ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — The sound of pucks banging off boards, and sticks clacking returned to the BMO Center Monday morning in Rockford. The IceHogs hit the ice for their first training camp practice. It’s a group that looked much different than the one last year at this time.

There were a lot of new faces and new names. Guys we’ve never seen before in Rockford. Guys like Colin Bilek, Nick Nardella, and Antti Saarela.

The top coaches are the same as the last few years, Anders Sorensen and Jared Nightingale. The newcomer there is developmental goaltending coach Matt Smith.

They’re all bonding quickly.

“The players and coaches, they’re all very positive and the guys are very cool to be around, easy to talk to, so that’s all you can really ask for,” said IceHogs forward Ryan Gagnier.

Gagnier is part of a group of talented, young prospects in the Blackhawks’ system. The 21-year- old scored 69 points in 66 games last season in the Ontario Hockey League with Oshawa.

There’s also Marcel Marcel, another forward who was the Blackhawks’ fifth round pick this year. He’s only 19.

Defenseman Nolan Allan is ready to make his IceHogs’ debut. He was the Blackhawks’ first round pick in 2021. Allan was in the Western Hockey League last season. He’s 20 years old.

Are we looking at a really young IceHogs team this year?
“Yea, certainly seems like it coming in,” said Sorensen. “Things obviously change in this league daily, but just kind of what you’re scoping out right now, it looks like we’re going to be young in the back, you know, young in goaltending as well.”

One of the newcomers who has experience is defenseman Josh Healey. He’s 29. He’s been around the AHL with the Wolves, the Admirals and the San Diego Gulls.

“It’s (the start of camp) definitely a lot of emotions for guys,” said Healey. “I think some guys are coming in first-year guys, some guys are coming in now year ten.”

Some guys on the ice that were recognizable Monday included Kale Howarth, Michal Teply and goaltender Mitchell Weeks.

They’ll be joined Tuesday by some guys who were cornerstones on the IceHog’s playoff team last year, David Gust, Brett Seney and Mike Hardman. The Blackhawks assigned them back to Rockford Monday afternoon. Top goaltending prospect Drew Commesso has also been assigned to the IceHogs.