01/09/2017 11:25 AM
01/09/2017 11:25 AM -
By Tom Witosky | Follow @toskyAHLWild
When Derek Lalonde took over as the head coach of the Iowa Wild, one of his first calls went to veteran forward Jeff Hoggan.
Hoggan, a free agent after four seasons with the highly successful Grand Rapids Griffins, agreed to talk, but also did a lot of listening. Hoggan and Lalonde had gotten to know each other as members of the Detroit Red Wings organization, and they each had an immense amount of respect for the other.
“When we talked, we talked about the opportunity,” Hoggan remembered. “Just to be part of something special appealed to me a lot. I could see the environment was right for a turnaround.”
For Lalonde, the chance to pick up an experienced veteran who had helped lead the Griffins to a Calder Cup championship was too great an opportunity to pass up.
At 38, Hoggan has played hockey collegiately and professional for 20 years including 107 games in the National Hockey League for St. Louis, Boston and Phoenix. In the American Hockey League, he’s played over 700 games for the old Houston Aeros as well as in San Antonio, Providence, Worcester, Grand Rapids and now Iowa.
“I wanted him to play here because I knew what he would bring was something that we needed – veteran leadership,” Lalonde said.
Lalonde’s decision – from the outside – might have appeared to be suspect. After all, Hoggan, a native of Hope, British Columbia, has what some coaches would describe as “not a lot of tread on the tires anymore.”
But the 6-foot, 1-inch, 190-pound Hoggan credited Lalonde for “going to bat” for him.
“Coach Lalonde knew me personally from being in with the Red Wings. He went to bat for me to give me a chance,” he said. “It got me to start training harder in the offseason. I like this kind of challenge.”
Unlike in past seasons, Hoggan had to sign a tryout contract. He said that actually made him work even harder.
“It was a challenge for me to come in on a PTO because that meant I had no security,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re a rookie again who has to prove himself every day because one mistake might eliminate you from the plan.”
Hoggan also had another reason to make the Iowa team. His wife, Chevonne, is a Harlan Iowa native and the family (three boys ages 7, 6 and 2) lives in Omaha during the offseason. Hoggan met his wife while attending University of Nebraska-Omaha on a hockey scholarshiphis wife played volleyball for the Mavericks.
“It made sense for me to try to make it with Iowa partially because of the challenge, the other reason is family,” Hoggan said. “I think sometimes the boys think I’m home too much these days.”
Hoggan showed quickly that he likely belonged on the roster. In the first public scrimmage of Wild training camp, Hoggan scored a goal within the first 10 minutes. In his first 27 games, Hoggan scored four goals and three assists and also has played on every line.
“He has played on the first line and he’s played on the fourth line,” Lalonde said. “He has endured healthy scratches while we were getting our younger guys into the process. All the time he has maintained a huge presence in the room.”
In that room, Hoggan noticed a need to bolster the confidence of the group.
“What surprised me was just the fragility of the team’s confidence late in the games,” he said. “I was surprised by the lack of belief among team members knowing the skill set that these guys have.”
Hoggan said that team confidence has grown as the season has progressed, but that it is a constant concern.
“Guys are beginning to realize how good they are and it is beginning to improve,” Hoggan said. “We’ve had some bad breaks recently, but it’s a matter of mind set. You have to have the belief that you are going to win.”
As for his career, Hoggan said he understands that there is only so much tread left. But that doesn’t mean he is ready yet to call it a career.
“My approach is much the same – day by day hoping the body holds up. I take care of myself as best I can,” he said.
Asked if it’s been worth it to play for Iowa, Hoggan didn’t hesitate.
“It is kind of fulfilling,” he said. “As you get older as a player, you do feel it’s important to help the younger ones grow. It has worked quite nicely so far and I’m looking forward to the whole season.”