The Rockford IceHogs: Comfortable in their Own (Hog) Skin

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The Rockford IceHogs, American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, know what people say about them, but they’re comfortable with who they are, and they know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

“A lot of people, they go, ‘IceHogs, that’s kind of a stupid name,’” said Mike Peck, the team’s broadcaster and director of business operations. “But it’s unique. I can tell you, before the Rockford IceHogs came about, there was no team anywhere in the world called IceHogs.”

Since the team’s inception in the late 1990s, the name has caught the imagination of hockey fans. “We have men’s club teams from all around the world calling us and asking us if they can use the team name IceHogs,” Peck said.

jpegNot only that, but a children’s book series called Brady Brady, which debuted in 2002, tells the story of a boy who plays for a hockey team called—you guessed it—the Icehogs. (Note the lower-case H in the middle of the name.) I emailed author Mary Shaw, whose bio indicates that she is married to a former professional hockey player, to see if the name of Brady’s team was inspired by the AHL team in Rockford.

“I didn’t know about the Rockford Icehogs until years after the books came out,” she wrote back. “I think they have a great name obviously!!”

According to Peck, the team’s unusual name sets them apart. “Nothing against bears or eagles or falcons or wolves or hawks,” he said, “but ours is pretty unique and creative.”

Another of the IceHogs’ defining characteristics is the overall feeling of the logo. Again, the IceHogs are comfortable in their own skin.

“It’s cartoony,” Peck said. “We read a lot of the logo rankings, and depending on which way you look at it, I know the cartoony ones don’t always get ranked very high.” But, he continued, “It’s our image, our brand, but we also try to have fun with it. It’s minor league sports. You gotta have some fun with it.”

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Michael Leighton, via the IceHogs’ Facebook page

So where does the name come from? Why is a team from Rockford, Illinois, called the IceHogs? It turns out there’s not much of a connection between the animal and the place.

“Yeah, there are some hog farms in the area,” Peck said, “but nothing between Rockford and pigs or Rockford and hogs had ever been correlated before the IceHogs came about in 1998.”

The name was submitted to a name-the-team contest by a young girl from a neighboring town, and it beat out such other suggestions as the Mighty Oaks, the Roughnecks, and the Rhinos. The name and the logo have been consistent since the team’s debut season as a member of the United Hockey League in 1999, and the team has never considered making a change, even when they joined the AHL in 2006.

“There was an opportunity for us to change our name when we became affiliated with the Blackhawks,” Peck said. “But I can tell you from our standpoint when that whole thing was going down, we wanted to keep our brand, and our identity.”

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RuntsHeaderWhile the primary logo has not changed, the team does occasionally use an alternate version without a hockey stick in Hammy’s mouth, as on their alternate jersey above, and there’s a kind-of adorable pig’s butt logo, most commonly associated with the kids club logo at right.

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One thing that does change every year is a series of specialty jerseys the team wears to auction for charity. The logos have featured the team’s mascot, Hammy, in St. Patrick’s Day garb, as Elvis, and as Uncle Sam, to name a few. Some of the versions have specific meaning to Rockford itself, including one that pays homage to a local drum and bugle corp called the Phantom Regiment; another that features Hammy as a dinosaur skeleton, a wink and a nod to the city’s Burpee Museum of Natural History; and one that features Las Vegas, as the city is sometimes called Rock Vegas.

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Rick Nielson02.03Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll in Rockford, the 2003 specialty logo, pictured in action above and in detail at right, was designed by local rocker Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick. Nielsen was born in Rockford in 1946 and formed Cheap Trick with three friends from the town.

For the record, the specialty jersey that year was officially called the “I Want You To Want This Jersey.”

The IceHogs have a nonsensical name born from the imagination of a grade school kid, and a cartoonish logo that was never meant to win any logo competitions, but they’ve stuck with it because it’s popular locally and it works for them. In a way, they have done what we all want to do. They’ve learned to ignore their critics, embrace what they love about themselves, and not worry about being a little goofy now and again.