ROCKFORD, Ill. -- The Rockford IceHogs return to the BMO Harris Bank Center this weekend after a 2017-18 campaign that left fans desperate to see their team in action again.
The buzz the crowds created during last year’s riveting postseason run is still palpable in the IceHogs locker room.
“We have one of the fan bases in the league,” defenseman Carl Dahlstrom, who skated in each of Rockford's 13 playoff games last spring, said. “I’m hoping they can really show that when we play in front of them this year.”
As the Hogs return to their home barn for the 2018-19 season, they hope to feed off the energy of the fans and add to the winning atmosphere of Rockford.
The IceHogs 2018-19 season began with back-to-back road losses at the hands the Cleveland Monsters. Though the start was disappointing, it only fuels the desire for the IceHogs to get back on track in front of the Rockford faithful.
“Obviously last weekend didn’t end up as we wanted,” Dahlstrom said. “But we’ve got a real strong group here and we’re super excited to come home and play in front of our fans.”
It’s easy to see why Dahlstrom and his teammates are excited. Rockford was nearly unbeatable at home when it mattered most last season, winning five of six playoff decisions at the BMO.
“The electricity that these fans bring is second to none,” IceHogs goaltender Collin Delia said of the home crowd after a series-clinching victory over the Manitoba Moose last May. “I don’t think I’ve ever played in a more excited building.”
The atmosphere Delia was referring to helped send Rockford to its first ever AHL Western Conference Finals. But recently, IceHogs fans haven’t only brought the noise when the team is on the cusp of history or fighting for playoff survival.
The IceHogs were 22-13-2-1 at the BMO season, the second best home record in the Central division, and will be seeking their third consecutive home-opener victory on Saturday night.
“I think playing at home is a lot more meaningful,” Delia said. “Obviously every game’s meaningful but here in front of the fans we don’t want to disappoint.”
Playing in front of the hometown supporters is special for any team in any sport. In Rockford, it feels even more significant.
Ever since the puck dropped for the first IceHogs game at the MetroCentre in October 1999, when the Hogs were part of the now-disbanded United Hockey League, the team and the town have become interwoven. Even players from around the country and world can sense Rockford’s pride for its IceHogs.
“The fan support is huge,” Delia, a native of southern California, said. “It’s everything. It’s one of the main reasons that we’re allowed to do what we do and do it well. It’s definitely a huge part of this city and we’re happy to be a part of it.”
With Rockford still seeking its first victory of the season, the importance of this home-opening weekend is more than just sentimental. IceHogs assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank stressed the need for the team to use this weekend to gain momentum moving forward in the season.
“You just feel like you’ve got to get something going here, “Brookbank said. “You’re only playing two games a week, so it’s tough when you drop both of them. So you want to get one in the win column… That’s definitely [what] we try to do every night, but we’re really going to try for that this weekend.”
The weekend’s strategic importance is undeniable. But even Brookbank, a stoic presence behind the bench, can’t help but join the players in their eagerness to see the BMO buzzing again.
“We’ll get the BMO rocking,” Brookbank said. "Hopefully it’s a good crowd and we’ll feed off that, give them something to cheer about and have a good night."
NEXT HOME GAME: Saturday, Oct. 13 vs. Texas Stars | 6 p.m.
The Rockford IceHogs will host their home opener for the 2018-19 season on Saturday, Oct. 13 against the Texas Stars at 6 p.m. at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The first 4,000 fans in attendance to Rockford’s first home game of the campaign will receive a free IceHogs calendar, courtesy of Impact Networking. Call the IceHogs front office at (815) 968-5222 or visit icehogs.com to purchase tickets.