by Kris Gray
The 2008-09 Rockford IceHogs season is brought to you by the letter S. Many words could be used to describe the Hogs 2ND full season in the AHL, but the word Streaky seems to fit the bill exactly. Inconsistency seemed to dog them throughout the scheduled 80 games in the regular season and their inexperience sealed the door on their post-season.
The team was not plagued with the multiple callups from their parent team, the Chicago Blackhawks, as last season. So that couldn't be used as an excuse for the streaky season. Personally, I'm just chalking it up to the youth and inexperience of this year's team. As we all know, there is no letter I in the word team. Yet, this team appeared to play more as individuals rather than a cohesive solid unit. Hopefully they will take these hard earned lessons to heart and put them to use when they return in the fall.
Rockford finished the season in 4th place in the Western Division, having been routed by first-seeded Milwaukee in the first round of post-season play. At the conclusion of the season, the IceHogs had a total of nine rookies listed on their roster. Even the Hogs' Head Coach, Bill Peters could be considered a rookie, as this was his first season coaching at the American League level of play.
There were two rookies who stood out from the rest of the pack, Pete MacArthur and Dan Bertram. MacArthur started the season assigned to the Fresno Falcons, playing just three games with that team, until he was recalled by Rockford on 10/27/08. He never returned to Fresno, having found a permanent spot with the team. He scored his first career American Hockey League goal on 11/28/08 against Peoria. He finished the season playing in 64 games with 14 goals, 11 assists for a total of 25 points. MacArthur was also named Rookie of the Year by the IceHogs.
Bertram started the season with a fractured lower jaw, as he took a puck to the mouth during the Blackhawks' Red/White Event on 9/21/08. In the very first game he played without the full face protective gear, he takes on a guy who had 6 inches and 25 pounds on him. Amazingly, he held his own and the match was a draw. The kid's got grit. He spent a short 5 game stint in Fresno before returning to Rockford, finishing the season with 4 goals, 6 assists and 63 penalty minutes.
Rockford was blessed once again with two number one goalies: Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi. There was talk that Niemi was signed by the Blackhawks to be backup to Cristobal Huet, but the salary cap put a crimp in those plans and he was assigned to Rockford. Niemi, a native of Finland, had played for three years professionally in Finland prior to signing with Chicago.
Crawford on the other hand was quite familiar to the Rockford fans, having played last season with the Hogs. Crawford showed much improvement in his abilities at the beginning of the season, apparently having worked hard over the summer months. Both goalies were plagued at times with the inconsistency that dogged the whole team.
Interestingly, both net minders were recalled to the Blackhawks at the end of their AHL season, to sit in the wings as backup while the Hawks made their run for the Lord Stanley's Cup. Crawford saw 15:55 minutes of game time in game four of the West Conference Finals against Detroit, having replaced Cristobal Huet in net. Crawford suited up with the team for a total of three games against Detroit. The Blackhawks completed their first post season run in over 13 years, ending a magical season on a high note with a hard fought loss to the Red Wings.
Listed as restricted free agents are: Antti Niemi, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, Adam Pineault, Logan Stephenson, Adam Berti, Corey Crawford, Pascal Pelletier, Tim Hambly, and Jimmy Sharrow. Listed as unrestricted free agents is Tim Brent. The IceHogs' Man of the Year, Sean McMorrow, will not be returning to Rockford next season, as he has signed with the Belfast Giants.