After a long summer, the time has finally arrived for the IceHogs to kick off the 2012-13 season. IceHogs fans have a lot to be excited about for this season.
The Hogs are going to have a stacked team for 2012-13. With the NHL lockout, they will have forwards Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, and Marcus Kruger and defensemen Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen on the roster, to go along with the offensive fire power from Brandon Pirri, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, Peter LeBlanc and co. Carter Hutton returns to the crease as a solid number one goalie and he will have the likes of Ryan Stanton and Joe Lavin protecting him from the blue line. The addition of veteran forward Martin St. Pierre will only help this young group reach their full potential.
Here are some things to look for during this season.
It’s rare for an AHL team to have little turnover during an offseason, but that’s the case for the IceHogs in 2012-13. There were only nine players that were under contract that are not back with the team. With the team still mostly in tact, the familiarity among players on the ice is already there and the guys already know that they gel well together. This bond should help them get out of the gates quickly once the season opener rolls around on October 13th. Here’s a list of departures and a list of “new faces” to the IceHogs’ roster.
Chris DiDomenico — signed with Asiago (Italian team)
Matt Fornataro — signed with VIK (Swedish team)
Rostislav Olesz — was not assigned to Rockford from the Blackhawks
David Toews — signed with Bakersfield (ECHL)
Paul Zanette — signed with Asiago (Italian team)
Eric Baier –was on a PTO — signed with Trenton (ECHL)
Simon Danis-Pepin — signed with Orlando (ECHL)
Brian Fahey — signed with Vityaz (KHL)
Connor Goggin — was on a PTO — signed with Trenton (ECHL)
Alexander Salak — was put on waivers, then signed in Sweden
Chris DeSousa* — on a PTO — from University of Prince Edward Island (AUS)
Marcus Kruger — assigned to Rockford from the Blackhawks
Travis Novak* — on a PTO — from St. Cloud State (WCHA)/Hamilton (AHL)
Brandon Saad* — assigned to Rockford from the Blackhawks
Martin St. Pierre — from Springfield (AHL)
Jake Trask* — on a PTO — from Saskatoon (WHL)
Adam Clendening* — from Boston University (HE)
Klas Dahlbeck* — from Linkoping HC (SEL)
Brett Lebda — from Columbus (NHL)/Springfield (AHL)
Mac Carruth* — from Portland (WHL)
Many IceHogs had big years on the ice last season. Brandon Pirri led the team in scoring in his second year pro with 56 points (23 G, 33 A) in 66 games played. In 72 games, Peter LeBlanc led the team in goals (24) and was second in scoring (44 points) in his sophomore year. Those two centers look to be centering the first and the second line, respectively, and are key cogs to the IceHogs’ success. Look for them to improve upon their numbers from last year. They have all the ability in the world to help lead the Hogs’ charge into the post season.
Jeremy Morin finished fourth in team scoring last season with 40 points (18 G, 22 A) in 69 games played. He also was third on the team in penalty minutes (121) behind Brandon Bollig and Ryan Stanton. With a full season in 2011-12 under his belt after playing only 22 games for the Hogs in 2010-11, he should at least hit the 20 goal mark in 2012-13. The gritty winger is versatile and can play on any line in the line-up. He appeared to have a lot of chemistry with LeBlanc as his center last year so that could be part of an early line combination that head coach Ted Dent might use early on.
Kyle Beach was on the fast track to success early on last season before he went down with a shoulder injury on October 28th. Beach had tallied six points (3 G, 3 A) in eight games at the beginning of the year. He made his much anticipated return on March 23rd. In his debut back, he registered an assist on a Brian Fahey tally in the first period. Beach appeared in eleven games at the end of the season and finished the year with a total of 10 points (5 G, 5 A). If Beach can get out to a fast start like last year and stay healthy, he will be a key asset to the Hogs as he can be that agitating, power forward all teams love to have.
Ben Smith’s year was cut short in 2011-12. He last played on March 3rd and then was out for the rest of the year with a torn right hip labrum and hernia. In 38 games, Smith tallied 15 goals and 16 assists (31 points) which was equivalent to his point output in his rookie year of 2010-11 (19 G, 12 A) where he played in 63 games. Look for Smith to exceed the 31 point mark this season if the injury bug doesn’t bite. The Avon, Connecticut native can play all three forward positions, is a very effective penalty killer, and can play on the power play.
Andrew Shaw was a hit in Chicago when he was called up in early January. In 37 games with the Blackhawks, the feisty forward tallied 23 points (12 G, 11A). He had the exact same numbers with the IceHogs in 38 games. If Shaw can keep up his agitating, gritty play, to go along with the same kind of point production, he’ll make any line he plays on with the Hogs unbelievably tough to play against. Teammate Jimmy Hayes can help the Hogs with his big body, good skating ability and good hands. He racked up 23 points (7 G, 16A) with the IceHogs in 33 games. During his time with the Blackhawks, Hayes tallied nine points (5 G, 4A) in 31 games.
There’s a lot of competition for spots on the blue line this year. One thing is certain: one of the leaders of the defense corps is and will be Ryan Stanton. The hard-working defenseman was the only IceHogs player to appear in all 76 games. He’s a defensive defenseman that puts his hard hat on, grabs his lunch pail, and goes to work every night blocking shots, clearing the zone, banging bodies, clearing the front of the net–everything a coach could ask for in a blueliner. He definitely could be a candidate for the captaincy once the season starts.
The addition of Nick Leddy on the backend will be great for entering the offensive zone. Leddy is great at leading a rush into the “O-zone” and this will help jump start the offense at any given moment in a game. He brings 128 games of NHL experience to Rockford, to go along with 13 games of NHL playoff experience. The defense gets a bit quicker with his presence and he will help make the players around him even better.
Between the pipes will be a Thunder Bay, Ontario native that played a key role in turning around the 2011-12 season for the IceHogs. Carter Hutton continually made key saves and won huge games for the Hogs last year and looks to do the same this season. The Hogs just seem to play a more confident style of hockey in front of Hutton, and that bodes well for the team going into this year. Hutton’s back-up has yet to be determined though. Rookies Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth, along with 4th year pro Alec Richards, will be battling for the role.
The puck’s about to drop
Tomorrow, October 3rd, marks the first time the IceHogs will take the ice in preseason action. They’ll take on the Chicago Wolves at 7 p.m. in Rolling Meadows. A line-up hasn’t been released at this point.
Preseason games don’t mean a whole lot other than for the coaching staff to evaluate game-play of the guys and to get the players back into game shape, but any game against the Wolves is sure to be an entertaining one. Competition for roster spots on both teams will be high, which will cause high tensions which can lead to very physical play and even high scoring affairs.
The Hogs play the next day, October 4th, at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford against the Milwaukee Admirals at 7:05 p.m. They then finish up the preseason on Saturday, October 6th in Peoria against the Rivermen at Carver Arena at 7:05 p.m. There will be a post on ROD on Tuesday, October 9th that wraps up the preseason.
The puck then drops for real on October 13th at the Allstate Arena as the Hogs head into Rosemont to take on the Wolves. Game time is 7 p.m. The Hogs’ home opener is on October 20th at 7:05 p.m. against the Charlotte Checkers.