When you’re at a game and you look around you can’t help but think about how many memories people are making right in that moment.
Craig McMaster has been attending IceHogs games since the beginning and, like many IceHogs fans, it has been a family affair that is now getting passed down to a new generation.
While the Rockford native grew up a sports fan, McMaster did not have much exposure to hockey before the IceHogs came to town in 1999. His introduction to the game came primarily from battling his brother in the classic “EA Sports NHL” game for Sega Genesis.
“It was pretty much like that scene in the movie ‘Swingers,’” says McMaster. “We still play it to this day.”
The first live hockey game he ever attended was memorable. While visiting family in Biloxi, he caught game seven of the ECHL Finals when the Mississippi Sea Wolves won a double overtime thriller to claim the Kelly Cup. That was May of 1999, just a few months before the IceHogs opened play in Rockford.
McMaster was primed and ready for some hometown hockey.
“We just knew it was going to be something special to get involved with,” says McMaster, who attended his first game at age 19 in that inaugural 1999 season with his dad and brother.
He has since attended at least one IceHogs game every season for 23 years, and it was his father, Larry, who was the catalyst that made the IceHogs a family tradition for the McMasters.
“My mom was not a hockey fan, but my dad did get her to a few games,” says McMaster. “But she accepted it as my dad’s thing to do to get out of the house.”
And it proved to be the perfect way to bring the family together.
“We made a lot of memories down there,” says McMaster. “It was something we could always count on. We knew it was going to be fun and that we would have everyone together for the night.”
McMaster’s father passed away in 2019, but he reflects fondly on the joy the IceHogs brought his dad for so many years.
“He started having a hard time getting around the last few years of his life so it kind of limited him a little bit as far as making it down there, but he was all about that life,” says McMaster. “He would get there at four or five o’clock for a seven o’clock game so he could get a good parking spot right across from the box office.”
Since his father’s passing, McMaster has made even more of an effort to take his three boys, Evan (14), Noah (12), and Liam (8), to IceHogs games to carry on the family tradition.
"It’s been a fun experience bringing my boys to games after growing up going to games with my dad,” says McMaster.
“When you’re at a game and you look around you can’t help but think about how many memories people are making right in that moment. It’s definitely been something really special to all of us.”