The Rockford IceHogs are readying themselves for a heavy dose of the Cleveland Monsters. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate has just four games with the Monsters this season. However, they all are to be played this week.
The Monsters were to have started the season at the BMO Harris Bank Center on February 5 and 6. Those games had to be rescheduled. Rockford hosts back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday, then travels to Cleveland for games on Saturday and Sunday.
COVID-19 issues kept the Monsters grounded in Cleveland to open the season, with only three games under their belt. The Monsters, like Rockford, are still looking to pick up their first win of the season. They’re coming off an overtime loss in Grand Rapids Saturday afternoon.
Easy Breezy Weekend
Rockford was idle over the weekend. That isn’t going to happen for the remainder of the AHL season unless something changes.
Cam Morrison is still waiting to play his first game with the IceHogs after being banged up in training camp. Anton Lindholm, as reported last week, will be missing the next month-plus with a broken thumb.
Forward John Quenneville took a puck to the face in the third period of Thursday’s loss to Grand Rapids. He quickly returned to action in that game, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him sit out with so many forwards available.
It may also be a week that coach Derek King elects to give one or both of his young AHL contracts, Cale Morris and Tom Aubrun, a turn in the Hogs crease. Matt Tomkins has been solid so far, but I wouldn’t think he plays both ends of both back-to-backs.
Closeup On The Monsters
This Cleveland squad may not be among the AHL’s elite. However, the Monsters have a large collection of veteran players who are more than capable of taking advantage of rookie mistakes.
First of all, Rockford’s leading scorer and captain, Tyler Sikura, signed with Cleveland. Sikura plays a straight-forward game and always around the net to convert on opportunities.
Zac Dalpe is a long-time Monsters center who was selected as the team’s captain this season. He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2019-20 campaign. However, he’s well-accustomed to putting pucks into Rockford nets over the years. Dalpe and Sikura have been teamed with second-year forward Trey Fix-Wolanski on Cleveland’s top line.
Nathan Gerbe is another experienced player the young campers will have to deal with. Forwards like Nick Lappin, Justin Scott, and Kole Sherwood all have several seasons of AHL action under their belts.
Liam Foudy, the Blue Jackets first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, was recently sent to the Monsters for some work on his game. Foudy is a big, speedy forward that will need to be accounted for.
The defense will be led by Dillon Simpson, who had 23 points (9 G, 14 A) for Cleveland last season. Joining him is AHL veteran Adam Clendenning, who is quite adept on running a power play at this level. The former IceHog had 41 points (7 G, 34 A) in 55 games with the Monsters last season. He was recently sent to Cleveland from the Columbus taxi squad.
Veini Vehvilainen is back at goalie for his second pro season, having posted a 2.76 GAA and a .901 save percentage in 33 games in 2019-20. However, long-time Monsters backup Brad Theissen has been in goal for all three of Cleveland’s games and will no doubt see action in the back-to-back series.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on IceHogs action throughout the season.