It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Rockford IceHogs and the AHL are going to be the only way we are going to be able to see some of the younger Blackhawks and NHL players on American soil, at least for the time being. So today I bring you a crash course on the Blackhawks' minor affiliate and their league.
The American Hockey League is the main feeder league into the NHL, in fact, 88% of the current NHL rosters have spent some time in the AHL. All 30 AHL teams are affiliated with a NHL franchise. You can get a breakdown of all the AHL/NHL affiliations here. The AHL is broken up into two 15 team conferences, but the Eastern and Western conferences do not play any regular season games against each other. The Hogs play in the Midwest Division along with the Chicago Wolves, Peoria Rivermen, Milwaukee Admirals and the Charlotte Checkers. They play each division rival 12 times each during the regular season, so you can imagine these games can get quite chippy.
The Rockford IceHogs began play in 1999 in the now defunct United Hockey League when the Thunder Bay Senators decided to relocate to Illinois. They got their name from a contest that was run in the local newspaper. In 2005 the IceHogs announced an affiliation with the Nashville Predators and the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals. At the time they were the only UHL team to have a partnership with a NHL team. The IceHogs won the UHL championship and Colonial Cup in 2007, their final season in the league.
In March of 2007 the AHL Board of Governors announced that the inactive franchise in Cincinnati would move to Rockford and the IceHogs would begin play in the league in the 2007-2008 season. They also signed a 10 year agreement to be the minor league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.
10 members of the 2010 Stanley Cup team played in Rockford including Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland, Nick Boynton, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Colin Fraser, Jordan Hendry, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Niemi and Kris Versteeg. There have been a total of 38 Icehogs to play in the AHL, 32 with the Blackhawks and that list will continue to grow.
Rockford's regular season opens in one week with back to back games at the Allstate Arena versus the hated Chicago Wolves on 10/13 and 10/14. I will be in attendance on Saturday to not only watch the future of the Blackhawks but also make fun of the loser Wolves fans who actually wear Vancouver Canucks jerseys in public! With no NHL games to be covered I will be focusing my attention on the IceHogs until the Hawks retake the ice, which can't come soon enough.
Here is the current roster for the IceHogs training camp and preseason, a lot of familiar names:
7 Brandon Svendsen
12 Kyle Beach
17 Jimmy Hayes
19 Jeremy Morin
21 Ben Smith
22 Brandon Saad
23 Andrew Shaw
24 Byron Froese
26 Rob Flick
38 Chris DeSousa
22 Brett Lebda
31 Mac Carruth
33 Kent Simpson