Hockey

Mitchell Weeks was in Indy trying to settle into his rookie season in net with the Fuel as of last week. Circumstances have resulted in him getting plenty of time in the cage of the Rockford IceHogs.

Weeks was recalled to Rockford Monday and been thrown right into the action at the BMO. The former Sudbury Wolves goalie found himself in all three of Rockford’s games this past week. Sandwiched between losses to Milwaukee and Iowa, Weeks picked up his first AHL victory Saturday night at the BMO Center against Grand Rapids.

From an organizational standpoint, Weeks, on an AHL deal with Rockford, is sixth on the depth chart at goalie. Dylan Wells, played for the Blackhawks on Saturday after being signed to an NHL deal. That was because Jaxson Stauber was injured last weekend in Rockford’s win over Belleville.

Arvid Soderblom, who should have been taking most of the workload for the IceHogs this season, is currently in Chicago (and possibly injured himself) after a groin injury to Petr Mrazek. Alex Stalock going down last week forced the Blackhawks to find help in net, hence the quick signing of Wells.

The IceHogs signed goalie Owen Savory to a PTO on Wednesday. Savory backed up Weeks Wednesday morning and Saturday night before Stauber returned to serve as the backup Sunday afternoon.

Rockford has shown that it has the firepower to put up big numbers on the scoreboard. The play in goal is going to go a long way toward making the Hogs a contender in the Central Division. Right now, that task is being shared by a very green crop of goalies.

 

Weekend Notes

  • D Alec Regula was recalled to Chicago on Halloween. The next day, Dylan Wells was released from his AHL deal so he could sign a contract with the Blackhawks. This move was done out of necessity, as Wells had a 4.27 GAA and an .867 save percentage in three games with the Hogs. Still, good on him for getting into his first NHL action in Winnipeg.
  • Wednesday, the IceHogs signed G Owen Savory to a PTO so that there would be a backup for Weeks this, uh, week. His last game action came last spring with U-Mass-Lowell. He had yet to start a game with Fort Wayne of the ECHL this season.
  • Rockford had pretty good luck with another U-Mass-Lowell goalie they signed to an AHL contract many years ago. That would be Carter Hutton, who spent two years in the Hogs/Hawks organization. Hutton had two outstanding seasons with the IceHogs and administered a beating to current Chicago goalie Petr Mrazek before moving on to a nine-year stint in the NHL. What will the future hold for Savory with Rockford? Only time will tell.
  • Gust (5 G, 8 A) and Brett Seney (6 G, 7 A) lead the IceHogs in scoring with 13 points each. Seney and Luke Philp (6 G, 3 A) pace the club with six goals. Gust and defenseman Jakub Galvas (1 G, 8 A) share the team lead in assists.
  • David Gust did not get a point in either weekend game after potting two goals Wednesday. He did, however, make himself a pest in front of the net and on the forecheck as teammates were able to score.
  • The piglets are currently scoring 3.78 goals per contest, fifth-best in the league. Unfortunately, Rockford has been surrendering 3.89 goals per game. That’s 27th in the AHL. Would those numbers be better with Arvid Soderblom and an AHL veteran sharing the net? Probably.
  • The Rockford power play (21.7 percent) and penalty kill (79.1 percent) are both ranked 16th in the AHL at the moment, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the league.
  • Wednesday’s loss was tempered by a couple of thousand screaming kids from area schools, gathered at the BMO at 10:30 a.m. for the early start with the Admirals. The enthusiastic cheers and morning start must have thrown Lukas Reichel off a bit, as it was not one of his better outings.
  • The BMO Meathead Society managed to put off starting the “Detroit Sucks” chant until a few minutes into the third period on Saturday. Usually, this group serenades the Griffins of Grand Rapids within a few seconds after the opening faceoff.
  • Despite goalies dropping like flies in the organization, one recent acquisition has proved to be up to the physical demands of the AHL. I’m talking, of course, about the paper towel dispensers in the BMO restrooms. They’ve stood tall in this opening homestand, providing assists to the new sinks on a nightly basis.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 2-Milwaukee 6, Rockford 4

The Rockford IceHogs dug themselves into an early hole in a rare morning matchup with the Milwaukee Admirals. A three-goal deficit proved too much for the Hogs to overcome Wednesday at the BMO Center.

Milwaukee was able to jump on rookie goalie Mitchell Weeks to the tune of 17 shots and three goals in the opening period. Igor Afanaseyev opened the scoring with a snipe from the slot 6:39 into the contest when Rockford left the middle of the ice open.

Weeks suffered some bad luck later in the period, when a pass attempt by Phil Tomasino wound up striking the skate of Hogs center Lukas Reichel and sliding past the Rockford goalie for a 2-0 Milwaukee lead at the 12:55 mark. Cole Schneider made it 3-0 via a power-play goal 16:42 into the first.

Rockford was able to convert on an Admirals turnover to get on the board late in the opening frame. Josiah Slavin led the rush and found Buddy Robinson, who got the play started in the defensive zone, at the right post. The tap in got past Milwaukee goalie Yaroslav Askarov at 18:24.

The Admirals took a 4-1 advantage midway through the second period on Luke Evangelista’s second goal of the season. Again, the IceHogs responded late in the frame, with Adam Clendening one-timing a pass from Alex Vlasic past Askarov at the 18:16 mark.

A Reichel turnover led to a Juuso Parssinen backhander 4:56 into the third period. Down 5-2, Rockford put on a late rally behind a pair of David Gust tallies. The second, coming with Weeks on the bench in favor of an extra skater, pulled the Hogs to within a single goal with 2:28 left.

Sorensen brought Weeks back to the bench in an attempt to pull even, but Schneider ended Rockford’s comeback bid with an empty-netter with 58 seconds remaining.

Weeks finished the night with 26 saves on 31 shots in his debut. Askarov stopped 29 shots to pick up his third win of the season.

 

Saturday, November 5-Rockford 4, Grand Rapids 1

Saturday night, Weeks gave up an early goal, then settled down, posting a 25-save gem against the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins.

The effort allowed Rockford’s quick-strike offense to eventually take control of the Central Division matchup. A big second period proved to be the difference.

Grand Rapids took an early lead on a Cross Hanas goal three minutes into the contest. In contrast to Wednesday’s loss, Weeks got stingy in the crease from that point on.

Rockford went into the first intermission tied at one on the strength of a Carson Gicewicz goal late in the period, set up by a beautiful backhand pass by line-mate Bobby Lynch.

Rockford broke the game open in a four-minute span late in the second period. With Pontus Andreasson and Drew Worrad in the penalty box with infractions four seconds apart, the Hogs power play got to work.

Lukas Reichel came around the boards with the puck, drove down the slot, and beat Griffins goalie Jussi Olkinuora to the twine at the 13:02 mark. Still up a man after the eventual game-winner, Luke Philp lit the lamp just 1:15 later, giving the IceHogs a 3-1 advantage. At 17:13 of the second, Brett Seney completed a power move to the front of the net, scoring his fifth goal of the season for a 4-1 Rockford lead.

Grand Rapids had three power-play chances in the third period to try and get back in the game. However, Weeks and the IceHogs penalty kill unit stopped them cold. For the evening, Rockford held the Griffins without a goal in six attempts with the man advantage.

 

Sunday, November 6-Iowa 5, Rockford 4 (SO)

The loss spoiled an impressive afternoon for the Rockford power play, which had three goals to put the Hogs in a position to win. Mitchell Weeks, making his third-straight start for Rockford in goal, stopped 47 Iowa shots but could not prevent the Wild from winning the shootout.

The two teams traded power-play goals in the opening period. Joe Hicketts pinballed a shot off both goalposts to give Iowa a 1-0 lead 5:52 into the game. Rockford tied the game with Luke Philp’s fifth goal of the season at the 10:56 mark.

The score stayed knotted until the waning minutes of the second period, when Rockford’s Luke Seney jumped on a rebound of a Louis Crevier shot at the left post. Before Wild goalie Zane McIntyre could slide across the crease, Seney sent the puck to the twine, giving the IceHogs a 2-1 advantage at 17:15 of the second period.

Iowa initially thought that they had tied the game on a Steven Fogarty tally late in the frame. The call on the ice was no goal; a call that was upheld after the period ended when the officials took a look at the replay.

However, when the teams came out to start the third, the call was re-evaluated and Fogarty was credited for his sixth goal of the season. What changed? The tablet being used for the replay froze up, forcing the officials to take another look on a working device. The final 44 seconds of the second period were replayed, this time with the game even at two goals.

The IceHogs took control of the contest in the final frame on the power play, with Michal Teply restoring the Rockford lead with a one-timer on the man advantage at 4:34 of the third. Philp got his second of the afternoon with a snipe from the right dot at the 11:04 mark.

With Philp in the box for hooking with 1:56 left, the Wild brought McIntyre to the bench. Immediately, Iowa drew cord with a Chaffee goal at 18:09 of the third. Rockford tried staving off another six-man push by the Wild in the closing seconds, only to see Chaffee sneak into the crease to knock in a loose puck past Weeks with six seconds remaining in regulation.

With no movement in the 3-on-3 session, the extra point was decided in the shootout. McIntyre denied Teply and Seney, while Iowa got shootout tallies from Sammy Walker and Nic Petan to end the game.

 

Texas-Sized Weekend

The piglets jet to Texas for a weekend back-to-back with the Stars. The first of those two games is Saturday night.

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

 

 

Hockey

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

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

Turns out, the organization followed through.

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

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

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

Let’s dig into the roster!

Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goalie

NHL Prospects: Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber.

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

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

 

Coaching Staff

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

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

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

 

Outlook

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

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

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

 

Jerkin’ The Curtain In Manitoba

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs ran out of steam in their latest three-game weekend, falling to the Texas Stars Sunday afternoon. The 3-2 loss comes after the Hogs dropped a 4-3 decision in Iowa Friday. Between the two setbacks, Rockford used a four-goal first to subdue the Stars 7-4 Saturday night.

I’m setting the timer for one-hour; here are some thoughts on the weekend.

 

Thoughts On The Weekend

  • The Hogs penalty kill continues to impress. Despite problems staying out of the box against Texas, Rockford gave up a single goal (Saturday) in 15 chances in the three games. The IceHogs PK is now operating at an 86.4 kill rate. That’s in the top five of the league. The credit goes to assistant coach Jared Nightengale, who is in charge of that unit. Rockford has a lot of aggressive skaters who have proven adept at denying easy entry into the zone. Strong play in goal by Collin Delia and Arvid Soderblom completes the package.
  • Rockford has four goalies on the roster. The work is being handled primarily by Delia and Soderblom. Cale Morris has two starts for the IceHogs this month; Tom Aubrun’s last game action came with the Indy Fuel on December 12.
  • Lukas Reichel was reassigned to the IceHogs Saturday, totaling two points (1 G, 1 A) in his two games this weekend. Reichel is clearly the most dynamic offensive player on the roster. Interim coach Anders Sorensen has used Reichel and Brett Connolly on different lines in order to spread out the Hogs scoring potential. However, the two are together on the power play and were paired together fairly often in the two games with Texas.
  • The IceHogs led 2-1 after 40 minutes Sunday but just ran out of steam in the latter stages of the game. Before Texas tied the game with 5:42 remaining, Rockford had just been trying to absorb the Stars big push. It was only a matter of time before they gave up the lead.
  • The BMO faithful was quite vocal about a near-goal by Evan Barratt with four minutes left. The puck slid along the goal line and was close to crossing before the Stars broke up the potential equalizer. The officials used the next stoppage to review the play before maintaining the call on the ice, which was no goal. The masses booed even after getting a look at the replay, which clearly showed that the puck did not cross the line.
  • Of course, Texas got the eventual game-winner seconds after the subsequent faceoff. Which brought more boos and claims that the officials had stolen the game from the piglets. Not true, but a tough loss to stomach nonetheless.
  • Former IceHogs forwards Tanner Kero and Anthony Louis both made an impact this weekend. Louis, who is on a six-game point streak, had goals in both games for Texas. Kero assisted on Louis’ goal on Sunday. Louis also picked up an assist in the Stars win. In 41 games with Texas this season, Louis has 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points.
  • Mike Hardman had himself a solid weekend, with a pair of goals in Saturday’s win to go with a goal Sunday. He now has eleven on the season, second on the team to Reichel’s 15, and he’s done it in just 19 games.
  • Since returning to the Rockford lineup, Connolly has six points (2 G, 4 A) and is on a four-game point streak.
  • Dylan McLaughlin, second on the team in scoring (6 G, 19 A) missed this weekend with a concussion.
  • Rockford maintains its position in fourth place in the Central Division standings with a .522 points percentage, just ahead of Grand Rapids. The five teams behind Chicago and Manitoba will be battling for position for most of the remainder of the schedule. The IceHogs are more than capable of qualifying for the postseason if they can continue to get the defense and goaltending they have over the past six weeks.
  • The IceHogs will spend the first half of March on the road. The five-game jaunt begins on Thursday, when Rockford travels to Manitoba for the first of two games with the Moose. The rematch will be played on Saturday.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split a pair of games with the Texas Stars this weekend. Rockford lost control of a tight game in the third period Friday, winding up on the short end of a 5-2 decision. The following evening, the piglets played the grinder role to perfection, rallying from a goal down in the final frame of regulation. Rockford outlasted the Stars 3-2, though it took a seven-round shootout to do so.

The IceHogs are 15-14-1-1 this season, good for fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Saturday’s win broke a three-game losing streak. Rockford is 2-3 during this January home stand, which wraps up  Wednesday against Iowa.

 

Teply On A Tear

The offensive game of forward Michal Teply has suddenly roared to life this month. Teply, Chicago’s fourth-rounder in the 2019 NHL Draft, was goalless through his first 34 professional games. In his second season with the Hogs, Teply finally drew cord on January 7 against the Wolves. Since that night, Teply has five goals and three assists spanning the last seven games.

He had both regulation goals for Rockford Saturday and added a successful shootout attempt in the victory. He also had a goal on Friday night. What gives?

Teply has been active on the offensive end most of the season, creating a lot of scoring opportunities that somehow hadn’t found a home. He has 47 shots in 2021-22, which is fourth on the team.

Both interim head coach Anders Sorensen and Teply acknowledge that his play away from the puck is the secret to his recent success. His presence around the net will be vital to Rockford, who were scraping for goals again this weekend.

 

Fight(s)!

The pivotal moment in Saturday’s loss to Texas game came in the third period. The Hogs were down 3-2 with 10:54 remaining when Garrett Mitchell delivered a slash to the hands of Stars defenseman Jared Rosburg. Texas captain Curtis McKenzie responded by cloths-lining Mitchell and engaging in fisticuffs.

Coinciding with that scrap was Dimitri Osipov grabbing Stars center Fredrik Karlstrom and swinging away. Following the melee, the officials removed McKenzie and Osipov from the game. Each received instigation minors, fighting majors, and game misconducts.

Mitchell was tagged with fighting as well as the slash that started the fireworks. Karlstrom, who did not remove his gloves or swing at Osipov, remained in the game. The Stars were handed a seven-minute power play as a result.

I do not recall ever seeing seven consecutive minutes of power-play time go up on a scoreboard. At the time, I was hopeful that it would be the IceHogs with some much-needed man advantage time. However, it quickly became apparent that Karlstrom had not engaged with Osipov and that the time on Rockford’s side of the scoreboard was no mistake.

Three guesses as to which Texas skater gave the Stars a 4-2 lead about two minutes later? Karlstrom’s power-play goal was more than enough insurance, as Rockford spent the next five minutes killing the rest of the penalty.

By the time they got back to even strength, Texas had a two-goal lead and just under four minutes left to play. RFD pulled Collin Delia in desperation but gave up an empty netter, on which Rosburg assisted for good measure.

Texas is one of the more penalized teams in the league; getting physical with the Stars was to Rockford’s detriment Friday. The IceHogs committed just one penalty Saturday, neutralizing the Texas power play in its only chance.

 

Roster News

Several IceHogs are doing the I-90 shuffle between Rockford and Chicago. Mike Hardman and Cale Morris were moved three times this week. Hardman is currently with the Hogs; Morris is on the Blackhawks roster. Wyatt Kalynuk played for Rockford Friday before being recalled to Chicago the following day.

Chad Yetman has played a similar role, oscillating between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. He was in the Hogs lineup for both games this weekend. Saturday, Rockford sent Riley McKay to the Fuel.

The IceHogs released veteran forward Brandon Pirri from his PTO on Wednesday after three goals and an assist in three appearances. Whether Pirri winds up on Canada’s Olympic squad or just decided to pursue other opportunities is not yet apparent.

Forward Kurtis Gabriel came out of COVID protocols on Friday and skated in his first game with Rockford on Saturday, drawing in for Osipov.

On Sunday, goalie Arvid Soderblom, who stopped 20 shots to pick up the win Saturday, was recalled to the Blackhawks.

 

Weekend Notes

  • Andrei Altybarmakian, like Teply, has begun to get onto the scoresheet on a regular basis. He has points in five of his last seven games, including his first two goals of the season.
  • Center Dylan McLaughlin has nine points (3 G, 6 A) in January. He’s second on the team behind Lukas Reichel (12 G, 12 A) with six goals and 13 helpers.
  • The Hogs out shot their opponents both nights. However, many of Rockford’s attempts came on the perimeter as opposed to between the circles. This has been an issue for much of the season; hopefully players like Teply, Altybarmakian, and Kale Howarth, who got to the left post to score the IceHogs second goal Friday, can point the rest of the Hogs toward the front of the net.
  • The 18-year-old (who, as the nine-year-old, only occasionally watched the games when he wasn’t spilling Dippin’ Dots under everyone’s seats) commented that Saturday’s game was perhaps the most exciting result of the season for Rockford. Tall praise, as he’d attended hoping for gloves to drop and was not obliged. I only partially agreed, as he had lamentably chosen to skip Rockford’s 8-0 shellacking of the Wolves earlier this month. I did concur that it was possibly the most dramatic Hogs win so far this season.

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

Hockey

Rockford IceHogs goalie Collin Delia may have won the most important game of his career Saturday night. Too much hyperbole for a mid-November tilt with the Chicago Wolves? Not for a 27-year old goaltender that’s being used as infrequently as Delia.

Saturday night, the Rancho Cucamonga, California native was between the pipes for the Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate for the first time in nearly a month. Delia’s 31-save performance in Rockford’s 3-2 shootout win over the Wolves in Rosemont comes at a most crucial time for the fifth-year pro.

Before Saturday, Delia had played eleven games over the previous 20 months. Thanks to last year’s NHL taxi squad and some poor planning by the Blackhawks organization, time in the crease has been at a high premium for Delia.

“When you have three,” explained Hogs interim head coach Anders Sorensen last week, “you’ve got to make sure you’re getting the right development times, they’re getting the right game times. Sometimes it’s hard, but we’re working through it.”

Coming into the stoppage that ultimately ended the 2019-20 campaign, Delia was being handled like a future NHL backup for the Blackhawks. Having played in 16 games for Chicago the season before, Delia was getting his work in with the IceHogs as the spring of 2020 began.

Beginning in February, Delia started 12 of Rockford’s final 17 games before play was halted in mid-March. Since then, Delia has felt the crunch in net more than any other goalie in the organization over the past two seasons.

Malcom Subban was obtained in the summer of 2020. With the NHL requiring three goalies on the 2020-21 rosters, the Blackhawks grouped Delia with Subban and Kevin Lankinen. Delia had shaky performances in his first two starts of the season and quickly became the odd man out in Chicago’s goalie mix.

He sat, inactive, for six weeks before requesting and receiving a conditioning assignment to Rockford, where he played four games in two weeks. After shaking off some understandable rust, Delia beat the Iowa Wild in back-to-back starts March 6 and 7 with solid performances.

Two months later, Delia got into his next game, a 5-2 loss to Carolina. Relieving Subban, Delia stopped all 19 shots he faced. He was 1-1-1 in three starts following that contest.

This past summer, Marc-Andre Fleury’s acquisition crowed the goalie room further. The Blackhawks passed Delia and Subban through waivers, perhaps hoping one would be claimed. They were not.

Based on then-coach Derek King’s comments earlier this month, Chicago’s plan was to give rookie Arvid Soderblom half of the starts in Rockford this season, dividing the other half to the tandem of Subban and Delia.

“Right now, when those guys (Delia and Subban) came down, Soderblom was obviously going to play a lot of the games,” explained King back on November 2. “So, it’s always been Soderblom, plus one of those guys. Then, the next weekend, it’s been Soderblom plus Delia or Soderblom plus Subi. Those guys (Delia and Subban) haven’t gotten in rhythm at all. They’re kind of playing once every two weeks, which is hard to be fresh and be sharp.”

Subban’s weekend was first up. Delia gave up five goals to the Wild in his season debut on October 23. He dressed in Texas on October 28 as Subban’s back up. Subban was used the last two weeks in tandem with Soderblom. Where was Delia? The answer arrived on November 16 from Sorensen.

“Collin was on COVID protocol the last ten days here. He just got back this week,” Sorensen explained when discussing his goalie situation.

Delia practiced this past week and backed up Soderblom in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Saturday, the crease was finally his.

After the Wolves put a shorthanded chance and a power play goal past him early, Delia settled down and denied Chicago’s last 28 shots in regulation and overtime. He then stopped four shootout attempts from the Wolves to allow Rockford to prevail.

It can’t be overstated how important this result was for Delia. Meanwhile, the issue remains; Rockford has three goalies who are capable of carrying the work load. There just aren’t enough minutes to go around.

“If you look at Arvid,” Sorensen points out, “he’s had a really good start to his North American career. He’s been really poised. He’s a big kid. He reads the play well, he comes ready to practice, he comes ready to play every day. Malcom has been fantastic. He’s been really good in the locker room, but also his last couple of outings in net have been really good. (Delia) needs some practice time here, but obviously we know him from the past and we know what he can do.”

In the current state of affairs, the best Delia can hope for is a start every other week. It is poor asset management by the Blackhawks, who signed Delia to a three-year, three million dollar contract back in February of 2019.

A goalie needs to be traded or loaned out. The organization either can’t or won’t make that move happen. Delia, who, like Subban is an unrestricted free agent this summer, isn’t going to have many chances to make his case for being an NHL goalie. Saturday night was a pivotal game for his future.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs recalled forward Kale Howarth from Indy on Thursday. Howarth missed the start of the season with a lower body injury before being loaned to the Fuel November 9. The former UCONN skater had two goals and an assist for Indy in five games in his stint in the ECHL. Howarth played in both games for the IceHogs this weekend.

Issak Phillips also made his return to the lineup after the Blackhawks removed him from COVID protocols and assigned him to Rockford last week.

 

Weekend Recaps

The piglets won two in a row over Chicago, grinding out wins in both ends of the home-and-home series.

Friday, November 19-Rockford 6, Chicago 3 

The Hogs trailed by a pair early, picked themselves up off the deck, rallied behind their special teams, and wound up topping the Wolves. Rockford improves to 4-6-1 and claimed the first of a home-and-home series with Chicago.

The Wolves (8-4-1) dug into the Rockford zone throughout the first fifteen minutes of action. Dominick Bokk finished off a barrage of pucks in front of Hogs goalie Arvid Soderblom for a 1-0 Chicago advantage 2:48 into the contest. Josh Jacobs capped a slick faceoff sequence with a scoring strike from the outside of the right circle at the 7:31 mark to make it 2-0 Wolves.

At this point, Rockford was being dominated at even strength. The turning point in the game came when a Joey Keane hooking infraction gave the IceHogs their only man advantage of the evening. Brett Connolly capitalized on the opportunity, one-timing a Lukas Reichel feed into the back door of Eetu Makiniemi‘s crease. The goal signaled a significant change of momentum at 13:57 of the first period.

Down 2-1, the Hogs got back to even ground on the penalty kill. After being tagged with too many skaters on the ice, Rockford’s Ian Mitchell and Josiah Slavin dug a puck out the boards in front of the IceHogs bench. Slavin found Carson Gicewicz leaving the defensive zone to start an odd-man rush toward the Chicago net. Gicewicz returned the puck to Slavin at the left post; the resulting tap-in tied the game at two goals at 15:07 of the first.

Rockford came out in the second period with a bit more jump, matching the Wolves intensity and grabbing its first lead of the night midway through the frame. Alexander Nylander put back a rebound off of a Dylan McLaughlin offering 10:55 into the period to make it 3-2 Rockford.

Back came the Wolves, who tied the game on David Gust‘s fourth goal of the season. Gust finished off a quick-developing Chicago rush into the Hogs zone, sending a pass from Maxim Letunov from the right dot past Soderblom at the 12:21 mark.

The score remained 3-3 until the second minute of the third period. Issak Phillips got the game-winner started, tipping a pass into the Wolves zone before finishing his shift. Reichel chased the puck down behind the net before Wyatt Kalynuk won possession coming around the endboards. Kalynuk circled the Chicago net before threading a pass to Reichel, who guided the biscuit past Makiniemi 1:04 into the final frame to give the Hogs a 4-3 lead.

The Wolves pushed hard for the equalizer, but it was not in the cards. Rockford added empty-net goals from Evan Barratt and Garrett Mitchell in the final minutes to secure the victory.

Soderblom wound up stopping 31 of 34 shots on the night. It was all Rockford for the Three Stars, with Nylander (First), Reichel (Second) and Slavin (Third) earning the honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz

Alexander Nylander-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Jakub Pour-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-Michael Teply

Kale Howarth-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Wyatt Kalynuk-Ian Mitchell

Arvid Soderblom

Collin Delia

 

Saturday, November 20-Rockford 3, Chicago 2 (SO)

Collin Delia got his first start in almost a month Saturday. He saved 31 shots to lead the Hogs (5-6-1) to a second straight victory over Chicago.

Rockford had an early power play opportunity that led to the first goal of the night. Unfortunately, it was a shorthanded tally by the Wolves. Andrew Poturalski picked the pocket of Nicolas Beaudin just across the Hogs blue line. He passed to Stefan Noesen, who smartly maneuvered through D.J. Busdeker and sent a shot past the stick side of Hogs goalie Collin Delia. The Wolves led 1-0 2:26 into the contest.

The Wolves burned the Rockford defense in transition later in the opening frame. David Gust sped through the middle of the ice, leaving several Hogs in his wake. Gust beat Delia at the left at the 8:06 mark to make it 2-0 Chicago.

The Hogs patiently tried to cut into the Wolves advantage in the second stanza. It took most of the period, but Rockford finally figured out Chicago goalie Alex Lyon in the closing minutes. Jakub Galvas sent a shot on goal from the point that was redirected by Busdeker. Lyon stopped the attempt, but Dylan McLaughlin was on hand to clean up, flipping the rebound into the cage with 1:01 remaining in the second.

Down 2-1 entering the third, Rockford got back to even footing in the opening minutes. The equalizer came on the power play; McLaughlin brought the puck to the Chicago blue line and hit Andrei Altybarmakian coming down the middle of the ice. Altybarmakian sent a shot wide of the Wolves net that rebounded out to Evan Barratt at the bottom of the left circle. His shot banked off of Lyon and tumbled into the cage 1:44 into the period.

From there, the Hogs concentrated on keeping Chicago from prime scoring chances. Delia stopped 12 Wolves shots in the final 20 minutes and another two in Gus Macker Time, forcing Rockford’s first shootout of the season.

Lyon stopped Alexander Nylander, Lukas Reichel and Brett Connolly. Delia responded by denying Noesen, Dominick Bokk and Andrew Poturalski. In round four, McLaughlin sent a shot under Lyon’s blocker and into the net. Delia snuffed out Gust’s attempt to claim First Star honors and pick up his first win of the campaign.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexander Nylander-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Evan Barratt-Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz

Andrei Altybarmakian-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Kale Howarth-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Wyatt Kalynuk-Ian Mitchell

Collin Delia

Arvid Soderblom

 

Next

The IceHogs have their first three-game weekend to close the book on November. Rockford hosts a struggling Milwaukee team on Friday and Sunday, bookending a Saturday night trip to Rosemont and the Wolves.

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