Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs squeaked into the Calder Cup Playoffs by winning three of their last four games in the last week of the regular season. After an epic 6-3 victory over the surging Chicago Wolves Wednesday night, Rockford edged the Griffins in Grand Rapids Friday before coming up short in the home finale to Manitoba Saturday night. Needing a win to keep the Wolves at bay in sixth place, the piglets used a strong opening period to defeat Milwaukee 4-1 on the road Sunday.

Rockford opens the Central Division play-in series Wednesday night at the BMO Center against the Iowa Wild, a team with whom the Hogs have been involved in a lot of close contests in the season series. The play-in is a best-of-three affair; the action will move to DesMoines for games on Friday and, if necessary, Sunday.

The Wild won the regulation wins tiebreaker with Rockford. Both teams finished with 79 points. In twelve matchups this season, the Wild hold a 7-3-1-1 advantage against Rockford. Iowa is 4-0-1-1 in Rockford, while the teams split six games in DesMoines. The IceHogs won four of the last five meetings, with the Wild shutting out Rockford 2-0 at the BMO Center in the last tilt between the teams on February 25. Seven of the twelve games required overtime or a shootout to decide the winner, so buckle up.

This promises to be a series that hinges on just a few bounces of the puck. How’s it gonna go? This is playoff hockey between two evenly matched teams. Here’s how things look entering Wednesday’s puck drop.

 

Those Flyin’ Piglets

The IceHogs came out firing this season and challenged for the division lead for most of the first three months of the season. The offensive firepower took a hit with roster call-ups in January, when Rockford lost seven straight games. The Hogs struggled to play .500 hockey from there, having to adjust to a trade-deadline roster shake-up. They do come in with a deep a roster as they’ve had all season.

Rocco Grimaldi (33 G, 40 A) came aboard at the trade deadline from San Diego and has contributed six goals and 11 helpers in 16 games with Rockford. David Gust (26 G, 33 A), Brett Seney (23 G, 31 A) and Luke Philp (29 G, 24 A) have been the heart of the Hogs offense all season.

Recently back with the Hogs is Lukas Reichel (20 G, 31 A), who was an AHL All-Star along with Seney and Gust. The x-factor may be in the form of Joey Anderson, who was assigned to Rockford this past weekend by the Blackhawks. Anderson had 27 points (14 G, 13 A) in 30 games with the Toronto Marlies earlier this season and was paired with Grimaldi and Reichel to much success in Rockford’s final three games.

With the addition of Reichel and Anderson, the Hogs can send out two very potent scoring lines, along with a pair of lines that can bang with the Wild at both ends. This group includes Bobby Lynch (11 G, 8 A), Buddy Robinson (9 G, 11 A), Mike Hardman (5 G, 13 A), and D.J. Busdeker (4 G, 9 A). Defensively, Rockford’s pairings are chock full of developing prospects like Issak Phillips (6 G, 17 A), Jakub Galvas (3 G, 26 A), Alec Regula (5 G, 16 A), and Alex Vlasic (2 G, 17 A).

IceHogs goalie Arvid Soderblom (15-12-5, 2.92 GAA, .905 save percentage) has been up and down this season, but has raised his game against Iowa. In five starts, Soderblom is 4-0-1 with a 1.93 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. His best outing came on February 24, a 29-save performance in Rockford’s 3-1 win.

It’s good that Soderblom has been sharp against the Wild, because it solidifies the need for Rockford to send the second-year prospect out to the crease for as long as the IceHogs remain in the playoffs. It was the organization’s plan to make Soderblom the workhorse this season before his services were needed in Chicago early in the season. Upon returning from an injury on January 20, he’s started 28 of the IceHogs 35 games. Soderblom started the last seven games of the regular season and eleven of the last twelve.

Dylan Wells, the primary starter early in the season for Rockford, was traded to Dallas at the deadline. The only other goalie who has seen the ice for the Hogs since is Jaxson Stauber. In five appearances since coming back from his own stint with the Blackhawks, Stauber is 0-4 with a 3.88 GAA and an .890 save percentage. He also hasn’t played in almost three weeks.

Anton Khudobin is on the roster, though he hasn’t made an appearance for Rockford since coming over for Wells in February. Drew Commesso is also signed to a PTO, but he’s likely just along for the ride. It’s Soderblom or bust for the piglets. Rockford goes as far as he can take them.

 

A Look At The Wild

Iowa put together a league-high 14-point streak in January and February. From December 28 to February 4, the Wild went 11-1-3-2, then proceeded to lose seven straight. Iowa recovered to finish 12-6-1-1 in its last 20 games. Like Rockford, Iowa posted a win on Sunday, beating Texas 5-2 to punch its playoff ticket.

The Wild are paced by veteran center Nic Petan, who set career-highs in goals (23) and points (62) in 53 games for Iowa. Rookie Sammy Walker (27 G, 21 A) led Iowa in goals, while Adam Beckman added 24 goals in 53 games. Marco Rossi (16 G, 35 A) and Steven Fogarty (19 G, 30 A) are also big point producers for the Wild.

Rossi leads Iowa with 14 points (3 G, 11 A) in eleven games against Rockford this season. Fogarty paces the Wild with seven goals and also has five helpers in his ten games against the IceHogs. Petan (3 G, 7 A) has a pair of game-winners over Rockford.

Joe Hicketts (6 G, 42 A) is a seven-year veteran defenseman who provides the spark on the Wild power play. He has three goals and 24 helpers on the man advantage. The Iowa blueline also sports Dakota Mermis (5 G, 21 A) and tough defender Turner Ottenbreit (4 G, 8 A).

In net, rookie Jesper Wallstedt (18-15-5-1, 2.68 GAA, .908 save percentage) and veteran Zane McIntyre (16-12-5-3, 2.87 GAA, .899 save percentage) have alternated starts all season, appearing in all but one game for the Wild this season. It’s been one, then the other, for the last 20 games of Iowa’s schedule. Each have been solid against the Hogs. Wallstedt is 4-2-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .922 save percentage. McIntyre is 3-1-0-1 with a 2.60 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

 

What’s The Bottom Line?

Whether Iowa coach Tim Army elects to keep the tandem going or go with just one goalie, the Wild has a slight edge in the crease, at least on paper. Fortunately, this series will be played on ice, both at the BMO Center and at Wells Fargo Arena.

If Rockford can set an up-tempo pace and maintain order in both zones, while getting Soderblom’s best hockey, there is a good chance that the IceHogs can advance to the next round against Texas. It might well take extra skating on a Sunday afternoon to do so, but it projects to be that close.

Will the additions to roster put Rockford over the top in this series? We find out soon.

 

Series Schedule

Game One-BMO Center, Rockford, Illinois, Wednesday, April 19, 7:00 p.m. CDT

Game Two-Wells Fargo Arena, DesMoines, Iowa, Friday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. CDT

Game Three-Wells Fargo Arena, DesMoines Iowa, Sunday, April 23, 3:00 p.m. CDT (If necessary)

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and reflections on this play-in series.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs host Chicago Tuesday night at the BMO Center. It is the biggest game of the year for both teams. There are four games remaining in the regular season. However, the playoff hopes of both teams likely hinge on the result of this season’s final matchup between the I-90 rivals.

The IceHogs earned a split with Milwaukee this past weekend. Chicago took three of four points with Iowa. Heading into Tuesday, Rockford holds a one-point lead for the fifth and final postseason spot in the Central Division.

Rocco Grimaldi paced the IceHogs to a 3-2 victory in Milwaukee Friday night with a pair of goals. Rockford held on for a key victory, with Mike Hardman’s fifth of the season being the game-winner. The following evening, the Admirals led from the opening minute on the way to a 5-1 win. Luke Philp potted Rockford’s lone goal Saturday.

The Hogs and Wolves finish the season with the same three opponents-Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and Manitoba. Both teams conclude their schedules with games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It really comes down to how each team finishes against common opponents.

Chicago is currently on an eight-game point streak in which it has gone 6-0-2. The piglets are 5-5 over their last ten games and have dropped their last four with the Wolves.  In those games, Chicago has outscored Rockford 17-5.

Remember, the IceHogs must finish ahead of Chicago to secure a playoff appearance, lest fourth-place Iowa loses its last three games. While that’s not impossible (the Wild finish with Milwaukee and a pair in Texas), this is Rockford’s last chance to control its destiny. A regulation win over the Wolves and two victories this weekend will do it, no matter how Chicago closes out the season.

First things first…the IceHogs need a regulation win Tuesday. Rockford has just two regulation wins at the BMO in its last 18 attempts. Those would be April 2 over Grand Rapids and December 31 against the Wolves. Following that 6-2 win, Rockford was 15 points ahead of the Wolves in the standings. Since then:

Chicago: 22-13-2-2

Rockford: 14-17-4-2

So…the Wolves have a full head of steam coming into Tuesday’s showdown. The Hogs are struggling to score consistently and were spanked by the Admirals Saturday night. Arvid Soderblom was out-played in the net by Milwaukee’s backup, Devin Cooley.

Chicago will surely have Pyotr Kochetkov in the net to oppose Soderblom. Kochetkov is 3-0 against Rockford with a 1.31 GAA and a .935 save percentage. He shut out the Hogs back on April 1.

The organization’s response? Let’s send Lukas Reichel to Rockford a day early and let him take care of it.

Reichel, along with Alex Vlasic, comes down from the Blackhawks to try and help secure a postseason position. Buddy Robinson was recalled to Chicago in a reciprocal move on Monday.

Reichel can’t hurt Rockford’s chances in this last week. This gives the Hogs at least an echo of the offensive potential they had in the first three months of the season. Reunite the firm of Brett Seney, Reichel, and David Gust, then put Bobby Lynch with Grimaldi and Philp to form two potent scoring lines.

Will that be enough to best the Wolves? It’s going to have to do, as the only other help from the Hawks would come if/when Joey Anderson is assigned to Rockford (along with Robinson) for the weekend. From a talent standpoint, this is as together a roster as the Hogs have had in the last six weeks.

Next week, I will either be taking a closer look at a play-in series or deconstructing a massive failure of a season for the IceHogs. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to see how it all shakes out.

 

 

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 are just short of the quarter pole in the 2022-23 season. So far, the team has had little problem putting the puck in the net. Rockford is competing, though this is a team that should be able to find another gear in regards to challenging for a Central Division title.

With injuries forcing the IceHogs to use the latter half of their depth chart at goalie, Rockford has had to put up huge offensive numbers in order to win. Through 17 games, they have been able to supply the necessary goals to compete on a nightly basis.

I’ve been a broken record in my concerns for the goal-keeping. If Arvid Soderblom returns to the Hogs for a stretch and plays to form, it could push the piglets into that aforementioned gear. Here’s a closer look at the season through the first two months.

 

The Numbers So Far

This is how the 9-7-0-1 piglets are faring 17 games into their 72-game schedule:

The IceHogs sit right in the middle of the Central Division standings. That would be fourth place, with 19 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 24 points, followed by Texas (22) and Manitoba (20).

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee atop the AHL in scoring with a 4.06 per game average. Defensively, the Hogs give up 3.59 goals per game, 26th in the league. They’re fourth in the league in shots (33.53) per game, and 26th (32.35) in shots allowed. The latter number is consistent with last year’s team.

The IceHogs are converting 23.2 percent of their power play opportunities, while snuffing out 77.3 percent of their opponent’s chances. Rockford has given up five shorthanded goals, tied for the worst in the league, while potting just one shorty themselves.

The Hogs have four players in the top 20 scorers in the AHL. Brett Seney (10 G, 13 A) is tied for third. David Gust (10 G, 12 A) is tied for fifth. Lukas Reichel (8 G, 11 A) is tied for tenth, while Luke Philp (11 G, 7 A) is tied for 13th. Philp leads the team with his eleven goals and is fourth in the AHL in that category.

Issak Phillips (2 G, 12 A) leads the league in skater rating (plus-16) and is tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. Jakub Galvas (1 G, 11 A) is tied for 12th. Alex Vlasic (1 G, 5 A) leads AHL rookies with a plus-11 rating.

 

How Are Those Veteran Pickups Doing?

Go back a couple of paragraphs. They’re spanking fantastic.

The firm of Gust, Seney, and Philp have accounted for 31 goals and 36 assists in 17 games. That’s 45 percent of the IceHogs team goal total of 69. Can this be sustained? Probably not, but several players are starting to find the range.

Dylan Sikura (6 G, 5 A) had back-to-back two-goal games this weekend and could be poised for a December to remember. Buddy Robinson (4 G, 3 A) is chipping in and has been a threat around the net for most of the season so far.

Defenseman Adam Clendening has been a bit underwhelming, though he does have a goal and eight assists. Five of those apples have come on the power play. Clendening is a player who can be attacked in the defensive zone. Hence, his minus-14 rating, which is the lowest in the AHL at the moment. The Hogs didn’t sign Clendening to be a defensive stopper, but there is room for improvement.

 

What About The Kids?

Cole Guttman is starting to pick up some steam in his rookie season. Guttman missed almost a month of action after suffering a concussion on October 15. In eight games since returning to the lineup, he has three goals and four assists.

Phillips, Galvas, and Vlasic have been the backbone of the Hogs blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 2 A) has played 16 games and been a solid third-pairing defender. At 6’8″, Crevier moves pretty well and is adjusting to the pro game.

Michal Teply (3 G, 6 A) started the season slowly but is getting to the net a lot more. Like some other young prospects, Teply is having to compete for ice time. Hogs coach Anders Sorensen recently placed him on a line with Reichel, so his offensive production could soon take off.

 

Roster Happenings

Captain Garrett Mitchell was missing from the lineup for the past three games after injuring his shoulder in Rosemont on November 19. No announcement from the team; until that happens, I’d assume that Mitchell will be out for at least three or four weeks.

Buddy Robinson had a scare on Wednesday night, taking a hit from the Stars Rhett Gardner along the boards by the Rockford bench in the first period of action. Robinson was helped from the ice, unable to put weight on his right leg. He did not return to the game, but was in the lineup for both games against Milwaukee.

After a strong performance in net in Wednesday’s victory, Mitchell Weeks was returned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Despite being Rockford’s top-performing goalie so far this season (3-1-1, 2.95 GAA, .909 save percentage), Weeks is the current odd man out because both Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells are on NHL contracts.

On Thursday, Ian Mitchell returned to the IceHogs from Chicago. He played in both games with the Admirals this weekend, picking up an assist on Friday night.

Friday saw D Cooper Zech being assigned to the Fuel. Since being swapped for Evan Barratt a month ago, Zech has been a healthy scratch in all but two games on October 29 and November 2. Zech was scoreless in both contests. Incidentally, since the trade, Barratt has played just two games in Lehigh Valley, with one assist.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 23-Rockford 7, Texas 2

Rockford chased Matthew Murray from the crease with three goals in the first 10:30 of action, cruising to a win over the visiting Stars.

The IceHogs wasted little time carrying the attack to Texas, converting on a turnover to take a lead they would never relinquish. Cole Guttman picked off a pass along the halfboards of the Stars zone, skated to the right dot, and sent an offering that beat Murray to the far side at 1:24 of the first period.

Guttman’s tally was quickly followed by a goal by Brett Seney at the 3:26 mark. Issak Phillips‘ strike from the right circle at 10:30 of the first ended Murray’s evening with three goals allowed on seven Rockford shots. The Texas net was filled by Anton Khudobin for the remainder of the game.

Down 3-0 entering the second stanza, Texas got on the board when Stars captain Curtis McKenzie redirected a Ben Gleason shot past Hogs goalie Mitchell Weeks at the 3:24 mark. Rockford quickly re-established the three-goal advantage at 4:56 when David Gust guided a loose puck into the Stars net for his ninth goal of the season.

Rockford limited Texas in the Hogs zone, breaking up centering attempts and effectively preventing a lot of traffic in front of Weeks. The Stars put on some pressure in the final twenty minutes, but Weeks stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period. Only Alex Petrovic‘s shorthanded goal got past the Rockford rookie, while the Hogs lit the lamp three more times.

Seney’s second goal of the night midway through the third gave Rockford a 5-1 lead. After Petrovic cut the lead to 5-2, Luke Philp and Lukas Reichel got in on the scoring in the final minutes of action.

 

Friday, November 25-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

When the smoke cleared, the IceHogs stood tall in this Central Division track meet. Rockford broke the Admirals’ four-game winning streak with a come-from-behind victory.

Milwaukee took an early 2-1 lead on a pair of goals by Tommy Novak, sandwiched around a power-play tip-in by Rockford’s Cole Guttman. Bobby Lynch tied the game midway through the first period with a put-back of Carson Gicewicz‘s initial shot. However, Cole Schneider converted a power-play chance for the Admirals, who led 3-2 after 20 minutes.

There was no scoring in the second period, though the pace did not slow. Both teams dismantled rushes up and down the ice, contesting passes and checking hard at both ends. Milwaukee goalie Devin Cooley made 15 saves in the middle frame to keep his club in the lead.

At the other end, Hogs netminder Dylan Wells wasn’t as busy, stopping eight Milwaukee attempts. However, he might have made the two biggest saves of the night midway through the second.

Wells stood his tallest when Brett Seney was stripped of the puck at the Milwaukee blue line by Luke Evangelista. The Admirals forward streaked toward the Hogs’ net completely unchallenged. Wells denied the shot attempt, as well as Zach Sanford‘s follow-up shot to snuff out the scoring threat.

The IceHogs got power-play goals from Lukas Reichel and Dylan Sikura early in the third period, surging to a 4-3 lead. Schneider’s second goal on the man advantage pulled Milwaukee even at four 9:32 into the period before Rockford took over the game.

Seney, whose slashing infraction had led to the Admirals’ equalizer minutes before, skated to the high slot in time to take in a backhanded pass from behind the net by Alex Vlasic. Seney’s aim was true, and the Hogs led 5-4 on his tenth goal of the season at the 12:18 mark.

Wells sent a couple of Milwaukee shots away over the next few minutes, allowing Sikura the chance to put the game away with 3:04 remaining. Sikura maneuvered into the slot and sent a shot through some well-placed traffic to get it past Cooley and into Twinesville to close out a busy night of scoring.

Sikura’s two goals earned him First-Star honors. Reichel and Seney, each of whom had a goal and two helpers, were Second and Third Stars, respectively. Guttman (1 G, 1 A) could also claim a multi-point evening.

Wells recovered from a frustrating opening frame to stop 15 of Milwaukee’s last 16 shots on goal. He picked up his third win of the season with 24 saves on the night.

 

Saturday, November 26, Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

The Admirals gained a measure of revenge on visiting Rockford at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena Saturday night, using a big third period to split the weekend home-and-home with the IceHogs.

Milwaukee wasted little time in building a lead. Egor Afanasyev pounced on a rebound in front of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber and flipped it into the basket 2:19 into the contest. The Admirals added tallies from Cole Schneider and Roland McKeown. Schneider attempted a centering pass to Tommy Novak in front of the Rockford net. Defenseman Adam Clendening denied the pass, but the puck came off his stick and into the goal at the 7:36 mark.

McKeown made it a 3-0 game at 10:22 of the first. Taking a pass from Kevin Gravel, McKeown launched it from the right point past Stauber, who was screened by Zach Sanford and Tommy Apap.

Midway into the opening period, the IceHogs were in a hole. Dylan Sikura started the digging for Rockford, jumping on loose pucks for a pair of goals in the last 3:53 of the first. Both were set up by defenseman Issak Phillips, who had three helpers on the night. The IceHogs were able to draw even with Milwaukee 7:04 into the second stanza when David Gust streaked to the right dot and went to the far post with his shot past Admirals goalie Yaroslav Askarov.

Milwaukee regained the lead 3:18 into the third period. With Stauber way out of his net, Afanasyev skated around the Rockford cage and completed the wraparound attempt just ahead of the stick of Hogs defenseman Louis Crevier.

The Admirals lead became 5-3 after the IceHogs first penalty of the evening. Alec Regula was called for slashing 7:08 into the third period. At 8:47, Markus Nurmi , set up by Afanasyev, sent a shot over Stauber’s glove from the left circle. Rockford attempted to load up for another comeback, pulling Stauber in the final minutes for an extra skater, but Askarov kept the puck out of harm’s way for the remainder of the game.

Askarov finished with 23 saves for Milwaukee. The Admirals rookie is now 7-3 on the season with Saturday’s win. Stauber stopped 23 of 28 shots in a losing effort.

 

Head East

Rockford travels to Springfield (Friday) and Hartford (Saturday) this weekend.

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

 

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 will be opening their home schedule this weekend, hosting the Chicago Wolves Saturday night and the Manitoba Moose Sunday afternoon. They’ll be doing this at the BMO Center-formally known as the Rockford Metro Centre and the BMO Harris Bank Center.

It’s the same old BMO. Except that it isn’t.

There is much to marvel at as the new-look IceHogs roster settles into their home digs. Rockford’s sweaters now feature an updated logo, though not the new team logo that debuted back in the summer. Adorning the front of the sweater is Hamilton E. Hog, otherwise known as Hammy.

The folks in design have exorcised the “Rockford IceHogs” part of the logo and also taken the stick out of Hammy’s mouth. They did not, however, close Hammy’s stickless mouth.

Hammy has apparently been hitting the weights this summer, part of what will surely be a rebranding of sorts for the long-time Rockford mascot. Why is the face on the sweater the pre-health-conscious Hammy? Is the new scoreboard as awesome as has been foretold? Did they fix the towel dispensers in the restrooms? Will we ever see the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup again, or did the Wolves lose it in Rosemont?

These questions get answered starting Saturday night.

Oh…and we get to see how the veteran-laden Hogs fare against the defending Calder Cup Champions. The Wolves roster has been depleted of many of the key names that helped hoist the cup, including David Gust, who had three points (1 G, 2 A) for Rockford last weekend.

Six of Chicago’s top-seven scorers last season are with other clubs. Jack Drury (20 G, 32 A) is the lone holdover. Newcomers include veteran forward and Wheaton native Ryan Dzingel, who has a couple of 20-goal seasons with Ottawa and will provide offense for Chicago. Former Blackhawks forward Brenden Perlini also signed a PTO with the Wolves.

Max Lajoie (4 G 29 A) is back as a key piece of the Chicago blueline. Vying for playing time are several Carolina Hurricanes prospects and 37 -year-old Jason Garrison, who is also signed to a PTO.

Goalie Pyotr Kochetkov was very impressive for the Wolves down the stretch when he wasn’t stopping pucks for Carolina. His play in net may cover some of the departures in the Chicago roster.

The Wolves tangle with Manitoba Friday night heading into their first meeting with the piglets, for what it is worth. Will Rockford take advantage of fresh legs, or will there be jitters as they hit the BMO ice for the first time this season?

Aside from a four-goal explosion in the third period of the season opener October 15, the IceHogs have failed to make an impact on offense through their first two games. I would expect that to change, as the skill-level on offense should keep scoring droughts to a minimum. I’m going to stick my neck out and look for Rockford to drop a big number on one or both of their weekend opposition.

Roster News

On Monday, the Blackhawks assigned D Alex Vlasic to Rockford. The Hogs also recalled D Andrew Perrott and G Dylan Wells from Indy for the week, then sent both down to the Fuel along with D Koletrane Wilson on Thursday.

F Cole Guttman left Saturday’s game in Manitoba in the third period after taking a fall and struggling to get the the Rockford bench. The IceHogs were pretty consistent with medical updates last season, but haven’t commented on Guttman’s status for this weekend.

 

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continued to play winning hockey this week, earning five of a possible six points against Central Division opponents. Rockford sits in fourth place in the division standings, thanks to several hot players.

At the top of that list is Brett Connolly, who is riding a six-game point streak. Connolly posted four goals and a pair of assists in three games. This included two-goal efforts in consecutive games; Wednesday’s 5-4 win over Manitoba and Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Iowa.

Dylan McLaughlin returned after missing the last month with a concussion, notching four points over the weekend. After helping send Friday’s game into Gus Macker Time with assists on both of Rockford’s third period goals, the forward added a goal and a helper in Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Moose at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

The story of Saturday’s victory was a 38-save performance by goalie Mitch Gillam, signed to a PTO by the IceHogs on Thursday. Gillam, who has spent this season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, blanked Manitoba in his first career AHL start. Cale Morris is nursing a sore hip at the moment. Tom Aubrun was loaned to the Fuel Thursday.

Rookie Lukas Reichel had his five-game point streak snapped on Saturday. With four goals and four assists in that span, Reichel remains on top of Rockford’s goals (20) and points (46) list.

With 16 games left in the regular season, the Blackhawks top prospect is approaching two rookie marks. Namely, Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51 points, set in 2015-16, and Matthew Highmore’s 24 goals, accomplished in the 2017-28 campaign.

 

Roster News

With the Hawks trade of Marc-Andre Fleury on Monday, Collin Delia was recalled by Chicago, along with forward Reese Johnson. Morris was recalled by the IceHogs as well. Defenseman Alex Vlasic was assigned to Rockford long enough for him to be eligible for the AHL playoffs before returning to Chicago.

On Saturday, forwards Riley McKay and Chad Yetman were recalled to Rockford. Yetman skated in that night’s game for the IceHogs.

On the injury front, Michal Teply suffered a shoulder injury Wednesday night after being boarded by Manitoba captain Jimmy Oligny late in the third period. Hogs captain Garrett Mitchell jumped in for a bout with Oligny and is now day-to-day with a lower back injury.

 

Busy Piglets

Rockford will now enter a stretch of five games over the next eight days. This starts with a big home date with Milwaukee Tuesday. The Hogs will then head West for two games each with Tucson and Henderson. Rockford takes on the Roadrunners on Friday and Saturday, then tangles with the Silver Knights on April 4 and 5.

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

Everything Else

As the weekend wore on, I sold myself more and more on the Kirby Dach pick. We’ll never know, but my hope is at #3 the Hawks wouldn’t ever pick for need. Those picks come around maybe once or twice a decade (unless you’re the Oilers), and you take the best player on your board. If for the Hawks that was Dach, fine. Any argument for Turcotte there seems equal to me as Dach at this point, and at least Dach was playing in the realest junior league. He also seems to have a higher ceiling, and I’m always here for guys who make the game look easy, as Dach does, than go-go-motor guys like Turcotte kept being advertised as. That “making it look easy” can easily devolve into just remaining on the perimeter and fading into the background of games, which is why the Getzlaf comparisons are frightening. It’s up to the Hawks to make sure that doesn’t happen.

But what bothers me about the whole drafting policy is that it seems a whole new sense of direction, and a dumb one at that. We’re only two years removed from THAT press conference after the Predators had left tire tracks all over the Hawks where Stan Bowman definitely wrestled total control of personnel from Quenneville and his cronies, and promised that this team would and had to get faster. Saad-for-Panarin didn’t really make the Hawks faster, but you could see the logic (only kind of). Murphy-for-Hammer did make them more mobile on the blue line.

And their draft kind of reflected it. Jokiharju is hardly big and is supposedly mobile, though I haven’t really seen that yet. Ian Mitchell is definitely mobile. Altybarmarkyan is small and fast. Evan Barrat isn’t even that quick and he’s small too. Same goes for Tim Soderlund.

Last year’s offseason moves are barely worth talking about, because all it really included was Bowman spiking Q with Brandon Manning. But signings like Kampf (admittedly earlier) and Kahun and other Euro signings stuck to the “getting quicker” theme. And at the draft it was Boqvist, Beaudin, Kurashev. All meant to get to playing at a quicker pace in the future, especially from the back end. They even reached on Boqvist to do that.

And now we’re here. Dach at #3, Vlasic at #43, who just happens to be 6-5 with skating concerns. Michal Teply is 6-3, and he doesn’t have the skating worries that Vlasic does but the “good speed for his size” doesn’t make you think he’s a burner.

This goes along with the rumors that the Hawks are hot after Anders Lee, who is a good player and has a fit here but is also something of a big plodder. So has there been a gear shift? And why?

The why you know, even if it is complete horseshit. I don’t know how the Hawks could buy into the theory that the Bruins and Blues grunted and farted their way to the Final through the use of viking warlords or something. Here’s the Blues top players from the playoffs, and that’s even if you think you should be using a team that missed the playoffs last year and then got sweetheart matchups all the way to the Final as some sort of model:

Schwartz, Schenn, Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Perron, Pietrangelo, and Parayko.

I guess Pietrangelo and Parayko are big and the latter plays like it, but where are these crushers at forward? Do the Hawks really think Pat Goddamn Maroon is such a difference maker they need like four of him.

Now the Bruins:

Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, Krejci, McAvoy, Krug, Grzelcyk.

Chara was a fucking anchor all playoffs. Where are the monsters here as far as size? Back it out to the conference finals and you have the Canes, who simply battered Lee’s Islanders, and the Sharks. Again, where are the heathen hordes on those teams? Or on the Lightning, who did manage to be one of of the best teams ever in the much larger sample size of the regular season?

I don’t know where the Hawks think they’re going to go by getting slower. What are you going to do about Colorado on the five nights you’re lining up against MacKinnon, Rantanen, Makar, Byram, and Girard? If Nashville does sign Duchene, he is pretty damn quick if nothing else. Did Winnipeg lose speed? You’re still trying to catch up to all these teams, and you’re going to do it with Anders Lee and Olli Maatta?

Having your finger in the wind isn’t a plan, and maybe that’s why the Hawks have told you they don’t have a plan.

-The Hawks were making it seem like they really want Dach to take a spot this season, though most experts think that’s a stretch The thing is, they can shelter him just about as well as any team could. A center at 18, you’d want to keep him at the offensive end as often as possible. Which means you’d have to have Kampf and Toews take most of the defensive zone shifts. And you can do that, but is that what Toews is anymore? He could do it, but you’d lose a fair amount of offense from him because he’s no longer the guy who can continually flip the ice. Maybe he’s got one more year of doing that in him, but I’m skeptical.

And who would Toews do that with? Saad in theory, but then who? Would be a waste of Kane (and don’t be surprised if you never see Kane and Saad on a line together ever again) or DeBrincat. Is that what Lee would be for? That involves flipping Saad over to the right, which he’s never really taken to. It’s an odd fit, though I guess you could scratch it out.

Then one wonders who plays with Dach. Kane? You want shooters with Kane, and Dach isn’t that. Just give him Kubalik and like, Sikura and shelter them as heavily as possible?

The problem for Dach might not be what he can do, but what the Hawks can give him. Still, I find it hard to believe that there’s that much benefit from beating up on children he’s already played with for another season, and because the AHL isn’t an option you might as well keep him here. At least show some urgency. You just said it’s not like you’re waiting for him to grow.