Hockey

Back before the Rockford IceHogs home opener the previous weekend, I predicted that the scoring potential of this veteran-laden team would result in a slew of goals. Rockford put up four goals in a pair of losses at the BMO Center.

Turns out I was just a week off. The piglets were flying around the BMO ice this past weekend, and the offense came out to play.

The Hogs sent 13 shots to the back of opposing nets in a pair of wins, beating the Wolves 5-3 on Friday, then clobbering the Belleville Senators 8-2 on Saturday night. Rockford evened up its overall record to 3-3 while racing up the AHL offensive leaderboard.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the IceHogs are dangerously thin in their own cage. That situation may have become exacerbated with an injury to rookie Jaxson Stauber that may take a few days to evaluate.

Stauber took a puck to the mask in the second period in Saturday’s win that stuck in the eye hole. He left the game under his own power, but his immediate status is unknown. Regardless, the organization needs to address the lack of a veteran backstop for Rockford.

 

The Best Line In The AHL?

You could definitely make an argument that David Gust, Lukas Reichel and Brett Seney have been the league’s most effective forward line. They certainly are the hottest.

Gust had a tremendous weekend, following up a five-point effort against his former team with a pair of assists against Belleville. He’s tied for second in the league with eleven points (3 G, 8 A).

Reichel (4 G, 6 A) and Seney (4 G, 6 A) are tied for ninth in AHL scoring, with each player totaling ten points.

 

Goalie Depth Stretched To The Limit

Jaxson Stauber took a puck to the eye in the second period of Saturday’s win. After stopping seven of eight Senators shots, Stauber left the contest and did not return. Dylan Wells came in for the remainder of the game. Although he gave up a goal, he denied sixteen shots. The evening before, Wells picked up the win over the Wolves, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

Assuming that Rockford isn’t going to post five or six goals every night, the Hogs are dangerously thin in net at the moment. With Arvid Soderblom up in Chicago with the Blackhawks for the foreseeable future, the potential of Stauber missing some time does not give Rockford much experience in the crease.

Wells has 25 games of AHL action in four professional seasons. Stauber was removed from just his third AHL start when he was injured. In hindsight, the Blackhawks organization may have wanted to pick up a veteran who could have slipped through waivers and floated back and forth from Chicago to Rockford when needed.

If Stauber isn’t ready to play by Rockford’s game with Milwaukee Wednesday, expect Mitchell Weeks to be recalled to the IceHogs from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Weeks is 3-0 for Indy, with a 3.00 GAA and a .899 save percentage.

 

Loose Change

  • Friday morning, the IceHogs were 31st in the AHL (out of 32 teams) in offense with a 2.25 goals per-game average. Monday morning, Rockford was ninth at 3.67 goals.
  • The IceHogs power play was also 31st in the league, at just 6.1 percent (1-16). Monday morning, Rockford was…well, 25th, but at least they got their success rate (16.1, 5-31) into double digits.
  • Minus Adam Clendening, who did not play in either game this weekend, the D scored their first three goals of the season. Alec Regula had one in each game; Jakub Galvas pinched in on Friday for the lamp-lighter that ignited Rockford’s scoring explosion.
  • It was good to see Dylan Sikura and Buddy Robinson get their first goals over the weekend. Both players, especially Robinson, were just missing on prime chances until Saturday night. The line of Sikura and Mike Hardman, centered by Luke Philp, has the potential to be just as effective as the firm of Seney, Reichel, and Gust.
  • Carson Gicewicz and D.J. Busdeker are two of the few AHL holdovers from last season getting regular work so far this season. They’re toiling on the fourth line with good returns so far. Gicewicz tipped in an Issak Phillips slap shot for the sixth Hogs goal on Saturday, a play on which Busdeker was awarded the secondary assist. Both are high-motor skaters that helped anchor a group that killed ten of eleven penalties over the weekend.
  • Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain, sat out the Belleville game, with Bobby Lynch joining the fourth line.
  • Lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s goal-fest was new acquisition Cooper Zech getting his first start on the IceHogs defense. Zech didn’t break into the scoring column.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 28-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs broke a three-game skid in a big way Friday night.  With a pair of goals and three helpers, Gust factored in on every Rockford goal in the victory. Rockford picked up its first win this season at the BMO Center, thanks in part to a flurry of second-period goals.

The Wolves started strong, taking a 1-0 lead midway through the first on an Alexander Pashin tally. Rockford created some scoring opportunities late in the period but trailed by that score heading into the locker room.

The goal that got the Hogs rolling came off the stick of defenseman Jakub Galvas, who drove to the right slot and went far side on Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko. This tied the game at a goal apiece just 2:12 into the middle frame. Gust gave Rockford a 2-1 lead at the 6:15 mark, taking a pass from Brett Seney before splitting the defense and backhanding the puck into the Wolves net.

Chicago knotted the game at 8:39 of the second period when Nathan Sucese put back a long rebound of a David Ferrance attempt. However, the IceHogs responded by capitalizing on a Wolves turnover in their own zone. Mike Hardman deflected a pass attempt to Gust, who sent a shot from the slot past Sawchenko at 14:30 of the second.

The key sequence in the contest came in the closing minutes of the period. With 1:27 remaining, Max Lajoie appeared to tie the game for Chicago. The officials, however, ruled that Lajoie had knocked in the puck with a high stick, disallowing the goal. Rockford took full advantage, getting a deflection of a Galvas shot by Seney with two seconds to play in the second. This gave the IceHogs a 4-2 advantage at the second intermission.

An Alec Regula slapshot 25 seconds into the third period provided plenty of insurance. The Wolves Jamieson Rees closed out the scoring a few minutes later, but the Hogs held on behind Dylan Wells, who picked up his first win in net with 24 saves.

 

Saturday, October 29-Rockford 8, Belleville 2

After scoring five times in a win over Chicago on Friday, Rockford erupted for eight goals at the BMO Center.

The IceHogs got to work early, scoring 51 seconds into the contest with Dylan Sikura‘s first goal of the season. Less than a minute later, Lukas Reichel worked a two-man rush with Brett Seney and scored from the right post to put the IceHogs up 2-0.

Sikura got his second of the night at the 11:36 mark of the first period, the first of what would be four Rockford power play tallies. The one-timer from the top of the left circle trickled through the pads of Senators goalie Kevin Mandolese, prompting Belleville coach Troy Mann to remove him from the game for Mads Sogaard.

Belleville, who was outshot 9-1 by Rockford, stopped the bleeding and went into the locker room down 3-0. Instead of a push back from the Senators, the Hogs turned the offense up a notch.

The middle frame was a wild affair. Rockford put up four goals in the span of 2:15, starting at the three-minute mark with a power-play goal by Alec Regula. Buddy Robinson (PP), Carson Gicewicz, and Reichel quickly followed suit.

Mann removed Sogaard from the action after Reichel’s second of the evening in favor of Mandolese. it didn’t mater. Mike Hardman quickly sent a shot off the right post and into the net at the 7:40 mark.

Jake Lucchini broke up the shutout with a goal at the 11:03 mark, but Belleville trailed 8-1 at the second intermission. From there, it was mostly the teams trying to run out the clock and the officials trying to prevent garbage-time fights. Angus Crookshank converted on a power-play chance midway through the third to close out the scoring.

 

Busy Week Ahead

The piglets will rise early to take on Milwaukee in a 10:30 a.m. start on Wednesday. After getting its first gander at the Admirals, Rockford ends the seven-game home stand Saturday and Sunday. Saturday at 7:00 p.m., the Hogs open the season series with Grand Rapids. The following afternoon, the Iowa Wild visit the BMO Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

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

Hockey

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

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

Turns out, the organization followed through.

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

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

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

Let’s dig into the roster!

Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goalie

NHL Prospects: Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber.

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

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

 

Coaching Staff

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

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

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

 

Outlook

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

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

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

 

Jerkin’ The Curtain In Manitoba

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs playoffs were unceremoniously ended by the Chicago Wolves over the weekend. Rockford dropped three straight to the Wolves, looking very overmatched. After having a lot of success against their interstate rival in the regular season, it wasn’t far-fetched to think the piglets could compete with the best team in the AHL.

Instead, Chicago shifted into a gear that the Hogs could not match.

The Wolves were able to keep Rockford on its heels for the entire series. The details varied a bit, but the formula was the same: swamp the Hogs in their own zone and hammer away at goalie Arvid Soderblom. Chicago out-shot Rockford 127-61 overall and prevented the IceHogs from putting any kind of offense together.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Wolves sweep:

Game 1: On Thursday night, Lukas Reichel forced a turnover and skated in for the first goal of the contest. That would be the only lead the Hogs would hold. Chicago potted two goals in the final minute of the first period, then scored three times on the way to a 6-2 win at Allstate Arena.

Game 2: The Wolves treated the first period like a 20-minute power play Friday. Rockford, who managed a single shot in the opening frame, held on for dear life until a pair of goals late in the period gave Chicago a 2-0 advantage. From there, the Wolves cruised to a 4-1 win.

Game 3: The IceHogs did their best to extend the series, but fell behind early at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday afternoon. Rockford actually put together its only serious pressure in the Wolves zone in the second stanza. Not only did the Hogs fail to score, however, but Chicago made it 2-0 late in the period. Rockford mustered a goal down three in the third, but the Wolves converted a 5-on-3 chance to end the IceHogs season with a 4-1 victory.

Rockford didn’t play terrible. Soderblom had a .910 save percentage in the final two games and the IceHogs were still routed. Chicago simply overwhelmed them. Rockford’s only even-strength goals came in Game 1; Reichel’s steal and score and another forced turnover that wound up in the Wolves net via Evan Barratt.

Alec Regula went coast-to-coast for a sweet power-play goal in Game 2. Ian Mitchell followed up a nifty move in the corner into a power-play snipe over Alex Lyon’s glove in the final period of Game 3. None of these goals were the result of steady presence in the Wolves zone.

It’s a sudden end to a pretty decent 2021-22 campaign for the Hogs. That’s the playoffs, kids. It would have been nice to see a couple or additional games, but once the Wolves flipped the switch it was just a matter of a more talented, more experienced squad taking care of business.

In the coming weeks, I’ll break down the season offer some thoughts on the highs and lows contained within. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for some musings on the Hogs in the wake of their playoff exit.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have advanced to the Central Division Semifinal via a sweep of Texas in their play-in series. The piglets capped off an impressive defensive performance against the Stars with a 1-0 overtime triumph after winning Game 1 by a score of 2-1.

Rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom stopped 68 of 69 Texas Stars in the two games, good for a .986 save percentage. To the surprise of no one, he was voted the First Star of Game 2 for his 36-save shutout.

After a couple of days to prepare, Rockford opens a best-of-five series with the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont on Thursday night. The Wolves are the top seed in the Central Division. They won more games in the regular season than any team in the league. Their .724 points percentage was the best in the AHL.

The Wolves roster boasts the leagues top goal scorer (Stefan Noessen, 48 goals) as well at the league’s top point-producer (Andrew Poturalski, 101 points). On paper, the Flying Piglets of ‘Bago County will be lucky to win a single game.

Not only do I think the Hogs could win one game, I figure the belief is there for Rockford to shock everyone and win this series.

These teams met 12 times in the regular season. Rockford won eight times.

The IceHogs are 5-0-0-1 at Allstate Arena this season.

Each of the last five meetings was a one-goal decision. Rockford was 4-1 in those games.

The last meeting between Rockford and the Wolves came in the regular-season finale April 30. Chicago was gunning to out-do Stockton for the AHL’s top record. The IceHogs had nothing to gain, having been locked into fourth in the division.

Rockford rested several starters, including Soderblom. Chicago pinned back its ears and swamped the Hogs in their own zone. The Wolves out-shot Rockford 54-25 on the evening.

And yet, the IceHogs had an offensive draw in the final 30 seconds with a chance to tie the contest before ultimately losing 3-2.

Rockford can win this series. They know it. The Wolves know it.

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Chicago was the division champ. The Wolves were swept by the fourth-seeded Hogs. That history, plus Rockford’s success against this year’s division champs, makes it unlikely that the piglets are going to be taken lightly by Chicago.

What does Rockford have going for it? Confidence and momentum. They have a hot goalie heading into a series against a team that hasn’t had a game in what will be 12 days when the teams collide on Thursday, May 12.

The Hogs calling card for much of the last couple of months is solid play in the defensive zone and timely goals from a host of young prospects. They’ve had a wildly successful season and have nothing to lose as they enter this series.

 

Playoff Musings

  • The goal scorers in Game 1 were Lukas Reichel and Carson Gicewicz. Reichel deftly handled a pass from Michal Teply on a 2-on-1 in the second period and snapped home the first goal of the game. Gicewicz deflected an Issak Phillips shot past Stars goalie Matthew Murray (who played very well in the two games for Texas) for the eventual game-winner.
  • After a scoreless regulation, Dylan McLaughlin got loose in the high slot, hauled in a pass from Phillips, and sniped the Game 2 winner 56 seconds into overtime.
  • The secondary assist on McLaughlin’s goal went to Ian Mitchell, who returned from a wrist injury suffered in practice April 26.
  • IceHogs forwards Kurtis Gabriel, Dimitri Osipov, and Garrett Mitchell played their part in the series sweep. The three were able to regularly administer devastating hits to Texas skaters without so much as a single infraction between them. In all, the IceHogs committed just three penalties in the two games.
  • Forward Andrei Altybarmakian, who came on strong in the last month of the season, did not skate in either game of the series. His last game action was April 30 in Milwaukee.
  • Game 1 vs Chicago will take place at Allstate Arena on Thursday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., with Game 3 coming to the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and thoughts throughout Rockford’s playoff run.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have extended the time they have to develop some key prospects by qualifying for the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. The postseason gets underway Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center, when the IceHogs play Texas Stars in a best-of-three play-in series.

Rockford is the fourth-seed and will host the fifth-seeded Stars for every game of the series, per the league’s travel guidelines. The winner moves on to face the Central Division champs, the Chicago Wolves in a best-of-five affair.

Here is the postseason forecast for the Piglets as I see it.

First of all, it would not shock me for the IceHogs to knock off any of their Central Division rivals in a playoff series. Even after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Wolves in the regular season finale Saturday night, Rockford finished 8-3-0-1 against Chicago. They have split the season series with Texas and Milwaukee and were 5-3 against Manitoba. The only Central opponent that dominated them (Iowa) is not in the playoffs.

The IceHogs have generated enough offense to be competitive. For the first time in a couple of seasons, Rockford posted a per game average of over three goals this season. The Hogs 3.10 per game clip was their highest since the 2017-18 season, when they reached the Western Conference Final scoring 3.14 goals per contest.

Unlike that veteran-laden group, this year’s group have been grinding out wins for the bulk of the season. A poised and deep blueline, coupled with very capable goaltending, have been the ticket in the past couple of months. This could prove to be a major strength in the postseason.

Or, the youngsters could get bounced in two games by a hot Texas team that won its last four games. Such is the mystery of playoff hockey. Some confidence and a hot goalie can take you far. A slow start could quickly slam the door on a very solid season for Rockford.

 

Roster News

On Sunday, the Blackhawks assigned D Nolan Allen and F Colton Dach to the IceHogs following the conclusion of their junior seasons. I wouldn’t expect either to play. Maybe one or both could step in and make a surprise impact. I would avoid holding my breath on it, though.

Chicago could also assign some players like G Collin Delia, D Alex Vlasic to bolster the IceHogs roster. As of Monday, they have not done so. At this point, it looks like Rockford will dance with the players it has leaned on for the last month of action.

Ian Mitchell has been out of the lineup since injuring his right wrist in practice last Tuesday. He would be set to come back late in the week, but is probably out for the opening series. The IceHogs depth at defense makes this a little easier to bear, but Mitchell was voted the team’s top defenseman award for good reason. His return makes the Hogs a bit tougher to play against.

D.J. Busdeker returned from a shoulder injury for the last two games of the season, though Brett Connolly is likely out for the duration of the playoffs with a knee injury.

Cale Morris took the net against the Wolves Saturday and stopped 50 shots in the loss. I would imagine that he will back up Arivd Soderblom, who, along with F Dylan McLaughlin, were selected co-MVPs for Rockford this season.

 

Under The Microscope: The Texas Stars

Rockford battled the Stars eight times this season. Both teams won four games. The season series concluded way back on February 27, when Texas won 3-2 at the BMO.

The Stars were 9-4-1 in April, while Rockford wound up 9-6. Of all the possible opponents for the piglets to have, Texas is the one who shouldn’t intimidate the Hogs physically.

There are four players who took the ice in the 2018 Western Conference Final contested between these two franchises; all currently reside on the Stars roster. This includes former Hogs forwards Anthony Louis (24 G, 31 A) and Tanner Kero (5 G, 12 A), as well as Texas captain Curtis McKenzie (21 G, 29 A) and Joel L’Esperance (24 G, 25 A).

Center Ty Dellandrea had an impressive rookie campaign, with a 50-point season (23 G, 27 A). Riley Damiani (13 G, 23 A) was last year’s outstanding rookie in the AHL and could play a big part in the opening series. Ben Gleason (9 G, 35 A) and Ryan Shea (3 G, 29 A) pace the Texas defense.

The x-factor in this series could well lay in the crease. Matthew Murray has been used quite a bit since signing an ATO out of UMass this spring. He split time with second-year goalie Adam Scheel, who was recalled to Dallas on Saturday.

If Murray winds up being the man in net for Texas, he’s coming in hot. Currently, he is sporting a 1.68 GAA and a .947 save percentage in his six AHL starts. Likely to serve as Murray’s backup is LaGrange native Matt Jurusik.

 

Keys For The IceHogs

  • Rockford needs to be to limit the Stars speed in transition and continue to take care of the puck in their own zone. That’s been the formula for the Hogs success this season; no reason to change things up.
  • Players like Mike Hardman (19 G, 13 A), Michal Teply (13 G, 18 A) and Andrei Altybarmakian (10 G, 21 A) have to capitalize on the play-making abilities of Lukas Reichel (the team’s Rookie Of The Year with 21 goals and 36 helpers) and McLaughlin.
  • In 14 April games, Josiah Slavin has eight goals and seven assists. He is a big part of the Hogs penalty kill and leads the team with three shorthanded goals.  It’s important for Slavin to continue leading Rockford’s forecheck against the Stars. Slavin’s game should be well-suited for playoff hockey; he could have a big series.
  • Slavin sat out the final regular season game with Chicago along with Altybarmakian, Alec Regula, Kurtis Gabriel and Soderblom. Texas has been off since April 26, but both teams should be rested and ready Wednesday night.

 

Schedule

Game One is set to begin on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., as will Game Two on Friday. If necessary, Game Three will start at 6:00 p.m.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the Calder Cup Playoffs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs this weekend, capping off a 2-2 week of action. The piglets knocked off the top two teams in the Central Division (Chicago and Manitoba), and also dropped decisions to the worst two teams (Grand Rapids and Iowa).

Rockford is in fourth place in the division standings, with an outside shot at overtaking Milwaukee for third place. The Hogs will need to win their last three games-at Iowa and Milwaukee on Wednesday and Friday, then the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday night.

A fourth-place finish will result in a play-in series with the division’s fifth seed; that looks like the Texas Stars at this point. Winning the play-in sets up a best-of-five series with Chicago. Gaining third-place puts Rockford in an opening round series with the Moose.

The IceHogs have defeated the Wolves eight times in eleven meetings this season, including Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Rosemont. The season series with Manitoba is 5-3 in favor of Rockford, who beat the Moose 5-3 to punch its ticket to the postseason Saturday.

In this last week of regular-season action, the piglets will look to stay healthy and finish strong. It’s been a pretty successful campaign for Rockford. With some good fortune, this club could get some extended development time in May.

 

Roster News

The key development for Rockford is the loss of veteran forward Brett Connolly with a left knee injury. The team announced Saturday that Connolly will be out four to six weeks. It’s unlikely we see him in action with the Hogs again this season.

D.J. Busdeker is nursing a sore shoulder but could possibly return for the playoffs. However, it’s Connolly’s leadership and offensive punch (17 G, 18 A) that is going to be tough to replace.

With his last appearance being in Manitoba April 16, Rockford is 3-2 without Connolly. The IceHogs have managed to score without his presence, which will have to continue over the next couple of weeks.

 

Notes

  • Lukas Reichel added four assists to his team leading point total. He now owns the IceHogs rookie scoring mark with 53 points, besting Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51-point effort in the 2016-17 season.
  • Andrei Altybarmakian extended his goal streak to five games in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Iowa. He now has 10 goals and 30 points in 63 games this season.
  • Mike Hardman had four goals this week; one of his two goals against the Wolves was the game-winner in the final minute of regulation. Hardman 19 goals is second on the team behind Reichel’s 21. He will be counted on to provide offense in lieu of Connolly.
  • Arvid Soderblom continues to be the team’s workhorse in goal, having started ten of Rockford’s last twelve games. Cale Morris turned in a solid performance in the win over Chicago Wednesday, but it would appear that Soderblom will anchor the Hogs in the postseason.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for more thoughts on the IceHogs playoff prospects as the regular season winds down.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs got the first half of a four-game road trip off to a great start over the weekend. The IceHogs continued their push to the Calder Cup Playoffs with a pair of wins over the Tucson Roadrunners.

In doing so, Rockford (30-24-4-1) tightened its hold on the fourth-place spot in the AHL’s Central Division. The IceHogs have won seven of their last ten games as the action moves further West to Henderson to complete the road jaunt.

Rockford opened the weekend with an overtime victory Friday night. The IceHogs rallied from a two-goal deficit in the first five minutes to take a 3-2 lead by the second intermission. Former Hogs skater Terry Broadhurst tied the game for the Roadrunners late in regulation, but Rockford won the game 23 seconds into extra skating when Dylan McLaughlin scored.

The IceHogs also fell behind Saturday before prevailing 6-3. Rockford took the lead in a back-and-forth contest with a shorthanded strike by D.J. Busdeker late in the middle frame.  Lukas Reichel put the game away with his 21st goal of the season early in the third period.

 

The Playoff Hunt

On Tuesday, the Hogs hosted Milwaukee with a chance to overtake the Admirals for third place in the division. That failed to materialize in the face of a 5-3 loss, but Rockford could avoid a play-in series by overtaking Milwaukee.

The Texas Stars have won five straight and are a few games behind the IceHogs. At this point, Rockford and the Stars would play a best-of-three series to decide who gets to take on the Chicago Wolves.

 

Fights Piling Up

After several seasons of seeing its fight totals dropping, Rockford is currently tied for fourth with 32 fighting majors this season. With Tucson at the top of the league with 43 fighting majors, it should come as no surprise that some gloves hit the ice over the weekend.

Friday night, Kurtis Gabriel squared off with the Roadrunners Bokondji Imama a few minutes into the contest. It was Imama’s tenth fighting major of the season, earning an automatic one-game suspension from the AHL. Gabriel, with nine fighting majors this season (seven coming with the IceHogs), will be suspended following his next scrap.

On Saturday, Carson Gicewicz objected to a hit Ty Emberson laid on Cameron Morrison and took the Tucson defenseman for a spin around the dance floor. It was Gicewicz’s second scrap of the season; he also was tagged with an instigating minor and a game misconduct for his actions.

In all, 12 different Hogs have at least one fighting major. The bulk have been earned by Gabriel, Garrett Mitchell and Dimitri Osipov. The latter two each have six fighting majors to go with the aforementioned seven by Gabriel.

This will be the IceHogs highest total in this category since racking up 39 FMs in the 2016-17 campaign.

 

Pertinent Thoughts

  • Brett Connolly, who left early in a March 29 loss to Milwaukee, made the trip and had a big impact in both games. After setting up McLaughlin for the game-winner Friday, Connolly picked up a goal and two assists the following evening. He currently has the league’s longest-running point streak at nine games.
  • Josiah Slavin returned to the lineup Friday after missing two games. Like Connolly, Slavin also had a four-point weekend. He had a goal and two helpers Friday before assisting on Busdeker’s game-winner on Saturday.
  • Arvid Soderblom manned the pipes in both games for the IceHogs. Cale Morris returned from a hip injury to serve as the backup. This comes after Rockford recalled Tom Aubrun from the Indy Fuel and released Mitch Gillam from his PTO on Tuesday. I’d guess that Soderblom gets the net in at least nine of Rockford’s last 13 games.
  • Also returning to Rockford’s ECHL affiliate on Tuesday were forwards Riley McKay and Chad Yetman, along with defenseman Cliff Watson. Several IceHogs have returned from injury this past week, including McLaughlin (concussion), Garrett Mitchell (back) and Michal Teply (shoulder).
  • Mitchell celebrated his 500th AHL game with the Hogs first goal on Saturday. Rockford’s captain has six goals and six assists on the season.
  • Defenseman Ryan Stanton set a franchise mark for defenseman by playing in his 267th game with Rockford on Friday night, assisting on Ian Mitchell’s second-period goal. Stanton, who has two goals and assists in 44 games with the IceHogs this season, played both games this weekend.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs traveled to Manitoba for the first two games of a five-game road trip last week. For the piglets, March came in like a Moose.

A Moose that outscored Rockford 12-5 in two games.

Manitoba won both games, a 7-2 shellacking Thursday night and a 5-3 come-from-behind triumph on Saturday afternoon. The IceHogs fell to sixth place in the AHL’s Central Division, having lost their last three games.

The IceHogs were able to skate with Manitoba early in both contests. However, Rockford had no answer for the Moose as the games progressed. Manitoba broke open a 2-2 game on Thursday with five unanswered goals. On Saturday, the Moose rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the second period before pulling away with a pair of third-period strikes.

Rockford’s penalty kill has been top-notch of late but surrendered key goals in both defeats. Manitoba potted three goals in five chances on the man advantage.

Two power-play goals in the space of five minutes in the first and second periods paved the way for the Moose on Thursday. Saturday afternoon saw Manitoba capitalizing on Hogs goalie Arvid Soderblom losing his stick in a collision with teammate Ryan Stanton. David Gustafsson sent a shot over Soderblom’s blocker, starting a sequence of four Moose goals over the next five minutes of game action.

 

Weekend Thoughts

  • Rockford was outshot in both games. Collin Delia faced 46 shots on Thursday; Manitoba outshot the Hogs 17-5 in the third period. Rockford was outshot 23-11 in the first two periods with Soderblom in net on Saturday.
  • The IceHogs sent 17 shots toward Moose goalie Mikhail Berdin, who stopped them all to pick up the win. Berdin was in net for Manitoba in both games.
  • Manitoba’s Greg Meireles had a four-point weekend, with a goal and three helpers.
  • Saturday’s defeat was tougher to stomach, in that the IceHogs led 2-0 and then 3-1 in the first two periods of the game. Rockford was really prone to giving up goals in bunches over the weekend.
  • The IceHogs placed forward Chad Yetman into the concussion protocol Friday. He joins Dylan McLaughlin, who has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion on February 20.
  • Rockford forward Mike Hardman picked up his twelfth goal of the season on Thursday. An assist in Saturday’s loss has Hardman on a four-game point streak.
  • Defenseman Alec Regula was reassigned to Rockford by the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday. Regula skated in both games in Manitoba.

Next Up

The IceHogs have a couple of days to stew about their three-game losing streak. Rockford is next in action Friday night when the Hogs visit Milwaukee. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST.

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

Hockey

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

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

 

Thoughts On The Weekend

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

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

Hockey

The NHL will be eliminating the taxi squad following this weekend. For goalie Cale Morris, it was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the taxi squad garnered him an NHL entry contract. However, it came at a price.

The effects of spending nearly two months removed from game action were on full display Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Morris struggled mightily in a 4-2 loss to the Iowa Wild.

Hard to blame a guy who got his last start seven weeks before.

Rockford was finishing up a home-and-home weekend with Iowa on Saturday. Arvid Soderblom, who has been fantastic of late, had started the piglets last four contests, including a 4-2 victory in DesMoines Friday night. The organization must have felt it an opportune time to get their latest goalie prospect some time between the pipes.

To the surprise of no one, there was significant rust that needed shaking off.

Morris gave up four goals of varying softness on a night where the IceHogs out shot Iowa 35-22. Rockford controlled a large portion of the action Saturday but found themselves in a deep hole through 40 minutes.

A rebound left in front of Kyle Rau at the right post opened the scoring for the Wild 14:30 into the first period. Rockford continued to create scoring chances and was still in the game at the midway point. That’s when the bottom dropped out.

Marco Rossi entered the Rockford zone with Hogs defenseman Ian Mitchell defending him. Rossi’s perimeter shot beat Morris to the twine for a 2-0 Iowa advantage 11:38 into the second period. Morris let a puck tumble out of his glove to give Mason Shaw a power play goal at the 16:27 mark, then was victimized by a ill-timed Hogs turnover a minute later. Mitchell Chaffee converted on his wide-open look from the slot and Rockford’s fate was cast.

Morris did prevent a fifth Iowa goal in the third period, aided by facing just four Wild shots and spending the last five minutes on the bench while Rockford attempted a comeback with an extra skater.

Morris was excellent in his previous start with the IceHogs, a 2-1 victory over Henderson on December 11. The former Notre Dame goalie then returned to the Indy Fuel, where he had spent most of the 2021-22 season, for a pair of wins before the Blackhawks needed a goalie in the face of COVID. Morris was signed to a one-year entry deal on December 31 and was added to the taxi squad.

Being idle for the sake of filling a roster spot is not ideal for a goalie. Ask Collin Delia, who spent a good portion of last season twiddling his thumbs. Rockford faced veteran Andrew Hammond, who had sported a 2.01 GAA in nine starts before joining Minnesota’s taxi squad. Friday was his return to action after a month of watching and waiting. He gave up four goals to Rockford on 23 shots.

If I understand correctly, Morris would need to okay an assignment back to Indy as a player on an NHL contract. When Kevin Lankinen returns to Chicago from his hand injury, that may be the only way Morris gets the work in net he needs.

 

Weekend Musings

  • Friday and Saturday’s games were nearly mirror images of each other. Rockford built a four goal lead Friday, then weathered a big pushback effort from the Wild. The next night, the piglets were on the other side of the situation.
  • Since returning to action for Rockford on January 14, Arvid Soderblom has a 1.96 goals against average and a .967 save percentage while going 4-2-1. In his last five starts, he is sporting a 1.35 GAA and a .953 save percentage.
  • Rockford’s top scorers, Lukas Reichel (13 G, 16 A) and Dylan McLaughlin (6 G, 15 A), both had multi-point weekends. Reichel had a goal and an assist in Friday’s win and a beauty of an assist to Alec Regula in Saturday’s setback. McLaughlin had helpers in both games.
  • Ian Mitchell (5 G, 10 A) had his first two-goal performance as a pro with a pair of power play tallies Friday. Besides Reichel, the Hogs also got Evan Barratt’s first goal since his two-goal performance on December 1.
  • You know who played some decent hockey this weekend? Dimitri Osipov, who skated on a physical forward line with Garrett Mitchell and Kurtis Gabriel. He dished out some big hits as well as a sweet pass from the half boards to Reichel in the third period. The defenseman turned forward was noticeable in good ways in both games.
  • Rockford really needs some goal-scoring in the lineup. Perhaps the Blackhawks acquire some AHL depth as a trade throw-in down the road.
  • The Hogs have another home-and-home this weekend. This time, it’s with the Chicago Wolves. Rockford hosts Chicago Friday and visits Rosemont Saturday.

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