IceHogs at MetroCentre tonight

Teams Tied at 1-1: After gaining a split in Fort Wayne, the Rockford IceHogs will play their first-ever games in May starting tonight (May 4) at the MetroCentre, where they will face the Komets in the best-of-seven UHL Colonial Cup semifinal playoff series.

The Rockford games in the 2-2-1-1- rotation will be May 4 and Friday, May 6, both at 7:05 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the MetroCentre box office or by calling (815) 968-5222. There definitely will be a Game Five, back in Fort Wayne May 8. Games Six and Seven, if necessary, will be in Rockford and Fort Wayne on May 9 and 10, respectively.

The Rockford-Fort Wayne winner will face the Muskegon-Danbury winner for the Colonial Cup, dates to be announced.

The Western Division rivals opened their series at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, with the Komets winning 7-4 April 29 and the IceHogs bouncing back for a 4-1 victory April 30.

Nathan Lutz, J.F. Dufour and J.C. Ruid (2) were the Rockford goal-scorers April 30, with three of the goals coming in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Tom Nemeth scored Fort Wayne’s only goal in front of a crowd of 6,752.

The defensive tone was the direct opposite of April 29 when the two teams combined for 11 goals. Rockford gained a 4-4 tie before the Komets struck for three goals in the final stanza. Danny Stewart, Tom Nelson and Jason Kean scored the goals to please most in the crowd of 6,307.

Ruid, Chris Gobert (2) and Dufour scored for the IceHogs while Colin Chaulk, Dustin Virag, Sean Venedam and Nelson scored the other Komet goals.

Bacon Bits: The IceHogs’ Michel Robinson was named UHL Goaltender of the Year by league coaches, general managers and the media. He set franchise records for wins (33), shutouts (7), goals against average (2.27), games (66) and minutes (3,816:35). He also led the UHL in games, minutes and shutouts (tied with Missouri’s Jason Tapp) and was second in wins while posting a 33-22-9 record. Earlier, Robinson and defenseman Nathan Lutz were named UHL First-Team All-Stars, the first IceHogs to receive that honor, and defenseman Steve Pelletier was named to the league’s All-Rookie Team, just the second Hog to be honored. … Winger Brandon Segal, the ‘Hogs leading goal-scorer with eight in the six-game series win over Kalamazoo, was recalled by the Milwaukee Admirals, but could be back. …

Bits-O-Sports: These don’t happen every day—a matchup of 300-game winners. The Cubs and Greg Maddux beat the Astros and Roger Clemens 3-2 April 29 on Jeromy Burnitz’s seventh-inning homer. … Something else that doesn’t happen every day—hitting for the cycle, which is single, double, triple and homer. Ex-Cub Mark Grudzielanek did it April 27, becoming the first Cardinal “cyclist” in nine seasons. … Didn’t the Cubs trade away all their power? Guess again. They were leading the NL in homers with 29, third highest total in the majors. … Before their recent losing streak (three in a row), the White Sox were off to a 16-4 start, best in franchise history. … Illinois junior guard Deron Williams says he has signed with Houston agent Bob McClaren and will be in the June 28 NBA draft. He should have stayed in school. … The new AD at Illinois State is Sheahon Zenger, 39-year-old Kansas native who was associate athletic director at Kansas State University.

Locals Bits: The Peoria Chiefs, with former Rockford Boylan standout Matt Weber, will be in Geneva May 6-9 to face the Kane County Cougars and in Beloit May 10-13 against the Snappers. … WROK-AM-1440 of Rockford says it has a new three-year deal to carry Chicago Bears games through 2007. … The four-hole Learning Links junior course and practice facility at Ingersoll is open for the season. Call (815) 987-8834 or (815) 987-1602. … The SwedishAmerican Tennis Classic will return for the 11th time in 2006, Jan. 29-Feb. 5 at Clock Tower Racquet Club. Organizers are making overtures to get Billie Jean King to play. Last year’s event made a $1,500 donation to SwedishAmerican Medical Foundation for buying, building or refurbishing houses near the hospital. … The Intercollegiate Bowling Championships said it will return to Cherry Bowl in Cherry Valley for its 2006 tourney. Wichita State women’s and Lindenwood University men’s teams were crowned national champions in this year’s event. At least a dozen local collegians participated. … Rock Valley College has hired Jacob Sayre as head coach for men’s soccer, taking over from Paul Fanning, who coached RVC during the first three years of the program’s existence. … Rockford College women’s basketball standouts Kristina Dorman (Sterling H.S.) and Kristi Strunz (Orfordville, Wis./Parkview H.S.)—both juniors—were named second team All-Central Region by Dorman and Strunz both were third-team all-region picks last year as sophomores. Strunz’s award came prior to transferring to Rockford while she was a member of the Clarke College team in Iowa. … The American Fast Pitch Association’s 14-and-younger Girls Nationals will be July 23-31 at Sportscore I. The event is expected to draw 3,100 visitors and $492,000 to the area.

Lutheran Tabs Kube: The Rockford area’s third new head football coach was named April 27 with Rockford Lutheran tabbing former assistant Brian Kube. He served as defensive coordinator last season under Rich Infusino, who resigned last November.

Kube came to Lutheran in 2003 after serving as teacher, assistant athletic director and head football coach at Chicago Luther South, a former Private School League opponent of Lutheran.

Infusino, who coached four seasons, led Lutheran to state-qualifying seasons in 2001 and 2002, but the Crusaders have gone 0-18 the past two years. Lutheran was outscored 327-74 last year.

Other new head football coaches named recently were Tim Sughroue at Rockton Hononegah, replacing Steve Stromquist; and Mark Dodd at Rockford Auburn, replacing Matt Cascio.

Staying in Peoria: The Illinois High School Association board voted 10-0 to keep the boys’ state basketball tournaments at Peoria’s Civic Center for five more years, rejecting Champaign-Urbana’s bid to bring March Madness back to Assembly Hall.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman declined to disclose terms of the agreement, but said Peoria offered a more lucrative financial package. He said the board, composed of high school principals, also was swayed by the convenience of nearby hotels in Peoria, and an exhibit of interactive games developed there that he says has become an important part of the event.

The Class A and AA tournaments have pumped an estimated $6 million into Peoria’s economy each year as roughly 90,000 fans packed hotels, restaurants and stores.

The University of Illinois had hosted March Madness for three quarters of a century before the IHSA board moved the tournament to Peoria in 1995 amid complaints that Champaign-Urbana was taking the event for granted and that area merchants inflated prices at tournament time.

Peoria first landed the state finals by promising the IHSA $175,000 a year from the city’s gambling revenue, a hotel tourism fund and corporate sponsorships, as well as guaranteeing a sellout of all tournament games and free use of the arena and civic center complex.

The year before, Assembly Hall had kept about a quarter of the $657,804 in gate receipts.

Six NIU Gridders Sign: Six Northern Illinois University football players agreed to free agent contracts with NFL teams after the April 23-24 draft. Burlington Central’s Dan Sheldon signed with the Arizona Cardinals while the Bears inked NIU guard Matt McGhghy.

Other NIU players to sign: Linebacker Brian Atkinson (Titans), tight end Brad Cieslak (Bills), quarterback Josh Haldi (Bengals) and offensive tackle Jake VerStraete (Steelers).

Byron’s Sean Considine, an Iowa safety, was drafted by the Eagles, the first player in the fourth round; while Stillman Valley’s Patrick “Bucky” Babcock, a four-year starter on Illinois’ offensive line, wasn’t drafted but agreed to a free-agent contract with the Browns, WTVO-TV-17 first reported
April 26.

Babcock was to be in a Browns` mini-camp last week. His contract is not guaranteed. He still has to make the team out of training camp.

Also from the Rockford area, Guilford graduate Carlos Polk missed most of what would have been his fourth NFL season with the San Diego Chargers because of a shoulder injury. Linebacker Polk has been plagued by injuries, missing most of 2001 with a rotator cuff injury. But Polk, who played at Nebraska, was the Chargers special teams’ Player of the Year twice.

Other NIU players already in the pros: Running back Michael “The Burner” Turner (Chargers), wide receiver Darrell Hill (Chiefs), placekicker Steve Azar (assigned to Memphis Xplorers of Arena Football2 League), quarterback Chris Finlen (Saints, assigned to Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe), wide receiver P. J. Fleck (49ers), Ryan Diem (Colts) and Justin McCareins (Jets).

Lueck Gets 6th Year: Northern Illinois University offensive guard Ben Lueck of Oswego has been granted a sixth year of football eligibility by the NCAA. He is considered a medical hardship case because he missed the entire 2001 season after suffering a serious head injury in a pedestrian-vehicle accident. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder was second-team All-Mid-American Conference last season, giving coach Joe Novak “three of our five starters returning from a strong offensive line, maybe the best overall across-the-board in my time here.”

College Bound: Eric Palm of Machesney Park Harlem has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at McKendree College, an NAIA Division 1 school in Lebanon, Ill., near St. Louis. His future coach, Harry Statham, has 896 wins in 39 seasons.

Run, Run, Run: Jessica Sweeney of Rockford was the women’s winner in the 21st annual OSF Heritage Run April 24 in 39 minutes, 29 seconds for the 10K while Dan Mayer of Wheaton was the men’s champ in 32:25. … Four Rockford-area runners finished in the top 1,000 out of a field of more than 20,000 in the Boston Marathon April 18, reported WTVO-TV-17. Michael Bunting, 38, Rockford, took 131st place overall in 2:34:26; Mark Gale, 40, Byron, was in 366th place in 2:54:27; Jessica Sweeney, 33, Rockford, was the top local female finisher at 790th overall in 3:03:22; and Dave Reppen, 40, Rockford, was 945th with a time of 3:06:28. Sweeney was the 54th female finisher.

Soccer Teams Coming: Rockford’s Sportscore 1 soccer complex is going to be a busy place in May and into June. Illinois State Cup games will be played there to settle the youth soccer state championships of Illinois.

More than 425 teams will compete in 16 age divisions on these weekends: May 7-8, May 14-15, May 21-22, June 4-5 and June 11-12. More info can be found at

The ‘Hawks Dugout: The Rockford RiverHawks report for physicals May 7, and workouts begin May 8 at Marinelli Field. Open tryouts are scheduled May 22. Registration begins at 8 a.m., and tryouts begin at 9 a.m. The registration fee is $75 and includes a tryout camp T-shirt.

Lightning Bolts: Brad Augustine, the Rockford Lightning head trainer for the last three seasons, is leaving the team to pursue other interests. The team is seeking a replacement. … Lightning player Brant Bailey is off to play for Guaros de Lara in Venezuela, and his teammate Sidney Holmes is competing for a roster spot with the Rome (Ga.) Gladiators of the World Basketball Association (May-July). … Current season ticket holders can get a 10 percent discount on 2005-2006 season tickets by renewing before May 15. Owners of a half-season ticket will receive a 5 percent discount for the Lightning’s 20th anniversary season in Rockford. Packages start as low as $63. Call (815) 874-4232.

From the May 4-10, 2005, issue

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