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High On The Hog: Fewer Fights, Fewer Fans?

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, currently have a commercial you may have seen occasionally while watching Blackhawks telecasts. The ads, which also run on local Rockford stations, declare that IceHogs hockey is, “a beautiful combination of violence, speed, and intensity.”

It surprises me just a bit that the club would lead off that mix with “violence”. The IceHogs definitely try to get families into the BMO Harris Bank Center. You’d think that fisticuffs would be something the promotions department would put a little further down the list in terms of marketing the team.

Besides, the men of Rockford aren’t doing much fighting these days. They also aren’t drawing as well, either. Or winning.

I commented to a fellow fan at Saturday’s contest (a 4-1 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins) that the new AHL edicts applying to fighting were probably cutting extra-curricular action by at least half. After the Hogs dropped their fifth-straight home date, I went home and did some figuring.

Last year, I posted that fights were a bit down among the IceHogs through the first couple of months. Rockford was tied for fifth with Chicago with 59 fighting majors a season ago. Through the first 22 games of the 2015-16 campaign, the Hogs had racked up 16 fighting majors. They stayed on a similar pace throughout the final 54 games to finish with those 59 fights.

Through 22 games this season, Rockford has been handed seven fighting majors. The IceHogs are on a pace for 24 such infractions.

I don’t have the time to complete a league-wide study, but would guess that many AHL teams have seen the fight totals drop. The game misconduct that is handed out for a faceoff scrap has definitely been a deterrent.

Kyle Hagel, a former IceHogs battler who once logged 31 fights for Rockford in a season, has four so far in 2016-17. Hagel is second to Michael Latta of Ontario, who has five. Only 26 players have three or more fights to their credit this season.

Brandon Mashinter is the only IceHogs skater with multiple altercations, having dropped the gloves twice. Jake Dowell, Chris DeSousa, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Martin Lundberg and Luke Johnson have also squared off with opponents this season.

I don’t mind watching a spirited bout on occasion, but it doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment of a hockey game if nobody decides to fight. In Rockford, at least, I may be decidedly in the minority in my opinion. I have overheard frequent grumbles from fans looking for some of that violence the IceHogs marketing team has promised.

Is that keeping fans from showing up? I can’t say with certainty; there are a lot of factors at play. At the top of the list is the fact that this year’s club has not played well in the first two months.

Still, attendance is down. Quite a bit, actually.

Through 12 home dates this season, Rockford has averaged 3886 fans per contest. Compare that to last year’s average of 4451 at the same point in the schedule and you notice a pretty noticeable drop.

Looking at the last six games in both seasons, it is even worse for the IceHogs. Last year’s Hogs were playing well and averaged 5247 in that span. This season, Rockford averaged 3774.

Fans last year saw something they liked and attendance picked up heading into December. This season, people are staying away.

It has surely been a trying season so far in Rockford. In 22 games, the IceHogs have managed just 29 even-strength goals. Most have not been of the highlight-reel variety.

This year’s team is going to have to take advantage of rebounds and tough fore checking. So far, scoring has been hard to come by. The IceHogs are second to last in the AHL in overall scoring. Not surprisingly, their record is dead last in both the Western Conference and the Central Division standings.

We just may see a mini-explosion of fights taking place. Rockford is becoming a frustrated team and frustrated teams tend to lash out. I got the feeling that a line brawl was brewing Saturday night as the game with the Griffins got away from the IceHogs. Not on this night, but it could be something to keep an eye on.


Roster Moves

Several players who were brought up from the Indy Fuel were returned to Indianapolis. Bryn Chyzyk, Jonathan Carlsson and Nick Mattson all were sent back to Rockford’s ECHL affiliate.

Goalie Jake Hildebrand was recalled by Rockford Saturday from the Fuel. Hildebrand played the last 40 minutes against Grand Rapids.

Hildebrand was brought to Rockford following Corey Crawford’s bout of appendicitis in anticipation of Lars Johansson being recalled to the Blackhawks Sunday. Coming to Rockford was forward Nick Schmaltz.


Breaking Format

I’m dispensing with the usual recaps this week, as it is too depressing to recount. Rockford had three games at the BMO last week and lost them all.

The Hogs went out to a 2-0 lead Wednesday but gave up three Manitoba goals in the second period. Rockford forced overtime with a nifty power play goal by Viktor Svedberg. Unfortunately, that was the high point of the week. The game was lost 5-4 to the Moose in a shootout.

Friday, the Chicago Wolves came to the BMO, scored the game’s first three goals and downed the Hogs 4-1. The result was the same Saturday. Despite scoring first, Rockford gave up the next four goals of the contest with the Griffins.


Next Week

Rockford wraps up a five-game home stand with San Antonio on Wednesday. From there, the Hogs are gone to Texas for a pair of games with the Stars Friday and Saturday.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.