ROCKFORD – Josh McArdle made history this summer when he became the first Rockford youth hockey player to come through the ranks and sign an AHL contract.
Now the Hononegah High School graduate is looking to do it again as the first local product to crack an Rockford IceHogs roster.
“I am going to play my game, work hard and show them what I’ve got,” McArdle, 24, said. “It will all play out from there.”
The defenseman grew up watching the IceHogs; his parents have been season ticket holders since 1999. Starting in the Rockford Park District’s Learn to Skate program, McArdle played through the Junior IceHogs system and later anchored the blue line core for the Rockford Icemen. Before playing for four years at Brown University and earning All-Ivy League honors, he also played for the Madison Capitols of the Tier I Elite Hockey League, Team Illinois U16, and in two major junior leagues.
McArdle made his pro debut on March 7 and skated in 10 games for the ECHL’s Worcester Railers. He signed a one-year deal with the IceHogs on June 28, meaning he’ll either play in Rockford or for the Indy Fuel of the ECHL this season. The latter, however, isn’t something he’s considering at the moment. McArdle says he’s confident he’ll be in a ‘Hogs sweater on Oct. 5.
“I am going to compete every day to show them I belong here,” the 6-1, 194-pounder said. “I am a physical guy. I play hard every single shift. I move the puck up quick and let the forwards do their job.”
With the exits of D-men Viktor Svedberg, Adam Clendening and Cody Franson, there are big skates to fill. Each played key roles in last season’s deep playoff run, most notably on the power play. Clendening leaves as the all-time scoring leader among defensemen and Franson showed why he spent nine seasons in the NHL. That means where McArdle is from will have to take a backseat while he proves himself to an organization that is going to make it anything but easy for him.
“He was signed because he can compete here,” coach Jeremy Colliton said of McArdle. “But we are not going to make it easy for him. He’ll be challenged to carve out a role and to carve out ice time. We want to make it difficult for every single guy.”
And McArdle welcomes the challenge. And so should young players coming up through the Rockford Park District.
“It’s a big thing for me, being able to come back,” he said. “I know it means a lot to the program and all the kids younger than me. I can’t say enough about the coaches I had growing up. And that says a lot. You can come up through the program and do whatever you set out to do as long as you work hard.”
As of this report, there are 12 players who saw AHL action still with the Blackhawks, including forward Matthew Highmore, who potted 24 regular-season goals for Rockford. Defensemen Erik Gustafsson, Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling, along with goaltender Collin Delia, are with the big club, too. They won’t all make the team, however, as Chicago works to trim its roster to no more than 23 by Oct. 3.
“We’ll get some reinforcements,” Colliton said. “So, it is a good opportunity for the guys here to show that they can play at this level and keep up with the pace. It is going to create a lot of good competition.”
The IceHogs begin the season with an Oct. 5-6 weekend slate in Cleveland. They face the Texas Stars Saturday, Oct. 13, to open their 38-game home schedule. R.