10/14/2016 8:00 AM
Article By: Eric Mueller
Rockford, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs open their 18th season of professional hockey and 10th as AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks this weekend in Cleveland against the Monsters and look to improve on their first round playoff appearance from last year.
Rockford finished the 2015-16 season 40-22-10-4, third in the Central Division behind Milwaukee and Cleveland. It marked the IceHogs sixth 40-win season in nine campaigns in the AHL. Rockford outpaced the Chicago Wolves in the standings by 20 points. The IceHogs qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second-straight season and fifth overall in the club’s AHL era. In the playoffs, Rockford was swept in three games by the eventual champion, Cleveland Monsters.
The IceHogs continued their successful pipeline to the Blackhawks in 2015-16. In all, 16 players spent time in both Rockford and the NHL with six making their NHL debut.
The IceHogs return 15 players that appeared in a game with the squad last season including 20+ goal scorers Tanner Kero, Mark McNeill and Pierre-Cedric Labrie.
Forwards (15): Spencer Abbott, Tyler Barnes, Kyle Baun, Sam Carrick, Bryn Chyzyk, Chris DeSousa, Jake Dowell, Luke Johnson, Tanner Kero, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Jeremy Langlois, Martin Lundberg, Brandon Mashinter, Mark McNeill, Evan Mosey
Defensemen (7): Carl Dahlstrom, Erik Gustafsson, Robin Norell, Ville Pokka, Cameron Schilling, Viktor Svedberg, Nolan Valleau
Goaltenders (2): Mac Carruth and Lars Johansson
Tanner Kero set a new record in the 2015-16 season for goals by an IceHogs rookie with 20 and will look to continue that success this year in his second full season. He also tallied 19 assists for 39 points in his freshman campaign.
Ville Pokka, the 22-year-old Fin has been a staple on Rockford’s blue line the past two seasons. Pokka posted 35 assists last season to lead all IceHogs players.
Mark McNeill has led the team in goals the past two seasons with 25 goals in 64 games last season and 23 goals in 63 games during the 2014-15 season. His offense contribution will be key to the IceHogs success in 2016-17.
Key New Faces:
Goaltender Lars Johansson joins the IceHogs after spending five seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and Sweden 1st Division. Last season, the Avesta, Sweden native posted a 27-6-0 record for Frolunda HC and was tied for the league high in the SHL with 27 wins and seven shutouts where he led the club to the Swedish National Championship.
Spencer Abbott spent the 2015-16 season in Sweden where he won the Swedish National Championship with Frolunda HC and current IceHogs goaltender Lars Johansson. He finished the season fifth on the team with 35 points (14G-21A) in 42 games. Rockford fans may remember Abbott from the second half of the 2014-15 season where he registered 21 points (12G, 9A) in 19 games after being traded to the IceHogs from Toronto.
Sam Carrick is a veteran forward that brings an all-around game to the IceHogs after spending the past four seasons with the Toronto Marlies and Maple Leafs. In 192 career AHL games, the Markham, Ontario native has accumulated 100 points (41G-59A) while racking up 335 penalty minutes.
3 Keys to the 2016-17 season
The man in the crease is a valuable asset for every team in the AHL. With the duo of Mac Carruth and Lars Johansson, the IceHogs have two relatively new goalies. Carruth backstopped Rockford to three straight victories to close out the 2015-16 regular season and played a handful of games in both the 2014-15 and 2013-14 seasons. In 27 career games with the IceHogs, he has compiled a 10-8-0-1 record with a .914 save percentage after bouncing around the ECHL with Indy, Toledo and Florida. New to the AHL, Johansson, 29, brings a wealth of experience playing in Sweden to his rookie campaign with Rockford.
All seven defenseman on the IceHogs roster played in Rockford last season with Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg also appearing in games for Chicago in the NHL. Cameron Schilling, Nolan Valleau and Ville Pokka all played over 60 games with the IceHogs last season and will provide on the back end. Swedes Robin Norell and Carl Dahlstrom will see an increased role this year after playing in a combined 12 games with Rockford last season after making the jump full-time to North America this year.
With only three rookies listed on the roster, the IceHogs lineup features multiple players with a wealth of AHL experience as well as significant hockey experience abroad in Europe. Jake Dowell will wear the “C” for the third season for Rockford and former IceHogs captain Brandon Mashinter will start the season in Rockford after he appeared in 41 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16. Add to the mix P.C. Labrie who will play in his third season with the IceHogs and serve as an alternate captain. On defense, Cameron Schilling, 27, is the elder statesman. Although this will be his second season with Rockford, he has considerable AHL experience with the Hershey Bears. Ville Pokka, 22, also adds a veteran presence to the blue line with 144 career games with the IceHogs over two seasons.
Home Opener: Saturday, Oct. 22 vs. Milwaukee at 7 p.m. The IceHogs open their 18th season of professional hockey at the BMO Harris Bank Center with the first home game of the 2016-17 season. The first 5,000 fans to enter the arena will receive an IceHogs calendar compliments of BMO Harris Bank. For tickets visit IceHogs.com or call (815) 968-5222.