ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Rockford IceHogs coach Ted Dent has had a hand in the development of nearly half of the Chicago Blackhawks' current roster during his seven years with the organization.
Dent’s instruction as an IceHogs assistant and now a head coach for the past three seasons has helped players like Bryan Bickell and Corey Crawford progress in Rockford and turn into key components for the Blackhawks.
Dent’s team this season is one of his youngest, but it’s also full of players with the potential to follow in the footsteps of players like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, who proved themselves in the AHL and earned their shots in the NHL.
Dent recently talked to ESPNChicago.com about his current team and the IceHogs’ role within the organization.
Q. Is having a younger team like this one a different sort of challenge for you?
A. I think it’s almost like we started the process over again, like where we were two or three years ago. I think last weekend we had eight first-year players in the lineup out of our 18, and that’s a lot. First pro game, there’s some jitters, and pro hockey is new. They don’t know the opposition. They don’t know the rinks. They don’t know us as coaches yet and what we expect out of them. Traditionally, it’s always taken 30-40 games for our group to get going because we have so many young players every single year. But in saying that, it’s part of our job as coaches to bring them along, groom them and try to get them better every day.
Q. Do Philip Danault and Mark McNeil seem more prepared after completing their junior careers?
A. They should be. They’ve been here the end of the last two seasons. They came after their junior hockey and joined Rockford and then played a few games, so they know me. They know the rink. They know the surrounding a little bit, the city, so that can only help. You know they’re good hockey players. They’re different hockey players for sure. They’re going to have different roles on the team right now even though they’re playing together. For them to make the NHL, we’ve talked to them about what they need to do and what they need to work on, and now we just start the process.
Q. Are any of the forwards switching positions from wing to center or center to wing?
A. Well, McNeil is playing right wing right now. Danault is playing center. We have a team full of guys who have played center in the past. Pat Mullane has played center and now he’s playing wing for us. Byron Froese has played both positions. Alex Broadhurst has played center and now he’s playing wing. So we have some guys learning some new positions as well. I think that can only help their status or their opportunity to play in the NHL when you can play more than one position.
Q. You’ve been with the organization for some time now. Do the IceHogs have a different role in the organization than in the past?
A. We’ve watched the whole game plan come together. Rockford is here to develop players for the Chicago Blackhawks, and that’s been stated by Stan [Bowman] and by management, and that’s reiterated to us here in Rockford. The priority down here is not to win at all costs. It’s make sure the young guys get some ice time and play the pro game properly. I think we’ve seen it work here the last three years. I’ve been here seven years, and I’ve seen a lot of guys go to Chicago and contribute to the Blackhawks and help win two Stanley Cups, so it definitely works. Sometimes down here in Rockford, you try to do both at the same time. You try to play the young guys, get some ice time, put them in positions to succeed and fail. At the same time, we’re trying to win hockey games and compete for the playoffs.
Q. You can’t be too worried about your own winning percentage?
A. But you know we all get caught up in it because we’re competing. That’s why we’re in the business. We’re all competitive by nature. Sometimes you have to understand that we have young teams down here, and we’re not really built to win the Calder Cup every year, and that’s the way it is.
Q. Is it gratifying to see players go on from here and succeed with the Blackhawks?
A. It is definitely. That’s the rewarding part of the job to see guys that start in Rockford, that we’ve worked with or I’ve worked with directly for 2-3 years and then make it to the NHL and have an impact for Joel [Quenneville] and his team. Yeah, it’s fun to see that. When it does happen, it tells me that it’s working. The whole game plan, the process, does work, and we can play a small part in it.