Hockey

The Chicago Blackhawks officially took possession of the Rockford IceHogs franchise in the spring of 2021. We are currently in the second full season in what is a 15-year agreement between the Blackhawks organization and the BMO Center (formally the BMO Harris Bank Center, more formally the Rockford Metro Centre).

The Blackhawks bought their AHL affiliate from the city of Rockford for 11.8 million dollars, giving them totally control of the franchise and ensuring that Hogs fans will be treated to AHL hockey through 2036.

Now, it’s time for those fans to get a look at the price tag for remaining the Hawks affiliate.

Cue ominous organ music here. Or not.

In reality, it would be foolish to believe that the organization would shell out nearly 12 million bucks and just retain the status quo. The Blackhawks extended a lease agreement that would have run out at the end of last season and laid down a new ice surface. This season, the big changes are being rolled out.

When this deal was announced in April of 2021, the BMO was to get 23 million dollars in renovations. The Hawks got a 13 million dollar grant from the state. The rest is being generated locally. The locals will also have to deal with the many changes that are being made around the BMO.

(Quick disclosure: I do not, nor have I ever lived in Rockford. I grew up in Northwest Illinois and currently live just south of Winnebago County. I have, however, been a IceHogs season ticket holder for over ten years.)

Where to start…where to start…let’s start with…

 

New Stuff At The BMO

This year, the scoreboard is new and is also hanging over center ice, so put a check in the “cool” column. There is a new lighting system and there are new luxury suites in the building. The restrooms have been given an overhaul. Oink Outfitters, the apparel/souvenir shop has been expanded and enclosed (more on this later).

I haven’t visited the concessions much this season, but apparently they’ve been renovated. The food stand next to section 105, which caused traffic issues, has a new roped-off crowd corral that makes a lot of sense.

The seating area of the BMO was renovated a few years back, along with the boards system, so the arena remains a pretty decent place to catch a minor league hockey game. It does appear that the Blackhawks are attempting to create an atmosphere in line with the one you’d get at the United Center, albeit on a much smaller scale.

There is definitely a movement afoot to put more of a Chicago stamp on the product, as opposed to the recent “Our Town, Our Team” slogan of recent seasons. It’s as plain as the togs the players are sporting.

 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Over the summer, the IceHogs logo underwent a change from the previous look, shown below.

It was a pretty decent upgrade, removing the stick from Hammy’s mouth and placing his head in a circular logo with “Rockford IceHogs” surrounding him. My thought at the time, “Neat. That will look great on the sweaters.”

Change is gonna happen…no problem, right?

Cut to the announcement months later of the new Rockford sweaters. Same style, same colors, new logo…wait, what?

Where’s the ring around Hammy identifying the team as the Rockford IceHogs?

Should Rockford fans be bent out of shape because the Chicago owners erased the team name from the sweaters? Seems like a trifle, especially when you CHECK OUT THE NEW SCOREBOARD! It does seem a bit strange not to use the newly created logo being used everywhere else.

Regardless of what your opinion, we can agree that changes of this sort are done mostly to generate revenue. Before you ask, I’ve already ordered my new IceHogs sweater. Would have looked better with the redesigned logo, but there’s still a charm to the look.

Speaking of new looks…

 

Here’s Hammy Hawk…uh, Hog!

This summer, there were a series of vignettes that depicted Hammy Hog coming to a crossroads in his life and deciding to make an effort to get physically fit. He joined a gym (which, oddly enough, is a team sponsor), hit the weights with a vengeance, and presumably did a few sit-ups.

The new-and-improved Hammy made his debut right before the start of Rockford’s opening tilt at the BMO October 22. It was instantly apparent that Hammy had been faithfully attending his workouts. It was also apparent that he had visited a cosmetic surgeon.

Old Hammy:

Buff Hammy:

My first thought upon seeing the “new and improved Hammy”? “Geez, that looks a lot like Tommy Hawk.”

Hammy Slim roams the BMO with his drum in hand, jumping on railings and counters to lead cheers…a lot like Tommy Hawk does. You can see where this is going.

The new Hammy was greeted to more than a smattering of boos upon his entrance. When he visited our section, several fans shared some displeasure with his new look. Despite this, Hammy was cool enough to pose for the above photo.

To the credit of the mascot, Hammy walked his beat, led cheers, and took time to visit the younger fans. Stick tap for Hammy for going about his work in what must have been a hostile environment.

The team really hasn’t publicly explained the vastly different face, though it appears to be a permanent thing. Despite claims, Hammy hasn’t traumatized any young fans that I have seen. There is a petition with a lot of signatures asking for a return of a heftier Hammy. Many of the BMO fans continue to boo the mascot, though most have had little problem cheering him when he brings out free pizza.

Again, a big-city Chicago update to the local Rockford mascot. Just part of the plan. Did I mention the Hogs spent 11.8 million dollars on the IceHogs?

My defense of the changes:

  1. It’s got to be easier to move around and to see for the mascot.
  2. Hammy belongs to the kids. I’m there for the hockey.
  3. CHECK OUT THAT NEW SCOREBOARD!

I’m not wild about the head, but I’m not about teaching hate. When I enter the BMO, Hammy can count on a high-five and a “Keep On Truckin’, Hammy!” from at least one fan. (Note: That fan is me. I high-five Hammy and instruct him to keep on truckin’.)

 

The Wall Of Yesterday

One of the interesting things to check out at the BMO was the Stars Of Tomorrow Wall. It had photos of the many former IceHogs who had reached the NHL. Fans would often spend time during intermission checking out the wall and reminiscing about players and days gone by.

Remember when I mentioned the team store expansion? The Hawks removed the Stars Of Tomorrow display in the process.

Where are they relocating it? They’re not. They’re selling the photos in the store. For money. For them to have, see? Feel the local flavor diminishing and the corporate coffers filling. Muah-hah-hah-hah-hah.

Now, there is still some renovation to be done at the BMO. Maybe a similar display will be erected on some of the thousands of square feet of bare walls around the concourse. We’ll have to wait and see.

 

Wheel Of Broadcasters

The IceHogs have continued to use a rotation of fill-ins in the broadcast booth ever since parting ways with the long-time voice of the Hogs Joseph Zakrzewski, who last took to the mic on October 23. There has still been no formal announcement by the team on Zakrzewski’s departure or a permanent replacement.

Zakrzewski was also Rockford’s media director, a position that I assume is still vacant as well. Finding a mid-season replacement may prove to be difficult; stay tuned.

 

Change Is Change

It’s a little disheartening to see some of the Rockford taken out of the team. That said, there are some folks down in Peoria who would love to have their building upgraded with a new ice system. The team is in town at least through 2036; there are plenty of silver linings.

The Blackhawks are looking to get a return on investment, both on and off the ice. Attendance is up from last season and the IceHogs a fielding a vastly upgraded team from the young group of prospects of the last two seasons. Revenue streams have been upgraded as well, for better or for worse.

All Rockford fans can do is try and enjoy the on-ice product and the BMO experience in whatever form it mutates. It may be our town, but it’s their team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are just short of the quarter pole in the 2022-23 season. So far, the team has had little problem putting the puck in the net. Rockford is competing, though this is a team that should be able to find another gear in regards to challenging for a Central Division title.

With injuries forcing the IceHogs to use the latter half of their depth chart at goalie, Rockford has had to put up huge offensive numbers in order to win. Through 17 games, they have been able to supply the necessary goals to compete on a nightly basis.

I’ve been a broken record in my concerns for the goal-keeping. If Arvid Soderblom returns to the Hogs for a stretch and plays to form, it could push the piglets into that aforementioned gear. Here’s a closer look at the season through the first two months.

 

The Numbers So Far

This is how the 9-7-0-1 piglets are faring 17 games into their 72-game schedule:

The IceHogs sit right in the middle of the Central Division standings. That would be fourth place, with 19 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 24 points, followed by Texas (22) and Manitoba (20).

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee atop the AHL in scoring with a 4.06 per game average. Defensively, the Hogs give up 3.59 goals per game, 26th in the league. They’re fourth in the league in shots (33.53) per game, and 26th (32.35) in shots allowed. The latter number is consistent with last year’s team.

The IceHogs are converting 23.2 percent of their power play opportunities, while snuffing out 77.3 percent of their opponent’s chances. Rockford has given up five shorthanded goals, tied for the worst in the league, while potting just one shorty themselves.

The Hogs have four players in the top 20 scorers in the AHL. Brett Seney (10 G, 13 A) is tied for third. David Gust (10 G, 12 A) is tied for fifth. Lukas Reichel (8 G, 11 A) is tied for tenth, while Luke Philp (11 G, 7 A) is tied for 13th. Philp leads the team with his eleven goals and is fourth in the AHL in that category.

Issak Phillips (2 G, 12 A) leads the league in skater rating (plus-16) and is tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. Jakub Galvas (1 G, 11 A) is tied for 12th. Alex Vlasic (1 G, 5 A) leads AHL rookies with a plus-11 rating.

 

How Are Those Veteran Pickups Doing?

Go back a couple of paragraphs. They’re spanking fantastic.

The firm of Gust, Seney, and Philp have accounted for 31 goals and 36 assists in 17 games. That’s 45 percent of the IceHogs team goal total of 69. Can this be sustained? Probably not, but several players are starting to find the range.

Dylan Sikura (6 G, 5 A) had back-to-back two-goal games this weekend and could be poised for a December to remember. Buddy Robinson (4 G, 3 A) is chipping in and has been a threat around the net for most of the season so far.

Defenseman Adam Clendening has been a bit underwhelming, though he does have a goal and eight assists. Five of those apples have come on the power play. Clendening is a player who can be attacked in the defensive zone. Hence, his minus-14 rating, which is the lowest in the AHL at the moment. The Hogs didn’t sign Clendening to be a defensive stopper, but there is room for improvement.

 

What About The Kids?

Cole Guttman is starting to pick up some steam in his rookie season. Guttman missed almost a month of action after suffering a concussion on October 15. In eight games since returning to the lineup, he has three goals and four assists.

Phillips, Galvas, and Vlasic have been the backbone of the Hogs blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 2 A) has played 16 games and been a solid third-pairing defender. At 6’8″, Crevier moves pretty well and is adjusting to the pro game.

Michal Teply (3 G, 6 A) started the season slowly but is getting to the net a lot more. Like some other young prospects, Teply is having to compete for ice time. Hogs coach Anders Sorensen recently placed him on a line with Reichel, so his offensive production could soon take off.

 

Roster Happenings

Captain Garrett Mitchell was missing from the lineup for the past three games after injuring his shoulder in Rosemont on November 19. No announcement from the team; until that happens, I’d assume that Mitchell will be out for at least three or four weeks.

Buddy Robinson had a scare on Wednesday night, taking a hit from the Stars Rhett Gardner along the boards by the Rockford bench in the first period of action. Robinson was helped from the ice, unable to put weight on his right leg. He did not return to the game, but was in the lineup for both games against Milwaukee.

After a strong performance in net in Wednesday’s victory, Mitchell Weeks was returned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Despite being Rockford’s top-performing goalie so far this season (3-1-1, 2.95 GAA, .909 save percentage), Weeks is the current odd man out because both Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells are on NHL contracts.

On Thursday, Ian Mitchell returned to the IceHogs from Chicago. He played in both games with the Admirals this weekend, picking up an assist on Friday night.

Friday saw D Cooper Zech being assigned to the Fuel. Since being swapped for Evan Barratt a month ago, Zech has been a healthy scratch in all but two games on October 29 and November 2. Zech was scoreless in both contests. Incidentally, since the trade, Barratt has played just two games in Lehigh Valley, with one assist.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 23-Rockford 7, Texas 2

Rockford chased Matthew Murray from the crease with three goals in the first 10:30 of action, cruising to a win over the visiting Stars.

The IceHogs wasted little time carrying the attack to Texas, converting on a turnover to take a lead they would never relinquish. Cole Guttman picked off a pass along the halfboards of the Stars zone, skated to the right dot, and sent an offering that beat Murray to the far side at 1:24 of the first period.

Guttman’s tally was quickly followed by a goal by Brett Seney at the 3:26 mark. Issak Phillips‘ strike from the right circle at 10:30 of the first ended Murray’s evening with three goals allowed on seven Rockford shots. The Texas net was filled by Anton Khudobin for the remainder of the game.

Down 3-0 entering the second stanza, Texas got on the board when Stars captain Curtis McKenzie redirected a Ben Gleason shot past Hogs goalie Mitchell Weeks at the 3:24 mark. Rockford quickly re-established the three-goal advantage at 4:56 when David Gust guided a loose puck into the Stars net for his ninth goal of the season.

Rockford limited Texas in the Hogs zone, breaking up centering attempts and effectively preventing a lot of traffic in front of Weeks. The Stars put on some pressure in the final twenty minutes, but Weeks stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period. Only Alex Petrovic‘s shorthanded goal got past the Rockford rookie, while the Hogs lit the lamp three more times.

Seney’s second goal of the night midway through the third gave Rockford a 5-1 lead. After Petrovic cut the lead to 5-2, Luke Philp and Lukas Reichel got in on the scoring in the final minutes of action.

 

Friday, November 25-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

When the smoke cleared, the IceHogs stood tall in this Central Division track meet. Rockford broke the Admirals’ four-game winning streak with a come-from-behind victory.

Milwaukee took an early 2-1 lead on a pair of goals by Tommy Novak, sandwiched around a power-play tip-in by Rockford’s Cole Guttman. Bobby Lynch tied the game midway through the first period with a put-back of Carson Gicewicz‘s initial shot. However, Cole Schneider converted a power-play chance for the Admirals, who led 3-2 after 20 minutes.

There was no scoring in the second period, though the pace did not slow. Both teams dismantled rushes up and down the ice, contesting passes and checking hard at both ends. Milwaukee goalie Devin Cooley made 15 saves in the middle frame to keep his club in the lead.

At the other end, Hogs netminder Dylan Wells wasn’t as busy, stopping eight Milwaukee attempts. However, he might have made the two biggest saves of the night midway through the second.

Wells stood his tallest when Brett Seney was stripped of the puck at the Milwaukee blue line by Luke Evangelista. The Admirals forward streaked toward the Hogs’ net completely unchallenged. Wells denied the shot attempt, as well as Zach Sanford‘s follow-up shot to snuff out the scoring threat.

The IceHogs got power-play goals from Lukas Reichel and Dylan Sikura early in the third period, surging to a 4-3 lead. Schneider’s second goal on the man advantage pulled Milwaukee even at four 9:32 into the period before Rockford took over the game.

Seney, whose slashing infraction had led to the Admirals’ equalizer minutes before, skated to the high slot in time to take in a backhanded pass from behind the net by Alex Vlasic. Seney’s aim was true, and the Hogs led 5-4 on his tenth goal of the season at the 12:18 mark.

Wells sent a couple of Milwaukee shots away over the next few minutes, allowing Sikura the chance to put the game away with 3:04 remaining. Sikura maneuvered into the slot and sent a shot through some well-placed traffic to get it past Cooley and into Twinesville to close out a busy night of scoring.

Sikura’s two goals earned him First-Star honors. Reichel and Seney, each of whom had a goal and two helpers, were Second and Third Stars, respectively. Guttman (1 G, 1 A) could also claim a multi-point evening.

Wells recovered from a frustrating opening frame to stop 15 of Milwaukee’s last 16 shots on goal. He picked up his third win of the season with 24 saves on the night.

 

Saturday, November 26, Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

The Admirals gained a measure of revenge on visiting Rockford at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena Saturday night, using a big third period to split the weekend home-and-home with the IceHogs.

Milwaukee wasted little time in building a lead. Egor Afanasyev pounced on a rebound in front of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber and flipped it into the basket 2:19 into the contest. The Admirals added tallies from Cole Schneider and Roland McKeown. Schneider attempted a centering pass to Tommy Novak in front of the Rockford net. Defenseman Adam Clendening denied the pass, but the puck came off his stick and into the goal at the 7:36 mark.

McKeown made it a 3-0 game at 10:22 of the first. Taking a pass from Kevin Gravel, McKeown launched it from the right point past Stauber, who was screened by Zach Sanford and Tommy Apap.

Midway into the opening period, the IceHogs were in a hole. Dylan Sikura started the digging for Rockford, jumping on loose pucks for a pair of goals in the last 3:53 of the first. Both were set up by defenseman Issak Phillips, who had three helpers on the night. The IceHogs were able to draw even with Milwaukee 7:04 into the second stanza when David Gust streaked to the right dot and went to the far post with his shot past Admirals goalie Yaroslav Askarov.

Milwaukee regained the lead 3:18 into the third period. With Stauber way out of his net, Afanasyev skated around the Rockford cage and completed the wraparound attempt just ahead of the stick of Hogs defenseman Louis Crevier.

The Admirals lead became 5-3 after the IceHogs first penalty of the evening. Alec Regula was called for slashing 7:08 into the third period. At 8:47, Markus Nurmi , set up by Afanasyev, sent a shot over Stauber’s glove from the left circle. Rockford attempted to load up for another comeback, pulling Stauber in the final minutes for an extra skater, but Askarov kept the puck out of harm’s way for the remainder of the game.

Askarov finished with 23 saves for Milwaukee. The Admirals rookie is now 7-3 on the season with Saturday’s win. Stauber stopped 23 of 28 shots in a losing effort.

 

Head East

Rockford travels to Springfield (Friday) and Hartford (Saturday) this weekend.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as the season progresses.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs took two out of three games this past week. The piglets spoiled Wednesday morning for hundreds of Grand Rapids children with a morning stomp of the Griffins, then split a home-and home with the Chicago Wolves over the weekend.

Rockford is now 7-6-0-1 on the season. With 15 points, the IceHogs sit in fifth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Faced with the prospect of treading water in the face of some depth issues in net, Rockford has managed to hover around the .500 mark. With the pace that is expected of the Hogs, the goaltending will be paramount to the team’s playoff aspirations.

 

Scoreboard!

What is keeping Rockford afloat the first month is offense. The Hogs are soaring at 3.79 goals per game, tied for fourth in the league.

Rockford has three skaters in the top 20 of AHL scorers. By way of comparison, the IceHogs seldom have anyone in the top 100 scorers. David Gust (8 G, 10 A) sits in eighth place, with Luke Philp (10 G, 6 A) and Brett Seney (7 G, 9 A) are among several skaters tied for 14th. Philp leads the Hogs in goals with ten and is tied for second in the league in that category.

Several Blackhawks prospects are also filling the net on a regular basis. After a torrid start, Lukas Reichel (6 G, 8 A), has tapered off after a lackluster performance on November 2 against Milwaukee. Reichel has two goals and two assists in eight November games.

Michal Teply, on the other hand, started the season with four scoreless outings before getting on track. In his last seven games, Teply has three goals and five helpers. That includes the game-winning goal in Rosemont on Saturday night.

 

Roster News

After returning from an injury last week, Jaxson Stauber was a scratch for both weekend games against the Wolves. Mitchell Weeks was recalled from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Thursday and dressed for both games. He stopped 24 shots at Allstate Arena in Rockford’s overtime win over Chicago.

On Wednesday, D Alec Regula was reassigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks. The next day, Ian Mitchell was called up to Chicago. On Friday, D Cliff Watson was sent to Indy by the IceHogs.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell suffered an injury midway through Saturday’s win in Rosemont. Mitchell was sent hard into the end boards in the Wolves zone by Chicago defenseman Max Lajoie. Mitchell quickly got up, but skated directly to the locker room with appeared to be a separated left shoulder.

Mitchell has been an unquestioned leader of this IceHogs team nearly from the moment he arrived in the middle of the 2019-20 season. There are several veterans who can pick up the slack on the ice in terms of leadership should Mitchell be out for a stretch, as may well be the case by the way he looked exiting the rink Saturday.

 

Who’s Got The Call?

Over the last couple of weeks, a voice has been missing from the IceHogs broadcast booth. Joseph Zakrzewski, who manned the microphone for nearly five seasons, broadcast what turned out to be his final game at the BMO on October 23 vs Manitoba.

Zakrzewski has been absent from the airwaves ever since. His tweet on November 8 announced that his time with the team was at an end. Like his arrival in 2017, Zakrzewski departs in the middle of the season. No announcement was made by the organization.

If the Blackhawks, who own the Rockford franchise, has a plan for the broadcast booth, it is unclear at this time. It does not appear that a permanent replacement for his position has been hired.

Several hired guns have filled the void on the air over the last few weeks. These include Chicago Steel broadcaster Mark Citron, Kane County Cougars announcer Connor Clingen, Wisconsin Women’s hockey broadcaster Reid Mangum, Tyler Kuel, and WGN’s Joe Brand, who called this weekend’s games.

Where will the carousel stop? Who knows at this point?

Zakrzewski was a well-liked broadcaster at the BMO Center who knew his game and was a fun listen. The powers that be have some big shoes to fill.

 

Who’s Got The Cup?

Rockford has hosted the Wolves on three occasions this season. I’ve been searching the BMO Center during each matchup searching for the grail-like token of glory that is the Illinois Lottery Cup.

My search, alas, has been fruitless. The ILC debuted back in 2011, where the Hogs and Wolves, along with the Peoria Rivermen (then of the AHL), waged battle for the magical chalice. When the 2019-20 season was halted early, Rockford stood poised to claim the cup with a 6-3-1 record against Chicago. Last season, the cup was earned via the Hogs 8-3-0-1 record against the Calder Cup-winning Wolves.

So, I inquire again…where is the Illinois Lottery Cup?

All signs point to money. No sponsor, no Illinois Lottery Cup. However, does it really have to be that way? Couldn’t the Lottery folks just donate this talisman to the rivalry? Could an enterprising fan purchase the cup for, say, ten bucks?

That’s the price the Blackhawks are selling the Stars Of Tomorrow placards that used to hang proudly on the wall heralding the former IceHogs that reached the NHL. Could the Blackhawks earmark some of the money they saved on the new Hammy Hog mask to obtain the trophy of Wolves domination?

All right. Way too fired up right now. Time for those recaps.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 16-Rockford 5, Grand Rapids 1

The piglets spotted Grand Rapids a 5-1 lead at Van Andel Arena before the Rockford offense snowed under the Griffins.

Joel L’Esperance had the only goal of the morning with his lamp-lighter 13:38 into the opening period. From that point, it was all Rockford.

The Hogs tied the game 1:18 into the second stanza with a goal by Luke Philp. The eventual game-winner came from the stick of Ian Mitchell, who scored the first of his two goals at the 3:02 mark. Lukas Reichel and Buddy Robinson also sent rubber to twine in the second period, which ended with Rockford up 4-1.

Like his first goal, Mitchell’s second tally was on the power play. It came at 4:57 of the third period and closed out the scoring for both teams.

Dylan Wells posted 29 saves to pick up his second win of the season. Mitchell, Reichel, and Robinson were voted the game’s Three Stars.

 

Friday, November 18-Chicago 4, Rockford 3

In a game where special teams played a big factor, the Wolves Nathan Sucese potted a short-handed game-winner midway through the third period.

Rockford was the aggressor for several stretches of action on Friday. That included the opening minutes, which saw the Hogs take a 1-0 lead on a Buddy Robinson goal. Robinson’s fourth goal of the season was a tip-in of an Adam Clendening shot at the 2:09 mark of the first period.

Chicago didn’t get much going until the latter stages of the period. However, they capitalized twice in the last five minutes on goals by Griffin Mendel and Vasily Ponomarev to take a 2-1 advantage into the locker room.

Luke Philp got the first of two goals on the night to tie the game midway through the second period. The goal was a short-handed set up by a fantastic effort by Rockford forward Josiah Slavin, who skated a loose puck from coast to coast before centering to Philp in the high slot.

The score stayed at 2-2 until the start of the final frame, when Malte Stromwell sent a shot past Hogs goalie Dylan Wells at the 1:51 mark for a power-play goal. Philp tied the game again with his second goal. This one also came on the man-advantage, a shot from the left circle that beat Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko 9:22 into the third.

The game-winner came less than two minutes later. The Wolves had exploited Wells losing his net several times throughout the evening. This time, a rebound came off the pads of Wells, rolling just out of his reach. Sucese beat several Hogs to the loose puck and deposited it into the cage at 11:20 of the third period.

Down 4-3, Rockford mounted a big push for the equalizer, pulling Wells with just under three minutes to play. A Wolves penalty gave the IceHogs a six-on-four advantage for most of the last two minutes of the game. Several shots were taken, but Sawchenko held firm to give Chicago the win.

 

Saturday, November 19, Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (OT)  

Rockford gained redemption in the rematch at Allstate Arena, though it took some extra skating to do so.

Jamison Rees put the Wolves up 1-0 4:33 into the game with his third goal of the season. The IceHogs generated plenty of chances, though they were turned away by former Rockford goalie Cale Morris.

The action picked up in the middle of the second stanza. David Gust got his stick on a loose puck at the left post, sliding it past Morris at the 7:16 mark. Shortly after Gust’s tally, Michal Teply sent an Issak Phllips feed from the left circle to the back of the Wolves net at 8:10 of the second.

Rees quickly responded for Chicago. Mitchell Weeks stopped the initial attempt, but Rees gathered the rebound and tied the game at 8:42.

Rockford took a 3-2 advantage 14:06 into the period when a shot by Alex Vlasic snuck past Morris from to top of the right circle. The Wolves got back to even ground with a shorthanded goal by Nathan Sucese at the 1:58 mark. Rockford nearly got the lead back in the final minute, but Phillips’ shot from the left circle came to a stop on the goal line, just not across it. The teams went into the intermission all even.

Neither Weeks or Morris wavered in the final 20 minutes of regulation, despite each team getting ample time on the power play. Rockford was stymied by the Wolves penalty kill four times, while the Hogs denied Chicago twice on man-advantages.

The IceHogs started Gus Macker Time with four skaters thanks to an unfinished power play from regulation. However, it took the bulk of the extra session to declare a winner. That declaration was made by Teply, who skated into the slot as the clock began to run out. His shot beat Morris, clanged off the crossbar, and tumbled into Twinesville to end the game with 11 seconds remaining in overtime.

 

This Week

The piglets have a Wednesday night showdown with Texas at the BMO, then start a home-and-home with Milwaukee in Rockford on Friday. Saturday, the Hogs travel to Milwaukee for another tilt with the Admirals.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for semi-rational thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

Hockey

How many goals do the Rockford IceHogs have to score to get a win these days?

A lot. At least for a while.

The piglets are dropping an average of 3.73 goals per game on opponents in eleven games this season. Unfortunately, Rockford is giving up 3.82 goals to those opponents.

The Hogs dropped a 3-2 decision to Texas on Saturday night. A sluggish middle frame doomed Rockford as Texas scored three times to take control of the contest. On Sunday, Rockford prevailed in a see-saw affair by a score of 5-4, garnering a split of the weekend road trip.

As was the case last season, the IceHogs are surrendering a lot of shots-32.9 a game this season, the third-highest in the AHL. Last year, the play in net negated that stat to a certain extent. With a current lack of AHL experience in goal, it’s a different story.

Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells have a total of 30 AHL games between them. At the moment, Rockford lacks a goalie that can carry the main workload and hold opponents under three goals. In the Hogs first eleven games, they have held an opponent to under four goals just four times. Rockford is 3-1 in those games.

In the other seven games, the IceHogs are 2-4-0-1, despite averaging over three goals a game.

Rockford’s current goalie tandem is likely to continue to struggle to hold down the score. Until a goalie comes down from Chicago (Arvid Soderblom, perhaps?), the piglets will have to rely on their quick-strike offense in order to stay competitive in the Central Division.

 

Some Triumphant Returns

Ian Mitchell, who had been recovering from a right wrist injury since training camp, was assigned to Rockford on Friday by the Chicago Blackhawks. Mitchell was on the ice for both games this weekend, picking up an assist in Sunday’s victory.

Cole Guttman had been on concussion protocol since hitting his head on the ice in Manitoba on October 15. He scored his first professional goal in his return to action on Saturday and was quite active on Sunday as well.

Stauber, who had been out since taking a puck to his mask on October 29, got the start on Sunday, stopping 42 of 46 shots to pick up his second win of the season. Also returning in net for Rockford was Wells, who had been with the Blackhawks the previous week. Wells made 33 saves in the IceHogs loss on Saturday night.

 

Talking Points

  • David Gust was the First Star of Sunday’s game with two goals and an assist. Those were his first points since a two-goal performance on November 3. Gust (7 G, 9 A) leads the IceHogs with 16 points. His seven goals is tied at the top of the Rockford stat sheet with Brett Seney (7 G, 8 A) and Luke Philp (7 G, 6 A).
  • Seney, who had an assist on Sunday, is currently on a nine-game point streak. He has recorded a point in ten of Rockford’s eleven games this season.
  • Philp, who potted the game-winner to go with two helpers on Sunday, has a streak of four games with points for the Hogs.
  • In addition to Guttman getting his first goal of the season, Bobby Lynch and Issak Phillips each found the twine for the first time this weekend. Both Lynch and Phillips scored in the second period Sunday to get Rockford back in the game.
  • Sunday’s game had more penalty minutes compared to a pretty tame contest Saturday. Both teams went 0-2 on the man advantage on Saturday and 1-4 on Sunday.
  • Philp’s goal came on the power play late in the third period Sunday after Texas forward Riley Damiani tied the game via the power play earlier in the period
  • Following this weekend’s action, the IceHogs (5-5-0-1) sit in sixth place in the Central Division standings with 11 points.

Lone Star Recaps

Saturday, November 12-Texas 3, Rockford 2

A solid start went for naught, as a sloppy second period spelled defeat for Rockford at the H.E.B. Center.

Cole Guttman made his return to the lineup count with his first professional goal. It came at 9:14 of the first period, when Guttman cleaned up a rebound of a Bobby Lynch shot. Garrett Mitchell got the play started, skating into the offensive zone and sending a pass off the halfboards to Lynch for the secondary assist.

The Hogs lead disappeared in the middle frame, as the Stars got a put-back by Fredrik Karlstrom at 10:44 of the second. Rockford was awarded a power play shortly after, but the puck suddenly became slippery. Brett Seney lost possession in the d-zone, leading to a Thomas Harley goal at the 12:14 mark.

Texas out shot the Hogs 18-4 in what may have been the worst span of play of the season for Rockford. The Stars capped the humiliation with Marian Studenic’s snipe from the top of the left circle, which got by Hogs goalie Dylan Wells at 17:36 of the second for a 3-1 Texas advantage at the second intermission.

The bulk of the third period saw the Stars prevent Rockford from rallying. Hogs starting goalie Dylan Wells was brought to the bench, leading to Seney tipping in a shot by Lukas Reichel with 2:31 remaining. Despite bringing Wells, who made 33 saves on the night, back to the bench, Rockford could not get the equalizer.

 

Sunday, November 13-Rockford 5, Texas 4 

The Stars sent 46 shots toward Jaxson Stauber on Sunday. The rookie goalie denied 42 shots, which was enough for the Hogs to prevail in the closing minutes.

The IceHogs got on the board early in the game when Issak Phillips gained possession in the neutral zone. He connected with Luke Philp, who hit David Gust entering the Texas zone. The shot from the right dot beat Stars goalie Matthew Murray 1:19 into the game for a 1-0 Hogs lead.

Texas evened the score behind a drive by former Hogs forward Tanner Kero. Kero was well-defended by Jakub Galvas, preventing Kero from getting off a serious shot. The puck, however, slid under the pads of Rockford goalie Jaxson Stauber at the 4:49 mark.

Gust restored the IceHogs lead 8:37 into the first. Cleaning up Philp’s wrister from the left circle, Gust converted on the rebound left by Murray for a 2-1 Rockford advantage. The Stars had two power-play chances turned away by Rockford, who held that 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

The middle frame was a see-saw affair. Texas quickly went out to a 3-2 lead on Kero’s second tally of the night and a deflection by Riley Tufte. Both goals came in the first two minutes of play.

The IceHogs took a while to respond, but got the game knotted at three in the fourteenth minute. This time, Gust played the part of facilitator, flipping a puck out of the defensive zone and to a streaking Bobby Lynch. The shot beat Murray to the high glove side at 13:30 of the second.

Issak Phillips gave Rockford a 4-3 lead late in the second with a one-timer set up by a offensive draw victory by Brett Seney. Ian Mitchell received the puck and slid it to Phillips for the long-distance strike with 44 seconds left in the period.

The Stars knotted the game at four goals on the power play three minutes into the third period. Riley Damiani got a shot over the glove of Stauber just as the man advantage was expiring.

Damiani was called for a high-stick 15:55 into the third to set up the eventual game-winner. As the IceHogs skated the puck across the Texas blueline, Mike Hardman threaded a pass to a streaking Luke Philp in the slot. Philp nabbed the feed behind the Stars defense and sent a backhand past the prone Murray at the 16:18 mark.

Murray was pulled for the extra attacker for most of the last two minutes, but Rockford held on to earn the weekend split.

 

This Week

Rockford is back on the road Wednesday, when they play an 11:00 a.m. EDT tilt with Grand Rapids. This coming weekend, the Hogs have a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves. Friday’s 7:00 p.m. CDT puck drop takes place at the BMO Center before the teams move to Rosemont for a 7:00 p.m. CDT start on Saturday at the Allstate Arena.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

Mitchell Weeks was in Indy trying to settle into his rookie season in net with the Fuel as of last week. Circumstances have resulted in him getting plenty of time in the cage of the Rockford IceHogs.

Weeks was recalled to Rockford Monday and been thrown right into the action at the BMO. The former Sudbury Wolves goalie found himself in all three of Rockford’s games this past week. Sandwiched between losses to Milwaukee and Iowa, Weeks picked up his first AHL victory Saturday night at the BMO Center against Grand Rapids.

From an organizational standpoint, Weeks, on an AHL deal with Rockford, is sixth on the depth chart at goalie. Dylan Wells, played for the Blackhawks on Saturday after being signed to an NHL deal. That was because Jaxson Stauber was injured last weekend in Rockford’s win over Belleville.

Arvid Soderblom, who should have been taking most of the workload for the IceHogs this season, is currently in Chicago (and possibly injured himself) after a groin injury to Petr Mrazek. Alex Stalock going down last week forced the Blackhawks to find help in net, hence the quick signing of Wells.

The IceHogs signed goalie Owen Savory to a PTO on Wednesday. Savory backed up Weeks Wednesday morning and Saturday night before Stauber returned to serve as the backup Sunday afternoon.

Rockford has shown that it has the firepower to put up big numbers on the scoreboard. The play in goal is going to go a long way toward making the Hogs a contender in the Central Division. Right now, that task is being shared by a very green crop of goalies.

 

Weekend Notes

  • D Alec Regula was recalled to Chicago on Halloween. The next day, Dylan Wells was released from his AHL deal so he could sign a contract with the Blackhawks. This move was done out of necessity, as Wells had a 4.27 GAA and an .867 save percentage in three games with the Hogs. Still, good on him for getting into his first NHL action in Winnipeg.
  • Wednesday, the IceHogs signed G Owen Savory to a PTO so that there would be a backup for Weeks this, uh, week. His last game action came last spring with U-Mass-Lowell. He had yet to start a game with Fort Wayne of the ECHL this season.
  • Rockford had pretty good luck with another U-Mass-Lowell goalie they signed to an AHL contract many years ago. That would be Carter Hutton, who spent two years in the Hogs/Hawks organization. Hutton had two outstanding seasons with the IceHogs and administered a beating to current Chicago goalie Petr Mrazek before moving on to a nine-year stint in the NHL. What will the future hold for Savory with Rockford? Only time will tell.
  • Gust (5 G, 8 A) and Brett Seney (6 G, 7 A) lead the IceHogs in scoring with 13 points each. Seney and Luke Philp (6 G, 3 A) pace the club with six goals. Gust and defenseman Jakub Galvas (1 G, 8 A) share the team lead in assists.
  • David Gust did not get a point in either weekend game after potting two goals Wednesday. He did, however, make himself a pest in front of the net and on the forecheck as teammates were able to score.
  • The piglets are currently scoring 3.78 goals per contest, fifth-best in the league. Unfortunately, Rockford has been surrendering 3.89 goals per game. That’s 27th in the AHL. Would those numbers be better with Arvid Soderblom and an AHL veteran sharing the net? Probably.
  • The Rockford power play (21.7 percent) and penalty kill (79.1 percent) are both ranked 16th in the AHL at the moment, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the league.
  • Wednesday’s loss was tempered by a couple of thousand screaming kids from area schools, gathered at the BMO at 10:30 a.m. for the early start with the Admirals. The enthusiastic cheers and morning start must have thrown Lukas Reichel off a bit, as it was not one of his better outings.
  • The BMO Meathead Society managed to put off starting the “Detroit Sucks” chant until a few minutes into the third period on Saturday. Usually, this group serenades the Griffins of Grand Rapids within a few seconds after the opening faceoff.
  • Despite goalies dropping like flies in the organization, one recent acquisition has proved to be up to the physical demands of the AHL. I’m talking, of course, about the paper towel dispensers in the BMO restrooms. They’ve stood tall in this opening homestand, providing assists to the new sinks on a nightly basis.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 2-Milwaukee 6, Rockford 4

The Rockford IceHogs dug themselves into an early hole in a rare morning matchup with the Milwaukee Admirals. A three-goal deficit proved too much for the Hogs to overcome Wednesday at the BMO Center.

Milwaukee was able to jump on rookie goalie Mitchell Weeks to the tune of 17 shots and three goals in the opening period. Igor Afanaseyev opened the scoring with a snipe from the slot 6:39 into the contest when Rockford left the middle of the ice open.

Weeks suffered some bad luck later in the period, when a pass attempt by Phil Tomasino wound up striking the skate of Hogs center Lukas Reichel and sliding past the Rockford goalie for a 2-0 Milwaukee lead at the 12:55 mark. Cole Schneider made it 3-0 via a power-play goal 16:42 into the first.

Rockford was able to convert on an Admirals turnover to get on the board late in the opening frame. Josiah Slavin led the rush and found Buddy Robinson, who got the play started in the defensive zone, at the right post. The tap in got past Milwaukee goalie Yaroslav Askarov at 18:24.

The Admirals took a 4-1 advantage midway through the second period on Luke Evangelista’s second goal of the season. Again, the IceHogs responded late in the frame, with Adam Clendening one-timing a pass from Alex Vlasic past Askarov at the 18:16 mark.

A Reichel turnover led to a Juuso Parssinen backhander 4:56 into the third period. Down 5-2, Rockford put on a late rally behind a pair of David Gust tallies. The second, coming with Weeks on the bench in favor of an extra skater, pulled the Hogs to within a single goal with 2:28 left.

Sorensen brought Weeks back to the bench in an attempt to pull even, but Schneider ended Rockford’s comeback bid with an empty-netter with 58 seconds remaining.

Weeks finished the night with 26 saves on 31 shots in his debut. Askarov stopped 29 shots to pick up his third win of the season.

 

Saturday, November 5-Rockford 4, Grand Rapids 1

Saturday night, Weeks gave up an early goal, then settled down, posting a 25-save gem against the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins.

The effort allowed Rockford’s quick-strike offense to eventually take control of the Central Division matchup. A big second period proved to be the difference.

Grand Rapids took an early lead on a Cross Hanas goal three minutes into the contest. In contrast to Wednesday’s loss, Weeks got stingy in the crease from that point on.

Rockford went into the first intermission tied at one on the strength of a Carson Gicewicz goal late in the period, set up by a beautiful backhand pass by line-mate Bobby Lynch.

Rockford broke the game open in a four-minute span late in the second period. With Pontus Andreasson and Drew Worrad in the penalty box with infractions four seconds apart, the Hogs power play got to work.

Lukas Reichel came around the boards with the puck, drove down the slot, and beat Griffins goalie Jussi Olkinuora to the twine at the 13:02 mark. Still up a man after the eventual game-winner, Luke Philp lit the lamp just 1:15 later, giving the IceHogs a 3-1 advantage. At 17:13 of the second, Brett Seney completed a power move to the front of the net, scoring his fifth goal of the season for a 4-1 Rockford lead.

Grand Rapids had three power-play chances in the third period to try and get back in the game. However, Weeks and the IceHogs penalty kill unit stopped them cold. For the evening, Rockford held the Griffins without a goal in six attempts with the man advantage.

 

Sunday, November 6-Iowa 5, Rockford 4 (SO)

The loss spoiled an impressive afternoon for the Rockford power play, which had three goals to put the Hogs in a position to win. Mitchell Weeks, making his third-straight start for Rockford in goal, stopped 47 Iowa shots but could not prevent the Wild from winning the shootout.

The two teams traded power-play goals in the opening period. Joe Hicketts pinballed a shot off both goalposts to give Iowa a 1-0 lead 5:52 into the game. Rockford tied the game with Luke Philp’s fifth goal of the season at the 10:56 mark.

The score stayed knotted until the waning minutes of the second period, when Rockford’s Luke Seney jumped on a rebound of a Louis Crevier shot at the left post. Before Wild goalie Zane McIntyre could slide across the crease, Seney sent the puck to the twine, giving the IceHogs a 2-1 advantage at 17:15 of the second period.

Iowa initially thought that they had tied the game on a Steven Fogarty tally late in the frame. The call on the ice was no goal; a call that was upheld after the period ended when the officials took a look at the replay.

However, when the teams came out to start the third, the call was re-evaluated and Fogarty was credited for his sixth goal of the season. What changed? The tablet being used for the replay froze up, forcing the officials to take another look on a working device. The final 44 seconds of the second period were replayed, this time with the game even at two goals.

The IceHogs took control of the contest in the final frame on the power play, with Michal Teply restoring the Rockford lead with a one-timer on the man advantage at 4:34 of the third. Philp got his second of the afternoon with a snipe from the right dot at the 11:04 mark.

With Philp in the box for hooking with 1:56 left, the Wild brought McIntyre to the bench. Immediately, Iowa drew cord with a Chaffee goal at 18:09 of the third. Rockford tried staving off another six-man push by the Wild in the closing seconds, only to see Chaffee sneak into the crease to knock in a loose puck past Weeks with six seconds remaining in regulation.

With no movement in the 3-on-3 session, the extra point was decided in the shootout. McIntyre denied Teply and Seney, while Iowa got shootout tallies from Sammy Walker and Nic Petan to end the game.

 

Texas-Sized Weekend

The piglets jet to Texas for a weekend back-to-back with the Stars. The first of those two games is Saturday night.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news and thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

Hockey

Back before the Rockford IceHogs home opener the previous weekend, I predicted that the scoring potential of this veteran-laden team would result in a slew of goals. Rockford put up four goals in a pair of losses at the BMO Center.

Turns out I was just a week off. The piglets were flying around the BMO ice this past weekend, and the offense came out to play.

The Hogs sent 13 shots to the back of opposing nets in a pair of wins, beating the Wolves 5-3 on Friday, then clobbering the Belleville Senators 8-2 on Saturday night. Rockford evened up its overall record to 3-3 while racing up the AHL offensive leaderboard.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the IceHogs are dangerously thin in their own cage. That situation may have become exacerbated with an injury to rookie Jaxson Stauber that may take a few days to evaluate.

Stauber took a puck to the mask in the second period in Saturday’s win that stuck in the eye hole. He left the game under his own power, but his immediate status is unknown. Regardless, the organization needs to address the lack of a veteran backstop for Rockford.

 

The Best Line In The AHL?

You could definitely make an argument that David Gust, Lukas Reichel and Brett Seney have been the league’s most effective forward line. They certainly are the hottest.

Gust had a tremendous weekend, following up a five-point effort against his former team with a pair of assists against Belleville. He’s tied for second in the league with eleven points (3 G, 8 A).

Reichel (4 G, 6 A) and Seney (4 G, 6 A) are tied for ninth in AHL scoring, with each player totaling ten points.

 

Goalie Depth Stretched To The Limit

Jaxson Stauber took a puck to the eye in the second period of Saturday’s win. After stopping seven of eight Senators shots, Stauber left the contest and did not return. Dylan Wells came in for the remainder of the game. Although he gave up a goal, he denied sixteen shots. The evening before, Wells picked up the win over the Wolves, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

Assuming that Rockford isn’t going to post five or six goals every night, the Hogs are dangerously thin in net at the moment. With Arvid Soderblom up in Chicago with the Blackhawks for the foreseeable future, the potential of Stauber missing some time does not give Rockford much experience in the crease.

Wells has 25 games of AHL action in four professional seasons. Stauber was removed from just his third AHL start when he was injured. In hindsight, the Blackhawks organization may have wanted to pick up a veteran who could have slipped through waivers and floated back and forth from Chicago to Rockford when needed.

If Stauber isn’t ready to play by Rockford’s game with Milwaukee Wednesday, expect Mitchell Weeks to be recalled to the IceHogs from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Weeks is 3-0 for Indy, with a 3.00 GAA and a .899 save percentage.

 

Loose Change

  • Friday morning, the IceHogs were 31st in the AHL (out of 32 teams) in offense with a 2.25 goals per-game average. Monday morning, Rockford was ninth at 3.67 goals.
  • The IceHogs power play was also 31st in the league, at just 6.1 percent (1-16). Monday morning, Rockford was…well, 25th, but at least they got their success rate (16.1, 5-31) into double digits.
  • Minus Adam Clendening, who did not play in either game this weekend, the D scored their first three goals of the season. Alec Regula had one in each game; Jakub Galvas pinched in on Friday for the lamp-lighter that ignited Rockford’s scoring explosion.
  • It was good to see Dylan Sikura and Buddy Robinson get their first goals over the weekend. Both players, especially Robinson, were just missing on prime chances until Saturday night. The line of Sikura and Mike Hardman, centered by Luke Philp, has the potential to be just as effective as the firm of Seney, Reichel, and Gust.
  • Carson Gicewicz and D.J. Busdeker are two of the few AHL holdovers from last season getting regular work so far this season. They’re toiling on the fourth line with good returns so far. Gicewicz tipped in an Issak Phillips slap shot for the sixth Hogs goal on Saturday, a play on which Busdeker was awarded the secondary assist. Both are high-motor skaters that helped anchor a group that killed ten of eleven penalties over the weekend.
  • Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain, sat out the Belleville game, with Bobby Lynch joining the fourth line.
  • Lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s goal-fest was new acquisition Cooper Zech getting his first start on the IceHogs defense. Zech didn’t break into the scoring column.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 28-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs broke a three-game skid in a big way Friday night.  With a pair of goals and three helpers, Gust factored in on every Rockford goal in the victory. Rockford picked up its first win this season at the BMO Center, thanks in part to a flurry of second-period goals.

The Wolves started strong, taking a 1-0 lead midway through the first on an Alexander Pashin tally. Rockford created some scoring opportunities late in the period but trailed by that score heading into the locker room.

The goal that got the Hogs rolling came off the stick of defenseman Jakub Galvas, who drove to the right slot and went far side on Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko. This tied the game at a goal apiece just 2:12 into the middle frame. Gust gave Rockford a 2-1 lead at the 6:15 mark, taking a pass from Brett Seney before splitting the defense and backhanding the puck into the Wolves net.

Chicago knotted the game at 8:39 of the second period when Nathan Sucese put back a long rebound of a David Ferrance attempt. However, the IceHogs responded by capitalizing on a Wolves turnover in their own zone. Mike Hardman deflected a pass attempt to Gust, who sent a shot from the slot past Sawchenko at 14:30 of the second.

The key sequence in the contest came in the closing minutes of the period. With 1:27 remaining, Max Lajoie appeared to tie the game for Chicago. The officials, however, ruled that Lajoie had knocked in the puck with a high stick, disallowing the goal. Rockford took full advantage, getting a deflection of a Galvas shot by Seney with two seconds to play in the second. This gave the IceHogs a 4-2 advantage at the second intermission.

An Alec Regula slapshot 25 seconds into the third period provided plenty of insurance. The Wolves Jamieson Rees closed out the scoring a few minutes later, but the Hogs held on behind Dylan Wells, who picked up his first win in net with 24 saves.

 

Saturday, October 29-Rockford 8, Belleville 2

After scoring five times in a win over Chicago on Friday, Rockford erupted for eight goals at the BMO Center.

The IceHogs got to work early, scoring 51 seconds into the contest with Dylan Sikura‘s first goal of the season. Less than a minute later, Lukas Reichel worked a two-man rush with Brett Seney and scored from the right post to put the IceHogs up 2-0.

Sikura got his second of the night at the 11:36 mark of the first period, the first of what would be four Rockford power play tallies. The one-timer from the top of the left circle trickled through the pads of Senators goalie Kevin Mandolese, prompting Belleville coach Troy Mann to remove him from the game for Mads Sogaard.

Belleville, who was outshot 9-1 by Rockford, stopped the bleeding and went into the locker room down 3-0. Instead of a push back from the Senators, the Hogs turned the offense up a notch.

The middle frame was a wild affair. Rockford put up four goals in the span of 2:15, starting at the three-minute mark with a power-play goal by Alec Regula. Buddy Robinson (PP), Carson Gicewicz, and Reichel quickly followed suit.

Mann removed Sogaard from the action after Reichel’s second of the evening in favor of Mandolese. it didn’t mater. Mike Hardman quickly sent a shot off the right post and into the net at the 7:40 mark.

Jake Lucchini broke up the shutout with a goal at the 11:03 mark, but Belleville trailed 8-1 at the second intermission. From there, it was mostly the teams trying to run out the clock and the officials trying to prevent garbage-time fights. Angus Crookshank converted on a power-play chance midway through the third to close out the scoring.

 

Busy Week Ahead

The piglets will rise early to take on Milwaukee in a 10:30 a.m. start on Wednesday. After getting its first gander at the Admirals, Rockford ends the seven-game home stand Saturday and Sunday. Saturday at 7:00 p.m., the Hogs open the season series with Grand Rapids. The following afternoon, the Iowa Wild visit the BMO Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs opened the refurbished BMO Center (note the refurbished name) with a pair of disappointing losses. On Friday, the Chicago Wolves picked up an easy win over Rockford. The next afternoon, Manitoba moved to the top of the Central Division standings behind a half-dozen goals.

What went wrong over the weekend? Allow me to share some thoughts before this week’s recaps.

  • Offensively, Luke Philp and Brett Seney have been as good as advertised. Each has three goals and an assist in Rockford’s first four games. Lukas Reichel (2 G, 4 A) paces the piglets with six points, but looks to be pushing the action a bit, rather than slowing down and letting scoring opportunities develop.
  • Aside from David Gust’s goal in Manitoba October 15, the firm of Philp, Seney and Reichel have accounted for all of Rockford’s goal scoring. Some diversity is sorely needed.
  • The IceHogs were better Sunday in terms of creating legit scoring chances. They just didn’t convert. Passes connected but couldn’t be hauled in. Pucks were in the crease with no one to jump on them. In short, this Rockford offense is just a tad out of synch.
  • Players like Buddy Robinson and Dylan Sikura had some chances that weren’t fully realized. Hopefully Hogs coach Anders Sorensen can get three lines that click in practice this week, then get the occasional greasy goal from players like Josiah Slavin and Evan Barratt.
  • The goalie situation suffered with Arvid Soderblom being recalled to the Blackhawks Friday after a injury to Petr Mrazek. A tandem of Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells is not the tandem of a contending AHL team. It was on full display this weekend, particularly on Sunday. If Soderblom is to be with the Blackhawks for an extended period of time, a move needs to be made to obtain a veteran goalie to pick up some slack in Rockford.
  • Adam Clendening had a rough game on Saturday, taking three penalties and encountering trouble quarterbacking the power play. He was better on Sunday, with a secondary assist on Seney’s third-period goal. The first power play unit is four forwards and Clendening. On several occasions, opponents have been able to generate shorthanded opportunities by skating hard up the ice and forcing Clendening to defend.
  • Rockford was 1-8 on the man advantage this weekend, while giving up four power play goals on ten opponent chances. The lack of success on the penalty kill had a big effect on the Hogs fortunes; both Chicago and Manitoba swung the games in their favor with two power play strikes in the second period.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan made his IceHogs debut on Sunday afternoon. He scrapped with Jeff Malott and Mikey Eyssimont in a ten-minute span of the third period and was given a game misconduct for doing so. He now leads Rockford with two fighting majors and 20 penalty minutes.
  • On Saturday morning, the IceHogs announced that rookie forward Cole Guttman was in concussion protocol, dating back to October 15 in Manitoba when he appeared to hit his head on the ice in a fall.
  • Alex Vlasic and Alec Regula added to the blueline depth in Rockford. Both Vlasic and Regula played in both games this weekend.

Recaps

Saturday, October 22-Chicago 4, Rockford 1

A rash of penalties in the first two periods was too much for the IceHogs to overcome despite several key scoring opportunities. The Wolves spoiled Rockford’s home opener, beating their Central Division rival in convincing fashion.

Chicago took a 1-0 lead at the 14:28 mark of the opening period, after the Hogs sent an early flurry of pucks toward Wolves goalie Zachary Sawchenko. William Lagesson struck from the left post to give Chicago a lead they would never relinquish.

Rockford had a chance to tie the score when Bobby Lynch was awarded a penalty shot at 16:37 of the first period. Lynch got Sawchenko down on the ice, but couldn’t get the backhand shot over the goalie’s pads.

The Wolves began the middle frame with a short power play held over from a slashing penalty by Hogs defenseman Adam Clendening. Chicago needed just 16 seconds to convert. Jack Drury knocked in a feed by Anttoni Honka for a 2-0 Wolves lead.

The IceHogs closed the gap to 2-1 with a one-timer off the stick of Lukas Reichel. Assists went to Brett Seney and former Wolves forward David Gust at the 14:08 mark.

Seney was called for tripping late in the second period, leading to Brenden Perlini‘s first goal of the season with 51 seconds remaining. Outshot by Chicago 26-16 through 40 minutes, the IceHogs trailed 3-1.

The pivotal point in the final period was near the midway point, when Griffin Mendel and Ryan Dzingel committed penalties 51 seconds apart, leading to a 5-on-3 advantage for Rockford. The Wolves hustled defensively and killed both infractions, ending the Hogs best chance to get back into the contest. Malte Stromwall closed out the scoring with an unassisted shorthanded goal with 1:25 to play, sealing Rockford’s fate.

Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber made his pro debut Saturday following Arvid Soderblom‘s recall by the Blackhawks. Stauber stopped 19 of 22 Wolves shots. Sawchenko made 27 saves to pick up the win for Chicago.

Sunday, October 23-Manitoba 6, Rockford 3

The IceHogs got off to a solid start, attacking the Manitoba net and scoring the first goal of the game. It came off the stick of Brett Seney, who buried home Lukas Reichel’s feed 4:04 into the game. The Moose surged in the latter stages of the first period, tying the contest at the 18:03 mark. Jansen Harkins gathered in a rebound of Ville Heinola’s initial shot and beat Rockford goalie Dylan Wells to the twine.

Things went south for Rockford five minutes into the middle frame. Jeff Malott put Manitoba up 2-1 at 6:41 of the second period. Eight minutes later, Henri Nikkanen scored to put Rockford into a two-goal hole. The wheels came off for the IceHogs in the final five minutes of the second.

Two Rockford penalties gave the Moose a chance to put the game out of reach. They did just that, needing just seven seconds to convert on a Buddy Robinson interference penalty. Declan Chisholm sent a slap shot past the glove of Wells at 15:29 for a 4-1 Manitoba advantage.

Shortly thereafter, Reichel sent a puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. At 17:09, Kevin Stenlund scored his second goal of the season and put the IceHogs down 5-1 heading into the second intermission.

Rockford was able to mount a response in the third period, picking up a Luke Philp goal and Seney’s second of the game, sandwiched around a Mikey Eyssimont tally for Manitoba.

Seney’s two-goal night earned him First Star honors in a losing effort. Eyssimont had a goal and two assists in being named Second Star. Reichel was Third Star on the strength of two assists. Heinola also recorded two helpers in the contest.

Wells had a rough night, giving up five goals on 21 shots before being lifted for Jaxson Stauber to start the third period. At the other end of the ice, rookie Oskari Salminen went to 3-0 on the season with the win, with 28 saves on the afternoon.

 

This Weekend

Rockford continues what is to be a seven-game home stand this weekend. The Wolves come back to play another Illinois Lottery Cup game Friday night. The Belleville Senators come to the BMO Center on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs will be opening their home schedule this weekend, hosting the Chicago Wolves Saturday night and the Manitoba Moose Sunday afternoon. They’ll be doing this at the BMO Center-formally known as the Rockford Metro Centre and the BMO Harris Bank Center.

It’s the same old BMO. Except that it isn’t.

There is much to marvel at as the new-look IceHogs roster settles into their home digs. Rockford’s sweaters now feature an updated logo, though not the new team logo that debuted back in the summer. Adorning the front of the sweater is Hamilton E. Hog, otherwise known as Hammy.

The folks in design have exorcised the “Rockford IceHogs” part of the logo and also taken the stick out of Hammy’s mouth. They did not, however, close Hammy’s stickless mouth.

Hammy has apparently been hitting the weights this summer, part of what will surely be a rebranding of sorts for the long-time Rockford mascot. Why is the face on the sweater the pre-health-conscious Hammy? Is the new scoreboard as awesome as has been foretold? Did they fix the towel dispensers in the restrooms? Will we ever see the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup again, or did the Wolves lose it in Rosemont?

These questions get answered starting Saturday night.

Oh…and we get to see how the veteran-laden Hogs fare against the defending Calder Cup Champions. The Wolves roster has been depleted of many of the key names that helped hoist the cup, including David Gust, who had three points (1 G, 2 A) for Rockford last weekend.

Six of Chicago’s top-seven scorers last season are with other clubs. Jack Drury (20 G, 32 A) is the lone holdover. Newcomers include veteran forward and Wheaton native Ryan Dzingel, who has a couple of 20-goal seasons with Ottawa and will provide offense for Chicago. Former Blackhawks forward Brenden Perlini also signed a PTO with the Wolves.

Max Lajoie (4 G 29 A) is back as a key piece of the Chicago blueline. Vying for playing time are several Carolina Hurricanes prospects and 37 -year-old Jason Garrison, who is also signed to a PTO.

Goalie Pyotr Kochetkov was very impressive for the Wolves down the stretch when he wasn’t stopping pucks for Carolina. His play in net may cover some of the departures in the Chicago roster.

The Wolves tangle with Manitoba Friday night heading into their first meeting with the piglets, for what it is worth. Will Rockford take advantage of fresh legs, or will there be jitters as they hit the BMO ice for the first time this season?

Aside from a four-goal explosion in the third period of the season opener October 15, the IceHogs have failed to make an impact on offense through their first two games. I would expect that to change, as the skill-level on offense should keep scoring droughts to a minimum. I’m going to stick my neck out and look for Rockford to drop a big number on one or both of their weekend opposition.

Roster News

On Monday, the Blackhawks assigned D Alex Vlasic to Rockford. The Hogs also recalled D Andrew Perrott and G Dylan Wells from Indy for the week, then sent both down to the Fuel along with D Koletrane Wilson on Thursday.

F Cole Guttman left Saturday’s game in Manitoba in the third period after taking a fall and struggling to get the the Rockford bench. The IceHogs were pretty consistent with medical updates last season, but haven’t commented on Guttman’s status for this weekend.

 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for musings on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs ran hot and cold in splitting a pair of weekend tilts with the Manitoba Moose. On one hand, you could certainly see the scoring potential of a veteran-laden Hogs club. However, developing chemistry seems to be another matter at the moment.

The piglets triumphed in the season opener with a stunning comeback, but lost Sunday’s rematch via the shutout. Here are some quick thoughts on the opening weekend of the 2022-23 season.

  • First off, this was a solid Manitoba club opposing the IceHogs. The bulk of the Moose return from a very good team the previous season. For the bulk of Saturday’s game, they controlled the action and looked to win going away.
  • Rockford stormed back in the first eight minutes of the third period, getting goals from Luke Philp, Dave Gust and Lukas Reichel to erase a three-goal deficit. The Moose regained a 4-3 advantage, but a second Philp tally with just over two minutes to play forced Gus Macker Time. From there, Brett Seney hit the top corner of the net to secure a 5-4 victory.
  • On Sunday, the IceHogs were the aggressor, moving the puck with aplomb in the Manitoba zone. However, it was the Moose who were able to get the puck into the Rockford crease and generate some strong chances.
  • The key play Sunday was with Rockford on a late power play in the second period. Reichel attempted a backhand pass to the blueline that was picked off. Adam Clendening wasn’t able to get into position to defend a shorthanded breakaway chance by Jansen Harkins and Manitoba took a 1-0 lead that they would not surrender, beating the IceHogs 4-0. Rookie goalie Oskari Salminen took it from there, blanking the Hogs by stopping 32 shots.
  • Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell was out of the lineup this weekend. He was suffering from an illness and did not make the trip up north.
  • Rookie Cole Guttman left the ice in the third period Saturday after being knocked to the ice in a multi-player collision. He appeared to hit his head on the ice and lost his helmet in the process. Guttman struggled to get to the Hogs bench and was helped to the locker room soon after.
  • With the influx of veteran talent on the roster this year, playing time could be at a premium for forward prospect Evan Barratt. He’s in the final year of his entry deal and is probably getting his last look from the organization. Barratt was a scratch Saturday, engaging in a scrap with Manitoba’s Leon Gawanke in the second period of Sunday’s game.
  • The IceHogs get a week to practice and make some adjustments before opening the home schedule against the Chicago Wolves Saturday night. On Sunday, Rockford gets another crack at Manitoba, who visits the BMO Harris Bank Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have a new look entering the 2022-23 AHL season. It’s a real paradigm shift for the organization, and I’m pretty excited about heading into another season of keeping you informed on the action out west of I-39.

Back in the spring, Hawks GM Kyle Davidson announced that bringing in veterans to raise the talent pool in Rockford was a priority. This was an easy statement to take with a grain of salt, since the IceHogs roster has been comprised mostly of prospects since Rockford became Chicago’s AHL affiliate in 2007.

Turns out, the organization followed through.

Over the summer, the Blackhawks, who enter their second full season of ownership of the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets, made good on reshaping the roster. Veterans with serious AHL upside were brought in to fortify last year’s bunch of overachieving prospects.

The 2021-22 crop scrapped their way to fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division and won a play-in series with Texas before falling to the Calder Cup Champions, the Chicago Wolves. Leading the way was rookie Lukas Reichel, who is back for another season at the BMO after a strong debut of 21 goals and 36 helpers.

In addition to Reichel, the current IceHogs roster now has three players that paced their clubs in scoring last season. Many of the solid defensive pieces are back and are enhanced by a familiar face.

Let’s dig into the roster!

Forward

NHL Prospects: Lukas Reichel, Mike Hardman, Josiah Slavin, Michal Teply, Evan Barratt, Cole Guttman.

AHL Contracts: Garrett Mitchell, David Gust, Bobby Lynch, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, Morgan Adams-Moisan.

Veteran Oomph: Dylan Sikura, Brett Seney, Luke Philp.

Guttman is the only rookie in this group. The returning prospects all were big contributors to Rockford’s success, as were Busdeker and Gicewicz. Mitchell enters his third season as the Hogs captain.

Gust (16 G, 20 A for the Wolves last season) is a player who’s been on my wish list for several years, though he’s exactly what the organization has avoided in past campaigns. The Orland Park native is a strong AHL player with a winning pedigree, having skated with the last two Calder Cup winners.

Lynch will chip in on the bottom six; he totaled eight goals and 13 assists in 46 games with Manitoba. Adams-Moisan is a big, physical forward that may wind up splitting time between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

The addition of Sikura (73 points with the Colorado Eagles last season), Seney (59 points to lead the Toronto Marlies), and Philp (44 points with a strong Stockton Heat club) figures to give Rockford the kind of potency on offense that’s been missing in past seasons. If this forward group can consistently light lamps from the raising of the curtain, this could be a formidable group.

As the Hawks roster fluctuates, Buddy Robinson, who has cleared waivers, will probably wind up with the IceHogs at some point. The same goes for rookie Jaren Luypen, currently on injured reserve with the Blackhawks.

(UPDATE-The Blackhawks assigned Robinson to Rockford on Friday morning.)

Defense

NHL Prospects: Jakub Galvas, Issak Phillips, Nicolas Beaudin, Louis Crevier.

AHL Contracts: Adam Clendening, Cliff Watson, Koletrane Wilson.

The major addition is the return of Clendening for his third tour of duty with Rockford. The 29-year-old defenseman is coming off a five-goal, 37-assist season with Lehigh Valley, his best point output since his 59-point season with the Hogs back in 2013-14.

The signing of Clendening to a one-year AHL contract was the opening salvo of the new development philosophy. He’ll be a mainstay on the Rockford power play and provides yet another upgrade to the talent pool.

Galvas and Phillips may see time in Chicago, rotating with other prospects like Alec Regula (currently with the Hawks) and Ian Mitchell (injured). Beaudin is back for his fourth season in Rockford. It’s likely his final chance to realize his potential as a former first-round draft pick.

Crevier, a seventh-round pick from the 2020 NHL Draft, is a big (6’8″) rookie who should see the ice on a regular basis. He will need to adjust to AHL forwards and contribute in the offensive zone.

Watson saw action in 20 games with Rockford and spent the rest of his season with the Fuel. Wilson has spent his first two years of pro hockey in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks.

 

Goalie

NHL Prospects: Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber.

Anchoring an experienced team in net are two youngsters. Primary starts are likely to go to Soderblom, who was very impressive in stretches of his rookie season. In 38 appearances, Soderblom was 21-15-2 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Stauber was signed to a two-year entry contract by the Hawks after two seasons at Providence College. Last season, he posted a 2.10 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 37 games.

 

Coaching Staff

Anders Sorensen, who really had his young bunch playing well despite being outmanned most nights, took over early in the season as the interim coach when Derek King was promoted to Chicago. Sorensen was retained to helm the Hogs in 2022-23.

Assisting him will be a pair of former IceHogs. Jared Nightingale was brought in mid-season and did a great job with the blueline and penalty kill. He’s back as well, and rightfully so.

Joining Sorensen, Nightingale, and goalie coach Peter Aubrey is Rob Klinkhammer, a former IceHogs favorite who is making his debut in the coaching ranks after wrapping up his well-traveled pro career with six seasons in the KHL.

 

Outlook

The Central Division is no cakewalk, starting with the defending champs over in Rosemont. The Wolves lost a lot of pieces from last year’s juggernaut but are always built to compete. Manitoba returns most of last season’s second-place squad, and Milwaukee and Grand Rapids will also be tough opponents.

The IceHogs, on paper, look to be as experienced and as talented as any of their division rivals. Slow starts have always been an issue in Rockford. That’s been especially true in the last two seasons, which featured the greenest roster in the AHL by a wide margin. That shouldn’t be the case this fall.

The AHL season is full of ups and downs as roster moves by the parent clubs can have a huge effect on their affiliates. For the time being, it appears that Rockford is stocked with a veteran cast that should spend most of their seasons with the IceHogs. Davidson wants his prospects to play meaningful games well into the spring. Rockford is set up to do that; now it is time to see what the next seven months hold for this team.

 

Jerkin’ The Curtain In Manitoba

Rockford gets to work this weekend, opening the 2022-23 season with a pair of weekend matinees with the Manitoba Moose.

The action begins at the BellMTS Iceplex in Winnipeg Saturday, October 15 with a 2:00 p.m. CDT puck drop with the Moose. Rockford and Manitoba are at it again on Sunday, October 16 at 2:00 p.m. CDT

The IceHogs were 5-3 last season against the Moose but did not fare well on the road, managing just one win in four attempts in Manitoba.

The Moose had nine players that finished 2021-22 with at least 30 points. Seven of those players return to the team this season, including leading point producers Mikey Eyssimont (18 G, 24 A) and Jeff Malott (23 G, 18 A).

Manitoba’s projected starting goalie, Arvid Holm, was 0-3 vs Rockford last season with a 3.80 goals-against average and an .823 save percentage. Soderblom, who will start at least one of this weekend’s games for the IceHogs, was 3-2-0 with a 3.04 goals against average and a .919 save percentage against the Moose.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for in-game thoughts this weekend as well as throughout the season.