If you’re a Blackhawks fan then you’re probably familiar with the team’s AHL affiliate the Rockford IceHogs. Known as the Blackhawks’ ‘farm team’, pills the IceHogs are responsible for keeping the Hawks stocked with the best young talent season after season as they independently play and compete in the extremely competitive western conference of the 30-team American Hockey League.
While it’s tough to beat a trip to the UC to see the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, decease a road trip to Rockford to see the IceHogs delivers best-in-class hockey without the steep ticket prices, huge crowds and horrendous traffic, all while providing a fun and quick getaway from the big city.
The IceHogs were introduced to Rockford in 1999 and in 2005 became the first AHL team to be affliaited with a NHL, at the time, the Nashville Predators. Conveniently for Chicagoans, the IceHogs became affiliated with the Blackhawks in 2007. In just the last few years the IceHogs have produced players like Corey Crawford, Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, and Antti Raanta to name a few.
IceHogs tickets are a fraction of what you would pay for a Blackhawks game with prices starting at $8.00 for terrace level seats and max out at $30.00 to sit on the glass for premium games. Last time I checked, a domestic draught at the United Center is $8.00.
Depending on where you are in the Chicagoland area, a trip to Rockford will set you back one to two hours. I’ve spent that much time sitting in traffic trying to get to the United Center from the north side of the city. At least on the drive to Rockford, you’re actually moving.
To prove just how much of a value play and the fun that is in store in a Road Trip to Rockford, my friend Sam and I made the hike west this Saturday night for the Lake Erie Monsters matchup.
It took us just over an hour to get there from the western suburbs and once we arrived in Rockford we parked directly across the street from the BMO Harris Bank Center and it only cost us $5.00.
We decided to have dinner at District a local bar that’s known for its support of the IceHogs. The city of Rockford seemed to be relatively quiet on a Saturday night, that is every place but District. Unfortunately at 5:00pm the bar was packed to the gills. We didn’t want to risk missing puck drop so we decided to find food elsewhere. Note: if heading to District for pre game dinner, get there early or call ahead for reservations.
Our plan B was a small bar called Kiwi Cafe & Bar. We were very glad we did. Not only was the food good but the waiter was just as cute as can be, and that’s always a plus in my book! While dining we noticed from the windows the throngs of people on the street heading towards the BMO Harris Bank Center and knew this would be a good night.
After dinner it was a quick walk across the street to the arena. We headed to Will Call to retrieve our tickets for the 7:00pm puck drop and noticed large crowds trying to score last minute seats.
We headed upstairs to where the action is and checked out some of the merchandise, including buttons with the players faces on them where I picked up an Antti Raanta pin as a souviner.
Now here’s the special part: the atmosphere at an Icehogs game is really something worth experiencing. The BMO Harris Arena capacity is 10,500 compared to the United Center’s 20,500, so there’s a different level of intimacy at a Hogs game that you just can’t experience at the UC. No seat is a bad seat with great views of every slap shot and stop at the net. You can honestly see the expressions of players as they face off, take shots on goal, sit in the penalty box and on the bench. At a Hogs game you really experience a different more intimate type of play action and overall game that is hard to find in larger arenas, from the cowbells and chanting of the crowd to the mix of real families and locals in the stands. It’s impossible not to get caught up in it all and enjoy yourself.
A Hogs’ game is also a great way to learn the game if you’re new to hockey. A AHL game has a slightly slower pace than a NHL matchup, so it’s easier to follow. Saturday’s matchup was evenly matched as the #4 ranked Hogs (of the Midwest division) took on the #3 Lake Erie Monsters (of the North Division). Sam and I enjoyed a 6-1 Hogs crushing victory over the Lake Erie Monsters and we even got to vote on the three stars of the game.
One of the coolest things about going to IceHogs game is getting to see players who have previously played with the Blackhawks, like Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin. Sadly for us, Pirri was scratched on Saturday night but we did get to see Jeremy Morin score a sweet snipe goal. Check out the one-on-one below with SDI and Pirri from last season.
The night got even better after the game as we had the chance to check out the Hogs official stick room and meet with SDI favorite centerman Brandon Pirri. I asked Brandon about the difference between the fans in Rockford and the fans in Chicago. He told us the experience with the fans in Rockford is a closer one as fans have the chance to get closer to the action. Pirri also commented on the difference between living in the Rockford community and the opportunity it allows players to interact with their fans, something Brandon said is pretty cool.
After the game, we figured we’d check out some of this Hogs’ community action first hand and headed to well-known Hogs’ post-game hangout, RBIs. As I expected the place was very busy. RBIs is definitely a local place where Hogs feel comfortable hanging out throughout the week and after games. It’s a younger crowd where you’ll see a ton of Icehogs/Blackhawks gear.
By the time we arrived there were no tables left (strike 2) so we stood and took in the scene while enjoying a post game beverage as the bar continued to fill up with people from the game.
Shortly after we arrived so did IceHogs goaltender Jason LaBarbera and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. It was obvious from their demeanor that they are regulars: they weren’t carded at the door and the bartender gave Dahlbeck a high five when he told her they had won their game.
Sam and I congratulated them on a good game as well. Neither of them seemed surprised or annoyed that we knew who they were or had approached them, which is more than I can say for my last experience at RBIs with last season’s captain Martin St.Pierre.
After finishing our drinks Sam and I decided to head home and ran into Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri on our way out. I guess he wasn’t kidding about going out and interacting with the fans regularly. #score
All in all it was a fantastic night full of great hockey, good people and real experiences. Thank you Mike, Nate, Sam and everyone at the IceHogs organization who made us feel so welcome and way cooler than we really are.
So ladies, quit waiting around for the Blackhawks tickets to drop in price, because they won’t. Instead, grab your girls, your guy, whomever is ready and willing and head to Rockford for a unique and value filled hockey experience that just can’t be delivered in Chicago.