Trades, callups all part of AHL coaching job

By Jim Hagerty

DOWNTOWN — When a series of trades by the Blackhawks depleted the Rockford IceHogs roster last season, it didn’t sit well with former coach Ted Dent.

And while some say Dent’s public comments about the moves may have played a role in his dismissal from the organization, the team had long been relegated to the Central Division basement when Mark McNeill, Sam Carrick and Spencer Abbott were dealt. And even as Dent had just signed a contract extension, it wasn’t a terrible shock when the Blackhawks relieved him.

It’s too early for new coach Jeremy Colliton to tell what extent his roster will change this season and in years to come. But there are things he is sure of, and that is he’s a coach of a professional hockey team. And while some coaches will say business decisions are reserved from the front office, he has a slightly different take.

“I don’t think you really separate [the game from the business],” Colliton, who picked up his first win as an AHL coach last Saturday in Cleveland, said. “It’s part of the job. We are trying to get these guys to the NHL to help the Blackhawks win.”

And that means, as ‘Hogs fans have seen a lot over the years, AHL players are sometimes traded, some without ever skating in Chicago sweater. That’s where Colliton says his role in the business side of hockey kicks in.

“Coaches have opinions about how guys are playing and what their strengths and weaknesses are in moving up to the next level,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s management’s job to do the best they can for the organization.”

Most of the players on the IceHogs roster have NHL contracts: two-way deals that can send waiver-exempt guys back and forth between here and Chicago whenever the big club wants them. That often means top players could be taken out of an AHL lineup on any given night, without word whether they’ll be back.

“It’s constant,” Colliton said. “There is going to be change with guys in and out. But hopefully, we build a culture here that no matter who’s in the lineup, we are going to play a certain way.”

And that is also where his coaching role touches the dollar and cents side of things. It is where player development plays a central part in putting a solid product on the ice every night while allowing guys to grow as professional athletes.

“It puts them in a position to get better and learn how to win, so when they do get called up they can step right in and help,” the former New York Islanders forward said.

The IceHogs have seen their share of players the Blackhawks had definite plans for when they come to the AHL. Circumstance changed for them, too, sometimes sending guys who spend their first pro seasons developing in Rockford somewhere else in the NHL.

“We want as many players as possible to play in the NHL—ideally for the Blackhawks,” Colliton said. “But sometimes there’s no room. So we want them to be attractive to other teams so they can go on and have great careers.”

And winning is part of that, he said, something the IceHogs did only in spurts last year after back-to-back trips to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

“We want to build a tradition of winners here who are ready for the next level.”

The IceHogs (1-0-0-0) open their 2017-18 home campaign Saturday, Oct. 14, against the Iowa Wild. Puck drop is at 6 p.m. Rockford returns to the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday, Oct. 15, for a 4 p.m. meeting with Milwaukee. R.

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