Hockey

High On The Hog: Holiday Gauntlet

The Rockford IceHogs are in a tie for third place entering the last two weeks of December. The 14-8-1-2 piglets won two of three games this past week and have the opportunity to climb up the Central Division ladder to close out the calendar year.

To do that, however, they’ll have to tame the hottest team in the AHL. That would be the Texas Stars, who have won nine of its last ten contests.

Texas has yet to be defeated in December. The Stars have won their last seven games to rocket to the top of the Central wit 36 points. Milwaukee (32 points), Manitoba (31 points), and Rockford (31 points) are all bunched up and chasing their Lone Star rivals.

The IceHogs visit Cedar Park Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Rockford has two wins in three previous games with the Stars this season, the last being a 7-2 shellacking of Texas at the BMO Center on November 23. The Stars have gone 9-1 since that loss.

Texas has performed well. However, in its last five wins, three were against Chicago, who inhabits the division basement. The Stars then swept a weekend series in Iowa, where Rockford defeated the Wild 7-4 on Tuesday night.

The formula for Texas has been to get control of games early. The Stars are 11-0 when leading after the first period. Rockford has been able to overcome first-period deficits, having gone 7-4 in such situations this season. Games in this rivalry are usually fast paced and usually hinge on who has control of the puck.

Sweeping the Stars would put the IceHogs right behind Texas in the standings. Rockford finishes December with three games against the Wolves along with one verses Grand Rapids. The schedule is favorable for a contending club to finish the month strong. It will be up to the IceHogs to take advantage.

 

Roster Moves

Sunday, the IceHogs recalled D Cliff Watson, along with F Kale Howarth. Watson has been shuttled between Rockford and the Indy Fuel several times this season. For Howarth, this is his first recall after scoring six goals in 14 games with Indy. Last year, he took part in 12 games for the Hogs, with two goals and an assist.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell returned to the lineup on Saturday night, which saw the IceHogs beat Hartford 3-2 at the BMO. Mitchell had been out since November 16, when he injured his left shoulder against the end boards of Allstate Arena in a game against the Wolves.

Filip Roos, sent to Rockford by the Blackhawks a week ago, has made an immediate impact on the ice. He picked up his first AHL goal in the win over Iowa on Tuesday, then potted the game-winner Saturday against Hartford.

 

The Week That Was (Readers Digest Version)

David Gust (13 G, 16 A) led the way in Tuesday’s 7-4 win with a hat trick against the Wild. Cole Guttman (9 G, 7 A) added a pair of goals in the victory.

Friday, the Toronto Marlies broke open a 2-2 game with two goals 31 seconds apart in the middle of the third period. The Hogs battled back and got a Brett Seney goal late, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over the Wolf Pack saw D.J. Busdeker secure his first goal of the season as part of a three-goal second period. Michal Teply got his fifth of the season less than a minute later. After Hartford tied the game, Roos drove to the net and shelfed his attempt. That was enough for the Hogs to hold on, aided by 38 saves from Dylan Wells.

 

Coming Up

After the trip to Texas Tuesday and Wednesday, Rockford will journey to Rosemont for a Friday renewal of the I-90 rivalry with the Wolves.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.