Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs last took the ice March 8, when they dropped an overtime game to the Chicago Wolves. The piglets had 13 games remaining in the 2019-20 season before the AHL suspended operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way things are beginning to look, the IceHogs and the AHL may be finished for the current season.

I don’t have the time to banter about the Blackhawks affiliate’s chances of returning to action in the immediate future. Maybe the season continues in some form. Maybe it doesn’t.

As I’ve been a hermit for the past six weeks or so, the Hogs have made some moves. Veteran forward Garrett Mitchell, who joined the team on a PTO February 6 and signed an AHL deal just before play was halted, will be back next season on a one-year deal.

The IceHogs also signed some youngsters to AHL ink, including goalie Tom Aubrun and forwards Riley McKay and D.J. Busdeker. Defenseman Jack Ramsey was re-upped by Rockford as well. There’s plenty of time to look forward. Let me take a quick look at my shoulder at the season that was…mostly was.

The IceHogs were 29-30-2-2 in 63 games. A more that solid opening two months gave way to struggles with injury and call ups. Additions like Mitchell, Gabriel Gagne and Ben Youds filled in some gaps and made for some interesting action this winter, if not entirely successful in terms of wins and losses.

Since the season has not officially been cancelled, there hasn’t been any mention by the team as to the season-ending awards typically given at the last home game of the season. Here’s how I saw those team awards as the regular season wound down.

 

Defensive Player Of The Year-Lucas Carlsson

Carlsson, unlike several of Rockford’s candidates in this category, was around for the bulk of the season. Philip Holm, the class of the first couple of months, asked for his release to ply his trade in Europe. Dennis Gilbert was up and down between Rockford and Chicago.

Ian McCoshen was hard-nosed and a regular face in the lineup. He took a lot of dumb penalties, though,  and was a minus-13 for the Hogs in 56 games.

Carlsson, on the other hand, made some strides from a defensive standpoint and led the Rockford blueline with 26 points (5 G, 21 A) in 48 games. He has outshone more regarded Blackhawks defensive prospects at the AHL level for the past two seasons.

The organization rewarded Carlsson with a call up; he appeared in six games with Chicago before the NHL suspended play.

 

Most Improved Player-Alexandre Fortin

I guess you could make a case for several players. However, if your looking for an example of a guy making a bigger impact based on his play from the season before, Fortin’s your man.

I’ve called out his finishing ability for much of the last three years. This season, Fortin put up a career-high eight goals in just 44 games. Despite spending a couple of stretches on the injured list, Fortin’s game added some sort of offensive element.

In the latter stages of the 2019-20 campaign, Fortin started to become a scoring threat after his feet generated opportunities. His shooting percentage, which was a paltry 4.3 percent in his rookie season two years ago, rose to 9.1 percent this season.

Not getting to finish the regular season was unfortunate for Fortin, who likely would have topped 100 shots (he had 88 when play ended) and career-high point production. Not sure if the Blackhawks re-sign him, but Fortin showed much-needed signs of life on the offensive end.

 

Rookie Of The Year-Brandon Hagel

This one isn’t even close. Hagel, who earned a call-up to Chicago in March, led Rockford with 19 goals. He was second in team scoring with 31 points. His four game-winning goals also paced the IceHogs.

Hagel being a no-brainer for this award doesn’t take away from the rookie season MacKenzie Entwistle had. Entwistle led Rockford newcomers with 15 assists and was tied with Carlsson for fourth in overall scoring with 26 points. Three of his 11 goals were of the game-winning variety. Entwistle showed up at both ends of the ice, accounting well for himself in 56 games.

Phillipp Kurashev’s freshman campaign was halted for a couple of months with a concussion suffered on December 29. Up until that point, Kurashev was starting to look very comfortable in the AHL game, with 16 points (5 G, 11 A) in his first 29 games. He returned at the end of February and wound up with seven goals and 12 helpers in 36 contests.

 

Unsung Hero-Nick Moutrey

One of Rockford’s AHL contracts, Moutrey was a regular in coach Derek King’s bottom six. He played physical, smart hockey in an energy role. His five-goal, six assist effort in 52 games was his best point production in the AHL since the 2016-17 season.

Moutrey wasn’t anything fancy. He just came out and did his job every night.

 

Heavy Hitter-Joseph Cramarossa

In a less-enlightened era, Cramarossa would likely have earned a moniker reflecting his willingness to tangle with a much bigger opponent. In this day and age, we’ll go with “Moxie Joe”. As in, “Jeez, Michael McCarron’s knocking our kids around the crease, but at 6’6″, 240, who’s gonna stop…look, there goes Moxie Joe!”

Mad respect to Cramarossa, who had no problem dropping gloves with several heavyweights for the IceHogs after coming aboard in late November. He also added a level of veteran presence following the retirement of Kris Versteeg.

Cramarossa chipped in with 12 points (5 G, 7 A) in 42 games, with a couple of shootout tallies (both of which won games against Grand Rapids). His eight fighting majors was second in the AHL; six of those came while rocking a Hogs sweater.

 

Man Of The Year-Collin Delia

The IceHogs announced earlier this month that Delia had been named the team’s representative for IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award. Delia was a ultra-visible presence in the Rockford community when he wasn’t anchoring the Hogs in net.

This is the second such award for Delia, who earned the award back in 2017-18.

Like that rookie season, it was an up and down affair for Delia. He struggled mightily out of the gate and was benched for the better part of three weeks. He was the Hogs main man in net for most of the last month of the season. Delia finished 2019-20 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.

 

Team MVP-Tyler Sikura

Sikura The Elder narrowly edges out Sikura The Younger for M-V-P of R-F-D.

After an injury slowed his roll in 2018-19, Sikura led the IceHogs with 34 points (14 G, 20 A). His skater rating (plus-ten) was second to brother Dylan (plus-11) this season. He took over the captaincy after Versteeg left the team. He was Rockford’s best penalty killer and also had three power play goals.

Plus, he was instrumental in getting teammates Matthew Highmore and Dennis Gilbert to the BMO Harris Bank Center for Rockford’s Lego night. In his dreams, that is.

(FYI, all I had to do to find that video is go to YouTube and type in “Tyler Sikura’s LEGO Dream”. God bless the internet.

Dylan was one helper shy of Tyler’s point total, though he was only in Rockford for 45 games. When he wasn’t with the Blackhawks, Sikura The Younger was the offensive catalyst for a team that struggled to score at times this season.

 

Questions Answered?

Back in October, I posed several questions concerning the 2019-20 season. Hindsight being what it is, here are the questions I asked, plus the answers I received.

 

Who carries the scoring load?

What I said: “(Aleksi) Saarela, (Matthew) Highmore, Sikura the Younger, (Adam) Boqvist and (Chad) Krys.”

What actually happened: Saarela had 12 goals and 19 assists-after the Hawks traded him to Florida. Boqvist totaled six points (G, 5 A) in the 15 games he spent in Rockford. Highmore (4 G, 8 A in 21 games) spent most of the season in Chicago.

Krys never really got his offensive game on track; he didn’t put his first puck in a net until January 15. Krys finished the season with two goals and four assists in 24 games. This was a bit underwhelming, in my opinion, as I thought Krys would do a little more on the offensive side.

Carlsson was the only defender with offensive punch once Holm departed. Up front, it was Hagel, the Sikuras, John Quenneville (13 G, 9 A) and Entwistle that led the way. When all was said and done, however, Rockford lacked big-time point producers.

At 2.48 goals per game, the Hogs were the lowest scoring team in the Western Conference. Only Bridgeport (2.41) scored at a worse clip than Rockford.

 

Which rookies are going to impress early?

What I said: “Kurashev, Boqvist…and Hagel.”

What actually happened: Well, Boqvist impressed the Hawks enough for them to recall him after those aforementioned 15 games. Hagel started slowly in the first month, then had 11 goals and four assists in November and December.

Kurashev? Like Hagel, he was hitting his stride after getting a few games under his belt. He had five goals and nine helpers in the 21 games from November 6 until he was injured in Manitoba December 29.

 

Can Alexandre Fortin find an offensive game?

What I said: “I really, really hope so.”

What actually happened: I’ve documented the improvement in Fortin in terms of uniting rubber and twine earlier in this post. Whether he has enough scoring ability to make an NHL roster is still up for debate, but he certainly showed an increased offensive presence for the IceHogs.

 

How many games will Versteeg play?

What I said: He’ll play 60, with 16 goals and 16 assists. Anything above this is gravy. Heck, if he hits those numbers, its still gravy.

What actually happened: There was no gravy. There was barely any Versteeg.

The veteran picked up an assist in four games, then missed about a month with an injured hip. Versteeg gave it one more go for a pair of games in November before citing an inability to handle the AHL banging and getting out of Dodge.

The question regarding Versteeg entering the season was whether there was anything left in the tank. The spirit was willing, at least; Versteeg looked to have a great attitude in his second stint in Rockford. Unfortunately, his body couldn’t hold up it’s end of the bargain.

 

Can this team make the playoffs?

What I said: Well…first, the Hogs will need to find a way to get the best of the veteran-laden teams in their division like Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. It really depends on how quickly a team with 12 rookies can get up to speed in the AHL.

Can the piglets make the postseason? Sure. Will they? That’s for them to know and all of us to find out.

What actually happened: Well…you kind of know how this ended up.

Rockford was in fifth place in the Central Division, tied with the Wolves with 62 points. Chicago had a pair of games in hand on the Hogs, as did the bulk of the teams battling for that fourth playoff spot.

The IceHogs were 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Hagel and Carlsson were up with the Blackhawks, as were Highmore and defenseman Nicolas Beaudin. They were going to have to win nine or ten of their final 13 games to have a legit shot at a postseason spot.

Seven of those games were against Iowa and Milwaukee, who absolutely owned the Hogs this season. Rockford was 2-11 against those teams. Could the piglets have put together a run and made the Calder Cup Playoffs? Maybe, but I don’t know that they had it in them to reel off the required stretch. With the AHL season looking like it is kaput, that point is moot.

I’ll be back in a week or two to put a finer point on the IceHogs abbreviated season. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter and I’ll see if I can’t whip up some thoughts on the IceHogs while in captivity.

Hockey

As the AHL schedule begins to approach the finish line, the Rockford IceHogs were able to begin righting the ship after two months of rough seas. Chicago’s AHL affiliate won three straight games this past week and have now won five of their last six.

Rockford got the job done against basement dwellers, but the points count the same in the standings.  The Hogs will now have to parlay this stretch into the final two months of regular season action.

The recent wins have come against San Antonio, Texas, Manitoba and Cleveland. The former three teams sit below Rockford in the last three spots in the Central Division. The Monsters occupy last place in the North Division. Again, points are points.

All of the IceHogs remaining 23 games will be against division rivals. Four of those are with the Stars and three more with the Rampage. On the other end of the spectrum, Rockford has four games apiece with the top two teams in the Central, Milwaukee and Iowa. The Hogs are 1-6-1 against the Admirals and 1-3 against the Wild this season.

Rockford hosts Grand Rapids on Tuesday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center in the first of three games remaining in the season series. The Griffins are just above the IceHogs in the division standings, sitting in fourth place with 55 points. Rockford is 4-3 versus Grand Rapids this season, though both teams have earned eight points against the other.

With 75 and 70 points respectively, it is unlikely that the rest of the division will overtake Milwaukee and Iowa. The third place team in the Central right now? The Chicago Wolves, who have 55 points and a game in hand on the Griffins.

Rockford still has five tilts remaining with the Wolves. They have a 6-1 record against Chicago so far this season. Remaining dominant over their interstate rival would sure help the Hogs climb into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Of course, every game is going to be important for the IceHogs from here on in. It appears that two postseason spots are available in the Central Division, with the bottom six teams scrapping for them.

 

Sweeping The Week

Rockford won in Manitoba on back-to-back nights Wednesday and Thursday. They scored a 2-1 win in the first game behind a strong performance by goalie Kevin Lankinen, who made 28 stops. The Hogs went down a goal early but battled back, getting a second-period tally by Alexandre Fortin before John Quenneville potted the game-winner 4:47 into the final frames.

The following evening, Lankinen was back in net, making 16 saves in the opening period as the Hogs took a 2-0 advantage on goals by Joseph Cramarossa and Garrett Mitchell (who would later score and empty netter in the closing minutes). Collin Delia then came out for the last two periods in a 5-2 Rockford victory. Also lighting the lamp in Thursday’s win were Jacob Nilsson and Tyler Sikura.

Delia made the start Saturday against Cleveland, stopping 25 shots as the IceHogs won 4-1. Rockford went out to a 2-0 lead with first-period goals by Dylan Sikura and Brandon Hagel. Ian McCoshen picked up his first goal of the season midway through the third period. His second came with the Monsters net empty net late in the contest.

 

Musings On A Monday Morn

  • Matt Tomkins signed his NHL deal back on January 24. Since that signing, he has been used just once-a 7-1 loss to Milwaukee on February 1. Delia gave up seven goals to the Admirals last month. Of course, it wasn’t Matt Tomkins Bobblehead Night at the BMO Saturday. Hence, it wasn’t a surprise that Delia, who played really well and picked up an assist on the McCoshen empty-netter, got the start after relieving Lankinen in the previous game.
  • That said, it should be interesting how Tomkins is deployed in the immediate future. Lankinen obviously tweaked something Thursday and Rockford has four games this week, included a three-game weekend.
  • Dylan Sikura ran his points streak to ten games over the weekend. During that run, he has four goals and nine assists.
  • John Quenneville is in a stretch of eight games in which he has five goals. Two of those goals came via the power play. Two of the others were game-winners.
  • Brandon Hagel is now sixth among AHL rookies with 18 goals. His 27 points on the season has him 16th in rookie scoring. Hagel has goals in five of the last nine games.
  • Lucas Carlsson owns a six-game points streak heading into Tuesday night’s game with Grand Rapids. He has three assists in six games against the Griffins. Carlsson has really emerged as the team’s go-to defenseman in terms of getting the puck up the ice.
  • The rest of Rockford’s blueline has evolved into a pretty physical bunch. Dennis Gilbert, McCoshen, Joni Tuulola and Dmitri Osipov are all bigger players that have made the Hogs a bit tougher to play against. The level of competition was down a bit from earlier this month, but I thought the IceHogs were better defensively the last couple of weeks in terms of limiting shots.
  • With a week before the NHL trade deadline, there may still be a chance that an impact player will join the Hogs as part of a swap involving the Blackhawks. If not, it may come down to Rockford making its own attempt to bolster the roster.
  • Garrett Mitchell, signed to a PTO February 6, has five games with the IceHogs. He had a pair of goals Thursday night and added an assist on Cramarossa’s goal Saturday. Mitchell is a nice pickup for Rockford. He well-versed in the physical nature of the AHL and skates hard at both ends of the ice.
  • With Nick Moutrey injured at the moment, Mitchell will capably fill Moutrey’s role in the bottom six. PTO Gabriel Gagne has also been a solid contributor for Rockford, with seven points (3 G, 4 A) in 13 games.
  • Defenseman Josh McArdle was up with Rockford this past week. He did not see action before teh IceHogs sent him back down to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Saturday. Also returning to Indianapolis was forward Liam Coughlin, who skated in two games for Rockford after being recalled February 1.

 

Busy Week

After facing Grand Rapids at the BMO Tuesday, the IceHogs have three games in three nights over the coming weekend. Rockford will play host to San Antonio Friday night before hitting the road for Milwaukee Saturday. On Sunday, the Hogs have an afternoon date with the Wolves in Rosemont.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs end a six-game home stand this weekend against the San Antonio Rampage. Rockford has been trying to get its arrow pointed up for some time. A nice win over Texas on Tuesday night has the team entering Friday’s action on the positive tip.

The IceHogs posted a 5-2 victory against the Stars, with goals from Dylan Sikura, John Quenneville, Gabriel Gagne, Brandon Hagel and Dennis Gilbert. Collin Delia fended off 35 shots to help get Rockford a much-needed win.

Hagel continues to be the standout rookie on the IceHogs this season. His 17 goals lead the club and places him in a tie for fourth among freshmen goal scorers. With 25 points on the season, Hagel is 15th among rookies.

Sikura the Younger’s tally was his twelfth of the campaign, tying him with brother Tyler for second place in team scoring. Sikura the Elder leads Rockford with 29 points (12 G, 17 A).

 

Roster News

Dylan Sikura did leave Tuesday’s game in the second period. However, Jacob Nilsson was back in action after a kneeing incident last Friday. Nick Moutrey did not skate on Tuesday after being injured last weekend.

The IceHogs released Peter Quenneville from his tryout contract this week, signing veteran skater Garrett Mitchell to a PTO on Thursday. Mitchell was a long-time member of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, though he has been primarily an ECHL player this season. Rockford also sent D Jack Ramsey back to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Thursday.

 

Bringing Brandon Bollig Back To The BMO

Former IceHogs forward Brandon Bollig will be at the puck-dropping ceremony at the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday night. Bollig spent parts of three seasons with the IceHogs. He is second all-time to Jake Dowell on Rockford’s AHL leader board with 44 fighting majors.

Bollig was an undrafted free agent who wound up playing five NHL seasons and winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013. I’ll remember Bollig for the ecstatic grin he wore as he hammered away at an opponent. Which he would do regularly.

This year’s IceHogs team, by the way, is up to 18 fighting majors heading into the weekend. At this pace, this will be the feistiest Rockford teams in several seasons. Joseph Cramarossa leads the Hogs in this category with five scraps, while Dmitri Osipov has dropped the gloves four times.

 

Rampage On The Road (To Vegas)

Visiting San Antonio, in the midst of a ten-game road jaunt, was purchased by the Vegas Golden Knights for the purpose of moving the franchise to Nevada this fall. The Rampage sit right below the Hogs in the seventh spot in the Central Division as they pull into the BMO for games on Friday and Saturday.

Rockford is 2-1 against San Antonio this season. They last saw the Rampage in Texas back in November, when they split the last two games of their Lone Star swing.

San Antonio was shut out by Iowa Wednesday night. Like Rockford, the Rampage have struggled of late, having just three wins in their last ten games. San Antonio leads the league with 33.30 shots per game Though they have had trouble getting those shots into the net, this could be a factor this weekend since the IceHogs have been giving up a lot of shots themselves.

Defenseman Derrick Pouliot paces San Antonio with 32 points (6 G, 26 A). Two of those goals have come against Rockford. The Rampage have two 18-goal scorers in Nathan Walker and Mike Vecchione.

Ville Husso has had the bulk of the workload in the San Antonio net. Husso is 11-13-8 this season with a 2.94 GAA and an .898 save percentage. Rockford may also see Adam Wilcox (5-6-3, 2.92, .881) between the pipes this weekend.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for my thoughts on the scene in Rockford throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split this past weekend’s action, defeating a hot Texas Stars club Friday night before falling to Cleveland the following evening. Rockford (17-11-0-1) trails Iowa by a standings point for second place in the AHL’s Central Division but can leapfrog the Wild when the two teams hook up in Rockford this coming weekend.

The piglets have continued to play well in the face of recent call-ups by the Blackhawks. The roster thins a bit more heading into the holiday break, but the Hogs have still won seven of their last ten games.

 

By The Numbers

Here are a few statistics of note for Rockford through 29 games this season:

  • The Hogs are 11-5 at home and 6-6-0-1 on the road so far in 2019-20.
  • Rockford is scoring 2.93 goals per game…and allowing 2.93 goals per game.
  • Rockford averages 28.59 shots and surrenders 31.76 shots per contest. Only six teams in the league give up more shots on goal than the IceHogs. Strong play in net has been important to the team’s success so far.
  • The power play is 30th out of 31 teams, converting just 10.8 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • While the penalty kill has been better, the Hogs are still working at an 80 percent kill rate. That is good for a tie with Chicago at 23rd in the AHL.
  • The IceHogs have posted seven shorthanded goals this season. That’s tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
  • Kevin Lankinen’s 55 saves on December 10 is the second-highest total in the league this season. On December 4, Phillipe Desrosiers saved 62 shots for Springfield in a win over Lehigh Valley.
  • Brandon Hagel (8 G, 7 A) and Phillipp Kurashev (5 G, 10 A) are tied for 16th among rookies in scoring with 15 points.
  • Team captain Tyler Sikura (8 G, 9 A) leads Rockford in scoring with 17 points. Dylan Sikura, currently in Rockford, has 16 points (9 G, 7 A) for the Hogs. Hagel and Kurashev are right behind the Sikuras. Defenseman Philip Holm has 14 points (3 G, 11 A).
  • Joseph Cramarossa, who had both goals in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland, is tied for the AHL lead with five fighting majors. He has scrapped three times for Rockford since coming aboard last month. That leads the IceHogs. Reese Johnson has dropped the gloves twice for Rockford. In all, the team has nine fighting majors this season.

Tomkins Playing For Spengler Cup

The goalie situation becomes a bit less crowded over the holidays. Rockford has loaned Matt Tomkins to Team Canada for the upcoming Spengler Cup. The former Ohio State net minder gets an opportunity to impress on the international tournament after some solid play for the piglets.

Tomkins has started six games for the IceHogs this season. He’s 4-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 save percentage. This leaves Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia as Rockford’s goalie tandem for the first time this season.

 

Quenneville Recalled

The IceHogs lost another productive skater when Chicago recalled forward John Quenneville on Sunday. Quenneville is coming off a stretch in Rockford where he had four goals and four helpers over his last five contests. His plus-nine skater rating was the highest on the team at the time of the call-up.

This leaves the Hogs roster at 23 players; 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. Alexandre Fortin has yet to return from an injury suffered November 29 against the Wolves. Anton Wedin sat out both games this weekend. Nathan Noel, fresh off his recall from the Indy Fuel, was injured Friday and did not play in Saturday’s game with Cleveland.

Mikael Hakkarainen skated in a game at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the first time. Returning from an injury in Iowa on October 4, Hakkarainen played in both weekend contests.

Barring I would expect at least a couple of forwards to be brought up from Indy sometime before Rockford’s next game. That comes on Friday when the Wild come to town.

 

Weekend Recaps

Friday, December 20-Rockford 4, Texas 2

The Stars were 8-1-1 in their last ten games before coming into the BMO Friday. Rockford put together a terrific 60-minute effort to knock off Texas.

Brandon Hagel was the catalyst for the first IceHogs goal of the evening, forcing a turnover in the Stars zone, then gathering in a long rebound off the pads of Texas goalie Landon Bow. Hagel skated out to the top of the zone and dropped a pass to John Quenneville at the left point. Quenneville’s long-distance offering slipped by Bow and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead 4:23 into the opening period.

Josh Melnick tied the game for Texas in the 13th minute, but Rockford took a 2-1 intermission lead thanks to some nifty passing on a late power play. Phillip Kurashev, assisted by Quenneville and Lucas Carlsson, sent a wrist shot by Bow with 2:53 remaining in the first period.

Carlsson made it 3-1 Hogs after one-timing a cross-ice feed off the boards from MacKenzie Entwistle 5:09 into the second period. That was plenty for Collin Delia, who stopped 33 of the 35 shots he saw on the night. The Stars pulled Bow and scored with six skaters at the 17:05 mark of the third, but Hagel’s empty-netter in the final minute of play sealed the victory.

 

Saturday, December 21-Cleveland 3, Rockford 2

Joseph Cramarossa was the offense for the IceHogs; his pair of lamp-lighters wasn’t enough to beat the visiting Monsters.

Cramarossa gave Rockford an early 1-0 lead, taking a drop pass from Phillipp Kurashev  and sending shot from the right circle that got though Cleveland goalie Veini Vehvilainen just 29 seconds into the game.

The Monsters took control of the game in the second period with three unanswered goals. Brett Gallant redirected an Adam Clendening blast by Hogs starter Kevin Lankinen 4:03 into the period. The Cleveland power play gave the Monsters a 2-1 lead on Nathan Gerbe’s snipe from the left circle 13:15 into the second. Two minutes later, Stefan Matteau potted an unassisted shorthanded goal to increase the Cleveland advantage to 3-1.

The IceHogs, as is their custom, played hard in the final twenty, closing the gap to 3-2 on the man advantage. Cramarossa’s first attempt from the left post was stopped, but the second effort elevated over Mehvilainen’s pad at the 7:57 mark. Lankinen spent most of the last three minutes on the Rockford bench in favor of the extra skater, to no avail.

 

Coming Up

The IceHogs host the Wild Friday, then head to Manitoba for games on Sunday and Tuesday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates this weekend as well as thoughts on the team all season long.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continued their run of solid play this weekend, earning a split of a pair of games with division rivals. The Hogs outlasted Grand Rapids Friday before coming back to Rockford for a big test against the Milwaukee Admirals.

They didn’t pass.

Rockford was the latest victim of the hottest team in the AHL, winding up on the short end of a 5-2 decision Saturday night. The piglets will be getting another shot at the Admirals Tuesday night.

Can any adjustments be made by Rockford coach Derek King that can help his team’s chances?

“We should take some notes from them,” King told the media after the game. “That’s where we should be.”

The Admirals have won 15 of their last 16 games heading into Tuesday’s game, including a 7-1 thrashing of second-place Iowa on Friday. Milwaukee kept the pressure on the Hogs all evening, generating a slew of high-percentage looks at the net. Unlike Rockford, the Admirals followed up on many of the shots fired at Kevin Lankinen Saturday.

“They’re all on the same page,” King said when asked about Milwaukee’s winning formula this season. “The guy with the puck is skating it and his line mates know what’s going on. It’s either going in, or he’s going to make a play. At times we do that, and then there’s times where the maturity of our guys are just not quite there yet.”

What makes the Ads win more impressive is the face that two of their top scorers, Yakov Trenin (14 G, 12 A) and Daniel Carr (11 G, 10 A) were up with Nashville and out of Milwaukee’s lineup Saturday. It’s not a surprise to see why the Admirals lead the AHL with 41 points. Milwaukee is 13 points up on the Wild in the Central Division standings.

The IceHogs get to face off with Milwaukee eleven more times this season. It should be interesting to see how the youngsters respond to the challenge.

 

Roster Movement

There was a lot of action on Saturday. The IceHogs recalled forwards Matthew Thompson and Dylan McLaughlin and defenseman Dmitri Osipov from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. After Rockford’s game Saturday night, the Hawks recalled Dylan Sikura and re-assigned Anton Wedin to the IceHogs.

 

Recaps

Friday, December 6-Rockford 2, Grand Rapids 1 (SO)

The piglets went into Van Andel Arena and outlasted the Griffins to pick up their fourth straight win. At the heart of the victory was a standout performance in net by Collin Delia, who followed up his win Tuesday night with another great effort.

Delia saved 28 of 29 shots in regulation and stopped both penalty shots after the game could not be decided in Gus Macker Time. Coach Derek King elected to hand Delia the keys to the cage for a second straight game. Delia did not disappoint.

The scoring in regulation was limited to the second period. Recent acquisition Eric Tangradi gave the Griffins a 1-0 lead with an unassisted goal at the 4:24 mark. While his centering pass was broken up by Reese Johnson, the veteran forward calmly retrieved the loose puck behind the Hogs net, powered to the front of the crease and beat Delia with the backhand.

Rockford would answer late in the period. Ian McCoshen found Tyler Sikura at the right dot. Sikura sent a touch pass to brother Dylan a few feet to his right; the subsequent one-timer was over the glove of Griffins goalie Calvin Pickard. The Hogs drew even at one goal 17:07 into the second.

It would remained tied, thanks to Delia and Pickard, through regulation and overtime. Pickard stopped Dylan Sikura in the opening round of the shootout, but Tim Soderlund and Joseph Cramarossa found the back of the net to earn Rockford the win.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Dylan Sikura

Brandon Hagel-Phillipp Kurashev-MacKenzie Entwistle

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Tim Soderlund

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Joni Tuulola-Adam Boqvist

Philip Holm-Lucas Carlsson

Chad Krys-Ian McCoshen (A)

Collin Delia

Saturday, December 7-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2

The IceHogs win streak ended at four games as they were spanked at the BMO by the Western Conference’s best team.

The Admirals consistently peppered Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen with pucks and swarmed the net to create lots of second and third chances. It was such a play that opened the scoring 4:06 into the game.

Jeremy Davies came around Lankinen’s net and was stopped by the goalie’s left pad. Former Laurent Dauphin was there to throw the rebound on net, only to be denied again by Lankinen. Lukas Craggs made good on his attempt from the goal line when the Hogs failed to clear the puck and Milwaukee led 1-0.

Rockford fans were in possession of 4,300 stuffed animals and were itching to let them fly to the ice. Two minutes later, they would receive their chance.

Jarred Tinordi’s pass attempt was swiped by Matthew Highmore, who hit Brandon Hagel coming out of the defensive zone. Hagel’s wheels did the rest, easily flying by Alexandre Carrier on his way to the front of the Admirals net. His shot beat the glove of Troy Groesenick at 5:59 of the first period to cue the bears and tie the contest.

That was to be the high-water mark for Rockford on this evening, however. Steven Santini was left open at the right circle late in the opening frame. His shot zipped over the shoulder of Lankinen for a 2-1 Milwaukee lead that they held at the break.

Tommy Novak and Mathieu Olivier would score in similar fashion in the second period to build a 4-1 Admirals lead. The Hogs found themselves just missing on several one-and-done chances, while Milwaukee was generating great looks at Lankinen, who saved 29 of 34 shots, most of which came within a few feet of the goal mouth.

The Admirals went up three goals early in the third when Anthony Richard converted on Dauphin’s pass on the odd-man rush. The IceHogs would get a goal from Phillipp Kurashev with 3:53 remaining, but by then the outcome had been decided.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Dylan Sikura

Matthew Highmore-Phillipp Kurashev-Brandon Hagel

Tim Soderlund-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Joseph Cramarossa

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Matthew Thompson

Philip Holm-Adam Boqvist

Chad Krys-Ian McCoshen (A)

Nicolas Beaudin-Dmitri Osipov

Kevin Lankinen

 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the scene in Rockford throughout the season.