The I-90 Shuffle is alive and well. The road between Chicago and Rockford has been well worn by Blackhawks prospects in the past. The moves are a bit different, but the results are similar.
In normal seasons, young prospects move up and down from the NHL to the AHL. The usual culprit is to reward a player with a quick look or to solve a salary cap issue. The new twist in the shuffle lies in the taxi squad.
Each NHL team must have three goalies available and a taxi squad of at least four members. A lot of players who would be getting steady game experience in Rockford have been in a sort of limbo. They aren’t breaking into Chicago’s lineup on a regular basis, but aren’t eligible to play for the IceHogs.
To keep the youngsters in game shape, several prospects have been rotated back and forth to the taxi squad. With both Rockford and Chicago at home or close to home this week, expect movement between the two teams.
The Blackhawks are attempting to make the best of a bad situation. However, it’s still rough on a player like Brandon Pirri, who has played in just three games this season. He was in the lineup opening night in Chicago, then sat until being assigned to Rockford on March 2.
Pirri had two goals and an assist in two games, then was recalled March 7. He was sent to Rockford last Wednesday, assumedly to play in this past weekend’s games with Iowa. The games were postponed two days, from Friday and Saturday to Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, before that night’s game, Pirri and three other skaters, John Quenneville, Alec Regula, and Mikael Hakkarainen, were recalled to Chicago.
Down came five players-forward Reese Johnson and defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson and Madison Bowey. All five played in Rockford’s 5-3 loss to Iowa Sunday night and in the 6-1 victory the following day.
In a normal season, Pirri would have spent most of this season in Rockford leading the offensive push, offering some veteran presence, and showcasing himself to other organizations. Instead, Pirri and other AHL vets are spending time in purgatory.
Case in point: Iowa’s Gerry Mayhew scored three goals for the Wild in the last two games. Mayhew played in just four games with Minnesota before being sent down. Sunday was his third game for for Iowa. Mayhew now has four goals and an assist for the Wild. Last year’s AHL MVP (39 G, 22 A in 49 games) has been a taxi squad casualty this season.
It’s frustrating to see a player like Pirri, who was signed largely to contribute to Rockford, sit on his hands for the bulk of the season. Imagine how frustrating it must be for the players.
Sunday, March 21-Iowa 5, Rockford 3
Gerry Mayhew showed the offensive spark that earned him last season’s AHL MVP award Sunday night. Mayhew, who was recently assigned to the Wild from Minnesota, scored twice and added an assist as the Wild broke a five-game winless streak.
Rockford’s two-game win streak was snapped in the first of two home contests with Iowa. Cody Franson had a goal and an assist in the losing effort.
An interference penalty by Reese Johnson set up the first goal of the contest. Iowa quickly set up in the offensive zone. Mason Shaw sent a puck on net from the right dot. Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins stopped that shot as well as Gabriel Dumont’s put back attempt. Gerry Mayhew knocked in the loose puck at 9:30 of the first period to give the Wild a 1-0 advantage.
The IceHogs tied the game early in the second period following a faceoff win by Reese Johnson in the neutral zone. Cody Franson gathered in the puck and fired from just inside the red line. Iowa goalie Hunter Jones whiffed on the long-distance offering, resulting in a 1-1 game 3:47 into the middle frame.
Rockford took the lead on the man advantage later in the second. MacKenzie Entwistle redirected a Franson shot past Jones at the 12:44 mark. That 2-1 lead was short-lived, as Mayhew potted his second goal of the night with a wrap-around attempt. Tomkins made the initial pad save, but the puck was raked across the goal line by the goalie’s stick at 14:17 of the second.
Early in the final period, the IceHogs gained a 3-2 advantage when Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell received a pass from Mitchell Fossier at the left dot. Mitchell’s shot was low and to the far side of the net at the 1:37 mark.
The Wild responded quickly, getting the equalizer from Tyler Sheehy. The rookie potted his first AHL goal, tipping in Dumont’s feed at 3:07 of the third. Five minutes later, Dumont one-timed a Sheehy pass from the high slot past Tomkins for a 4-3 Iowa lead eight minutes into the period.
The Hogs were unable to pull even in the final twelve minutes of action. Tomkins was pulled in favor of an extra skater with 1:47 remaining to no avail. Shaw found the empty net with 15 seconds left to seal Rockford’s fate.
Riley McKay dropped the gloves with Iowa’s Josh Maser early in the second period. McKay managed to dodge a good number of Maser’s punches in the all-rookie bout before being taken down to the ice. The fighting major is his third of the season, which leads the IceHogs.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Tim Soderlund
Andrei Altybarmakyan-MacKenzie Entwistle-D.J. Busdeker
Matej Chalupa-Dylan McLaughlin-Michal Teply
Riley McKay-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Mitchell Fossier
Anton Lindholm-Madison Bowey
Wyatt Kalynuk-Cody Franson (A)
Lucas Carlsson-Nicolas Beaudin
Monday, March 22-Rockford 6, Iowa 1
For the first time this season, the IceHogs were able to build a cushion against an opponent. This was the first Rockford win of the season to come by more than one goal.
Rockford got two-goal performances from Reese Johnson, Chris Wilkie, and Nicolas Beaudin. The offensive outburst was more than enough for rookie goaltender Cale Morris, who stopped 38 shots to pick up the win.
The Hogs stormed out to a big lead in the opening minutes, scoring three goals on their first four shots of the game. The first strike came in transition after Issak Phillips sent a clearing pass to Wilkie. Leading a two-on-one rush, Wilkie hit Johnson for the one-timer from the left circle for a 1-0 lead just 2:24 into the contest.
Wilkie forced a turnover in the Iowa zone a few minutes later. Evan Barratt chased down the loose puck and passed to Johnson, who brought it around the Wild net. Returning the favor to Wilkie, Johnson centered to set up the tap in, which came at 5:22 of the first.
Wilkie’s next goal came with Lucas Carlsson in the box for holding. Wyatt Kalynuk got the play started with a stretch pass to Wilkie coming out of the defensive zone. Wilkie worked a give-and-go with Dylan McLaughin, receiving the return pass and beating Iowa goalie Hunter Jones to the glove side at the 8:43 mark.
The Wild managed to cut the Rockford lead to 3-1 while on a two-man advantage. Gerry Mayhew snaked through the IceHogs defense and got a shot past Rockford goalie Cale Morris at 15:53 of the first period.
The IceHogs were able to restore a three-goal advantage late in the second period. The goal came on the power play after Wilkie drew a slash from Josh Atkinson. McLaughlin found MacKenzie Entwistle below the goal line. From there, Entwistle connected with Beaudin at the right dot. Beaudin brought the puck to his forehand and roofed it past Jones at 16:28 of the middle frame for a 4-1 Rockford lead.
The IceHogs prevented any pushback by Iowa by controlling the action in the third period. Late in the game, Tim Soderlund centered to Johnson, who potted his second goal of the night to make it 5-1 Rockford at 16:59 of the third. Moments later, Beaudin picked up his second of the evening with a long-distance shot past a screened Jones at the 17:29 mark to close out the scoring.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Mitchell Fossier-Garrett Mitchell-D.J. Busdeker
Andrei Altybarmakyan-MacKenzie Entwistle-Michal Teply
Mataj Chalupa-Dylan McLaughlin-Tim Soderlund
Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Chris Wilkie
Anton Lindholm-Lucas Carlsson
Wyatt Kalynuk-Nicolas Beaudin
Issak Phillips-Madison Bowey
Rockford now settles in for four games with the Chicago Wolves. The first home-and-away back-to-back starts Saturday night in Hoffman Estates.
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