Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Strengthening The Foundation

There's no denying that the Chicago Blackhawks have benefitted from the AHL affiliation with the Rockford IceHogs. When it comes to development, we're seeing very good players being promoted from Rockford to Chicago regularly, and that has allowed Chicago to remain competitive despite it seeming like there was a rebuild on the way. On the other side, the Blackhawks have drafted wisely and signed players they thought could develop, and those players have gone to Rockford where they've thrived. While I always thought the Chicago Wolves would be a better fit for the Blackhawks, there's no denying that the Blackhawks and IceHogs have been a perfect match in terms of NHL-AHL affiliations.

Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority, a city of Rockford oversight group, has been running the IceHogs franchise, and they've been doing a fairly decent job in ensuring that their end of the bargain is upheld. Today, though, that all changed when the Chicago Blackhawks officially purchased the IceHogs from the RAVE Group for $11.8 million, giving the Blackhawks full autonomy in how they run their AHL affiliate!

"The Rockford IceHogs have played a critical role in our franchise's success, and today, the IceHogs officially become a part of the Chicago Blackhawks family," Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement. The purchase agreement between the two parties sees the Blackhawks assume full control of the IceHogs while the Blackhawks signed a new fifteen-year agreement with BMO Harris Bank Center in downtown Rockford that will ensure the club stays in Rockford through 2036 and also committed to a $23 million renovation plan for the arena which recently turned 40 years old. Needless to say, it's a good day for hockey in Rockford, Illinois!

"With this fantastic investment, we're going to be able to address a number of projects, from core infrastructure to modernization," Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority chairman Craig Thomas stated. "It's completely going to be a completely different look and feel for our patrons as they come into the facility."

With the purchase of the IceHogs, there are now 21 AHL franchises owned by their 32 NHL counterparts which helps build stability for both the teams owned by those NHL teams as well as the communities in which they play. The added investment, as Mr. Thomas stated, will keep facilities in Rockford modern with the latest refrigeration equipment and techniques while providing fans a better viewing opportunity for games. Both of those benefits should keep the BMO Harris Bank Center in good standing when it comes to hosting events of all sizes.

For the Blackhawks, they call the shots for the IceHogs now, and that will allow them to sign and move players as they wish without anyone else's input. Since the Blackhawks and IceHogs formed their affiliation in 2007, 97 IceHogs players have suited up for the Blackhawks while another 31 have played for other NHL teams. As stated above, the affiliation has certainly helped the Blackhawks, and now they'll make all the decisions about players and personnel for their AHL squad.

"For the past 14 years, the Rockford IceHogs have been an invaluable asset as an affiliate for the development of our players and staff at the Chicago Blackhawks," President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman said. "We look forward to continuing to use the IceHogs as an extension of the Blackhawks to reinvigorate our roster with talent that is built from within, develop our young players and create depth throughout our system."

That agreement that has reinvigorated the Blackhawks roster will continue for at least another fifteen years, and, I imagine, many years beyond 2037 when the new arena lease needs to be signed. If the NHL and AHL need a shining example of two franchises complementing one another, they have a perfect example in Chicago and Rockford.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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