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Still Tough To Swallow

05/09/2013 10:06 AM - Mike Peck

It’s been nearly three weeks since the IceHogs were last on the ice, and the way the season ended it still isn’t sitting well with me.

Since joining the AHL in 2007, this has been the hardest end-of-season to swallow. I truly believe the IceHogs would have made some noise in the Calder Cup Playoffs if they would have qualified but it’s all just would of, could of, should of.

The only other season that I can remember leaving with such a sour taste in my mouth was 2005 when in the UHL, the IceHogs lost in Game 7 of the semi-finals to the Fort Wayne Komets in overtime. Moments after Nathan Lutz hit the post on what would have been the series clinching goal, the Komets scored to eliminate the Hogs.

2008 was difficult as well as I think the IceHogs, if they could have gotten by the Wolves in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, could have won the Calder Cup. But this season and 2005 were much tougher because it just feels like there was some unfinished business to be had.

On the surface, you have to call the season a success as the team won 42 games, featured the second best offense in the league and we got to see several players progress in their development.

On the other hand, the team didn’t make the playoffs for a third straight season and that is frustrating.

There were only seven teams in the AHL that had more wins than Rockford did in 2012-13. Think about that. And the team still didn’t qualify for the postseason. The difference was getting games to overtime/shootout. Rockford played in just 10 overtimes this season, second fewest in the AHL behind only Hamilton (9).

In comparison, Milwaukee (15), Rochester (16), Houston (20) and Oklahoma City (17) and played in more overtime/shootout games, meaning they earned at least one more point, if not two, in five to 10 more contests. Those were the four teams with four points of Rockford in the Western Conference standings.

But again, what’s frustrating is trying to pinpoint a specific area or time period that really cost the IceHogs. One thing you have to realize is that every team hits snags throughout the course of a 76-game schedule.

Even during Rockford’s season worst six-game losing streak, four of the tilts were decided by just one goal and another game featured the Hogs blowing a 3-0 lead to Texas.

For every game like the Texas contest, Rockford had two that went their way as they led the AHL with a remarkable 11 third period come from behind victories this season. To put that into perspective, the average amount of third period come-from-behind wins in the AHL this season was 4.1 per team.  So to say that they should have won this game or that game can be countered by several that the team defied the odds to come back and win.

Looking at some other highlights from the 14th season of IceHogs hockey, player development definitely sticks out. Several skaters took big strides in becoming NHL players.

The one guy that really stood out for me this season was Jeremy Morin. Clear of injury and playing with confidence, Morin developed into an upper tier player in the AHL. He led the IceHogs with 30 goals. Of his 30 tallies, 20 of them came over his final 37 games.

Ben Smith continued his development in 2012-13 and looks like he’s on the cusp of the NHL. Like Morin, Smith has battled injury, especially over the past two campaigns, but has persevered through the adversity and finished the season as the hottest goal scorer in the AHL. Smith netted eight goals over his final four games.

Brandon Pirri is the other obvious player who took that next step. Pirri became the first player in IceHogs history to lead the league in scoring thanks to a torrid finish. Over Pirri’s final nine games, the center put up 3g-16a-19pts.

The biggest issue for the above three in making that next step, which would be to the NHL, is numbers in Chicago. Those three, along with Jimmy Hayes and Drew LeBlanc will all be fighting for maybe one or two roster spots in Chicago come September, unless more spots become available this summer via trade.

One thing is for certain for the IceHogs this offseason, and that’s there should be more movement from a roster standpoint entering 2013-14 compared to what we saw this past season. Not that there won’t be plenty of familiar faces back in the mix, but I’d expect a fresh crop of prospects in the Forest City come training camp in September.