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High On The Hog: How The Hogs Continue To Roll

Dang…I hate when Mom gives us all sweaters…

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, just finished up play for the month with a tough loss to the Milwaukee Admirals. The Hogs Central Division rival handed Rockford three losses in November. Three of the IceHogs top scorers were called up to Chicago this month and several more key players have succumbed to injury.

On paper, it reads like a month Rockford would like to forget. However, the Hogs finished November with a 7-2-1-1 mark and sit in third place in the division standings. How the heck did that happen?

Let’s take a look…

Rockford does not have a scorer among the AHL leaders through 20 games this season. Ville Pokka’s 12 points has him in the 87th spot. There are no offensive juggernauts in the lineup, save for Bryan Bickell, who has 9 points in his ten games with the Hogs.

In addition to Pokka and Bickell, Ryan Hartman and Jeremy Morin have each posted 11 points on the campaign. Dennis Rasmussen, who has assumed top line duties between Bickell and Morin, has ten.

The three top scorers from the first month of action, Tanner Kero, Marko Dano and Brandon Mashinter, have been with the Blackhawks for a while now. Kero’s last game for the Hogs was October 24; Dano last played on October 30 and Mashinter on November 7.

Mark McNeill, who has eight points this season, has been out of the lineup for the last eight games. Garret Ross, who with McNeill comprised Rockford’s top two goal scorers a year ago, was injured Wednesday against San Antonio and may return to the lineup in a few games.

Kyle Baun was cut on the arm by a skate November 14 in Iowa and is looking at a lengthy stretch in street clothes. The same may be true of Kyle Cumiskey, who played just five games after returning from a training camp injury and was re-injured November 18 in Grand Rapids.

These seven players were guys who figured heavily into the fortunes of the Hogs, yet they have continued to collect points. Rockford picked up 16 of a possible 20 points in November.

The IceHogs formula for success was pretty simple. A little bit of depth and a whole lot of defense.


Depth Paying Off In The Face Of Injuries

Rockford’s AHL signings have performed admirably this month to help keep the team on track. Among the guys who have contributed are defenseman Kirill Gotovets and forward Chris DeSousa.

Gotovets, 24, has five helpers in 19 games with Rockford. The native of Belarus, who joined the Hogs last spring after spending most of the season in Indianapolis, has provided steady play on the third pairing with rookie Nolan Valleau. He has kept Hawks prospect Dillon Fournier in Indy and Dennis Robertson on the bench.

The 5’9″ DeSousa has a game similar to Hartman’s; he is all over the ice and has not backed down from the challenges of bigger players. This weekend he dropped the gloves with Chicago’s Justin Hodgman and Milwaukee’s Cody Bass on consecutive nights.

DeSousa has provided energy at both ends of the ice along with a goal and two assists this month. He is also a plus-four in November.

Josh Brittain, who signed a PTO with Rockford this month, has appeared in five games and been a needed physical presence. AHL-signee Daniel Ciampini has played in three contests.

Goalie Mark Visentin is also on an AHL deal. I will expand on his performance momentarily.


Defense Stepping It Up

Following a poor showing with the Texas Stars in town in the season’s second week, there was plenty of reason to question the defensive capabilities of coach Ted Dent’s squad. At that point, Rockford was 1-3 and had given up a combined 19 goals in the three defeats.

Since then, there has been a marked improvement.

After the sweep at the hands of the Stars, the IceHogs have not allowed more than three goals in any of their 16 games since. In 12 of those games, they’ve surrendered two goals or less.

The penalty kill, which has been a convenient talking point for visiting broadcasters, has not given up a goal in seven straight games. The PK unit let in just three goals in 41 chances for a 92.6 kill percentage in November.

Since allowing ten goals in their first seven games, the penalty kill has operated at a 94.1 efficiency rate. They now sit ninth in the AHL overall at 85.4 percent.

Daniel Paille and Jake Dowell have been instrumental in the success of the penalty kill. They have been aggressive fore checkers and created some offensive opportunities in addition to stymieing the opposition.

In goal, Visentin has been very good as Michael Leighton’s backup. Don’t be fooled by the 1-2-2 record; the Admirals last two victories against him have been a  2-1 shootout decision November 20 and Saturday night’s 2-1 result.

Visentin is posting a 2.52 GAA and a .920 save percentage. After missing nearly all of last season with an ankle injury and a shaky Hogs debut against Texas, the former first-round draft pick of the Coyotes has earned my respect.

Leighton has been brilliant; he is tied for the AHL lead with his 11 wins. Leighton is 11-3-1-1 with a 2.15 GAA and a .925 save percentage.


Big Texas Trip Coming Up

Looming large for the IceHogs is the continuation of their current five-game road trip. Rockford will be in the Lone Star State for what should be four tough games in seven days with the two Texas franchises.

Sandwiched around two games with San Antonio will be match-ups  December 2 and 8 in Austin with the same Texas Stars club that came to the BMO and posted 5-2 and 7-2 wins over Rockford.

The Stars opened the season 7-2-0-1 but have lost five of their last eight games. Texas boast two of the league’s leading scorers in Devin Shore (22 points) and Brendan Ranford (18 points). Shore, who put up a hat trick against the Hogs October 17, leads the AHL with 15 goals.

Rockford beat the Rampage 3-2 in Gus Macker Time this past Wednesday. San Antonio is finished up a road trip through the Midwest Sunday and will be well-rested when the Hogs come to town for games December 4 and 6.

Ross is expected to be back in the lineup on the road trip. Also returning will be center Phillip Danault, who has been recovering from surgery on his hip for most of the last few months.

The IceHogs are facing two teams who know how to put the puck in the net. This will be a very telling stretch for Rockford. If the defense can continue to keep things close, the Hogs could hold their current momentum through a tough road stretch. If not, look out.


Roster Moves

Paille was released from his PTO on Wednesday and signed an AHL deal with Rockford that same day. This is good news for the IceHogs; Paille has just a single assist on the season but has been a big part of stabilizing the defensive effort.

On Sunday, the IceHogs released Brittain from his PTO. With Ross and Danault nearing returns, there may be some additional moves this week.


The Recaps

Wednesday, November 25-Rockford 3, San Antonio 2 (OT)

It took a bit longer than it probably should have, but the IceHogs wrestled the second point away from the Rampage in front of 3606, a pretty big house for a weeknight contest at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

The IceHogs dominated play for long stretches throughout the evening. Rockford, however, found itself down 1-0 thanks to a Troy Bourke tip in with 52 seconds to go in the opening period.

The Hogs stormed back in the second stanza, out-shooting San Antonio 17-5 for the period. A too-many-men penalty afforded Rockford the power play and Jeremy Morin struck cord from the left circle off a nice cross ice pass from Vinnie Hinostroza. The goal tied the game at 1-1 at 11:14 of the second.

In the final minute of the period, it was Rockford’s turn to post a late goal. The scoring play was started by Morin, who got control of a loose puck in the Rampage zone and found Cameron Schilling open at the blue line near the left half boards.

Schilling fired to the front of the net, where Dennis Rasmussen was waiting to tip the biscuit past San Antonio goalie Calvin Pickard. With a tick, tick, tick, tick…BOOM!, the resulting goal put the IceHogs up 2-1 going into the second intermission.

Rockford seemed in control in the final frame until a Schilling turnover led to the Rampage gaining a solid foothold in the IceHogs zone. This led to Michael Schumacher knocking in an airborne puck past Michael Leighton to knot the game at two with 4:40 remaining.

Momentum turned in favor of San Antonio, though the Hogs fought off a Rampage push in the final minutes to force Gus Macker Time. After a few mishandles of the puck forced Leighton and the defense to deny several breakaway chances, San Antonio’s Trevor Cheek was whistled for slashing with 2:54 of extra time remaining.

For the second time in the game, Rockford converted when up an extra skater. The game-winner came off of a Viktor Svedberg blast that Pickard sent back out toward the blue line. Eirk Gustafsson collected the long rebound and fired past the Rampage goalie at 3:53 to put an end to the contest.

Gustafsson, who led all skaters with five shots, was voted the game’s first star, followed by Morin and Rasmussen. Leighton stopped 26 of 28 shots to pick up his tenth victory of the season.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Bryan Bickell-Dennis Rasmussen-Jeremy Morin

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Vinnie Hinostroza-Ryan Hartman

Daniel Paille-Jake Dowell (A)-Dane Walters

Josh Brittain-Chris DeSousa-Daniel Ciampini

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Viktor Svedberg-Erik Gustafsson

Kirill Gotovets-Nolan Valleau

Michael Leighton

Power Play (2-5)



(Hinostroza was in for Hartman on Morin’s goal. Svedberg, Morin and Hartman were on the ice for Gustafsson’s game-winner.)

Penalty Kill (San Antonio was shut down on its only man advantage.)




Friday, November 27-Rockford 3, Chicago 1

Rockford limited their I-90 rivals to 15 shots on goal, defeating the Wolves for the second time in as many meetings this season.

The Hogs took the lead in the fourteenth minute after Jeremy Morin came down the right side and few Dennis Rasmussen in the slot. The shot attempt was handled by the blocker of Wolves goalie Jordan Binnington and skidded into the corner.

Morin, who had come around behind the Chicago net, collected the rebound and sent it back toward the crease. The puck glanced off Binngington’s right pad and into the promised land for a 1-0 Rockford advantage 13:49 into the first period.

The Wolves Cody Beach tied the score with a one-timer from Jacob Doty 4:45 into the second stanza. This gave Chicago some momentum and was perhaps their strongest offensive effort of the night. Near the midway point, the IceHogs regained control of the contest.

It was Jake Dowell forcing a turnover just outside the Rockford blue line that got things started. Dowell found Bryan Bickell skating in neutral ice and got him the puck. Bickell entered the Wolves zone, skated into the middle and sent a dart of a wrist shot past the glove of Binnington. At 8:03 of the second, Rockford was now up 2-1.

The game, which had already been a physical affair, got real fighty at that point. Yannick Velleux locked up with Viktor Svedberg, which was quickly followed by a bout between Beach and Dennis Robertson. A few minutes later, Ivan Barbashev caught Ryan Hartman with a high stick, drawing a double minor and creating a crowd in the penalty box.

Rockford used the first minor to stretch its lead. Ville Pokka pounced on a long Dennis Rasmussen rebound at the right circle and sent the rubber to the ropes. The Hogs were up 3-1 15:13 into the second and never really looked back.

The scene at the Chicago penalty box must have been jumping. It certainly was jam-packed in the final twenty. At one point, five Wolves skaters were housed in the bin of sin; mostly for misconduct penalties earned throughout the third period. Maybe somebody had a deck of cards.

Bickell (first), Rasmussen (second) and Morin (third) were the game’s three stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Bryan Bickell-Dennis Rasmussen-Jeremy Morin

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Vinnie Hinostroza-Ryan Hartman

Daniel Paille-Jake Dowell (A)-Chris DeSousa

Josh Brittain-Dane Walters

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Viktor Svedberg-Erik Gustafsson

Kirill Gotovets-Nolan Valleau

Dennis Robertson

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Kyle Cumiskey, Mike Liambas, Garret Ross, Kyle Baun, Mark McNeill, Daniel Ciampini, Ryan Haggerty.

Power Play (1-5)



Penalty Kill (Held Wolves scoreless in four attempts.)



Rasmussen-Labrie-Schilling Pokka


Saturday, November 28-Milwaukee 2, Rockford 1

The IceHogs winning streak was stopped at three games in Milwaukee as Marek Mazanec foiled Rockford shooters all evening. The power play laid a goose egg in six attempts, including nearly a minute of 5-0n-3 time.

The Admirals took a 1-0 advantage after Rockford struggled to enter the Milwaukee zone in the eighth minute. Pontus Aberg found Vladislav Kamenev with a stretch pass, leading to a nifty backhander past Mark Visentin to complete the breakaway. This put Milwaukee up 1-0 at the 7:29 mark.

Rockford evened the score six minutes later when Dennis Rasmussen won an offensive draw then made his way to the front of the net. He got his stick on a shot from Viktor Svedberg and lit the lamp at 13:29 of the opening frame.

Unfortunately for Rockford, that was the only rubber to get by Mazanec, who stopped 13 of 14 Hogs shots in the first 20 minutes. Rockford could muster only ten shots in the last two periods but the game remained 1-1 until the middle of the final stanza.

The game-winner was scored by Aberg, who had an initial shot attempt blocked by Jake Dowell. The puck came back to Aberg’s stick and the resulting follow-up went off the left post and into the net for a 2-1 Admirals lead.

The IceHogs had a couple of decent scoring chances after that but were unable to answer.

Mark Visentin was in net for the third time this season against Mazanec and once again played well enough to deserve better results. He has an overtime loss to go with last Friday’s shootout loss to Milwaukee. Saturday, he made 20 of 22 stops but the Ads goalie did him one better yet again.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Chris DeSousa-Jake Dowell (A)-Dane Walters

Bryan Bickell-Dennis Rasmussen-Jeremy Morin

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Vinnie Hinostroza-Ryan Hartman

Josh Brittain-Daniel Paille

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Viktor Svedberg-Erik Gustafsson

Kirill Gotovets-Nolan Valleau

Dennis Robertson

Mark Visentin

Scratches-Kyle Cumiskey, Mike Liambas, Garret Ross, Kyle Baun, Mark McNeill, Daniel Ciampini, Ryan Haggerty.

Power Play (0-6)



Penalty Kill (Held Milwaukee scoreless in one attempt.)



Rasmussen-Labrie-Schilling Pokka


Gone To Texas

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi as I hope to provide updates on the Hogs action during their Texas road trip.