ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Covid-19 has altered all of our lives. That goes for the Rockford IceHogs. These young players have gone without the sport they love for ten months. Now they’re back at it at training camp and they’re not taking it for granted.
Alec Regula is one of those young players. He’s a 20-year old defenseman.
“It brings that little bit more passion and a little bit more energy around the rink. Everyone’s a little bit more excited to get going again, you know, we’ve been away for a long time and it’s hard not to be over excited.”
“Obviously I’m happy for these guys that they salvaged the season and we can get back on the ice and play some games,” said IceHogs head coach Derek King Tuesday in a Zoom conference.
Some AHL teams opted-out of this shortened season. It’s the Blackhawks who stepped up and made sure their prospects would get on the ice here in Rockford.
“We have a great partnership obviously,” said Blackhawks Vice President of Hockey Operations/Affiliates. “The relationship between the Blackhawks and the IceHogs has been very strong for 14 years, and between the two we’ve been able to make this happen.”
30 games are on the schedule, but with COVID-19 still prevalent there are no guarantees that they’ll all be played. The players are being tested daily every time they show up to the arena.
“For us players it’s just us following the protocols that the staff have given to us,” said IceHogs forward Cam Morrison. “We know we have to follow all the rules and try to stay as safe as possible.”
“We have to make sure that we’re doing everything on a day-to-day basis to ensure, you know, that we’re keeping them safe and in a safe environment,” said Bernard.
Despite those efforts two IceHogs goaltenders have already been declared “Unfit to Play” which means they likely either tested positive for the virus or they’ve been in contact with someone who has. Those goaltenders are Matt Tomkins and Tom Aubrun.
The IceHogs want to win games this season, but more than anything this season is about getting these young prospects back on the ice and helping them develop their games.
“We have to really focus on developing these kids,” said King.
“It’s going to be a lot of focus on playing games, getting these young kids up to speed, a lot of development,” said Bernard.
Bernard also said that if any IceHogs’ games get postponed by COVID-19 it’ll be up to the IceHogs and their opponents whether or not to reschedule those games. A reminder fans won’t be allowed to attend the games at the start of the season. Bernard is hopeful that will change as the season continues and COVID-19 mitigations lessen.