Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs came out of their first three-game weekend with a pair of victories and five of six possible points. However, that success was tempered a bit with two more injuries that are keeping a lot of Rockford skaters in street clothes.

The piglets sit in fourth place in the Central Division standings. Rockford defeated first-place Milwaukee on Friday before splitting a home-and-home with second place Iowa.

 

Add Snuggerud To The List Of Injured Hogs

Defenseman Luc Snuggerud hasn’t seen a lot of ice time this season. Saturday night, the second-year pro made his first appearance since October 20 in Tucson. Early in the second period, former Rockford forward Mike Liambas delivered a bit hit in the corner of the Hogs zone that sent Snuggerud to the ice unconscious.

First off, it was a completely legal hit. Liambas, who was not penalized on the play, doesn’t shy away from finishing checks. That said, both players were chasing a puck in the corner and Liambas planted his shoulder squarely into the chest of Snuggerud. Snuggerud’s head slammed into the glass and the young man was taken off the ice on a stretcher.

Snuggerud missed time last season after suffering a concussion, so it is very concerning to see him leave the ice like that. He was hospitalized for observation and sent home Sunday, though it’s hard to say when he’ll be back in action.

There are several players missing from the IceHogs lineup. The defense, in particular, has been hit hard, with four players out of commission in the wake of Snuggerud’s injury. Veteran Andrew Campbell left Saturday’s game with a leg issue when Snuggerud was taken off. He didn’t return and did not skate on Sunday.

Already among the injured were defensemen Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling. Both players are suffering from groin injuries. Forwards Matthew Highmore and Jordan Schroeder were also unavailable this weekend.

To bolster the blueline corps, Rockford recalled AHL signees Josh McArdle and Neil Manning from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Both played on Sunday in Iowa as Colliton used all seven of his defensemen in the contest.

 

No Response

Tim Mattila, who was providing commentary with Joseph Zakrzewski on the Hogs broadcast, had this to say on the play that knocked out Snuggerud:

“I thought it was a clean hit, A, but, B, old school, somebody takes that guy out and does their thing, in my opinion,” he said. “That’s old school; that’s not the way it is anymore, but somebody would have challenged that guy, whoever it was that hit him, to a fight. Immediately. But that’s not the way it is nowadays.”

Moments later, Mattila again voiced his opinion on the hit, adding, “I don’t want to reiterate the fact…typically, someone would have taken care of somebody’s business there.”

Mattila’s comments were spot on; there was a time when it would not have come as a shock to see an IceHogs player come off the bench to dance, suspension be damned. I have no doubt Liambas would have obliged anyone who wished to discuss business with him.

In defense of the piglets, there seemed to be more concern for how Snuggerud was than getting in the face of Liambas, a longtime veteran with 87 AHL scraps under his belt.

It should also be pointed out that fighting is not Rockford’s thing; none of the current crop of IceHogs possess the skills to routinely drop gloves with any opponent. You may consider this a good thing or a bad thing; it is simply a fact.

Later in this contest, Henrik Samuelsson laid a check on Iowa’s Colton Beck and was immediately engaged by Wild defenseman Louis Belpedio. It was Belpedio’s first pro fight, though the two mostly jostled for position before being separated.

Snuggerud’s injury was not caused by Rockford’s lack of pugilistic fortitude. The IceHogs are not built to fight. They’re built to skate, so that’s what they do.

 

Spotlight On The Stat Sheet

One player who stepped up to lead the depleted back end was Darren Raddysh, who is now second on the team in points with nine. He got on the score sheet in both Rockford wins this weekend. Friday saw the second-year pro contribute a pair of goals. He tied the game in the third period in Milwaukee, then tossed in the game-winner against the Ads.

Also logging a three-point weekend was Dylan Sikura, who paces the Hogs with ten points (4 G, 6 A). Sikura the Younger has points in seven of Rockford’s first twelve games.

The team leader in goals, with six, is Anthony Louis, who had three in the two games with Iowa Saturday and Sunday. His goal at the BMO Saturday tied the game and earned the Hogs a point despite coming up short in the shootout.

 

Recaps

Work commitments kept me out of the basement most of the weekend. Maybe not the worst thing for me, but no lines this week.

 

Friday, November 2-Rockford 3, Milwaukee 2 (OT)

The Hogs earned two points at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, thanks in part to a pair of goals from Darren Raddysh.

Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead 14:o2 into the game on Zach Magwood’s first pro goal, a snipe from the right dot that got by the glove of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg. Rockford was quick to tie the score after killing off an Ads power play.

Jacob Nilsson, in the bin of sin for a hook, came back onto the ice as the penalty expired and was greeted by a loose puck skidding into the neutral zone. He skated hard to the Milwaukee net only to have his backhand attempt broken up. A persistent Nilsson chased down the puck behind the net, skated to the corner and hit Dylan Sikura at the bottom of the right circle. Sikura buried the puck past Admirals goalie Tom McCullom for the equalizer at 16:59 of the first.

Magwood’s one-timer from between the circles gave Milwaukee a 2-1 advantage 4:20 into the second period. Rockford, who spent a lot of time killing penalties on the evening, went to the locker room down a goal.

The IceHogs killed off three more penalties in the third, stopping all seven Milwaukee power plays on the evening. Rockford tied the game on a Darren Raddysh blast from the right point at 12:08 after Nilsson brought the puck into the Milwaukee zone and dropped a pass to the second-year defenseman.

Gus Macker Time was pretty eventful after neither team could settle things in regulation. Terry Broadhust was defending Admirals forward Anthony Richard two minutes into extra hockey when Richard stumbled head first into the half boards. It appeared that Richard had either caught a rut in the ice or taken a stick to the shins. No penalty was called on the play; Richard skated off to the locker room  and the game continued.

Lucas Carlsson broke up a Milwaukee 2-on-1 to set up the game winner. The Hogs brought the puck back into the Ads zone, where Raddysh was hooked by Colin Blackwell. Rockford sent an extra skater into the fray on the delayed penalty.

Fittingly, Raddysh one-timed a shot from the left dot moments later to end the game in favor of the IceHogs. The goal came at 3:33 of overtime.

Forsberg stopped 22 of 24 Milwaukee shots to pick up the win. Magwood earned First Star honors from the home press box, followed by Raddysh and Anthony Louis. The IceHogs went 0-5 on the power play, but stopped all seven Milwaukee power play chances.

 

Saturday, November 3-Iowa 2, Rockford 1 (SO)

Rockford skated with an abbreviated blueline for the bulk of the night but still managed to come out of the game with a point. Collin Delia stopped all but one of the 42 shots the Wild heaped on him.

The Wild’s only goal in regulation came just 1:51 into the game when a Brennan Menell offering slipped through traffic to the back of the IceHogs net. Rockford trailed 1-0 after the first twenty minutes.

Early in the second period, Luc Snuggerud took a hit in the corner of the Wild zone from Iowa’s Mike Liambas. His head slammed into the glass as he went down and the second-year defenseman was stretchered off the ice. As that was taking place, Andrew Campbell also skated to the locker room.

Despite having just four defensemen available the rest of the way, the IceHogs stayed in the contest. Rockford tied the game late in the second after Tyler Sikura won a battle for the puck along the half boards in neutral ice.

Sikura passed to Henrik Samuelsson as he entered the Iowa zone. Samuelsson skated to the doorstep before backhanding a pass to Anthony Louis as he came down the right side. Louis back-doored Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen at 17:01 of the second.

The score remained 1-1 through regulation and overtime; Delia stopped 19 Iowa shots in that span. The Wild fared better in the shootout, as Sam Anas and Gerry Fitzgerald converted in the first two rounds. Kahkonen stopped Viktor Ejdsell and Louis to close out the contest.

Both teams had four power plays on the night. Neither team could cash in on any of them.

 

Sunday, November 4-Rockford 4, Iowa 2

Rockford got a pair of goals in a 1:05 span in the opening period. The first was set up by Dennis Gilbert, who broke up an entry pass attempt by the Wild. Darren Raddysh collected the puck and made a stretch pass to Viktor Ejdsell. In the resulting 2-on-1, Ejdsell fed Dylan Sikura for the lamp lighter at 7:29 of the first.

Shortly thereafter, Anthony Louis pounced on an Iowa turnover along the half boards near the red line and skated the puck into the Wild zone. He fired from the left dot past the glove of Iowa goalie Andrew Hammond for a 2-0 Hogs advantage at the 8:34 mark.

The Wild got the next two goals of the game. Matt Bartkowski finished a 3-on-1 rush at 11:54 of the first. Later, on a Wild man advantage, Ryan Kloos sent a wrister from the slot than sneaked under the pads of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg 3:52 into the second period.

Rockford regained the lead on a power play goal. Jacob Nilsson potted his first of the season, putting back a rebound of a Lucas Carlsson point shot. The goal came at 16:44 of the period and made it 3-2 Hogs going into the second intermission.

The Hogs failed to build on the lead despite a couple of power play chances in the third period, but Forsberg kept Iowa at bay for the remainder of the game. The Wild pulled Hammond in the final minutes, leading to Louis denting the empty net for his second goal of the night.

Forsberg made 31 stops on the evening to pick up his second win of the season. Nilsson was the game’s first star, followed by Cal O’Reilly of the Wild and Louis.

The power play was one-for-six on the night, while the Wild was one-for-five.

 

Good Morning, Sunshine

Rockford faces off with the Wild for the third game in a row when they host Iowa Wednesday morning at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Then, the Hogs are off on their longest road trek of the 2017-18 campaign. The six-game jaunt gets underway Friday and Saturday with visits to Milwaukee and Chicago.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs face their first three-game weekend against some familiar opponents. After opening the season series against the Milwaukee Admirals, the Hogs have a home-and-home with the Iowa Wild. A quick look at the Central Division standings tells us that Rockford is in for a tough start to the month of November.

The Admirals sit atop the division with an 8-1-2 mark. Iowa is third in the Central with a 5-2 record and are scoring nearly five goals a game. The IceHogs (4-3-1-1, .556 points percentage) are currently in a tie for fourth place with Texas and Manitoba. Rockford will have its hands full this weekend.

The IceHogs are a bit banged up and will have to rely on some players a little further down on the depth chart. Rockford is coming off of two losses to Cleveland and Manitoba despite solid play in their own net. The piglets could muster a single goal in each of the last two contests. They will have to improve upon that to keep up in this early-season division test.

 

Roster Moves

On Monday, Kevin Lankinen was sent to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Coming up in an unrelated move was forward Brett Welychka, who had four points (2 G, 2 A) in five games for the Fuel this season. Also coming up to Rockford on Wednesday was forward Radovan Bondra. Bondra missed a large chunk of last season to injury after signing an AHL deal with Rockford.

Welychka and Bondra are likely up due to injury issues with Jordan Schroeder and Matthew Highmore. Schroeder may not be ready to return from an injury that kept him out last weekend, while Highmore left Sunday’s game with Manitoba with an apparent shoulder injury.

Defenseman Carl Dahlstrom left Sunday’s game with a groin injury. His availability would seem to also be in doubt, though there should be plenty of healthy bodies for coach Jeremy Colliton to use on the blueline.

 

Milwaukee Admirals-Friday

Rockford travels to UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena for a 7:00 p.m. puck drop. The Ads won eight of the ten meetings between the two teams last season and are currently on a five-game points streak.

Veteran forward Rocco Grimaldi is up with the Predators, so Milwaukee loses his point-producing abilities. However, the Admirals still have several weapons on offense.

Anthony Richard is tied for the team lead with six goals after potting 19 a season ago. Emil Pettersson (4 G, 5 A) is back for his second season after putting up 46 points in his rookie year.

Defenseman Matt Donovan (6 G, 6 A)is back in the AHL after two seasons in Europe. His six goals is tied for first among league defensemen. Frederic Allard (1 G, 9 A) has also been strong for Milwaukee on the back end.

Longtime Grand Rapids goalie Tom McCollum (2.44 goals against, .913 save percentage) has been the primary starter and will likely face the IceHogs Friday. He is backed up by six-year veteran Troy Grosenick (2.60, .918)

 

Iowa Wild-Saturday & Sunday

Rockford plays host to the Wild at 6:00 p.m. Saturday before hopping on the bus and taking on Iowa at Wells Fargo Arena Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

The Wild power play is the class of the AHL so far; Iowa has ten goals in 26 opportunities (38.5 percent). At 4.71 goals per contest, Iowa is second only to Springfield in scoring in the league. The Wild come off a sweep of Colorado last weekend, putting up a dozen goals in the two games.

Center Cal O’Reilly has five seasons of 60-plus points in his 13 AHL seasons, including 64 points (15 G, 49 A) with the Wild in 2017-18. With seven points in Iowa’s seven games (2 G, 5 A), the 32-year-old O’Reilly shares the team points lead with Luke Kunin (3 G, 4 A) and rookie Mason Shaw (1 G, 6 A).

Other point-producers are forwards Justin Kloos (3 G, 3 A) and Kyle Rau (3 G, 3 A), who put up 23 goals with the Wild last season. Landon Ferraro is a familiar name, having skated with Grand Rapids and Chicago as well as Iowa in his seven-year pro career.

Former Hogs forward Mike Liambas will not be afraid to finish a check. He also has three goals already this season. Rookie center Gerry Fitzgerald has four goals for the Wild.

Ryan Murphy is back for his second season with Iowa after five years with Charlotte. He paced the defensemen with three goals and three helpers.

In goal, Rockford will likely be shooting at Andrew Hammond, who has started six of Iowa’s first seven games. He’s 5-1 with a 2.64 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. Rookie Kaapo Kahkonen comes from the Finnish Ligua, where he posted six shutouts to go with a 2.20 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in 56 games with Luuko.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for the occasional thought over the weekend.

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs suffered through a frustrating weekend at the BMO Harris Bank Center. They also may have lost more than a couple of hockey games.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate competed hard with Cleveland and Manitoba, only to come out on the short end of back-to-back games. The IceHogs could manage just two goals in the two games, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Monsters, then falling in a shootout by that same 2-1 score to the Moose.

It’s safe to say that Rockford finished play this weekend a little banged up. There could be some roster moves necessary after two key skaters left Sunday’s games with injuries.

Defenseman Carl Dahlstrom suffered a groin injury early in Sunday’s game. He left the ice after skating his last shift in the sixth minute and did not return to action.

Late in the second period, Matthew Highmore took a spill after circling the puck around the Manitoba zone. He landed awkwardly and appeared to injure his right shoulder. After a visit from the trainer, he was led to the locker room. Highmore also did not return to the game.

The IceHogs skated with 11 forwards in both games this weekend, due to an injury to Jordan Schroeder. The nature of his injury was not disclosed, though it was thought to be minor enough that Schroeder would be ready to play moving forward.

Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton commented on Schroeder’s absence from the power play, which went 1-8 on the weekend, struggling at times to get set up in the offensive zone.

“He (Schroeder)’s a very good power play guy. Right shot, very comfortable on the puck, very comfortable entering the zone under control,” Colliton said. “That was a little bit of our issue; we had trouble entering clean and we didn’t break pressure.”

There are currently 13 forwards on Rockford’s roster. William Pelletier has not played yet this season after a very productive rookie campaign. Colliton did not seem to have a definite answer for when Pelletier would be ready to join the lineup.

“He’s out,” Colliton said. “I’m not sure, like, down to the week but it’s definitely weeks. We’re in the months situation.”

It could be a while before Pelletier is skating again. If Highmore is going to miss substantial time, there should be a call-up sometime this week. With four days between the Manitoba game and Friday’s match up in Milwaukee, we’ll have to see as to the extent of the Hogs injury woes.

UPDATE: OCT. 29-This morning, the IceHogs recalled Brett Welychka from Indy and sent down G Kevin Lankinen.

 

Weekend Musings

  • Cleveland is going to be a tough team to beat if they can retain its current mix. There are a lot of speedy young prospects that are bolstered by experienced NHL veterans like Mark Letestu and Nathan Gerbe.
  • Colliton had the following take on Cleveland: “I think they’re big and they skate pretty well. They’ve got a lot of depth up front. They put pressure all over the ice and we had trouble making clean plays.”
  • Colliton also remained pretty optimistic about the Hogs play in the two losses. Rockford was down to ten forwards and missing one of its better defenders in Dahlstrom but still hung tough down the stretch against the Moose. “Their goaltender played pretty well. Our goaltender played pretty well. It was a good hockey game,” he remarked on Sunday. “It’s never fun to come out on the losing end. Based on the weekend, how we played, we probably deserved better than one point. Overall, we’ll just continue to get better and the points will come.”
  • Dennis Gilbert got tangled up with J.C. Lipon of the Moose. The two dropped the gloves coming out of the corner of the Manitoba zone 6:26 into the game. It was over before it really got started, with both players falling to the ice and being separated by the officials.
  • That is Rockford’s second fighting major in nine games so far. At that rate, the IceHogs would draw 17 FMs in 2018-19. To be honest, they probably don’t reach that total, having draw just 12 last season. Rockford is not employing the type of player who is capable of delivering big hits and backing it up with his fists. Manitoba turned the physical play up a notch Sunday. I can’t say the Hogs held their own in this aspect of the game, but they didn’t seem to be thrown off too much by the rugged style of the Moose.
  • An Anton Forsberg-Collin Delia goalie tandem could prove to be quite formidable if both players remain in Rockford. Kevin Lankinen should probably be getting starts in Indy. It might not be fair to the rookie from Finland, but he needs time in a net. (UPDATE-Lankinen was assigned to the Fuel October 29.)
  • Delia’s save percentage is .925; he’s handling the crease well in the face of increased rubber flying his way. He is carrying a 2.64 goals against average.
  • Curious as to how long Gustav Forsling is going to be in Rockford in the face of the current defensive landscape in Chicago. He sent a couple of bullets to the net and was on a power play unit in his first week of action in Rockford. This did not result in any points for Forsling in three games, but he seems to have no ill effects from this summer’s wrist surgery.
  • Tyler and Dylan Sikura and Highmore pace the club with seven points each. Tyler’s four goals is still tops among the IceHogs. He also has the highest skater rating (plus-five).
  • Colliton iced the same lineup, save for his goalies, in both weekend contests. With Schroeder out, he dressed seven defensemen and just 11 forwards. Defensemen Luc Snuggerud and Joni Tuulola were the healthy scratches.
  • Dylan Sikura (2 G, 7 A) is 13th among rookies in scoring. Blake Hillman has a lone assist on the season but he is also a plus-four. Viktor Ejdsell leads Rockford rookies with three goals.

Recaps

Saturday, October 27-Cleveland 2, Rockford 1

The IceHogs were in this game until the end. Cleveland, however, won for the third time in as many tries against Rockford.

The pace was certainly rapid to begin the contest. Rockford had several quality scoring chances turned away by Monsters goalie Matises Kivlenieks. Cleveland gained a 1-0 advantage late in the first period. A holding penalty by Dennis Gilbert led to a Zac Dalpe put back of a rebound at the 19:08 mark. Dalpe was on the spot to gather in the initial shot by Mark Letestu.

The score held through the second, which saw Rockford go 0-3 on the man advantage. The Hogs also killed off nearly two minutes of 5-on-3 time to keep the deficit to a single goal.

The Rockford power play managed to tie the game in the third after Blake Siebenhaler slashed Terry Broadhurst behind the Monsters net. Viktor Ejdsell took a pass from Carl Dahlstrom at the left point. His drive found its way past Kivlenieks to tie the score 6:58 into the period.

Both teams had chances to break the tie. That didn’t happen until Paul Bittner gathered up a Gabriel Carlsson shot that had come off the right post. Bittner scored at the 15:27 mark to make it 2-1 Monsters.

The Hogs pulled starting goalie Anton Forsberg, who stopped 25 of 27 Cleveland shots, in favor of a sixth attacker in the closing minutes. This created some excitement around the Monsters net as the final seconds ticked away. Ultimately, the sands of time ran out on the piglets.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Viktor Ejdsell-Matthew Highmore (A)-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Dylan Sikura-Jacob Nilsson

Anthony Louis-Tyler Sikura-Henrik Samuelsson

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Andrew Campbell-Gustav Forsling

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Dennis Gilbert-Darren Raddysh

Lucas Carlsson

Anton Forsberg

Power Play (1-6)

Ejdsell-Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Louis

Sikura-Sikura-Broadhurst-Raddysh-Forsling

Penalty Kill (Cleveland was 1-5)

Highmore-T. Sikura-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Nilsson-Knott-Raddysh-Forsling

Broadhurst-Noel-Campbell-Carlsson

 

Sunday, October 28-Manitoba 2, Rockford 1 (SO)

Rockford forced extra skating to earn a standings point but came up short on penalty shots, losing its second game in a row.

After a scoreless first period, both teams found their way to the twine in the middle frame. The Moose took a 1-0 lead after a dump-in knuckled over the head of Hogs goalie Collin Delia. The puck settled behind the net, where Felix Girard won control. Girard slid a pass to Tye McGinn in the slot; the ensuing shot was sent over Delia’s glove at the 10:18 mark.

The Hogs evened things up late in the period after Manitoba’s Sami Niku caught the left post on a shot attempt that would have given his team a two-goal advantage. The puck was sent around the end boards, where Lucas Carlsson took possession long enough to hit Tyler Sikura about to skate out of the Rockford zone.

Sikura skated the puck to the Moose end of the ice, sending a shot that was stopped by Manitoba rookie Mikhail Berdin. The rebound came back out to defenseman Andrew Campbell, who had joined the rush, and the put back at 17:50 made it a 1-1 game entering the second intermission.

Neither Delia or Berdin yielded a goal for the remainder of regulation. Rockford held firm in Gus Macker Time, killing off a 4-on-3 Moose advantage for the last 1:23. Unfortunately, Berdin was one stop better in the shootout. Seth Griffin’s second round goal was the difference.

Rockford shooters Viktor Ejdsell, Anthony Louis and Dylan Sikura were all denied by Berdin, who nabbed First Star honors with a 35-save performance in his first AHL game. Delia (36 saves on 37 shots) and Campbell rounded out the three stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Viktor Ejdsell-Matthew Highmore (A)-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Dylan Sikura-Jacob Nilsson

Anthony Louis-Tyler Sikura-Henrik Samuelsson

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Blake Hillman-Gustav Forsling

Andrew Campbell-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Dennis Gilbert-Darren Raddysh

Lucas Carlsson

Anton Forsberg

Power Play (0-2)

Ejdsell-Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Louis

Sikura-Sikura-Broadhurst-Raddysh-Forsling

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-3)

Highmore-T. Sikura-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Nilsson-Knott-Raddysh-Forsling

Broadhurst-Noel-Campbell-Carlsson

 

Coming Up

The piglets have their first three-in-three of the season this weekend. On Friday, the Hogs visit Milwaukee for their first meeting of the season with the Admirals. Saturday, Rockford hosts the Iowa Wild before traveling to DesMoines for a Sunday afternoon tilt.

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, are hitting the weekend on a two-game win streak. Coach Jeremy Colliton will hope to extend the winning ways as the IceHogs host Cleveland and Manitoba.

Rockford bested a scuffling San Antonio Rampage club at the BMO Wednesday night, but looked a little sloppy doing so. The IceHogs put together 15 minutes of real good hockey Wednesday; that got them by a struggling opponent who now have lost seven straight. Beating Cleveland will require a more complete performance.

With a record of 4-2-1 heading into this weekend, Rockford sits in fourth place in the AHLs Central Division standings. Two wins would keep the Hogs within reach of the Milwaukee Admirals, Chicago Wolves and Texas Stars, the teams ahead of Rockford.

 

Roster Moves

Defenseman Gustav Forsling was sent to Rockford on Monday, having recovered from wrist surgery over the summer. He went right into the lineup Wednesday night.

Tuesday, goalie Anton Forsberg cleared waivers and was assigned to the IceHogs. For the moment, Rockford is carrying three goalies. How long will this remain the case?

Both Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have played well for Colliton in the early going. Both may figure into the future for the Blackhawks. It doesn’t appear that Forsberg fits into those plans. On the other hand, he does have experience in an NHL net in case of an injury.

Forsberg is a very good goalie at the AHL level and will need to showcase those skills if the Hawks have designs on moving his contract. Colliton hinted that Forsberg could get a start for Rockford this weekend. From there, we may see a move made to thin the herd in the crease.

Also on Tuesday, Luke Johnson was recalled to the Blackhawks. This comes after a solid weekend of action with the Hogs in Tucson this past weekend.

 

Tomkins Shines In Indy

Matt Tomkins, who is on an AHL contract with Rockford, is playing well to open the season for the Indy Fuel. Tomkins was named the CCM/ECHL Goaltender of the Week for the week of Oct. 15-21. Tomkins earned the honor for the second time in his career, previously winning the award the week of Dec. 4-10, 2017.

The former Ohio State goalie turned away 72 of the 76 shots he faced last weekend, winning both games he started for the Fuel. Overall, Tomkins is 3-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

 

Recap

Wednesday, October 24-Rockford 5, San Antonio 2

Rockford broke out with four second-period goals, overcoming some uninspired play in the first and third frames to pick up the win over the Rampage.

There wasn’t much action in the opening period. Rockford had three shots at the power play but couldn’t put much together in the way of scoring chances. The same was true when the Hogs were at even strength. It was a different story, however, when the teams hit the BMO Harris Bank Center ice for the second stanza.

The first of three IceHogs goals in the opening minutes of the period came at the 1:17 mark. Darren Raddysh and Matthew Highmore moved the puck along the right half boards and into neutral ice. Viktor Ejdsell collected the puck and skated it all the way to the right dot. His shot made it past Rampage goalie Ville Husso for a 1-0 Rockford advantage.

Less than a minute later, Raddysh lifted a puck out of his zone. It was gathered in by Anthony Louis, who skated into the San Antonio zone with teammates in tow. Louis sent a nice saucer pass to Henrik Samuelsson skating toward the right post. The glove-side shot kissed cord at 1:58 of the second and made it 2-0 Hogs.

Rockford went up 3-0 a few minutes later after Terry Broadhurst sprung Highmore on a breakaway chance. Highmore lost the handle on the puck as he prepared to fire on goal. Fortunately, Ejdsell was following the play and knocked the loose biscuit into Husso’s basket at 4:11 of the second.

Dylan Sikura got a chance to showcase his speed after swiping a pass from Robby Fabbri just inside the Hogs blue line. Sikura the Younger zipped across the neutral zone and made a beeline for the San Antonio net. The shot slid between Husso’s pads at 14:26 and it was 4-0 Rockford.

A broken Plexiglas panel forced an early second intermission. The last 3:28 of the second period was played, followed quickly by the third period. This delay marked a shift in momentum as the visiting team was allowed to get back in the game.

Just 1:43 into the final frame, Trevor Smith took a rebound off the end boards and found the back of a wide open net from the left post to get the Rampage on the board. The Rampage closed the gap to 4-2 on a shorthanded goal by Fabbri at the 9:56 mark.

That’s as close as it got, however. Hussa was pulled to attempt a two-man advantage with Louis in the box for sending a puck over the glass. Tyler Sikura forced a turnover that Highmore deposited into the Bank of Empty Net at 18:40 of the third period, earning frozen custard for all at the BMO.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mattheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Terry Broadhurst (A)-Matthew Highmore-Viktor Ejdsell

Dylan Sikura-Jacob Nilsson-Jordan Schroeder

Anthony Louis-Tyler Sikura (A)-Henrik Samuelsson

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Andrew Campbell-Lucas Carlsson

Collin Delia

Power Play (0-7)

Sikura-Sikura-Schroeder-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Louis-Highmore-Broadhurst-Nilsson-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Rampage was 0-5)

Nilsson-T. Sikura-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Highmore-Knott-Forsling-Raddysh

Broadhurst-Samuelsson-Campbell-Carlsson

 

Previewing The Weekend

Cleveland-Saturday, October 27

The Monsters are 5-3 on the season and in second place in the AHLs North Division. Like San Antonio, Cleveland will be coming off a game in Milwaukee Friday before taking on the Hogs Saturday at 6:00 p.m.

Zac Dalpe paces the Monsters with nine points (6 G, 3 A). Rookie Eric Robinson has gotten off to a strong start as well, with four goals and three helpers. Both were instrumental in handing Rockford a pair of defeats in Cleveland to open the season.

The IceHogs will need to stop Dalpe and Robinson this time around, as well as captain Nathan Gerbe (1 G, 5 A) and speedy rookie Vitaly Abramov (2 G, 2 A). Forward Alex Broadhurst (1 G, 4 A) has also been tough on his former team in recent years.

One player that Rockford will see for the first time is defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, who leads the Monsters back end with a goal and three assists. J.F. Berube, who beat the Hogs in the season opener, has taken most of the turns in net. In his last start Wednesday morning, he gave up five goals in Chicago in a loss to the Wolves.

 

Manitoba-Sunday, October 28

The Moose make their first visit to the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon for a 4:00 p.m. start. Manitoba is 3-3 heading into their game Saturday night in…you guessed it…Milwaukee.

Last weekend, the Moose took a pair of games at home from San Antonio. After scoring just five goals in their first four contests, Manitoba exploded for ten goals against the Rampage.

Manitoba is led in scoring by last year’s AHL Outstanding Rookie, Mason Appleton. The big winger is off to a solid start, with eight points (4 G, 4 A). He’s coming off a hat trick on October 21, when he had a five-point game against San Antonio.

Rookie C.J. Suess tops the Moose with five goals. He has found the back of the net in four of Manitoba’s first six games. There hasn’t been much scoring throughout the rest of the lineup, save for veteran Seth Griffin, who has chipped in a pair of goals and two apples. Griffin played with Rochester, where he posted 41 points (15 G, 26 A) a season ago.

Sami Niku is a dangerous scoring presence on the blue line, though he’s yet to light a lamp this season. Former IceHogs defenseman Cameron Schilling had a career-year for Manitoba last season (6 G, 26 A) and is back for the Moose.

Other familiar faces include J.C. Lipon, who’s starting his fourth season with Manitoba, and former Milwaukee and San Antonio forward Felix Girard. Girard has two goals for his new team so far.

The tandem in goal is led by Eric Comrie, who has three seasons under his belt with the Moose. In five starts, Comrie is 3-2 with a 2.80 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. His backup is former Devil’s farmhand Ken Appleby, who gave up six goals to Iowa in his last start on October 13.

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

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs returned to Illinois yesterday on the heels of a solid road trip. The Hogs picked up three of a possible four points in their Friday and Saturday dates with the Tucson Roadrunners.

Both games saw Rockford rally from multiple-goal deficits. Special teams played a bit part in the successs of the piglets, who lost an overtime decision Friday before pulling out a win the following evening.

The IceHogs now settle in at the BMO Harris Bank Center, where they begin a stretch of five of the next seven games at home. Rockford plays host to San Antonio Wednesday before being visited by Cleveland Saturday and Manitoba Sunday.

The Hogs are fifth in the Central Division standings with a .583 points percentage. Coach Jeremy Colliton’s club is putting pucks in the net and are showing that same never-say-die attitude that made last year’s pack of prospects so entertaining.

Question is…will this youthful, entertaining bunch bring in the box office?

 

Bringing ‘Em Into The BMO

Last week (October 12 to be exact), the IceHogs put out a release previewing that weekend’s home openers. The story drew my attention due to a quote from defenseman Carl Dahlstrom concerning the BMO faithful. This comes directly from the article on the Hogs site; I italicized the part of the quote that caught my eye.

“We have one of the fan bases in the league,” defenseman Carl Dahlstrom, who skated in each of Rockford’s 13 playoff games last spring, said. “I’m hoping they can really show that when we play in front of them this year.”

Obviously, a word was omitted. It happens to us all. I’m sure the missing word from Dahlstrom’s quote was “best” or something similar to the sentiment. I kidded on twitter the next day:

The one speculation that was based in fact? Smallest.

As I’ve pointed out on several occasions on this forum, attendance at the BMO has dropped significantly over the past two seasons. Here are the season averages the last three years:

2015-16-5014-Franchise record and the fourth straight season in which average attendance increased from the previous year.

2016-17-4328-Historically poor on-ice performance, last place finish in the Central Division.

2017-18-3915-Young, exciting team morphs into an experienced, exciting team and reaches the conference final. Still, Rockford finishes the regular season 27th out of 30 AHL teams in attendance.

2018-19-?????????

Following the Hogs reaching an apex in attendance, there were two straight years of prodigious drops in fan interest. The shift from the last two years (686 and 413, respectively) represented the widest such disparities in the history of the franchise. Nearly every other shift trended higher, not lower.

The last, and only, drop in yearly attendance came in 2011-12, when the drop was 116 fans from the season before. That could easily be explained away as the season average increased by 860 fans over the next four years.

Over the last two seasons, nearly eleven-hundred fewer fans came through the gates per game. How could this be explained away? Allow me to grasp at some straws. Here goes…

People stayed away because the hockey stank.

Very true following 2016-17. Not sure why that continued with a better on-ice product, though perhaps last year’s club suffered from an aftershock from the putrid season before. If I had to put a finger on the reason attendance has dropped, this issue would be first and foremost.

 

People stayed away because they were out following high school sports.

I hear that one occasionally, mostly in the fall. Yes, a lot of people like to follow high school football. However, the local sports scene in Northern Illinois hasn’t changed significantly in the past two years.

 

People stayed away because they couldn’t see folks punching each other.

I hear this lament from many of the old guard fans, though some would quickly poo-poo this. Fighting has dropped to the point of being non-existent in Rockford, but I enjoy the game the piglets showcase at the BMO. So would a lot of other fans if they could take off their sluggin’ goggles for a couple of minutes.

 

People stayed away because they’re old and don’t want to go out.

I have seen quite a number of those old guard Hogs fans scaling back on the number of games they attend. Then again, I’m sure that happens in a lot of places. Time keeps on ticking away…

 

People stayed away because they feel they aren’t accommodated enough.

The season ticket base is afforded many amenities by the organization (Full disclosure; I’ve been a season ticket holder for eight years). Long-time Hogs fans can become a bit spoiled in this area.

As is always the case with a lower-level pro sports franchise, there is always going to be some turnover as people move on to bigger and better things. I still believe that the team is very fan-oriented and are great at working with the season ticket base for a great experience.

I don’t require a butler or anything to go catch a hockey game. Being a season ticket holder has plenty of perks without one.

That said, I will point out one practice I’d like to see more of.

During the 2012-13 season, the team started making players available for autographs outside the “Stars Of Tomorrow” display at the BMO Harris Bank Center. You could go out during the second intermission and get your program or a puck signed by a couple of players. A couple of seasons ago, the team abruptly halted the concept.

At the season opener on October 13, the IceHogs had Luc Snuggerud and William Pelletier signing at a table out in the concourse. Sunday didn’t feature a similar event, but it appears that it will be happening on occasion throughout the season. Kudos.

Is having the evenings scratches out signing autographs going to raise attendance back to the 4500-per-night range? Probably not, but it is a magnanimous nod to the fans.

The IceHogs had record attendance for their run through the playoffs this past spring. That included averaging well over 3,000 a night for the three weekday games that normally top out at half that in previous postseasons. So maybe word will get out and the numbers will pick up this winter.

With this being the 20th anniversary of IceHogs hockey in Rockford (including the UHL days), it would be great to see those attendance figures back on the rise. The brand of hockey is exciting (again) and it’s worth heading over on I-90 to check it out.

Numbers Of Note

The IceHogs special teams loomed large in this weekend’s action. Rockford was 5-12 on the man advantage against Tucson. They also turned away the Roadrunners 5-on-3 advantages in the third period of both games.

For the season, the Hogs are converting 29.6 percent of their power play opportunities. That’s good for a tie with Texas for third in the Western Conference. At 84 percent efficiency, the penalty kill unit is fifth in the conference.

Three of those power play goals have come from Jordan Schroeder. He’s in a tie for third in the league in that category.

Dylan Sikura, with six points (1 G, 5 A), is 13th in the AHL among rookie skaters. He’s third in the league in rookie assists. He leads Rockford in points along with his brother Tyler, who has a team-high four goals and a pair of helpers.

Sikura the Elder is also carrying a skater rating of plus-three; tops among the IceHogs forwards. His empty netter to close out Saturday’s win in Tucson kept alive a five-game point streak. Schroeder and Anthony Louis each have three goals for the Hogs; each are working on three-game point streaks.

The defense is paced by Darren Raddysh, who has a goal and three assists so far this season. Carl Dahlstrom has three helpers despite not finding the back of the net in the first couple of weeks.

The goalie numbers are not especially impressive, though opposing skaters are getting a lot of quality chances. Collin Delia has been much better than his 3.26 goals against average would indicate. He is stopping 91 percent of the shots fired upon him and is 3-1 on the season.

Kevin Lankinen (3.39, .825) isn’t boasting gaudy stats, though he has kept the IceHogs in both of his starts.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 19-Tucson 4, Rockford 3 (OT)

Erasing a three-goal deficit in the last 30 minutes of action earned the IceHogs a road point. However, Tucson spoiled the good feelings by nabbing the third point late in overtime.

Rockford had back-to-back power plays early in the contest but couldn’t convert. Tucson went up a man following a Terry Broadhurst slashing penalty and wasted no time getting a puck in Kevin Lankinen’s net. Immediately after the faceoff, Kyle Capobianco sent a shot toward the Rockford net. Michael Bunting was in front with the redirect to give Tucson a 1-0 advantage at 10:22 of the first.

The Roadrunners very nearly took a 2-0 lead in the waning seconds of the period, after a furious charge ended with the puck in the Hogs cage. However, it was ruled that the clock had expired before the goal line had been crossed. Rockford went into the locker room only down a goal.

Tucson’s power play unit struck again 5:28 into the second period. The goal was set up by Trevor Murphy, who got behind the net and got Lankinen out of position before hitting Adam Helewka at the right dot for the one-timer. That lead was stretched to 3-0 after a turnover led to a Trevor Cheek goal at the 10:24 mark.

Rockford got on the board shortly after the resulting faceoff. Anthony Louis chased down Henrik Samuelsson’s dump-in attempt in the right corner of the Tucson zone. Louis centered to Tyler Sikura, who was skating hard through the slot. The one-timer got over the glove of Roadrunners goalie Adin Hill at 10:46 of the second to cut the lead to 3-1.

The IceHogs drew to within a goal midway through the third after the penalty kill team came up large. Matteo Gennero was sent to the box for interference, allowing Louis to get a puck into the offensive zone. Terry Broadhurst got control of the puck along the right halfboards and sent it back to Louis in the high slot. The shot was true and rubber connected with twine to close the gap to 3-2 at the 9:53 mark.

Another Gennero penalty, this time a cross-check, gave Rockford another special teams opportunity. The Hogs converted when Jordan Schroeder knocked in a loose puck past Hill at 15:17, evening the score at three goals. Tucson had some chances to clear the puck after Darren Raddysh sent it off the end boards, but the biscuit tricked over to Schroeder at the left post.

Rockford had to turn in a big effort to keep the game tied in the waning minutes of regulation. The IceHogs killed off 1:16 of 5-on-3 hockey to force Gus Macker Time. In the extra session, both teams had chances denied by the goalies. Jacob Nilsson kept a sliding puck out of the net to keep the piglets hopes for a win alive. However, Conor Garland led an odd man rush late in overtime and found the cord with 27 seconds remaining to end the game.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura (A)-Anthony Louis

Terry Broadhurst-Luke Johnson-Jordan Schroeder (A)

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Viktor Ejdsell

Andrew Campbell (A)-Joni Tuulola

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Kevin Lankinen

Power Play (2-6)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Tucson was 2-7)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Johnson-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Saturday, October 20-Rockford 5, Tucson 3

The power play was the catalyst for the season’s first road victory. The IceHogs rallied from a two-goal hole, burning the Roadrunners for three scores. Collin Delia had a big night as Rockford made a big defensive stand in the final 20 minutes.

Tucson took advantage of a turnover by the Hogs penalty kill unit early in the game. Jens Looke wound up with a shot from the high slot; the puck glanced off Collin Delia’s blocker and tumbled into the net. This gave the Roadrunners a 1-0 lead 5:49 into the contest.

The IceHogs tied the game at 9:59 of the first when Luke Johnson got credit for his first goal of the season. After Jacob Nilsson won an offensive draw at the left dot, Dylan Sikura got him the puck at the goal line. Nilsson’s centering pass struck Johnson’s leg and settled into the Tucson cage.

The Roadrunners regained the lead when a ring-around attempt by Joni Tuulola caught the skate of the official and hopped into open ice. Tucson pounced on the loose puck, resulting in Lane Pederson firing from the slot over Delia’s glove. At the 15:29 mark, the Hogs trailed 2-1. That score held up through the first intermission.

A Trevor Murphy snipe made it 3-1 Tucson 4:30 into the second period and it appeared that the game may be getting away from the piglets. That all changed in a 22-second span near the midway point of the game.

Roadrunners defensemen Kyle Capobianco and Dysin Mayo wound up in the box in quick succession in the seventh minute. Jordan Schroeder and Darren Raddysh played catch between the circles until Schroeder gained the space to sling home his third goal of the season past Tucson goalie Hunter Miska. This pulled Rockford to within a goal of Tucson at the 7:42 mark.

The IceHogs still had a man advantage to work with following the goal and got right back to work. Carl Dahlstrom took in a nice no-look pass from Terry Broadhurst and set up Anthony Louis for a one-timer from the right dot. Just like that, the game was tied at three goals 8:04 into the second.

Late in the period, Delia made a fantastic stop, gloving a shot just as former Hogs forward Laurent Dauphin crashed into the blue paint. The resulting penalty carried over into the final 20 minutes.

On that man advantage, Rockford moved the puck around the Tucson zone with aplomb. It didn’t take long for the Hogs to punch in the game-winning goal. It came off of the stick of Terry Broadhurst, who took a pass from Johnson at the top of the left circle and fired past Miska. For the first time all weekend, the IceHogs held the lead, going up 4-3 1:22 into the third period.

Holding that lead wouldn’t be easy. The Roadrunners peppered Delia with 16 shots in the last 20 minutes of action. The pivotal stretch came midway through the third when Nathan Noel was called for a slash. Just 37 seconds into the Tucson power play, Delia was whistled for delay of game after knocking the goal post off its mooring.

Rockford dug in and, for the second straight night, killed off a two-man advantage on the road in the latter stages of the game. Tucson had an extended spell in the Hogs zone a few minutes later with a stick-less Delia to shoot at. However, they were denied by the Rockford defense. Miska was pulled with just under two minutes remaining. Tyler Sikura won a battle for a loose puck in neutral ice and threw in the back-breaker at 18:26 of the third.

Delia denied 35 Tucson shot attempts on the evening and was a big part of the win. However, Broadhust was named the game’s First Star, followed by Dahlstrom and Johnson.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Jeremy Colliton went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the first time this season.

Terry Broadhurst-Luke Johnson-Jordan Schroeder (A)

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura (A)-Anthony Louis

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Andrew Campbell-Blake Hillman

Joni Tuulola-Carl Dahlstrom

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Lucas Carlsson

Collin Delia

Power Play (3-6)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Nilsson-Johnson-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Tucson was 1-6)

Noel-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Johnson-Knott-Campbell-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Mid-Week Preview: Hogs vs San Antonio

The Rampage come to the BMO Wednesday night; they are in action the night before in Milwaukee. San Antonio is currently 1-5 and in the basement of the AHLs Central Division. This is the first season that the Blues are the sole parent team of the Rampage.

Key additions to the San Antonio lineup include Brian Flynn, who was a leader in Texas as they marched to the Calder Cup Final last spring. After a 47-point (18 G, 29 A) season with the Stars, Flynn is now in a similar role with the Rampage.

Trevor Smith comes over from Milwaukee, where he spent the last two seasons of his 11-year AHL career. Last season, he had 43 points (17 G, 26 A). The 6’1”, 200-pounder is a very capable AHL center who can put up offense.

Chris Thorburn is coming off of 12 seasons in the NHL for Pittsburgh, Atlanta/Winnipeg and St. Louis. He’s a big, physical forward with 118 NHL scraps to his name. His only full AHL campaign was in 2005-06, when he had 23 goals, 27 assists and ten fighting majors. He has yet to appear in a game for the Rampage.

Unlike Thorburn, Jordan Nolan has been an on-ice presence for San Antonio. He is a veteran of 361 NHL games, mostly with the Kings. Nolan is another big-physical forward (6’3”) with a propensity for fighting. He has 30 NHL fighting majors and 19 AHL FMs.

The Rampage don’t return a lot in the way of offense; the leading returning scorer from the 2017-18 forward group is Klim Kostin, who totaled six goals and 22 helpers last year in his rookie season.

Rookie center Zach Sanford has a pair of goals for San Antonio this season. He’s the only member of the Rampage with more than one; the team has just 13 goals in six games.

Defenseman Chris Butler has nearly 400 games of NHL experience with the Sabres, Flames and Blues. He has spent most of the past three seasons in the AHL. Last year he had 29 points (8 G, 21 A) for San Antonio.

Joey LaLeggia is a skilled point man who comes over from Bakersfield, where he played for the past three seasons. In 2017-18, he had 15 goals and 28 assists with the Condors. Tyler Wotherspoon comes over from the Stockton Heat, where he spent the last three seasons. He had career-highs in goals (7) assists (30) and points (37) with the Heat last year. He is entering his sixth AHL campaign.

Sam Lofquist is 28 and has spent the last seven years playing in Europe. He skates pretty well, has a big shot and is a physical player. He has a goal and an assist in three appearances to pace the San Antonio blueline. Rookie Mitch Reinke also has a goal and assist.

Goalie Jordan Binnington is a familiar face from his time with the Wolves, where he played three full seasons before being loaned to Providence by the Blues last year. There, he posted a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in 28 games with the Bruins.

Ville Husso begins his third season with the Blues organization. He played 38 games for the Rampage last year, with a 2.42 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He’s started five of San Antonio’s first six games this month, sporting a 3.24 goals against average and an .893 save percentage.

I’ll be back on Friday to preview the Monsters and Moose tilts as well as a recap of Wednesday’s action. Until then, follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates, IceHogs thoughts and analysis all season long.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are back on the road again this weekend. Chicago’s AHL affiliate is currently in Tucson for two games with the Roadrunners. The puck drops for both Friday and Saturday are scheduled for 9:05 p.m. central time. What can we expect from this back-to-back weekend?

 

Rockford’s Week

On Thursday, the Blackhawks re-assigned Luke Johnson to Rockford in order to make room on the roster for Corey Crawford to be activated. Johnson will be meeting the team, who departed for Arizona earlier that day, in Tucson and should be in the lineup for at least one of the two games.

Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton will have some decisions to make on his lineup card:

  • Which forward is sitting to make room for Johnson? The odd man out would appear to be Matheson Iacopelli, but I thought he played well at the BMO this weekend, collecting a goal and a helper in wins over Texas and Hershey.
  • Will Andrew Campbell or Luc Snuggerud draw back into the defensive rotation? Rookies Dennis Gilbert and Blake Hillman played last weekend.
  • How will Colliton utilize his goalie tandem? Collin Delia had the net in both games this past weekend. I would expect Delia and Kevin Lankinen to each get a start in Tucson.

No team-issued updates on William Pelletier and whether or not he’s nearing a return to action. It’s certainly possible that Campbell and/or Snuggerud are sitting due to an injury, but no information was divulged concerning that topic at Colliton’s Tuesday media availability.

 

Captain-less But Not Leaderless

Colliton hadn’t yet decided on his starting goalies in this weekend’s action in his Tuesday media session. He also hasn’t decided on a captain for the 2018-19 piglets. This is likely due to the fact that he isn’t planning on naming one.

Last season, Colliton went with different sets of alternate captains for home and road games. The way it sounded Tuesday, his preference is to have several leaders in place as opposed to sticking a “C” on one player’s sweater.

Campbell, Jordan Schoeder and Tyler Sikura donned “A”s while the IceHogs visited Cleveland. At the BMO Harris Bank Center, Colliton’s alternates were Matthew Highmore, Terry Broadhurst and Carl Dahlstrom.

 

Quick Stats

Rockford currently sits in fifth place in the Central Division with a .500 points percentage. Chicago leads the division with a 4-0 record. Iowa is 3-0, while Milwaukee is 4-0-1 on the season.

The IceHogs special teams have performed well in the early going. The power play has three goals in 15 chances. Rockford has also killed all but one of the opposition’s 12 man advantages.

Tyler (2 G, 2 A) and Dylan (1 G, 3 A) Sikura pace the Hogs with four points. Matthew Highmore, like Tyler Sikura, has a pair of goals to lead Rockford. Highmore (2 G, 1 A), Darren Raddysh (1 G, 2 A) and Jordan Schoeder (1 G, 2 A) all have three points for the IceHogs.

Rockford has scored first in all four games to begin the season.

 

A Look At Tucson

The Roadrunners are coming off of their first loss of the season, a 3-2 shootout loss in San Jose Monday night. That wrapped up a span of three road games in four days for Tucson.

Most of the big point producers from last season’s Pacific Division Champs are elsewhere. That team was the top seed in the Western Conference but was eliminated in the second round by Texas.

The forward group is led by Michael Bunting, who tied for the team lead in goals with 23 last season. Former IceHogs center Laurent Dauphin also returns for the Roadrunners after combining for 9 goals and 20 assists between Rockford and Tucson a season ago. Center Lane Pederson is back for his second season after 12 goals and 14 helpers last year.

Adam Helewka, who had 38 points (9 G, 29 A) for the Barracuda in 2017-18, has four goals to pace the Roadrunners this season. Also with Tucson this fall is Hudson Fasching, who played with Rochester last year (12 G, 18 A).

Among the rookies up front for the Roadrunners are Kelly and Kevin Klima. Not only are they brothers, but twins to boot. The sons of former NHL forward Petr Klima were signed to AHL deals with Tucson. Kevin had 39 goals in his last season of juniors in the QMJHL.

Defenseman Robbie Russo should be a familiar face to Rockford fans; the Westmont native spent three seasons with Grand Rapids before the Red Wings traded him to Arizona this summer. Russo had 32 points (9G, 23 A) with the Griffins last season.

Russo will join Trevor Murphy, who came from Milwaukee in a mid-season trade, as the top offensive options on the blueline. Murphy has had double-digit goals in each of his first three AHL seasons, including 10 goals and 25 assists between Milwaukee and Tucson last year.

Kyle Copobianco (2 G, 28 A) is back after a strong rookie season. Dysin Mayo and Dakota Mermis are also returning defensemen with some experience. Mermis is tied for the team lead so far with four poins (1 G, 3 A). As a group, the Roadrunners defense is not real big but have an edge in experience over their Rockford counterparts.

Tucson won 42 games in 2017-18 and have the same goalie tandem this season. Third-year pro Adin Hill posted a 2.28 goals against average and a .914 save percentage and served as the Roadrunners playoff goalie.

Hill split the starts with Hunter Miska (both goalies played in 36 games), whose numbers weren’t quite as gaudy but went 22-9-0-1 in the regular season. Tucson is very solid in net regardless of who patrols the crease.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on this weekend’s action as well as a coherent though or two throughout the week.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks, kicked off their home schedule with style, scoring 10 goals in two victories over Texas and Hershey.

The piglets were on full display this weekend, righting the ship after a 0-2 start in Cleveland to open the season. Here are some of my weekend observations:

  • The IceHogs have scored the first goal in each of the four games they’ve had so far. This weekend, they also showed the resolve to come out on top of a couple of back-and-forth affairs. Rockford outscored their opponents 5-0 in the third period these last two games. “
  • (It was) nice to see we found a way to close a couple of games out,” said head coach Jeremy Colliton during the post-game presser following a 5-2 win over the Bears on Sunday. “I think the third period in both games was reasonably solid. We got some pace and showed we have quick strike potential in the group.”
  • That offense was generated throughout the lineup; Rockford’s 13 goals have come from 11 different skaters. Eight IceHogs picked up their first goals of the 2018-19 campaign in front of the friendly folks at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
  • Tyler Sikura is poised for another strong season for the IceHogs. So far, he’s been in the middle of a slew of scoring chances for Rockford. He always seems to be around the puck or in front of the net. He tops the Hogs score sheet with two goals and four points through four games.
  • Dylan Sikura’s play-making was a factor in both games. He also has four points on the season (1 G, 3 A) and looks to be finding his stride in the AHL. The Brothers Sikura are teaming up on a power play unit that has shown flashes of extreme competence.
  • Schroeder isn’t as adept at the one-timer from the left circle as Cody Franson was last spring, but he’s shown a fondness for taking them on the second power play unit. His third attempt Sunday from that spot resulted in a goal; more could be on the way if he can find the range because the opportunities should come.
  • Matheson Iacopelli made his first two starts of the season, skating with Graham Knott and Nathan Noel. You can dub them the “Prove It” line because all three players are looking to make bigger impacts than they did in their rookie seasons. This weekend, they posted goals in both games. Iacopelli tied the score in the third period Saturday and started a Hogs rally. Knott followed up an Iacopelli shot Sunday that turned out to be the game-winner over Hershey.
  • Also seeing game action for the first time were defensemen Dennis Gilbert and Blake Hillman. Both recorded assists in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Texas.
  • Collin Delia started both games for the Hogs and looked very good doing so. I thought he was especially impressive Sunday when the Bears fired 38 shots his way, most of which came from close range. The second-year goalie showed a lot of poise, stopping 70 of 75 shots this weekend for a .933 save percentage.
  • Delia shouldn’t have had to work as hard as he has. I am not sold on this defense in the early stages of the season. Andrew Campbell and Luc Snuggerud sat out the action this weekend, leaving a very inexperienced group out on the ice. That inexperience definitely showed in the play on the back end. Despite five goals by the Hogs on Sunday, none of the six defensemen recorded so much as an assist on any of them.
  • The Rockford blueline lacks a dynamic offensive performer in the mold of Franson, Adam Clendening or even Ville Pokka. They also haven’t locked down opponents in their own end real well throughout the first two weeks of play. Delia’s play covered up the deficiencies; Colliton admitted as much after Sunday’s contest. If this team is going to compete in the Central Division this season, they will have to improve defensively.

 

Recaps

Saturday, October 13 – Rockford 5, Texas 3

The IceHogs rallied in the final period to pick up the season’s first win. A crowd of 4,773 was on hand to watch Rockford in the home opener.

As has been the case in each game this season, the Hogs got on the board first. The goal came four minutes into the contest and was the result of the man advantage. Dylan Sikura got a puck on net that was stopped by Stars goalie Colton Point but settled in front of the crease. Brother Tyler twisted around his defender and backhanded the loose biscuit into the basket for a 1-0 Rockford lead.

Texas responded with a couple of transition goals to go up 2-1. James Phelan got to the left post just before Hogs goalie Collin Delia to knock in a pass from Colton Hargrove at the 7:31 mark. In the last minute of the first, a Jacob Nilsson turnover led to a rush that ended with Denis Gurianov finishing from the left post.

Rockford knotted the game at two goals at 2:27 of the second period when Henrik Samuelsson put a rebound of Joni Tuulola’s shot over the shoulder of Point. Midway though the period, however, Justin Dowling got a stick on a drive by Gavin Bayreuther, changing the trajectory just enough to send it past Delia for a 3-2 Stars advantage.

After misfiring for much of the evening, Rockford began to connect on some passes. This led to a change in the IceHogs fortunes over the final 20 minutes.

Matheson Iacopelli, in his first action this season, tied the game from the left circle after taking a feed from Graham Knott on a 2-on-1 rush to the Texas cage. Iacopelli’s shot glanced off the left post and settled into Twine Town at 11:06 of the third period.

A few minutes later, the IceHogs regained the led on Dylan Sikura’s first AHL goal. It was set up by Nilsson, who gained possession of a rebounding Texas shot in the slot and brought the puck out of the zone and across the red line.

Nilsson hit Matthew Highmore coming into the Stars zone. Sikura handled Highmore’s offering at the top of the left circle, skated to the dot and sent a wrist shot past Point’s glove and into the far side of the net. Rockford now led 4-3 with just under six minutes to play.

Texas pressed hard and had some up close and personal scoring chances that were kept out of harm’s way by Delia, who totaled 34 saves on the night and won First Star honors. The Hogs locked things up in the final minute on a long-distance empty netter by Darren Raddysh.

Rounding out the three stars behind Delia was Iacopelli (Second Star) and Dylan Sikura (Third Star).

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore (A)-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Anthony Louis

Viktor Ejdsell-Jordan Schroeder-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Dennis Gilbert-Joni Tuulola

Collin Delia 

Power Play (1-6)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Stars were 0-1)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Fortin-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Sunday, October 14-Rockford 5 , Hershey 2 

The Bears peppered Collin Delia with shots, but the Hogs goalie was up to the task, making 36 saves to help Rockford win its second straight.

Anthony Louis got the Hogs on the scoreboard with his first goal of the season at the 3:30 mark. The play got started when Darren Raddysh took control of the puck at his blueline and hit Tyler Sikura entering the middle of the Hershey zone. Sikura passed to Henrik Samuelsson coming down the right side, who found Louis skating toward the left dot. Pass, shoot, score; Rockford led 1-0.

The Bears tied the game midway through the period on a point shot by Tyler Lewington. Despite being out shot 16-7 in the opening 20 minutes, the IceHogs were all square going into the locker room.

A high-sticking infraction by Hershey’s Mike Sgarbossa led to Jordan Schroeder’s first goal of the season. Schroeder’s one-timer from the left circle found the far side of Ilya Samsonov’s net for a 2-1 advantage for the Hogs at 3:13 of the second stanza. Credit Dylan Sikura with an excellent cross-ice feed to Schroeder.

At 6:56 of the second, Liam O’Brien sent a wrister over the glove of Delia. The game wouldn’t stay tied for long, however.

Rockford regained the lead after Matheson Iacopelli gathered in a loose puck in the slot and skated it back out past the top of the left circle before throwing a shot toward the Hershey net. Samsonov made the stop but failed to gather in the loose puck. Graham Knott was skating across the crease when the puck struck his foot and slid under the Bears goalie at 8:17 of the second.

The 3-2 lead held up until the middle of the third period, when Schroeder teamed up with Terry Broadhurst for some much-needed insurance. Viktor Ejdsell brought the puck into Hershey territory and found Schroeder skating up the middle of the ice.

Schroeder bore down on Samsonov, waiting until he was nearly on top of the crease before sliding a pass to a streaking Broadhurst at the left post. The resulting one-timer made it 4-2 Rockford at 10:21 of the third. Matthew Highmore added an empty-net goal with 1:40 remaining to close out the scoring.

Schroeder was named the game’s first star for his efforts on the afternoon, followed by Delia and Tyler Sikura, who had a pair of assists.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore (A)-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Anthony Louis

Viktor Ejdsell-Jordan Schroeder-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Dennis Gilbert-Joni Tuulola

Collin Delia 

Power Play (1-4)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Bears were 0-3)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Fortin-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Go West, Young Hogs

Rockford hits the road for a pair of games with Tuscon this weekend. The Hogs will be in action on Friday and Saturday nights. I’ll have a look at that Roadrunners club on Friday along with other Rockford happenings. Until then, follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the Hogs all season long.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, elected to forgo preseason exhibition games heading into the 2018-19 season. Ergo, this past weekend’s action in Cleveland was the first in which the piglets faced off against another team.

The results were a bit underwhelming. Rockford dropped two games to the Monsters to open the season.

According to a tweet by IceHogs broadcaster Joseph Zakrzewski, the Hogs coaching staff felt that the NHL exhibitions were enough, citing a large number of players in Hawks training camp this fall. It’s not like the Hogs have a rigorous preseason schedule most seasons; usually Rockford has a game or two against their AHL neighbors in Chicago and Milwaukee.

IceHogs head coach Jeremy Colliton had a full week of workouts with the bulk of his opening-night roster, so the lack of preseason games is hardly a smoking gun. Rockford, despite what the franchise accomplished last spring, is still a very young group of players. There are quite a few new faces, especially on defense, to work into the lineup.

With a few notable exceptions this weekend, the passing wasn’t particularly sharp in Cleveland. Friday’s 4-1 loss was closer than the score indicated. Saturday, the 5-2 result spoke for itself. The Monsters really got the best of Rockford in the transition game. The Hogs effort wasn’t terrible, but Cleveland was the better team on the ice both games.

While it is fair to question the decision to skip a preseason game or two, it isn’t as if this is a move that will sink the 2018-19 campaign. If the Hogs are to enjoy success rivaling that of a year ago, they will have to develop some chemistry. That’s going to take some time. How much time will be a big factor in how the season progresses for Rockford.

 

Jordan Maletta Retiring

One recent acquisition who had been missing from the Blackhawks and IceHogs training camps was recently acquired forward Jordan Maletta. Picked up from Arizona in trade this past summer, Maletta was not medically cleared to play this fall after an injury-filled season with Cleveland and Tuscon. Chicago put the 23-year-old Maletta through waivers and the two parties mutually terminated his contract.

Maletta battled a hand injury last year; apparently the issue is is of a career-ending nature. It’s too bad, firstly because it stinks for a young player to have to shut it down at this stage of his development. Secondly, I think Maletta could have potentially added a dimension to the IceHogs that they could have used.

Maletta showed in his rookie season with Cleveland that he could contribute offensively and play a power game. It would have been interesting to see how he would have fit in with Rockford and how he might have contributed.

Mind Made Up On Iacopelli?

The lineup in the two games in Cleveland was identical, save for the net, where Kevin Lankinen made his AHL debut Friday, followed by Collin Delia getting the start Saturday. The scratches both games included defensemen Blake Hillman and Dennis Gilbert, injured forward William Pelletier…and second-year pro Matheson Iacopelli.

The former Western Michigan skater seems to be approaching a crossroads in the Blackhawks organization. He found ice time hard to come by in his rookie year despite possessing an above average shot. Iacopelli is an offensive player who does not seem to have a place on a scoring line.

I’m not casting any proclamations on the kid’s work ethic or attitude. Perhaps Colliton is going to work Iacopelli into a line that can utilize his strengths. The fact is that two of Rockford’s AHL signings, Terry Broadhust and Henrik Samuelsson, are in the lineup ahead of Iacopelli. When Pelletier is healthy, he’s definitely in the lineup ahead of Iacopelli.

The 24-year-old right wing has shown he can fill a net. He had 11 goals in 50 games in Rockford to go with the nine he put up in ten games with the Indy Fuel. Iacopelli needs to show he can play at both ends and at the pace Colliton likes. He just may running out of time and opportunity to do that.

 

Roster Moves

After backing up Cam Ward in Chicago’s Thursday night’s game in Ottawa, Delia was re-assigned to Rockford Friday following the Hogs loss to Cleveland. Matt Tomkins was assigned to the Indy Fuel in the corresponding move.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 5-Cleveland 4, Rockford 1 

Rockford drew first cord but the Monsters broke open a tie game in the third period and bested the IceHogs in the season opener for both teams.

Shortly after holding off a two-man Monsters advantage in the latter half of the first period, Rockford found itself up a skater on a delayed penalty. Cleveland’s Calvin Thurkauf got tangled up with Viktor Ejdsell. Thurkauf dropped his gloves but Ejdsell didn’t bite, choosing to skate with his teammates into the offensive zone.

Luc Snuggerud found Ejdsell at the right dot. In turn, Ejdsell sent a frozen rope to the blade of Matthew Highmore at the left post. The back door was wide open; Highmore united rubber and twine at 17:11 of the opening frame to give the IceHogs a 1-0 lead.

Cleveland knotted the score early in the second period. Zac Dalpe out muscled Snuggerud and Lucas Carlsson for the puck along the end boards behind the Hogs net. Dalpe threw the puck out to an open Eric Robinson, who beat Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen. Through two periods, the teams were tied at a goal apiece.

The Monsters took a 2-1 lead at the 3:26 mark of the third with a bullet of a snap shot by Kevin Stenlund, who took a neutral zone pass from Nathan Gerbe, skated into the Rockford zone and fired past Lankinen from the high slot. Cleveland got a key insurance goal later in the period when Vitaly Abramov brought the puck into the offensive zone.

Rockford’s defenders gave the swift forward some extra space, which proved problematic when Abramov skated to the right dot and worked a give and go with Michael Prepavessis. Taking the return pass, Abramov sent a high shot to the right corner of the Hogs net, making it 3-1 Monsters at 15:14 of the final frame. Cleveland added an empty-net goal from the stick of Justin Scott a few minutes later to close out the scoring.

Former Hogs goalie Jean-Francois Berube greeted his old teammates with a 24-save performance to pick up the win. Kevin Lankinen made his AHL debut in net for Rockford and stopped 18 of the 21 shots he faced.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura (A)-Terry Broadhurst

Anthony Louis-Jordan Schroeder (A)-Viktor Ejdsell

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Andrew Campbell (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Joni Tuulola-Darren Raddysh

Luc Snuggerud-Lucas Carlsson

Kevin Lankinen

Power Play (0-1)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 0-3, including 56 seconds of 5-on-3 time)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Campbell

Fortin-Knott-Carlsson-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Saturday, October 6-Cleveland 5, Rockford 2

Five unanswered Cleveland goals erased an early Hogs lead and then some, sending the piglets back to Rockford on a two-game losing streak.

The IceHogs had a pair of power play opportunities in the first period. On the second, the Sikura brothers gave Rockford a 1-0 lead at the 13:53 mark. Dylan and Tyler went back-and-forth with the puck, culminating on Dylan centering to Tyler in front of the Monsters net. The redirect got past Cleveland goalie Brad Theissen and into the cage to put the IceHogs ahead.

Circumstances turned following the power play goal. Less than 30 seconds later, Eric Robinson sent a shot toward the Rockford goal. The puck glanced off the stick of Carl Dahlstrom and got the best of Hogs goalie Collin Delia to tie the score.

Less than a minute after Robinson’s goal, a turnover behind the Rockford net wound up in the Rockford net. Alex Broadhurst collected the loose puck and hit Zac Dalpe skating to the left post. The shot beat Delia under his glove to make it 2-1 Cleveland at 15:31 of the first.

Late in the frame, Matthew Highmore was sent off for a slashing penalty. It took just a moment for the Monsters to build on their advantage. Robinson got the puck in the high slot and went high on Delia. The resulting goal gave Cleveland a 3-1 advantage with nine seconds remaining in the period.

Rockford was the victim of some good luck/bad luck early in the second period after a Justin Scott wrister from the slot made it over Delia’s shoulder. The shot clanged off the crossbar but bounced off of Cleveland’s Kole Sherwood and into the net. Just 2:48 into the period, the Monsters lead was 4-1.

Late in the second, Broadhurst and Dalpe struck again. The two got an odd man rush started after Viktor Ejdsell lost his footing while attempting to hold in a clearing attempt. Luc Snuggerud was the lonely defender; he forced Broadhurst to pass but Dalpe let fly from the slot and sent it past Delia’s glove for a 5-1 advantage at 18:37 of the second.

It was largely academic in the final 20 minutes, though the Hogs put up 14 shots on goal and found the net in the eighth minute. The score was set up by Jordan Schroeder, who chased down a high clearing pass in the neutral zone and made a beeline for the Monsters zone.

Schroeder skated down the left half boards, behind the Cleveland net, and back up the right boards before backhanding a pass to Lucas Carlsson near the top of the left circle. The rookie defenseman wound up and slapped home his first AHL goal over Theissen’s blocker at 7:50 to close out the scoring.

Delia, who arrived in town the night before after being re-assigned to the IceHogs, gave up five goals on 31 Cleveland shots.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura (A)-Terry Broadhurst

Anthony Louis-Jordan Schroeder (A)-Viktor Ejdsell

Henrik Samuelsson-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Joni Tuulola-Darren Raddysh

Andrew Campbell (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Luc Snuggerud-Lucas Carlsson

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 1-4)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Campbell

Fortin-Knott-Carlsson-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

What’s Next?

Colliton has all week to prepare the IceHogs for opening play at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The home part of Rockford’s schedule commences on Saturday night when the defending Western Conference champs, the Texas Stars, come to town. On Sunday, the IceHogs host the Hershey Bears.

I’ll have a preview of this weekend’s action coming up in what I hope will be a regular Friday post, circumstances allowing. Until then, follow me @JonFromi for thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs commence on-ice operations for the 2018-19 season this weekend. The piglets are opening their AHL slate in Cleveland, where they play Friday night and again Saturday afternoon. In the interest of getting you ready to take in the action at your respective bases of operation, here’s a preview of the upcoming weekend for the Blackhawks affiliate.

The Hogs dropped two straight to the Monsters to open 2016-17, a harbinger of miserable times to come.  Rockford split four games at Quicken Loans Arena last season, though the franchise is just 5-9-1-1 in Cleveland over the past five campaigns.

The Monsters should have a different look from the squad that finished dead last in the Western Conference by a wide margin. For starters, two of Cleveland’s top scorers from that club now don the Hogs head.

Jordan Schroeder (36 points) and Terry Broadhurst (32 points) were third and fourth, respectively, in scoring for the Monsters. I would expect both veterans to be in Rockford’s lineup this weekend. The only returning Cleveland player from the top of the score sheet is Alex Broadhurst, who was second on the team with 41 points.

Cleveland (again helmed by Hawks alumn John Madden) has several veteran players coming in that should more than make up for the loss of offense over the summer. Topping that list is former Penguins/Blue Jackets/Oilers center Mark Letestu. The 33-year-old hasn’t skated in the AHL since the 2019-10 season, when he had 55 points (21 G, 34 A) for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The scoring load will also be shouldered by 31-year-old Nathan Gerbe, who has 398 NHL games under his belt. He skated in 24 games for the Monsters after signing with Columbus mid-season with four goals and 14 assists. He is a more than capable AHL scorer.

Tommy Cross, a 6’3” defenseman, is also new to the Monsters this season after playing in the Bruins organization. The 29-year-old has spent most of his seven-year career in the AHL with Providence. Cross had 12 goals from the blueline two years ago and finished 2017-18 with eight goals to go with 28 assists. He isn’t afraid to finish a check, either.

Oilers farmhand Dillon Simpson is a new addition to the Monsters blueline, which is made up of some big bodies. Dillon is set to begin his fifth season of AHL action. Former Notre Dame defenseman and Aurora native Justin Wade was signed to an AHL deal by Cleveland.

Along with Alex Broadhurst, who skated with Rockford for several seasons, Hogs skaters may see a familiar face in net this weekend. Jean-Francois Berube was assigned to Cleveland this week; he’ll probably face off against his former team at least once or twice this season.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs roster has been trimmed to 24 players headed into game one. Brett Welychka and Josh McArdle were assigned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Monday. Matt Tomkins followed suit the next day.

I expect that William Pelletier will not be available to begin the season; he was at the BMO for Friday’s Fan Fest with what appears to be an injured left thumb or wrist. I don’t believe he took part in any on-ice activities in training camp.

Right now, Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton should have 13 forwards on hand to use in Cleveland. There are eight defensemen on the roster; keep in mind that Colliton would often an extra skater on the blueline and go with just 11 forwards. With several rookie defenders on the team, it is an option Colliton may choose to employ again this season.

The unexpected call up of Collin Delia following an injury suffered by Hawks goalie Anton Forsberg makes for a bit of uncertainty between the pipes. Matt Tomkins was called up from Indy while Delia is with Chicago, joining Kevin Lankinen as the current net tandem.

If Delia isn’t needed past last night, perhaps he is sent back down to the Hogs and makes a start in the crease Friday or Saturday. I would guess that with two games less than 24 hours apart, Colliton was planning on using both of his goalies against the Monsters. It will be either Delia and Lankinen or Lankinen and Tomkins, depending on if Delia’s presence is required with the Hawks in St. Louis.

It is likely that I’ll be watching both IceHogs games vs Cleveland and might just fire off a tweet or two. Follow me @JonFromi for updates, thoughts and general foofooraw all season long.

 

 

Everything Else

The calendar is telling me that hockey is soon to be underway for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate. That would be the Winnebago County Flying Piglets, known to folks in these parts as the Rockford IceHogs.

Second-year coach Jeremy Colliton will be hard at work this week getting Rockford prepared to open its season. That happens this weekend with a pair of games in Cleveland.

Colliton helmed the Hogs to their deepest foray ever into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Rockford reached the Western Conference Final before being beaten in six games by the Texas Stars.

Four IceHogs who spent a portion of 2017-18 in Rockford (John Hayden, David Kampf, Andreas Martinsen and Luke Johnson) are now on the Blackhawks roster. Colliton is once again charged with pushing more talented skaters through the pipeline to Chicago.

To show just how important the preseason is, Rockford had no exhibition games on its training camp schedule. Fans were treated to an intersquad affair at the BMO Friday night before the Hogs pared down the roster.

The Hogs vs Hogs tilt resulted in a 3-2 win for Team White, following a Gus Macker tally by Darren Raddysh. Regulation goals from the winning squad came from Conner Moynihan (who got sent to Indy for his effort) and Terry Broadhurst, both on AHL contracts with Rockford.

Team Red also got a goal from one of the Hogs AHL signings, courtesy of Henrik Samuelsson. New Hawks prospect Jacob Nilsson got a put back goal to round out the scoring.

After some moves from Chicago, we now have a pretty decent idea of who will begin the 2018-19 season in the Forest City. Here is a look at the roster heading into practice this week.

 

Forwards (15)

NHL Contracts (11)

Dylan Sikura, Tyler Sikura, Viktor Ejdsell, Jordan Schroeder, Anthony Louis, Matthew Highmore, Jacob Nilsson, Nathan Noel, Matheson Iacopelli, Graham Knott, Alexandre Fortin.

At 28, Schroeder is the elder statesman in a group otherwise made up of first or second-year players. Most of the forward group is preparing for their second loop around the AHL. Noel is hoping for a healthy go-round and a full campaign in Rockford. Ejdsell saw mostly playoff action last season.

The two rookies in this group are Nilsson, who has several years of pro experience in Europe, and Dylan Sikura, who was assigned to the Hogs after joining the Blackhawks after his college season ended. Both players could make a big impact in Rockford early in the season.

Noel, Iacopelli and Fortin are looking to entrench themselves into Jeremy Colliton’s lineup in 2018-19. Knott will be looking to raise his level of play a notch or two from his rookie season.

AHL Contracts (4)

William Pelletier, Henrik Samuelsson, Terry Broadhurst, Brett Welychka.

Pelletier did not draw an invite to the Hawks NHL training camp. He was also absent from Friday night’s intersquad scrimmage and most (if not all) of the team workouts before that. If he is healthy and ready to play when the puck drops Friday in Cleveland, he should be a steady presence in the Hogs lineup.

Regardless of Pelletier’s availability, Samuelsson and Broadhurst should see a lot of action. Welychka could find himself with the Indy Fuel at times this season but may hold onto a roster spot for now. (UPDATE-Welychka was sent to Indy Monday afternoon.)

Outlook

As was the case last season, this is a young group that will be more than able to play at the pace Colliton prefers. There would appear to be opportunities to crack the lineup in Chicago for guys like Sikura (pick one), Highmore, Schroeder or Fortin. There are also players who need to prove they belong in the IceHogs lineup, so this should be a motivated group.

 

Defense

NHL Contracts (8)

Andrew Campbell, Carl Dahlstrom, Darren Raddysh, Luc Snuggerud, Joni Tuulola, Dennis Gilbert, Blake Hillman, Lucas Carlsson.

Depending on how Colliton pairs up his blueline, Dahlstrom provides a solid option on the top duo. Campbell is this season’s veteran presence; don’t expect too much in the way of offense, but he can sure up a pairing with one of the rookies.

Snuggerud is looking to put some injuries behind him in 2018-19. Raddysh is hoping to build on a solid rookie campaign that earned him his entry contract.

This group lacks the overall experience that was in Rockford to begin last season. Tuulola, Gilbert, Hillman and Carlsson are untested at the AHL level and will need to get up to speed quickly.

 

AHL Contract (1)

Josh McArdle

McArdle could be destined for Indy before too long (UPDATE-McArdle was assigned to the Fuel Monday afternoon). When all of the Hawks prospects are healthy, there may not be too much ice time for him with Rockford. A native of Rockton, Illinois and a former Junior IceHogs skater, it would be a hoot and a holler if McArdle could get into some action at the BMO.

Outlook

If last year’s forward group was unproven last season, it’s the defense that offers the most question marks this fall. The development of a young blueline will have a huge impact on Rockford’s fortunes as a team. This is nothing remotely close to the group that played so well in the playoffs last spring. The goalies could be facing a different caliber of shots in the event of a steep drop-off at the defensive end.

 

Goalie

NHL Contracts (2)

Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen

Barring any other moves or injury, this is your net tandem this season. It figures to be a solid one, provided Delia builds on the momentum generated by his whirlwind spring in Rockford.

If Delia starts this season the way he finished the last one, he could earn himself some time protecting the crease for Chicago. That depends on how the Hawks goalie situation works out the first few months.

I’d think the organization would like to see Lankinen get around 30 starts in Rockford, though the primary starter’s job should be Delia’s based on his play. Let’s keep in mind that Delia has just 28 AHL games to his name heading into this season. He’s still going to be learning on the job, as will Lankinen, who is making his debut in North America.

 

AHL Contract (1)

Matt Tomkins

Tomkins should get a healthy workload in Indy once he is assigned to the Fuel, which is a move the Hogs will make early this week. He wasn’t particularly impressive at the AHL level in his stints with Rockford last season, so you’d like to see Tomkins perform well with Indy and potentially provide a bit more consistency in any action he sees with the IceHogs in 2018-19.

Outlook

Last year’s Hogs team limited traffic and high-percentage shots on Delia, giving him time to play his way into a big role in the postseason run. A younger, less-experienced defense will keep all of Rockford’s goalies on their toes.

 

New Look Central

The Hogs have some new division foes with which to contend in 2018-19. Cleveland slides to the Eastern Conference, while two teams, San Antonio and Texas, move into the Central Division this season.

That makes for an eight-team division consisting of Rockford, Milwaukee, Chicago, Iowa, Grand Rapids and Manitoba in addition to the Stars and Rampage. Of Rockford’s 76-game schedule, 64 will be contested with a Central Division opponent. As always, beating the teams in the Central is key to being in a playoff slot come April.

That includes a dozen games with the Hogs two closest foes, Chicago and Milwaukee. Rockford has ten with both the Wild and Griffins and face both San Antonio and Texas eight times. As was the case a year ago, the IceHogs see the Moose just four times.

The season kicks off in Cleveland, where the piglets are in action Friday and Saturday. Six of Rockford’s first eight games are against non-divisional opponents…then the Hogs settle in for three months and 40 Central matchups.

Rockford has a six-game road trip November 9-20 and a couple of four-game jaunts in the second half of the season. Their longest home stretch is a six-game stand in February. Starting in late March, the Hogs are at the BMO for five straight.

Unlike 2017-18, when Rockford played a home-heavy schedule in the first few months and were frequently out of town the second half, this year sees a more balanced slate. Of the 35 games in the 2018 part of the schedule, the IceHogs play at the BMO 16 times. Starting January 1, 22 of Rockford’s last 41 games are at the big orange box.

 

Puppy Power…And Other Promotions

Last season, the IceHogs attendance was down to 3915 a night at the BMO, the lowest it’s been since Rockford’s inaugural AHL season in 2007-08. This, despite a exciting brand of hockey and a deep playoff run. It should be said that the crowds were much healthier in the playoffs, eclipsing Hogs postseason attendance records.

Hopefully the trend will reflect the previous season’s success. The Hogs are working hard to get butts in the seats…even puppy butts.

Rockford held Pucks and Paws Night on November 10 last season. The Hogs lost 6-0 to San Antonio, but enough dog lovers had their pets in tow to merit the IceHogs opening the BMO Harris Bank Center to your fur babies for all seven Wednesday home games. And your dog’s ticket is only two bucks!

The Hogs will also have their share of youth jersey, hat, shirt and blanket giveaways throughout the schedule, along with annual events like the Teddy Bear Toss (December 1) and the Pink In The Rink Night. If watching tomorrow’s Blackhawks playing fast-paced hockey isn’t enough for you, maybe some swag will get you heading to the BMO.

 

How Will The Piglets Fare In 2018-19?

Before the Hawks organization sent veteran reinforcements in February, Rockford was a young, exciting team that was fun to watch but was probably going to finish a spot or two out of the playoff picture. Not a one of the veteran catalysts remains from the club that reached the Western Conference Final.

Where does that leave this season’s group? Well, it would be foolish to think that the roster will undergo its share of turnover over 76 games.

Players are going to slide in and out of town at various points in the campaign. A lot of skaters earned looks in Chicago last season and that figures to continue with a lot of youth in the Hawks lineup.

As constructed, a lot of the load will have to be shouldered by returning players like Highmore, Sikura and Louis. Broadhurst and Schroeder getting off to hot starts and being steady, point-producing vets would be more than welcome.

Ultimately, it could come down to how Rockford grows up on the defensive side of the puck that dictates team success. Last spring’s playoff lessons could pay dividends with what is still a very young team. Will it be enough to land the Hogs in the postseason? However Rockford answers that question, the action at the BMO should be worth checking out.

I’m looking forward of another year of covering the IceHogs; follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news and commentary on all things Rockford throughout the 2018-19 season.