Everything Else

High On The Hog: Goaltending Makes The Difference

The Rockford IceHogs have been at or near the top of the AHL’s Western Conference throughout the season due in a large part to their play between the pipes. Just how good have the Hogs been in net this season? It has been a season for the ages in terms of proficiency in the crease.

Through 73 games this season, Rockford has surrendered 173 goals. That total is good for a tie for third in the AHL. Along with Utica and Grand Rapids, the IceHogs are tops in the Western Conference.

So who is manning the net for Rockford in the playoffs? Head coach Ted Dent doesn’t know. At least, he didn’t…

It’s hard to put into words just how much better the goaltending situation has been for the IceHogs in 2014-15 than a year ago. Rockford gave up 262 goals in 20113-14, more than the AHL franchise has ever allowed in a season. That total was the worst in the West and second worst in the league for a team that only missed the playoffs by four points. Michael Leighton, Scott Darling, Antti Raanta and Mac Carruth have improved the defense by over a goal per game.

Here’s a look at the offensive and defensive numbers for each season since Rockford joined the AHL, along with their rank in the AHL as well as the Western Conference (this season’s totals are through 73 games):

Season            GF/Avg.          GA/Avg.         AHL Rank      Western Conference Rank

2014-15           212/2.90          173/2.37          T-3                   T-1

2013-14           234/3.08          262/3.45          29                    15

2012-13           246/3.27          225/2.96          T-21                 12

2011-12           207/2.85          228/3.00          23                    13

2010-11           216/2.70          245/3.06          T-19                 T-11

2009-10           226/2.83          226/2.83          T-10                 6

2008-09           229/2.86          220/2.75          12                    7

2007-08           247/3.09          231/2.89          16                    9

Wait a minute, you might say. That doesn’t mean the goaltending is any better. This could be the byproduct of an improved defense. That’s a legitimate argument.

I counter that the recent turnover on the blue line suggests that the goalies have had this team’s back all along. Also, let’s look at the team save percentage from the last two seasons:

2013-14: .893

2014-15: .920

That’s a big difference. This year also obliterates the AHL franchise’s previous best of .911 in 2008-09. That was the year we had two stiffs named Crawford and Niemi patrolling the crease.

Rockford’s plus-39 goal differential this season is easily the best in franchise history. The numbers posted by the Hogs goalies is nothing short of amazing. Night in and night out, this team has a chance to win even when the goals are hard to come by. If goaltending wins championships, Rockford has a legitimate shot at a deep run in the coming weeks.

The funny thing in this record-breaking season is that Dent hasn’t had to rely on any one guy. Whoever he’s put in net has been terrific. Darling (who is ineligible for the AHL playoffs) was called up at the trade deadline. Both before and after that move, it’s been a true tandem between Leighton and Darling/Raanta.

Before Rockford took this ice in Iowa Thursday night, Dent gave an interview to Joe O’Donnell, the voice of the Wild on KXNO in DesMoines. O’Donnell asked Dent pretty directly about his postseason plans in goal.

O’Donnell: “If the playoffs started today, who starts in net?”

Dent: “That’s a good question…uh…haven’t thought that far ahead, Joey…you caught me there. Ever since Raanta’s come down, we’ve been on a rotating basis, every other game, and it’s taken care of itself. It’s been easy from our standpoint as coaches to just rotate. We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve had to pull the goalie but they haven’t missed a start or anything like that. So we’ll just play it by ear and see where we’re at next week.”

Where the Hogs are at seems to be smack dab in Leightonville. Sunday night, the Blackhawks recalled Raanta along with Kyle Cumiskey. I would presume that the IceHogs will soon bring up Carruth to serve as the backup for the remainder of the season and for as long as Rockford remains in the playoffs (they did, along with defensemen Justin Holl and Kirill Gotovets).


A Change In The Booth?

O’Donnell was quite the informative broadcaster on Thursday night. During the third period of the IceHogs game with the Wild, he dropped this little nugget on his listeners.

O’Donnell: “Mike Peck has decided to step away from the broadcast booth at season’s end.”

This is pretty big news as I hadn’t heard anything of this sort from the team. Peck has been the voice of the IceHogs, whether on the radio or on the TV simulcast, for the past 14 years. He is also the Director of Business Operations for the IceHogs.

O’Donnell went on to point out that Peck would be taking another position with Rockford; I assume he’s moving a little further up in the organization. It sounded like cutting back on the travel could have something to do with this alleged decision, though it would be hard to speculate without hearing anything from Peck himself.

Back in July of 2009, Peck was hospitalized with some pretty serious heart problems. This happened after he collapsed at the United Center while interviewing players during prospects camp. He also has three kids and may want to ease up on the time he spends on the road.

Peck and the IceHogs are sure to address his future as the team’s broadcaster eventually. Until then, the only word we have on the matter is from a colleague of his. Peck is a big part of the organization and I wish him luck in whatever position he takes with the Hogs.


Recaps From The Past Week

Tuesday, April 7-Rockford 5, Milwaukee 3

Spencer Abbott continued his sizzling run this spring with the IceHogs, who won their seventh straight home contest. This eclipses Rockford’s previous AHL franchise record.

Stephen Johns took a backhanded feed from Abbott in the slot in the 16th minute of action and flung vulcanized rubber past Admirals starter Marek Mazanec. The IceHogs led 1-0 at the first intermission.

Rockford made it a two-goal advantage two minutes into the sandwich stanza. Keith Seabrook got to a loose puck in the defensive zone and led it out in front of Abbott, who was headed up ice with Brandon Mashinter. Abbott caught up with the biscuit inside the Milwaukee blue line and backhanded one through Mazanec’s five-hole at 1:58.

Austin Watson potted the first of his two goals on the night 35 seconds later to keep the game close, but the Hogs got a power play late in a five-minute boarding penalty by Admirals defenseman Scott Ford. Peter Regin gained entry with Abbott coming up the middle of the Miwaukee zone. Abbot, spinning to his right, slid a perfect backhand pass that hit the tape of Mashinter’s stick. The big forward lifted a backhand over Mazanec’s stick side to make it 3-1 Hogs at the 14:11 mark.

The Ads drew within a goal again a minute into the final period but Seabrook picked up his first goal since joining the IceHogs last month. It came at 9:40 and off of a pretty feed from Vince Hinostroza. It started when Mazanec lost the handle of a Kyle Cumiskey shot on goal.

Hinostroza snapped up the puck as the Admirals goalie was trying to send it to Michael Liambas. Taking the turnover behind the Milwaukee net, Hinostroza fought off a pair of Admirals in the corner before coming out to the half boards and threading a pass across the ice to Seabrook at the right circle. Seabrook’s aim was true and on went the horn signaling a 4-2 Rockford lead.

Less than two minutes later, Abbott scored the Culvers goal to put the game away. It came after Mashinter forced a turnover at the Ads blue line and held the puck in the Milwaukee zone. He got the puck to Regin, who found Abbott skating at the left circle. Abbott put on the brakes to free himself of defenseman Johan Alm and went top shelf over the glove of Mazanec for a 5-2 Hogs advantage 11:17 into the third.

Milwaukee, who had to insert Magnus Hellberg in net after Mazanec skated to the bench following Abbott’s second goal, got a late power play goal to close out the scoring. The three stars of the game came from the same forward line-Abbott  (first), Regin (second) and Mashinter (third).

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matt Carey-Cody Bass (A)-Ryan Hartman

Garret Ross-Phillip Danault-Mark McNeill

Brandon Mashinter-Peter Regin (A)-Spencer Abbott

Vince Hinostroza-Dennis Rasmussen-Alex Broadhurst

Kyle Cumiskey-Ville Pokka

Stephen Johns-Viktor Svedberg

Zach Miskovic (A)-Keith Seabrook

Antti Raanta

Scratches-Trevor vanRiemsdyk, Robin Norell, Dillon Fournier, Calle Dahlstrom, Drew LeBlanc, Dane Walters, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Ryan Schnell.

Power Play (1-5)



(The combo that scored was Mashinter-Regin-Abbott-Johns-Pokka.)

Penalty Kill (Ads got the late goal on three attempts.)





Thursday, April 9-Rockford 5, Iowa 3

It was a back-and-forth contest but Rockford pulled away late in the second period to give the IceHogs a win in the first game of their final road trip of the regular season.

Former Michigan Tech forward Tanner Kero (recently voted First Team All-American honors) picked up his first professional goal in his second shift with the Hogs. Kero got to a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated to the right dot and got his shot past Johan Gustafsson and just inside the far post. The goal came 4:56 into the game and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead.

Ruslan Fedotenko tied the game in the 13th minute. The IceHogs regained the lead when Mark McNeill took a Keith Seabrook pass off the end boards and tossed a shot on goal. The puck glanced off of Gustafsson’s skate and across the goal line to put Rockford up 2-1 at the 15:48 mark.

Forty-seven seconds into the second period, Alex Broadhurst went coast-to-coast with the puck, split the defense and beat Gustafsson’s glove high to give Rockford a 3-1 lead. The action was then controlled by the Wild for the next few minutes. Iowa, who outshot the Hogs 21-7 for the period, managed to knot the score at three with a pair of goals by Wild captain Stephane Veilleux.

Rockford broke the tie while on the power play midway through the middle frame. Stephen Johns flung a wrister from the slot that caromed off the end boards. Ryan Hartman got the puck on to the net and play stopped with Gustafsson seemingly in control of the puck. On video review, however, it was ruled that Dennis Rasmussen had knocked the puck over the line and the IceHogs were awarded what became the game-winning tally at 9:50 of the second period.

The key sequence of the game occurred late in the second, when Rockford killed a double minor after Rasmussen caught Joel Chouinard with a high stick. After the clock ran out on a big chance for Iowa, Abbott scooped up a loose puck at center ice. Before you could ask “Who’s on first?”, Abbott snaked into the Wild zone and maneuvered past Chouinard. His initial attempt met Gustafsson’s mask, but Abbott punched in the rebound for his tenth goal since joining Rockford. The 5-3 IceHogs lead came at 18:26 and held up through the remainder of the game. For potting the game-winner, Rasmussen was named the game’s second star.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alex Broadhurst-Dennis Rasmussen-Dane Walters

Garret Ross-Phillip Danault-Mark McNeill

Brandon Mashinter-Peter Regin (A)-Spencer Abbott

Ryan Hartman-Cody Bass (A)-Tanner Kero

Kyle Cumiskey-Ville Pokka

Stephen Johns-Viktor Svedberg

Zach Miskovic (A)-Keith Seabrook

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Trevor vanRiemsdyk, Robin Norell, Dillon Fournier, Calle Dahlstrom, Drew LeBlanc, Vince Hinostroza, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Ryan Schnell.

Power Play (1-5)



Penalty Kill (Held Iowa scoreless in four attempts, including 30 seconds of 5-on-3.)





Saturday, April 11-Rockford 2, Charlotte 0

Antti Raanta pitched his second shutout for the Hogs this season as Rockford won its fifth straight. Former IceHogs forward Kyle Hagel was presented the AHL’s Man Of The Year Award prior to the contest, so kudos to him. That was the only thing the Checkers won on this night, however.

Play between the pipes was excellent for both teams as Rockford’s high flying offense was held in check almost completely by Charlotte goalie Drew MacIntyre. Almost.

The sequence that produced the game-winner began when Spencer Abbott was sent off for slashing 5:34 into the second period. Chad LaRose of the Checkers ended the man advantage with an interference penalty and after some 4-on-4 time Abbott returned for a brief Rockford power play.

Ryan Hartman sent the puck around the end boards coming up the left side into the Charlotte zone.  Peter Regin wound up gaining possession on the outside of the right circle and threaded a long cross-ice pass back to Hartman at the left dot. Hartman’s centering pass was deflected past MacIntyre by Abbott at the 7:58 mark for a 1-0 Hogs advantage.

That was the only one of 35 Rockford shots that got the best of the Checkers goalie. On the other hand, Raanta stopped all 25 shots he faced to make the goal stand up. Mark McNeill put the cap on this one with an empty-netter with 33 seconds to play.

The three stars, from first to third, were Raanta, MacIntyre and Abbott. Garret Ross was out of the lineup Saturday.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Ryan Hartman-Phillip Danault-Mark McNeill

Brandon Mashinter-Peter Regin (A)-Spencer Abbott

Alex Broadhurst-Dennis Rasmussen-Dane Walters

Matt Carey-Cody Bass (A)-Tanner Kero

Kyle Cumiskey-Ville Pokka

Stephen Johns-Viktor Svedberg

Keith Seabrook-Dillon Fournier

Antti Raanta

Scratches-Zach Miskovic, Trevor vanRiemsdyk, Robin Norell, Calle Dahlstrom, Drew LeBlanc, Vince Hinostroza, Garret Ross, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Ryan Schnell.

Power Play (1-5)



Penalty Kill (Held Charlotte scoreless in two attempts.)




Sunday, April 12-Charlotte 4, Rockford 3

With a matinee with the Checkers coming after the Saturday night win, coach Ted Dent elected to rest some players Sunday despite needing a win to overtake Grand Rapids in the Midwest Division standings. Sitting this one out were Kyle Cumiskey, Ville Pokka, Peter Regin and Spencer Abbott.

Rockford drew twine twice in the early minutes to take command of the game. Tanner Kero scored two minutes in when he got a piece of a shot attempt by Calle Dahlstrom, who was skating his first profession shift since joining the Hogs. Phillip Danault made it 2-0 Rockford when he tapped in a centering pass by Mark McNeill past rookie goalie Rasmus Tirronen at 7:18 of the opening period.

Back came the Checkers with two goals in the next three minutes. Patrick Brown beat Michael Leighton at the 8:53 mark, then Justin Shugg got one over Leighton’s glove at 10:26 to tie the contest.

The IceHogs had three shots with a man advantage in the second period but could not convert. The score remained knotted at two until the Checkers got a power play goal from defenseman Haydn Fleury, also playing in his first pro game. His wrister caught the top right corner of Leighton’s net and put Charlotte up a goal 6:42 of the final stanza.

With 5:54 remaining, Brandon Mashinter was taken down as he took a breakaway attempt to the net. On the resulting penalty shot, Mashinter banged a shot through Tirronen’s five hole to tie the game at three goals apiece.

Picking up at least a point would have tied the Hogs with Grand Rapids for first place in the Midwest Division. However, with 3:39 left, Chad LaRose took advantage of a turnover in the IceHogs zone and got a shot on net. The rebound off Leighton’s right pad came right out to a waiting Brock McGinn, who had nothing but rope to aim at. The put back proved to be the game-winner despite a furious attempt by Rockford after pulling Leighton in the final minute.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Garret Ross-Phillip Danault-Mark McNeill

Alex Broadhurst-Dennis Rasmussen-Dane Walters

Brandon Mashinter-Tanner Kero-Ryan Hartman

Matt Carey-Cody Bass (A)-Drew LeBlanc

Stephen Johns-Viktor Svedberg

Keith Seabrook-Dillon Fournier

Zach Miskovic-Calle Dahlstrom

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Trevor vanRiemsdyk, Robin Norell , Peter Regin, Spencer Abbott, Kyle Cumiskey, Vince Hinostroza, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Ville Pokka, Ryan Schnell.

Power Play (0-6)



Penalty Kill (Charlotte was 1-3.)





Final Week Of The Regular Season

The IceHogs conclude the regular season at home, starting Wednesday night when Charlotte visits the BMO Harris Bank Center. Rockford hosts Chicago Friday night and Toronto Saturday.

The Hogs are a point behind Grand Rapids; both teams have three games left to play.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *