ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – Since the Blackhawks and IceHogs partnered up before the 2007-2008 season, half of the AHL’s franchises have moved, even more have switched affiliations, but Rockford and Chicago have signed a five-year extension continuing what both sides call a perfect match.
"We feel wanted and we're proud to call Rockford home."
What started as a news conference, quickly turned into a celebration at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Blackhawks and IceHogs announce that the team will stay in Rockford for the next five years, so fans will continue to watch their favorite Blackhawks prospects until at least the 2022 season.
“It’s just terrific. What a great, great joint venture, partnership this has been,” said Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen.
"Both parties wanted this to continue so it was very easy to get done. We're thrilled to have our prospects playing in the city of Rockford,” says IceHogs General Manager Mark Bernard.
"When our players get to the NHL and they talk in such favorable terms about what it was like to play in Rockford, the buzz, the reputation about what a great market this is...all of those things played a factor so when we took a look at when the agreement was going to expire, it was a very easy decision to make,” said Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough.
It wasn’t always this easy. When the Blackhawks first brought the AHL to Rockford nine years ago, there was some pushback.
“At the very beginning there was people that were excited and then there were the people that were speculating about if this would work, they were mad, they didn't think there was a difference in the hockey,” recalls Bernard.
“I think part of our sign of success is we don't dwell on how tough it was back then, we've been celebrating along with the Blackhawks and it's just a phenomenal feather in our caps, and we look forward to having success moving forward," says Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) Rockford.
After the struggles to bring the Hogs to town, it’s turned into a huge success in Rockford on and off the ice. They’ve sent 67 players to the NHL, with 22 on the Stanley Cup.
“It sort of gives me chills to remember a lot of those guys that came through Rockford and played for the Blackhawks,” says Dent.
The team set a franchise record this year, averaging more than 5,000 fans each game.
“I think the support just has continued to grow each and every year,” says Bernard.
The Hogs have also helped reinvigorate the city.
“Ratifying this agreement is a message to me that we are in good shape. We have to keep moving, run with confidence and let’s look at the next 5 years and be aggressive. We have a lot great projects that i think got their start and inspiration from the success we've had with the Blackhawks. I expect us to have a couple of hotels built over the next five years, i expect us to have additional retail, housing and support downtown. That puts us on the map as a player in the Chicago metro market place,” says Morrissey.
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – A five-year promise expected to bring millions to our area.
It’s a partnership many say is a catalyst for downtown’s redevelopment. The Chicago Blackhawks Organization has announced the Rockford IceHogs will stay at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the next half decade, until at least the 2022 season, spurring growth on and off the ice.
More than 5,000 fans pack the BMO nearly every home game. When the IceHogs first brought the Blackhawks affiliation to Rockford in 2007, it was on a ten year contract, but that was when they were just getting started.
While five years is what was expected, what isn’t normal is staying in one city for 15 years. Since the Blackhawks and IceHogs partnered up before the 2007-2008 season, 15 of the AHL’s franchises have moved, even more have swapped affiliations, but for Rockford and the IceHogs this seemed to be an easy decision. Both sides were happy with the first nine years of the partnership. For the Blackhawks, they get to keep their prospects close, scout them almost every game, and work with people they trust. As for Rockford area leaders, they think the Hogs have helped transform downtown.
“It’s been the impetuous that’s really transforming downtown. If you think about it, this came first, now there are more than 5,000 per game here and all of the off-shoots came off of this. People feel great coming down here, they feel safe, so we see city markets, we see many other things going as a result of this whole affiliation with the Blackhawks,” says Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen.