THE YEAR THAT ROCKFORD GOT THE “A”

By: Mike Peck
'07-08 ICEHOGS

The 2013-14 season marks the 15th Anniversary of the Rockford IceHogs and professional hockey in the Rock River Valley, including the seventh as the American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.

IceHogs fans have bared witness to some exciting and talented teams over the first 14 years of the team’s existence in downtown Rockford. But there might never be a team quite like the 2007-08 IceHogs, the club that introduced the Forest City to the American Hockey League.

There probably isn’t a league that defines the phrase “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” like the AHL when it comes to players.  Players use the AHL as a launching pad to the NHL and develop their skills in the “A”. Once they are refined enough, players move up and a lot of the time, never return.

The ’07-08 version of the IceHogs was truly unique because it was the first season in the AHL for Rockford. IceHogs fans experienced a higher level of hockey and saw firsthand how close these players are to reaching the NHL.

To make the situation even more unique was the fact that the new IceHogs had several players that were nearly NHL ready and were on the cusp of being fulltime NHLers.

As a matter of fact, no team in IceHogs history has produced more NHL players than the 2007-08 one. Of the 44 players who appeared in a game for Rockford that year, an amazing 23 of them would go on and play in the NHL.

That doesn’t include the likes of Jim Fahey, Wade Flaherty, Gavin Morgan and Prestin Ryan, who all played in the NHL before they skated in Rockford.

The 23 players have combined to play 3,713 games in the NHL from 2007-08 to the present (not including playoffs) and that team featured eight Stanley Cup Champions that have earned a total of nine rings (Colin Fraser has won two).

Now, the list does include players like Sergei Samsonov (2 games in Rockford), Greg Rallo (2 games in Rockford) and David Koci (7 games in Rockford), all of whom played in the NHL at some point in their careers after brief stops in Rockford.

Rockford finished that season 44-26-4-6 (98pts) and in second place in the AHL’s West Division. After topping the Houston Aeros in five games in the West Division Semifinals, the IceHogs would fall in seven games to the eventual Calder Cup Champion Chicago Wolves. The 44 wins are tied for most during the AHL era as the team also won 44 contests in 2009-10.

In that West Division Final showdown, Rockford had the Wolves on the ropes, up 3-2 in the best-of-seven game series, but couldn’t finish off their new-found rivals, dropping the final two tilts, including Game 6 at home.

Throw in head coach Mike Haviland as another NHL graduate in this mix. Haviland, who was recently named head coach of the AHL's Hershey Bears, was an assistant coach for the Blackhawks during the team's 2010 Stanley Cup Championship run.

Dustin Byfulgien has played the most NHL games since 2007-08 out of this group as he has appeared in 416 contests between the Blackhawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets. Troy Brouwer (357), Dave Bolland (331), Kris Versteeg (331), Fraser (324) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (306) have all played in over 300 games since pulling on an IceHogs sweater in ’07-08.

To compare this team to the seasons that followed 2007-08, there were 18 IceHogs alumnus to move onto the NHL from the 2008-09 club, 14 in 2009-10 and 15 in 2010-11. The number of players from the previous two seasons is still low as many of those players are still projected to be in Rockford in 2013-14 to continue their development.

It was quite the introduction to the AHL in 2007-08 for IceHogs fans and as the seasons go by, we can sit in awe of the talent that was on that team.

Here is a list of players from the 2007-08 team and how many NHL games they’ve played since that season and with which team:

 Player  NHL Games  NHL Teams
Akim Aliu  7 Calgary
Cam Barker  274 Chicago, Minnesota, Edmonton, Vancouver
Adam Berti  2 Chicago
Bryan Bickell 217 Chicago
Mike Blunden 86 Chicago, Columbus, Montreal
Dave Bolland 331 Chicago
Mike Brodeur 7 Ottawa
Evan Brophey 4 Chicago, Colorado
Troy Brouwer 357 Chicago, Washington
Jake Dowell 156 Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota
Dustin Byfuglien 416 Chicago, Atlanta, Winnipeg
Corey Crawford 150 Chicago
Colin Fraser 324 Chicago, Edmonton, Los Angeles
Jordan Hendry 131 Chicago, Anaheim
Niklas Hjalmarsson 306 Chicago
David Koci 115 Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Colorado
Petri Kontiola 12 Chicago
Greg Rallo 11 Florida
Danny Richmond 7 Chicago
Sergei Samsonov 269 Carolina, Florida
Jack Skille 178 Chicago, Florida
Martin St. Pierre 22 Chicago, Boston, Ottawa
Kris Versteeg 331 Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, Florida
     

 
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