09/30/2013 1:27 PM - Mike Peck

Imagine showing up at work tomorrow morning, thinking that there is a chance that by 11 a.m. your boss is going to walk into your office to let you know that you need to catch an 8 p.m. flight that night to say, Vancouver or Carolina or Anaheim.

You need to pack and head off to a place where you know few, no place to live but a hotel for a few weeks and no car.  Welcome to life as a professional hockey player and specifically to that of Ryan Stanton on Monday.

Stanton was placed on waivers by the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday with the intention of assigning him to the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs. When placed on waivers, all other 29 NHL teams have 24 hours to place a claim on the waived players.

Most players skirt through the process, but every year, especially as training camps conclude, there are some that get claimed.

That was the fate of Stanton on Monday morning as the Vancouver Canucks claimed the fourth-year d-man and now rookie NHL blueliner. Players on entry level contracts don’t go through the waiver process, but Stanton is on his second NHL deal, signing a two-year contract with Chicago this past offseason. The contract includes a one-way deal next season.

Selfishly, this stings. If Stanton didn’t make the team in Chicago, he would have been one of the leaders of the IceHogs (and definitely a candidate for team captain). He cut his teeth here as a professional and was on the cusp of being in the NHL. Plus, he is a class act and was great in the community here in Rockford.

Big picture, I’m extremely excited for Stanton and the chance for him to play in the NHL. He is a top tier defenseman in the AHL and it’s great to see him get an opportunity to earn a shot in the NHL. This is what it’s all about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When you work in sports, at least at this level, it’s really hard to root solely for a team, but much easier to root for players.

I’ve seen teams bury guys in the AHL, guys that deserve to be in the NHL or could be in the NHL. I’m not saying the Blackhawks were wrong for sending Stanton down and trying to push him through waivers. The Blackhawks are one of the, if not the deepest team in the NHL.

By getting claimed off waivers, Stanton is guaranteed to stay in the NHL for at least 30 days.  Not a bad time frame for a player to showcase what he can do. If Vancouver decides to send him to the AHL’s Utica Comets in 30 days, Stanton would have to go through the whole waiver process once again.

Another positive for Stanton is that he has family in Vancouver and it’s probably a little easier for his immediate family to get Vancouver to from Edmonton than it is for them to get to Chicago.

Back to the reality of getting claimed off waivers for a moment. I had the opportunity to chat with Stanton within 45 minutes of him finding out the news. He was obviously shocked even though he knew there was a chance that he could end up elsewhere.

After he chatted with some folks close to him and doing a radio interview in Vancouver (yes all within 45 minutes of getting claimed off of waivers), I asked him if he knew where he was going, as in where the Canucks opened the season.

Stanton had no idea, but knew he was heading out to British Columbia tonight to meet up with his new team.

Again a tough blow to this organization, but I wish Stanton nothing but the best and hopefully Thursday is the beginning of a long NHL career for him.

 The answer by the way is San Jose on Thursday night.

Breaking Down The IceHogs 2013-14 Schedule

08/23/2013 3:16 PM - Mike Peck

So the AHL schedule is finally out and I’ve had a bunch of people ask if the 2013-14 slate is a “good” one.

There are a couple of ways to look at the schedule and from a fan and business side, I think the schedule is really good.

If you look at the balance of games in each of the seven months, it is very equal, with the exception of October while the BMO is going through the final stages of another renovation (four home games, seven away games).  The most attended games are Fridays and Saturdays, and of the 38 home contests, 26 fall on one of those two days.

Throw in four Sunday outings and nearly 80% of the IceHogs 2013-14 home schedule will be played on the weekend.

Even the week day dates should be strong from an attendance standpoint. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 27) is always a strong draw as are dates between Christmas and New Years (this year the Hogs are home on Monday, Dec. 30).

Although not convenient for the working class fan, the IceHogs are hosting a school day game for the first time in eight years on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 11 a.m. and this game should have over 5,000 fans in the building.  Throw in the traditional Martin Luther King Jr. day game in the mix (Mon., Jan. 20) and four of the eight midweek contests should be strong.

Now from a team standpoint, there are some quirks as there always are when looking at a 76-game minor league schedule. 

Because the schedule has been extended by a week (two years after it was extended by two weeks and reduced by four games), there are some light stretches without any games. For example, in a 12-day stretch from March 9 through March 20, Rockford plays just one game.

Twice during the 2013-14 season, Rockford will play the Milwaukee Admirals three straight times (Jan. 24-26 and March 7-14.)

With Iowa back in the league, this creates a little rougher travel schedule for Rockford, especially since Rockford is the closest AHL market to Des Moines. The IceHogs will have six quick turnarounds to or from either Iowa or Grand Rapids, with games the following day. Last season, the IceHogs had three such turnarounds from Grand Rapids.

Three more doesn’t sound like a lot, but the season truly is a grind, so all these little things add up, especially rolling into a town at 3 a.m. the morning before a game.

Back to the fan perspective/business side of the schedule; the IceHogs have 11 stand-alone Fridays and Saturdays in 2013-14. The IceHogs longest homestand is four games, which occurs twice (Dec. 27-Jan. 4 and Feb. 4 to Feb. 14). After a season-high five-game road swing to start the season, the IceHogs won’t play more than three straight tilts away from the Forest City.  That’s a nice spread of games and easier on the fans.

In football, a lot is made about strength of schedule. It’s hard to gauge that in a 76-game hockey slate, so the most important thing is not who you play, but when you play them. Every team goes through ups and downs. So I’m not going to even try to breakdown opponents.

With that said, the season is almost here and it’s time to start planning!