Derek Nesbitt came for "a couple of days" and stayed for the rest of the season
With 35 points in 46 games, Derek Nesbitt has asserted himself as one of Rockford's offensive powers. (Photo by Jim Orlando)
Rockford, Ill.- When Rockford IceHogs right wing Derek Nesbitt joined the team in December, it was only going to be for a couple of games after the Christmas break.
Forwards Mike Blunden and Martin St. Pierre were getting the call to the Chicago Blackhawks, Petri Kontiola was already up with the parent club and Kris Versteeg was nursing an injury.
The Hogs needed some extra firepower and Nesbitt fit the mold.
He was thrid in the ECHL in scoring at the time with 39 points in 26 game.
"(Rockford General Manager Al MacIsaac) told me that all he knew was that I was going to play the first night and they didn't know about the second night or third," he said. "I was at the point in Gwinnett that I was just going to be happy where I was."
The Egmondville, Ontario native was in his third full season in professional hockey, spending all of them in the ECHL. He had 69 points with Gwinnett in 2005-06 and then 81 points with the Idaho Steelheads in 2006-07. Still, the December call-up was his first stint in the AHL.
He went scoreless in his first game against Peoria, but then notched his first AHL point, goal and multi-point game on Dec. 27 against the Chicago Wolves.
That night, the IceHogs were without three skaters who would finish the season near the top of the team in points -- Versteeg, Kontiola and St. Pierre -- and yet they took the Wolves into overtime in the Allstate Arena only to lose 4-3.
Nesbitt continued his success in January, becoming on of St. Pierre's favorite targets when he returned to the IceHogs. He finished his first full month in the AHL with four goals and three assists highlighted by a three-point night and the game-winning marker in overtime against the Quad City Flames in Moline.
"A couple of weeks later, (MacIsaac) tells me to go back and get the rest of my stuff because I'm staying for the rest of the year," he said. "All right, that's great."
Now four months, 46 games and 35 points later, Nesbitt has become an integral part of the IceHogs offense, scoring more than any other Rockford rookie and haveing the lowest number of penalty minutes of any regular skater. Since Feb. 1, he is the only Rockford skater to avoid going three consecutive games without a point.
And despite being considered a rookie in the eyes of the AHL, Nesbitt has more playoff experience than any forward or defenseman on the IceHogs roster. Goalie Wade Flaherty is the only player to have more ice time in the postseason. He has appeared between the pipes in 98 professional playoff games in 19 seasons.
On a young Rockford IceHogs squad, Nesbitt is one of only a gfew skaters to have hoisted a trophy in the professional ranks. He won the Kelly Cup with the Idaho Steelheads last year in the ECHL and helped the Gwinnett Gladiators make it to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2006.
"Once you get to the finals, most of those guys can play at this level," he said. "Playing in those finals two years in a row helped me prepare for this level."
Look around the Rockford locker rook and you won't see many championship rings.
Defenseman Jerramie Domish won the Kelly Cup with Rockford's head coach Mike Haviland in 2005 and Flaherty led the Milwaukee Admirals to the Calder Cup championship in 2004. In fact, Domish, Flaherty and Nesbitt are the only members of the IceHogs team to have ever played out of the first round in pro hockey.
Nesbitt said he believe his past success has helped him better prepare for the rigors of the Calder Cup playoffs.
"I've been through a lot of highs and lows, and in the playoffs, that helps," he said. "You can lost 7-3 or win 10-1 or 12-3. We would win a big game last year and then come back to the rink the next day and the score is 0-0. You think, well, we're not up by 10 anymore."
That had to be on the winger's mind when he got to the Rockford MetroCentre on Sunday after a devastating 7-3 loss in Chicago the night before.
Just a couple of hours later, Nesbitt's goal in the second period turned out to be the deciding tally in a 3-1 win over the same Chicago Wolves against which he scored his first AHL goal.