High On The Hog: Opening The Season With Cle…uh…The Wolves

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, are opening the 2020-21 season. Just not the way we thought they would.

The young Hogs were supposed to raise the curtain against the Cleveland Monsters, who were set to visit Rockford this weekend. Unfortunately, the AHL’s COVID-19 protocols have prevented this from happening. The two games have been postponed. Stepping in as an opponent are the Chicago Wolves, who will take on the piglets Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

There are plenty of top-level prospects on the Chicago roster, along with a host of players who have multiple seasons of AHL experience. This is in stark contrast to the IceHogs roster.

Of the 30 players listed on the IceHogs roster heading into Saturday, 17 of them have yet to play an AHL game. Four players (Garrett Mitchell, Cody Franson, Gabriel Gagne, and John Quenneville) have combined for 974 of the 1281 AHL games played by this year’s team.

You could say “Well, everyone’s in the same boat this season.” However, the Hogs are dead last in the AHL in games played by almost 400 games. The Wolves have 17 players on their 30-man roster with at least 50 games of AHL experience. Rockford has just seven.

In his media session this week, head coach Derek King stressed patience with a young squad that will be making a lot of mistakes as they learn the professional game. Regarding the match-up with Cleveland, King was realistic about his young team, especially at forward, where he described the IceHogs as “young and naive”.

“I don’t think they know what’s going to hit them,” King said, “until that first game when the game is really on the line.”

Though King was referring to the scheduled first game with the Monsters, the same thoughts apply for Chicago, who beat Rockford 6-1 last week in the piglets sole preseason tilt.

Here’s what’s going to hit the Hogs at the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday afternoon.

A Look At The Chicago Wolves

Chicago is drawing prospects from two NHL clubs; Carolina and Nashville.

Carolina just vacated Charlotte as its AHL affiliate, but not before the Checkers won the 2019 Calder Cup. Nashville’s affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, was the best team in the league when play stopped last spring. The Ads elected to sit out this shortened season and send their prospects to Chicago.

The result of this dual affiliation is that the Wolves are loaded.

Both of Carolina’s first-round picks from 2019 and 2020, Ryan Suzuki and Seth Jarvis, have turned pro and are on the Wolves roster. Suzuki played for Canada in this year’s World Junior Championships. Jarvis is coming off a 98-point season with Portland of the WHL.

Nashville’s first-rounder from 2019, Philip Tomasino, will also be entering his rookie season with the Wolves. He had six points (4 G, 2 A) for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Dominik Bokk is also a former number one selection, by St. Louis in the 2018 NHL Draft, making his league debut.

Drew Shore, who has AHL service time for the Panthers and Flames, spent the last four years in Europe. Orland Park native Dave Gust posted 31 points (11 G, 20 A) for Charlotte in 60 games last season. Anthony Richard comes over from the Admirals, where he’s been a reliable goal-scorer over the last four seasons.

All the Wolves defensemen have at least one year of AHL experience. The exception is rookie D.J. King, son of Hogs coach Derek King, who is on an amateur tryout.

Anchoring the blue line is Alexandre Carrier, a Predators prospect who had five goals and 32 helpers for the Admirals last season. Milwaukee teammate Jeremy Davies (4 G, 24 A) joins him in Chicago.

Joey Keane split his rookie season between Hartford and Charlotte. Combined, the Chicago native finished with 37 points (9 G, 28 A) in 58 games. Tyler Lewington has five years under his belt with the Hershey Bears and will add yet more experience to the Wolves defense. Cavan Fitzgerald spent the last three seasons with San Jose and Charlotte.

The Wolves Achilles Heel may be in the crease. Jeremy Helvig is a Hurricanes prospect who has just two AHL starts over the last two seasons. Beck Warm is on an AHL contract with the Wolves after a junior career in the WHL.

Veteran AHL goalie Antoine Bibeau was assigned to the Wolves from Carolina and does lend six seasons of work in net for Toronto and SanJose. He started just two games for the Colorado Eagles last season before undergoing hip surgery.

Chicago kicks off its 2020-21 season at home against Grand Rapids Friday night, so the Hogs will likely be the fresher team coming into the contest. Rockford probably has the advantage in net, but Saturday should prove to be a tough opening test for Rockford.


Roster Moves

Wednesday, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Madison Bowey to the taxi squad, sending two rookies to Rockford. Forward Michal Teply and defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk are now available for coach Derek King to work into the lineup.

Matthew Thompson, one of the Hogs AHL contracts, was sent to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL on Wednesday.

I will be live-tweeting the game @JonFromi and will be up for discussing what transpires at the BMO as the Hogs begin the season.