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High On The Hog: A California Split

The Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, opened their season on the road in a couple of unfamiliar places. The AHL now has five teams playing in California; Rockford visited two of those clubs over the weekend.

It certainly was an up and down opening trip. The Hogs scored a solid 4-2 victory over the San Jose Barracuda before suffering a 7-0 defeat at the hands of the Stockton Heat. Along the way, we saw what could be some running themes with the 2015-16 IceHogs. We were also treated to an unexpected roster move Friday night.

How Did You Spend Your Weekend?

Most of us working stiffs settled into to our weekend routines. Mine was staying up late to watch Rockford, doing laundry and thinking of reasons why I couldn’t go out and mow my yard.

Steve Mnich, on the other hand, had himself a different weekend.

Mnich, who’s day job is the communications director of a San Francisco firm that assists technology start-up companies, got a call from the Hogs Friday. Goalie Mark Visentin had taken ill. How ill? Well, ill enough that Mac Carruth was recalled from Indianapolis (UPDATE-He was sent back to Indy Monday morning). However, he wasn’t going to make that night’s game.

Mnich, who is a Michigan native, was a goalie who played at the Midget AAA level before attending Michigan State. He was on the hockey team but never got into a game there (if the records are accurate).

Rockford signed the 29-year-old Mnich to an amateur tryout. While Carruth sat waiting for a flight out of Denver, Mnich backed up Michael Leighton in San Jose. Carruth was with the team Saturday night. Mnich was a healthy scratch with a heck of a story to tell at the water cooler this week.


Last Week’s Roster Moves

Prior to Friday, the Hogs made a couple of moves to finalize their roster. Ville Pokka and Viktor Svedberg switched places Tuesday and then switched again Thursday. This was done to max out the Blackhawks cap number before putting Michal Rozsival on LTIR. With Pokka returning, at least Rockford had at least one right-handed shot on its blue line.

The IceHogs sent AHL-signee Chris DeSousa down to Indy Wednesday and signed defenseman Kyle Cumiskey to a PTO. Cumiskey wound up being voted Rockford’s best defenseman at the end of last season, as the three other candidates had been traded.

Cumiskey was injured throughout the preseason and did not skate in California. If and when he is ready to play, he would be an asset on defense for the Hogs.

Rockford got down to 15 forwards on the roster Thursday when the Blackhawks reassigned Corey Tropp to the AHL’s Albany Devils. Rockford kept up forward Dane Walters, who is on an AHL contract and played decent hockey as a fill-in last season.


Keep Those Bags Packed

The Hogs return to Rockford for a spell and are set of open its home schedule this weekend. However, rumors of Stan Bowman trading for defensive help could see the landscape up front change a bit, even as soon as this week.

If Bowman’s goal is to secure a veteran, I’m not sure any prospect is untouchable. Moving Marco Dano after just acquiring him over the summer would appear to be a little dubious. However, consider that Bowman traded Jeremy Morin last fall for D Tim Erixon, waived Erixon and would up re-acquiring Morin, who now sits in Rockford.

While Morin could be on the move, he alone probably isn’t going to fetch the piece the Hawks need on defense. Morin, who had a three-point night in San Jose Friday, would likely be receptive to moving out of the organization.

Chicago has a lot of forward prospects skating around the BMO Harris Bank Center. Look at last season; Bowman had no problem dealing Rockford defensemen Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck and T.J. Brennan mid-season and Stephen Johns in the summer. If it brings the piece needed to win now, he’ll part with some players.

You can put Mark McNeill and Garret Ross right at the top of that list. Tanner Kero would be tough to lose with as well as he’s played in his short Rockford tenure. Ryan Hartman is a potential grinder for the Hawks, but if the man Bowman wants requires him to give up the local kid…

Dano seems the most unlikely to be traded for veteran help. This is not including Phillip Danault, who is recovering from hip surgery and won’t be available to play until well into the season. However, it would not surprise me in the least if any player under contract to the Hawks were to be dealt, save for Michael Leighton.


California Recaps

Friday, October 9-Rockford 4, San Jose 2

The Hogs got the best of the Barracuda to open the season on the winning side of the ledger. The line that did the damage was the top group comprised of Marco Dano, Tanner Kero and Jeremy Morin. The players on that line accounted for three Rockford goals in San Jose.

Kero got the IceHogs on the board 1:01 into the new season, taking a feed from Morin and uniting rubber and twine despite the efforts of Barracuda goalie Troy Grosenick. The Rockford lead grew to 2-0 when Kero was helping kill a Nolan Valleau holding penalty. Kero wove through the neutral zone and set up Dennis Rasmussen for a shorthanded tally at the 14:43 mark of the opening frame.

San Jose halved the Hogs lead with a power play goal by Michael Haley with 12 seconds remaining in period one, then tied the contest via the man advantage 6:34 into the second stanza when Cuda captain Bryan Lerg banged one past Michael Leighton from the slot.

The score remain knotted into the third period, when Morin came up the right half boards and flipped a puck to the crease. Kero was there for the tap in to put Rockford up 3-2 at the 4:45 mark.

Morin got a goal of his own four minutes later, when he finished off a strong shift by netting a shot set up by Vince Hinostroza. The IceHogs held a 4-2 advantage that held up for the duration of the contest.

Three Stars-Morin (third), Haley (second), Kero (first).


Marco Dano-Tanner Kero-Jeremy Morin

Mark McNeill-Dennis Rasmussen-Garret Ross

Brandon Mashinter (A)-Vince Hinostroza-Ryan Hartman

Mike Liambas-Jake Dowell-Ryan Haggerty

Ville Pokka-Erik Gustafsson

Cameron Schilling (A)-Dennis Robertson

Nolan Valleau-Kirill Gotovets

Michael Leighton

Steve Mnich (signed to ATO due to illness to Mark Visentin)

Scratches-Daniel Paille, Dillon Fournier, Kyle Cumiskey, Dane Walters, Pierre-Cedric Labrie

Power Play (0-5)



Penalty Kill (San Jose was 2 for 4, though the Hogs had a shorthanded goal)




Saturday, October 10-Stockton 7, Rockford 0


Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

The IceHogs were really never in this one; the Heat chased Michael Leighton from net with four goals in the first fifteen minutes. Mac Carruth took his place but that didn’t change Rockford’s fortunes in Stockton.

Ryan Hartman racked up ten minutes in penalties on five minor infractions. He was nabbed for roughing, goaltender interference, slashing, boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct, so it was a full night for the kid.


Marco Dano-Tanner Kero-Jeremy Morin

Brandon Mashinter (A)-Vince Hinostroza-Garret Ross

Mark McNeill-Dennis Rasmussen-Ryan Hartman

Pierre-Cedric Labrie-Daniel Paille-Ryan Haggerty

Cameron Schilling (A)-Dennis Robertson

Ville Pokka-Erik Gustafsson

Nolan Vallaeu-Kirill Gotovets

Michael Leighton (Mac Carruth played the last 45 minutes)

Power Play (0-2)



Penalty Kill (Stockton had three goals in six attempts)




Home For The Weekend

The Hogs stay within the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center for six of their next seven games. The Texas Stars visit Rockford this weekend for back-to-back games with Rockford Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for occasional tidbits on the IceHogs. I will send out game updates between periods and maybe a thought or opinion.