The Blackhawks have purchased their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, from the City of Rockford in a $11.8 million deal.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority chairman Craig Thomas and other involved parties announced the deal at a news conference Wednesday at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
The IceHogs simultaneously signed a new 15-year lease at the downtown Rockford arena, securing the minor-league franchise’s future.
“The Rockford IceHogs have played a critical role in our franchise’s success, and today, the IceHogs officially become a part of the Chicago Blackhawks family,” Wirtz said in a statement. “Not only is this an exciting opportunity from a hockey perspective, but . . . we are reinvesting in Illinois to generate positive economic as well as philanthropic impact.”
The City of Rockford had owned the franchise since it became the Hawks’ AHL affiliate in 2007, but the affiliation contract was previously set to expire in 2022.
RAVE filed a Request for Proposals on March 4, initiating the process of selling the team to the Hawks, who became the 21st NHL franchise out of 32 total (including the new Seattle Kraken) to own their AHL affiliate. The Hawks’ ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel, remains privately owned.
In addition to purchasing the team, the Hawks also announced a $23 million renovation plan for the BMO Harris Bank Center, which seats 6,200 for hockey but recently turned 40 years old.
Of the $23 million, $13 million will come from Rebuild Illinois grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), while the other $10 million will come from local Rockford funding and private investments.
“This investment in turn will create new jobs, boost revenues and help reinvigorate tourism to the area,” DCEO director Sylvia Garcia said. “Every game played here will continue to have an economic impact for local businesses, generating revenues for bars, restaurants and hotels that populate the downtown Rockford area.”
The arena will receive an exterior makeover, new environmental sustainability features and infrastructural repairs to the concrete foundation, ice surface and mechanical systems, Thomas said.
Concourses will be expanded, food stands upgraded and bathrooms renovated. There also will be new “premium” seating options Band a new scoreboard.
“With this fantastic investment, we’re going to be able to address a number of projects, from core infrastructure to modernization,” Thomas added. “It’s completely going to be a completely different look and feel for our patrons as they come into the facility.”
The sale comes as the IceHogs’ role in prospect development becomes increasingly important to the future-looking Hawks, too.
Many of the rookies exceeding expectations on the Hawks this season — Kevin Lankinen, Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev and others — all gained key experience in Rockford last season. This year’s IceHogs roster is loaded with Hawks prospects, too, although they’ve gone 6-12-1 with 11 games left in the shortened AHL season.
Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton, who got his start in the organization coaching the IceHogs in 2017-18, said Wednesday was an “important day for the organization.”
“My time in Rockford was very important for me and my development,” Colliton said. “For the players, it’s important, as well . . . There’s a lot of positives about the relationship we have, and now it’ll be even closer. The thought that we’ll be able to upgrade the conditions down there, it’s great.”
Note: New forward Mike Hardman practiced with the Hawks for the first time after signing last week when his season ended at Boston College. Colliton said he doesn’t have a plan yet for getting Hardman into the lineup and wants to get him “up to speed” first.