Hockey: Tales from the Trough: Season re-cap: Players face challenges, grow as a team

Tales from the Trough

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The 2010-2011 season for the Rockford IceHogs was a challenging, yet growing, experience for the team in more ways than one. The biggest challenge this season was the turnover from the previous season.

Only four members from last season’s roster returned this year: Evan Brophey, Rob Klinkhammer, Brian  Connelly and Jassen Cullimore.

A few players who played a few games for the ’Hogs the previous season when their collegiate or junior hockey club’s season was over also returned, including Shawn Lalonde, Brandon Bollig, David Gilbert, Ryan Stanton, Kyle Hagel and Kyle Beach.

Goaltender Alec Richards had played for the IceHogs’ ECHL affiliate Toledo Walleye, and played in six games for the ’Hogs last year as well.
Growing can be done in many ways—age, size and maturity, to name a few.

This season, the average age of the team was 23, making them the second-youngest team in the AHL, behind the Abbotsford Heat, who were also at
23, but the average birthdays had the Heat at a slight advantage.

Coincidentally, the Heat finished with an almost identical record as the
’Hogs: 38-32-4-6 for 86 points, and the IceHogs finished 38-33-4-5 for 85 points.
The team started the season with three 19- year-olds on their roster: Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri.

Later in the season, DylanOlsen was added, who was 19 when he joined the
team midway through the season. Leddy was called up to the
Blackhawks after only 22 games, and Morin was injured around
the time of the World Junior Championships, and only suited up for
22 games as well.

Pirri, on the other hand, played in 70 of the 80 games this season, and was fourth on the team in scoring with 43 points (12g, 31a), which was
only 3 points behind Klinkhammer, who finished with 46 points (17g, 29a) in 76 games, which was a professional best for Klinkhammer.

Growing in age also means growing in size for some of the younger players such as Morin, who acknowledged he has growing left to do.

“I’’m still growing into my body, and I need to put some weight on and get stronger, more powerful,””  Morin said of his growth and development for next year.

Going from the juniors to the pros is not an easy step. You play almost twice as many games in one season, and you have harder, more skilled players as your opponents.

“It’’s good to get the first one under the belt,” “Bollig said of his first year in the pros. ““It’’s a grind, and it’s different from college.”

Morin echoed Bollig’s statement: ““getting your feet wet in the pros, it’’s a different atmosphere and a different level.””

Through all of the challenges the team had to overcome, they did fairly well for themselves, even though they finished last in their division. As mentioned earlier, the team finished with 85 points, which would have placed them fifth in the North Division, 1 point behind the aforementioned Heat.

What really hurt the team’s final standings was a slow start to the season, and a few third-quarter losing streaks. After the first quarter of the season, the ’Hogs were three games under .500, with a few blowout losses.

Rockford then picked up some momentum in the second quarter with an 11-6-3 record. But then the third quarter bit the tail of the ‘’Hogs.

Starting with their 41st game of the season, the ’Hogs would lose six straight, and
after a single win, would go on to lose another four games.

Overall, the ’Hogs finished the third quarter with a dismal 5-14-1 record. The team would also lose one of their top line players in Ryan Potulny, who was traded.

Through 58 games with the team, Potulny was toward the top of the scoring for the ’Hogs with 41 points (18g, 23a). Even though playoff aspirations were
dwindling, the ’Hogs wanted to end the season strong.

And finish strong they did, posting an impressive 15-3-2 record, top among all teams in the AHL’s last quarter.

““Ending this way is always positive,”” said Morin.

The team also finished with a league-best 9- 1 record in the final 10 games of the season.

“It’’s big to finish this year well so you can go into summer feeling good and come back next year with a more positive attitude,”” Bollig said about the team’s late-season surge.

Regardless of the standings, the team, and fans, have to be excited about the end of the season and the youth and talent the team will have next season.

Next week, in the final “”Tales from the Trough”” for a few months, I’’ll discuss the
potential roster changes for the 2011-2012 season, and my thoughts about who may or may not be signed from the current roster.

From the April 20-26, 2011 issue

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