Former IceHogs owners on how they built a contender

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) Five seasons and going nowhere, the summer of 2004 would forever change the lives of IceHogs owners Kris Tumilowicz and Craig Drecktrah and general manager Ryan Washatka.

Rockford needed a new face.

"It just didn't click, it wasn't working and we knew for our fan-base, we had to turn the page and we had to get more competitive," said Washatka.

The IceHogs' next and final chapter in the United Hockey League was titled Steve Martinson.

After winning five WCHL Taylor Cups in San Diego, the Minnetonka, Minnesota native joined a Rockford side which had never even won a playoff series.

"It wasn't just about hockey," said Tumilowicz. "It was about entertainment, it was about something to take your family to, something for Rockford to be proud of."

Rockford would be proud.

Martinson would lead the Hogs further than they had ever gone before, but as they closed in on a possible Colonial Cup in 2007, everyone knew this would be it for their favorite players and coaches.

Despite the inevitable move to the AHL, Martinson reeled his players in.

"They had a lot of distractions, off ice distractions but Steve was able to keep them focused on the target," said Drecktrah. "That shows how good of a coach Steve is."

With everyone having one foot out of the door, with the exception of Washatka, the IceHogs followed their coach to a 3-1 game seven victory forever cementing their place in Rockford sports lore.

"It all just kind of came down to one moment and it was pretty cool to see the guys come together," Washatka said. "Hockey players in general are a great group of guys and they persevered through a lot of that turmoil and to come and to want to win it and carry through was pretty amazing."

Tumilowicz says he's proud of the fact that he helped hockey stay afloat in Rockford adding that if not for people like Washatka and broadcaster Mike Peck, the Hogs would not be where they are today.

"They did a great job of keeping the fan-base entertained and made sure that we were a force to be reckoned with, that we were going to be a contender and sure enough, we made that work for them," Tumilowicz said.

For a fan turned owner like Drecktrah, May 24th will always be an emotional celebration.

"Getting to raise the trophy that was one of the best nights ever for me besides the wife and kids of course."