The Rockford IceHogs returned to the BMO Harris Bank Center last weekend after a 2017-18 campaign that left fans desperate to see their team back in action.
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.”
The IceHogs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have five home games scheduled this month, incluidng last weekend’s home season debut against Texas and a Saturday match with Hershey.
They host San Antonio on Oct. 24 and Cleveland and Manitoba in back-to-back contests on Oct. 27-28.
As the Hogs returned to their home barn for the 2018-19 season, they hoped 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 last season, the second best home record in the Central division.
“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.
While Rockford was 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.”