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

Rockford IceHogs defenseman Ian Mitchell has owned a hot hand over the last few weeks. Mitchell is one of several young blueliners making an impact for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate.

Rockford dropped both ends of a home-and-home with Grand Rapids this weekend, ending a season-high four game winning streak in the process. Still, the Hogs defense continues to perform well at both ends of the ice.

Mitchell had a four-game points streak snapped in Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Griffins. He did pick up an assist at the BMO during Sunday’s 5-2 to Grand Rapids. In February, Mitchell has five goals and three assists.

A recent example of Mitchell’s surge came back on February 15, when he one-timed a late goal to tie Iowa. He then earned Rockford the third point with a successful shootout attempt.

The IceHogs have also gotten strong defensive play from Wyatt Kalynuk, Issac Phillips, Jakub Galvas, Alec Regula and Nicolas Beaudin. All six prospects have proven adept at forcing turnovers and jumping into the offensive rush.

 

Musings

  • It has proven difficult for the piglets to put together wins in recent seasons. Rockford’s four-in-a-row was the longest such streak since December of 2019. The Hogs managed that feat twice in the 2019-20 campaign.
  • Both losses to Grand Rapids this weekend came as a result of the Griffins breaking open tight games in the final frame. Rockford had tied the contest on Saturday with a Cameron Morrison goal early in the third, only to see Grand Rapids pull away with three scores.
  • Sunday’s loss stung because Rockford frittered away a 2-0 advantage in the final 40 minutes. Grand Rapids tied the game with a pair of goals in the second, then surrendered another three goals in the third.
  • The Blackhawks continue to shuffle players back and forth from Chicago to Rockford. Brett Connolly had a goal Sunday in his return to the IceHogs. Josiah Slavin was also reassigned to Rockford on Sunday.
  • The IceHogs recalled center Liam Folkes to Rockford from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel this morning. Folkes has been with the Fuel all season, with 11 points (5 G, 6 A) in 25 games.

 

This Week

The IceHogs travel to Iowa Friday for the first of a three-game weekend. Rockford then returns to the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday and Sunday for two games with the Texas Stars.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have become quite familiar with overtime hockey of late. Following this weekend’s action, Rockford has needed extra skating to decide each of its last four games.

The IceHogs (16-14-3-1) have earned six of a possible eight standings points in that span, despite just four regulation goals. Rockford’s latest overtime thriller was a big shootout win Saturday in Chicago. The piglets were badly outshot (36-21) but still prevailed 1-0, winning the shootout 2-1 on successful attempts by Michal Teply and Lukas Reichel.

A big road win against the Central Division leaders provided a bit of redemption after a disappointing 2-1 overtime loss in Milwaukee the evening before. Rockford scored a single goal in the weekend jaunt but improved to third place in the division standings with a .529 points percentage.

Leading the way defensively for the Hogs was rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom, who received back-to-back starts for the first time this season. Soderblom denied 68 of the 69 shots he faced this weekend, shutting out the high-powered Wolves with 36 saves Saturday.

Rockford has also tightened down the net when down a man on the ice. The IceHogs penalty kill has not allowed a goal in their last 15 chances over this four-game overtime streak.

With a 5-3-2 mark in January, Rockford’s next action comes on February 2, hosting Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Admirals are the division’s hottest team, having won six in a row.

Roster News

Defenseman Alec Regula missed two games with a bone bruise on his left leg, returning for Saturday’s win. Forward Cameron Morrison has been out the last seven games with a left hamstring injury. Dimitri Osipov has not played since receiving a game misconduct in Rockford’s January 21 game with Texas. Not sure if he is injured or sitting out while Kurtis Gabriel fills a similar role in the Hogs lineup.

A scary moment occurred late in Gus Macker Time Saturday when Lukas Reichel was checked in the offensive zone by Chicago’s Jamieson Rees. The Blackhawks top prospect was slow to get up and appeared to be favoring his right leg as he struggled off the ice.

Replays seemed to show Rees’ knee making contact just above Reichel’s right knee. Reichel remained on the Hogs bench and wound up potting the goal that won the shootout for Rockford.

Rees was not penalized for what, at first glance, looked like a knee-on-knee hit on Reichel. The contact was more incidental and looked a bit higher up on Reichel’s leg. Still, the organization may be holding its breath over the next couple of days.

 

Spare Thoughts

  • Despite helping Rockford win Saturday’s game, Reichel saw his seven-game point streak end in Rosemont. His is the longest such streak for a Hogs skater this season.
  • This weekend, the lone Rockford goal was the handiwork of Andrei Altybarmakian, who converted from the outside of the right circle in the first period against Milwaukee. Over his last ten games, Alrybarmakian has eight points (3 G, 5 A).
  • The Blackhawks continued shuttling players, sending defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk to Rockford on Friday. Kalynuk played for the Hogs in Saturday’s win, then was recalled by Chicago the following day.
  • Evan Barratt returned from a stretch on the AHL’s COVID protocols this weekend, though he did not make a dent on the scoresheet. Barratt’s last goal came on December 1, when he had a pair in a win over Milwaukee. Since that night, he’s managed just three assists in his last 15 games.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs earned a split in a two-game series with Cleveland this past weekend. Both teams picked up a win at the BMO Harris Bank Center-along with plenty of bruises.

The piglets, now 13-12-1-1 on the season, were in two of the more physical affairs of their 2021-22 season in the first half of the season series with Cleveland. In Friday’s contest, Rockford was able to handle the Monsters in the defensive zone, anchored by 33 saves by Arvid Soderblom. The IceHogs took the opener 5-2.

Saturday, Cleveland was even more aggressive, generating a lot of odd-man rushes at Collin Delia to the tune of a 5-2 second-period advantage. The Hogs rallied in the third and had chances to tie the game in the closing seconds, but wound up dropping a 5-4 decision.

 

Roster News

Following Saturday’s loss, the Blackhawks recalled G Cale Morris to the taxi squad, along with F Mike Hardman, who had a pair of goals over the weekend for Rockford.

Ian Mitchell played a big part in Friday’s win, was recalled to Chicago Saturday and subsequently sent back to Rockford. Also coming back to the IceHogs was rookie forward Lukas Reichel.

Both Chad Yetman and Brandon Pirri were on personal leave for the weekend.

Cameron Morrison was banged up in Friday’s game and did not play on Saturday. In his place was F Kale Howarth, who has recently come back from a shoulder injury.

 

Weekend Notes

  • Reichel and Pirri, two of the Hogs’ more prolific scorers of late, did not take part in the action this weekend. Despite this, Rockford was still able to get consistent scoring. It’s a good sign that the piglets can put points on the board after really struggling to do so in the first three months of the season.
  • Dylan McLaughlin is now on a four-game point streak. He had goals in both games this weekend and added a pair of assists in Friday’s win.
  • Hardman had a nice weekend in his return to the Hogs, with three points in the two games. He had a shorthanded goal after forcing a turnover on Friday, then added a power-play goal and assist Saturday.
  • Former IceHogs captain Tyler Sikura skated in both games for Cleveland, recording an assist on Saturday. In 29 games with the Monsters this season, Sikura The Elder has six goals and eight helpers.
  • Wyatt Kalynuk picked up a power play goal to kick off the scoring for Rockford on Friday. He had a spirited bout with Trey Fix-Wolansky late in that game. Kalynuk landed several punches to the helmet of his Monsters opponent, yet it was Fix-Wolansky who sat out Saturday’s rematch with a sore hand.
  • Two more Rockford skaters picked up their first goals of the 2021-22 campaign. Both came on Saturday night when Dimitri Osipov and Nicolas Beaudin both drew cord.
  • Osipov, who is being used as a forward for the first time this season, had one of his better games despite the loss Saturday. He was as involved on the offensive end as he has been all season and still was able to throw his weight around with several big hits.
  • Defenseman Alec Regula picked up assists on all four IceHogs goals in Saturday’s loss.
  • Collin Delia did not receive the same support in the Hogs zone Saturday as Soderblom had the previous evening. Coming into the contest, Delia was sporting a 1.01 goals against average and a .969 save percentage in his last four starts. However, he found himself struggling to stop the waves of Monsters bearing down on him.
  • The Hogs win streak ends at three games, matching a season-high that was set back in December. Rockford has not won four in a row since November 29-December 6 of 2019.

 

This Week

The IceHogs host Chicago Monday afternoon as the home stand continues. The Texas Stars arrive on Friday and Saturday for a weekend set.

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

Hockey

Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks allowed their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, to be severly undermanned in terms of depth. Nowhere was this more evident than at forward, where the organization went with a few NHL prospects and a slew of AHL signings.

How do things look entering the 2021-22 season? Right now, I’d say there’s some optimism that wasn’t there a year ago. This forward group will still consist of a lot of fresh-faced prospects. However, the piglets should be a lot deeper up front.

Is that going to show up on the scoreboard and the standings? Time’s going to tell on that one.

Rockford has been near the league basement for several seasons in terms of goals per game. Last season, the IceHogs were 25th of 28 teams with a 2.78 per game scoring average. The lack of offensive bite was a big factor in the team’s last-place finish in the Central Division.

AHL signing Dylan McLaughlin paced Rockford with 22 points (8 G, 14 A) in 28 games last season. That point total was good for 55th place in AHL scoring in 2020-21. Chris Wilkie co-led the team with eight goals and finished the season with 13 points in 22 games, while fellow rookie Evan Barratt totaled 14 points (5 G, 9 A).

Other forwards who chipped in on offense included D.J. Busdeker (5 G, 7 A), Andrei Altybarmakian (5 G, 7 A), and MacKenzie Entwistle (4 G, 8 A). All figure to be back in action for Rockford, thought Entwistle may find a spot on the NHL roster to open the season.

Getting consistent offense out of players getting their feet wet in professional hockey is a challenge. Some organizations keep their rosters well-stocked with proven, AHL-level scorers to bolster their prospects. That’s a strategy the Blackhawks have employed sparingly, if at all, over the past few seasons.

In 2020-21, the taxi squad required of NHL teams kept several potential lamp-lighters in a kind of limbo. Chicago had obtained former AHL scoring champ Brandon Pirri with the plan of him anchoring the IceHogs offense. Pirri spent most of his season on the Blackhawks taxi squad.

When Pirri was unleashed on AHL opponents, he filled the net. In just seven games, the veteran forward potted eight goals, tying him for the team lead. He had points in six of those contests, including a hat trick against the Chicago Wolves on April 7. Unfortunately, Pirri spent far more time not playing for Chicago than he spent on the ice for Rockford.

Pirri, along with other experienced scorers, are still free agents waiting to contribute to an AHL club. The Blackhawks, who own the IceHogs as of this season, don’t seem to be inclined to move in the direction of seeking established scorers. However, there may still be some offensive punch on this year’s roster.

NHL veteran Brett Connelly, obtained in a trade with Florida last season, cleared waivers this month and was assigned to Rockford. 2020-21 was a tough year for Connelly, but he’s been a consistent NHL scorer in the past. He put up a 31-goal season with Syracuse in a full season with the Crunch back in 2012-13.

Chicago is getting some cap relief by sending the 29-year-old Connelly to the AHL. If this serves as motivation for him to play his way back to the Hawks or another NHL organization, the IceHogs could have a big offensive weapon to open play in Grand Rapids October 15.

Another potential goal-scorer comes in the form of Alex Nylander, who was assigned to Rockford after he was declared waiver-exempt by the NHL. Nylander, who missed all of last season, could have been claimed otherwise.

It is unclear how long Nylander remains with the Hogs. However, he is certainly skilled enough to post a 40-point season in a full AHL campaign. Skill with the puck was in short supply in the abbreviated 2020-21 season, so any time he spends in Rockford will be a bonus to IceHogs fans.

Center Garrett Mitchell will captain Rockford, as he did last season. Mitchell, who is on an AHL contract, is probably past the days where you could expect 20-30 points from his stick, but the long-time veteran is on board to mentor the prospects.

Reese Johnson is one of the elder statesmen on the IceHogs, even at age 23. Johnson split time between Rockford and Chicago and is back for his third pro season. He was in Rockford for 18 games in 2020-21, putting up eight points (4 G, 4 A).

Other Blackhawks prospects include Matej Chalupa, Josiah Slavin, and Michal Teply. Slavin showed some offensive spark after he was signed midseason, with three goals and three helpers in his first six games.

It appears that 2020 first-round pick Lucas Reichel will begin his North American career with the Hogs. Reichel will be a player to watch in terms of offensive potential. First up for the 19-year-old Reichel will be getting used to maneuvering the rink in the grinding, physical AHL.

Cameron Morrison will also be looking to get his pro career started. In Morrison’s case, it’s a bit of a restart. The former Notre Dame skater was injured in the 2020-21 preseason and was out for the year. The question last year was how Morrison’s game translated to the professional level. Hopefully he gets the chance to answer those questions starting this weekend.

Mike Hardman and Jakub Pour are additional new faces on the IceHogs roster. Hardman turned pro after his second season at Boston College and saw some action with the Blackhawks before the season ended. Pour, who, like Hardman, is 22 years old, has spent the last two seasons playing professionally in the Czech League.

Last year, the taxi squad and a lack of depth signings made it necessary for a lot of Rockford’s AHL contracts to carry the load. Besides Mitchell, McLaughlin, and possibly Busdeker, it may be harder for some returning AHL contracts to find ice time.

Wilkie, Chad Yetman, Riley McKay, and Carson Gicewicz could split time between Rockford and the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel. New faces include Kale Howarth, who was signed following his college career ended at UCONN, and Liam Folkes, who was obtained in an AHL trade with Bakersfield.

Dmitri Osipov is a bit of an outlier. The former defenseman is apparently being converted to forward by the Blackhawks. He may get a chance to play the position with the IceHogs, or head to Indy to continue to learn the new position.

The first month of the season may see the IceHogs struggle for points. A team of young players will need to build chemistry and find the same kind of scoring touch from their college or junior days. If Rockford has aspirations of competing in the Central Division, they will have to find some steady point producers.

How will the Hogs fare in this year’s AHL schedule? Things get started in Grand Rapids on Friday, October 15. Rockford visits Chicago the following evening. I’ll be back in a few days to preview the opening weekend of action with the Griffins and Wolves.

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