy Goldberg, the founder of A Silver Lining Foundation, nominated Mahoney to be honored by Illinois state comptroller Susana A. Mendoza to commemorate Women’s History Month. Mahoney has worked closely with that organization to expand access to breast health testing.
“I’m really lucky to have such good people I work with that help elevate what we do here,” Mahoney said. “I loved that it’s so nice to empower women and to see strong women getting recognized. And hopefully we can continue to do that. I think in our office, especially, there are so many women crushing it at leadership roles, so sometimes we don’t get fazed by it. But to see it and see how it’s evolving and [in] society, we have to keep pushing, keep supporting each other.
“I have some great staff and wingmen that I work with, that I can rely on and help with everything,” said Mahoney, whose latest promotion came last July when the Wolves named her their president of operations. “Our staff, it’s pretty incredible.”
Take that creative work, for instance.
“I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” Mahoney said. “But the good news is I have a really great staff. So for me, it’s kind of helping out with the efficiencies of the department. What do you guys need help with? What do you play around with? How do I kind of make sure the rest of the staff understands what’s going on?”
In the youth-oriented AHL, that helping approach extends directly to the Chicago player roster, right down to setting up a player with a new bank account. The parent Carolina Hurricanes entrust the Wolves with their top prospects ― many of them barely 20 years old, some coming to Chicago from abroad and needing to establish themselves in a new country. Hurricanes management wants those players in good hands, and that is what Mahoney and the Wolves can provide.
“That’s our job here,” Mahoney stressed. “We want them to be so comfortable. Like, ‘Hey, we’ll look after you… You just crush it on the ice, and then we kind of do the rest.’”
Bringing that same helpful approach to community work also is in Mahoney’s file. In her time with the Wolves, she has anchored the club’s Read to Succeed and Adopt-A-Dog programs along with helping Chicago Wolves Charities to raise more than $6 million. She calls community service the “most meaningful part of my job.”
“Our fans, I think for me, that was what was super appealing about sports because you have a game, and you have a guaranteed audience. How do you seize that moment with all these people in the stadium and do what you can to give back?
“I’ve always said I feel super privileged to be in a job where I get to give back to the community. You go out to a Read to Succeed visit, and someone comes and [says], ‘My kid started reading because they saw Brandon Pirri or Ben Simon.’
“We do a really cool Survivors Stick fundraiser. Every stick costs $175 that fans can buy, and it goes to A Silver Lining Foundation, and that’s the cost of a mammogram for someone who can’t afford one.”
Even local dogs can benefit from what the Wolves and Mahoney do.
“The [Adopt-A-Dog] program is unbelievable,” Mahoney beamed. “To think that people are coming to games, leaving with a dog, then keeping the dog, and then they come back and get another one. It’s such an amazing program, and you’re just, ‘Man, [we] just made that dog’s life better and those people’s lives better. It’s just such a cool thing.
“I think that’s the beauty of sports, what it gives back to the community. Our fans, we couldn’t do without them. We wouldn’t have this success, especially when it comes to the community and the fundraising, without them. They’re so supportive and so fun about it. It’s just really special.”
For anyone looking to break into professional sports, Mahoney has plenty of advice grounded in her 26 years of experience.
“I tell people when I talk to them, ‘You have to want to be here.’ It’s definitely a grind. But if you can be here and open yourself up to it, it’s a tremendous experience.
“I think the rest can be taught. But the passion and the love of the game and the job… those are the people that stay, those are the people that embrace what the beauty of sports is. Be ready to work, but have a smile on [your] face, show your passion, and I think you can be really, really successful.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently the co-host of the Around the A Podcast.
Patrick was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.