The Rockford IceHogs open the home slate of their 25th
season of hockey in the Stateline area on Saturday against the in-state rival Chicago Wolves. Get ready for the beginning of the 2023-24 home schedule with stories, notes, and names to follow all season.
The youth of this season’s IceHogs team is noticeable and exciting. Nine Blackhawks draft picks are featured on the current roster along with several more players under NHL contracts with Chicago. 12 players on the roster are aged 22 or younger, helping make Rockford one of the youngest groups in the AHL. Six rookies already made their AHL debuts last Friday against San Jose.
Part of the youth movement is the IceHogs’ young defense core headlined by Nolan Allan and Ethan Del Mastro. The two recently captured gold medals at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship with Team Canada, and Allan won the WHL Championship with the Seattle Thunderbirds last seaosn. Both were selected in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago (Allan in the first round, Del Mastro in the fourth), and both dipped their toes into the professional hockey waters last weekend in California.
“It’s been a long time coming,” smiled Del Mastro. “A lot of camp days up with the Blackhawks and then out here, so a lot of days just practicing. It’s exciting to get into games where it’s the real thing.”
Rockford’s goaltending situation is also young and promising. Star netminder Arvid Soderblom has begun the year in the NHL, and now the IceHogs turn to a pair of young prospects in net. Drew Commesso impressed in his IceHogs debut last Friday with a 34-save performance in the win. The former Boston University Terrier led his collegiate squad to the Frozen Four last season, almost three years after he was taken in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Hawks. His counterpart, Jaxson Stauber, returns for his second stint with the IceHogs after playing in 17 games with Rockford last season and posting an impressive 5-1-0 record when called up to Chicago in the NHL last winter.
Coupled with Rockford’s youth, several proven AHL players will be prominently featured as well. As described in more detail below, Rockford’s three leading scorers in David Gust, Luke Philp, and Brett Seney make their return to the club. Joining the marquee returners, Joey Anderson and Anders Bjork have spent as much or more time in the NHL compared to the AHL and have a combined 321 National Hockey League games between them.
“I want to see the progress of the guys who were here last year and also take a look at these young guys and see what information they’ve retained through camp,” said Head Coach Anders Sorensen about his new group. “We want to see really good habits.”
While it is Sorensen’s third season as Rockford’s head coach, it is year two for assistant coaches Jared Nightingale and Rob Klinkhammer. Sorensen, Nightingale, and Klinkhammer helped lead the IceHogs to an appearance in the Division Semifinals last season and are primed to continue their success in year two as a group. Matt Smith joins the staff as the Developmental Goaltending Coach. Sorensen said, “It’s a little bit easier once we know how we like to work as staff and as individuals.”
14 players who skated with Rockford last season found themselves on the opening night roster last Friday when the IceHogs took down the San Jose Barracuda 7-2 in the season opener. In total, the Hogs return 48% of goal scoring and 45% of total points from the 2022-23 circuit.
Rockford returns several of the pillars from last season’s club that reached the Division Semifinals of the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. Gust and Seney are two of the most dynamic of the returners. In 2022-23, Gust led the club in scoring with 59 points (26G, 33A), and Seney slotted in right behind him in second place with 54 points (23G, 31A). Last season’s campaign brought career bests for both players as Gust experienced his highest scoring output to date, and Seney published a career-high in goals. The dangerous duo already racked up seven combined points (3G, 4A) last weekend in two games against San Jose.
Other returning forwards include Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Hardman enters his third season in Rockford after posting 18 points (5G, 13A) in 58 games last season with the Hogs. The 2022-23 season was a step back offensively for the Hanover, Massachusetts native after he racked up 32 points (19G, 13A) in just 43 games in Rockford as a rookie in 2021-22. In the first game of the season against San Jose, Hardman found the back of the net and feels better about his game coming into 2023-24.
“I feel like I had a great summer of training,” said Hardman after last Friday’s win in San Jose. “I think last year, I was a little snakebitten, so it was nice to get the first [goal] out of the way early and just keep building off that.”
Teply has also skated with the IceHogs for the last several years. The Czech winger first appeared in Rockford in the 2020-21 season and is now entering his fourth go-round with the Hogs. Last season, Teply posted 25 points (9G, 16A) in 56 contests.
Anderson, Kale Howarth, Zach Jordan, and Jalen Luypen also return to the mix for Rockford in 2023-24. Anderson joined the IceHogs after he was sent down from the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of last season. Luypen played only in three postseason games with Rockford last season, and the rookie jumped out of the gates last weekend with two assists in his AHL regular season debut.
Philp, voted as the 2022-23 Team MVP, is not expecting to appear in game action until later in the season after his Achilles injury that he sustained in the offseason.
Defensively, the three big returners for Rockford are Isaak Phillips, Filip Roos, and Louis Crevier. Phillips, a former fifth-round pick by the Blackhawks, enters his fourth season with the IceHogs after notching 23 points (6G, 17A) and 80 penalty minutes in 51 matches last season. Both Phillips and Roos spent significant time in the NHL with Chicago last season (16 games for Phillips, 17 games for Roos).
As always in the AHL, there are plenty of new names to learn at the start of the season. Six rookies already made their AHL debuts last weekend in San Jose, and four more players made their IceHogs debut as well.
Anders Bjork is possibly the biggest addition to Rockford’s lineup from this past offseason. Bjork, 27, signed an AHL contract with the Hogs over the summer and tabbed a goal and an assist in his first period of IceHogs action last Friday against the Barracuda. The Mequon, Wisconsin native was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Chicago Blackhawks last season and totaled eight points (2G, 6A) in just 13 games with the Hawks. The forward has spent the majority of his career in the NHL, appearing in 225 NHL games between the Boston Bruins, Sabres, and Blackhawks.
The IceHogs also signed two rookies to AHL contracts this offseason: Marcel Marcel, and Ryan Gagnier, and both are yet to make their AHL debut. Marcel was a fifth-round selection by Chicago in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft and signed an AHL contract prior to the start of the 2023-24 season. The Czech forward is currently recovering from a wrist injury.
Gagnier was signed to an AHL contract this summer and is waiting to make his professional debut after being voted one of the OHL’s best defensive forwards with the Oshawa Generals last season.
On defense, the addition of Josh Healey brings experience to Rockford’s young blue line. Healey, in his seventh full professional season, previously played three seasons in the AHL’s Central Division with the Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves. Last season with the San Diego Gulls, Healey posted 37 penalty minutes in 12 games before a shoulder injury took him out for the season.
“I played against the IceHogs a lot in my career,” laughed Healey. “And I can definitely say it’s good to be on this side for once. It’s a great group of guys with some guys I’ve played with before, some new faces, and some young guys coming into the league with lots of skill, so I’m excited for what we have in the room.”
Since Oct. 15, 1999 when Rockford defeated the Knoxville Speed 6-2 in the franchise’s inaugural game, the IceHogs have welcomed nearly 3.5 million fans into the BMO Center (previously BMO Harris Bank Center) to enjoy professional hockey in the Stateline. The organization has since experienced several pivotal milestones, including a Colonial Cup Championship, joining the AHL, and becoming an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Through the previous 24 campaigns of IceHogs hockey, 150 IceHogs alumni have gone on to play in the NHL, including 28 who have won a Stanley Cup, and 22 who have won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ring of Honor
Part of Rockford’s 25th season celebration features the creation of the team’s Ring of Honor. The Ring of Honor will pay tribute to individuals throughout the franchise’s UHL and AHL histories that made significant contributions to the team and to hockey in the Stateline. The first three inductees will be announced at the home opener on Saturday, Oct. 21 during media time-outs in the first, second, and third periods.