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.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs picked up a huge overtime win over the Chicago Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center Wednesday night. The 2-1 victory was in line with the way the piglets have won for the bulk of the 2018-19 campaign. Rockford leaned on its goaltender and picked up two valuable points in the Central Division standings.

On Wednesday, it was Collin Delia who kept the Hogs in contention with a 32-save performance. The frugal IceHogs have won four straight games despite scoring just eight regulation goals in that span.

Buoyed by this winning streak, Rockford has the fourth and final playoff spot in its possession for the time being. The Hogs (31-24-4-6) own a .554 points percentage with 11 games remaining in the regular season.

Texas and Manitoba are right behind Rockford, with Milwaukee still in the hunt for a postseason berth. The IceHogs can put a damper on the dreams of the Admirals, as the two teams face off with each other in each of the next three games.

Rockford visits Milwaukee Friday before the action returns to the Forrest City Saturday and next Wednesday. The Hogs have won four of the seven matchups with the Admirals this season. Three of those wins have come at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

The IceHogs did themselves a huge favor this past Sunday in beating the Stars 2-1 in regulation. Anton Forsberg, who paces the AHL with a .924 save percentage, stopped 34 shots to pick up the win over Texas. Forsberg is 4-2 against the Admirals this season with a 1.99 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

 

Hot And Cold Running Hogs

Anthony Louis is currently mired in a 15-game goal-less drought. In fact, Louis has just one goal and four helpers in his last 26 games dating back to January 12. Tyler Sikura has been back in the lineup for six games but is looking for his first goal since coming back from a broken thumb.

Jordan Schroeder, who posted the lone shootout goal to beat Chicago Wednesday, continues to put up a steady stream of points. He has two goals and four assists in seven March contests. Since coming aboard last month, Peter Holland has also provide offense for the Hogs. In eleven games with Rockford, Holland has four goals and three assists.

Holland’s four goals since coming aboard February 20 pace Rockford in that span. The Hogs still man the league basement, scoring a paltry 2.40 goals per contest. To be in a position for the postseason is a testament to the play of Forsberg, Delia and Kevin Lankinen in net.

 

Roster Moves

The influx of college and junior players has begun for the IceHogs. Rockford signed center Dylan McLaughlin to a two-year AHL deal on March 13. McLaughlin, who was a Hobey Baker finalist with Canisius College last season, has skated in four games with the Hogs.

The IceHogs also signed Indy Fuel defenseman Dmitri Osipov to a PTO on Saturday. Osipov has skated in two games with Rockford. Wednesday, the Hogs inked forward Fredrik Olofsson, a fourth-round selection by the Blackhawks in 2014, to an Amateur Tryout contract.

On Thursday, Rockford extended the AHL contract of goalie Matt Tomkins through next season. He’s played well in Indy this season, with a 25-17-2 record. He has been named the CCM/ECHL Goaltender of the Week on three occasions this season.

At this point, forwards Jacob Nilsson, Matthew Highmore and Nick Moutrey are still missing from the IceHogs lineup. Defenseman Brandon Davidson is also out, as has been the case since February 20.

I’ll be back on Monday to recap what is shaping up to be another big weekend of action. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates this weekend and thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

Entering Friday’s game in Grand Rapids, the Rockford IceHogs are staring at three consecutive games this weekend. The piglets, who have already been struggling, will be missing their leading scorer, along with their most capable defender.

Dylan Sikura (9 G, 9 A) and Carl Dahlstrom were recalled this week to the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving several players behind that will need to pick up the slack. One of those players could be Alexandre Fortin, who was assigned to Rockford after spending the first couple of months with Chicago.

Provided no other team makes a claim, defenseman Jan Rutta may also be with the IceHogs in time to take part in this weekend’s action. How much impact Fortin and Rutta could have in Rockford remains to be seen. However, there are several players currently on the Hogs roster who would do well to step up. Time to name names…

 

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Tyler Sikura (5 G, 5 A)

Over his last ten games, Sikura the Elder has just one goal and one assist. He has been as active around the net as any of the Hogs have been in that time, but it hasn’t shown up on the scoreboard.

Anthony Louis (8 G, 5 A)

Last year’s points leader is scoreless in four December contests heading into Friday. His last goal came on November 23 in a loss to the Wolves.

Jordan Schroeder (4 G, 7 A)

Since returning from an injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks back in November, Schroeder has just one goal in ten contests. His other three goals this season have come off the power play, which has been a little quiet the last month.

Viktor Ejdsell (4 G, 7 A)

Ejdsell has a goal and five helpers in 16 games in November and December. He’s also carrying a minus-three skater rating in that span.

Darren Raddysh (5 G, 10 A)

In his last 11 games, Raddysh has a goal and two asssists.

Terry Broadhurst (2 G, 4 A)

Like Louis, Broadhurst is pointless in December. In his defense, he’s recently returned from injury. However, the Hogs thirst for veteran scoring and Broadhurst is one of the players who can help in this area.

Rockford’s best players are not producing on the scoreboard. That has to change soon. If each of the above players could get on the score sheet this weekend, I like the IceHogs chances for a couple of wins.

 

Who Could Provide Some Jump To The Lineup?

Well, Fortin brings speed. He had trouble hitting twine last season; perhaps he’ll come down from the NHL and contribute on the offensive end. It appears that William Pelletier could be ready to get his season started soon. He might be able to provide a spark.

You know what? If Graham Knott could convert on his scoring chances, you could see a scoring outburst out of him. He’s put himself in some high-percentage opportunities but just lacked the power to finish. Maybe it takes that one shot that gets past a goalie to open some sort of flood gate.

 

Statistics Of Note

With strong goal-tending this season, it should come as no surprise that the IceHogs are quite adept at killing penalties. Their kill rate of 87 percent is third in the AHL in this catagory. The power play is converting at just 14.5 percent, though.

The Hogs are still dead last in the league in goals and by a fair sight. They are scoring at a 2.27 goals per game clip. Rockford only gives up 2.88 goals per game, good for third in the AHL. As mentioned earlier, if the team’s top offensive players could start representing, the play in net could sustain a hot stretch.

As it is, Rockford (11-10-1-4) just hasn’t been able to string together victories. The IceHogs have not won more than two in a row all season long.

 

Three In Three

The weekend is book ended with meetings with the Griffins, with whom Rockford has split two previous meetings this season. The Hogs visit Van Andel Arena Friday and host Grand Rapids at the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon.

Rockford has not fared well in Grand Rapids in recent seasons. In the past five years, the piglets are 5-11-3-0 at Van Andel Arena. The Giffins are third in the Central Division and are coming off of a 5-2 loss in Milwaukee Tuesday night.

On Saturday night, the IceHogs host Texas, who have won four straight and are fourth in the division standings. This is the third meeting between the two teams, having split the first two.

The Stars are scoring four goals a game and have the AHL’s second-best power play unit (28.4%). Leading the way for Texas is Eric Condra (13 G, 17 A), Denis Gurianov (9 G, 19 A), Justin Dowling (7 G, 17 A) and rookie Joel L’Esperance (12 G, 11 A).

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

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs came out of their first three-game weekend with a pair of victories and five of six possible points. However, that success was tempered a bit with two more injuries that are keeping a lot of Rockford skaters in street clothes.

The piglets sit in fourth place in the Central Division standings. Rockford defeated first-place Milwaukee on Friday before splitting a home-and-home with second place Iowa.

 

Add Snuggerud To The List Of Injured Hogs

Defenseman Luc Snuggerud hasn’t seen a lot of ice time this season. Saturday night, the second-year pro made his first appearance since October 20 in Tucson. Early in the second period, former Rockford forward Mike Liambas delivered a bit hit in the corner of the Hogs zone that sent Snuggerud to the ice unconscious.

First off, it was a completely legal hit. Liambas, who was not penalized on the play, doesn’t shy away from finishing checks. That said, both players were chasing a puck in the corner and Liambas planted his shoulder squarely into the chest of Snuggerud. Snuggerud’s head slammed into the glass and the young man was taken off the ice on a stretcher.

Snuggerud missed time last season after suffering a concussion, so it is very concerning to see him leave the ice like that. He was hospitalized for observation and sent home Sunday, though it’s hard to say when he’ll be back in action.

There are several players missing from the IceHogs lineup. The defense, in particular, has been hit hard, with four players out of commission in the wake of Snuggerud’s injury. Veteran Andrew Campbell left Saturday’s game with a leg issue when Snuggerud was taken off. He didn’t return and did not skate on Sunday.

Already among the injured were defensemen Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling. Both players are suffering from groin injuries. Forwards Matthew Highmore and Jordan Schroeder were also unavailable this weekend.

To bolster the blueline corps, Rockford recalled AHL signees Josh McArdle and Neil Manning from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Both played on Sunday in Iowa as Colliton used all seven of his defensemen in the contest.

 

No Response

Tim Mattila, who was providing commentary with Joseph Zakrzewski on the Hogs broadcast, had this to say on the play that knocked out Snuggerud:

“I thought it was a clean hit, A, but, B, old school, somebody takes that guy out and does their thing, in my opinion,” he said. “That’s old school; that’s not the way it is anymore, but somebody would have challenged that guy, whoever it was that hit him, to a fight. Immediately. But that’s not the way it is nowadays.”

Moments later, Mattila again voiced his opinion on the hit, adding, “I don’t want to reiterate the fact…typically, someone would have taken care of somebody’s business there.”

Mattila’s comments were spot on; there was a time when it would not have come as a shock to see an IceHogs player come off the bench to dance, suspension be damned. I have no doubt Liambas would have obliged anyone who wished to discuss business with him.

In defense of the piglets, there seemed to be more concern for how Snuggerud was than getting in the face of Liambas, a longtime veteran with 87 AHL scraps under his belt.

It should also be pointed out that fighting is not Rockford’s thing; none of the current crop of IceHogs possess the skills to routinely drop gloves with any opponent. You may consider this a good thing or a bad thing; it is simply a fact.

Later in this contest, Henrik Samuelsson laid a check on Iowa’s Colton Beck and was immediately engaged by Wild defenseman Louis Belpedio. It was Belpedio’s first pro fight, though the two mostly jostled for position before being separated.

Snuggerud’s injury was not caused by Rockford’s lack of pugilistic fortitude. The IceHogs are not built to fight. They’re built to skate, so that’s what they do.

 

Spotlight On The Stat Sheet

One player who stepped up to lead the depleted back end was Darren Raddysh, who is now second on the team in points with nine. He got on the score sheet in both Rockford wins this weekend. Friday saw the second-year pro contribute a pair of goals. He tied the game in the third period in Milwaukee, then tossed in the game-winner against the Ads.

Also logging a three-point weekend was Dylan Sikura, who paces the Hogs with ten points (4 G, 6 A). Sikura the Younger has points in seven of Rockford’s first twelve games.

The team leader in goals, with six, is Anthony Louis, who had three in the two games with Iowa Saturday and Sunday. His goal at the BMO Saturday tied the game and earned the Hogs a point despite coming up short in the shootout.

 

Recaps

Work commitments kept me out of the basement most of the weekend. Maybe not the worst thing for me, but no lines this week.

 

Friday, November 2-Rockford 3, Milwaukee 2 (OT)

The Hogs earned two points at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, thanks in part to a pair of goals from Darren Raddysh.

Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead 14:o2 into the game on Zach Magwood’s first pro goal, a snipe from the right dot that got by the glove of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg. Rockford was quick to tie the score after killing off an Ads power play.

Jacob Nilsson, in the bin of sin for a hook, came back onto the ice as the penalty expired and was greeted by a loose puck skidding into the neutral zone. He skated hard to the Milwaukee net only to have his backhand attempt broken up. A persistent Nilsson chased down the puck behind the net, skated to the corner and hit Dylan Sikura at the bottom of the right circle. Sikura buried the puck past Admirals goalie Tom McCullom for the equalizer at 16:59 of the first.

Magwood’s one-timer from between the circles gave Milwaukee a 2-1 advantage 4:20 into the second period. Rockford, who spent a lot of time killing penalties on the evening, went to the locker room down a goal.

The IceHogs killed off three more penalties in the third, stopping all seven Milwaukee power plays on the evening. Rockford tied the game on a Darren Raddysh blast from the right point at 12:08 after Nilsson brought the puck into the Milwaukee zone and dropped a pass to the second-year defenseman.

Gus Macker Time was pretty eventful after neither team could settle things in regulation. Terry Broadhust was defending Admirals forward Anthony Richard two minutes into extra hockey when Richard stumbled head first into the half boards. It appeared that Richard had either caught a rut in the ice or taken a stick to the shins. No penalty was called on the play; Richard skated off to the locker room  and the game continued.

Lucas Carlsson broke up a Milwaukee 2-on-1 to set up the game winner. The Hogs brought the puck back into the Ads zone, where Raddysh was hooked by Colin Blackwell. Rockford sent an extra skater into the fray on the delayed penalty.

Fittingly, Raddysh one-timed a shot from the left dot moments later to end the game in favor of the IceHogs. The goal came at 3:33 of overtime.

Forsberg stopped 22 of 24 Milwaukee shots to pick up the win. Magwood earned First Star honors from the home press box, followed by Raddysh and Anthony Louis. The IceHogs went 0-5 on the power play, but stopped all seven Milwaukee power play chances.

 

Saturday, November 3-Iowa 2, Rockford 1 (SO)

Rockford skated with an abbreviated blueline for the bulk of the night but still managed to come out of the game with a point. Collin Delia stopped all but one of the 42 shots the Wild heaped on him.

The Wild’s only goal in regulation came just 1:51 into the game when a Brennan Menell offering slipped through traffic to the back of the IceHogs net. Rockford trailed 1-0 after the first twenty minutes.

Early in the second period, Luc Snuggerud took a hit in the corner of the Wild zone from Iowa’s Mike Liambas. His head slammed into the glass as he went down and the second-year defenseman was stretchered off the ice. As that was taking place, Andrew Campbell also skated to the locker room.

Despite having just four defensemen available the rest of the way, the IceHogs stayed in the contest. Rockford tied the game late in the second after Tyler Sikura won a battle for the puck along the half boards in neutral ice.

Sikura passed to Henrik Samuelsson as he entered the Iowa zone. Samuelsson skated to the doorstep before backhanding a pass to Anthony Louis as he came down the right side. Louis back-doored Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen at 17:01 of the second.

The score remained 1-1 through regulation and overtime; Delia stopped 19 Iowa shots in that span. The Wild fared better in the shootout, as Sam Anas and Gerry Fitzgerald converted in the first two rounds. Kahkonen stopped Viktor Ejdsell and Louis to close out the contest.

Both teams had four power plays on the night. Neither team could cash in on any of them.

 

Sunday, November 4-Rockford 4, Iowa 2

Rockford got a pair of goals in a 1:05 span in the opening period. The first was set up by Dennis Gilbert, who broke up an entry pass attempt by the Wild. Darren Raddysh collected the puck and made a stretch pass to Viktor Ejdsell. In the resulting 2-on-1, Ejdsell fed Dylan Sikura for the lamp lighter at 7:29 of the first.

Shortly thereafter, Anthony Louis pounced on an Iowa turnover along the half boards near the red line and skated the puck into the Wild zone. He fired from the left dot past the glove of Iowa goalie Andrew Hammond for a 2-0 Hogs advantage at the 8:34 mark.

The Wild got the next two goals of the game. Matt Bartkowski finished a 3-on-1 rush at 11:54 of the first. Later, on a Wild man advantage, Ryan Kloos sent a wrister from the slot than sneaked under the pads of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg 3:52 into the second period.

Rockford regained the lead on a power play goal. Jacob Nilsson potted his first of the season, putting back a rebound of a Lucas Carlsson point shot. The goal came at 16:44 of the period and made it 3-2 Hogs going into the second intermission.

The Hogs failed to build on the lead despite a couple of power play chances in the third period, but Forsberg kept Iowa at bay for the remainder of the game. The Wild pulled Hammond in the final minutes, leading to Louis denting the empty net for his second goal of the night.

Forsberg made 31 stops on the evening to pick up his second win of the season. Nilsson was the game’s first star, followed by Cal O’Reilly of the Wild and Louis.

The power play was one-for-six on the night, while the Wild was one-for-five.

 

Good Morning, Sunshine

Rockford faces off with the Wild for the third game in a row when they host Iowa Wednesday morning at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Then, the Hogs are off on their longest road trek of the 2017-18 campaign. The six-game jaunt gets underway Friday and Saturday with visits to Milwaukee and Chicago.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

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.

2018-19-?????????

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.

 

Recaps

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

Kevin Lankinen

Power Play (2-6)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Tucson was 2-7)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Johnson-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

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

Lucas Carlsson

Collin Delia

Power Play (3-6)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Nilsson-Johnson-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Tucson was 1-6)

Noel-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Johnson-Knott-Campbell-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

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.

Everything Else

There were many new faces at forward for the Rockford IceHogs in the 2017-18 season. On a roster that went through some changes in the latter half of the campaign, there was a lot to cover in this area.

I’ve previously cast a magnifying glass on the goalies and defensemen in recent posts. For now, let’s move forward with the forwards from Rockford’s big season.

Rookies

Matthew Highmore-64 games, 24 G, 19 A, minus-six

Rockford’s rookie of the year was the big story throughout the first half of the season. Highmore epitomized the fast-paced style Colliton emphasized, with 15 points (9 G, 6 A) in his first 21 games. His nose for the net resulted in Highmore pacing the team in goals.

An appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic, coupled with a spring call-up to the Hawks made for a memorable first-year of pro hockey for the free-agent signing. Highmore is definitely in the mix of prospects who could find themselves in Chicago in the coming years.

Like a lot of the prospects, Highmore’s numbers dipped just a bit with the veteran influx in February. By the playoffs, he was skating on one of the lower lines while still playing solid hockey. In 13 postseason games, he was a plus-eight to go with a pair of goals and seven helpers.

 

Anthony Louis-70 games, 14 G, 30 A, plus-six

Louis was Rockford’s point leader (44) in the regular season, though the addition of the veterans had a big effect on his game down the stretch. To say his role was diminished is probably an understatement.

Skating a little lower in the Hogs lineup, Louis still managed 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in the last two months of action. However, the physical nature of the playoffs seemed to take a toll on his effectiveness. After five assists in 9 games, Colliton sat Louis in favor of Samuelsson three games into the conference final.

Louis is a strong passer and can flourish with linemates who can finish the chances he creates. I think he’ll be a player to watch as he makes the adjustments to raise his game in his sophomore campaign.

 

Alexandre Fortin-53 games, 4 G, 17 A, minus-one

Based on the expectations of a player who had such a strong training camp in 2016 before being sent back to juniors, Fortin was an under-performer in his first season with the IceHogs.

To be fair, he missed a couple weeks in January and three more in March due to injury. His speed was often on display, though there were many instances of Fortin streaking out of control and committing turnovers. A shooting percentage of 4.3 did him no favors; finishing scoring plays and playing under control should be at the top of Fortin’s list of improvements heading into next season.

 

Matheson Iacopelli-50 games, 11 G, 7 A, plus-seven

The real head-scratcher among the piglets. Iacopelli brought offense, scoring 20 goals between Rockford and Indy, where he had nine in ten games for the Fuel. He is arguably the best sniper the IceHogs had this season. So…why couldn’t he find a place in the lineup?

With someone to get him the puck, coupled with a net hound who can convert on rebound opportunities, Iacopelli could be a dangerous AHL forward. He is going to have to improve on his skating as well as find a way to create space for his shot. The question will be if he can do that at age 24.

Iacopelli often found himself on the bottom line with players more suited for checking roles. He’s not that type of player right now. Hopefully he got a list of things to work on this summer. If he can carve out a steady spot on a scoring line, we could see big numbers out of Iacopelli.

 

Graham Knott-70 games, 4 G, 5 A, minus-one

There isn’t much offense to Knott’s game. He had three separate 11-game pointless streaks while skating fourth line minutes and killing penalties. In his final 38 games this past season, he had three goals and no apples.

Knott held down the fourth line through the regular season; he did not appear in the playoffs for Rockford. On the other hand, he was a frequent winner of the Schnucks Grand Prix over speedier teammates Alexandre Fortin and William Pelletier.

Knott is still just 21 and has two more years on his entry deal to develop at both ends of the ice. With most of the new faces coming in on defense, he may still have the spot in the lineup to do so next fall.

Nathan Noel-17 games, 1 G, minus two

Noel really deserves a redo button; his season never really got on track after being injured in training camp.

By the time he was set to return, there was no spot in Rockford to be had. Noel went to Indy, where he played 17 games before getting hurt and missing a couple of months. He was brought up to Rockford in mid-February and had limited chances to develop into the IceHogs agitator.

Until Chris DiDomenico arrived, that job was up for grabs. A healthy Noel might have run with that role. My interest was peaked in the short stint Noel was with the IceHogs.

Finishing the regular season with the Fuel, Noel played well in Indy’s short playoff appearance. If Noel is in game shape to start 2018-19, he may be able to find his niche.

 

Call Ups

Vinnie Hinostroza-23 games, 9 G, 13 A, plus-seven

Tomas Jurco-36 games, 13 G, 12 A, plus-four

David Kampf-33 games, 7 G, 11 A, plus-one

Laurent Dauphin-33 games, 4 G, 10 A, minus-six

These players, Hinostroza in particular, carried Rockford in the first couple of months. Hinostroza was recalled by the Hawks December 8, Kampf on December 27 and Jurco on January 8.

Kampf returned in April to finish up the season and playoffs for the Hogs. In 16 games, he managed just a goal (Game Five vs Texas) and two assists (in Chicago in the last game of the regular season).

Dauphin, who played with a full face shield following a altercation in San Antonio December 15, was traded back to Arizona in the Anthony Duclair deal. Adam Clendening came to Rockford was a key part of the spring resurgence; Dauphin played 17 games for Tuscon (5 G, 10 A) before being recalled to the Coyotes. He was injured blocking a shot March 11 and missed the rest of the season.

 

Reinforcements

Chris DiDomenico-22 games, 8 G, 15 A, plus-three

All this guy did was spark Rockford into its late-season push to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Once there, he was the league’s top point producer (7 G, 11 A in 13 games) until the final games of the Calder Cup Final. If anybody saw this coming, step forward and be called Fibber McGee.

Returning to AHL rinks after several seasons abroad, DiDomenico was obtained for Ville Pokka in a trade with Ottawa in mid-February. Along with a heavy dose of veteran leadership that was injected into the piglets, DiDomenico brought a chippy element to a club that had practically none before he arrived.

By the time the playoffs started, you had skaters of all shapes and sizes finishing checks all over the ice. The motor was still firing, but the Hogs picked up a definite snarl that was a major part of the playoff success.

DiDomenico rides off into the sunset, having signed to play in the Swiss League for two seasons soon after cleaning out his locker at the BMO. One richly deserved stick tap, coming right up.

 

Lance Bouma-20 games, 7 G, 7 A, plus-seven

Chicago sending the physical forward to Rockford in February proved to be good for the IceHogs. Like DiDomenico, Bouma added veteran grit that was in short supply at that point of the campaign. Like DiDomenico, I would not expect to see Bouma in a Hogs sweater next season.

 

Tanner Kero-36 games, 8 G, 12 A, minus-ten

I’m finding out about the Hawks trade with Vancouver just as I was set to ponder Kero’s season for this post. Basically, Kero’s 2017-18 season has produced Michael Chaput.

Kero came to Rockford in December. He was out for about a month after an injury against San Antonio on February 18 and also missed a few games at the close of the regular season.

 

John Hayden-24 games, 5 G, 12 A, even

Arrived January 10 when he was assigned to the Hogs by Chicago, playing through the beginning of March before being recalled. Hayden was also with Rockford once the Blackhawks season ended.

Hayden was physical for sure…but he just didn’t seem to make the impact I imagined when he was sent to Rockford. That goes double in the playoffs; he delivered his share of hits but accounted for just three goals in 13 postseason games.

 

Henrik Samuelsson-25 games, 9 G, 3 A, minus-one

The former first-round selection of the Coyotes was skating in the ECHL for Idaho when Rockford inked him to a PTO in February. The move became a permanent arrangement when the IceHogs signed him through the 2018-19 season.

Samuelsson found the net in each of his first three games with Rockford, including a game-winner against San Antonio February 18. He worked his way onto a power play unit and was a steady presence through the rest of the regular season.

Samuelsson showcased some offensive know-how to go with a strong presence in the corners in his stint with the Hogs. After sitting out the first two rounds of the postseason, he was inserted for the last four games of the conference final with Texas.

 

Viktor Ejdsell-five games, 1 A, minus-three

Ejdsell, of course, made his mark in the postseason, where he totaled 12 points (7 G, 5 A) in 13 games. The lanky forward displayed a nice shot and enough skating ability to keep up with his linemates. He certainly didn’t look out of place in the smaller North American rinks.

The 23-year old Swede had a good sense of timing. Four of his postseason goals were game-winners, the most notable being the one that ended the Game 3 triple-overtime affair with the Wolves. Another came in an elimination game with Texas, where he had a three-point Game 4.

A full season in Rockford could prove to be very interesting, as Ejdsell could probably use a year to hone his skating before hitting NHL ice. Depending on the makeup of the Hawks roster, he could see himself riding the I-90 shuttle for parts of next season.

 

The Vet

Andreas Martinsen-64 games, 12 G, 16 A, plus-seven

So far as early season veteran presence, Martinsen was about it through the first months, save for Jurco and Dauphin. The big Norwegian was key to any physical element to the piglet’s game until the latter part of February when guys like DiDomenico and Bouma showed up.

Obtained for Kyle Baun just before the start of the season, this trade was a definite win for the Blackhawks. Baun wasn’t terrible this season, with 22 points (5 G, 17 A) in Laval and the Toronto Marlies (with whom he won a Calder Cup despite not playing in the playoffs). For the IceHogs, however, Martinsen brought more to the table and was a good fit.

Aside from a spell in Chicago this spring, Martinsen was a mainstay in the lineup, often teaming with Sikura and Alexandre Fortin on what proved to be a very effective group. The 6’4″, 230-pounder re-upped with the Blackhawks for 2018-19. He should be able to skate fourth-line minutes in Chicago if needed and is a nice piece for Colliton to have in Rockford.

 

AHL Standouts

Tyler Sikura-74 games, 23 G, 16 A, plus-24

Sikura failed to stick in three AHL cities following his college career at Dartmouth. Before signing with Rockford, he was still looking for his first AHL point. This season, he earned the team MVP award and an NHL entry contract to boot.

Sikura was a hard worker in the first two months of the season, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard. Through November, he had three goals in 19 contests. In fact, it wasn’t until the post-Christmas part of the schedule that Sikura started seeing the fruits of his efforts.

Starting on December 28 until signing his NHL contract for next season March 6, Sikura put up 13 goals and six helpers in 29 games. To celebrate his new ink, he had 14 points (7 G, 7 A) to close out the last 17 games of the regular season.

Sikura proved to be quite the redirection artist throughout the season. By the spring, not only was he killing penalties but was on the red-hot first power play unit. Sikura also showed that he can create scoring chances on occasion when away from the net.

This was by far the most productive season by a Hogs AHL-signing in the history of the franchise, eclipsing P.C. Labrie’s 2015-16 34-point explosion. Labrie, however, was between NHL deals at the time. Sikura truly announced his presence with authority in his rookie season.

What lies ahead for the elder Sikura brother? I don’t know if he can match last season’s 18.3 shooting percentage, but he’s welcome to try. It will be interesting to see how he follows up such a remarkable performance.

 

William Pelletier-69 games, 14 G, 15 A, plus-13

Another AHL rookie that kept several Hawks prospects out of the lineup was Pelletier, who came out of Division III Norwich looking to prove he could skate at this level. He did.

Pelletier’s wheels allowed the Hogs to send pucks way down the ice, knowing the 5’7″ forward could negate icing and chase down the biscuit. His fore check was tenacious all season and as the playoffs got underway, he started bringing the action to his opponents along the boards.

This was good to see, because Pelletier was a guy opposing teams loved to target on the ice with big hits. Dishing back a little physical business didn’t hurt his effectiveness. Pelletier earned an extension of his AHL deal with Rockford for his efforts and should yet again be a fun player to watch zooming up and down the ice.

 

Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson-73 games, 13 G, 17 A, minus-four

I’m giving Johnson his own category in this review. On a roster of first-year prospects and veteran additions, Johnson perhaps had the most to prove out of any of the returning players.

In last year’s season recap, I suggested that Johnson needed to step up his game from a 17-point rookie campaign in 2016-17 to avoid being pushed to the bench by all the new faces in Rockford. I’d say that Johnson took that step and then some.

Johnson was a steady producer at both ends of the ice for Rockford. He also was a player who took on some big dance partners when circumstances dictated. Four of the IceHogs league-low 11 fighting majors were attributed to Johnson.

In a very quiet manner, Johnson raised his position within the organization. He drew praise from NHL veteran Cody Franson as well as with coach Jeremy Colliton. John Dietz of the Daily Herald got both men to open up about Johnson’s game during the playoffs.

If Colliton names a captain for the 2018-19 IceHogs (after not doing so this past season), don’t be surprised if the C is slapped on Johnson’s sweater.

 

Coffee Cups

Alex Wideman

Tommy Olczyk

Kyle Maksimovich

These three players produced a grand total of zero points for the IceHogs this season. Wideman (13 games in Rockford) did have another good season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, with 16 goals and 32 assists. Most of his time in town came in January and February.

Olczyk saw action once for the Hogs, skating in Grand Rapids January 20. Maksimovich was signed to an ATO in March after scoring 31 goals in the OHL for Erie. He got into four games late in the season and was inactive once the playoffs got underway.

 

Unlike a year ago, there should be lots of returning faces up front for the Hogs. Depending on what kind of veteran skaters Rockford is afforded, there could be several players who could make big strides in their games. Like last season, it should be exciting to watch.

I’m sure there will be some activity worth shouting about in the coming weeks. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter just in case I think of something. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to sort through the summer.

 

 

Everything Else

For fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, the only postseason game in town is out of town. West on I-90, to be exact.

The Rockford IceHogs are a single victory from advancing to the next round of the Calder Cup Playoffs following a 4-1 win over the Manitoba Moose in Game 3 of their Central Division Final. The piglets are flying and Hogs Nation is starting to get excited about treading into unknown territory.

For a franchise that has not made it out of the second round in the eleven years Rockford has been the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, these are heady times. There’s a good chance the Hogs secure a spot in the Western Conference Final Friday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center. If Wednesday’s tilt was any indication, there could be a lot of folks watching Rockford go for the series sweep.

I said that I would be stunned if the Hogs got more than 3,000 fans for Wednesday’s Game 3. Summarily, 3,184 watched Rockford fall behind for the third straight game before scoring the next four goals. Among those fans were Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, president John McDonough and a bus load of team personnel. They had to have enjoyed what they saw. I know I did.

The blueprint for Wednesday’s rally was similar to the first two games of the series. Rockford tied the game with a power play goal, kept up the pressure on the fore check and wore down the Moose the last two periods.

For a team buoyed by veteran presence, it was the rookies that came up big in Game 3. Tyler Sikura notched his third goal of the series after gaining possession of a rebound of an Adam Clendening shot. The power play goal tied the game at 1-1 6:26 into the second period.

Just over a minute later, Victor Ejdsell found himself in the slot with an open look and fired past Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie for what would be the game-winner. Collin Delia kept the puck out of his net the rest of the way, stopping 36 shots on the evening. His skaters did an excellent job preventing prime scoring opportunities and clearing away pucks around the net.

Rockford picked up an insurance goal 13:52 into the third period. Anthony Louis found himself with the puck behind the Manitoba net and made a nifty pass to William Pelletier. Pelletier knocked the offering into the cage from the left post. Matthew Highmore added an empty-netter to complete the all-rookie goal parade.

The Hogs have had an answer for everything Manitoba has thrown at them this series. At the mid-point of Game 3, a Tanner Kero high stick had Manitoba up a man and with a faceoff in the Rockford zone. Lance Bouma spent the time before the draw chirping with Moose defenseman Mike Sgarbossa.

Once the puck dropped, Bouma skated over to Sgarbossa, a veteran AHL player,  and immediately drew a slashing penalty, ending the power play. Safe to say that Rockford is firmly ensconced in the heads of its opposition.

It appears that fans are beginning to recognize what I’ve been preaching all season; the IceHogs are an exciting young team that play fast paced hockey for 60 minutes a night. Bolstered by some key veterans and anchored by a hot goalie, Rockford’s journey in the playoffs may just be getting started.

Could I be back on Monday with a look at this weekend’s action? All signs point to yes.

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, may see some players departing via trade in the coming weeks. Whether you consider the Hawks buyers or sellers at this stage of the season, it would seem likely that some deals will be make before the February 26 trade deadline.

I’m thinking that one of those moves will involve defenseman Ville Pokka.

With a host of defensemen currently in Rockford, the young Finnish skater has seen himself in what must be an unfamiliar role in his IceHogs tenure. That would be that of a spectator.

In each of the last two seasons, Pokka has played in all 76 regular season contests. He played in the first 41 heading into a January 23 game with Bakersfield. Pokka was scratched that night before returning to action that weekend, which included a game-tying goal in an eventual win over Ontario.

The 23-year-old Pokka was not in uniform for Rockford this weekend. It is possible that he is injured. It also could be writing on the wall that Pokka’s days in the organization are numbered.

I can’t say that Pokka has been Rockford’s best defenseman this season. That said, he certainly hasn’t been bad. He is on his way to what should be his fourth 30-point season for the IceHogs. In Pokka’s four-year pro career in Rockford, he’s been a steady offensive player.

Though Pokka spent some time on Chicago’s roster this season, he did not see any game action for the Blackhawks. As is the case with other prospects, it may have been decided that the organization doesn’t see him as a fit moving forward.

Keep in mind that this is my speculation only, here. Maybe the kid’s hurt. Perhaps the team just wants to give Pokka a mid-season rest. However, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that there are several Hogs (Cody Franson, Gustav Forsling and Adam Clendening, for instance) who would rate call-ups before Pokka at this point.

Pokka has been one of coach Jeremy Colliton’s alternate captains for the bulk of the season. His game has been solid at the AHL level this season. It just may not be enough to get his foot in the door with Chicago. Pokka will definitely be a name to watch when the trade winds begin to blow.

 

Roster Happenings

On Thursday, the IceHogs recalled F Nathan Noel from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Noel, who has yet to suit up for Rockford, last played for the Fuel December 27.

This may be a case of the Blackhawks, to whom Noel is signed to an entry deal, wanting to have him rehab an injury closer to town. I would assume that if he was healthy Noel would have slotted into the fourth line this weekend. Instead, D Robin Norell continues to get minutes there. We may be waiting a while for Noel to make his Rockford debut.

D Luc Snuggerud made his return to the lineup this weekend after missing nearly two months of action. Goalie J.F. Berube, who has been practicing with the team of late, is still out. Berube has not played since suffering a lower-body injury December 9.

 

Weekend Woes

The IceHogs had themselves a rough weekend. A pair of losses dropped the piglets into a tie for fourth with Grand Rapids in the Central Division standings.

Friday, February 2-Manitoba 4, Rockford 3 (OT)

After a blowout loss to Manitoba in November, the effort was better but not quite enough to get both points from the visiting Moose.

Manitoba took a 1-0 lead on a Patrice Cormier power play goal. The IceHogs drew even late in the first when Anthony Louis slapped in a loose puck from the left circle past Moose goalie Eric Comrie at 17:44.

Rockford took a 2-1 lead 4:04 into the second period when Tyler Sikura put back a rebound of a Andreas Martinsen shot. Manitoba made it a 2-2 contest when Jan Kostalek got one past Hogs goalie Colin Delia at the 15:18 mark.

Midway through the third, some rapid-fire passing by the Manitoba power play resulted in a wide-open net for Brendan Lemieux to find the top shelf from the slot. Rockford now needed another rally. It got one by the skin of its teeth.

As it appeared that the Hogs would yank Delia for an extra skater, Luke Johnson brought the puck into Manitoba territory and got off a shot from the right circle. The puck squirted past Comrie and slid in tortoise-like fashion across the goal line to knot the game 3-3 with 1:58 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero, who had been denied in two breakaway opportunities earlier in the evening, had the game on his stick in Gus Macker Time. Alas, his attempt was snuffed out by Comrie. As so often happens in these affairs, this led to a rush the other way. Nic Petan fired past Delia and the game was over.

Delia faced 50 shots on the night, stopping 46 of them to pick up third star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Colin Delia

Power Play (0-2)

Highmore-Johnson-Hayden-Louis-Forsling

Kero-Sikura-Martinesen-Clendening-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 2-3)

Sikura-Pelletier-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Knott-Kero-Clendening-Forsling

Martinsen-Johnson-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Saturday, February 3-Chicago 7, Rockford 4

Things got ugly in the middle frame as four of eight Wolves shots found the back of the Hogs net, turning a 2-1 Rockford advantage into a blowout.

Chicago scored first, with Kevin Lough finishing an odd-man rush with a puck off the crossbar and into the net 8:02 into the game. Before the sands ran out on the first period, however, the IceHogs had gained the lead.

Paul Thompson was bringing the puck along the right boards in the Rockford zone when Alexandre Fortin made the steal. Fortin hit Tyler Sikura coming across the blueline and Sikura did the rest. Skating into Chicago territory, his shot attempt got under the pads of Wolves goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo. At 16:21, the game was tied at a goal apiece.

Two minutes later, William Pelletier caught up to a loose puck and made a nifty move to the Chicago net. Kaskisuo made the pad save, but Anthony Louis was on hand to shoot over the prone Wolves goalie, giving Rockford a 2-1 lead that they took into the locker room.

A Luke Johnson high-sticking double-minor gave the Wolves the chance to expose the IceHogs penalty kill. Brett Sterling connected with twine at 2:03 of the second period to tie the game 2-2.

From there, things got a little out of hand. Moments later, T.J. Tynan and Bryce Gervais worked a 2-on-1 to perfection, with Gervais besting Delia to put Chicago up 3-2 at the 2:59 mark. Shortly thereafter, a defensive turnover wound up in the back of Delia’s net, courtesy of Tyler Wong.

Late in the second, Jake Bischoff capped another successful Wolves power play, lighting the lamp from the point for a 5-2 Chicago lead. Delia, who allowed five goals on just 12 shots, gave way to Matt Tomkins when the teams came out for the final frame.

Early in the third, Adam Clendening lost the handle on the puck just inside the Wolves blueline. Mackenzie MacEachern took the gift, beating Tomkins on the breakaway to make it 6-2 Chicago. Minutes later, a re-direct by Teemu Pulkkinen gave the Wolves a 7-2 lead.

Rockford did get goals from Cody Franson and Andreas Martinsen in the extended garbage time that followed. The Wolves, however, won their 12th straight game at Allstate Arena with little difficulty.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Cody Franson-Carl Dahlstrom

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Colin Delia

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-2)

Highmore-Johnson-Hayden-Louis-Forsling

Kero-Sikura-Martinesen-Clendening-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 2-3)

Sikura-Pelletier-Dahlstrom-Franson

Knott-Kero-Clendening-Forsling

Martinsen-Johnson-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Coming Up…

The Hogs welcome San Antonio to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Wednesday night before spending the weekend with two familiar division opponents.

Rockford has yet to defeat the Rampage. In fact, they have been outscored 12-2 in three contests with San Antonio this season.

Friday, the IceHogs host Milwaukee, against whom they are 2-3-0-1 in 2017-18. The Admirals, who are 3-0 at the BMO this season, recently picked up former Rockford forward Mark McNeill, by the way.

Saturday night, its off to Des Moines and another tilt with the Iowa Wild. Iowa is third in the Central behind Manitoba and the surging Wolves. The Wild are also playing well, having won seven of their last ten games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get the occasional thought on the IceHogs throughout the season.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs have a few days off to savor a weekend sweep at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Bago County Flying Piglets are hovering in the second spot in the AHL’s Central Division standings behind Manitoba.

Rockford put the BMO faithful through two nail-biters against Chicago and Grand Rapids, winning both contests behind Jeff Glass in net. Having sneaked down to my basement to prepare this post while my wife peels potatoes (everyone else being asleep), I am short on time before she notices that I am missing. Therefore, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of this post, along with the recaps:

  • Glass is starting virtually all of the games in net for the IceHogs. He did a great job keeping the Hogs in both games despite limited offensive support this weekend.
  • I don’t think they have much confidence in Colin Delia right now. Between Rockford and Indy, Delia has played exactly one game over the last month and a half. Rockford has three games back-to-back this weekend. You’d think Delia would get one of those starts in the interest of letting Glass come up for air.
  • The offense came mostly from the line of Anthony Louis, David Kampf and Tomas Jurco, who are creating a lot of chances.
  • Power play threw up a doughnut hole for the weekend. Coach Jeremy Colliton threw out five forwards on his first unit and three defensemen on his second in an attempt to shake things up. Didn’t work.
  • Erik Gustafsson might be back in action, along with Luc Snuggerud, this coming weekend…but who knows.
  • Hogs have a home-and-home with Iowa Thursday (Des Moines) and Friday (BMO) before visiting Chicago Saturday night.

Uh-oh…creatures are stirring all through our house…Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22-Rockford 3, Chicago 2 (OT)

It took nearly five extra minutes of Gus Macker Time, but the Hogs were able to break a three-game losing streak.

Rockford opened the scoring thanks to an incredible effort by Alexandre Fotin on the first shift of the game. Ville Pokka provided the genesis of the goal by corralling the puck in the corner of the IceHogs zone and sending a clearing pass to Andreas Martinsen.

Fortin received Martinsen’s quick feed coming across his own blueline. He then skated into Chicago territory and split Wolves defenders Chris Castro and Jake Walman. Fighting the two defensemen off as he made his way toward the net, Fortin manuvered around Chicago goalie Max Legace, who had come out to meet the three skaters. From there, Fortin slid the backhand into the unguarded cage to cue the horn and put Rockford ahead 1-0 just 41 seconds in.

The Wolves drew even late in the period while on a delayed penalty with a Brandon Pirri tally. Midway through the second, Chicago took a 2-1 lead after a quick transition burned the Hogs.

A long rebound of a Viktor Svedberg shot attempt came out to Connor Bleakley, who quickly hit teammate Tobias Lindberg coming into neutral ice. Lindberg came down the right side and fired over the glove of Rockford goalie Jeff Glass at 10:45 to put the Wolves on top.

Rockford would capitalize on a couple of rebounds early in the third for the equalizer. Lagace left a puck in front of his crease off a Tomas Jurco shot from the top of the right circle. Anthony Louis was there for the putback, but Lagace was there with the pad save. The third time proved to be the charm, as David Kampf pounced on the rebound at the left post, uniting rubber and twine 39 seconds into the period.

That closed out the scoring in regulation. The game-winner came 4:35 into the extra session. Matthew Highmore was wide on a shot attempt. Darren Raddysh gathered in the puck off of the end boards. He got it back to Highmore, who skated to the goal line below the left circle.

Raddysh, meanwhile, had looped around the offensive zone and streaked to the right post. He got his blade on the centering feed and knocked it just inside the post to end the contest on a winning note.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-William Pelletier

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Brandon Anselmini-Darren Raddysh

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Matheson Iacopelli, Jordin Tootoo

Power Play (0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Kampf-Louis

Dauphin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dalstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 0-4)

Sikura-Martinsen-Norell-Pokka

Kampf-Johnson-Svedberg-Dahlstrom

Dauphin-Highmore-Anselmini-Raddsyh

 

Saturday, December 23-Rockford 3, Grand Rapids 2 (SO)

Rockford allowed the Griffins a point with a very late goal in regulation. However, the Hogs prevailed in the shootout to go on holiday with a two-game winning streak.

Neither IceHogs goalie Jeff Glass or Grand Rapids counterpart Jared Coreau surrendered a goal in the first half of this game. The dam broke midway through the second period.

Tomas Jurco and Anthony Louis worked a little give and go once Rockford had gained entry into the Griffins zone. Louis got off a shot from the high slot that trickled under the pads of Coreau. David Kampf was the man on the scene at the right post; he reached behind Coreau and nudged the puck to its resting place in the back of the net. The IceHogs led 1-0 at the 8:01 mark.

The lead proved to be short-lived, as Grand Rapids came down to tie the game on the subsequent shift. Matt Lorito put in a long rebound of Dan Renouf’s point shot at 9:23 of the middle frame.

Jurco broke the tie 5:35 into the third. Making his way to the goal mouth with some deft stick handling, he got the puck into a scrum of players. Louis and Kampf helped things along until the biscuit came out to Jurco. His initial attempt was stopped by Coreau, but Jurco’s second effort drew cord.

That 2-1 lead held up for most, but not all of the final 15 minutes of regulation. Carl Dahlstrom was called for interference after Coreau had been called to the Griffins bench with just 50 seconds left. With a 6-on-4 advantage in the closing seconds, Grand Rapids made a desperate push into the Hogs zone.

The Griffins Ben Street sent a shot toward net the glanced off of Lorito and high into the air. Matthew Ford batted the offering over Glass and into the net with less than two seconds remaining.

Rockford had several breakaway opportunities in Gus Macker Time, but Highmore and Louis were both denied by Coreau. Glass came way out of his net to knock away a potential breakaway attempt, then made a highlight-reel stop on Ford’s open look late in the session…and on to the shootout it went.

Both goalies stonewalled their shooters in the first three rounds. Viktor Svedberg came out in round four and kept it simple, skating to the slot and banging home a slap shot past Coreau’s glove. Glass then snuffed out the attempt of Vili Saarijarvi with his left pad to seal the victory.

Jurco was rightly named the game’s first star, followed by Lorito and Glass, who stopped 31 of 33 shots in addition to the four shootout attempts.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-William Pelletier

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Viktor Svedberg-Robin Press

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Erik Gustafsson, Matheson Iacopelli, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo

Power Play (0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Kampf-Louis

Dauphin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dalstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 0-4)

Sikura-Martinsen-Norell-Pokka

Kampf-Johnson-Svedberg-Dahlstrom

Dauphin-Highmore-Press-Raddsyh

 

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, welcomed a couple of new arrivals to the roster last week. How have these new faces fared so far in the Forest City?

So far, the jury is out; neither has taken the ice since the roster moves were made.

On Thursday, after he cleared waivers, veteran forward Jordin Tootoo was assigned to Rockford. The next day, the Blackhawks recalled Jean-Francois Berube to back up Anton Forsberg while Corey Crawford recovers from an injury. As a result, Hawks goalie prospect Colin Delia was brought up from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel to serve as backup to Jeff Glass.

Rockford had games Friday and Saturday following a blowout loss to Manitoba Tuesday. The IceHogs defeated the Chicago Wolves in overtime before soundly beating Texas to pick up four points on the weekend.

IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton opted not to use either Tootoo or Delia (or recent addition Robin Press, for that matter) in either contest this weekend. There could be varying reasons for this.

Let’s put the microscope to both Tootoo and Delia and see how they could factor into the mix.

Jordin Tootoo

The Hawks re-signed Tootoo this summer but he hasn’t played since training camp. He has spent the bulk of the season on injured reserve.

From an AHL standpoint, Tootoo could add a dimension the Hogs have lacked. Namely, a veteran grinder who has been around the NHL and is capable with his hands once the gloves come off.

Among the questions I have are:

  1. How healthy is Tootoo?
  2. How motivated is he to come in and bang for Rockford?
  3. Who sits/goes to Indy in order to get him into the lineup?
  4. Does the organization want him mentoring the piglets or are they content to let Tootoo and his cap hit sit in the team box for a few months?

 

At some point, we should get more clarity as to what Tootoo’s role on the club will be. Best case, he skates frequently, brings some toughness to a very young roster, imparts a bit of wisdom about life in pro hockey and maybe knocks in a couple of goals.

 

Colin Delia

Delia has struggled so far in his first pro season. His lone start in the AHL was a shaky effort as the Hogs lost in Iowa November 9. His numbers with the Fuel don’t impress; a 4.12 GAA to go with a .887 save percentage.

His last action in net was for Indy on November 25. In that start, he gave up six goals to Kansas City. While it is a good opportunity for Delia to get some instruction from the goalie coaches in Rockford, I wonder if Colliton affords him another start.

Rockford has a week of practice and a weekend home-and-home coming up with Grand Rapids. It might not be a bad idea to have Delia watch Glass on the road Friday and get his home debut at the BMO the following evening.

Another start in the Rockford cage for Delia may depend on how long Crawford is out, coupled with how much confidence the organization has in his ability to handle AHL shooters.

 

Other Roster News

Press has not gotten into a game since being recalled by Rockford last Saturday. Neither has forward Radovan Bondra. As I mentioned last week, however, I believe that’s due to an injury Bondra is rehabbing with the IceHogs.

Center Laurent Dauphin did not appear in either game this past weekend. He appears to have been injured in the latter stages of the loss to Manitoba Tuesday night.

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad-Recaps

Tuesday, November 28-Manitoba 8, Rockford 1

This one’s just as bad as it sounds. You can point to the fact that the IceHogs got 48 pucks to the net, but this was an old-fashioned keister stomp. The division’s hottest team came, saw and conquered the piglets, paced by a J.C. Lipon hat trick.

Rockford was down 5-0 late in the second when Viktor Svedberg got a puck to neutral ice that was won by Anthony Louis. The rookie forward made his way into Moose territory and punched home the only Hogs tally of the night past Michael Hutchinson at 17:22 of the second period.

Jeff Glass was left in the crease for the duration. On a night where Manitoba exploited nearly every Hogs miscue into a scoring chance, Glass was probably the only reason the Moose didn’t reach double-digits on the scoreboard. And with that, let’s just move along…

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)

Vinnie Hinostroza-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Anthony Louis-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Andreas Martinsen

Graham Knott-Tyler Sikura-Matheson Iacopelli

Viktor Svedberg-Robin Norell

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, William Pelletier

Power Play (0-5)

Jurco-Kampf-Hinostroza-Martinsen-Raddysh

Louis-Johnson-Dauphin-Highmore-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 2-3)

Johnson-Kampf-Svedberg-Norell

Hinostroza-Dauphin-Snuggerud-Pokka

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

 

Friday, December 1-Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (OT)

The IceHogs blew a 3-0 advantage only to prevail in Gus Macker Time thanks to Vinnie Hinostroza’s game-winner.

Tomas Jurco got his sixth goal of the season the hard way 12:32 into the contest. Jurco was providing the screen for a Ville Pokka shot attempt. While trying to avoid the wrist shot, Jurco was struck by the puck (I’ve watched this a dozen times and still don’t know if it hit his head, chest or stick.), which then beat Wolves goalie Michael Leighton to the cord.

About five minutes later, Pokka got one of his own. As he pinched down to the bottom of the left circle, Pokka got a rebound off the end boards of a Robin Norell attempt. He then knocked it past the back door of Leighton for a 2-0 Rockford lead 17:36 into the first period.

The Hogs fourth line stretched the advantage to 3-0 3:35 into the middle frame. Carl Dahlstrom got the play started from the Rockford zone. His pass to Andreas Martinsen was quickly sent to Tyler Sikura and Graham Knott coming across the Wolves blueline.

Knott fed Sikura in front of Leighton, who stopped the initial attempt. In the scrum that followed, Martinsen was able to get the puck across the goal line for his second goal of the campaign.

From there, Chicago chipped away at the three-goal advantage. Brandon Pirri got the Wolves on the board with a power play goal three minutes later. Late in the second, Brett Sterling picked the pocket of Hinostroza at the Wolves blueline. He then scored on the resulting breakaway to cut the lead to a single goal.

Noted Hogs-killer Teemu Pulkkinen tied the game at 15:18 of the third. Pirri set up Pulkkinen’s right dot blast after beating Darren Raddysh to a puck in the corner of the Hogs zone. It now appeared that Rockford’s closest and most bitter rival could swipe two points from the Hogs.

Hinostroza prevented a total collapse in overtime, thanks to some help from Dahlstrom. After passing to Hinostroza at the top of the left circle, Dahlstrom buzzed Leighton. This prevented the former Hogs goalie from getting a clean look at Hinostroza’s snap shot. Rubber and twine hooked up to Leighton’s stick side and all was right at the BMO, save for the point the Wolves received for tying the game in regulation.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Vinnie Hinostroza-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Alexandre Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)

Anthony Louis-William Pelletier-Graham Kott

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Vikto Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Laurent Dauphin

Power Play (0-3)

Jurco-Kampf-Hinostroza-Martinsen-Raddysh

Louis-Johnson-Iacopelli-Highmore-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 1-3)

Johnson-Kampf-Svedberg-Norell

Hinostroza-Knott-Snuggerud-Pokka

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

 

Saturday, December 2-Rockford 6, Texas 2

Rockford made a clean sweep of the weekend against the Stars, who had won five straight entering the contest.

Texas took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a Roope Hintz power play goal late in the opening twenty. Thousands of BMO fans stood by the ready to hurl stuffed animals onto the ice. It wasn’t to be in the first period, however.

The teddy bear tossers would have to wait nearly half the game to send their furry offerings to the ice surface. There dreams were realized when Anthony Louis broke Rockford’s 0-35 home power play slump with a snipe from the right dot. Vinnie Hinostroza provided the primary apple on the play, which tied things up at a goal apiece 8:01 into the second period.

At that point, the cover was blown off of Stars goalie Landon Bow’s net. Moments later, Matthew Highmore took a drop pass from Carl Dahlstrom at he bottom of the right circle. His shot fought it’s way through Bow’s pads and trickled across the goal line at the 9:55 mark.

The Rockford advantage increased to 3-1 late in the second when Louis created a turnover along the right side of the Texas zone. His pass was blasted past Bow from the slot by William Pelletier at the 18:06 mark.

Goal number four came 2:32 into the third, courtesy of some nimble skating by Hinostroza. In a play we’ve become accustomed to seeing, Hinostroza wove around the offensive zone before backhanding a pass to Darren Raddysh. Raddysh came across the goal mouth for a backhander that Bow stopped with his pads. Persistence paid off for the rookie defenseman; Raddysh simply collected the rebound and guided the puck to the back of the net.

Luc Snuggerud got in on the butt-kicking fun 11:38 into the third. The genesis of the scoring play came from behind the Stars net, where Highmore had sent the puck after winning a battle in the corner. Alexandre Fortin passed out to a wide-open Snuggerud in the high slot. The shot was true and Rockford led 5-1.

Former IceHogs forward Mark McNeill scored for Texas at the 14:00 minute mark, but that’s as close as the Stars could get. Tomas Jurco finished the scoring for the evening with a between-the-legs backhand past defensman Gavin Bayreuther and into an empty net in the closing minute.

Hinostroza (first), Louis (second) and Highmore (third) were the three stars of the game.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Vinnie Hinostroza-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Alexandre Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)

Anthony Louis-William Pelletier-Graham Kott

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Vikto Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Laurent Dauphin

Power Play (1-6)

Jurco-Kampf-Hinostroza-Martinsen-Raddysh

Louis-Johnson-Iacopelli-Highmore-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Stars were 1-4)

Johnson-Kampf-Svedberg-Norell

Hinostroza-Knott-Snuggerud-Pokka

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

 

Grand Rapids Home-And-Home Primer

Rockford will have several days to prepare for a weekend home-and-home with the defending Calder Cup champs, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Friday’s game is in Michigan, while the teams come to the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday night.

Detroit’s AHL affiliate has had a tepid start (9-10-0-3) to the season, but the Griffins have endured slow openings to dominate the Central Division in the past. The Griffins beat Chicago 5-2 Saturday night to break a five-game losing streak. Like Rockford, Grand Rapids has five days off before dropping the puck Friday night.

The IceHogs are currently 3-0 against Grand Rapids. Rockford owns a pair of 3-2 shootout victories on October 20 and November 18 to go with a 4-3 come-from-behind win at the BMO October 28.

Friday’s tilt will be the first of the season between the two teams at Van Andel Arena, where Grand Rapids has toiled to a 4-6-0-1 record. Last year, the Hogs were 1-4 in that building, for what its worth.

Matt Puempel came over from Hartford early in the season and is pacing the Griffins offense with 17 points in 21 games (7 G, 10 A). Eric Tangradi is a big, physical winger who can fill the net, so he presents problems for Rockford. Tangradi has three goals and an assist against the Hogs to date this season and could well be a factor in how Rockford fares this weekend.

Tyler Bertuzzi is a hard-nosed player who is currently on a three-game point streak. Matt Lorito and veteran center Ben Street are also players to watch.

On the defensive side, Westmont native Robbie Russo has had two successful seasons under his belt with Grand Rapids. He has a pair of goals and seven helpers so far in 2017-18. Dylan McIlrath is a rugged presence on the blueline for whom the Hogs don’t really have a counterpart.

Jared Coreau and Tom McCollom are both familiar faces in net for the Griffins. Its likely the IceHogs could see both goalies this weekend.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to catch IceHogs happenings all season long.