The Rockford IceHogs took two out of three games this past week. The piglets spoiled Wednesday morning for hundreds of Grand Rapids children with a morning stomp of the Griffins, then split a home-and home with the Chicago Wolves over the weekend.
Rockford is now 7-6-0-1 on the season. With 15 points, the IceHogs sit in fifth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Faced with the prospect of treading water in the face of some depth issues in net, Rockford has managed to hover around the .500 mark. With the pace that is expected of the Hogs, the goaltending will be paramount to the team’s playoff aspirations.
What is keeping Rockford afloat the first month is offense. The Hogs are soaring at 3.79 goals per game, tied for fourth in the league.
Rockford has three skaters in the top 20 of AHL scorers. By way of comparison, the IceHogs seldom have anyone in the top 100 scorers. David Gust (8 G, 10 A) sits in eighth place, with Luke Philp (10 G, 6 A) and Brett Seney (7 G, 9 A) are among several skaters tied for 14th. Philp leads the Hogs in goals with ten and is tied for second in the league in that category.
Several Blackhawks prospects are also filling the net on a regular basis. After a torrid start, Lukas Reichel (6 G, 8 A), has tapered off after a lackluster performance on November 2 against Milwaukee. Reichel has two goals and two assists in eight November games.
Michal Teply, on the other hand, started the season with four scoreless outings before getting on track. In his last seven games, Teply has three goals and five helpers. That includes the game-winning goal in Rosemont on Saturday night.
After returning from an injury last week, Jaxson Stauber was a scratch for both weekend games against the Wolves. Mitchell Weeks was recalled from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Thursday and dressed for both games. He stopped 24 shots at Allstate Arena in Rockford’s overtime win over Chicago.
On Wednesday, D Alec Regula was reassigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks. The next day, Ian Mitchell was called up to Chicago. On Friday, D Cliff Watson was sent to Indy by the IceHogs.
Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell suffered an injury midway through Saturday’s win in Rosemont. Mitchell was sent hard into the end boards in the Wolves zone by Chicago defenseman Max Lajoie. Mitchell quickly got up, but skated directly to the locker room with appeared to be a separated left shoulder.
Mitchell has been an unquestioned leader of this IceHogs team nearly from the moment he arrived in the middle of the 2019-20 season. There are several veterans who can pick up the slack on the ice in terms of leadership should Mitchell be out for a stretch, as may well be the case by the way he looked exiting the rink Saturday.
Who’s Got The Call?
Over the last couple of weeks, a voice has been missing from the IceHogs broadcast booth. Joseph Zakrzewski, who manned the microphone for nearly five seasons, broadcast what turned out to be his final game at the BMO on October 23 vs Manitoba.
Zakrzewski has been absent from the airwaves ever since. His tweet on November 8 announced that his time with the team was at an end. Like his arrival in 2017, Zakrzewski departs in the middle of the season. No announcement was made by the organization.
If the Blackhawks, who own the Rockford franchise, has a plan for the broadcast booth, it is unclear at this time. It does not appear that a permanent replacement for his position has been hired.
Several hired guns have filled the void on the air over the last few weeks. These include Chicago Steel broadcaster Mark Citron, Kane County Cougars announcer Connor Clingen, Wisconsin Women’s hockey broadcaster Reid Mangum, Tyler Kuel, and WGN’s Joe Brand, who called this weekend’s games.
Where will the carousel stop? Who knows at this point?
Zakrzewski was a well-liked broadcaster at the BMO Center who knew his game and was a fun listen. The powers that be have some big shoes to fill.
Who’s Got The Cup?
Rockford has hosted the Wolves on three occasions this season. I’ve been searching the BMO Center during each matchup searching for the grail-like token of glory that is the Illinois Lottery Cup.
My search, alas, has been fruitless. The ILC debuted back in 2011, where the Hogs and Wolves, along with the Peoria Rivermen (then of the AHL), waged battle for the magical chalice. When the 2019-20 season was halted early, Rockford stood poised to claim the cup with a 6-3-1 record against Chicago. Last season, the cup was earned via the Hogs 8-3-0-1 record against the Calder Cup-winning Wolves.
So, I inquire again…where is the Illinois Lottery Cup?
All signs point to money. No sponsor, no Illinois Lottery Cup. However, does it really have to be that way? Couldn’t the Lottery folks just donate this talisman to the rivalry? Could an enterprising fan purchase the cup for, say, ten bucks?
That’s the price the Blackhawks are selling the Stars Of Tomorrow placards that used to hang proudly on the wall heralding the former IceHogs that reached the NHL. Could the Blackhawks earmark some of the money they saved on the new Hammy Hog mask to obtain the trophy of Wolves domination?
All right. Way too fired up right now. Time for those recaps.
Wednesday, November 16-Rockford 5, Grand Rapids 1
The piglets spotted Grand Rapids a 5-1 lead at Van Andel Arena before the Rockford offense snowed under the Griffins.
Joel L’Esperance had the only goal of the morning with his lamp-lighter 13:38 into the opening period. From that point, it was all Rockford.
The Hogs tied the game 1:18 into the second stanza with a goal by Luke Philp. The eventual game-winner came from the stick of Ian Mitchell, who scored the first of his two goals at the 3:02 mark. Lukas Reichel and Buddy Robinson also sent rubber to twine in the second period, which ended with Rockford up 4-1.
Like his first goal, Mitchell’s second tally was on the power play. It came at 4:57 of the third period and closed out the scoring for both teams.
Dylan Wells posted 29 saves to pick up his second win of the season. Mitchell, Reichel, and Robinson were voted the game’s Three Stars.
Friday, November 18-Chicago 4, Rockford 3
In a game where special teams played a big factor, the Wolves Nathan Sucese potted a short-handed game-winner midway through the third period.
Rockford was the aggressor for several stretches of action on Friday. That included the opening minutes, which saw the Hogs take a 1-0 lead on a Buddy Robinson goal. Robinson’s fourth goal of the season was a tip-in of an Adam Clendening shot at the 2:09 mark of the first period.
Chicago didn’t get much going until the latter stages of the period. However, they capitalized twice in the last five minutes on goals by Griffin Mendel and Vasily Ponomarev to take a 2-1 advantage into the locker room.
Luke Philp got the first of two goals on the night to tie the game midway through the second period. The goal was a short-handed set up by a fantastic effort by Rockford forward Josiah Slavin, who skated a loose puck from coast to coast before centering to Philp in the high slot.
The score stayed at 2-2 until the start of the final frame, when Malte Stromwell sent a shot past Hogs goalie Dylan Wells at the 1:51 mark for a power-play goal. Philp tied the game again with his second goal. This one also came on the man-advantage, a shot from the left circle that beat Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko 9:22 into the third.
The game-winner came less than two minutes later. The Wolves had exploited Wells losing his net several times throughout the evening. This time, a rebound came off the pads of Wells, rolling just out of his reach. Sucese beat several Hogs to the loose puck and deposited it into the cage at 11:20 of the third period.
Down 4-3, Rockford mounted a big push for the equalizer, pulling Wells with just under three minutes to play. A Wolves penalty gave the IceHogs a six-on-four advantage for most of the last two minutes of the game. Several shots were taken, but Sawchenko held firm to give Chicago the win.
Saturday, November 19, Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (OT)
Rockford gained redemption in the rematch at Allstate Arena, though it took some extra skating to do so.
Jamison Rees put the Wolves up 1-0 4:33 into the game with his third goal of the season. The IceHogs generated plenty of chances, though they were turned away by former Rockford goalie Cale Morris.
The action picked up in the middle of the second stanza. David Gust got his stick on a loose puck at the left post, sliding it past Morris at the 7:16 mark. Shortly after Gust’s tally, Michal Teply sent an Issak Phllips feed from the left circle to the back of the Wolves net at 8:10 of the second.
Rees quickly responded for Chicago. Mitchell Weeks stopped the initial attempt, but Rees gathered the rebound and tied the game at 8:42.
Rockford took a 3-2 advantage 14:06 into the period when a shot by Alex Vlasic snuck past Morris from to top of the right circle. The Wolves got back to even ground with a shorthanded goal by Nathan Sucese at the 1:58 mark. Rockford nearly got the lead back in the final minute, but Phillips’ shot from the left circle came to a stop on the goal line, just not across it. The teams went into the intermission all even.
Neither Weeks or Morris wavered in the final 20 minutes of regulation, despite each team getting ample time on the power play. Rockford was stymied by the Wolves penalty kill four times, while the Hogs denied Chicago twice on man-advantages.
The IceHogs started Gus Macker Time with four skaters thanks to an unfinished power play from regulation. However, it took the bulk of the extra session to declare a winner. That declaration was made by Teply, who skated into the slot as the clock began to run out. His shot beat Morris, clanged off the crossbar, and tumbled into Twinesville to end the game with 11 seconds remaining in overtime.
The piglets have a Wednesday night showdown with Texas at the BMO, then start a home-and-home with Milwaukee in Rockford on Friday. Saturday, the Hogs travel to Milwaukee for another tilt with the Admirals.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for semi-rational thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.