The Rockford IceHogs are back on the road again this weekend. Chicago’s AHL affiliate is currently in Tucson for two games with the Roadrunners. The puck drops for both Friday and Saturday are scheduled for 9:05 p.m. central time. What can we expect from this back-to-back weekend?
On Thursday, the Blackhawks re-assigned Luke Johnson to Rockford in order to make room on the roster for Corey Crawford to be activated. Johnson will be meeting the team, who departed for Arizona earlier that day, in Tucson and should be in the lineup for at least one of the two games.
Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton will have some decisions to make on his lineup card:
- Which forward is sitting to make room for Johnson? The odd man out would appear to be Matheson Iacopelli, but I thought he played well at the BMO this weekend, collecting a goal and a helper in wins over Texas and Hershey.
- Will Andrew Campbell or Luc Snuggerud draw back into the defensive rotation? Rookies Dennis Gilbert and Blake Hillman played last weekend.
- How will Colliton utilize his goalie tandem? Collin Delia had the net in both games this past weekend. I would expect Delia and Kevin Lankinen to each get a start in Tucson.
No team-issued updates on William Pelletier and whether or not he’s nearing a return to action. It’s certainly possible that Campbell and/or Snuggerud are sitting due to an injury, but no information was divulged concerning that topic at Colliton’s Tuesday media availability.
Captain-less But Not Leaderless
Colliton hadn’t yet decided on his starting goalies in this weekend’s action in his Tuesday media session. He also hasn’t decided on a captain for the 2018-19 piglets. This is likely due to the fact that he isn’t planning on naming one.
Last season, Colliton went with different sets of alternate captains for home and road games. The way it sounded Tuesday, his preference is to have several leaders in place as opposed to sticking a “C” on one player’s sweater.
Campbell, Jordan Schoeder and Tyler Sikura donned “A”s while the IceHogs visited Cleveland. At the BMO Harris Bank Center, Colliton’s alternates were Matthew Highmore, Terry Broadhurst and Carl Dahlstrom.
Rockford currently sits in fifth place in the Central Division with a .500 points percentage. Chicago leads the division with a 4-0 record. Iowa is 3-0, while Milwaukee is 4-0-1 on the season.
The IceHogs special teams have performed well in the early going. The power play has three goals in 15 chances. Rockford has also killed all but one of the opposition’s 12 man advantages.
Tyler (2 G, 2 A) and Dylan (1 G, 3 A) Sikura pace the Hogs with four points. Matthew Highmore, like Tyler Sikura, has a pair of goals to lead Rockford. Highmore (2 G, 1 A), Darren Raddysh (1 G, 2 A) and Jordan Schoeder (1 G, 2 A) all have three points for the IceHogs.
Rockford has scored first in all four games to begin the season.
A Look At Tucson
The Roadrunners are coming off of their first loss of the season, a 3-2 shootout loss in San Jose Monday night. That wrapped up a span of three road games in four days for Tucson.
Most of the big point producers from last season’s Pacific Division Champs are elsewhere. That team was the top seed in the Western Conference but was eliminated in the second round by Texas.
The forward group is led by Michael Bunting, who tied for the team lead in goals with 23 last season. Former IceHogs center Laurent Dauphin also returns for the Roadrunners after combining for 9 goals and 20 assists between Rockford and Tucson a season ago. Center Lane Pederson is back for his second season after 12 goals and 14 helpers last year.
Adam Helewka, who had 38 points (9 G, 29 A) for the Barracuda in 2017-18, has four goals to pace the Roadrunners this season. Also with Tucson this fall is Hudson Fasching, who played with Rochester last year (12 G, 18 A).
Among the rookies up front for the Roadrunners are Kelly and Kevin Klima. Not only are they brothers, but twins to boot. The sons of former NHL forward Petr Klima were signed to AHL deals with Tucson. Kevin had 39 goals in his last season of juniors in the QMJHL.
Defenseman Robbie Russo should be a familiar face to Rockford fans; the Westmont native spent three seasons with Grand Rapids before the Red Wings traded him to Arizona this summer. Russo had 32 points (9G, 23 A) with the Griffins last season.
Russo will join Trevor Murphy, who came from Milwaukee in a mid-season trade, as the top offensive options on the blueline. Murphy has had double-digit goals in each of his first three AHL seasons, including 10 goals and 25 assists between Milwaukee and Tucson last year.
Kyle Copobianco (2 G, 28 A) is back after a strong rookie season. Dysin Mayo and Dakota Mermis are also returning defensemen with some experience. Mermis is tied for the team lead so far with four poins (1 G, 3 A). As a group, the Roadrunners defense is not real big but have an edge in experience over their Rockford counterparts.
Tucson won 42 games in 2017-18 and have the same goalie tandem this season. Third-year pro Adin Hill posted a 2.28 goals against average and a .914 save percentage and served as the Roadrunners playoff goalie.
Hill split the starts with Hunter Miska (both goalies played in 36 games), whose numbers weren’t quite as gaudy but went 22-9-0-1 in the regular season. Tucson is very solid in net regardless of who patrols the crease.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on this weekend’s action as well as a coherent though or two throughout the week.