Hockey

The 2022-23 season ended for the Rockford IceHogs Wednesday night in Cedar Park. The playoffs concluded for Rockford with a 4-2 loss to Texas, giving the Stars a three-game sweep of the Hogs in the Central Division semis.

The IceHogs finish in a similar fashion to last season, when they won a play-in series before being blown out by the eventual AHL Calder Cup champs, the Chicago Wolves. If that’s the case, why do things feel less than satisfying following Rockford’s exit two days ago?

You can start with one word-expectations.

The Blackhawks organization offered some big talk last spring and summer. They backed that up in free agency, building a roster that was designed to compete for a deep playoff run. This, in turn, would provide valuable development time for the organization’s prospects.

The IceHogs prospects did get some playoff experience. However, Rockford lasted no longer than the five games last spring’s scrappers managed in 2022. On paper, this doesn’t seem possible. The veteran firepower collected in the offseason should have been able to win more regularly, secure a higher seed, and reach the division final (or at least extend an opponent past the play-in stage). What happened? Who is to blame for falling short of those expectations?

It’s a long story, with the potential for varied conclusions. Since this is my choose-your-own-analysis, I will cast my first glance toward the crease. If any one decision had the potential to hold the Hogs back this season, it was the way the organization set up the mix at goalie.

The rest of the Hogs AHL roster was heavily reinforced with experienced, veteran talent that could fill in at the NHL level if need be. In contrast, the Blackhawks went into October relying on a tandem of Arvid Soderblom and Jaxson Stauber in goal. That would have been fine, provided the two spent the bulk of the season with the IceHogs. However, that was not to be the case.

Not signing a veteran netminder to float between Rockford and Chicago proved costly nearly from day one. Soderblom was pressed into service with the Hawks after just two starts for the IceHogs. He didn’t return to Rockford until December 18, after being lit up in Chicago for two months. Soderblom struggled to regain confidence in two return starts, suffered a groin injury, and didn’t really get his AHL season in gear until late January.

Nothing’s for sure, of course, but if Soderblom had remained in Rockford, he would have likely picked up 45-50 starts befitting his role of primary starter (and likely the organization’s plan). I would imagine his numbers would have been similar to or better than his 2021-22 totals (38 games, 21-15-2-2, 2.76 GAA, .919 save percentage) than to his more pedestrian stats (33 games, 15-12-5, 2.92, .905) this season.

Once Soderblom settled into Rockford and piled up the starts, he began to resemble the goalie he was in his rookie season. Beginning on January 20, after he returned from the injury, he started 28 of the Hogs final 35 games, posting a 14-9-5 mark with a 2.66 GAA and a .911 save percentage.

Rockford got some credible production in November and December from their two AHL contracts, Dylan Wells and Mitchell Weeks. The offensive explosion came in handy in that span as the IceHogs climbed up the Central Division standings. In particular, a strong December by Wells (4-0-1, 1.95, .928) pushed Rockford into contention with Texas for the top spot in the division.

Stauber had his ups and downs this season. He was out a couple of weeks with an injury in November and spent two months with the Hawks, going 5-1 in January and February before finishing the season with just five more appearances in Rockford in the last six weeks of action. His AHL time showed flashes but Stauber never really got a steady stretch of game action to work toward any consistency. His Rockford numbers: a 6-8 record, a 3.32 GAA and an .894 save percentage.

There were many times this fall and winter when I pointed out that the Hogs would go as far as their goaltending could take them. What would a dozen additional starts from Soderblom have done to Rockford’s point total? Injuries happen, but it’s fair to believe Soderblom and the IceHogs would have been better off had he remained in Rockford in the first half of the season.

By the time Soderblom played his way back into form, the offense that was the IceHogs calling card in the first three months dropped way off. Shuffling pieces of the roster at the trade deadline didn’t prove to be a springboard to success. Key pieces of the lineup were recalled to Chicago, leaving a thin roster for about six weeks until some of the top scorers returned. These things happen in the AHL; at some point, control isn’t an option.

What could have been handled better was hedging bets on two injury-prone goalies in Chicago. Soderblom did not return to the Blackhawks following his return; the organization elected to recall Stauber was recalled in January, which allowed Soderblom to pile up the starts. Anton Khudobin, obtained at the trade deadline, would have been the perfect solution for Chicago (albeit a pricy one) to keep its two prospects toiling in Rockford.

Looking ahead, it would appear that Soderblom will be re-singed and continue his development in Chicago next season. The early forecast on the Hogs tandem would seem to suggest Drew Commesso and Stauber will be the approach.

Weeks will be back for the second year of his AHL deal. He was excellent (15-5-1, 2.35 GAA, .916 save percentage) for the Indy Fuel in addition to solid numbers in 12 appearances in Rockford (5-2-3, 2.72, .906), so he should provide quality play in a pinch. Still, a veteran goalie on a two-way deal would be a welcome addition come July.

The forward bunch had a lot to do with Rockford’s fortunes this season, both good and bad. I will take a more detailed look at the Hogs skaters, along with the trade deadline moves that factored into the final results, in the coming weeks.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the spring and into the offseason.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs dug themselves a mighty big hole at the BMO Center this weekend. With two chances to grab some momentum in their Central Division Semifinal series with Texas, the Hogs  whiffed against the division’s top club. Texas returns home with a 2-0 series advantage on the strength of a superior transition game and a knack for capitalizing on IceHogs mistakes.

Game 3 is Wednesday night in Cedar Park. Rockford must win three in a row on the road to stay in the playoffs. To do that, the Hogs will need to start making passes with purpose, as opposed to sending pucks into the ether.

Friday’s 5-3 loss was pivotal, as it was a game well within reach of the piglets. Rockford let two leads slip away through sloppy passing and overzealousness.

The Stars took a 1-0 lead on a Rhett Gardner tally 12:34 into the contest. Lukas Reichel dropped a pass to no one in the neutral zone, leading to a Texas rush to the net. Rockford then built a 2-1 advantage on a power-play goal by Joey Anderson in the final seconds of the first period, followed by a D.J. Busdeker goal 1:16 into the second.

Texas was able to use a misplay by Rockford goalie Arvid Soderblom behind his own net in the second period to erase the deficit. Marian Studenic did the honors 14:33 into the middle frame. After the IceHogs took a 3-2 advantage early in the third on Bobby Lynch’s put-back, the Stars got the equalizer from Scott Reedy on the power play after a Mike Hardman elbowing penalty.

The game-winner was a direct result of a blind spinning pass from the stick of Reichel, who is still looking for his first point of the playoffs. Stars defenseman Alex Petrovic hauled in the puck in the high slot to start the rush the other way. Mavrik Bourque skated the puck to the left circle before finding Nicholas Caamano, who had snuck behind Issak Phillips, for a tap-in with less than four minutes remaining in the third period. Studenic found the empty net late for his second goal of the night.

On Sunday, the big guns came out to play for the Stars. Curtis McKenzie and Riley Barber gave Texas a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. Anderson got the Hogs on the board early in the third, but that’s as close as things got. Barber got his second of the evening 16:32 into the third, with Tanner Kero adding an empty-netter in the final minute.

Thoughts

  • There was no need for Hartman to finish a check as far behind the play as he was. Same for Reichel just forcing pucks into areas with nary a teammate in sight.  Rockford can not afford to make mistakes like these against the best offensive team in the league. Texas can and did make the Hogs pay for those mistakes Friday night.
  • Soderblom played pretty well for most of the first two games. Before coughing up the puck in the second period Friday, he prevented at least two pucks from finding the net. Sunday was another good, but not great, type of performance. Matthew Murray was the better goalie in both games.
  • Several times during Friday’s game, fans were warned not to throw objects onto the ice. Midway through the third period, a puck was tossed over the glass, initially resulting in a delay of game call against Rockford. It turned out that a Texas fan had committed the transgression, so the penalty was rescinded and the fan was removed from the game.
  • The IceHogs played a smarter game on Sunday, but just couldn’t get a puck past Murray at several key moments. This included hitting a post on a second-period power-play chance.
  • Jalen Luypen, who was signed to an entry contract by the Hawks last fall, made his AHL debut on Friday and also played in Sunday’s tilt. Centering the fourth line, he certainly did not look out of place for Rockford.

Wednesday’s Game 3 is set to start at Cedar Park’s H.E.B. Center at 7:00 p.m. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have advanced to the Central Division Semifinals for the second year in a row. It’s a familiar tale-the piglets sweep their play-in opponents and are rewarded with the division’s top club in a best-of-five series.

Last season, the Hogs swept Texas before being swept themselves by the Chicago Wolves. This season, Rockford won two straight overtime decisions against Iowa in the play-in series. The team awaiting them? The Stars, who finished the regular season by winning five of their last seven games for the Central Division title.

How did the IceHogs get into this position? To recap:

  • In Game One Wednesday, a pretty healthy (for a weeknight) crowd was on hand at the BMO Center to watch a back-and-forth affair that came to a halt when Rocco Grimaldi forced a turnover in the Wild zone. After knocking down Nic Petan’s attempt to clear the puck, Grimaldi streaked to the right dot and sent the game-winner past Iowa goalie Jesper Wallstedt 3:59 into overtime.
  • The Hogs lost a 2-1 lead early in the third period of Friday’s Game Two in DesMoines. Rockford fell behind 3-2 but tied the game on a Michal Teply put-back midway through the final frame. Arvid Soderblom made a key stop on Steven Fogarty’s point-blank shot from the left post 30 seconds into overtime. A minute later, Grimaldi skated a puck behind the net and tried to find Lukas Reichel out front. The pass did not connect, but Alex Vlasic hauled it in at the top of the left circle, skated to the half boards, and threw a shot on goal that Buddy Robinson was able to redirect past Wallstedt. Rockford knocked Iowa out of the series with the 4-3 triumph.
  • The following day, the Wild announced that they were moving on from a good portion of their AHL coaching staff, including head coach Tim Army. (I’m not sure that is a direct consequence of the IceHogs sweep, but I’m mentioning it all the same.)

Rockford’s additional depth certainly helped get over the hump against the Wild, especially in Game Two. The bottom six were active at both ends of the ice, something that will have to happen consistently against Texas when the division semis begin. That will be on Friday at the BMO, where the IceHogs play host for the opening game of the series.

Last spring, I believed that the piglets matched up well with the Wolves and might have a chance to surprise them. Wrong; Chicago shifted into another gear and completely overwhelmed a young Rockford team on the way to the Calder Cup. Sure, Texas was the class of the division this season. However, I again believe that the Hogs can present a stiff challenge for the Stars.

At the BMO Center back on January 3, Rockford beat Texas (who was also in first place at the time) 4-3 in overtime. The IceHogs roster was still as it was for much of the season’s first three months. In eight meetings with the Stars in the regular season, Rockford was 5-3. It’s safe to say that Texas is more than capable of ramping up its game for the playoffs. As opposed to last spring, I feel like the IceHogs are equally capable of raising their game a level.

Rockford carries more experience into this series than it did against the Wolves. Several prospects like Soderblom, Teply, Lukas Reichel, Issak Phillips, Jakub Galvas, and Mike Hardman were part of last season’s playoff team. Add in high-scoring playoff veterans like David Gust, Rocco Grimaldi, and Luke Philp, and there is plenty of postseason experience on hand.

This is not to say that the Stars don’t know their way around a playoff game. Long-time Texas captain Curtis McKenzie has several long postseason runs, including a Calder Cup with the Stars back in 2014. McKenzie has been around the AHL for a dozen years, but is still a dangerous scorer who had 22 goals and 32 helpers this season.

Veteran Riley Barber (32 G, 32 A) led Texas in scoring and had eight game-winning goals for the Stars. The Hogs will also have to contend with former Rockford forward Tanner Kero (17 G, 33 A), Marian Studenic (21 G, 27 A), and rookies Mavrik Bourque (20 G, 27 A) and Matej Blumel (19 G, 25 A).

Anchoring Texas in net is Matthew Murray, who finishes up his first full AHL season with a record of 18-10-5 to go with a 2.37 GAA and a .911 save percentage. One of the leagues best goalies, Murray has not been good in three prior matchups with the Hogs this season. In those games, he is 0-2-1 with a 5.09 GAA and an .849 save percentage. He was a tough man to get a puck past in last spring’s playoff sweep of Texas, in which he played both games.

As poorly as Murray was against Rockford this season, Soderblom was even worse against the Stars. He gave up four goals in a loss to Texas on February 22. In the other start, Soderblom’s first after a couple of months with the Blackhawks, ended midway through the second period after he surrendered five goals on 12 shots.

Murray’s play earns Texas the edge in goal heading into the series. However, Soderblom turned in solid performances against the Wild and is carrying a 2.13 GAA and a .925 save percentage over his last eight games dating back to March 31. Soderblom was a couple of saves better than Jesper Wallstedt last week. If he can match Murray this weekend, Rockford has a chance to pick up one or both of the first two games.

The Hogs are smack dab in the middle of exactly what the organization wanted from it’s AHL affiliate; meaningful spring hockey games. How many additional games Rockford gets factors on if it can hold its own in the crease and control what promises to be a track meet in terms of pace.

The AHL’s travel policy affords the IceHogs a chance to get the most out of their two home dates. Grabbing a Game One win on Friday is the obvious course of action; it would be nice to see Rockford extend the Stars at the very least.

Follow me @JonFromi for the occasional thought and game update throughout the playoffs.

 

Hockey

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

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

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

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

 

Those Flyin’ Piglets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Look At The Wild

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s The Bottom Line?

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

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

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

 

Series Schedule

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

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

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

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are inching closer to the end of their regular season. Will that season continue following the April 16 finale in Milwaukee? Maybe. Probably. The piglets playoff picture continues to develop with just nine games remaining. Here we go…

The IceHogs entered this week seven points behind Manitoba for the third-seed in the Central Division. Following two games at Canada Life Centre, Rockford is eight points behind. The Hogs defeated the Moose 4-3 in a shootout Wednesday on the only attempt that reached twine, that of Rocco Grimaldi’s shot in round two.

This came after Manitoba tied the game with ten seconds remaining in regulation. Picking up two points was key to catching the Moose in the Central Division standings; letting Manitoba slip away with a point was considerably poor form. Two of Manitoba’s three goals came via two-man advantages. Arvid Soderblom stopped 43 shots and denied three shootout attempts for a hard-earn victory.

Friday, Manitoba cruised to a 5-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of action. Soderblom was pulled in favor of Jaxson Stauber after four first-period goals by the Moose. Manitoba claimed a 6-2 win that pretty much ended hopes of Rockford vaulting into a top-three finish in the division.

 

Where Does This Leave The Hogs?

Rockford (30-24-5-4) currently sits in fifth place in the Central with nine games remaining on its regular-season slate. With 69 points, the Hogs trail fourth-place Iowa (72 points) and have two games in hand on the Wild.

Grand Rapids (eight games left) and Chicago (ten games left) sit in the division basement with 61 points entering play this week. The Griffins and Wolves play each other twice the rest of the way. Each also has two games remaining with Rockford. After the Hogs host Laval this Friday, they will finish a three-in-three weekend in Rosemont on Saturday and at the BMO Sunday when Grand Rapids visits.

The IceHogs won’t be winning any tie-breaking scenarios, as Rockford has just 15 regulation wins this season. Twelve points in the final nine games would force Chicago to run the table to tie Rockford. 81 points sounds like a relatively safe finish for the piglets; it may or may not overtake the Wild, but Rockford is looking at a best-of-three play-in series with Iowa whether it finishes fourth or fifth in the Central.

Could the IceHogs catch fire and reel off 6-7 wins to close out the regular season? Perhaps. Let’s go back and find the last nine-game stretch where RFD won six games.

That would be Dec. 21-Jan. 13, where the piglets went 6-2-1. Immediately after that nine-game run, RFD lost seven straight. The best the IceHogs have managed since was a 5-2-0-2 mark from Jan. 31-Feb. 22.

To summarize, Rockford could play its best hockey of the last three months to lock up a spot in the post season. Just winning the remaining four games with Grand Rapids and Chicago in regulation probably does it as well. Finishing with 79 points, or ten points in these last nine games, is likely good enough to qualify. The IceHogs certainly have control of their playoff destiny at the moment.

 

How’s The Roster?

Rockford is slowly re-gaining some depth up front. The Blackhawks reassigned F Buddy Robinson to the Hogs on Sunday. Another player or two could possibly follow to help Rockford before hitting the BMO ice against Laval Friday. At the moment, the IceHogs have been competitive largely on the strength of Grimaldi, Luke Philp, and David Gust, who accounted for four of Rockford’s five goals this past weekend (The fifth belonged to D Issak Phillips).

Getting Robinson back is another step towards what could be a deep, formidable playoff roster. Lukas Reichel, Joey Anderson, and Mike Hardman are playoff-eligible and would provide a boost to close out the regular season. The IceHogs could also pick up a PTO or an ATO that could chip in as the regular season winds down.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my musings as Rockford finishes the stretch run over the next couple of weeks.

Hockey

As the Rockford IceHogs prepare to start the process of locking down a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it’s probably a good time to focus on the way the roster was reshaped over the past week. In case you missed it, the Blackhawks made a couple of trades.

This flurry of transactions was a two-prong effort between Chicago and Rockford. As was the case around the league, moves were made involving what amounted to swaps of AHL and NHL contracts. The get-around was using “future considerations”. This fleshed out what seemed to be one-sided trades at the NHL level with reciprocal AHL deals that got the players where everyone wanted them to go.

If you want to sort out all the moves, be my guest. I’m more concerned with the pieces that departed and arrived in Rockford when the trade deadline occurred. Here’s how things currently stand.

Out

NHL Contracts

G Dylan Wells-to Dallas

D Cooper Zech-to Rangers

AHL Contracts

D Adam Clendening-to Hartford

F Carson Gicewicz-to Rochester

In

NHL Contracts

D Andrew Welinski-from Rangers

F Pavel Gogolev-from Toronto

F Maxim Golod-from Anaheim (Hawks assigned Golod to the Indy Fuel)

G Anton Khudobin-from Dallas

AHL Contracts

F Rocco Grimaldi-from San Diego

F Logan Nijhoff-from San Diego (Hogs assigned Nijhoff to the Indy Fuel)

F Zach Jordan-from Hartford (Hogs assigned Jordan to the Indy Fuel)

F Colin Bilek-from Mantitoba (Hogs assigned Bilek to the Indy Fuel)

 

In Addition…

The Blackhawks assigned David Gust, Brett Seney, Issak Phillips, Lukas Reichel, and Joey Anderson (newly acquired from Toronto) to the IceHogs. Reichel and Anderson were paper moves that were pulled back to Chicago following the trade deadline, but both players are eligible to participate in the postseason for Rockford.

So…how did the Hogs make out?

Surprisingly well. Grimaldi is the type of player BMO fans should salivate over; a veteran AHL sniper who has produced in AHL stops in San Antonio, Portland, and Milwaukee. In San Diego this season, the 30-year-old Grimaldi had 27 goals and 29 helpers in 54 games.

Gogolev was responsible for Rockford’s only regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout win in Laval Saturday night, tipping in a shot by Welinski (4 G, 12 A in 40 games with Hartford).

Khudobin sure would have come in handy earlier this season. There was a need for a veteran goalie who could have played the role Arvid Soderblom was cast in due to injuries. With Soderblom now set to receive the bulk of the starts down the stretch and Jaxson Stauber playing well in a Hogs loss in Belleville Friday, the 36-year-old veteran still provides experienced insurance for Rockford.

As a result of the bevy of moves, the Hogs found themselves a little undermanned this past week. Rockford battled but lost 5-3 in Toronto on Wednesday and 4-1 Belleville on Friday before defeating the Rocket Saturday.

Seney and forward D.J. Busdeker left Friday’s contest with injuries. Busdeker returned for the third period. The following night, both players sat out, forcing the Hogs to play two defensemen, Nolan Valleau and Koletrane Wilson, at forward.

I would imaging that Gust, who was with his expecting wife, and Grimaldi will be in the lineup for Rockford this coming weekend, when the IceHogs finish their five-game road trip in Grand Rapids Friday and in Rosemont on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they look to maintain and improve upon their playoff position.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs extended its point-streak to six games this weekend despite falling short in two games with Milwaukee. The piglets dropped shootout decisions on Friday and Saturday, including a 15-round marathon of penalty shots at the BMO Center on Saturday night.

The IceHogs exited the weekend in third place in the Central Division. However, fourth-place Manitoba is a point behind with three games in hand. Some regulation victories would be nice for Rockford to attempt to catch up with the second-place Admirals, who have beaten the Hogs in five of their seven meetings.

Saturday’s loss was Rockford’s sixth consecutive tilt that broke the chains of regulation skating. In fact, no team in the AHL can match the IceHogs propensity for giving fans extra hockey this season. In eighteen of Rockford’s 47 games, the Hogs have needed overtime or a shootout to decide a winner. They are 10-8 in those contests; Rockford is 6-4 in overtime decisions and 4-4 in the shootout.

Arvid Soderblom found himself on the short end of two showdowns with Milwaukee rookie Yaroslav Askarov. Askarov blanked Rockford in Friday’s shootout; the Ads prevailed on successful attempts by Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino. Soderblom stopped 31 shots but lost 2-1 as his counterpart made 44 saves in regulation and overtime.

On Saturday, Soderblom turned in another decent performance but found himself outplayed by Askarov. Rockford finished overtime with a 4-on-3 power play and peppered the Admirals goalie with seven shots in the extra session. Askarov held firm.

Michal Teply gave the Hogs a goal in round one of the shootout. Tomasino evened it up in the second round. In round five, Cole Guttman, who had a first-period goal to go with the lone Rockford goal on Friday, slipped a puck past Askarov. Kiefer Sherwood responded to keep things even. Each goalie would deny the next 18 shooters as the BMO faithful saw their chance to pick up Arby’s on the way home dwindle and die.

(Note: the “BMO faithful” in question was me. Arby’s closes at ten, even on Saturday nights.)

The end came when Alex Vlasic missed his attempt, followed by Soderblom surrendering the twine to Keaton Thompson. Rockford led three times in regulation on goals by Issak Phillips, Guttman, and Mike Hardman. The best the piglets could do, alas, was collect a standings point in a 4-3 loss.

 

Geez…How Do You Beat These Admirals?

For the IceHogs, it would include the following:

  • Keep Milwaukee from planting their big forwards in front of the Rockford crease.
  • Take advantage of penalties. Rockford was 1-12 on the power play this weekend. The Hogs had two full minutes of power play time to start Friday’s overtime and finished the last 1:51 of Saturday’s overtime up a man. No excuse for failing to win at least one of those games.
  • Hope the Ads start Devin Cooley in net. Askarov is 5-0-1 against Rockford this season.

 

Roster Moves

On Monday, D Cliff Watson was recalled to the Hogs from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Watson did not skate in either game this weekend.

 

On The Horizon

The piglets do not have consecutive games at home or on the road for the rest of February. This week, Rockford travels to Grand Rapids Wednesday, comes back to the BMO Friday night for a showdown with Texas, then hoof it over to DesMoines for a Sunday matinee with Iowa.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs turned things around this past week. It took nearly the maximum of extra time, but the piglets got it done.

As the AHL goes on a short All-Star break, the Hogs snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout besting of Manitoba. Rockford then started what is now a three-game winning streak after a sweep of Iowa at the BMO this weekend.

Both games against the Wild took a similar path. The IceHogs fell behind early, trailed by a goal after two periods, found an equalizer to force Gus Macker Time, and rode marvelous play in net by Arvid Soderblom in the extra sessions to prevail by identical 3-2 scores.

Soderblom claimed the win in all three games this week, posting a 1.86 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. He faced and stopped six shootout attempts Tuesday and Friday; Soderblom’s encore was a sprawling glove save in the opening seconds of overtime, robbing Iowa’s Marco Rossi of a game-winning goal.

The Rockford offense has fallen off from the first three months of the season. The Hogs are still tenth in the league at 3.24 goals per game, but they have been in a number of tight games for the last couple of weeks. Five of Rockford’s last six games have gone past regulation. Soderblom has been the starter in goal for each of them.

For the first time this year, the IceHogs have been able to give Soderblom the workload I expected he’d get when the season began. He’s either been up in Chicago or injured; once Soderblom returned from a groin injury on January 20, he started seven of Rockford’s next eight games.

The organization allowed him some clinkers. This included giving up seven goals to Springfield in that first game back and five more before being pulled after two periods in Milwaukee on January 27. Sticking with Soderblom has paid off for sure.

The Blackhawks recalled Jaxson Stauber on Sunday ahead of Chicago next game on Tuesday. Stauber was impressive in his two prior starts in the NHL, though Soderblom would seem to be in the Hawks most immediate plans for the future. For now, it appears that they will leave him in Rockford to build on this past week’s performance.

 

Thoughts While The Goulash Simmers

  • The Hogs power play was 0-12 for the week before Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A) tipped in an Adam Clendening (3 G, 19 A) point blast midway through the third period Saturday night. All that did was tie the game. Rockford is currently at 18.1 percent efficiency when on the man advantage.
  • Rockford is near the bottom of the AHL in shorthanded goals, while giving up a league-leading ten. However, Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) came up with the Hogs third shorty of the year, keeping them in Saturday’s game with Iowa.
  • The IceHogs have two point-per-game players on the roster, Seney (44 points in 43 games), and David Gust (45 points in 45 games). Lukas Reichel (15 G, 26 A), who tied Friday’s game with an impressive drive to the net in the third period, and Luke Philp (14 G, 17 A) are right there as well.
  • Reichel’s equalizer on Friday was impressive in that he had options to pass but chose to take the shot. Reichel had Dylan Sikura with him on the rush and Filip Roos trailing the play. However, Reichel was locked and loaded, going far-side on Wild goalie Drew McIntyre.
  • Forward Bobby Lynch made a rare 3-on-3 appearance and wound up potting the game-winner with just 15 seconds left in overtime. Lynch (4 G, 5 A in 39 games) has been a hard worker for Rockford and it was fun to see him get rewarded when Cole Guttman found him in the slot.
  • Hogs coach Anders Sorensen singled out his bottom six after Friday’s win. With captain Garret Mitchell out for the season, players like Lynch, Josiah Slavin, Mike Hardman, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, and Kale Howarth should continue to add a touch of grit to the mix.
  • Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) did not play in any of the three games this week. Since recording a goal and a helper against Hartford on December 17, Teply is sans points in his last 11 games.

 

Working For The Weekend

Rockford is back to the grind on Friday, with a home-and-home series with Milwaukee begins at UW-Panther Arena. The series comes to the BMO Center on Saturday.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs hit the road this past week, badly in need of a win to break what was a season-long losing streak. They didn’t get it.

The piglets dropped three games, picking up points in two of them, but now have the AHL’s longest current stretch of futility at seven. As is the case in such things, the Hogs are seemingly finding different ways to lose every night.

Rockford rallied late in Iowa Tuesday, tying the game on a nice drive to the net by rookie Cole Guttman. The Hogs fell short of the elusive win in Gus Macker Time by a score of 2-1, dropping their sixth of seven games in the season series to the Wild.

Friday, the IceHogs managed to break the two-goal barrier for the first time in nine games. Unfortunately, most of the offense came in garbage time, as Milwaukee jumped ahead early and piled on late in an 8-4 drubbing at the hands of the Admirals.

Saturday, it was the Chicago Wolves turn to hand a basket of disappointment to Rockford. The IceHogs led the game twice, getting goals from Bobby Lynch and Carson Gicewicz. Chicago drew even both times before Max Lajoie got an overtime breakaway shot past Arvid Soderblom, sending Rockford away from Rosemont 3-2 losers.

In case you’re wondering, the IceHogs are approaching the franchise record in consecutive losses. Rockford’s seven-game winless streak vaults ahead of several six-game skids and into a tie for third longest; the Hogs dropped seven in a row back in the 2013-14 season.

In February of 2008, in it’s inaugural AHL season, Rockford was defeated in eight straight games. The IceHogs lost nine straight back in the 2016-17 campaign, from November 23 to December 10 of 2016.

Rockford is now 20-16-4-2 in 2022-23. They sit in fourth place in the Central Division with 46 points. Can the Hogs recover from this New Year Slump? Sure; that 2007-08 squad was 30-11-8 before losing eight straight. They rallied to go 14-9 the rest of the way and reached the second round of the playoffs. There is a measure of hope that the IceHogs can shake off the stink of the last month and start moving back up the division ladder.

 

Time To Find One’s Game

Soderblom, who missed three weeks with a groin injury, has not had the opportunity to stretch out in Rockford’s net. After playing in 38 games with the IceHogs in his rookie campaign, Soderblom had just two appearances after the Hawks returned him to Rockford before leaving minutes into a game with Grand Rapids December 28.

Soderblom gave up seven goals in his return January 20. To the credit of the organization, Rockford has stuck with him and given him a chance to get his game back in shape despite the injury to Alex Stalock. Soderblom remained in Rockford and started all three games for the IceHogs this week, with mixed results.

On Tuesday, he stopped 32 shots and kept the Hogs in the game long enough to earn a point. Saturday, he may or may not have mishandled Lajoie’s overtime winner. However, Lajoie was unchecked and skating into the slot. The same could be said for the Wolves game-tying goal in the third, when Logan Lambdin came out of the penalty box and had ample opportunity to deke Soderblom out of position.

In between, it wasn’t as debatable; it was a rough outing on Friday in Milwaukee. Soderblom was pulled after 40 minutes after allowing five goals on fifteen Admirals shots. Mitchell Weeks came out an promptly gave up three in the final period, so maybe it wasn’t in the cards for any Hogs goalie that evening.

With Jaxson Stauber playing surprisingly well in his first two starts with Chicago and the Hawks off until February 7, perhaps the organization has decided to give Soderblom some much-needed time to right the ship in the confines of the BMO Center, where the IceHogs play their next three games.

 

Roster News

A long-anticipated medical update was sent out by the team on Friday. Captain Garrett Mitchell is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Mitchel had returned from a month-long absence earlier this season after injuring the shoulder November 19 in Rosemont. He’d played 13 games before going down with a similar injury January 18 against Grand Rapids.

In addition, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) suffered a right wrist fracture on January 13. He has missed seven games since then and will likely miss another month of the season.

Rockford will miss Robinson’s net presence on the scoreboard. Mitchell was still looking for his first point of the season at the time of his injury, but having your captain go down is never good news.

Kale Howarth was recalled from the Indy Fuel last week and should be able to replicate Mitchell’s game as a bottom-six forward. Howarth was in the lineup for all three games this week.

Last Monday, F Luke Philp and D Filip Roos were recalled to the Blackhawks, with D Issak Phillips returning to Rockford. Might Philp, Roos, and possibly Stauber be sent to Rockford to get some game action in the light of Chicago’s down time? The answer is yes; all three were assigned to the Hogs on Sunday.

 

This Week

Rockford is at the BMO for its next three games. All would be nice to win.

Tuesday, the Hogs host Manitoba, who is right below them in the division standings. Friday and Saturday see the Wild, the Western Conference’s hottest team at 8-0-1-1 in their last ten, come to Rockford for two games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they attempt to snap the losing streak this week.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

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