"Ahh the holy grail, championship t-shirts," says Jenn Tobin as she searches through an IceHogs store.
For diehard IceHogs fans it's already time to start stocking up on gear for the new season. But you'll find a new mascot in the mix, now that the Hogs are moving up from the United Hockey League to become an American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I wasn't real excited about it, but since the changeover has occurred i'm really excited," says Tobin. She's president of the IceHogs Booster Club.
Despite initial protests about Rockford buying the team and moving out the coach and players, to bring in an A.H.L. squad, many other fans seem to have adopted Tobin's attitude.
Compared to this time last year, 34 more people have signed up for season tickets and 87 percent of fans have renewed, with only 11 ticket-holders saying they weren't coming back because of the A.H.L. transition. Also 9 of 13 club boxes and more than half the club lounge seats are accounted for. There's even strong interest in four of five suites, even though those won't be built until next year.
Corey Pearson, General Manager of MetroCentre Events says the ticket sales surprise even him: "I thought we'd probably have to start off a little bit below and work our way back up, but really its exceeded all of our expectations."
The IceHogs have more than ticket sales to celebrate, their home the MetroCentre its edging closer to its great transformation.
Pearson points to the interior of the stadium, where construction is under way: "There will be a staircase right about this column line, that will take you right up to the third level."
Tobin thinks fans are coming in to fill the overhauled stadium because they now understand the move was purely a business decision.
"As a fan you can voice your opinion, but it's not our business and we know we're going to get to see an even better product on the ice this season."
The IceHogs' season starts November 2nd. By then, Pearson expects to have the club seats and V.I.P. lounge ready and restrooms renovated. The suites and new entrance should be done next summer.