The Rockford IceHogs returned to Illinois yesterday on the heels of a solid road trip. The Hogs picked up three of a possible four points in their Friday and Saturday dates with the Tucson Roadrunners.
Both games saw Rockford rally from multiple-goal deficits. Special teams played a bit part in the successs of the piglets, who lost an overtime decision Friday before pulling out a win the following evening.
The IceHogs now settle in at the BMO Harris Bank Center, where they begin a stretch of five of the next seven games at home. Rockford plays host to San Antonio Wednesday before being visited by Cleveland Saturday and Manitoba Sunday.
The Hogs are fifth in the Central Division standings with a .583 points percentage. Coach Jeremy Colliton’s club is putting pucks in the net and are showing that same never-say-die attitude that made last year’s pack of prospects so entertaining.
Question is…will this youthful, entertaining bunch bring in the box office?
Bringing ‘Em Into The BMO
Last week (October 12 to be exact), the IceHogs put out a release previewing that weekend’s home openers. The story drew my attention due to a quote from defenseman Carl Dahlstrom concerning the BMO faithful. This comes directly from the article on the Hogs site; I italicized the part of the quote that caught my eye.
“We have one of the fan bases in the league,” defenseman Carl Dahlstrom, who skated in each of Rockford’s 13 playoff games last spring, said. “I’m hoping they can really show that when we play in front of them this year.”
Obviously, a word was omitted. It happens to us all. I’m sure the missing word from Dahlstrom’s quote was “best” or something similar to the sentiment. I kidded on twitter the next day:
The one speculation that was based in fact? Smallest.
As I’ve pointed out on several occasions on this forum, attendance at the BMO has dropped significantly over the past two seasons. Here are the season averages the last three years:
2015-16-5014-Franchise record and the fourth straight season in which average attendance increased from the previous year.
2016-17-4328-Historically poor on-ice performance, last place finish in the Central Division.
2017-18-3915-Young, exciting team morphs into an experienced, exciting team and reaches the conference final. Still, Rockford finishes the regular season 27th out of 30 AHL teams in attendance.
Following the Hogs reaching an apex in attendance, there were two straight years of prodigious drops in fan interest. The shift from the last two years (686 and 413, respectively) represented the widest such disparities in the history of the franchise. Nearly every other shift trended higher, not lower.
The last, and only, drop in yearly attendance came in 2011-12, when the drop was 116 fans from the season before. That could easily be explained away as the season average increased by 860 fans over the next four years.
Over the last two seasons, nearly eleven-hundred fewer fans came through the gates per game. How could this be explained away? Allow me to grasp at some straws. Here goes…
People stayed away because the hockey stank.
Very true following 2016-17. Not sure why that continued with a better on-ice product, though perhaps last year’s club suffered from an aftershock from the putrid season before. If I had to put a finger on the reason attendance has dropped, this issue would be first and foremost.
People stayed away because they were out following high school sports.
I hear that one occasionally, mostly in the fall. Yes, a lot of people like to follow high school football. However, the local sports scene in Northern Illinois hasn’t changed significantly in the past two years.
People stayed away because they couldn’t see folks punching each other.
I hear this lament from many of the old guard fans, though some would quickly poo-poo this. Fighting has dropped to the point of being non-existent in Rockford, but I enjoy the game the piglets showcase at the BMO. So would a lot of other fans if they could take off their sluggin’ goggles for a couple of minutes.
People stayed away because they’re old and don’t want to go out.
I have seen quite a number of those old guard Hogs fans scaling back on the number of games they attend. Then again, I’m sure that happens in a lot of places. Time keeps on ticking away…
People stayed away because they feel they aren’t accommodated enough.
The season ticket base is afforded many amenities by the organization (Full disclosure; I’ve been a season ticket holder for eight years). Long-time Hogs fans can become a bit spoiled in this area.
As is always the case with a lower-level pro sports franchise, there is always going to be some turnover as people move on to bigger and better things. I still believe that the team is very fan-oriented and are great at working with the season ticket base for a great experience.
I don’t require a butler or anything to go catch a hockey game. Being a season ticket holder has plenty of perks without one.
That said, I will point out one practice I’d like to see more of.
During the 2012-13 season, the team started making players available for autographs outside the “Stars Of Tomorrow” display at the BMO Harris Bank Center. You could go out during the second intermission and get your program or a puck signed by a couple of players. A couple of seasons ago, the team abruptly halted the concept.
At the season opener on October 13, the IceHogs had Luc Snuggerud and William Pelletier signing at a table out in the concourse. Sunday didn’t feature a similar event, but it appears that it will be happening on occasion throughout the season. Kudos.
Is having the evenings scratches out signing autographs going to raise attendance back to the 4500-per-night range? Probably not, but it is a magnanimous nod to the fans.
The IceHogs had record attendance for their run through the playoffs this past spring. That included averaging well over 3,000 a night for the three weekday games that normally top out at half that in previous postseasons. So maybe word will get out and the numbers will pick up this winter.
With this being the 20th anniversary of IceHogs hockey in Rockford (including the UHL days), it would be great to see those attendance figures back on the rise. The brand of hockey is exciting (again) and it’s worth heading over on I-90 to check it out.
Numbers Of Note
The IceHogs special teams loomed large in this weekend’s action. Rockford was 5-12 on the man advantage against Tucson. They also turned away the Roadrunners 5-on-3 advantages in the third period of both games.
For the season, the Hogs are converting 29.6 percent of their power play opportunities. That’s good for a tie with Texas for third in the Western Conference. At 84 percent efficiency, the penalty kill unit is fifth in the conference.
Three of those power play goals have come from Jordan Schroeder. He’s in a tie for third in the league in that category.
Dylan Sikura, with six points (1 G, 5 A), is 13th in the AHL among rookie skaters. He’s third in the league in rookie assists. He leads Rockford in points along with his brother Tyler, who has a team-high four goals and a pair of helpers.
Sikura the Elder is also carrying a skater rating of plus-three; tops among the IceHogs forwards. His empty netter to close out Saturday’s win in Tucson kept alive a five-game point streak. Schroeder and Anthony Louis each have three goals for the Hogs; each are working on three-game point streaks.
The defense is paced by Darren Raddysh, who has a goal and three assists so far this season. Carl Dahlstrom has three helpers despite not finding the back of the net in the first couple of weeks.
The goalie numbers are not especially impressive, though opposing skaters are getting a lot of quality chances. Collin Delia has been much better than his 3.26 goals against average would indicate. He is stopping 91 percent of the shots fired upon him and is 3-1 on the season.
Kevin Lankinen (3.39, .825) isn’t boasting gaudy stats, though he has kept the IceHogs in both of his starts.
Friday, October 19-Tucson 4, Rockford 3 (OT)
Erasing a three-goal deficit in the last 30 minutes of action earned the IceHogs a road point. However, Tucson spoiled the good feelings by nabbing the third point late in overtime.
Rockford had back-to-back power plays early in the contest but couldn’t convert. Tucson went up a man following a Terry Broadhurst slashing penalty and wasted no time getting a puck in Kevin Lankinen’s net. Immediately after the faceoff, Kyle Capobianco sent a shot toward the Rockford net. Michael Bunting was in front with the redirect to give Tucson a 1-0 advantage at 10:22 of the first.
The Roadrunners very nearly took a 2-0 lead in the waning seconds of the period, after a furious charge ended with the puck in the Hogs cage. However, it was ruled that the clock had expired before the goal line had been crossed. Rockford went into the locker room only down a goal.
Tucson’s power play unit struck again 5:28 into the second period. The goal was set up by Trevor Murphy, who got behind the net and got Lankinen out of position before hitting Adam Helewka at the right dot for the one-timer. That lead was stretched to 3-0 after a turnover led to a Trevor Cheek goal at the 10:24 mark.
Rockford got on the board shortly after the resulting faceoff. Anthony Louis chased down Henrik Samuelsson’s dump-in attempt in the right corner of the Tucson zone. Louis centered to Tyler Sikura, who was skating hard through the slot. The one-timer got over the glove of Roadrunners goalie Adin Hill at 10:46 of the second to cut the lead to 3-1.
The IceHogs drew to within a goal midway through the third after the penalty kill team came up large. Matteo Gennero was sent to the box for interference, allowing Louis to get a puck into the offensive zone. Terry Broadhurst got control of the puck along the right halfboards and sent it back to Louis in the high slot. The shot was true and rubber connected with twine to close the gap to 3-2 at the 9:53 mark.
Another Gennero penalty, this time a cross-check, gave Rockford another special teams opportunity. The Hogs converted when Jordan Schroeder knocked in a loose puck past Hill at 15:17, evening the score at three goals. Tucson had some chances to clear the puck after Darren Raddysh sent it off the end boards, but the biscuit tricked over to Schroeder at the left post.
Rockford had to turn in a big effort to keep the game tied in the waning minutes of regulation. The IceHogs killed off 1:16 of 5-on-3 hockey to force Gus Macker Time. In the extra session, both teams had chances denied by the goalies. Jacob Nilsson kept a sliding puck out of the net to keep the piglets hopes for a win alive. However, Conor Garland led an odd man rush late in overtime and found the cord with 27 seconds remaining to end the game.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura (A)-Anthony Louis
Terry Broadhurst-Luke Johnson-Jordan Schroeder (A)
Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura
Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Viktor Ejdsell
Andrew Campbell (A)-Joni Tuulola
Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom
Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh
Power Play (2-6)
D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh
Penalty Kill (Tucson was 2-7)
Saturday, October 20-Rockford 5, Tucson 3
The power play was the catalyst for the season’s first road victory. The IceHogs rallied from a two-goal hole, burning the Roadrunners for three scores. Collin Delia had a big night as Rockford made a big defensive stand in the final 20 minutes.
Tucson took advantage of a turnover by the Hogs penalty kill unit early in the game. Jens Looke wound up with a shot from the high slot; the puck glanced off Collin Delia’s blocker and tumbled into the net. This gave the Roadrunners a 1-0 lead 5:49 into the contest.
The IceHogs tied the game at 9:59 of the first when Luke Johnson got credit for his first goal of the season. After Jacob Nilsson won an offensive draw at the left dot, Dylan Sikura got him the puck at the goal line. Nilsson’s centering pass struck Johnson’s leg and settled into the Tucson cage.
The Roadrunners regained the lead when a ring-around attempt by Joni Tuulola caught the skate of the official and hopped into open ice. Tucson pounced on the loose puck, resulting in Lane Pederson firing from the slot over Delia’s glove. At the 15:29 mark, the Hogs trailed 2-1. That score held up through the first intermission.
A Trevor Murphy snipe made it 3-1 Tucson 4:30 into the second period and it appeared that the game may be getting away from the piglets. That all changed in a 22-second span near the midway point of the game.
Roadrunners defensemen Kyle Capobianco and Dysin Mayo wound up in the box in quick succession in the seventh minute. Jordan Schroeder and Darren Raddysh played catch between the circles until Schroeder gained the space to sling home his third goal of the season past Tucson goalie Hunter Miska. This pulled Rockford to within a goal of Tucson at the 7:42 mark.
The IceHogs still had a man advantage to work with following the goal and got right back to work. Carl Dahlstrom took in a nice no-look pass from Terry Broadhurst and set up Anthony Louis for a one-timer from the right dot. Just like that, the game was tied at three goals 8:04 into the second.
Late in the period, Delia made a fantastic stop, gloving a shot just as former Hogs forward Laurent Dauphin crashed into the blue paint. The resulting penalty carried over into the final 20 minutes.
On that man advantage, Rockford moved the puck around the Tucson zone with aplomb. It didn’t take long for the Hogs to punch in the game-winning goal. It came off of the stick of Terry Broadhurst, who took a pass from Johnson at the top of the left circle and fired past Miska. For the first time all weekend, the IceHogs held the lead, going up 4-3 1:22 into the third period.
Holding that lead wouldn’t be easy. The Roadrunners peppered Delia with 16 shots in the last 20 minutes of action. The pivotal stretch came midway through the third when Nathan Noel was called for a slash. Just 37 seconds into the Tucson power play, Delia was whistled for delay of game after knocking the goal post off its mooring.
Rockford dug in and, for the second straight night, killed off a two-man advantage on the road in the latter stages of the game. Tucson had an extended spell in the Hogs zone a few minutes later with a stick-less Delia to shoot at. However, they were denied by the Rockford defense. Miska was pulled with just under two minutes remaining. Tyler Sikura won a battle for a loose puck in neutral ice and threw in the back-breaker at 18:26 of the third.
Delia denied 35 Tucson shot attempts on the evening and was a big part of the win. However, Broadhust was named the game’s First Star, followed by Dahlstrom and Johnson.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Jeremy Colliton went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the first time this season.
Terry Broadhurst-Luke Johnson-Jordan Schroeder (A)
Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura (A)-Anthony Louis
Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel
Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura
Andrew Campbell-Blake Hillman
Joni Tuulola-Carl Dahlstrom
Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh
Power Play (3-6)
D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh
Penalty Kill (Tucson was 1-6)
Mid-Week Preview: Hogs vs San Antonio
The Rampage come to the BMO Wednesday night; they are in action the night before in Milwaukee. San Antonio is currently 1-5 and in the basement of the AHLs Central Division. This is the first season that the Blues are the sole parent team of the Rampage.
Key additions to the San Antonio lineup include Brian Flynn, who was a leader in Texas as they marched to the Calder Cup Final last spring. After a 47-point (18 G, 29 A) season with the Stars, Flynn is now in a similar role with the Rampage.
Trevor Smith comes over from Milwaukee, where he spent the last two seasons of his 11-year AHL career. Last season, he had 43 points (17 G, 26 A). The 6’1”, 200-pounder is a very capable AHL center who can put up offense.
Chris Thorburn is coming off of 12 seasons in the NHL for Pittsburgh, Atlanta/Winnipeg and St. Louis. He’s a big, physical forward with 118 NHL scraps to his name. His only full AHL campaign was in 2005-06, when he had 23 goals, 27 assists and ten fighting majors. He has yet to appear in a game for the Rampage.
Unlike Thorburn, Jordan Nolan has been an on-ice presence for San Antonio. He is a veteran of 361 NHL games, mostly with the Kings. Nolan is another big-physical forward (6’3”) with a propensity for fighting. He has 30 NHL fighting majors and 19 AHL FMs.
The Rampage don’t return a lot in the way of offense; the leading returning scorer from the 2017-18 forward group is Klim Kostin, who totaled six goals and 22 helpers last year in his rookie season.
Rookie center Zach Sanford has a pair of goals for San Antonio this season. He’s the only member of the Rampage with more than one; the team has just 13 goals in six games.
Defenseman Chris Butler has nearly 400 games of NHL experience with the Sabres, Flames and Blues. He has spent most of the past three seasons in the AHL. Last year he had 29 points (8 G, 21 A) for San Antonio.
Joey LaLeggia is a skilled point man who comes over from Bakersfield, where he played for the past three seasons. In 2017-18, he had 15 goals and 28 assists with the Condors. Tyler Wotherspoon comes over from the Stockton Heat, where he spent the last three seasons. He had career-highs in goals (7) assists (30) and points (37) with the Heat last year. He is entering his sixth AHL campaign.
Sam Lofquist is 28 and has spent the last seven years playing in Europe. He skates pretty well, has a big shot and is a physical player. He has a goal and an assist in three appearances to pace the San Antonio blueline. Rookie Mitch Reinke also has a goal and assist.
Goalie Jordan Binnington is a familiar face from his time with the Wolves, where he played three full seasons before being loaned to Providence by the Blues last year. There, he posted a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in 28 games with the Bruins.
Ville Husso begins his third season with the Blues organization. He played 38 games for the Rampage last year, with a 2.42 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He’s started five of San Antonio’s first six games this month, sporting a 3.24 goals against average and an .893 save percentage.
I’ll be back on Friday to preview the Monsters and Moose tilts as well as a recap of Wednesday’s action. Until then, follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates, IceHogs thoughts and analysis all season long.