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 Rockford IceHogs

Drew Commesso's First Pro Season

May 21, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Rockford IceHogs News Release

Drew Commesso's rookie season in the AHL featured highs and lows, but through mental strength and building confidence, the former second round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks found consistency in the second half of the campaign. In his first pro season, he led Rockford in every major goaltending statistic and set the foundation for his journey ahead.

In the first game of the 2023-24 season on Oct. 13, the IceHogs toppled the San Jose Barracuda 7-2 at Tech CU Arena. Rockford's offensive output was the main story of the night, but the game also featured Commesso's professional debut in which he stopped 34 of 36 Barracuda shots and even tabbed an assist. In his third professional start two weeks later, the netminder became the youngest IceHogs goaltender to record a shutout with a 3-0 win against the Grand Rapids Griffins at the BMO Center on Oct. 28. At 21-years-old, Commesso saved all 18 Grand Rapids shots to earn his first career AHL shutout and second win of the season.

"I think they were big for me, kind of just mentally, it's just knowing that I can play in this league," Commesso said. "You make the jump, and you don't really know what to expect. You know it's going to be faster; the guys will be stronger."

Commesso emphasized the importance of setting a positive tone early to carry through the rest of the long season.

"To get off to a great start, I think you kind of set the tone for the whole season, telling myself that I can do this and that I belong here," Commesso said. "I feel like I was a really good first brick building that wall this season. So, hopefully get off to a similar start next year and have a great year next year."

Despite such a strong start to his first professional season, Commesso struggled through the month of December, marking only one win, six losses and an overtime loss. From Dec. 1 to Jan. 5, Commesso posted a 3.83 goals-against average and a .869 save percentage-the worst of Rockford's three rookie netminders that month.

Through his three seasons at Boston University, including a trip to the Frozen Four in 2023, Commesso never lost more than four straight games. For the first time, the Norwell, Massachusetts native lost four consecutive games in regulation from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15 followed by a fifth loss on Dec. 17 to the Chicago Wolves in overtime.

"This season was a first for me in that, and I was pretty fortunate to play on some amazing teams the last few years," said Commesso. "The BU team and I went to the Frozen Four with- we didn't go through as much adversity as we did this year. We got through a span this year where we were losing a lot of games."

Facing down a 1-5-1-0 record in just the second full month of the season can be daunting for any goalie, especially a rookie, but Commesso had the mental strength to use the rough patch as a learning curve and focused on improving as the season progressed.

"Personally, I wasn't playing my best hockey, and it's tough mentally," said Commesso. "There's something that I really had to overcome, and I'm glad I went through it because it made me such a better person off the ice. It's really built me mentally, and I think tough times make tough people. I look back at that, and I'm glad I went through it."

Goaltending Development Coach Matt Smith acknowledged the time it took for Commesso to work himself into a comfortable spot. "I think sticking to his structure is a big part of it. And a lot of it is that learning curve where it takes time to develop a system, develop certain skill sets, and that doesn't happen overnight."

Commesso had to learn how to stay healthy mentally and physically over the course of a 72-game AHL season compared to a 30-or-so game college slate.

"It takes a lot, I think, especially this being my first professional season," Commesso said. "I played a ton of games, you know, a lot more than I was kind of used to, a lot of practices and stuff. So, a lot of it for me was learning-learning how to take care of my body, how to recover properly."

In the last two months of the season, Commesso improved markedly and went 9-4-0-0 with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage from Feb. 23 to Apr. 21. The team went 19-5-0-0 during that run to the postseason, including a seven-game win streak that started on Feb. 21.

After Jaxson Stauber started in net for Game 1 of the Central Division Semifinals series between the IceHogs and the Griffins, Commesso earned the next three starts in the best-of-five series.

The rookie was nearly perfect and stopped 27 of 28 shots in a Game 2 win. Two nights later, Commesso set an IceHogs AHL record with 19 saves in a single playoff period during the first frame of Game 3 and finished the contest with 38 saves on 42 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss. The Griffins eventually took the series three games to one, but the first-year pro showed his ability to deliver in big moments despite the outcome.

"On the ice at the end of the season was when I was feeling my best, felt really rested, really loose," said Commesso. "I'm really proud of how I took care of my body. Summertime now is a big time just to get rest and let my hips heal, my knees heal. You know, being a goaltender it's pretty taxing on those areas, so I'm looking forward to just get some rest right now."

Heading into the offseason, Commesso knows where he needs to improve and is ready to start practicing and working with his coaches to make the necessary changes to have an even better second season.

"I think there's a lot for me to improve on," said Commesso. "I think I improved on a ton this year. For me, it's more building off that and what our goalie coach Matt Smith is giving me all year has been incredible. He's been one of the best coaches I've ever had, and I'm sure we'll meet in the next few weeks here and get a game plan going. I know one thing I want to improve on is my East-West play and just getting faster. My goal is to play in the NHL, and I know the game's a lot faster, so that'll come with building strength in the weight room and getting faster on the ice."

Commesso finished the 2023-24 regular season 18-16-3-1 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. Looking back on his rookie year in the AHL with the IceHogs, Commesso only has a positive outlook on the experience and is looking forward to decompressing and making sure he's healthy and in the right headspace for next season.

"I'm really happy with the season," said Commesso. "I grew so much throughout the whole year, really, and I think I went through a little bit of a rough patch at the beginning of the season. Looking back, it was so big for me that I did because I learned, I grew so much. I think the last three or four months of this season, I was really rock solid. I look forward to building on that going into this summer. And yeah, right now I'm just focused on just getting healthy, relaxing, and getting ready for it to have a really great summer."

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