The Rochester Ice Hawks’ season started in September.
Then it started over in mid-November with a coaching change.
Despite that, injury issues and some roster turnover, the Ice Hawks’ players and leaders continued to battle through obstacles on and off the ice.
“We’ve been through a lot this year as a group, dealing with injuries and dealing with personal stuff throughout the team,” veteran defenseman Ian Smyth said. “But throughout the year we grew a lot tighter and realized what this is really about. We are a family. We’ll walk together forever.”
Though Smyth and fellow captain Spencer Hadacek have played their final junior hockey games, Rochester (10-38-1 overall) had 15 North American 3 Hockey League rookies on its roster this season. It took time for those players to get comfortable playing at the Tier III junior level and jell on the ice.
“It was awesome to watch the young guys, seeing where they started and where they ended up, making such a big leap,” said Hadacek, a second-year Ice Hawk. “I don’t know if I was that way last year, but it was fun to watch these guys.
“Just being with the boys … we’ve been through more than any other team has been through. I couldn’t have picked a better group of guys to do it with.”
Saturday’s Ice Hawks loss came in Game 2 of a best-of-3 NA3HL Central Division first-round series against regular-season division champion and defending NA3HL champion North Iowa (37-10-2 overall).
The Bulls outshot Rochester 62-14 in the game and scored three times in each of the first two periods to pull away and finish the series in two games.
“It’s very hard to see the season come to an end,” said Hadacek, who was fourth on the team in scoring with 21 points. “It went a lot faster than I thought it would. There are no regrets. The only thing I regret is I don’t have more time with these guys.”
Smyth said the recipe for the Ice Hawks to turn things around comes down to hard work.
“Just being ready from the start … we had a rocky start. It wasn’t because of ill-preparedness. Things didn’t go our way,” he said. “It just kind of … once we had the coaching change, it was a fresh start and everything felt different.
“I’d just tell the guys to be relentless. That’s what this team has been known for, it’s what the Ice Hawks have been known for, being resilent and playing blue-collar hockey.”
Head coach Eric Hofmann, who replaced long-time coach Nick Fatis in mid-November, said he is proud of the way the Ice Hawks, especially the captains, came to work every day.
“These guys were awesome leaders,” Hofmann said. “I couldn’t have asked for more from them.”
Bulls 8, Ice Hawks 0
First period — 1. NI, Marshall Barnes 2 (Tom Reilly 1, Mitch Dolter 1) 6:51. 2. NI, Connor Clemons 1 (Braxton Collins 1, Shane Bernhardson 1) 15:57 (pp). 3. NI, Tyler Bump 2 (Collins 2, Clemson 2) 19:41. Second period — 4. NI, Owen Larson 2 (Barnes 3) 4:02. 5. NI, Dolter 1 (Brendan Studioso 1, Jason Miner 1) 7:12. 6. NI, Reilly 1 (Dolter 2, Studioso 2) 11:55 (pp). Third period — 7. NI, Collins 3 (Bump 3, Clemons 3) 8:53. 8. NI, Horka Sekesi 1 (Sean Mallonee 1, Dayton Honkanen 3) 16:52 (pp).
Shots on goal — NI 18-21-23—62, ROC 4-6-4—14. Goalies — NI, Drew Scites (W, 2-0-0; 14 shots-14 saves); ROC, Drew Schenkenberg (L, 0-1-0; 27:12, 25 shots-20 saves), Bailey Schmitz (ND; 32:48, 37 shots-34 saves). Power-play opportunities — NI, 3-for-11; ROC, 0-for-7. Penalties — NI, 7-25 minutes; ROC, 11-51 minutes.