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IceHogs See Growth and Development in 2021 Season

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IceHogs See Growth and Progress in 2021 Season

After a prolonged offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rockford IceHogs celebrated their 22nd season of professional hockey in the Stateline and 14th in the American Hockey League and as the top affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League at the start of February with one of the youngest teams in their history.

Featuring 18 rookies out of 29 players on their Opening Night roster (20 rookies over 41 total players this season) and with Head Coach Derek King and Assistant Coach Anders Sorensen back behind the IceHogs bench for their third season, the club navigated through an 0-5-1 start to the campaign to rebound with a 12-14-0-0 run from late February through mid-May to finish with a 12-19-1-0 record in a truncated 32-game season with 16 games decided by a single goal.

The IceHogs earned their first victory of the season on Feb. 23 vs. Cleveland (4-3 W) and found a groove with this young team heading into March, picking up five wins over seven contests from March 6-22 including back-to-back thrilling 2-1 overtime wins at Grand Rapids on March 13 and 16 and their biggest win of the year on March 22, a 6-1 drubbing of the Iowa Wild.

Team chemistry continued to blossom rolling through April and May as the IceHogs claimed five wins over eight contests from April 7-May 3. IceHogs all-time leading scorer Brandon Pirri returned to the organization for the first time since 2014 and began his second stint with the club with a season-high, five-game point streak featuring a hat-trick performance vs. Chicago on April 7.

Off the ice, April 7 served as a monumental day in IceHogs history as the Chicago Blackhawks, the City of Rockford, the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority (RAVE) and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced a $23 million multi-year capital project to revitalize the BMO Harris Bank Center and laid the groundwork for the acquisition of the IceHogs by the Blackhawks. The investment secures the IceHogs’ long-term presence in the Stateline community through 2036.

As the calendar switched to May, the IceHogs celebrated a major community milestone, welcoming back a limited number of season ticket holders inside BMO Harris Bank Center for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the premature end of the 2019-20 season. On May 1 and for the first time in 422 days (Last home game was March 6, 2020), fans cheered the IceHogs to a 3-2 victory vs. Grand Rapids. The IceHogs would also open the BMO Harris Bank Center doors for season ticket holders for the final two home games of the season and wrapped up the season with a 3-4-0 month.

IceHogs Trainers and Medical Staff Provide Safe Haven for IceHogs in 2021

Thanks to the tireless efforts of IceHogs Athletic Trainer D.J. Jones and Assistant Athletic Trainer John Walter along with the team’s medical staff, equipment staff, and local partnerships, the IceHogs were the only team in the Central Division to not have a practice or game postponed or rescheduled due to COVID-19 protocols affecting the club.

IceHogs Produce Top Talent for Chicago Blackhawks in 2021 Season

The 2021 season saw seven IceHogs graduate to the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, increasing their franchise number to 130 skaters to reach the NHL over their 22-year history and 99 to join the Blackhawks. Players that made their NHL debut/return to the NHL this season are:

Philipp Kurashev - NHL Debut on 1/15/21 with Blackhawks

Kevin Lankinen - NHL Debut on 1/19/21 with Blackhawks

Reese Johnson - NHL Debut on 1/31/21 with Blackhawks

Wyatt Kalynuk - NHL Debut on 3/7/21 with Blackhawks

MacKenzie Entwistle - NHL Debut on 3/23/21 with Blackhawks

Ian Mitchell - Return to NHL on 4/15/21 with Blackhawks

Alec Regula - NHL Debut on 5/6/21 with Blackhawks

Young Guns Carry IceHogs in 2021

The 2021 season has featured an impressive 20 rookies out of 41 players to make an appearance in a game for the IceHogs and they combined for 45 goals and 75 assists for 120 points out of the team’s overall total of 89 goals and 145 assists for 232 points. Forward Evan Barratt led all IceHogs rookies with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) and rookie Chris Wilkie tied the team lead with eight goals.

Many “Firsts” Highlight IceHogs Season

Over the course of the 2021 season, 15 IceHogs rookies made their professional or North American debuts and 12 would grab their first professional/North American goal or point in their first two games including eight finding the score sheet in their opening contest. Those eight players include:

Evan Barratt - Assist in pro debut on 2/6/21 vs. Chicago

Wyatt Kalynuk - Goal and assist on 2/6/21 vs. Chicago

Chad Yetman - Goal on 2/6/21 vs. Chicago

Matej Chalupa - Goal on 2/6/21 vs. Chicago

Andrei Altybarmakian - Assist on 2/6/21 vs. Chicago

Chris Wilkie - Goal on 2/9/21 at Chicago

Mitch Fossier - Assist in pro debut on 2/13/21 at Iowa

Josiah Slavin - Goal on 3/28/21 vs. Chicago

Keep the Puck: 11 IceHogs Score First Goals in 2021 and Morris Earns First Win

With the IceHogs roster featuring 20 rookies during the 2021 season, 11 would record their first professional/North American goals including Chris Wilkie, Evan Barratt, Andrei Altybarmakian, Mitchell Fossier, Matej Chalupa, Josiah Slavin, Alec Regula, Wyatt Kalynuk, Isaak Philips, Chad Yetman and Cole Moberg.

In his first professional start, goaltender Cale Morris made 35 saves against Cleveland on Feb. 23 in a 3-2 victory for this first professional win.

IceHogs Battle in Close Games

Of the IceHogs’ 32 games this season, 16 were decided by a single tally, with the IceHogs holding a 9-6-1-0 record in one-goal games. If you remove the four empty-net tallies the IceHogs surrendered during the 2021 season, 20 of the 32 contests were decided by one goal.

IceHogs Honor Frontline Heroes with Custom Jerseys and Personal Messages in March

During pregame warmups on Sunday, Mar. 21 and Sunday, Mar. 22 vs. Iowa, each IceHogs player wore the name of a healthcare hero or frontline worker in the Rockford community on their jersey nameplate. Each frontline hero was selected by their coworkers, peers or department for their outstanding service and dedication to the Rockford community during the pandemic. Local heroes from the Rockford Fire Department, Police Department, Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office, Metro Medical Services, Mercyhealth, SwedishAmerican and OSF were represented.

IceHogs Generate Over $11,000 for The Autism Program of Easterseals During Autism Awareness Month

Throughout the month of April, the IceHogs honored Autism Awareness Month presented by Lawncare By Walter, Inc. To pay tribute, the IceHogs showcased special puzzle-piece logos on the ice at BMO Harris Bank Center for the remainder of the 2021 season and generated over $11,000 for The Autism Program of Easterseals through special raffles and auctions on the team’s website and on the mobile app.

IceHogs and Meijer Donate $700 to Rock House Kids Through Meijer First Goal Frenzy

During the 2021 season, the Rockford IceHogs partnered with Meijer for the Meijer First Goal Frenzy supporting Rock House Kids. When the IceHogs scored the first goal of each game, Meijer donated $50 to Rock House Kids, a 501(c)(3) foundation helping feed Rockford’s inner-city youth in a safe nurturing environment. The IceHogs scored the games opening goal 14 times last season (7-6-1-0) generating $700. Fans also joined the fun by guessing who scores the first IceHogs goal of the game on the team’s mobile app for a chance to win a $25 gift card to Meijer.