As the lockout drags on, over 100 NHLers are playing in the American Hockey League, upping the pace and the standard of hockey expected to be played during each matchup.
Not only has IceHogs forward Brandon Pirri embraced the challenge, he's set the bar for what consistency and leadership should look like on the ice. With 13 points in 15 games played this season, he's leading the boards in Rockford, doubling his second-ranked teammate Martin St. Pierre in number of goals with a total of six.
As for the higher-caliber of players this season, Pirri hasn't felt the slightest bit intimidated, and he's proven that in his performance.
"The pace is higher, it's a little more open, but at the same time it's the same gritty league," Pirri told CSNChicago.com. "You have to battle for everything. Right now it's real tight, every game's close."
Playing alongside Blackhawks' Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, and Nick Leddy, Pirri has spent this season demonstrating that he can not only keep up with the Chicago players in town, but also shine among them.
Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville and other members of the Blackhawks brass have been in attendance at the BMO Harris Center in Rockford for nearly every home game, scouting the team and preparing for NHL season to return.
"You see them at the rink, but at the same time you have to worry about yourself and stay focused on the game, because if you worry about that stuff then you're not going to play your game," Pirri said.
Having the big dogs watching closely from the press box may not be directly affecting Pirri's style of play, but it sure will help his outcome if he keeps up these numbers as the NHL teams wait to return to the ice.
In the meantime, he'll continue working towards his final goal, "becoming a consistent pro."