Saturday, November 9, 2013

Iowa Wild 1 at Rockford IceHogs 3 (AHL) - November 8, 2013


I originally had planned to see the Mavericks and Timberwolves on Friday night, but my friend Sharpy surprised me by telling me he would fly to Chicago for the weekend, so I switched gears and drove to the Windy City, leaving Minneapolis a day early. This conveniently allowed me to stop in Rockford, where the AHL's newest franchise would be visiting the IceHogs in the first of back-to-back games.



I arrived in Rockford just after 5 p.m., which allowed me free street parking a block from the BMO Harris Bank Center, as meters are not enforced after that time. Gates don't open until an hour before scheduled puck drop, so I stopped in at the Kiwi Bar and Cafe across the street, which had $3 Sam Adams and seems to be a regular hangout for many IceHogs fans. Owner Ron sat next to me and we chatted briefly; he told me how he drove the Stanley Cup around the ice just a week ago. Show off.

The arena was built in 1981 but has held up remarkably well, assisted by a renovation this past summer which resulted in new seats in the lower bowl.



The IceHogs of the AHL have played here since 2007, but there was a United Hockey League franchise with the same name that used the arena between 1999 and 2007. Originally dubbed the Rockford MetroCentre, it acquired its current name when BMO Harris Bank bought the naming rights in 2011. The upper bowl seats alternate between blue and yellow and are your typical hard plastic seats.



You can get in for just $8 and then sit wherever you want. I enjoyed sitting in the upper bowl at the blue line, which offers good views and a lot of space as most fans prefer to be closer.



The IceHogs really play up their team name (you could say that they go whole hog on it), including having their players enter through a gigantic pig's head, having a Hamboni take fans around the ice during intermission (tickets are $10 to ride). There's also a flying pig that circles the seating bowl while the real zambonis clean the ice.



Perhaps the most impressive commitment the team makes to the ham theme is signing one-time Edmonton Oiler Theo Peckham to the team.



Food here is the best I have seen in the league. Above one end is a BBQ kitchen that is quite popular, but I ended up trying a huge meatball sandwich which was more than filling and reasonably priced at $7. In the third period, I went to the BBQ area and found that you could stand there and get unique views of the ice as you are almost directly above the boards.





Just off to the side is a view directly at the goaltender which is not blocked by the netting. I would like to return here and spend more time in this area as it is generally empty and the views are really interesting.



Iowa is the affiliate of the Minnesota Wild and are playing their first year in Des Moines after moving from Houston, while Rockford sends players up to Chicago. Many of those on the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup winners gained valuable experience here. There is a "Stars of Tomorrow" wall with photos of all former IceHogs who have skated in the NHL and it shows that the AHL is really a proving ground for 3rd and 4th liners. This is by no means a negative comment, lots of young kids need a bit of seasoning but the majority are those who toil in relative anonymity once they make the big time.



Other than Peckham, the only names I immediately recognized were Tyler Cuma (who played with the Ottawa 67s) and Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper (above) who played six games with Minnesota last year. You will notice that the Wild are wearing white jerseys. This would be normal in the NHL, where road teams where white to allow the home team to showcase a third jersey on occasion, but in the AHL the home team wears white, unless the home team happens to have a special event. Such was the case here as the IceHogs were holding the second annual celebration of Hispanic heritage and Rockford had special jerseys for the occasion. There was also a band and a Spanish PA announcer, but he never did the GOOOLLLLLLL bit, which I expected.

The game was pretty average, with the IceHogs scoring a couple early before Iowa replied with a power-play marker, assisted by Brian Connelly (below) who played in Rockford from 2008-12.



The second period was scoreless with just 13 total shots, and the third period was more of the same, until Cuma took a holding penalty midway through. On the ensuing power play Rockford's Terry Broadhurst completed a nice 3-way passing play for the insurance goal as Rockford won a bit of a snoozer 3-1.



I really enjoyed my brief time here as the rink is one of the best in the league. The venue also hosts an Arena Football League team, so I'm sure I'll drop by in the next couple of years.

Best,

Sean

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