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By: Mike Peck
Photo by Jim Orlando
Technically, the Rockford IceHogs 2011-12 turnaround started at game 40. But if you compare the American Hockey League team’s first half of the regular season to the second, there really is no comparison.

First off, the most important stat is the record. Rockford’s second half winning percentage (21-12-1-4-.618) was nearly 20% higher than the first 38 contests (14-20-1-3-.412).

So what were the reasons for the turnaround in ’11-12 as the team went from last in the AHL to fighting for a playoff spot up to the second to final weekend of the regular campaign? Here are four reasons why the IceHogs were able to get back on track:

A lot of the turnaround rests on the shoulders of better goaltending, specifically the emergence of Carter Hutton. Rockford’s goals against average dropped from 3.68 to 2.27, a difference of 1.41 goals allowed per game.

Overall, Rockford’s GAA was reduced from 3.68 after 38 games to 3.00 at the end of the season. The IceHogs finished the season 24th in the AHL in goals allowed. At the start of the season, one would laugh at the notion that if Rockford’s GAA finished the season ranked 24th in the AHL, that it would be a success. From where the GAA came from, the end number marks a pretty remarkable turnaround.

Hutton does deserve a lot of the credit for the turnaround, but so does the change in defensive philosophy and the maturation of the IceHogs young defensive core.

Quicker Out Of The Gate:
In 2011-12, the team that scored the game’s first goal in the AHL had a .722 winning percentage. Looking at that stat, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rockford was at the bottom of the AHL standings midway through the campaign as they notched the first goal in just 14 of their first 38 games (36.9%) and went 6-6-0-2 in those 14 tilts.

In the second half, Rockford reversed that trend, lighting the first lamp 22 out of their final 38 games (57.9%), compiling a record of 14-5-0-3 (.705). Scoring first doesn’t guarantee victory, but getting off on the right foot obviously makes it a lot easier.

To illustrate this point further, Rockford gave up 52 first period goals through their first 38 games. In the second half, the IceHogs (23) and their opponents (24) combined for 47 first period tallies. The Hogs gave up 28 fewer first period tallies on the back-end of their schedule.

Never Say Die:

Through 35 games of the 2011-12 slate, if Rockford trailed heading into the third period, you might as well of packed up the kids and headed for the exits. But beginning on game 36 (not exactly halfway through), Rockford was one of the best comeback teams in the AHL.

The team was 0-16-1-0 (.029) when trailing after 40 minutes of hockey through 35 games. Beginning on Jan. 8, the IceHogs went 7-9-1-1 (.444) when behind after the third frame started.  Rockford’s goal differential in the third period in the first half was -6 (41-47) compared to +5 (35-30) in the second half with 17 fewer third period goals allowed in the final 38 games.

But going back to the previous point about stronger starts, the IceHogs weren’t digging themselves out of as large of first period deficits, so the one and two-goal comebacks were much more manageable compared to the three goal holes the team was often in early on in 2011-12.

Penalty Kill:
Kind of like the team’s GAA, Rockford’s overall penalty kill percentage wasn’t very impressive (80.5%). But if you compare where the PK ended after where it was on Jan. 14, the turnaround was quite impressive.

Carrying a 75.4% penalty kill (43-175) rate at the halfway point, Rockford ‘s unit was last in the AHL by 1.5%. In the second half, Rockford put together one of the best PK units in the AHL, killing off 86.4% of their opponents power plays (21-154) with 22 fewer PP goals allowed.

Over the next few weeks, will review the highlights from the 2011-12 Rockford IceHogs season with "2011-12 In Review". Check back for more features from the team’s 13th season of professional hockey in Rockford.

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