By Todd Reicher
It’s hard to believe that 10 members of this year’s 2013 Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks team previously wore a Rockford IceHogs jersey. Of those 10 skaters, seven of them tasted cup victory for the first time.
Three members recording their second cup victory included forward Bryan Bickell (although he only played a few games in the 2010 winning season), forward Dave Bolland and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. The remaining seven players include defenseman Nick Leddy, forward Marcus Kruger, forward Brandon Saad, forward Andrew Shaw, goaltender Corey Crawford, forward Brandon Bollig and forward Ben Smith. Although Smith only played one game in the finals, relieving Marian Hossa in a game three 2-0 loss, he still qualifies as a cup winner.
When deciding who played the biggest part in the Blackhawks playoff series as a former IceHogs skater, it’s difficult to pick out a single player, although most would point to either Crawford or Bickell as the clear winners. If you are looking at purely a points player, it would be Bickell. Finishing second on the team in the playoffs with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) and a team second-best plus-11 rating in 23 games, Bickell was virtually unstoppable around the net for the Blackhawks.
One could also look to Crawford as the other star. Many people will argue that the Blackhawks had an amazing defensive squad this year, thus the reason for the cup victory. But it’s hard to argue that Crawford’s stats were more than impressive.
“Crow” finished with a 16-7-2 record in the playoffs, allowing 46 goals on 674 shots for a 1.84 goals against average and a .932 save percentage, and one shutout. Crawford’s 1.84 GAA were first in the league in the playoffs, topping close contenders Jonathan Quick of the L.A. Kings, who finished at 1.86, former IceHogs and Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi, who held a 1.87 for the San Jose Sharks, and Boston backstop Tuukka Rask, who finished with a 1.88.
Crawford was also close to the top of the league in save percentage as well, finishing in fifth place with his .932, which was only a few points behind the league-leading Rask, who finished with a .940. Regardless of what people say, even though the Blackhawks had a great defense, someone needed to step up and perform between the pipes, and Crawford showed he was more than capable of completing the task.
Other honorable mentions include Shaw and Kruger, who both played integral parts in keeping the opposing teams at bay. On the score sheet, Shaw and Kruger didn’t make much of an impact, but if you watched the game, where these players shone was preventing the other teams from getting on the board. Quite often, the third line consisting of Shaw, Kruger and the recently-traded Michael Frolik was tasked with shutting down the opposition’s first line, which they performed masterfully. Kruger was also a member of the penalty kill, and helped give the Blackhawks one of the top-ranked PK units in the post-season.
Now that the season is over, the dust has settled and free agency has started for the NHL, who will be the next in line to make the jump to the NHL from the IceHogs? In a recent interview by NHL correspondent Brian Hedger, the IceHogs’ General Manager of Minor League Affiliations Mark Bernard was asked about Smith, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes and Jeremy Morin and who was ready for the next level. Bernard stated: “They’re ready to make the jump. Not all of them are going to be able to make it, so it’s going to create some great competition in training camp.”
With the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, the fans will be able to view the cup in person. When the Blackhawks won the cup in 2010, the cup came to Rockford during an IceHogs home game, and fans were allowed one picture with the cup, and were able to view many other NHL trophies such as the Conn Smyth and Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. Fans could have one photo taken by a preset studio setup with their own camera by an official, or they could have the professional take the photo and fans could visit a website to purchase the image. Although a schedule has yet to be released, it is certain the cup will make a visit to Rockford once again.
From the July 31-Aug. 6, 2013, issue