The Rockford IceHogs are not going to finish with a winning record in 2020-21. However, the piglets have made substantial progress toward respectability.
Rockford opened this season back in February with a woefully stocked roster of players. The talent gap between the Hogs and the rest of the AHL was vast. In previewing this year’s crop on the farm, I noted that this young and inexperienced team was going to take its lumps in the early going. And take them they did.
The IceHogs limped out to a 1-7-1 start, losing six straight games to begin the season. The nadir of the first month was a 9-4 shellacking by Grand Rapids on March 3.
Fortunately, the Hogs got their legs under them. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but coach Derek King has the undermanned roster scrapping to be competitive. Rockford has gone 10-8 dating back on March 6.
The IceHogs are currently coming off of a pair of wins over the Griffins. Last Saturday, Rockford bested Grand Rapids 3-2 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Monday, the Hogs prevailed 3-2 in a shootout at Van Andel Arena.
What has proven to be the difference in the IceHogs over their last 18 games? Let’s make a list:
- Rockford has gotten some frequent influxes of talent via the taxi squad. Players like MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson have contributed at both ends of the ice.
- Dylan McLaughlin has really stepped up his game in his sophomore season with Rockford. Dating back to March 13, McLaughlin has 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in his last 15 games.
- The piglets have been able to hold their own in physical affairs with Grand Rapids and Iowa in the past few weeks.
- The goal tending has been better. Ivan Nalimov has looked more comfortable in net. Cale Morris left after two periods in Grand Rapids with an injury April 28, but was keeping Rockford in games. Matt Tomkins had a great game in Monday’s win, stopping 24 shots in regulation and overtime. Since coming down from Chicago’s taxi squad March 11, Tomkins has a 2.71 GAA and a .919 save percentage in his last seven games.
- Brandon Pirri, when he has been used, has been an offensive force for the IceHogs. The power play has teeth when Pirri is manning the wing. In five games, Pirri is second on the team with six goals. He has points in each of those five games; Rockford is 4-1 when Pirri is in the lineup.
- As he has done throughout his short tenure at the helm, King has the IceHogs playing hard every night. They have managed to be competitive even when being badly overmatched.
This weekend, Rockford has its last two games of the season with the Iowa Wild. The Hogs are at Iowa on Friday night; the Wild come to the BMO on Sunday afternoon.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.