Young Ice Hawks Team Gaining Confidence

It doesn’t show in their record — at least not yet — but the Rochester Ice Hawks are gaining confidence and momentum.

The Ice Hawks enter this weekend’s home games at the Rochester Recreation Center against the Wisconsin Whalers (7:05 p.m. Friday) and LaCrosse Freeze (7:05 p.m. Saturday) with four wins in 29 games.

It’d be easy for a young team to regress, to let down at times, but head coach Eric Hofmann sees this group going the opposite way.

 “They’re gaining confidence,” Hofmann said. “They’re starting as a whole to really buy into the systems and buy into what the coaching staff is telling them.

“They’re gaining the confidence in themselves that, it doesn’t matter how young or inexperienced we might be, we can play and compete with anyone.”

The Ice Hawks, who are 4-24-0-1 (W-L-OTL-SOL), have played well over the past three weeks.

That stretch started Dec. 18 with a 7-4 victory against the Cape Cod Islanders on the final day of the North American 3 Hockey League Showcase in Blaine. They followed that win with a 4-3 loss to defending league champion, and current Central Division leader North Iowa, a game in which Rochester held a 3-1 third-period lead.

Rochester then dropped a close 5-3 game at Wisconsin last weekend. Following Friday’s game against the Whalers, Rochester plays four consecutive games against LaCrosse. Those teams sit in second and third places in the Central Division. North Iowa leads the Central and Rochester is fourth in the five-team division, from which the top four teams advance to the postseason.

“Right now, the mood in our (locker) room is ultra-competitive and ultra-focused,” Hofmann said. “The next tw weekends … we’re laying good hockey and have (games against) the second- and third place teams for a few weeks. Our guys know what’s at stake; these are big games for us and the guys are definitely looking to make some noise and improve.”

Dating back to an 8-7 loss at LaCrosse on Nov. 6, the Ice Hawks have had eight of their 14 games in that stretch decided by two or fewer goals.

Hofmann credits the handful of veterans on the team.

“Our leaders, even the older guys who don’t have a letter on their chest … they’re inspiring,” he said. “To see it daily, the older guys pulling the younger guys aside to chat with them, it’s really cool to see that and know that they’re picking up what we’re saying.”

 A handful of Ice Hawks players have also had the experience in recent weeks of skating with the North American Hockey League’s Austin Bruins, to experience a higher level of play. The NAHL is a Tier II junior league.