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By: Nate Haeni
Photo by Greg Hamil
Rockford, Ill. – Chicago Blackhawks General Manager of Minor League Affilitions Mark Bernard presented eight awards to the 2010-11 IceHogs team. Each winner was presented with a plaque in recognition of their achievements during the IceHogs 12th season and fourth in the American Hockey League.

Veteran center Jeff Taffe was named the club’s Most Valuable Player and the IceHogs leading scorer. Through 78 games, Taffe paces the IceHogs with 63 points (28g-35a). His 28 goals also lead the team and match a professional career best, originally set with the Rochester Americans during the 2009-10 campaign. The Hastings, Minn. native also skated in one game with the Blackhawks.

Brian Connelly was named the IceHogs Best Defensman for 2010-11 after amassing 51 points (11g-40a) through 78 games. The 24 year-old set an IceHogs AHL single season record for most points by a defenseman, breaking Danny Groulx’s mark of 40 points in 2008-09. The blueliner is finishing his second full season with Rockford, accumulating 16g-73a-89pts in 165 career games with the IceHogs.

Winger Kyle Hagel was awarded the team’s Man of the Year award and was named Rockford’s Unsung Hero.  After signing a contract with the IceHogs for the 2010-11 season, Hagel immediately became involved in the community.  The Hamilton, Ont. native started a reading program for fourth and fifth graders at Kishwaukee Elementary. Outside of his regular visits to the school, Hagel also frequently volunteered his time at Jr. IceHogs practices or visiting local hospitals.

On the ice, the 26 year-old has chipped in 5g-8a-13pts and racked up an IceHogs AHL record 225 penalty minutes with two games remaining. Hagel also set a franchise-high 32 major penalties in 2010-11.

First-year winger Ben Smith received the Rookie of the Year award. The former Blackhawks sixth round pick (#169 overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft has registered 31 points (19g-12a), in his first professional season. Smith has been hot down the stretch for the Hogs, accumulating 10 goals and two assists in his last 15 contests. The Boston College product has also received three recalls to Chicago over the course of the season, skating in five games. The rookie forward notched his first career NHL goal last night in Chicago’s 4-2 win in Detroit.

Team Captain Garnet Exelby was named Rockford’s Heavy Hitter. The blueliner has provided the IceHogs with a physical presence throughout the ’10-11 campaign.  The 29 year-old shows 13 points (3g-10a) and 128 PIMs in 75 games for the Hogs to this point in 2010-11. Exelby has been a strong physical presence on the ice for Rockford all season.

Defenseman Ryan Stanton was recognized as the team’s Most Improved player. With two games remaining, the rookie d-man has 3g-13a-16pts with a plus/minus rating of +4. Signed as a free agent by the Blackhawks last March, Stanton has emerged as one of the top defensive prospects in the organization.

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