Seven seasons ago, forward Brandon Segal skated in his first game for the Rockford IceHogs. Back then, the IceHogs were members of the now defunct United Hockey League and had just become the only UHL team with a National Hockey League affiliation, joining forces with the NHL’s Nashville Predators and AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in the 2004-05 season.
At the time, the right winger was a second year pro and skating for the Admirals when he was sent to Rockford for more ice time.
“I lived here for the two weeks and then I came back for playoffs. I was here probably a total of about a month,” Segal said. “But I was back and forth from Milwaukee, too.”
The Richmond, British Columbia, native recorded five goals in 10 regular season games for the IceHogs in 2004-05, but it was in the postseason that Segal left his first lasting mark in the Rockford record books.
After skating in three playoff contests with the Admirals, Segal made the trip back to Rockford for the IceHogs postseason run.
The Hogs eventually fell to the Fort Wayne Komets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, but Segal notched 11 goals in his 11 playoff appearances with Rockford, setting an IceHogs record that still stands for most goals in a postseason.
That wasn’t the last time Segal would make his mark in the Forest City, though.
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All Roads Lead Back to Rockford
One month may not be long enough to learn everything about a city. But the time Segal spent in Rockford during the 2004-05 season was enough for him to decide it would be worth a longer stay.
“When I was here it was in the United League back in the day and I was coming down here just to get some playing time. Coming back in the American League is totally different,” Segal said. “I enjoy this city and I was looking forward to coming back. It’s a great hockey town with great fans.”
As far as Segal is concerned, the city hasn’t changed much in his absence, either.
“Maybe (adding) a Chipotle and that’s about it,” Segal said. “They changed the rink a bit, but it’s the same old city.”
Rockford itself might not look much different than it did in 2004-05, but plenty has happened in the right winger’s career since then.
Segal skated for eight different teams in between his two stops in the Forest City. But it was against the Admirals, the team that first sent him to Rockford, that Segal played in his 600th professional game on Jan. 22 as the Hogs defeated Milwaukee 3-1 at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
“It’s gone by fast,” Segal said. “But it’s been a great career. I mean, I made my dream come true, played in the NHL for almost 100 games.”
Between his first appearance in the Forrest City and his current stint with the Hogs, Segal made 92 NHL appearances, playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars.
Segal’s most recent NHL stint came in 2010-11 when he skated in 46 games with Dallas, recording five goals and five assists.
But the forward found himself looking for a new team after the season.
“Things didn’t work out with Dallas,” Segal said. “Chicago came late in the summer with an offer. I thought it was a good opportunity. I knew Rockford obviously was their farm team and it was familiar territory, so I was like, ‘Yeah, sign here.’ And it’s been pretty good so far.”
Segal brings more than just NHL experience to the BMO Harris Bank Center, though. He also knows how to win at the professional level.
Before arriving in Rockford the first time, Segal had already won a Calder Cup with the 2003-04 Admirals in his first professional season. Winning a championship right out of juniors might not be the most representative way to begin a professional career, though.
“Obviously there’s been lows — missing the playoffs the last four years now, which is disappointing. Going home early every summer and just thinking about the season and watching the playoffs is really frustrating, so hopefully we can make a turnaround this year and get back in,” Segal said.
With experience comes responsibility. This time around, it’s Segal’s turn to be the veteran in Rockford, and he was named team captain back in October.
It’s not an entirely new role for the veteran, though.
“I’ve been assistant on many teams,” Segal said. “It’s a big honor and it’s nice to be looked at as a leader of the team. It makes you work harder. You’re looked upon to go out there every night and help the team win and do whatever it takes and you can’t take days off. I like that. That’s how I play my game. I like to accept the responsibility, look after those young little punks, too.”
When the captains were named at the beginning of the season, Segal was joined by three alternate captains in defensemen Brian Fahey and Brian Connelly and forward Brett McLean. But with the departures of McLean and Connelly, the duties now rest squarely with Segal and Fahey for the time being.
Before being traded by the Blackhawks to Calgary for center Brendan Morrison, Connelly was the longest tenured member of the IceHogs. For Connelly, Segal’s years of experience in the league and NHL service time are things the younger Rockford skaters should take note of.
“With a lot of young guys on this team that are hoping that one day they’ll be up there, they can kind of learn from him and see how he conducts himself before games, on practice days, on the road,” Connelly said.
“He doesn’t shy away from spending time with guys on the road or after games or what not. He’s a straight forward guy and he’ll talk to young guys and be honest.”
To IceHogs Head Coach Ted Dent, Segal’s maturity is evidenced in his daily approach to the game and professional habits — an important characteristic in a locker room full of guys playing in just their first or second season of professional hockey.
“For a lot of these young guys, that’s the biggest adjustment is learning how to play a pro (schedule) and 76 games instead of college kids playing 35 and junior kids playing maybe 60, so it’s a long season. It’s professional hockey, they’re being paid to play now,” Dent said.
“He knows what it takes every day to prepare himself to work hard after practice and in the gym and take care of his body. And he’s in a good routine that way and I think it helps the younger guys watch that,” Dent added. “Through the last couple months when we’ve had some rough stretches, his play has seemed to really elevate and help our team.”
More Connections than RFD
Segal’s ties to the Forest City don’t end with writing his name in the record book for playoff goals or becoming the first member of the Hogs to skate for the team in both the UHL and AHL, though. The forward counts former Rockford goalie Wade Flaherty among his greatest influences in hockey.
The two played together with the Calder Cup winning Milwaukee Admirals in 2003-04, and Flaherty helped Segal make his own adjustment to the pro lifestyle.
“I was living on my own for the first time, it’s just a lot of things that at a young age you’ve got to kind of figure out. Plus you’ve got to play hockey. You’ve got to leave all the distraction off the ice. So he just helped me out and he’s a really good mentor for me,” Segal said.
Now Segal is on the other end of that mentoring relationship, and he sees plenty in the current IceHogs locker room that looks familiar.
“There’s a lot of goofballs in there that kind of remind me of myself back in the day. We have a really young group of guys and they’re all kind of similar personalities,” Segal said. “I was young and liked to have fun and hang out with all the guys all the time. It was a good time back then.”
If there’s one thing the captain could pass on to Rockford’s young skaters from his years of experience, it’s the work ethic required to keep moving up the ladder.
“Never give up. It doesn’t matter where you are, how old you are,” Segal said.
“You’ve got to believe in yourself,” Segal added. “You’ve just got to keep that drive inside you. My career is far from over, and I want to get back up there as quick as possible.”