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What’s New Is What Isn’t New

09/11/2012 10:49 AM - Mike Peck
One thing that IceHogs fans will notice when the season begins is the familiarity of the hockey team.

I don’t have specific numbers, but Rockford’s roster/hockey operations have to have seen the least amount of turnover of any team in the AHL coming into 2012-13.

Starting with the hockey operations, every coach and trainer are returning for the new campaign. Since joining the AHL in 2007-08, that has never happened. As a matter of fact, since the team’s inception in 1999-2000, I don’t think it has ever happened, period.

I’ll get back to the return of the hockey ops later, but what about the roster?

Not counting the potential skaters that could start in Rockford due to the looming lock out on Sept. 15 and the training camp invitees, Rockford’s potential training camp roster right now contains 26 skaters (including 15 forwards, seven defensemen and four goalies).

Of the 15 forwards, only Martin St. Pierre didn’t appear in a game with Rockford last season. St. Pierre, however, did play for Rockford in 2007-08 so he isn’t technically a new IceHogs player.

On the blueline, only rookies Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck haven’t pulled on an IceHogs sweater.  Of the four goaltenders that could be in Rockford camp, only Mac Carruth hasn’t been an IceHog.

In summary, counting St. Pierre, just four of the 26 potential IceHogs players for 2012-13 weren’t on the team last season. That’s a return of 84.6% of the roster. Rockford, of course, won’t carry 26 players, including four goalies once the season starts, so there could be just three new faces in Rockford’s lineup come Oct. 13.

Now, if there is a lockout and the IceHogs get the likes of Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy, the above numbers will change a bit. Shaw, though, did play 38 games in Rockford a season ago while Leddy appeared in 22 contests in 2010-11. Kruger didn’t play a game in Rockford last season, but did spend a week here until he was recalled before the IceHogs opener.

Back to the staff that is returning. This is just as important as the large contingent of returning players, especially with the core group of IceHogs skaters entering their third season in the pro ranks.

From a coaching standpoint, Ted Dent (head coach) and his assistants Steve Poapsts, Ben Simon and goalie coach Andrew Allen can continue to pass along a consistent message and they are familiar with just about every player coming into camp.

One phrase that I’m hoping to avoid during the early portion of the season is “gelling”. Not saying that it won’t take a week or two of regular season action to get everyone back into a rhythm, but we better not be throwing the “gelling” term out come November.

To compare the roster turnover from a season ago, Rockford’s opening night roster contained 12 players from the season before of 24 total skaters on the roster. Plus the coaching staff changed with Bill Peters’ promotion to the NHL. Dent was in his first season as head coach while Simon and Allen were in their first season in the Blackhawks organization.

If you are wondering who will be assigned to Rockford from Chicago this season, we could know later this week, if there is a lock out. NHL teams can’t make player transactions once the lock out goes into effect, so all player re-assignments to the AHL will happen this week.

First reaction to a large group of players returning to a team that didn’t qualify for the postseason might not pique the interest right away, but I feel the ceiling is very high for this team.

Ben Smith and Kyle Beach are coming off of injury plagued seasons in 2011-12 and I expect both of them to be big contributors to this team. If Carter Hutton is in goal from the start, that should solidify that position for the first time since Corey Crawford was in Rockford.

It took Jeremy Morin probably until December before he hit his stride after recovering from a concussion the season before, and he should be a more consistent contributor as well.

Last season, as a second year pro, Brandon Pirri made a big jump and finished among the leaders in the AHL in scoring. There is no reason that Pirri can’t make further strides.  Pete LeBlanc is in that same category. LeBlanc didn’t score his first goal last season until Nov. 16 and wound up leading Rockford with 24 tallies.

Rookies a year ago, forward Rob Flick along with d-men Joe Lavin and Ben Youds all had high points during the season establishing themselves in the AHL and further progress should be expected again.

This is going to be a very strange season and truly will probably be the tale of two campaigns. I believe the lock out will last into late November/early December, and if this is true, every AHL team is going to get jolted a bit by recalls once the CBA gets solved.

Some teams could go from really stacked to getting up to six or seven guys recalled to the parent club. I’m glad that the IceHogs don’t play Oklahoma City until late January (or maybe it would be cool!). But the likes of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle could all be a Baron come opening night.

No lock out or short lock out, I think the IceHogs with the above listed players and with the veterans St. Pierre, Brandon Svendsen and Wade Brookbank, will contend for the postseason.