Hockey

Back before the Rockford IceHogs home opener the previous weekend, I predicted that the scoring potential of this veteran-laden team would result in a slew of goals. Rockford put up four goals in a pair of losses at the BMO Center.

Turns out I was just a week off. The piglets were flying around the BMO ice this past weekend, and the offense came out to play.

The Hogs sent 13 shots to the back of opposing nets in a pair of wins, beating the Wolves 5-3 on Friday, then clobbering the Belleville Senators 8-2 on Saturday night. Rockford evened up its overall record to 3-3 while racing up the AHL offensive leaderboard.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the IceHogs are dangerously thin in their own cage. That situation may have become exacerbated with an injury to rookie Jaxson Stauber that may take a few days to evaluate.

Stauber took a puck to the mask in the second period in Saturday’s win that stuck in the eye hole. He left the game under his own power, but his immediate status is unknown. Regardless, the organization needs to address the lack of a veteran backstop for Rockford.

 

The Best Line In The AHL?

You could definitely make an argument that David Gust, Lukas Reichel and Brett Seney have been the league’s most effective forward line. They certainly are the hottest.

Gust had a tremendous weekend, following up a five-point effort against his former team with a pair of assists against Belleville. He’s tied for second in the league with eleven points (3 G, 8 A).

Reichel (4 G, 6 A) and Seney (4 G, 6 A) are tied for ninth in AHL scoring, with each player totaling ten points.

 

Goalie Depth Stretched To The Limit

Jaxson Stauber took a puck to the eye in the second period of Saturday’s win. After stopping seven of eight Senators shots, Stauber left the contest and did not return. Dylan Wells came in for the remainder of the game. Although he gave up a goal, he denied sixteen shots. The evening before, Wells picked up the win over the Wolves, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

Assuming that Rockford isn’t going to post five or six goals every night, the Hogs are dangerously thin in net at the moment. With Arvid Soderblom up in Chicago with the Blackhawks for the foreseeable future, the potential of Stauber missing some time does not give Rockford much experience in the crease.

Wells has 25 games of AHL action in four professional seasons. Stauber was removed from just his third AHL start when he was injured. In hindsight, the Blackhawks organization may have wanted to pick up a veteran who could have slipped through waivers and floated back and forth from Chicago to Rockford when needed.

If Stauber isn’t ready to play by Rockford’s game with Milwaukee Wednesday, expect Mitchell Weeks to be recalled to the IceHogs from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Weeks is 3-0 for Indy, with a 3.00 GAA and a .899 save percentage.

 

Loose Change

  • Friday morning, the IceHogs were 31st in the AHL (out of 32 teams) in offense with a 2.25 goals per-game average. Monday morning, Rockford was ninth at 3.67 goals.
  • The IceHogs power play was also 31st in the league, at just 6.1 percent (1-16). Monday morning, Rockford was…well, 25th, but at least they got their success rate (16.1, 5-31) into double digits.
  • Minus Adam Clendening, who did not play in either game this weekend, the D scored their first three goals of the season. Alec Regula had one in each game; Jakub Galvas pinched in on Friday for the lamp-lighter that ignited Rockford’s scoring explosion.
  • It was good to see Dylan Sikura and Buddy Robinson get their first goals over the weekend. Both players, especially Robinson, were just missing on prime chances until Saturday night. The line of Sikura and Mike Hardman, centered by Luke Philp, has the potential to be just as effective as the firm of Seney, Reichel, and Gust.
  • Carson Gicewicz and D.J. Busdeker are two of the few AHL holdovers from last season getting regular work so far this season. They’re toiling on the fourth line with good returns so far. Gicewicz tipped in an Issak Phillips slap shot for the sixth Hogs goal on Saturday, a play on which Busdeker was awarded the secondary assist. Both are high-motor skaters that helped anchor a group that killed ten of eleven penalties over the weekend.
  • Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain, sat out the Belleville game, with Bobby Lynch joining the fourth line.
  • Lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s goal-fest was new acquisition Cooper Zech getting his first start on the IceHogs defense. Zech didn’t break into the scoring column.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 28-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs broke a three-game skid in a big way Friday night.  With a pair of goals and three helpers, Gust factored in on every Rockford goal in the victory. Rockford picked up its first win this season at the BMO Center, thanks in part to a flurry of second-period goals.

The Wolves started strong, taking a 1-0 lead midway through the first on an Alexander Pashin tally. Rockford created some scoring opportunities late in the period but trailed by that score heading into the locker room.

The goal that got the Hogs rolling came off the stick of defenseman Jakub Galvas, who drove to the right slot and went far side on Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko. This tied the game at a goal apiece just 2:12 into the middle frame. Gust gave Rockford a 2-1 lead at the 6:15 mark, taking a pass from Brett Seney before splitting the defense and backhanding the puck into the Wolves net.

Chicago knotted the game at 8:39 of the second period when Nathan Sucese put back a long rebound of a David Ferrance attempt. However, the IceHogs responded by capitalizing on a Wolves turnover in their own zone. Mike Hardman deflected a pass attempt to Gust, who sent a shot from the slot past Sawchenko at 14:30 of the second.

The key sequence in the contest came in the closing minutes of the period. With 1:27 remaining, Max Lajoie appeared to tie the game for Chicago. The officials, however, ruled that Lajoie had knocked in the puck with a high stick, disallowing the goal. Rockford took full advantage, getting a deflection of a Galvas shot by Seney with two seconds to play in the second. This gave the IceHogs a 4-2 advantage at the second intermission.

An Alec Regula slapshot 25 seconds into the third period provided plenty of insurance. The Wolves Jamieson Rees closed out the scoring a few minutes later, but the Hogs held on behind Dylan Wells, who picked up his first win in net with 24 saves.

 

Saturday, October 29-Rockford 8, Belleville 2

After scoring five times in a win over Chicago on Friday, Rockford erupted for eight goals at the BMO Center.

The IceHogs got to work early, scoring 51 seconds into the contest with Dylan Sikura‘s first goal of the season. Less than a minute later, Lukas Reichel worked a two-man rush with Brett Seney and scored from the right post to put the IceHogs up 2-0.

Sikura got his second of the night at the 11:36 mark of the first period, the first of what would be four Rockford power play tallies. The one-timer from the top of the left circle trickled through the pads of Senators goalie Kevin Mandolese, prompting Belleville coach Troy Mann to remove him from the game for Mads Sogaard.

Belleville, who was outshot 9-1 by Rockford, stopped the bleeding and went into the locker room down 3-0. Instead of a push back from the Senators, the Hogs turned the offense up a notch.

The middle frame was a wild affair. Rockford put up four goals in the span of 2:15, starting at the three-minute mark with a power-play goal by Alec Regula. Buddy Robinson (PP), Carson Gicewicz, and Reichel quickly followed suit.

Mann removed Sogaard from the action after Reichel’s second of the evening in favor of Mandolese. it didn’t mater. Mike Hardman quickly sent a shot off the right post and into the net at the 7:40 mark.

Jake Lucchini broke up the shutout with a goal at the 11:03 mark, but Belleville trailed 8-1 at the second intermission. From there, it was mostly the teams trying to run out the clock and the officials trying to prevent garbage-time fights. Angus Crookshank converted on a power-play chance midway through the third to close out the scoring.

 

Busy Week Ahead

The piglets will rise early to take on Milwaukee in a 10:30 a.m. start on Wednesday. After getting its first gander at the Admirals, Rockford ends the seven-game home stand Saturday and Sunday. Saturday at 7:00 p.m., the Hogs open the season series with Grand Rapids. The following afternoon, the Iowa Wild visit the BMO Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs opened the refurbished BMO Center (note the refurbished name) with a pair of disappointing losses. On Friday, the Chicago Wolves picked up an easy win over Rockford. The next afternoon, Manitoba moved to the top of the Central Division standings behind a half-dozen goals.

What went wrong over the weekend? Allow me to share some thoughts before this week’s recaps.

  • Offensively, Luke Philp and Brett Seney have been as good as advertised. Each has three goals and an assist in Rockford’s first four games. Lukas Reichel (2 G, 4 A) paces the piglets with six points, but looks to be pushing the action a bit, rather than slowing down and letting scoring opportunities develop.
  • Aside from David Gust’s goal in Manitoba October 15, the firm of Philp, Seney and Reichel have accounted for all of Rockford’s goal scoring. Some diversity is sorely needed.
  • The IceHogs were better Sunday in terms of creating legit scoring chances. They just didn’t convert. Passes connected but couldn’t be hauled in. Pucks were in the crease with no one to jump on them. In short, this Rockford offense is just a tad out of synch.
  • Players like Buddy Robinson and Dylan Sikura had some chances that weren’t fully realized. Hopefully Hogs coach Anders Sorensen can get three lines that click in practice this week, then get the occasional greasy goal from players like Josiah Slavin and Evan Barratt.
  • The goalie situation suffered with Arvid Soderblom being recalled to the Blackhawks Friday after a injury to Petr Mrazek. A tandem of Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells is not the tandem of a contending AHL team. It was on full display this weekend, particularly on Sunday. If Soderblom is to be with the Blackhawks for an extended period of time, a move needs to be made to obtain a veteran goalie to pick up some slack in Rockford.
  • Adam Clendening had a rough game on Saturday, taking three penalties and encountering trouble quarterbacking the power play. He was better on Sunday, with a secondary assist on Seney’s third-period goal. The first power play unit is four forwards and Clendening. On several occasions, opponents have been able to generate shorthanded opportunities by skating hard up the ice and forcing Clendening to defend.
  • Rockford was 1-8 on the man advantage this weekend, while giving up four power play goals on ten opponent chances. The lack of success on the penalty kill had a big effect on the Hogs fortunes; both Chicago and Manitoba swung the games in their favor with two power play strikes in the second period.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan made his IceHogs debut on Sunday afternoon. He scrapped with Jeff Malott and Mikey Eyssimont in a ten-minute span of the third period and was given a game misconduct for doing so. He now leads Rockford with two fighting majors and 20 penalty minutes.
  • On Saturday morning, the IceHogs announced that rookie forward Cole Guttman was in concussion protocol, dating back to October 15 in Manitoba when he appeared to hit his head on the ice in a fall.
  • Alex Vlasic and Alec Regula added to the blueline depth in Rockford. Both Vlasic and Regula played in both games this weekend.

Recaps

Saturday, October 22-Chicago 4, Rockford 1

A rash of penalties in the first two periods was too much for the IceHogs to overcome despite several key scoring opportunities. The Wolves spoiled Rockford’s home opener, beating their Central Division rival in convincing fashion.

Chicago took a 1-0 lead at the 14:28 mark of the opening period, after the Hogs sent an early flurry of pucks toward Wolves goalie Zachary Sawchenko. William Lagesson struck from the left post to give Chicago a lead they would never relinquish.

Rockford had a chance to tie the score when Bobby Lynch was awarded a penalty shot at 16:37 of the first period. Lynch got Sawchenko down on the ice, but couldn’t get the backhand shot over the goalie’s pads.

The Wolves began the middle frame with a short power play held over from a slashing penalty by Hogs defenseman Adam Clendening. Chicago needed just 16 seconds to convert. Jack Drury knocked in a feed by Anttoni Honka for a 2-0 Wolves lead.

The IceHogs closed the gap to 2-1 with a one-timer off the stick of Lukas Reichel. Assists went to Brett Seney and former Wolves forward David Gust at the 14:08 mark.

Seney was called for tripping late in the second period, leading to Brenden Perlini‘s first goal of the season with 51 seconds remaining. Outshot by Chicago 26-16 through 40 minutes, the IceHogs trailed 3-1.

The pivotal point in the final period was near the midway point, when Griffin Mendel and Ryan Dzingel committed penalties 51 seconds apart, leading to a 5-on-3 advantage for Rockford. The Wolves hustled defensively and killed both infractions, ending the Hogs best chance to get back into the contest. Malte Stromwall closed out the scoring with an unassisted shorthanded goal with 1:25 to play, sealing Rockford’s fate.

Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber made his pro debut Saturday following Arvid Soderblom‘s recall by the Blackhawks. Stauber stopped 19 of 22 Wolves shots. Sawchenko made 27 saves to pick up the win for Chicago.

Sunday, October 23-Manitoba 6, Rockford 3

The IceHogs got off to a solid start, attacking the Manitoba net and scoring the first goal of the game. It came off the stick of Brett Seney, who buried home Lukas Reichel’s feed 4:04 into the game. The Moose surged in the latter stages of the first period, tying the contest at the 18:03 mark. Jansen Harkins gathered in a rebound of Ville Heinola’s initial shot and beat Rockford goalie Dylan Wells to the twine.

Things went south for Rockford five minutes into the middle frame. Jeff Malott put Manitoba up 2-1 at 6:41 of the second period. Eight minutes later, Henri Nikkanen scored to put Rockford into a two-goal hole. The wheels came off for the IceHogs in the final five minutes of the second.

Two Rockford penalties gave the Moose a chance to put the game out of reach. They did just that, needing just seven seconds to convert on a Buddy Robinson interference penalty. Declan Chisholm sent a slap shot past the glove of Wells at 15:29 for a 4-1 Manitoba advantage.

Shortly thereafter, Reichel sent a puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. At 17:09, Kevin Stenlund scored his second goal of the season and put the IceHogs down 5-1 heading into the second intermission.

Rockford was able to mount a response in the third period, picking up a Luke Philp goal and Seney’s second of the game, sandwiched around a Mikey Eyssimont tally for Manitoba.

Seney’s two-goal night earned him First Star honors in a losing effort. Eyssimont had a goal and two assists in being named Second Star. Reichel was Third Star on the strength of two assists. Heinola also recorded two helpers in the contest.

Wells had a rough night, giving up five goals on 21 shots before being lifted for Jaxson Stauber to start the third period. At the other end of the ice, rookie Oskari Salminen went to 3-0 on the season with the win, with 28 saves on the afternoon.

 

This Weekend

Rockford continues what is to be a seven-game home stand this weekend. The Wolves come back to play another Illinois Lottery Cup game Friday night. The Belleville Senators come to the BMO Center on Saturday.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs ran hot and cold in splitting a pair of weekend tilts with the Manitoba Moose. On one hand, you could certainly see the scoring potential of a veteran-laden Hogs club. However, developing chemistry seems to be another matter at the moment.

The piglets triumphed in the season opener with a stunning comeback, but lost Sunday’s rematch via the shutout. Here are some quick thoughts on the opening weekend of the 2022-23 season.

  • First off, this was a solid Manitoba club opposing the IceHogs. The bulk of the Moose return from a very good team the previous season. For the bulk of Saturday’s game, they controlled the action and looked to win going away.
  • Rockford stormed back in the first eight minutes of the third period, getting goals from Luke Philp, Dave Gust and Lukas Reichel to erase a three-goal deficit. The Moose regained a 4-3 advantage, but a second Philp tally with just over two minutes to play forced Gus Macker Time. From there, Brett Seney hit the top corner of the net to secure a 5-4 victory.
  • On Sunday, the IceHogs were the aggressor, moving the puck with aplomb in the Manitoba zone. However, it was the Moose who were able to get the puck into the Rockford crease and generate some strong chances.
  • The key play Sunday was with Rockford on a late power play in the second period. Reichel attempted a backhand pass to the blueline that was picked off. Adam Clendening wasn’t able to get into position to defend a shorthanded breakaway chance by Jansen Harkins and Manitoba took a 1-0 lead that they would not surrender, beating the IceHogs 4-0. Rookie goalie Oskari Salminen took it from there, blanking the Hogs by stopping 32 shots.
  • Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell was out of the lineup this weekend. He was suffering from an illness and did not make the trip up north.
  • Rookie Cole Guttman left the ice in the third period Saturday after being knocked to the ice in a multi-player collision. He appeared to hit his head on the ice and lost his helmet in the process. Guttman struggled to get to the Hogs bench and was helped to the locker room soon after.
  • With the influx of veteran talent on the roster this year, playing time could be at a premium for forward prospect Evan Barratt. He’s in the final year of his entry deal and is probably getting his last look from the organization. Barratt was a scratch Saturday, engaging in a scrap with Manitoba’s Leon Gawanke in the second period of Sunday’s game.
  • The IceHogs get a week to practice and make some adjustments before opening the home schedule against the Chicago Wolves Saturday night. On Sunday, Rockford gets another crack at Manitoba, who visits the BMO Harris Bank Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have a new look entering the 2022-23 AHL season. It’s a real paradigm shift for the organization, and I’m pretty excited about heading into another season of keeping you informed on the action out west of I-39.

Back in the spring, Hawks GM Kyle Davidson announced that bringing in veterans to raise the talent pool in Rockford was a priority. This was an easy statement to take with a grain of salt, since the IceHogs roster has been comprised mostly of prospects since Rockford became Chicago’s AHL affiliate in 2007.

Turns out, the organization followed through.

Over the summer, the Blackhawks, who enter their second full season of ownership of the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets, made good on reshaping the roster. Veterans with serious AHL upside were brought in to fortify last year’s bunch of overachieving prospects.

The 2021-22 crop scrapped their way to fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division and won a play-in series with Texas before falling to the Calder Cup Champions, the Chicago Wolves. Leading the way was rookie Lukas Reichel, who is back for another season at the BMO after a strong debut of 21 goals and 36 helpers.

In addition to Reichel, the current IceHogs roster now has three players that paced their clubs in scoring last season. Many of the solid defensive pieces are back and are enhanced by a familiar face.

Let’s dig into the roster!

Forward

NHL Prospects: Lukas Reichel, Mike Hardman, Josiah Slavin, Michal Teply, Evan Barratt, Cole Guttman.

AHL Contracts: Garrett Mitchell, David Gust, Bobby Lynch, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, Morgan Adams-Moisan.

Veteran Oomph: Dylan Sikura, Brett Seney, Luke Philp.

Guttman is the only rookie in this group. The returning prospects all were big contributors to Rockford’s success, as were Busdeker and Gicewicz. Mitchell enters his third season as the Hogs captain.

Gust (16 G, 20 A for the Wolves last season) is a player who’s been on my wish list for several years, though he’s exactly what the organization has avoided in past campaigns. The Orland Park native is a strong AHL player with a winning pedigree, having skated with the last two Calder Cup winners.

Lynch will chip in on the bottom six; he totaled eight goals and 13 assists in 46 games with Manitoba. Adams-Moisan is a big, physical forward that may wind up splitting time between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

The addition of Sikura (73 points with the Colorado Eagles last season), Seney (59 points to lead the Toronto Marlies), and Philp (44 points with a strong Stockton Heat club) figures to give Rockford the kind of potency on offense that’s been missing in past seasons. If this forward group can consistently light lamps from the raising of the curtain, this could be a formidable group.

As the Hawks roster fluctuates, Buddy Robinson, who has cleared waivers, will probably wind up with the IceHogs at some point. The same goes for rookie Jaren Luypen, currently on injured reserve with the Blackhawks.

(UPDATE-The Blackhawks assigned Robinson to Rockford on Friday morning.)

Defense

NHL Prospects: Jakub Galvas, Issak Phillips, Nicolas Beaudin, Louis Crevier.

AHL Contracts: Adam Clendening, Cliff Watson, Koletrane Wilson.

The major addition is the return of Clendening for his third tour of duty with Rockford. The 29-year-old defenseman is coming off a five-goal, 37-assist season with Lehigh Valley, his best point output since his 59-point season with the Hogs back in 2013-14.

The signing of Clendening to a one-year AHL contract was the opening salvo of the new development philosophy. He’ll be a mainstay on the Rockford power play and provides yet another upgrade to the talent pool.

Galvas and Phillips may see time in Chicago, rotating with other prospects like Alec Regula (currently with the Hawks) and Ian Mitchell (injured). Beaudin is back for his fourth season in Rockford. It’s likely his final chance to realize his potential as a former first-round draft pick.

Crevier, a seventh-round pick from the 2020 NHL Draft, is a big (6’8″) rookie who should see the ice on a regular basis. He will need to adjust to AHL forwards and contribute in the offensive zone.

Watson saw action in 20 games with Rockford and spent the rest of his season with the Fuel. Wilson has spent his first two years of pro hockey in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks.

 

Goalie

NHL Prospects: Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber.

Anchoring an experienced team in net are two youngsters. Primary starts are likely to go to Soderblom, who was very impressive in stretches of his rookie season. In 38 appearances, Soderblom was 21-15-2 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Stauber was signed to a two-year entry contract by the Hawks after two seasons at Providence College. Last season, he posted a 2.10 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 37 games.

 

Coaching Staff

Anders Sorensen, who really had his young bunch playing well despite being outmanned most nights, took over early in the season as the interim coach when Derek King was promoted to Chicago. Sorensen was retained to helm the Hogs in 2022-23.

Assisting him will be a pair of former IceHogs. Jared Nightingale was brought in mid-season and did a great job with the blueline and penalty kill. He’s back as well, and rightfully so.

Joining Sorensen, Nightingale, and goalie coach Peter Aubrey is Rob Klinkhammer, a former IceHogs favorite who is making his debut in the coaching ranks after wrapping up his well-traveled pro career with six seasons in the KHL.

 

Outlook

The Central Division is no cakewalk, starting with the defending champs over in Rosemont. The Wolves lost a lot of pieces from last year’s juggernaut but are always built to compete. Manitoba returns most of last season’s second-place squad, and Milwaukee and Grand Rapids will also be tough opponents.

The IceHogs, on paper, look to be as experienced and as talented as any of their division rivals. Slow starts have always been an issue in Rockford. That’s been especially true in the last two seasons, which featured the greenest roster in the AHL by a wide margin. That shouldn’t be the case this fall.

The AHL season is full of ups and downs as roster moves by the parent clubs can have a huge effect on their affiliates. For the time being, it appears that Rockford is stocked with a veteran cast that should spend most of their seasons with the IceHogs. Davidson wants his prospects to play meaningful games well into the spring. Rockford is set up to do that; now it is time to see what the next seven months hold for this team.

 

Jerkin’ The Curtain In Manitoba

Rockford gets to work this weekend, opening the 2022-23 season with a pair of weekend matinees with the Manitoba Moose.

The action begins at the BellMTS Iceplex in Winnipeg Saturday, October 15 with a 2:00 p.m. CDT puck drop with the Moose. Rockford and Manitoba are at it again on Sunday, October 16 at 2:00 p.m. CDT

The IceHogs were 5-3 last season against the Moose but did not fare well on the road, managing just one win in four attempts in Manitoba.

The Moose had nine players that finished 2021-22 with at least 30 points. Seven of those players return to the team this season, including leading point producers Mikey Eyssimont (18 G, 24 A) and Jeff Malott (23 G, 18 A).

Manitoba’s projected starting goalie, Arvid Holm, was 0-3 vs Rockford last season with a 3.80 goals-against average and an .823 save percentage. Soderblom, who will start at least one of this weekend’s games for the IceHogs, was 3-2-0 with a 3.04 goals against average and a .919 save percentage against the Moose.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for in-game thoughts this weekend as well as throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are readying themselves for a heavy dose of the Cleveland Monsters. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate has just four games with the Monsters this season. However, they all are to be played this week.

The Monsters were to have started the season at the BMO Harris Bank Center on February 5 and 6. Those games had to be rescheduled. Rockford hosts back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday, then travels to Cleveland for games on Saturday and Sunday.

COVID-19 issues kept the Monsters grounded in Cleveland to open the season, with only three games under their belt. The Monsters, like Rockford, are still looking to pick up their first win of the season. They’re coming off an overtime loss in Grand Rapids Saturday afternoon.

 

Easy Breezy Weekend

Rockford was idle over the weekend. That isn’t going to happen for the remainder of the AHL season unless something changes.

Cam Morrison is still waiting to play his first game with the IceHogs after being banged up in training camp. Anton Lindholm, as reported last week, will be missing the next month-plus with a broken thumb.

Forward John Quenneville took a puck to the face in the third period of Thursday’s loss to Grand Rapids. He quickly returned to action in that game, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him sit out with so many forwards available.

It may also be a week that coach Derek King elects to give one or both of his young AHL contracts, Cale Morris and Tom Aubrun, a turn in the Hogs crease. Matt Tomkins has been solid so far, but I wouldn’t think he plays both ends of both back-to-backs.

 

Closeup On The Monsters

This Cleveland squad may not be among the AHL’s elite. However, the Monsters have a large collection of veteran players who are more than capable of taking advantage of rookie mistakes.

First of all, Rockford’s leading scorer and captain, Tyler Sikura, signed with Cleveland. Sikura plays a straight-forward game and always around the net to convert on opportunities.

Zac Dalpe is a long-time Monsters center who was selected as the team’s captain this season. He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2019-20 campaign. However, he’s well-accustomed to putting pucks into Rockford nets over the years. Dalpe and Sikura have been teamed with second-year forward Trey Fix-Wolanski on Cleveland’s top line.

Nathan Gerbe is another experienced player the young campers will have to deal with. Forwards like Nick Lappin, Justin Scott, and Kole Sherwood all have several seasons of AHL action under their belts.

Liam Foudy, the Blue Jackets first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, was recently sent to the Monsters for some work on his game. Foudy is a big, speedy forward that will need to be accounted for.

The defense will be led by Dillon Simpson, who had 23 points (9 G, 14 A) for Cleveland last season. Joining him is AHL veteran Adam Clendenning, who is quite adept on running a power play at this level. The former IceHog had 41 points (7 G, 34 A) in 55 games with the Monsters last season. He was recently sent to Cleveland from the Columbus taxi squad.

Veini Vehvilainen is back at goalie for his second pro season, having posted a 2.76 GAA and a .901 save percentage in 33 games in 2019-20. However, long-time Monsters backup Brad Theissen has been in goal for all three of Cleveland’s games and will no doubt see action in the back-to-back series.

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

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs were deep on the defensive side in 2018-19. It was in this area where the club had an abundance of experience to start the season. It only got better in the spring as some key pickups further strengthened Rockford on the way to a long playoff run.

Back with a look at the back end of the roster, here are my thoughts on the defense.

The Sparkplugs

Cody Franson (37 games, 9 G, 19 A, plus-nine)

Adam Clendening (38 games, 4 G, 26 A, plus-two)

The addition of these two veteran blueliners completely changed the course of the IceHogs fortunes. The power play went from being a laughing stock to the most dangerous in the AHL.

Franson performed like you would expect a NHL-level talent to upon arriving in Rockford. The 30-year-old Franson immediately became a locker room sage and offensive catalyst, with six power play goals in the regular season, then four more in the playoffs. A point a game player in the postseason (6 G, 7 A), Franson totaled 15 goals and 41 points in 50 games in an IceHogs sweater.

Clendening, who was returning to Rockford after stints in several other organizations, saw his scoring touch return in a big way. After five points in 21 games for Tuscon to begin the season, Clendening went on a tear and wound up leading all Hogs defensemen in scoring despite joining Rockford well into the season.

So far as a return engagement from this exciting duo…

Franson was quite open about his future (or non-future to be more accurate) in the organization past this season. His steamrolling through the AHL might open a few doors as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

On the other hand, Clendening is an RFA and could be re-signed at low cost to the Blackhawks. The question is, will Chicago tender an offer to a player who couldn’t secure an NHL spot in the organization in his first go-round? Clendening would be a nice piece to start building next fall’s Hogs roster; we’ll see what transpires in the next couple weeks.

 

The Big Guy

Viktor Svedberg (73 games, 6 G, 18 A, plus-18)

The 6-9 Swede began his time in the organization as a project; Svedberg is now a UFA following his fifth season, most of which was spent with the IceHogs.

I’ll come right out and say it. Svedberg brought an awful lot to the table in 2017-18. Here’s why:

This was easily his best season from an offensive standpoint. He also potted a couple of big shootout goals when called upon.

Svedberg began the season healthy and stayed that way, playing a career-high 73 games. For a guy who had trouble staying on the ice in past years, it was satisfying to see him showcase his game.

Svedberg still gets a bad rap from some Rockford fans for his defensive liabilities, which were on full display for most of his first three seasons. That’s too bad, because he was arguably the IceHogs best defender this year.

I could count on one hand the number of times that Svedberg was caught out of position in his own zone, leading to an open shot attempt. He is never going to be a player who can use his skating ability to get him out of trouble. However, he has learned to take advantage of his reach and positioning to be effective.

Svedberg was often an alternate captain (coach Jeremy Colliton never named a captain this season) and was one of the few skaters (before DiDomenico and Lance Bouma showed up) willing to stick his nose into a scrum. When Franson arrived, Svedberg completed a very solid (and physically imposing) top pairing.

Svedberg has come a long way in five years and certainly could provide some organizational depth and leadership in Rockford. It will be interesting to see what offers he fields in free agency.

 

The All-Star

Carl Dahlstrom (64 games, 3 G, 28 A, plus-14)

Dahlstrom was a substitute for Erik Gustafsson in the AHL’s All-Star Classic and took his game up a notch in his second full season in Rockford.

Dahlstrom was a steady defender and took a bigger role at the other end of the ice in 2017-18. He looked a lot more confident bringing the puck out of his zone this season and earned a stint in Chicago late in the spring. It seems likely that he is in line to earn a spot on the Hawks roster in training camp the way things look right now.

Franson and Clendening altered the pecking order among the defensemen; Dahlstrom definitely had a reduced role on the power play. His shot attempts at even strength took a hit as well, with a drop in frequency of about 23 percent after he came back from Chicago in March.

Dahlstrom last drew cord for the Hogs on January 13. In his last 26 regular season games with the Hogs, he managed just nine assists. Dahlstrom rebounded in the playoffs with three goals and six helpers.

 

The Passed Over

Gustav Forsling (18 games, 2 G, 3 A, minus-four)

The other player most affected by Franson and Clendening’s presence was Forsling. When he was sent to Rockford in January, he scored in his season debut with the Hogs, then went dormant offensively. Once the vets joined the team the next month, there wasn’t much of an offensive role for the 21-year-old.

Forsling got some time quarterbacking the second power play unit. He had one assist on the man advantage in the regular season and another one in the playoffs. He was a bit more noticeable in the postseason, with a goal and five helpers. However, most of his time was spent on the bottom pairing.

Forsling did not distinguish himself on the scoreboard in his time in Rockford. At the same time, he didn’t defend very well either, at least in my opinion. Had Forsling had a more prominent spot in the lineup, he might have picked up his play in the latter part of the season. That didn’t happen.

 

The Prospects

Darren Raddysh (66 games, 5 G, 17 A, plus-ten)

Luc Snuggerud (40 games, 5 G, 12 A, minus-three)

Robin Norell (63 games, 2 G, 5 A, plus-two)

Raddysh had the biggest impact of these three players, earning himself an NHL entry deal from Chicago last month. He found himself in the lineup over several players with NHL contracts this past season, something that also held true nine times in the playoffs.

Snuggerud’s rookie season was interrupted for two months after suffering an upper body injury December 8. He had a pair of goals and eight assists after returning in February, but did not suit up in the postseason.

Norell’s campaign began with a savage beat-down at the hands of Brett Gallant in Cleveland opening night. It ended in the press box in the postseason.

After a four-game point streak in December, Norell went 43 games without a goal or an assist until getting a goal in the regular season finale in Chicago. This, despite playing as a forward for much of that time with line mates who regularly found the net.

His defensive play at forward was often praised by Colliton, though apparently not enough to get him on the ice at any position in the playoffs.

Norell skates hard, but isn’t a real physical player and isn’t gifted with a great shot. It may be hard for him to find time on the blueline this fall.

 

The Other Guys

Ville Pokka (4 G, 18 A) played 46 games in Rockford before being traded to Ottawa for Chris DiDomenico. Pokka was perfectly serviceable for the Hogs but was spinning his tires in the organization. The return on the exchange was a vital part of Rockford’s late season success.

Gustafsson (3 G, 14 A) was with the Hogs for 25 games before spending the remainder of the season in Chicago. Joni Tuulola was scoreless in two regular season games and four postseason appearances.

Also putting up goose eggs in limited action in 2017-18 were AHL contracts Brandon Anselmini and Robin Press, who each got into seven games.  Former Hog Nolan Valleau was brought in on a PTO for three games and then released.

 

Where Does The D Go From Here?

Chicago has added Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson and Henri Jokiharju to the list of prospects on defense. With Tuulola set to begin his rookie season and five holdovers, the position is crowded even without a veteran signing like Clendening or Svedberg.

As is the case at every position, the next month will surely see some turnover. The blueline will certainly be a lot younger in 2018-19.

This week, I hope to start sifting through the forwards in one additional installment of my year-end look at the IceHogs. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the Hogs throughout the summer.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs headed to Texas this weekend looking to take at least a game at the HEB Center to open the Western Conference Final with the Stars. That didn’t happen.

The first two games were rife with opportunity. However, Rockford dropped Game 1 on Friday and Game 2 Sunday. Texas leads the series 2-0 as the action now shifts to Winnebago County for the next three games.

The BMO could be the difference maker for the IceHogs, though Texas earned their advantage with some hard work around the net. Greasy goals did the trick in a 4-2 Stars win Friday night. A put back in overtime made Texas 3-2 winners Sunday.

 

Game 1

Friday, May 18-Texas 4, Rockford 2

Game 1 of the Western Conference Final did not turn out the way the Hogs wanted. Rockford was outworked in front of the net, dropping its first postseason game.

Texas was active around the net early. After Dillon Heatherington caught a post on a shot attempt, the Stars swarmed the crease of Hogs goalie Collin Delia. Curtis McKenzie knocked in a loose puck 4:22 into the contest to give the Stars a 1-0 advantage.

The Hogs responded midway through the first period on the power play. Carl Dahlstrom took a page from fellow blueliner Cody Franson’s book to tie the game. As opposed to Franson’s happy place, the left dot, Dahlstrom sent his left-handed shot from the right dot, one-timing Chris DiDomenico’s pass into the Stars cage at the 11:19 mark.

The Texas response was quick. Roope Hintz, who had gained separation from Rockford defenseman Gustav Forsling, took a stretch pass from Denis Gurianov and entered the IceHogs zone on a breakaway. Hintz was able to five-hole Delia and the Stars led 2-1 at 12:37 of the first. Texas took that lead into the locker room.

DiDomenico evened the score for Rockford early in the second stanza. Darren Raddysh fired toward the Texas net from just inside of the Stars blueline. Lance Bouma got a stick on the puck in front of the net, sending it over to DiDomenico at the bottom of the left circle. The attempt beat Texas goalie Mike McKenna and nestled into the ropes at 4:35 to make it a 2-2 game.

The Stars regained the lead at the tail end of a power play a few minutes later. Remi Elie finished off the scoring play by knocking another loose puck in behind Delia 8:47 into the second. The IceHogs kept the pressure on the Texas defense but couldn’t solve McKenna and entered the second intermission on the short end of the scoreboard for the first time this postseason.

Rockford gave up a key goal 7:18 into the final frame after a Sheldon Dries pass attempt was broken up in the slot by Viktor Svedberg. The loose puck came back out to Dries at the left dot. The rookie forward settled the puck and backhanded a shot toward goal. The attempt got the best of Delia, who appeared to have an obstructed view courtesy of Stars forward Jason Dickinson. The puck got through on the far side of Delia’s net to make the score 4-2 Stars.

That was too much for Rockford, who mustered only five shots in the final 20 minutes after sending 28 McKenna’s way in the first two periods. The Stars goalie stopped 31 of 33 shots on the night.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Frosling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom (Clendening was in for Louis when Dahlstrom scored)

Penalty Kill (Stars were 1-4)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Game 2

Sunday, May 20-Texas 3, Rockford 2 (OT)

Too much time in the box did in the piglets in Game 2. Collin Delia stopped 34 shots but it wasn’t enough to keep Texas from going up 2-0 in the Western Conference Final.

Rockford got on the board at 6:09 of the opening period. Andreas Martinsen got the scoring play started when he won control of the puck behind the Stars net. He sent it out to Adam Clendening at the right point, who then got it back to Martinsen at the right dot.

John Hayden was in front of the net waiting for a centering pass…and got it. Whiffing on his initial attempt, Hayden slid home the lamp-lighter under Texas goalie Mike McKenna for a 1-0 Hogs advantage.

Texas scored the next two goals in the first half of the second period. Jason Dickinson struck from the right dot after getting a cross-ice pass from Matt Mangene at the 2:45 mark. The Stars took a 2-1 lead after a shot from Brent Regner pinballed off the stick of Luke Johnson, the ice surface and the right post before settling into the net for a power play goal at 8:15.

The power play allowed Rockford to even the score less than two minutes later. After a 5-on-3 chance ended, Cody Franson threaded a circle-to-circle pass to Chris DiDomenico. Streaking to the far side of the right circle, DiDomenico sniped the equalizer past McKenna at 11:09 to make it a 2-2 game.

Despite the Stars dominating the third period, Hogs goalie Collin Delia kept his team in contention, anchoring a Rockford penalty kill unit that negated four Texas chances. The IceHogs were out shot 12-4 but took the game into overtime with a chance to steal Game 2.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Rockford let a huge opportunity to end the game slip away when Victor Ejdsell started a 2-on-1 rush with DiDomenico five minutes into the extra session. Ejdsell tried to make a late pass which was broken up by McKenna’s stick, ending the threat.

Curtis McKenzie was tripped by Gustav Forsling 10:08 into overtime, leading to the game-winner. McKenzie did the honors on the subsequent power play, knocking in a rebound of a Brian Flynn shot to end the contest.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Gustav Frosling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-5)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Stars were 2-7)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Back To The BMO

Game 3 will be at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Tuesday night. Game 4 is set for Thursday with Game 5 the following night provided the Hogs pick up a win in this series.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for thoughts on Rockford’s postseason run.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs get the Central Division Final underway tonight when they take on the Manitoba Moose at Bell MTS Place. Game 2 follows in short order on Saturday. From there, the action comes to the BMO Harris Bank Center for the next three games in the series.

The piglets are well-rested, having played last in Chicago eight days ago. Manitoba finished off Grand Rapids back on Monday in Game 5 of their first-round tilt.

As mentioned earlier this week, Rockford has never advanced to the third-round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. This is a series the IceHogs is quite capable of winning, though. Here are some thoughts on the Moose and how this match-up figures to play out.

Manitoba was the juggernaut of the AHL in the 2017 portion of the schedule. The Moose were 24-6-1-2 in the first three months of the season, building a double-digit point lead in the Central Division. That cushion would evaporate in the final three months. Chicago and Grand Rapids caught Manitoba in the final two weeks as the Moose staggered home.

I was pretty bold in my belief that Grand Rapids would come out of the first-round clash. However, Manitoba was able to take advantage of some missing pieces to the Griffins lineup and played well on the road. They won two of three games at Van Andel Arena, including a 5-1 Game 5 triumph.

Manitoba can boast the AHL Coach Of The Year (Pascal Vincent), the AHL Defenseman Of The Year (Sami Niku) and the AHL Rookie Of The Year (Mason Appleton). The Moose proved their playoff mettle; this is physical team that can fill the net.

The Manitoba roster is also dotted with AHL veteran talent enjoying career years. Specifically, captain Patrice Cormier (22 G, 21 A), 6’6″ wing Buddy Robinson (25 G, 28 A) and former Hogs defenseman Cameron Schilling (6 G, 26 A). Forward J.C. Lipon is a familiar face who had a hat trick in Rockford November 28 on the way to a career-high of 17 goals.

Niku, who totaled 54 points (16 G, 38 A) on the season, would have likely taken home rookie of the year hardware if not for Appleton, who led the Moose with 66 points (22 G, 44 A). Manitoba is a talented squad despite the fact that their best hockey was played in the first three months.

The Moose visited Rockford November 28. at the peak of their tear through the league, blowing out the Hogs 8-1. In a return visit February 2, Rockford took Manitoba to overtime before losing 4-3.

Late in the season, the IceHogs traveled north for a pair of games in Winnipeg, besting the Moose 4-2 and 4-3 in the span of three days.

Anchoring the Manitoba attack in the first half was goalie Michael Hutchinson, who finished season with a 17-5-4 record to go with a 2.08 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Hutchinson spent most of the second half of the season with Winnipeg, though he was in net March 28 when the Hogs dropped four goals on Manitoba.

The man Rockford will be facing in net in this series is Eric Comrie. While he is a bit of a drop-off from Hutchinson, Comrie still enjoyed his best full season in the AHL with a 2.58 GAA and a .916 save percentage. He was in the cage in Rockford February 2 for the 4-3 overtime win.

Adam Clendening (1 G, 5 A) and Chris DiDomenico (1 G, 5 A) each had six points against Manitoba this season, though two of DiDomenico’s helpers came while he was with Belleville. Tyler Sikura had three goals against the Moose and had two-point efforts in both of Rockford’s victories.

Brenden Lemieux paced Manitoba in head-to-head competition with the IceHogs; in three games, Lemieux wound up with six points (2 G, 4 A). Along with Lipon, Cormier, Appleton, C Nic Petan and D Jan Kostelnek were all mutli-goal scorers against Rockford.

Any special teams comparisons from the regular season can be thrown out the window. Here’s all you need to know in regards to the Hogs; their first-round power play was the best of the 16 playoff teams at 38.9 percent efficiency. The penalty kill (85.7) was fifth.

When it comes to the man advantage (and even strengh, to be honest), the Rockford offense is going to be facilitated by the passing and shooting of defensemen Clendening (16 shots in the three-game set with Chicago) and Cody Franson (12 shots).

Can the depth boasted by the Hogs NHL-enhanced roster wear down Manitoba over 60 minutes? Will Collin Delia, who was rock-solid in round one, continue to stand tall in net? If the Moose shut down Rockford’s veterans, can the kids pick up the slack?

The answers will begin to take shape this weekend. Follow me @JonFromi for thoughts and updates of Games 1 and 2.

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, are playing a waiting game until later this evening. Monday night, Rockford’s Central Division Final opponent will be decided when Manitoba or Grand Rapids wrap up their Game 5 tilt.

The IceHogs have been to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs on two previous occasions since the Hawks affiliate arrived in the Forest City. They have never advanced past this round.

Back in 2008, Rockford’s inaugural campaign, the Hogs were eliminated by the Chicago Wolves. The piglets swept Chicago last week to advance to their current position.

In 2014-15, the IceHogs finished a single point behind Grand Rapids for the top spot in the Midwest Division with a franchise-high 46-23-0-5 mark. They swept Texas to meet the Griffins in round two. Grand Rapids then dispensed the Hogs in five games.

Will the third appearance in the second round be the charm for Rockford? The ingredients for a successful postseason run have been stewing over the course of the past six weeks.

 

How’s That, You Say? Here’s Why The Arrow Is Pointing North:

The IceHogs are playing their best hockey of the season.

Rockford finished the regular season 14-5-1-1 before winning three straight against the division champions in the opening round of postseason action.

They’re getting loads of veteran leadership at both ends of the ice.

Veteran players like Chris DiDomenico (arguably the Hogs best forward the past few weeks), Lance Bouma and Andreas Martinsen have added a layer of ruggedness that has served Rockford well as the physical nature of playoff hockey becomes more of a factor. Cody Franson and Adam Clendening deepened the back end dramatically.

Their special teams, particularly the power play, has kicked it up a couple of notches.

Heading into the Wolves series, I pointed out that just looking at Rockford’s pathetic man-advantage numbers would be misleading. I’m guessing Chicago knew that going in. I’m darn sure the Wolves knew that when they skated off the Allstate Arena ice following their 4-3 loss to Rockford.

The IceHogs converted their power-play chances at a rate of 39 percent (7-18) against Chicago. ‘Nuff said.

The goal-tending has been very good.

Rookie Collin Delia has earned the right to anchor the Hogs in net regardless of the opposition in the division final. He was by far the hottest goalie in town heading into the postseason, going 10-1-2 in his final 13 starts of the regular season.

In three playoff games (nearly four, with the extra sessions Thursday night), Delia posted three wins with a 1.62 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Since the IceHogs punched their ticket to the second round, speculation on who Rockford would be better off facing has run rampant. Personally, I’d rather face the team that lost their best-of-five series. That’s not the way it works, though.

I figured that the Griffins would make quick work of a slumping Manitoba club, but the Moose have played well. Grand Rapids had to win Thursday to force a Game 5. Either of these teams are going to be a formidable opponent.

Eric Tangradi, the Griffins leading goal-scorer and a veteran of AHL playoff battles, is out for Game 5 via suspension. Both teams have won in the other’s barn this series, with Game 5 being in Grand Rapids. It could go either way, to be honest.

Later this week, when the IceHogs have an opponent, I will return with a in-depth look at what could be a historic playoff series for the folks here in Winnebago County.

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs got their Calder Cup quest off to a flying start over the weekend. Coming into the postseason as the fourth seed in the Central Division, the piglets sent quite the opening salvo against the Chicago Wolves.

Silencing most of Chicago’s big offensive guns, the IceHogs raced out to a 2-0 series lead, taking Game 1 in Rosemont as well as Game 2 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Hogs gave as good as they got on the physical side and bested the Wolves special teams in both outings.

Rockford can close out the Wolves Thursday night at Allstate Arena. I’d imagine we’ll see a desperate Chicago club defending their home turf in Game 3. However, the IceHogs showed that they are capable of turning away the Wolves offensive attack when needed.

Yes, Teemu Pulkkinen got a puck past Collin Delia this weekend. However, he had to knock a puck out of mid-air to do so. Brandon Pirri was held without a point in the two games, as was Wolves captain Paul Thompson. Beau Bennett, another top point producer who was held off the score sheet, left Saturday’s 2-1 win by Rockford with an apparent hand injury. He didn’t play in Game 2.

Delia, starting his first two postseason games in the AHL, made key stops when the Wolves did manage to create legit scoring chances. Defensively, Rockford was adept at breaking up potential rushes in neutral ice.

The IceHogs got seven goals from seven different skaters in Games 1 and 2. Leading the way was the trio of veterans who put a charge into the Rockford lineup in the final months of the season.

Defenseman Adam Clendening scored the game-winner in Chicago and totaled four points (1 G, 3 A) for the weekend. Chris DiDomenico (1 G, 2 A) and Cody Franson (3 A) also figured heavily into the wins.

Excepting the first seven or eight minutes of the opening game Saturday, Rockford has been in control of the action on the whole. As expected, the IceHogs have become a difficult opponent to play at just the right time of the spring.

In a series where the penalty minutes are up a bit, Rockford has taken advantage. The Hogs found cord on five of twelve power play chances. The first unit, featuring Clendening and Franson, has four of those goals.

 

Weekend Observations

  • In true playoff fashion, some big hits were delivered on both sides. As you might expect, players like Andreas Martinsen and John Hayden were making their presence felt. In addition, William Pelletier, who at 5’7″ was a frequent target in the regular season, finished some checks with a little snarl.
  • Chicago’s Brett Sterling attempted to sell a high-sticking infraction by Matthew Highmore in the first period Saturday night. The Wolves broadcast team bemoaned the lack of a call, but the replays showed that Highmore’s stick was never in the same zip-code as the veteran winger’s chin.
  • Bennett is a big loss for Chicago if he continues to miss action Thursday. Meanwhile, Tanner Kero returned from an injury and played Sunday for the IceHogs. A deep Rockford team gets a little deeper.
  • The 5,000-plus at the BMO got to their feet when the IceHogs killed the Chicago 5-on-3 to remain up a goal early in the second period on Sunday. It was the turning point of the game, no question.

 

Recaps

Saturday, April 21-Rockford 2, Chicago 1 

Special teams decided the opening game of the series. The Hogs got two power play goals and made that stand up to take Game 1 on the road.

The Wolves were all over the Rockford zone in the first period, creating chance after chance that either missed the net or was turned away by Hogs goalie Collin Delia. The Wolves were denied on 16 attempts in the opening period.

Rockford gained a 1-0 advantage on the game’s first power play. As he has done with regularity, Cody Franson waited at the left dot for Adam Clendening’s pass. The shot was deflected by Tyler Sikura, off Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk’s glove and into the Wolves cage at 9:44 of the first.

A slashing call against Beau Bennett put the Hogs on the man advantage early in the second period. Rockford converted on the chance when Clendening sent a wrist shot through traffic and past Dansk for a 2-0 IceHogs lead at the 2:05 mark.

The home team was able to get on the scoreboard five minutes into the final frame. Teemu Pulkkinen, with the Wolves on the power play, was in front of the net when a Zac Leslie shot came off of Delia’s pads. The talented forward batted the puck into the net from just under crossbar height to cut the Rockford lead to 2-1 with 14:29 remaining in the contest.

On a night where neither club could find twine at even strength, the Hogs made their pair of goals stand up. The Wolves put on a frantic effort in the final minutes with Dansk on the bench to no avail.

Delia wound up with 31 saves on 32 shots. Clendening, with a goal and an assist on the evening, was named the game’s first star, followed by Franson and Leslie.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Lance Bouma-David Kampf-Matthew Highmore

Victor Edjsell-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andrea Martinsen

Alexandre Fortin-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Cody Franson (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-6)

DiDomenico-Sikura-Johnson-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Louis-Kampf-Edjsell-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 1-5)

Sikura-Martinsen-Svedberg-Franson

Johnson-Kero-Dahlstrom-Clendening

Hayden-Bouma-Forsling-Raddysh

 

Sunday, April 22-Rockford 5, Chicago 2

Rockford broke open a close game in the second period. Once again, most of the damage was done while up a man.

The Wolves took a 1-0 lead midway through the first when Wade Megan put back a rebound left by Hogs goalie Collin Delia off a Zac Leslie shot. At the 13:24 mark, William Pelletier returned the favor, scoring his first goal of the postseason to tie the score.

There was much action in the final minute of the opening frame. The Hogs power play notched a goal when Luke Johnson pounced on a Cody Franson shot that rebounded off the pads of Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk. Rockford led 2-1 at 19:08 of the first, but that lead proved to be short-lived.

As the final seconds were ticking away in period one, Dansk got an outlet pass to T.J. Tynan coming into the Hogs zone. Delia stopped the resulting shot, but Leslie followed up by knocking the rebound into the Rockford net just before the clock ran out.

The 2-2 contest was decided in the middle 20; Rockford got the eventual game-winner from Matthew Highmore 3:47 into the second. The rookie received a pass from Victor Ejdsell at the left circle and sent a shot off of the arm of Dansk and into the net.

From there, the key stretch involved special teams. The Hogs killed off a two-man Wolves advantage, then found themselves on a 5-on-3 of their own ten minutes later. At the 16:04 mark, Chris DiDomenico got open in the slot, took a feed from Ejdsell, and cued the horn for Rockford’s third power play tally of the game. The IceHogs led 4-2.

The third period was controlled by Rockford, who held the desperate Wolves to just three shots on goal. Lance Bouma added an empty net goal with 39 seconds to go, slamming the door on Chicago.

Delia earned first star honors with his 28-save performance. DiDomenico and Clendening rounded out the three stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Lance Bouma-David Kampf-Matthew Highmore

Victor Edjsell-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andrea Martinsen (A)

Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Cody Franson (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (3-6)

DiDomenico-Sikura-Johnson-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Louis-Kampf-Edjsell-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 1-5)

Sikura-Martinsen-Svedberg-Franson

Johnson-Kero-Dahlstrom-Clendening

Hayden-Bouma-Forsling-Raddysh

 

Rockford can advance to the second round with a win Thursday night at Allstate Arena. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the action in Game 3.