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 continued to play winning hockey this week, earning five of a possible six points against Central Division opponents. Rockford sits in fourth place in the division standings, thanks to several hot players.

At the top of that list is Brett Connolly, who is riding a six-game point streak. Connolly posted four goals and a pair of assists in three games. This included two-goal efforts in consecutive games; Wednesday’s 5-4 win over Manitoba and Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Iowa.

Dylan McLaughlin returned after missing the last month with a concussion, notching four points over the weekend. After helping send Friday’s game into Gus Macker Time with assists on both of Rockford’s third period goals, the forward added a goal and a helper in Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Moose at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

The story of Saturday’s victory was a 38-save performance by goalie Mitch Gillam, signed to a PTO by the IceHogs on Thursday. Gillam, who has spent this season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, blanked Manitoba in his first career AHL start. Cale Morris is nursing a sore hip at the moment. Tom Aubrun was loaned to the Fuel Thursday.

Rookie Lukas Reichel had his five-game point streak snapped on Saturday. With four goals and four assists in that span, Reichel remains on top of Rockford’s goals (20) and points (46) list.

With 16 games left in the regular season, the Blackhawks top prospect is approaching two rookie marks. Namely, Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51 points, set in 2015-16, and Matthew Highmore’s 24 goals, accomplished in the 2017-28 campaign.

 

Roster News

With the Hawks trade of Marc-Andre Fleury on Monday, Collin Delia was recalled by Chicago, along with forward Reese Johnson. Morris was recalled by the IceHogs as well. Defenseman Alex Vlasic was assigned to Rockford long enough for him to be eligible for the AHL playoffs before returning to Chicago.

On Saturday, forwards Riley McKay and Chad Yetman were recalled to Rockford. Yetman skated in that night’s game for the IceHogs.

On the injury front, Michal Teply suffered a shoulder injury Wednesday night after being boarded by Manitoba captain Jimmy Oligny late in the third period. Hogs captain Garrett Mitchell jumped in for a bout with Oligny and is now day-to-day with a lower back injury.

 

Busy Piglets

Rockford will now enter a stretch of five games over the next eight days. This starts with a big home date with Milwaukee Tuesday. The Hogs will then head West for two games each with Tucson and Henderson. Rockford takes on the Roadrunners on Friday and Saturday, then tangles with the Silver Knights on April 4 and 5.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my 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.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split a pair of games with the Texas Stars this weekend. Rockford lost control of a tight game in the third period Friday, winding up on the short end of a 5-2 decision. The following evening, the piglets played the grinder role to perfection, rallying from a goal down in the final frame of regulation. Rockford outlasted the Stars 3-2, though it took a seven-round shootout to do so.

The IceHogs are 15-14-1-1 this season, good for fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Saturday’s win broke a three-game losing streak. Rockford is 2-3 during this January home stand, which wraps up  Wednesday against Iowa.

 

Teply On A Tear

The offensive game of forward Michal Teply has suddenly roared to life this month. Teply, Chicago’s fourth-rounder in the 2019 NHL Draft, was goalless through his first 34 professional games. In his second season with the Hogs, Teply finally drew cord on January 7 against the Wolves. Since that night, Teply has five goals and three assists spanning the last seven games.

He had both regulation goals for Rockford Saturday and added a successful shootout attempt in the victory. He also had a goal on Friday night. What gives?

Teply has been active on the offensive end most of the season, creating a lot of scoring opportunities that somehow hadn’t found a home. He has 47 shots in 2021-22, which is fourth on the team.

Both interim head coach Anders Sorensen and Teply acknowledge that his play away from the puck is the secret to his recent success. His presence around the net will be vital to Rockford, who were scraping for goals again this weekend.

 

Fight(s)!

The pivotal moment in Saturday’s loss to Texas game came in the third period. The Hogs were down 3-2 with 10:54 remaining when Garrett Mitchell delivered a slash to the hands of Stars defenseman Jared Rosburg. Texas captain Curtis McKenzie responded by cloths-lining Mitchell and engaging in fisticuffs.

Coinciding with that scrap was Dimitri Osipov grabbing Stars center Fredrik Karlstrom and swinging away. Following the melee, the officials removed McKenzie and Osipov from the game. Each received instigation minors, fighting majors, and game misconducts.

Mitchell was tagged with fighting as well as the slash that started the fireworks. Karlstrom, who did not remove his gloves or swing at Osipov, remained in the game. The Stars were handed a seven-minute power play as a result.

I do not recall ever seeing seven consecutive minutes of power-play time go up on a scoreboard. At the time, I was hopeful that it would be the IceHogs with some much-needed man advantage time. However, it quickly became apparent that Karlstrom had not engaged with Osipov and that the time on Rockford’s side of the scoreboard was no mistake.

Three guesses as to which Texas skater gave the Stars a 4-2 lead about two minutes later? Karlstrom’s power-play goal was more than enough insurance, as Rockford spent the next five minutes killing the rest of the penalty.

By the time they got back to even strength, Texas had a two-goal lead and just under four minutes left to play. RFD pulled Collin Delia in desperation but gave up an empty netter, on which Rosburg assisted for good measure.

Texas is one of the more penalized teams in the league; getting physical with the Stars was to Rockford’s detriment Friday. The IceHogs committed just one penalty Saturday, neutralizing the Texas power play in its only chance.

 

Roster News

Several IceHogs are doing the I-90 shuffle between Rockford and Chicago. Mike Hardman and Cale Morris were moved three times this week. Hardman is currently with the Hogs; Morris is on the Blackhawks roster. Wyatt Kalynuk played for Rockford Friday before being recalled to Chicago the following day.

Chad Yetman has played a similar role, oscillating between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. He was in the Hogs lineup for both games this weekend. Saturday, Rockford sent Riley McKay to the Fuel.

The IceHogs released veteran forward Brandon Pirri from his PTO on Wednesday after three goals and an assist in three appearances. Whether Pirri winds up on Canada’s Olympic squad or just decided to pursue other opportunities is not yet apparent.

Forward Kurtis Gabriel came out of COVID protocols on Friday and skated in his first game with Rockford on Saturday, drawing in for Osipov.

On Sunday, goalie Arvid Soderblom, who stopped 20 shots to pick up the win Saturday, was recalled to the Blackhawks.

 

Weekend Notes

  • Andrei Altybarmakian, like Teply, has begun to get onto the scoresheet on a regular basis. He has points in five of his last seven games, including his first two goals of the season.
  • Center Dylan McLaughlin has nine points (3 G, 6 A) in January. He’s second on the team behind Lukas Reichel (12 G, 12 A) with six goals and 13 helpers.
  • The Hogs out shot their opponents both nights. However, many of Rockford’s attempts came on the perimeter as opposed to between the circles. This has been an issue for much of the season; hopefully players like Teply, Altybarmakian, and Kale Howarth, who got to the left post to score the IceHogs second goal Friday, can point the rest of the Hogs toward the front of the net.
  • The 18-year-old (who, as the nine-year-old, only occasionally watched the games when he wasn’t spilling Dippin’ Dots under everyone’s seats) commented that Saturday’s game was perhaps the most exciting result of the season for Rockford. Tall praise, as he’d attended hoping for gloves to drop and was not obliged. I only partially agreed, as he had lamentably chosen to skip Rockford’s 8-0 shellacking of the Wolves earlier this month. I did concur that it was possibly the most dramatic Hogs win so far this season.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue their October tour this weekend. The action takes place in DesMoines, where the piglets will face the Iowa Wild on Friday and Saturday nights. After splitting the first two games of the season in Grand Rapids and Chicago, the Hogs could see their points percentage climb above the .500 mark for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign.

Roster News

On Monday, the Blackhawks called up forward Mike Hardman, sending defenseman Ian Mitchell to Rockford. The IceHogs assigned goalie Cale Morris to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

Morris joins goalie Tom Aubrun in Indy. In addition to the two netminders, Rockford has several AHL contracts assigned to the Fuel roster. These include forwards Liam Folkes, Riley McKay and Chad Yetman. Indy hosts Cinncinati on October 23 to open its schedule.

 

A Look At The Wild

Iowa has some new faces, though the Hogs should be familiar with some of them. Forward Dominic Turgeon and defenseman Joe Hicketts come over from Grand Rapids. Longtime Iowa forward Kyle Rau is back after spending last season with Minnesota. Center Connor Dewar returns for his third season after posting 23 points (12 G, 11 A) in 32 games for the Wild in 2020-21. He currently leads Iowa in scoring (2 points) following the first weekend.

The Wild split two games with the Texas Stars to open their season. Veteran goalie Andrew Hammond shut out the Stars on October 16. He’s coming off a solid season with Rochester last spring (2.53 GAA, .908 save percentage) and will likely split starts with prospect Dereck Baribeau against the IceHogs. Baribeau was 2-0 against Rockford last season, with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Overall, he was 6-1-2 in ten appearances (2.54 GAA, .914 save percentage).

The IceHogs were 1-4-1 at Wells Fargo Arena last season. Nicolas Beaudin had a lot of success against the Wild; in five games, the defenseman had six points (2 G, 4 A). In ten games with the Wild, Reese Johnson also posted six points (2 G, 4 A). Rockford was 4-5-1 in those games.

The Hogs will be leaving Malcom Subban at home for the weekend. Collin Delia looks to get his first start of the season. Arvid Soderblom, who will likely get the other start this weekend, shut out the Wild when the teams met in the preseason on October 23.

Nothing has been announced as of yet, but Chad Krys may be out for a stretch after suffering a knee injury on October 16 in Chicago. Mitchell will likely draw into the defensive mix regardless.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on this weekend’s games, as well as my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, begin their first season under new ownership in a couple of weeks. The new owners? The Chicago Blackhawks.

The organization purchased the Hogs back in April and are currently making renovations to the BMO Harris Bank Center. As a result, Rockford will be on the road for their first six games before opening the home schedule November 6.

For the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets, the AHL season begins October 15 in Grand Rapids. What kind of club hits the ice against the Griffins?  The roster looks to be similar to the youth-laden squad that finished last in the Central Division by a fair sight in the Reader’s Digest-sized 2020-21 campaign.

Based on the lack of signing organizational depth, the IceHogs are going to be short on veteran leadership when the season begins. Today, I’ll begin breaking down the roster possibilities. Let’s start in net.

Rockford could be looking at several different scenarios between the pipes as the 2021-22 season quickly approaches. They could boast a veteran tandem that could anchor a young roster in the early part of the Hogs schedule. They also could be as green as the remainder of the roster.

It would appear that the Blackhawks will be going with Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen in net this fall. It also seems unlikely that the Blackhawks will carry three goalies on their cap-strapped roster.

In addition to Fleury and Lankinen, Chicago has three goalies under contract. Two of those players, Collin Delia and Malcom Subban, spent last season with the Blackhawks. Subban served as the primary backup to Lankinen, while Delia struggled to find playing time after the initial few games.

Things got so bad for the Cucamonga Kid that he requested and received a rehab assignment to Rockford on February 27. He was terrible in his first two starts of the four-game stint. Despite righting the ship in his final two appearances, Delia wound up with a 5.16 goals against average and an .858 save percentage.

Delia has had stretches where he been a very good AHL net minder. He also has been subject to several funks in his four-year pro career. He was clearly the odd man out last season in Chicago. Like Subban, Delia is in the final year of his NHL contract.

Both Subban and Delia are subject to waivers if they aren’t on the Hawks roster to begin this season. There is a strong chance that one or both could be claimed if/when Chicago attempts to assign them to Rockford. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the Hawks are hoping one gets snatched up by another team, with the other clearing waivers and providing a bit of depth in case of injury.

Matt Tomkins, who was Rockford’s primary starter in goal last season, signed with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League in the offseason. In his place, the Blackhawks signed Arvid Soderblom to an entry contract this spring after a strong performance last season in the SHL. Soderblom does have a European Assignment Clause in his contract. If Subban and Delia both wind up in Rockford, it’s a possibility that he opts to play in Sweden for another season.

The Blackhawks seem to be planning on getting the 22-year-old Soderblom steady AHL work. Because of this, they may choose to work out a trade of Delia and/or Subban to keep a spot open for a younger goalie.

The IceHogs could see a tandem of Delia and Subban in the crease to open the season. One of the veterans could be paired with Soderblom if a trade or waiver claim materializes.

A solid option for the IceHogs would be for Soderblom to pair with former Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris for the workload in net. Morris is on an AHL contract with Rockford and showed promise in limited action in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign.

The 21-year-old Morris made five starts and two relief appearances for the IceHogs last season, posting a 2.52 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. He’s earned an increased role, providing the Hawks thin the herd at goalie in the coming weeks.

Rockford also has Tom Aubrun under AHL ink for another season. Aubrun, 26, saw most of his action with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. He did make three appearances in Rockford (4.46, .864) in 2020-21. Aubrun will likely bounce from Indy to Rockford when needed.

As will be the case throughout the Hogs roster, the way Chicago’s roster takes shape will factor into the makeup of the piglets. Next time, I’ll continue the season preview with a look at the defense.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are not going to finish with a winning record in 2020-21. However, the piglets have made substantial progress toward respectability.

Rockford opened this season back in February with a woefully stocked roster of players. The talent gap between the Hogs and the rest of the AHL was vast. In previewing this year’s crop on the farm, I noted that this young and inexperienced team was going to take its lumps in the early going. And take them they did.

The IceHogs limped out to a 1-7-1 start, losing six straight games to begin the season. The nadir of the first month was a 9-4 shellacking by Grand Rapids on March 3.

Fortunately, the Hogs got their legs under them. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but coach Derek King has the undermanned roster scrapping to be competitive. Rockford has gone 10-8 dating back on March 6.

The IceHogs are currently coming off of a pair of wins over the Griffins. Last Saturday, Rockford bested Grand Rapids 3-2 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Monday, the Hogs prevailed 3-2 in a shootout at Van Andel Arena.

What has proven to be the difference in the IceHogs over their last 18 games? Let’s make a list:

  • Rockford has gotten some frequent influxes of talent via the taxi squad. Players like MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson have contributed at both ends of the ice.
  • Dylan McLaughlin has really stepped up his game in his sophomore season with Rockford. Dating back to March 13, McLaughlin has 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in his last 15 games.
  • The piglets have been able to hold their own in physical affairs with Grand Rapids and Iowa in the past few weeks.
  • The goal tending has been better. Ivan Nalimov has looked more comfortable in net. Cale Morris left after two periods in Grand Rapids with an injury April 28, but was keeping Rockford in games. Matt Tomkins had a great game in Monday’s win, stopping 24 shots in regulation and overtime. Since coming down from Chicago’s taxi squad March 11, Tomkins has a 2.71 GAA and a .919 save percentage in his last seven games.
  • Brandon Pirri, when he has been used, has been an offensive force for the IceHogs. The power play has teeth when Pirri is manning the wing. In five games, Pirri is second on the team with six goals. He has points in each of those five games; Rockford is 4-1 when Pirri is in the lineup.
  • As he has done throughout his short tenure at the helm, King has the IceHogs playing hard every night. They have managed to be competitive even when being badly overmatched.

This weekend, Rockford has its last two games of the season with the Iowa Wild. The Hogs are at Iowa on Friday night; the Wild come to the BMO on Sunday afternoon.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have offered opportunities for prospects throughout the 2020-21 campaign. The lack of NHL contracts on the Hogs roster has allowed some players the ice time to make an impression on the organization.

Several of Rockford’s AHL contracts have been regulars in coach Derek King’s lineup. King cited one in particular in last week’s media availability.

“A kid who has really opened my eyes is (D.J.) Busdeker,” King admitted.

Busdeker is a 5′ 10″ forward who signed an AHL contract with the IceHogs after posting 57 points (22 G, 35 A) for Saginaw in the OHL last season. The 21-year-old native of Dexter, Michigan spent about a month with the Indy Fuel before the AHL season got underway. He’s been in Rockford from opening day on, and has ten points (5 G, 5 A) in 17 appearances for the Hogs.

“When he did come back up, he took full advantage of it,” King said. “He’s probably one of our biggest surprises of this season.”

Busdeker is one of several players who may have spent this season with the Fuel under ordinary conditions. However, he’s been a contributor up and down the lineup for Rockford. Busdeker has a nose for the puck and has been an effective forechecker and penalty killer.

In April, Busdeker has points in four of Rockford’s six games. He has points in each of the IceHogs three wins this month, including a pair of goals in Saturday’s victory in Iowa. He was also instrumental in a comeback win over the Chicago Wolves back on April 17.

Busdeker is second among IceHogs rookies in goals and points. Like Chris Wilkie (who tops Rockford in both rookie categories), he has taken a unique opportunity and made the most of it.

 

A Weekend Split In Iowa

This weekend’s action in DesMoines was about as physical as the piglets have had to deal with. They gave as good as they got, splitting a pair of games with the Wild.

Friday, April 23-Iowa 3, Rockford 2

The game was scarcely underway when Dimitry Osipov delivered a big open ice hit to Iowa forward Damien Giroux. Keaton Thompson objected to Osipov’s rough play; the two battled fifteen seconds in.

Rockford got the first goal of the game at the 3:33 mark. Josiah Slavin came up with a loose puck in the Wild zone, passing to Chris Wilkie. Wilkie was allowed to operate on the doorstep of the Iowa crease, hitting the top right corner to put the Hogs up 1-0.

A bad bounce off the boards set Gerry Mayhew up for an easy tap-in at 7:53 of the first to tie the game. However, less than a minute later, Rockford took a 2-1 lead after Garrett Mitchell tipped in a long-distance offering by Anton Lindholm.

Wilkie was chasing down a stretch pass when he collided with Iowa goalie Derek Baribeau, who had come out to clear the puck. Baribeau had to leave the game in favor of Hunter Jones. Wilkie was assessed a five-minute penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.

The Wild began the middle frame with over four minutes of power play time. Iowa drew even at two goals with a Connor Dewar strike at 1:21 of the second. The IceHogs held first for the rest of the shorthanded time to limit the damage.

Iowa gained a 3-2 lead after forcing a turnover behind the Hogs net. Morris stopped a shot by Gabriel Dumont, but Brandon Duhaime gathered in the rebound, skated back out to the right dot and threaded his shot between Morris and the right post. The goal came at the 15:00 mark and Rockford skated to the locker room needing to rally.

Jones kept the IceHogs at bay, stopping all 20 shots he faced in relief of Baribeau in the final two periods. Rockford was 0-3 on the night on the power play, including a chance twelve minutes into the third period.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Josiah Slavin-Caron Gicewicz-Chris Wilkie

Tim Soderlund-Dylan McLaughlin-MacKenzie Entwistle

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Michal Teply

Andrei Altybarmakian-Garrett Mitchell (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Anton Lindholm-Dimitry Osipov

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Cole Moberg-Michael Krutil

Cale Morris

Ivan Nalimov

 

Saturday, April 24-Rockford 5, Iowa 3

The physical tone set the previous evening continued in the rematch. Iowa took a 1-0 advantage 2:10 into the game on a Cody McLeod tally. Hogs goalie Ivan Nalimov did a nice job keeping the Wild from building on that lead in the remainder of the frame. In all, the Hogs were listless in the offensive zone, getting out-shot 17-8 by Iowa.

D.J. Busdeker provided some net-front presence to tie the contest 4:29 into the second stanza. Busdeker got his stick on a drive by Dylan McLaughlin to redirect the puck past Iowa goalie Hunter Jones.

Late in the second, Dimitry Osipov sent a shot from the right point that glanced off the right post. The puck struck Jones in the back and into the Wild cage at the 15:51 mark for a 2-1 Rockford lead. The goal was set up by some dirty work behind the net by Carson Gicewicz, who gained possession and found Osipov for the primary assist.

The Wild got some late momentum with a Gabriel Dumont goal with 32 seconds remaining in the second period. Dumont jumped on a loose puck in the slot and fired past Nalimov to send the teams to the locker room all square at two goals.

Rockford stormed out to a 4-2 lead early in the third. Busdeker potted goal number two on the evening at the 3:39 mark, pouncing of a rebound of a McLaughlin shot. McLaughlin got in on the goal scoring at 6:30, putting a shot from the high slot through the pads of Jones.

Iowa responded quickly, getting a goal from Connor Dewar at 7:02 of the third period to draw within one. However, Nalimov and the IceHogs prevented the equalizer, locking up the contest with an empty-netter from Garrett Mitchell in the final minute.

Lines (Starters in italics)

MacKenzie Entwistle-Dylan McLaughlin-D.J. Busdeker

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Michal Teply

Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz-Mitchell Fossier

Matej Chalupa-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Andrei Altybarmakian

Cole Moberg-Cody Franson (A)

Anton Lindholm-Dimitry Osipov

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Ivan Nalimov

Cale Morris

 

Grand Rapids State Of Mind

The IceHogs begin a three-game set with the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday in Rockford. The piglets travel to Grand Rapids Saturday before returning to ‘Bago County on May 1.

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