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FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY….

Photo by Jim Orlando
05/24/2011 11:07 AM - It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since the Rockford IceHogs captured the Colonial Cup. The four-year anniversary is Tuesday, May 24, the night that the IceHogs defeated the Kalamazoo Wings in Game 7 of the Colonial Cup Finals at the Rockford MetroCentre.

A near capacity crowd of 6,236 watched the IceHogs top the Wings 3-1. Kevin Ulanski got Rockford going with an unassisted short-handed goal just 2:47 into the game and Nicolas Corbeil cinched it with a marker with just 1:33 left in regulation.

In between goals, goalie Frederic Cloutier kept Kalamazoo at bay with 24 saves and winger Jason Notermann would notch his second straight series-clinching game-winning goal when he permanently put Rockford on top 2-1 in the second period.

With the announcement that the IceHogs were moving to the American Hockey League to serve as the primary affiliates of the Chicago Blackhawks already made, few could imagine how much minor league hockey in the Midwest would change over the course of the next four years.

Longstanding franchises have since dissolved, long-time professional markets have changed to the junior level and over 70% of Rockford’s championship roster is now retired.

The Downward Spiral Of The UHL

When United Hockey League President/CEO Richard Brosal presented the IceHogs with the Colonial Cup following the team’s Game 7 victory, the status of the league was very uncertain.

The UHL began the 2005-06 season with 14 teams. When the 2006-07 campaign began, ultimately the league’s final go-round, it had 10 active members, without the markets in Adirondack, Danbury, Motor City, Richmond and Roanoke Valley who were lost after ’05-06.

The Quad City Mallards announced a few months after the IceHogs that they were going to be joining the AHL as the top affiliate of the Calgary Flames. The Elmira Jackals also announced during the summer of 2007 that they were joining the ECHL in the fall.

Plus the Chicago Hounds suspended operations leaving just six teams in the “U”.

The remaining clubs attempted to resurrect the International Hockey League and the experiment would last just three seasons.  After one-year in the “new” IHL, the Kalamazoo Wings bolted for the ECHL where they just lost in the 2011 Kelly Cup Finals over the weekend to the Alaska Aces.

A few other long-standing members of the UHL fell by the wayside after the 2009-10 season including Flint, Port Huron and Muskegon.

Somehow, Quad City found their way back into the mix of the fledging league with Fort Wayne and Bloomington, the only three teams from the final year of the UHL in 2006-07.

The three teams, along with Dayton, were absorbed into the Central Hockey League and after just one season in 2010-11, Quad City has already folded shop.

Of the 14 teams that were active members of the UHL in 2005-06, just five of them currently have professional hockey teams in their market including Adirondack (AHL), Elmira (ECHL), Fort Wayne (CHL), Kalamazoo (ECHL) and Rockford (AHL).

Danbury, Muskegon, Flint and Port Huron all have a team at various junior levels while Missouri, Richmond, Roanoke Valley, Motor City and Quad City are all without hockey now.

Photo by Jim Orlando
Where Are They Now

Below is a list of players that were mainstays on the 2006-07 IceHogs and where they are in their playing career. Of the 21 players listed below, 13 of them are now retired from playing including five after the championship game in 2007.

Three of the 21 players haven’t played professionally in North America since 2007, including Preston Mizzi who is now retired. So, of the 21 players from the 2007 IceHogs club, just eight (Jesse Bennefield, Frederic Cloutier, Nicolas Corbeil, Benoit Doucet, Matt Gens, Chaz Johnson, Nathan Lutz and Kevin Ulanski) played professionally in 2010-11.

Kevin Ulanski and Chaz Johnson are the only two skaters from that club to play in the AHL since 2006-07. Ulanski skated with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2007-08 and Johnson with Rochester, Binghamton, Hershey and Manchester over a four-year period.

Jesse Bennefield: Completed his third season in the CHL leading the Wichita Thunder with 75 points in 66 games.

Kaleb Betts: Retired after the 2008-09 season after playing two years in the ECHL. His last was with Elmira compiling 16 points in 45 contests.

Dan Boeser: Played two more seasons after the 2007 championship in Rockford, his final in Muskegon in the IHL playing in 52 games and racking up 28 points.

Paul Brown: Retired after the 2006-07 season.

Frederic Cloutier: Spent the last four seasons playing in Italy for the Ritten Renon. Last season he compiled a record of 26-13-0 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.63 goals against average.

Bryce Cockburn: Retired after the 2006-07 season.

Nicolas Corbeil: Has played three of the last four seasons in the LNAH, including this past one with Thetford Mines Isothermic, accumulating 55 points in 40 games.

Mike Doyle: Retired after the 2006-07 season and recently completed his masters degree at St. Cloud State University.

Benoit Doucet: Played two seasons in the ECHL before taking 2009-10 off. Returned to the ice in 2010-11 in Holland with the Tilberg Trappers and had 69 points in 37 games.

Luke Fritshaw: Retired after the 2009-10 season after winning the CHL Championship with Rapid City.

Matt Gens: Has played in three different leagues in four years which includes taking off in 2009-10.
Played most recently in the CHL with Odessa and accumulated 17 points in 26 games.

Corey Hessler: Played three more seasons in the SPHL with the Fayetteville FireAntz and retired after the 2009-10 season.

Chaz Johnson: Played 61 games last season with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign and an additional four with the Manchester Monarchs (AHL). Has totaled 59 AHL games since 2006-07 with four different teams.

Mike Letizia: Retired after the 2006-07 season.

Nathan Lutz: Had two stints in Europe sandwiched around a year in Elmira and last season played for the ECHL’s Memphis RiverKings totaling 48 points in 59 games.

Jake Moreland: Played one more season in the ECHL for the Fresno Falcons in 2007-08 before retiring.

Preston Mizzi: After three seasons in Europe, he retired and is now coaching a low junior level team in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Jason Notermann: Retired after the 2006-07 season.

Jason Ralph: Played just 17 games in 2007-08 with the Bloomington PrairieThunder before retiring.

Bruce Watson: Retired from hockey after an injury plagued 2008-09 season in Elmira.

Kevin Ulanski: Has played each of the last three seasons in the CHL with the Colorado Eagles, winning a Kelly Cup Championship in 2009. Played 39 games with Milwaukee in 2007-08 and is the only IceHogs skater from the 2006-07 team to face Rockford in the AHL.

To listen to the audio replay of Rockford’s Game 7 win over Kalamazoo, click here.