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High On The Hog: Holiday Blahs

It was a rough holiday stretch for the Rockford IceHogs. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate dropped three games this past week.

Goals were hard to come by, with Rockford finding twine just four times in the three losses. Two of those defeats came at the hands of Milwaukee, who supplanted the Hogs at the top of the Central Division. Rockford also dropped its first game to the Iowa Wild in just over a year.

All of a sudden, the IceHogs are on a four-game losing streak as they prepare to enter the new year. In addition, the Hogs lost the services of one of their leading scorers for a few games.

Special teams have not exactly helped Rockford during this holiday slump. The IceHogs have failed to convert on all 13 power play chances in the last four games. Conversely, opponents are 6-16 during that span.

Two players who are probably ready to wave goodbye to December are recent returnees Tanner Kero and Marko Dano. The two players figured to give the Hogs a spark when they rejoined the team. However, the numbers suggest otherwise.

Before being recalled by the Blackhawks in October, Kero had six goals and a helper in seven games. Since being sent back down, the center has just two assists in eight games. Before the recall, Kero was a plus-seven. He’s a minus-three in the eight games since his return.

Dano, who had eight points to start the season (1G, 7A), has put up a goal and an assist in six games since the Hawks sent him down.


Hartman Suspended

The AHL suspended Ryan Hartman for three games for a hit on Trevor Murphy early in Rockford’s 6-2 loss December 21.

Just over three minutes into the contest, Murphy skated behind his net and into the corner with the puck, losing the handle briefly before regaining possession and sending it along the half boards.

Hartman skated over from the top of the right circle and planted Murphy, who was preoccupied with the clearing attempt as opposed to looking for an IceHogs skater, into the plexiglass.

The hit, intentional or otherwise, was high. There was definite contact made to Murphy’s head. Hartman was immediately assessed a match penalty as well as a five-minute major. Before leaving the ice, he also managed to add a roughing penalty to the list when some of Murphy’s teammates took umbrage to the play.

It was easy to forecast supplementary discipline and the three-game vacation seemed appropriate. Murphy did not return to action and is likely out for a while with a concussion.

What is interesting is how IceHogs skipper Ted Dent spoke about the incident before and after the suspension was handed down. When he was asked about the hit following the game, Dent seemed pretty certain about the legality of Hatman’s hit.

He’ll be suspended for sure…and I hope he learns his lesson.

Dent was then asked about whether he thought Hartman, who leads the league in minor penalties, needed to curtail his time in the box.

He’s got to take less, for sure, or he’s not going to play in the NHL.

Milwaukee took a lead they would not surrender thanks to the illegal check, so Dent’s comments were bound to be a little harsh. By Saturday night, following a shootout loss to the Admirals, Dent had changed his tune slightly about the severity of the infraction.

You know, I didn’t see the hit live on the ice because it was in the near corner. I think it was a hit to the head for sure. I heard the guy that he (Hartman) hit got a concussion and left the game, but he (Murphy) played tonight. So I don’t really know how hard the hit was and I don’t know how they determine suspensions; whether it’s based on injury or non-injury. All I know is the guy played tonight.

Except that he didn’t.

I’ll give Dent the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to an honest mistake. However, the guy in question (Murphy) was a scratch with an “upper body” injury on Saturday night. I can only speculate that Murphy skipped the bus ride across the Illinois border; he was definitely not on the ice.


New Captain

Upon being introduced as a starter for Saturday’s game against Milwaukee, Jake Dowell was announced as Rockford’s newest captain. Sure enough, Dowell was wearing a “C” on his sweater.

Like last year, Dent named a captain early in the season and saw that player spend most of that season with the Blackhawks. Unlike last year, Dent has apparently decided to do something about it.

Brandon Mashinter is still in Chicago for now (like it or not). Dowell, who has pretty much been serving in lieu of Mashinter, is officially captain. Mark McNeill was an alternate captain over the weekend, though Dent suggested that this was temporary until some veterans return to action.


Roster Moves

On Thursday, the IceHogs recalled Daniel Ciampini from Indianapolis, probably in response to Hartman being unavailable.

Monday morning, Erik Gustafsson was called up to the Blackhawks. He may just be up until Marcus Kruger is put on LTIR. On the other hand, the Hawks could have gotten closer to the cap ceiling by calling up another player, so Gustafsson may be reporting to Chicago in more than a paper move.


Holiday Recaps

Monday, December 21-Milwaukee 6, Rockford 2

The Admirals gained a measure of payback for Rockford’s win in Wisconsin by jumping out to a four-goal lead in the first two periods.

The Hogs fate may have been sealed in the fourth minute of action when Ryan Hartman bore down on Ads defenseman Trevor Murphy in the right corner of the Milwaukee zone. Hartman drove Murphy into the boards with a thunderous crash, leaving him down on the ice for a few moments.

Play was stopped and the trainers attended the fallen player. While Murphy was taken to the dressing room, Hartman was sent off with a match penalty for an illegal check to the head.

Note: I’m trying not to dance around this, but the truth is I didn’t see the actual hit; like everyone else I was following the puck going back the other way from Hartman and Murphy. I tried going back to the AHL Live feed when I got home so I could see if that would contain something to study.

Alas, although I can toggle to any other point of the game, the feed skips that particular three minutes of the game and picks it up just before the puck drops on the five-minute power play that Milwaukee was given. Coincidence? I’m sure the league will have a working copy of the broadcast when they decide on the length of Hartman’s suspension. (Several days later, I finally got a look at the play. The call was correct.)

Play resumed and Milwaukee took advantage of the extra skater. Frederick Gaudreau redirected a centering pass past Hogs goalie Mark Visentin for a 1-0 Admirals advantage.

Despite a furious assault on Milwaukee goalie Marek Mazanec in the last four of five minutes of the period, the IceHogs found themselves down by that same score entering the intermission. Rockford held a 12-8 advantage in shots and it seemed like just a matter of time before they would knot this game.

Instead, the Ads picked up three second period goals, chasing Visentin from the crease. To be fair, it appeared that Hogs coach Ted Dent was just trying to spark his club; it was hard to fault Visentin on the three goals he surrendered.

Just after a Ryan Haggerty high-sticking penalty expired, Matt White flung a puck toward the front of the net from the corner. The centering attempt hit the skate of Max Reinhart and slipped into the net for a 2-0 Ads lead.

About three minutes later, a Hogs turnover in the offensive zone led to Milwaukee coming the other way with numbers. Zac Larraza was wide open in the high slot and fired into the corner of Visentin’s net to make it 3-0 and ending his night.

Michael Leighton entered the fray, though that didn’t put an end to the scoring in the middle frame. Rockford’s Chris DeSousa pounced on a turnover in the neutral zone and made a nice pass to Daniel Paille, who had a step on the defense as he entered the Ads zone. The shot, however, found the right post.

Milwaukee came back to the other end, scoring when Taylor Aronson one-timed a long pass from Jimmy Oligny through traffic and past Leighton with 2:41 to go in the second.

Down 4-0 entering the third, Leighton made sure the IceHogs had a chance to climb back into the contest. The vet made several big stops of Milwaukee attempts, including a shut down of a 2-0 rush after a pile up at the Admirals net. Leighton also smartly gloved a breakaway attempt from Oligny midway through the period.

The Hogs did chip away at the lead; Jeremy Morin got position in front of Mazanec and took a feed from Garret Ross to score 1:59 into the third. In the fourteenth minute, Vinnie Hinostroza skated into the Milwaukee zone and got a shorthanded attempt past Mazanec from the right dot.

Dent rolled the dice with 4:15 remaining and his team going on a power play. He elected to pull Leighton, hoping to score quickly with a two-man advantage. Unfortunately, Reinhart came up with an empty-netter at 16:46 for a 5-2 Admirals lead. Reinhart completed the hat trick 21 seconds later while the Ads were still shorthanded to close out the scoring.

Returning to the lineup from a foot injury was former Admirals forward Mike Liambas, who had last skated for Rockford since October 17. He took on Milwaukee’s Jaime Devane without the gloves late in the second period.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Garret Ross-Mark McNeill-Jeremy Morin

Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Ryan Haggerty

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Jake Dowell (A)-Vinnie Hinostroza

Mike Liambas-Chris DeSousa-Daniel Paille

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Viktor Svedberg-Erik Gustafsson

Nolan Valleu-Kirill Gotovets

Mark Visentin

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Kyle Cumiskey, Dane Walters, Dennis Robertson, Kyle Baun, Marko Dano (suspended).

Power Play (0-6)



Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 1-5)





Saturday, December 26-Milwaukee 2, Rockford 1 (SO)

There wasn’t much to this post-Christmas affair. Neither team was able to get firm control of a bouncy puck; squandered opportunities dominated the game.

Milwaukee got on the board in the second period on a power play earned in the opening frame when Vinnie Hinostroza was whistled for roughing. Frederick Gaudreau got time and space in the slot, firing a short-range missile past Michael Leighton 48 seconds into the middle frame.

The IceHogs were able to tie the game near the midway point of the contest. After failing to find the mark on a host of centering passes through the first 29 minutes, Marko Dano got off a pass from the corner that Chris DeSousa managed to get a stick on. The puck eluded Ads goalie Marek Mazanec and cued the horn at 9:06 of the second.

From there, the teams took turns fumbling around with the puck. Rockford held a 31-21 advantage in shots in regulation. However, it was Hogs goalie Michael Leighton who was forced to stop most of the prime scoring chances. Rockford out shot the Admirals 9-3 in the final 20 minutes and spent the last two minutes on the power play to no avail.

Gus Macker Time came and went without a deciding goal. Kevin Fiala and Gaudreau drew cord in the shootout while Mazanec denied the attempts of Garret Ross and Hinostroza to give the second point to the visitors.

Lines (Starters in italics)-Ted Dent tried lots of different combos tonight. Here’s how they started:

Chris DeSousa-Jake Dowell (C)-Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)

Marko Dano-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Garret Ross-Mark McNeill-Jeremy Morin

Mike Liambas-Dane Walters-Ryan Haggerty

Viktor Svedberg-Erik Gustafsson

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Nolan Valleau-Kirill Gotovets

Scratches-Kyle Cumiskey, Dennis Robertson, Ryan Hartman, Kyle Baun, Daniel Ciampini.

Power Play (0-2)



Penalty Kill (Admirals were 1-3)





Sunday, December 27-Iowa 3, Rockford 1

The Wild snapped a 12-game home losing streak despite getting just 18 shots on goal. Rockford dropped its fourth-straight contest.

Mike Reilly got Iowa on the board first after Pierre-Cedric Labrie was knocked off the puck in the offensive zone by Tyson Strachen. Reilley’s shot beat Mark Visentin to the glove side at 7:35 of the first period.

The IceHogs evened it up courtesy of a Mark McNeill bank shot after misses by Labrie and Tanner Kero. McNeill took a caroming puck off the end boards and fired it from the goal line, off Wild goalie Jeremy Smith and into the cage at 15:17.

A Chris DeSousa slashing penalty a minute later was the catalyst for the eventual game-winner. Grayson Dowling fired a shot home from the right circle. The puck got by Visentin and hit the crossbar on the way to a 2-1 Iowa advantage at the 18:00 mark.

Rockford out shot the Wild 9-3 in the second stanza, though neither team was able to score. Iowa made it 3-1 midway through the third when Rob Bordson chased down a loose puck just across the Rockford blue line. His offering was muffed by Visentin and tumbled into the net at 9:18 to provide an insurance goal.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Tanner Kero-Mark McNeill

Garret RossJake Dowell (C)-Vinnie Hinostroza

Marko Dano-Chris DeSousa-Jeremy Morin

Mike Liambas-Daniel Ciampini

Cameron Schilling-Erik Gustafsson

Ville Pokka-Viktor Svedberg

Kirill Gotovets-Nolan Valleau

Dennis Robertson

Mark Visentin

Power Play (0-2)



Penalty Kill (Iowa scored on its only attempt.)




Next Week

Rockford tries to put an end to the losing streak on Wednesday when it hosts the Wolves. The Hogs travel to Chicago Saturday, then take another crack at the Admirals at the BMO Sunday afternoon.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for Hogs news, thoughts and game updates.