Hockey

As the Rockford IceHogs prepare to start the process of locking down a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it’s probably a good time to focus on the way the roster was reshaped over the past week. In case you missed it, the Blackhawks made a couple of trades.

This flurry of transactions was a two-prong effort between Chicago and Rockford. As was the case around the league, moves were made involving what amounted to swaps of AHL and NHL contracts. The get-around was using “future considerations”. This fleshed out what seemed to be one-sided trades at the NHL level with reciprocal AHL deals that got the players where everyone wanted them to go.

If you want to sort out all the moves, be my guest. I’m more concerned with the pieces that departed and arrived in Rockford when the trade deadline occurred. Here’s how things currently stand.

Out

NHL Contracts

G Dylan Wells-to Dallas

D Cooper Zech-to Rangers

AHL Contracts

D Adam Clendening-to Hartford

F Carson Gicewicz-to Rochester

In

NHL Contracts

D Andrew Welinski-from Rangers

F Pavel Gogolev-from Toronto

F Maxim Golod-from Anaheim (Hawks assigned Golod to the Indy Fuel)

G Anton Khudobin-from Dallas

AHL Contracts

F Rocco Grimaldi-from San Diego

F Logan Nijhoff-from San Diego (Hogs assigned Nijhoff to the Indy Fuel)

F Zach Jordan-from Hartford (Hogs assigned Jordan to the Indy Fuel)

F Colin Bilek-from Mantitoba (Hogs assigned Bilek to the Indy Fuel)

 

In Addition…

The Blackhawks assigned David Gust, Brett Seney, Issak Phillips, Lukas Reichel, and Joey Anderson (newly acquired from Toronto) to the IceHogs. Reichel and Anderson were paper moves that were pulled back to Chicago following the trade deadline, but both players are eligible to participate in the postseason for Rockford.

So…how did the Hogs make out?

Surprisingly well. Grimaldi is the type of player BMO fans should salivate over; a veteran AHL sniper who has produced in AHL stops in San Antonio, Portland, and Milwaukee. In San Diego this season, the 30-year-old Grimaldi had 27 goals and 29 helpers in 54 games.

Gogolev was responsible for Rockford’s only regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout win in Laval Saturday night, tipping in a shot by Welinski (4 G, 12 A in 40 games with Hartford).

Khudobin sure would have come in handy earlier this season. There was a need for a veteran goalie who could have played the role Arvid Soderblom was cast in due to injuries. With Soderblom now set to receive the bulk of the starts down the stretch and Jaxson Stauber playing well in a Hogs loss in Belleville Friday, the 36-year-old veteran still provides experienced insurance for Rockford.

As a result of the bevy of moves, the Hogs found themselves a little undermanned this past week. Rockford battled but lost 5-3 in Toronto on Wednesday and 4-1 Belleville on Friday before defeating the Rocket Saturday.

Seney and forward D.J. Busdeker left Friday’s contest with injuries. Busdeker returned for the third period. The following night, both players sat out, forcing the Hogs to play two defensemen, Nolan Valleau and Koletrane Wilson, at forward.

I would imaging that Gust, who was with his expecting wife, and Grimaldi will be in the lineup for Rockford this coming weekend, when the IceHogs finish their five-game road trip in Grand Rapids Friday and in Rosemont on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they look to maintain and improve upon their playoff position.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have taken a bit of a hit from the realities of the AHL over the last week. Before the smoke clears following the NHL trade deadline, the Hogs roster could morph into any number of forms.

Trades and injuries have tested the depth in ‘Bago County. Rockford battled its way to a road victory, sandwiched between a pair of tough losses at the BMO Center this past week. The piglets are still on a course for the postseason. How that voyage concludes will depend a lot on the Blackhawks organization and how committed they really are to ensuring playoff hockey for its prospects.

Let’s lead off with…

 

Roster Happenings

On Thursday, the Blackhawks traded forward Josiah Slavin to Anaheim in exchange for forward Hunter Drew. Both players have struggled to repeat career-high numbers set the season before, so this is likely a change-of-scenery type of transaction. Drew (5 G, 6 A in 44 games with San Diego) skated in Rockford’s two games with Iowa this weekend.

Drew is listed as a RW/D and there was some speculation as to where he would slot in for the Hogs. Despite being decimated on the blueline, Drew skated as a forward, as he has done for the past couple of seasons. That probably indicates that he’ll remain a forward moving, uh, forward.

About that blueline…

Also on Thursday, the team announced that D Alec Regula and Jakub Galvas have been placed in the concussion protocol and that D Cliff Watson will be out “indefinitely” with a sprained right knee. The Hogs brought up D Andrew Parrott from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel that day.

On Friday, the IceHogs signed D Nolan Valleau to a PTO. Valleau, who was with Rockford for a couple of seasons a few years ago, skated on Saturday night with D Filip Roos being a scratch. Yet another Indy defenseman, Koletrane Wilson, was recalled by Rockford on Sunday.

Thursday also saw the Blackhawks sign Rockford’s leading scorer, David Gust (24 G, 26 A), to a two-year NHL contract. Gust, who had a pair of goals Wednesday night in a loss to Texas, picked up his first NHL goal on his first shift in Chicago’s win in San Jose. The IceHogs recalled F Cameron Hillis from the Fuel in response. Hillis, who was Indy’s top point-producer at the time, was in the Hogs lineup Friday and Saturday.

So…to summarize…

Rockford is down four of its top defensemen (including Issak Phillips, who was recalled to the Hawks the previous week). The Hogs are also sans their two leading scorers in Gust and Brett Seney (who also scored for the Hawks Saturday night).

Despite the depletion, the IceHogs did manage to compete.

On Tuesday, Rockford entered the third tied 2-2 with the division-leading Stars before eventually falling 5-3. Friday, the Hogs went into DesMoines and posted a 3-1 win over Iowa behind two-goals by Luke Philp (17 G, 19 A). In the rematch Saturday, Rockford couldn’t get enough pucks past a tough Wild defense, let alone find the net. Zane McIntyre shut out the IceHogs 2-0 as Rockford was out shot 38-23.

The IceHogs currently sit in the middle of the Central Division. With 60 points, they are four points behind third-place Manitoba and five points ahead of the fifth-place Wild. Rockford went 5-3-0-2 in February and are about to start a five-game road trip over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The Canadian portion of that jaunt is this week. The Hogs visit Toronto on Wednesday, then stop in Belleville and Laval on Friday and Saturday. The Marlies are arguably the league’s top club, though the Senators and Rocket are very beatable teams. However, questions linger entering the month of March:

  1. How much will the Hogs roster change in the next five days?
  2. What are the Blackhawks going to do about it?

 

Yeah! What Are They Gonna Do About It?

There is no doubt that several trades are going to be completed by Friday’s trade deadline. At least two or three will involve the Blackhawks. Players may need to be recalled to Chicago to fill out the NHL roster.

In the past, the Blackhawks have included prospects in deals that left the Hogs toothless in terms of their ability to compete. They have also occasionally obtained some help for Rockford and strengthened the piglets. If the organization is serious about keeping the IceHogs a contender, the scales should be tipped in the latter category.

The Blackhawks may also choose to keep some players eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs even if they figure to remain in Chicago for a while. In order to be playoff eligible for the AHL postseason, a player has to be on that team’s roster at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 3. There are exceptions, like signed draft choices, amateur tryouts, etc.., but player on Chicago’s NHL roster won’t qualify.

However, the Hawks could (and absolutely should) assign players to Rockford Friday morning, then recalled them after the trade deadline. This “paper” move would allow the players involved to play in any postseason games Rockford has whenever they are finished with Chicago this season.

The way things stand right now, if I was Kyle Davidson (which I’m not) and I was putting my money where my mouth was, I would temporarily assign the following players to Rockford by Friday morning:

David Gust, Brett Seney, Cole Guttman, Issak Phillips, Ian Mitchell, Jaxson Stauber (One down-Chicago assigned Stauber to Rockford Sunday night)

Anything less than four of those names (provided none are involved in a trade) and talk of wanting to go on a deep playoff run with Rockford is just that-talk.

Back in 2017-18, when the IceHogs reached the Western Conference Final, Rockford was bolstered in both trades and paper assignments. A lot of talent came down to the BMO in time for the playoffs. Is it possible that Davidson equips the IceHogs to go on a similar run this spring? For sure.

Is it also possible that he weakens the roster in the name of draft stock? Not if you believe the organizational rhetoric over the past season.

The 64,000-dollar question, of course, is…do you believe that rhetoric?

The answer to that question hinges upon the course Davidson takes in the next few days.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs put together a successful weekend, rebounding from a Wednesday defeat in Grand Rapids to pick up four valuable standings points against a pair of tough Central Division opponents. Hopefully the Hogs remember how it felt to knock off Texas and Iowa, because that’s all the piglets will be seeing this week.

Rockford dropped a 5-4 decision to the Griffins on Wednesday before getting an outstanding performance from goalie Dylan Wells Friday night at the BMO Center. Wells kept the IceHogs in contention, stopping 37 Texas shots. This allowed Rockford to post a big 3-2 victory. Alex Vlasic scored the game-winner 45 seconds into Gus Macker Time. The rookie defenseman nabbed a loose puck and send a pass Lukas Reichel to start the rush, then skated to the left post. Reichel found the tape on the return pass and Vlasic finished off the Stars.

On Sunday afternoon, the IceHogs rode Dylan Sikura’s hat trick to a 5-3 win in DesMoines. The Wild threatened to tie the game in the waning minutes but Rockford prevailed despite being out shot 25-16. The win was the Hogs third straight over Iowa, giving Rockford a cushion of five points between the two teams in the Central Division standings.

Rockford is 25-17-4-4 through 50 games in the 2022-23 campaign with 58 standings points. The IceHogs trail Milwaukee and Texas, who share the Division lead, by six points.

This week, Rockford hosts the Stars on Wednesday night, then have a home-and-home weekend with Iowa. The action will be at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night before the teams return to the BMO Center for a Saturday showdown.

February comes to an end with some tough games. Things only get tougher in March, when the IceHogs begin with a five-game road trip to Toronto, Belleville, Laval, Grand Rapids, and Rosemont. It’s called the playoff push; Rockford is in for some heavy lifting over the next three weeks.

 

Friday Was Pride Night At The BMO. Observations?

  • For an event that was promoted by the organization, I was a bit surprised at how the Hogs came out for warmups. The players came out in their regular red sweaters. There were no patches, though the team handed out stickers which would have made a nice patch had they wanted to go in that direction.
  • I kind of figured that there would be some multi-colored tape on some of the sticks of the IceHogs skaters. That was not the case. The only stick with such adornment belonged to Hammy Hog. Hammy also made his rounds through the BMO stands with the Hogs pride logo sticker on his chest.
  • The IceHogs played a videotaped Pride Night intro featuring several of the players as well as coach Anders Sorensen. I know that I saw Brett Seney, David Gust, Cooper Zech, and Lukas Reichel in the video. There very likely were more players representing, but I wasn’t taking notes and AHL TV did not share the scoreboard view. Nor has any team media put it out on youtube or other social media as of yet.
  • Members of Madison Gay Hockey and Team Trans Ice Hockey were on hand at the puck drop. The teams scrimmaged at the BMO earlier in the afternoon. There was a video feature on the groups shown between periods. Pride Night merchandise was promoted throughout the evening.
  • Late in the second period, during the Kiss Cam feature at a media timeout, the in-house camera production staff put on a shot of a person in the stands holding up a sign reading “Except Ye Repent, Ye Shall Perish”. Live at the BMO, there was some booing and negative reaction to the sign.
  • If the sign-bearer had flipped off the camera instead, I doubt the production staff would have held the shot for six seconds. That’s how long the sign was visible on the big screen before they moved on to another kissing couple.
  • Speculation into the way this situation developed is just that. Who knows what the production staff was up to before or after the incident. Was the fan approached by team staff in any way? What is the IceHogs official word on what took place? We don’t know; the team has not offered any response as of Sunday night.

 

Roster News

On Tuesday, forwards Cole Guttman (16 G, 14 A) and Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A), along with defenseman Issak Phillips (4 G, 16 A), were recalled to the Blackhawks. For the IceHogs to have won two of three games minus some of their top performers says a lot about Rockford’s depth this season.

On Wednesday, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 9 A) made his return to the lineup after missing twelve games with a wrist fracture. Robinson posted an assist in the loss to Grand Rapids.

Sunday afternoon, defenseman Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) was knocked to the ice by Iowa’s Brandon Baddock early in the first period. He left the game shortly thereafter and did not return.

Missing Galvas and Phillips for an extended period puts a bit more pressure on Vlasic (2 G, 9 A) and Alec Regula (5 G, 14 A) to hold down the blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 4 A) broke an 18-game point drought with an assist on Wednesday and may see an increase of minutes.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs extended its point-streak to six games this weekend despite falling short in two games with Milwaukee. The piglets dropped shootout decisions on Friday and Saturday, including a 15-round marathon of penalty shots at the BMO Center on Saturday night.

The IceHogs exited the weekend in third place in the Central Division. However, fourth-place Manitoba is a point behind with three games in hand. Some regulation victories would be nice for Rockford to attempt to catch up with the second-place Admirals, who have beaten the Hogs in five of their seven meetings.

Saturday’s loss was Rockford’s sixth consecutive tilt that broke the chains of regulation skating. In fact, no team in the AHL can match the IceHogs propensity for giving fans extra hockey this season. In eighteen of Rockford’s 47 games, the Hogs have needed overtime or a shootout to decide a winner. They are 10-8 in those contests; Rockford is 6-4 in overtime decisions and 4-4 in the shootout.

Arvid Soderblom found himself on the short end of two showdowns with Milwaukee rookie Yaroslav Askarov. Askarov blanked Rockford in Friday’s shootout; the Ads prevailed on successful attempts by Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino. Soderblom stopped 31 shots but lost 2-1 as his counterpart made 44 saves in regulation and overtime.

On Saturday, Soderblom turned in another decent performance but found himself outplayed by Askarov. Rockford finished overtime with a 4-on-3 power play and peppered the Admirals goalie with seven shots in the extra session. Askarov held firm.

Michal Teply gave the Hogs a goal in round one of the shootout. Tomasino evened it up in the second round. In round five, Cole Guttman, who had a first-period goal to go with the lone Rockford goal on Friday, slipped a puck past Askarov. Kiefer Sherwood responded to keep things even. Each goalie would deny the next 18 shooters as the BMO faithful saw their chance to pick up Arby’s on the way home dwindle and die.

(Note: the “BMO faithful” in question was me. Arby’s closes at ten, even on Saturday nights.)

The end came when Alex Vlasic missed his attempt, followed by Soderblom surrendering the twine to Keaton Thompson. Rockford led three times in regulation on goals by Issak Phillips, Guttman, and Mike Hardman. The best the piglets could do, alas, was collect a standings point in a 4-3 loss.

 

Geez…How Do You Beat These Admirals?

For the IceHogs, it would include the following:

  • Keep Milwaukee from planting their big forwards in front of the Rockford crease.
  • Take advantage of penalties. Rockford was 1-12 on the power play this weekend. The Hogs had two full minutes of power play time to start Friday’s overtime and finished the last 1:51 of Saturday’s overtime up a man. No excuse for failing to win at least one of those games.
  • Hope the Ads start Devin Cooley in net. Askarov is 5-0-1 against Rockford this season.

 

Roster Moves

On Monday, D Cliff Watson was recalled to the Hogs from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Watson did not skate in either game this weekend.

 

On The Horizon

The piglets do not have consecutive games at home or on the road for the rest of February. This week, Rockford travels to Grand Rapids Wednesday, comes back to the BMO Friday night for a showdown with Texas, then hoof it over to DesMoines for a Sunday matinee with Iowa.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs turned things around this past week. It took nearly the maximum of extra time, but the piglets got it done.

As the AHL goes on a short All-Star break, the Hogs snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout besting of Manitoba. Rockford then started what is now a three-game winning streak after a sweep of Iowa at the BMO this weekend.

Both games against the Wild took a similar path. The IceHogs fell behind early, trailed by a goal after two periods, found an equalizer to force Gus Macker Time, and rode marvelous play in net by Arvid Soderblom in the extra sessions to prevail by identical 3-2 scores.

Soderblom claimed the win in all three games this week, posting a 1.86 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. He faced and stopped six shootout attempts Tuesday and Friday; Soderblom’s encore was a sprawling glove save in the opening seconds of overtime, robbing Iowa’s Marco Rossi of a game-winning goal.

The Rockford offense has fallen off from the first three months of the season. The Hogs are still tenth in the league at 3.24 goals per game, but they have been in a number of tight games for the last couple of weeks. Five of Rockford’s last six games have gone past regulation. Soderblom has been the starter in goal for each of them.

For the first time this year, the IceHogs have been able to give Soderblom the workload I expected he’d get when the season began. He’s either been up in Chicago or injured; once Soderblom returned from a groin injury on January 20, he started seven of Rockford’s next eight games.

The organization allowed him some clinkers. This included giving up seven goals to Springfield in that first game back and five more before being pulled after two periods in Milwaukee on January 27. Sticking with Soderblom has paid off for sure.

The Blackhawks recalled Jaxson Stauber on Sunday ahead of Chicago next game on Tuesday. Stauber was impressive in his two prior starts in the NHL, though Soderblom would seem to be in the Hawks most immediate plans for the future. For now, it appears that they will leave him in Rockford to build on this past week’s performance.

 

Thoughts While The Goulash Simmers

  • The Hogs power play was 0-12 for the week before Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A) tipped in an Adam Clendening (3 G, 19 A) point blast midway through the third period Saturday night. All that did was tie the game. Rockford is currently at 18.1 percent efficiency when on the man advantage.
  • Rockford is near the bottom of the AHL in shorthanded goals, while giving up a league-leading ten. However, Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) came up with the Hogs third shorty of the year, keeping them in Saturday’s game with Iowa.
  • The IceHogs have two point-per-game players on the roster, Seney (44 points in 43 games), and David Gust (45 points in 45 games). Lukas Reichel (15 G, 26 A), who tied Friday’s game with an impressive drive to the net in the third period, and Luke Philp (14 G, 17 A) are right there as well.
  • Reichel’s equalizer on Friday was impressive in that he had options to pass but chose to take the shot. Reichel had Dylan Sikura with him on the rush and Filip Roos trailing the play. However, Reichel was locked and loaded, going far-side on Wild goalie Drew McIntyre.
  • Forward Bobby Lynch made a rare 3-on-3 appearance and wound up potting the game-winner with just 15 seconds left in overtime. Lynch (4 G, 5 A in 39 games) has been a hard worker for Rockford and it was fun to see him get rewarded when Cole Guttman found him in the slot.
  • Hogs coach Anders Sorensen singled out his bottom six after Friday’s win. With captain Garret Mitchell out for the season, players like Lynch, Josiah Slavin, Mike Hardman, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, and Kale Howarth should continue to add a touch of grit to the mix.
  • Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) did not play in any of the three games this week. Since recording a goal and a helper against Hartford on December 17, Teply is sans points in his last 11 games.

 

Working For The Weekend

Rockford is back to the grind on Friday, with a home-and-home series with Milwaukee begins at UW-Panther Arena. The series comes to the BMO Center on Saturday.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs hit the road this past week, badly in need of a win to break what was a season-long losing streak. They didn’t get it.

The piglets dropped three games, picking up points in two of them, but now have the AHL’s longest current stretch of futility at seven. As is the case in such things, the Hogs are seemingly finding different ways to lose every night.

Rockford rallied late in Iowa Tuesday, tying the game on a nice drive to the net by rookie Cole Guttman. The Hogs fell short of the elusive win in Gus Macker Time by a score of 2-1, dropping their sixth of seven games in the season series to the Wild.

Friday, the IceHogs managed to break the two-goal barrier for the first time in nine games. Unfortunately, most of the offense came in garbage time, as Milwaukee jumped ahead early and piled on late in an 8-4 drubbing at the hands of the Admirals.

Saturday, it was the Chicago Wolves turn to hand a basket of disappointment to Rockford. The IceHogs led the game twice, getting goals from Bobby Lynch and Carson Gicewicz. Chicago drew even both times before Max Lajoie got an overtime breakaway shot past Arvid Soderblom, sending Rockford away from Rosemont 3-2 losers.

In case you’re wondering, the IceHogs are approaching the franchise record in consecutive losses. Rockford’s seven-game winless streak vaults ahead of several six-game skids and into a tie for third longest; the Hogs dropped seven in a row back in the 2013-14 season.

In February of 2008, in it’s inaugural AHL season, Rockford was defeated in eight straight games. The IceHogs lost nine straight back in the 2016-17 campaign, from November 23 to December 10 of 2016.

Rockford is now 20-16-4-2 in 2022-23. They sit in fourth place in the Central Division with 46 points. Can the Hogs recover from this New Year Slump? Sure; that 2007-08 squad was 30-11-8 before losing eight straight. They rallied to go 14-9 the rest of the way and reached the second round of the playoffs. There is a measure of hope that the IceHogs can shake off the stink of the last month and start moving back up the division ladder.

 

Time To Find One’s Game

Soderblom, who missed three weeks with a groin injury, has not had the opportunity to stretch out in Rockford’s net. After playing in 38 games with the IceHogs in his rookie campaign, Soderblom had just two appearances after the Hawks returned him to Rockford before leaving minutes into a game with Grand Rapids December 28.

Soderblom gave up seven goals in his return January 20. To the credit of the organization, Rockford has stuck with him and given him a chance to get his game back in shape despite the injury to Alex Stalock. Soderblom remained in Rockford and started all three games for the IceHogs this week, with mixed results.

On Tuesday, he stopped 32 shots and kept the Hogs in the game long enough to earn a point. Saturday, he may or may not have mishandled Lajoie’s overtime winner. However, Lajoie was unchecked and skating into the slot. The same could be said for the Wolves game-tying goal in the third, when Logan Lambdin came out of the penalty box and had ample opportunity to deke Soderblom out of position.

In between, it wasn’t as debatable; it was a rough outing on Friday in Milwaukee. Soderblom was pulled after 40 minutes after allowing five goals on fifteen Admirals shots. Mitchell Weeks came out an promptly gave up three in the final period, so maybe it wasn’t in the cards for any Hogs goalie that evening.

With Jaxson Stauber playing surprisingly well in his first two starts with Chicago and the Hawks off until February 7, perhaps the organization has decided to give Soderblom some much-needed time to right the ship in the confines of the BMO Center, where the IceHogs play their next three games.

 

Roster News

A long-anticipated medical update was sent out by the team on Friday. Captain Garrett Mitchell is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Mitchel had returned from a month-long absence earlier this season after injuring the shoulder November 19 in Rosemont. He’d played 13 games before going down with a similar injury January 18 against Grand Rapids.

In addition, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) suffered a right wrist fracture on January 13. He has missed seven games since then and will likely miss another month of the season.

Rockford will miss Robinson’s net presence on the scoreboard. Mitchell was still looking for his first point of the season at the time of his injury, but having your captain go down is never good news.

Kale Howarth was recalled from the Indy Fuel last week and should be able to replicate Mitchell’s game as a bottom-six forward. Howarth was in the lineup for all three games this week.

Last Monday, F Luke Philp and D Filip Roos were recalled to the Blackhawks, with D Issak Phillips returning to Rockford. Might Philp, Roos, and possibly Stauber be sent to Rockford to get some game action in the light of Chicago’s down time? The answer is yes; all three were assigned to the Hogs on Sunday.

 

This Week

Rockford is at the BMO for its next three games. All would be nice to win.

Tuesday, the Hogs host Manitoba, who is right below them in the division standings. Friday and Saturday see the Wild, the Western Conference’s hottest team at 8-0-1-1 in their last ten, come to Rockford for two games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they attempt to snap the losing streak this week.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

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

 

Hockey

This past weekend, the Rockford IceHogs wrapped up the first half of the season with a split of two games in Colorado. It has been a successful 2022-23 campaign so far, but we only have one-half of the picture.

How did things go in the season’s first half? How might things go as the piglets enter the final 36 games? Set your timer; I’m free-wheeling for sixty minutes with a thought or two.

With 36 games in the books, Rockford is 20-12-2-2. The IceHogs are 10-5-1-2 at the BMO Center and 10-7-1-0. They’ve avoided long skids; after losing three straight in beginning the season 1-3, the Hogs have not dropped consecutive regulation tilts.

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee for second place in the Central Division with 44 points. Texas has put together an impressive run in the last two months and pace the division with 50 points. Manitoba is fourth with 39 points, while Iowa is fifth with 38.

Despite scoring just three goals over the weekend, the IceHogs are ninth in the AHL in offense, scoring at a 3.44 goals per game clip. Rockford is giving up 3.11 goals per game, putting the Hogs in the middle of the pack defensively. The power play is 13th in the league at 19.9 percent. Rockford’s is killing penalties with 80.9 percent efficiency, good for 17th in the AHL.

In short, the piglets are getting plenty of goals to win regular-season games. The goaltending was very shaky in the first month of the season. However, it has improved over the last two months, despite Rockford having to dip into their ECHL depth for a good portion of that time.

Rockford’s top three scorers were selected to the Central Division squad in this year’s AHL All-Star Classic. Brett Seney (15 G, 24 A) David Gust (18 G, 20 A) and Lukas Reichel (14 G, 23 A) have dominated the IceHogs scoresheet, though they have had steady contributions from veterans like Luke Philp (13 G, 14 A), Dylan Sikura (9 G, 13 A), and Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A). Rookie Cole Guttman overcame a concussion that kept him out of most of the first month of the season and has 12 goals and 11 assists.

Issak Phillips was one of the best defenseman in the AHL until being recalled by the Blackhawks. Adam Clendening (2 G, 16 A) and Jakub Galvas (1 G, 17 A) currently lead the Hogs blueline in scoring.

It certainly isn’t the way the organization drew it up in terms of the Rockford crease, but the play in net has been solid after some early struggles. The two goalies tabbed for the Indy Fuel at the start of the season have led the way for the Hogs.

Dylan Wells was an emergency call-up to Chicago. After securing an NHL contract, Wells has returned to Rockford and put together his best season of his four-year pro career. He currently leads Rockford in games played (13) wins (eight), goals against average (2.63) and save percentage (.909). This, after giving up five goals in two periods in his IceHogs debut October 23.

Wells was red hot in December, with a 4-0-1 record, a 1.95 GAA, and a .928 save percentage. Despite this, he went over three weeks between an impressive 3-2 overtime win in Texas December 21 and Friday night’s impressive 2-1 overtime win in Colorado.

Mitchell Weeks has been nearly as good (5-2-3, 2.67 GAA, .908 save percentage) for Rockford. Good thing, because injuries and call-ups have kept the opening night tandem of Arvid Soderblom (1-3, 4.17 GAA, .862 save percentage) and Jaxson Stauber (6-4, 3.0 GAA, .896 save percentage) from steady work for the IceHogs through the first half.

Soderblom has been out with a groin injury, but should be returning to action soon. Once that happens, he’ll probably be getting a big workload, with Wells and Stauber (who was just reassigned to Rockford Saturday) likely splitting the backup starts. It’s hard to ignore the success Wells has had of late, though. He might have earned more consistent work in net until Soderblom gets into a groove.

 

Speculatin’ Time

  • Can the Hogs keep up their winning ways? Sure, so long as there isn’t an exodus to Chicago post-trade deadline. As long as the goalies play to the form of the last six weeks, Rockford should be able to stay in the division hunt.
  • Physical teams like Colorado and Iowa have proved to be a bit problematic for the IceHogs. Rockford is built on speed and may have to adjust as the postseason draws closer.
  • Might some more physical help be obtained in trade? Perhaps. However, bigger forwards like Mike Hardman (2 G, 10 A) and Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) could also help internally by asserting themselves a bit more.

 

This Week

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night when Grand Rapids visits the BMO. The Hogs then host Springfield on Friday and the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are in a tie for third place entering the last two weeks of December. The 14-8-1-2 piglets won two of three games this past week and have the opportunity to climb up the Central Division ladder to close out the calendar year.

To do that, however, they’ll have to tame the hottest team in the AHL. That would be the Texas Stars, who have won nine of its last ten contests.

Texas has yet to be defeated in December. The Stars have won their last seven games to rocket to the top of the Central wit 36 points. Milwaukee (32 points), Manitoba (31 points), and Rockford (31 points) are all bunched up and chasing their Lone Star rivals.

The IceHogs visit Cedar Park Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Rockford has two wins in three previous games with the Stars this season, the last being a 7-2 shellacking of Texas at the BMO Center on November 23. The Stars have gone 9-1 since that loss.

Texas has performed well. However, in its last five wins, three were against Chicago, who inhabits the division basement. The Stars then swept a weekend series in Iowa, where Rockford defeated the Wild 7-4 on Tuesday night.

The formula for Texas has been to get control of games early. The Stars are 11-0 when leading after the first period. Rockford has been able to overcome first-period deficits, having gone 7-4 in such situations this season. Games in this rivalry are usually fast paced and usually hinge on who has control of the puck.

Sweeping the Stars would put the IceHogs right behind Texas in the standings. Rockford finishes December with three games against the Wolves along with one verses Grand Rapids. The schedule is favorable for a contending club to finish the month strong. It will be up to the IceHogs to take advantage.

 

Roster Moves

Sunday, the IceHogs recalled D Cliff Watson, along with F Kale Howarth. Watson has been shuttled between Rockford and the Indy Fuel several times this season. For Howarth, this is his first recall after scoring six goals in 14 games with Indy. Last year, he took part in 12 games for the Hogs, with two goals and an assist.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell returned to the lineup on Saturday night, which saw the IceHogs beat Hartford 3-2 at the BMO. Mitchell had been out since November 16, when he injured his left shoulder against the end boards of Allstate Arena in a game against the Wolves.

Filip Roos, sent to Rockford by the Blackhawks a week ago, has made an immediate impact on the ice. He picked up his first AHL goal in the win over Iowa on Tuesday, then potted the game-winner Saturday against Hartford.

 

The Week That Was (Readers Digest Version)

David Gust (13 G, 16 A) led the way in Tuesday’s 7-4 win with a hat trick against the Wild. Cole Guttman (9 G, 7 A) added a pair of goals in the victory.

Friday, the Toronto Marlies broke open a 2-2 game with two goals 31 seconds apart in the middle of the third period. The Hogs battled back and got a Brett Seney goal late, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over the Wolf Pack saw D.J. Busdeker secure his first goal of the season as part of a three-goal second period. Michal Teply got his fifth of the season less than a minute later. After Hartford tied the game, Roos drove to the net and shelfed his attempt. That was enough for the Hogs to hold on, aided by 38 saves from Dylan Wells.

 

Coming Up

After the trip to Texas Tuesday and Wednesday, Rockford will journey to Rosemont for a Friday renewal of the I-90 rivalry with the Wolves.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have played host to Iowa three times this season. They have led Iowa late in both games. They have allowed the Wild to tie each game in regulation and steal standings points from them.

Rockford was 1-1-1 this week, picking up some ground in the Central Division standings. Each game needed extra skating to decide the piglet’s fate. After prevailing 2-1 in a shootout Wednesday against Milwaukee, the IceHogs dropped a 3-2 shootout to the Wild Friday before losing 3-2 in overtime to Iowa Saturday night.

The two weekend games were near carbon copies. Rockford outshot the Wild, squandered lots of chances both at even strength and on the power play, and let Iowa hang around until they could finally figure out Mitchell Weeks on Friday and Dylan Wells on Saturday.

Both Rockford goalies played very well, particularly Weeks. The rookie stopped 32 shots and a pair of shootout attempts as his AHL record fell to 3-1-2. Weeks has a 2.75 GAA and a .915 save percentage in six appearances with the IceHogs. He’s also gone 8-2-1 for the Indy Fuel (3.00 GAA, .901 save percentage).

Back on November 6, Rockford led the Wild 4-2 with less than two minutes to play, only to let Iowa off the mat and win 5-4 in a shootout (Weeks was also in net for that loss). In all, the Hogs have given away three standings points in the three losses to the Wild, while handing Iowa six points.

Rockford (12-7-1-2) is in third place in the Central Division, with 27 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 31 points. Texas is second, with…wait for it…30 points.

Who is right behind the Hogs with 26 points? Iowa, who would be near the conference basement if not for the charitable piglets.

Rockford is back in action against…guess who? It sure would be great if the Hogs could get to DesMoines, convert on opportunities, and pick up a regulation win.

 

Games Aren’t All The Hogs Gave Away This Weekend

Saturday featured a hat giveaway as well as being the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. The hat was designed by Hogs forward Josiah Slavin, who picked up his first goal of the season on Friday. Fittingly, it came shorthanded, with Slavin pouncing on a rebound of Cole Guttman’s breakaway attempt.

 

Roster News

Lukas Reichel made a quick jump to Chicago Tuesday, playing for a short-handed Blackhawks club in New Jersey. The following day, Reichel returned to Rockford.

Reichel had a six-game point streak snapped this weekend, as he went scoreless in both games (though he did convert a shootout attempt Friday). In that six-game stretch, Reichel had five goals and five helpers. The Hawks prospect is now second on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists.

Sunday, Rockford recalled defenseman Cooper Zech from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Zech, who was little used by the Hogs after being swapped for Evan Barratt earlier this season, has played well for the Fuel. In eight games, Zech had five goals and five assists in Indy.

 

Hmmmm…

  • Perhaps Zech is in Rockford because the Blackhawks want to recall one of the Hogs D-men. Issak Phillips, maybe? He’s easily been Rockford’s best and most consistent blueliner.
  • Garrett Mitchell has not been in the lineup since his November 19 injury in Rosemont. No word from the team on the nature of his injury (looked to be a separated left shoulder) or any possible return date.
  • Still no word as to a permanent on-air replacement for Joseph Zakrzewski, who is no longer working for the organization as of early November. A rotating crew of fill-ins have handled the broadcasts, while on-ice reporter Katie Florio has handled the media sessions.
  • Friday night, the IceHogs played as the “Screw City” IceHogs, a shout out to Rockford’s manufacturing history. The sweaters employed for this special night would make a great alternate look for Rockford in the future. Guttman’s wearing the uniform in the photo above.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan, who had played in just two games and whose last appearance was November 16, was on the fourth line in both games against Iowa. If he was in the lineup to bang the Wild around and/or pick up a fighting major, he never really got the chance to do either of those things this weekend.
  • Reichel was sent to the ice after Wild forward Brandon Baddock caught him with a knee-on-knee hit near the end of the second period Saturday. Reichel was quick to get back on his skates and was not injured, but Baddock had to deal with the wrath of…Adam Clendening and Brett Seney, far from the typical enforcer types.
  • The 6’3″ Baddock was swiftly admonished by Clendening; the pair received matching roughing minors. Baddock was also called for kneeing, setting up a power play for the Hogs. Reichel could have put an exclamation point on the incident, but missed a wide open net from the right post a minute later.
  • Seney, who had a goal on Friday and an assist on Saturday, leads the Hogs in scoring with 28 points (11 G, 17 A). He’s on pace to eclipse last year’s career highs (17 G, 42 A) set with Toronto.
  • The 3,772 fans at the BMO Center tossed 4,839 stuffed animals onto the ice following Michal Teply’s put-back goal 5:11 into Saturday’s game. For a game with two promotions, the house was a little light. A good, not a great crowd for a Saturday night, but still above the team’s 3,379 average attendance this season.

This Week

After the aforementioned trip to Iowa Tuesday night, the IceHogs play host to a couple of Eastern Conference teams. The Toronto Marlies, who currently sit atop the Northern Division, come to the BMO Center Friday night. Hartford, who Rockford defeated back on December 3, is the opponent Saturday night.

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