Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs kicked off the 2023-24 season in San Jose this past weekend. The good news is that they won a game by a score of 7-2. The bad news is that they lost a game by a score of 7-2.

I am back for another season of thoughts and recaps as the Mighty Piglets of Flight patrol Winnebago County in their quest for Calder Cup glory. Rockford’s championship aspirations have not survived past the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Can this year’s crop yield a longer run?

Maybe. As will ever be the case for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, it will all hinge on the development of the prospects. The makeup of the Hogs roster is very similar to that of last season.

The IceHogs are coached by Anders Sorensen, who returns for his third full season at the helm in Rockford. Assistants Jared Nightengale and Rob Klinkhammer also are back for the IceHogs. Matt Smith is the new face on Sorensen’s staff; Smith will oversee the goalies this season.

The veteran presence is similar to the 2022-23 edition of the IceHogs, with a lot of familiar scorers coming back. Let’s start with the forward skaters.

Forward

Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain for the past three seasons, retired this summer. However, there are several veterans who will be on hand to provide leadership. This includes two of last season’s top scorers, David Gust (26 G, 33 A last season) and Brett Seney (23 G, 31 A). Both players should see plenty of time on Rockford’s top line.

Luke Philp (29 G, 24 A) is going to be a tough player to replace; the IceHogs leading goal-scorer is out with an Achilles tendon injury for the next several months. Anders Bjork, signed to an AHL contract by Rockford in the offseason, has 225 NHL appearances. Bjork will attempt to pick up the slack in terms of veteran scoring until Philp is back in action.

Another veteran who can help the IceHogs on the scoreboard is Joey Anderson, who split time between the AHL and the NHL both with Toronto and Chicago in 2022-23. Anderson was assigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks and provides Sorensen with another top-six option.

Among its many returning players, Rockford also has several returning prospects with something to prove this season. Both Mike Hardman (5 G, 13 A) and Michal Teply (9 G, 16 A) saw their scoring numbers drop despite steady playing time last season. As impending RFAs, Hardman and Teply are eyeing a return to form.

The forward group also includes several intriguing prospects. The fresh faces include Ryder Rolston, who makes the jump from college hockey. Colton Dach (currently nursing an ankle injury) and Jalen Luypen are fresh out of juniors. In addition, European rookies Antti Saarela and Marcel Marcel are also looking to crack the IceHogs lineup.

Defense

On the blue line, Issak Phillips (6 G, 17 A) will begin the season in Rockford, along with fellow prospect Filip Roos (3 G, 8 A). They are joined by Louis Crevier (0 G, 5 A) and two 2021 Blackhawks draft picks, Nolan Allen (1st round) and Ethan Del Mastro (4th round).

Rockford secured veteran defenseman Josh Healey to mentor the prospect-laden defensive corps. Healey, 29, enters his seventh professional season. Most of that time has been in the AHL with stops in Stockton, Milwaukee, Chicago, and San Diego.

Goalie

The IceHogs will begin the season with a goalie tandem of Drew Commesso and Jaxson Stauber. Commesso, a second-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, carries high expectations in the Hawks organization after three seasons at Boston University. Stauber split his time between Chicago and Rockford in his rookie season. Commesso and Stauber split the starts against the Barracuda this past weekend.

Any Questions?

A few. Such as…

With Lukas Reichel now in Chicago, what prospects step up to help carry the scoring load?

Rolston picked up a hustle goal in Friday’s victory. However, the remaining eight Rockford goals came from the sticks of the veterans. This club will depend on Gust, Seney, Bjork, and Anderson to get pucks in the net. Teply and Hardman got off to promising starts in San Jose. Both are in prime position to take advantage of being on potent lines that should provide plenty of opportunity. Saarela has some upside in the offensive zone, but he was invisible in the opening two games.

Can Gust match last season’s career numbers?

Even if he simply logs a 30-40 point season, Gust is a key part of an AHL roster. There may not be a better finisher in the Central Division. Gust competes and he converts. If the first weekend is any indication, he will generate his share of scoring chances. He already leads the Hogs with two goals heading into the home opener at the BMO on Saturday.

Can a young defense figure things out?

Rockford surrendered 85 shots in the first two games. Stauber faced 49 in Saturday’s loss. If Phillips winds up in Chicago for long stretches, things could get problematic on the blue line. Picking up some help on the back end may be necessary unless Allen and Del Mastro mature quickly.

Does Anders Sorensen name a captain? If so, who will it be?

Mitchell came to Rockford in February of 2020 and won over the locker room shortly thereafter. He was a no-brainer for Hogs captain for the last three seasons. He had a longtime pedigree with the Hershey Bears captaincy; his retirement leaves a hole for sure.

I think that Sorensen names a captain by the end of the month, and that it will likely be one of his AHL contracts. That would mean Bjork or Healey, who look to be here for the entire season. If not one of those two, I would guess Gust would be the selection, though him or Seney could see time in Chicago throughout the season.

Will not obtaining of a veteran goalie bite the Hogs as badly as it did last year?

Not unless one of Chicago’s goalies gets hurt. Then yeah, probably. It’s not like there’s any chance of…oh…now I remember what happened last season.

Mitchell Weeks will be up with Rockford in the event of Commesso or Stauber being needed with the Hawks. He was pretty solid for the IceHogs in spot duty last season, but it still would have been nice if a AHL veteran-type goalie had also been acquired over the summer so that the organization wouldn’t have to scramble to pick up such a player mid-season. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

How will Rockford handle the Chicago Wolves factor?

The IceHogs play the Wolves a dozen times this year, per usual. This year’s Rosemont entry into the AHL is an independent entity, something they’ve longed to be since they entered the league. Now they get their chance.

The Wolves went out and picked up some high-end AHL talent like Chris Terry and Cole Schneider. I think they will have some problems in terms of depth. On the other hand, no callups. I’ll go more in depth on the Rockford-Chicago matchup throughout the season, but everyone’s looking at the Wolves to see how this works out.

No matter what happens, remember this; the Wolves wanted this. They’ve always wanted this. Now they have it. Get your popcorn ready.

Is this IceHogs team a playoff team?

They certainly can be. They’re no worse than the two teams that made the playoffs the past two seasons. Right now, I don’t know how much better they are than those teams that won play-ins but were swept in the first round. It’s the AHL, so a lot will hinge on how the roster morphs over the next six months and how the prospects develop. We’ll just have to hang on for all the ups and downs, of which there will be many. Buckle up.

And Now…Recaps

Friday, October 13-Rockford 7, San Jose 2

Drew Commesso picked up the win for the Hogs in his AHL debut in net. Last year’s big guns were on full display as Rockford began the season with a nice road win.

After getting their bearings in the opening minutes of action, Rockford got on the board via the power play midway through the first. After Brett Seney’s faceoff win, the Hogs never lost possession of the biscuit. David Gust found Joey Anderson at the goal line; Anderson threaded a pass across the front of the net to Anders Bjork at the right post. The backdoor was unlocked and Rockford led 1-0 at 10:47 of the first period.

The piglets got an even-strength goal a few minutes later, when rookie defenseman Ethan Del Mastro forced a turnover in the neutral zone. Bjork collected the loose puck and skated into Barracuda territory. Andersen took in his pass at the top of the right circle and sent another sweet feed across the ice to Mike Hardman skating to the left post. San Jose goalie Magnus Chrona never had a chance and Rockford went up 2-0 at the 14:05 mark.

The Barracuda answered with a Brandon Cole tally after he snuck into the slot in front of Commesso. The shot went past Commesso on the glove side at 15:58 of the first. The Rockford lead was 2-1 entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period, Ozzy Wiesblatt lowered a shoulder into Hogs forward Kale Howarth, who was not in possession of the puck as Rockford was attempting a defensive zone breakout. Howarth was taken to the locker room and did not return to action. Wiesblatt (who was later suspended three games by the AHL for the hit) was handed a five-minute major penalty for a check to the head and was also finished for the evening.

Rockford took full advantage of the unfortunate hit, scoring twice on the lengthy power play. Michal Teply knocked in a long rebound of an Issak Phillips shot at 5:16 of the middle frame. Teply’s goal was quickly followed by a successful drive to the net by David Gust, who five-holed Chrona to give the IceHogs a 4-1 advantage through forty minutes.

Gust tacked on his second goal of the night 12:05 into the final period, capping a 2-on-1 rush led by Brett Seney. Two minutes later, the rookies got in on the fun. Jalen Luypen was able to force a turnover behind the San Jose net, leading to his pass to Ryder Rolston at the left post for a 6-1 IceHogs lead. Bryce Kindopp added an empty net goal late in the game before the Barracuda picked up a goal of their own from Shakir Mukhamadullin in the closing minutes to finish the scoring.

Commesso picked up the win in his pro debut with 34 saves. He also was given an assist on Gust’s tally.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Michal Teply-Brett Seney-David Gust

Mike Hardman-Anders Bjork-Joey Anderson

Antti Saarela-Jalen Luypen-Ryder Rolston

Logan Niijoff-Kale Howarth-Bryce Kindopp

Filip Roos-Issak Phillips

Ethan Del Mastro-Nolan Allen

Josh Healey-Louis Crevier

Drew Commesso

Jaxson Stauber

 

Saturday, October 14-San Jose 7, Rockford 2

The piglets seemed a bit sleepy in the return matchup with San Jose. Rockford let the game slip away early in the middle frame and had to settle for a weekend split.

The Barracuda broke a scoreless tie late in the opening frame, when Ethan Cardwell slipped a second-chance effort through the five-hole of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber. The goal came 17:42 into the first and San Jose took that 1-0 lead into the intermission.

Some Joey Anderson hustle behind the Barracuda net got the Hogs even at one just 1:48 into the middle stanza. Beating Matthew Sredl to the puck, Anderson completed the wraparound attempt through San Jose goalie Georgi Romanov. Rockford took a brief 2-1 advantage on a Brett Seney power play goal at the three minute mark, set up by a David Gust pass.

Justin Bailey tied the game for the Barracuda just 1:17 later. San Jose took a 3-2 lead on a Tanner Kaspick goal in front of the Hogs net.

Despite being outshot 24-5 in the second period, it appeared that Rockford would escape with just a one-goal deficit. Unfortunately, Ryan Carpenter put a rebound past Stauber with two ticks remaining in the frame to make it 4-2 San Jose.

The Barracuda lead widened early in the third, at the conclusion of an unsuccessful Hogs power play. Leon Gawanke sent a long pass to Cole Cassels, who had a clear path to the Rockford net. Stauber came out to challenge but was unable to separate Cassels from the puck. The San Jose forward had no problem finding the back of the vacated net 2:33 into the final frame.

From there, it was just a matter of San Jose skating out the clock and adding goals from Oskar Lindblom and Carpenter. Stauber was deluged by vulcanized rubber throughout; Rockford was outshot 49-28 on the afternoon.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Mike Hardman-Anders Bjork-Joey Anderson

Michal Teply-Brett Seney-David Gust

Antti Saarela-Jalen Luypen-Ryder Rolston

Logan Niijoff-Kale Howarth-Bryce Kindopp

Ethan Del Mastro-Nolan Allen

Filip Roos-Issak Phillips

Josh Healey-Louis Crevier

Jaxson Stauber

Drew Commesso

Here Come The (Lone) Wolves

Round One with Chicago gets underway at the Hogs home opener at the BMO Center Saturday night. The action begins at 7:00 p.m. CDT.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for musings on the IceHogs on a regular basis.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs host Chicago Tuesday night at the BMO Center. It is the biggest game of the year for both teams. There are four games remaining in the regular season. However, the playoff hopes of both teams likely hinge on the result of this season’s final matchup between the I-90 rivals.

The IceHogs earned a split with Milwaukee this past weekend. Chicago took three of four points with Iowa. Heading into Tuesday, Rockford holds a one-point lead for the fifth and final postseason spot in the Central Division.

Rocco Grimaldi paced the IceHogs to a 3-2 victory in Milwaukee Friday night with a pair of goals. Rockford held on for a key victory, with Mike Hardman’s fifth of the season being the game-winner. The following evening, the Admirals led from the opening minute on the way to a 5-1 win. Luke Philp potted Rockford’s lone goal Saturday.

The Hogs and Wolves finish the season with the same three opponents-Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and Manitoba. Both teams conclude their schedules with games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It really comes down to how each team finishes against common opponents.

Chicago is currently on an eight-game point streak in which it has gone 6-0-2. The piglets are 5-5 over their last ten games and have dropped their last four with the Wolves.  In those games, Chicago has outscored Rockford 17-5.

Remember, the IceHogs must finish ahead of Chicago to secure a playoff appearance, lest fourth-place Iowa loses its last three games. While that’s not impossible (the Wild finish with Milwaukee and a pair in Texas), this is Rockford’s last chance to control its destiny. A regulation win over the Wolves and two victories this weekend will do it, no matter how Chicago closes out the season.

First things first…the IceHogs need a regulation win Tuesday. Rockford has just two regulation wins at the BMO in its last 18 attempts. Those would be April 2 over Grand Rapids and December 31 against the Wolves. Following that 6-2 win, Rockford was 15 points ahead of the Wolves in the standings. Since then:

Chicago: 22-13-2-2

Rockford: 14-17-4-2

So…the Wolves have a full head of steam coming into Tuesday’s showdown. The Hogs are struggling to score consistently and were spanked by the Admirals Saturday night. Arvid Soderblom was out-played in the net by Milwaukee’s backup, Devin Cooley.

Chicago will surely have Pyotr Kochetkov in the net to oppose Soderblom. Kochetkov is 3-0 against Rockford with a 1.31 GAA and a .935 save percentage. He shut out the Hogs back on April 1.

The organization’s response? Let’s send Lukas Reichel to Rockford a day early and let him take care of it.

Reichel, along with Alex Vlasic, comes down from the Blackhawks to try and help secure a postseason position. Buddy Robinson was recalled to Chicago in a reciprocal move on Monday.

Reichel can’t hurt Rockford’s chances in this last week. This gives the Hogs at least an echo of the offensive potential they had in the first three months of the season. Reunite the firm of Brett Seney, Reichel, and David Gust, then put Bobby Lynch with Grimaldi and Philp to form two potent scoring lines.

Will that be enough to best the Wolves? It’s going to have to do, as the only other help from the Hawks would come if/when Joey Anderson is assigned to Rockford (along with Robinson) for the weekend. From a talent standpoint, this is as together a roster as the Hogs have had in the last six weeks.

Next week, I will either be taking a closer look at a play-in series or deconstructing a massive failure of a season for the IceHogs. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to see how it all shakes out.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue to struggle in their quest for the AHL postseason. This past weekend, Rockford allowed their interstate rivals to inch ever closer to the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.

The Chicago Wolves closed the gap between them and the piglets to four points as the Hogs dropped two out of three games this weekend. It wasn’t pretty; Rockford was shut out by Laval on Friday and in Rosemont Saturday. In fact, the IceHogs took 22 minutes to register as much as a shot on Chicago.

Rockford stopped the bleeding by defeating Grand Rapids 5-1 Sunday afternoon. With six games left for the IceHogs, what looked to be a wrapped-up spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs is very much in doubt.

The regulation win over the Griffins was the first such victory at the BMO since December 31. It’s just the second regulation win for Rockford in its last 15 games, dating back to February 24. Brett Seney led the way with a pair of goals, setting a career-high for him with goals 21 and 22.

The IceHogs also got goals from Andrew Perrott, Jakub Galvas, and Luke Philp, who has been a consistent point producer for Rockford. His 24 goals and 46 points in 54 games are career-highs for Philp.

The Wolves, who have a game in hand on the IceHogs, are currently on a five-game point streak. They need only to tie for fifth; Chicago has 27 regulation wins to just 16 for Rockford. The Hogs need to finish the season with a flourish, but it won’t be an easy task.

This weekend, the piglets have a home-and-home with Milwaukee, who has won five of seven meetings with Rockford this season. The Wolves play Milwaukee, who they beat 5-2 on Sunday, again on Wednesday, then have a home-and-home with Iowa this weekend. Chicago has won its last four games against the Wild.

It isn’t difficult to forecast a scenario that sees the Hogs and Wolves in a dead heat by this time next week. If Chicago stays hot and Rockford continues to struggle, the IceHogs could be the team on the outside of the playoff picture.

What is the organization, who pledged that getting playoff games under the belt of its prospects was a priority, doing to reinforce the IceHogs? Surprisingly little.

This is the time of year where college and junior players are signed. The IceHogs signed Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston to a PTO March 14 and Paul Ludwinski, the Hawks second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, to an ATO on March 29. However, neither player has suited up for Rockford. The team announced that Ludwinski is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain sustained in his junior season with Kingston of the OHL.

Mike Hardman was reassigned to the IceHogs on Wednesday. Joey Anderson cleared waivers Sunday; it appears that he and Lukas Reichel will be assigned to Rockford at the conclusion of the NHL season. Three games will remain for the IceHogs at that point; will it be enough?

There seems to be enough talent on the roster to make the necessary push. However, even with the goal explosion on Sunday, Rockford has averaged 1.93 goals per contest in its last 15 games. That has to change, starting this weekend against the Admirals.

The Hogs are in Milwaukee on Friday night, then come back to the BMO Saturday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the Hogs hunt for the playoffs.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs hit the road this past week, badly in need of a win to break what was a season-long losing streak. They didn’t get it.

The piglets dropped three games, picking up points in two of them, but now have the AHL’s longest current stretch of futility at seven. As is the case in such things, the Hogs are seemingly finding different ways to lose every night.

Rockford rallied late in Iowa Tuesday, tying the game on a nice drive to the net by rookie Cole Guttman. The Hogs fell short of the elusive win in Gus Macker Time by a score of 2-1, dropping their sixth of seven games in the season series to the Wild.

Friday, the IceHogs managed to break the two-goal barrier for the first time in nine games. Unfortunately, most of the offense came in garbage time, as Milwaukee jumped ahead early and piled on late in an 8-4 drubbing at the hands of the Admirals.

Saturday, it was the Chicago Wolves turn to hand a basket of disappointment to Rockford. The IceHogs led the game twice, getting goals from Bobby Lynch and Carson Gicewicz. Chicago drew even both times before Max Lajoie got an overtime breakaway shot past Arvid Soderblom, sending Rockford away from Rosemont 3-2 losers.

In case you’re wondering, the IceHogs are approaching the franchise record in consecutive losses. Rockford’s seven-game winless streak vaults ahead of several six-game skids and into a tie for third longest; the Hogs dropped seven in a row back in the 2013-14 season.

In February of 2008, in it’s inaugural AHL season, Rockford was defeated in eight straight games. The IceHogs lost nine straight back in the 2016-17 campaign, from November 23 to December 10 of 2016.

Rockford is now 20-16-4-2 in 2022-23. They sit in fourth place in the Central Division with 46 points. Can the Hogs recover from this New Year Slump? Sure; that 2007-08 squad was 30-11-8 before losing eight straight. They rallied to go 14-9 the rest of the way and reached the second round of the playoffs. There is a measure of hope that the IceHogs can shake off the stink of the last month and start moving back up the division ladder.

 

Time To Find One’s Game

Soderblom, who missed three weeks with a groin injury, has not had the opportunity to stretch out in Rockford’s net. After playing in 38 games with the IceHogs in his rookie campaign, Soderblom had just two appearances after the Hawks returned him to Rockford before leaving minutes into a game with Grand Rapids December 28.

Soderblom gave up seven goals in his return January 20. To the credit of the organization, Rockford has stuck with him and given him a chance to get his game back in shape despite the injury to Alex Stalock. Soderblom remained in Rockford and started all three games for the IceHogs this week, with mixed results.

On Tuesday, he stopped 32 shots and kept the Hogs in the game long enough to earn a point. Saturday, he may or may not have mishandled Lajoie’s overtime winner. However, Lajoie was unchecked and skating into the slot. The same could be said for the Wolves game-tying goal in the third, when Logan Lambdin came out of the penalty box and had ample opportunity to deke Soderblom out of position.

In between, it wasn’t as debatable; it was a rough outing on Friday in Milwaukee. Soderblom was pulled after 40 minutes after allowing five goals on fifteen Admirals shots. Mitchell Weeks came out an promptly gave up three in the final period, so maybe it wasn’t in the cards for any Hogs goalie that evening.

With Jaxson Stauber playing surprisingly well in his first two starts with Chicago and the Hawks off until February 7, perhaps the organization has decided to give Soderblom some much-needed time to right the ship in the confines of the BMO Center, where the IceHogs play their next three games.

 

Roster News

A long-anticipated medical update was sent out by the team on Friday. Captain Garrett Mitchell is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Mitchel had returned from a month-long absence earlier this season after injuring the shoulder November 19 in Rosemont. He’d played 13 games before going down with a similar injury January 18 against Grand Rapids.

In addition, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) suffered a right wrist fracture on January 13. He has missed seven games since then and will likely miss another month of the season.

Rockford will miss Robinson’s net presence on the scoreboard. Mitchell was still looking for his first point of the season at the time of his injury, but having your captain go down is never good news.

Kale Howarth was recalled from the Indy Fuel last week and should be able to replicate Mitchell’s game as a bottom-six forward. Howarth was in the lineup for all three games this week.

Last Monday, F Luke Philp and D Filip Roos were recalled to the Blackhawks, with D Issak Phillips returning to Rockford. Might Philp, Roos, and possibly Stauber be sent to Rockford to get some game action in the light of Chicago’s down time? The answer is yes; all three were assigned to the Hogs on Sunday.

 

This Week

Rockford is at the BMO for its next three games. All would be nice to win.

Tuesday, the Hogs host Manitoba, who is right below them in the division standings. Friday and Saturday see the Wild, the Western Conference’s hottest team at 8-0-1-1 in their last ten, come to Rockford for two games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they attempt to snap the losing streak this week.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs took two out of three games this past week. The piglets spoiled Wednesday morning for hundreds of Grand Rapids children with a morning stomp of the Griffins, then split a home-and home with the Chicago Wolves over the weekend.

Rockford is now 7-6-0-1 on the season. With 15 points, the IceHogs sit in fifth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Faced with the prospect of treading water in the face of some depth issues in net, Rockford has managed to hover around the .500 mark. With the pace that is expected of the Hogs, the goaltending will be paramount to the team’s playoff aspirations.

 

Scoreboard!

What is keeping Rockford afloat the first month is offense. The Hogs are soaring at 3.79 goals per game, tied for fourth in the league.

Rockford has three skaters in the top 20 of AHL scorers. By way of comparison, the IceHogs seldom have anyone in the top 100 scorers. David Gust (8 G, 10 A) sits in eighth place, with Luke Philp (10 G, 6 A) and Brett Seney (7 G, 9 A) are among several skaters tied for 14th. Philp leads the Hogs in goals with ten and is tied for second in the league in that category.

Several Blackhawks prospects are also filling the net on a regular basis. After a torrid start, Lukas Reichel (6 G, 8 A), has tapered off after a lackluster performance on November 2 against Milwaukee. Reichel has two goals and two assists in eight November games.

Michal Teply, on the other hand, started the season with four scoreless outings before getting on track. In his last seven games, Teply has three goals and five helpers. That includes the game-winning goal in Rosemont on Saturday night.

 

Roster News

After returning from an injury last week, Jaxson Stauber was a scratch for both weekend games against the Wolves. Mitchell Weeks was recalled from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Thursday and dressed for both games. He stopped 24 shots at Allstate Arena in Rockford’s overtime win over Chicago.

On Wednesday, D Alec Regula was reassigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks. The next day, Ian Mitchell was called up to Chicago. On Friday, D Cliff Watson was sent to Indy by the IceHogs.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell suffered an injury midway through Saturday’s win in Rosemont. Mitchell was sent hard into the end boards in the Wolves zone by Chicago defenseman Max Lajoie. Mitchell quickly got up, but skated directly to the locker room with appeared to be a separated left shoulder.

Mitchell has been an unquestioned leader of this IceHogs team nearly from the moment he arrived in the middle of the 2019-20 season. There are several veterans who can pick up the slack on the ice in terms of leadership should Mitchell be out for a stretch, as may well be the case by the way he looked exiting the rink Saturday.

 

Who’s Got The Call?

Over the last couple of weeks, a voice has been missing from the IceHogs broadcast booth. Joseph Zakrzewski, who manned the microphone for nearly five seasons, broadcast what turned out to be his final game at the BMO on October 23 vs Manitoba.

Zakrzewski has been absent from the airwaves ever since. His tweet on November 8 announced that his time with the team was at an end. Like his arrival in 2017, Zakrzewski departs in the middle of the season. No announcement was made by the organization.

If the Blackhawks, who own the Rockford franchise, has a plan for the broadcast booth, it is unclear at this time. It does not appear that a permanent replacement for his position has been hired.

Several hired guns have filled the void on the air over the last few weeks. These include Chicago Steel broadcaster Mark Citron, Kane County Cougars announcer Connor Clingen, Wisconsin Women’s hockey broadcaster Reid Mangum, Tyler Kuel, and WGN’s Joe Brand, who called this weekend’s games.

Where will the carousel stop? Who knows at this point?

Zakrzewski was a well-liked broadcaster at the BMO Center who knew his game and was a fun listen. The powers that be have some big shoes to fill.

 

Who’s Got The Cup?

Rockford has hosted the Wolves on three occasions this season. I’ve been searching the BMO Center during each matchup searching for the grail-like token of glory that is the Illinois Lottery Cup.

My search, alas, has been fruitless. The ILC debuted back in 2011, where the Hogs and Wolves, along with the Peoria Rivermen (then of the AHL), waged battle for the magical chalice. When the 2019-20 season was halted early, Rockford stood poised to claim the cup with a 6-3-1 record against Chicago. Last season, the cup was earned via the Hogs 8-3-0-1 record against the Calder Cup-winning Wolves.

So, I inquire again…where is the Illinois Lottery Cup?

All signs point to money. No sponsor, no Illinois Lottery Cup. However, does it really have to be that way? Couldn’t the Lottery folks just donate this talisman to the rivalry? Could an enterprising fan purchase the cup for, say, ten bucks?

That’s the price the Blackhawks are selling the Stars Of Tomorrow placards that used to hang proudly on the wall heralding the former IceHogs that reached the NHL. Could the Blackhawks earmark some of the money they saved on the new Hammy Hog mask to obtain the trophy of Wolves domination?

All right. Way too fired up right now. Time for those recaps.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 16-Rockford 5, Grand Rapids 1

The piglets spotted Grand Rapids a 5-1 lead at Van Andel Arena before the Rockford offense snowed under the Griffins.

Joel L’Esperance had the only goal of the morning with his lamp-lighter 13:38 into the opening period. From that point, it was all Rockford.

The Hogs tied the game 1:18 into the second stanza with a goal by Luke Philp. The eventual game-winner came from the stick of Ian Mitchell, who scored the first of his two goals at the 3:02 mark. Lukas Reichel and Buddy Robinson also sent rubber to twine in the second period, which ended with Rockford up 4-1.

Like his first goal, Mitchell’s second tally was on the power play. It came at 4:57 of the third period and closed out the scoring for both teams.

Dylan Wells posted 29 saves to pick up his second win of the season. Mitchell, Reichel, and Robinson were voted the game’s Three Stars.

 

Friday, November 18-Chicago 4, Rockford 3

In a game where special teams played a big factor, the Wolves Nathan Sucese potted a short-handed game-winner midway through the third period.

Rockford was the aggressor for several stretches of action on Friday. That included the opening minutes, which saw the Hogs take a 1-0 lead on a Buddy Robinson goal. Robinson’s fourth goal of the season was a tip-in of an Adam Clendening shot at the 2:09 mark of the first period.

Chicago didn’t get much going until the latter stages of the period. However, they capitalized twice in the last five minutes on goals by Griffin Mendel and Vasily Ponomarev to take a 2-1 advantage into the locker room.

Luke Philp got the first of two goals on the night to tie the game midway through the second period. The goal was a short-handed set up by a fantastic effort by Rockford forward Josiah Slavin, who skated a loose puck from coast to coast before centering to Philp in the high slot.

The score stayed at 2-2 until the start of the final frame, when Malte Stromwell sent a shot past Hogs goalie Dylan Wells at the 1:51 mark for a power-play goal. Philp tied the game again with his second goal. This one also came on the man-advantage, a shot from the left circle that beat Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko 9:22 into the third.

The game-winner came less than two minutes later. The Wolves had exploited Wells losing his net several times throughout the evening. This time, a rebound came off the pads of Wells, rolling just out of his reach. Sucese beat several Hogs to the loose puck and deposited it into the cage at 11:20 of the third period.

Down 4-3, Rockford mounted a big push for the equalizer, pulling Wells with just under three minutes to play. A Wolves penalty gave the IceHogs a six-on-four advantage for most of the last two minutes of the game. Several shots were taken, but Sawchenko held firm to give Chicago the win.

 

Saturday, November 19, Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (OT)  

Rockford gained redemption in the rematch at Allstate Arena, though it took some extra skating to do so.

Jamison Rees put the Wolves up 1-0 4:33 into the game with his third goal of the season. The IceHogs generated plenty of chances, though they were turned away by former Rockford goalie Cale Morris.

The action picked up in the middle of the second stanza. David Gust got his stick on a loose puck at the left post, sliding it past Morris at the 7:16 mark. Shortly after Gust’s tally, Michal Teply sent an Issak Phllips feed from the left circle to the back of the Wolves net at 8:10 of the second.

Rees quickly responded for Chicago. Mitchell Weeks stopped the initial attempt, but Rees gathered the rebound and tied the game at 8:42.

Rockford took a 3-2 advantage 14:06 into the period when a shot by Alex Vlasic snuck past Morris from to top of the right circle. The Wolves got back to even ground with a shorthanded goal by Nathan Sucese at the 1:58 mark. Rockford nearly got the lead back in the final minute, but Phillips’ shot from the left circle came to a stop on the goal line, just not across it. The teams went into the intermission all even.

Neither Weeks or Morris wavered in the final 20 minutes of regulation, despite each team getting ample time on the power play. Rockford was stymied by the Wolves penalty kill four times, while the Hogs denied Chicago twice on man-advantages.

The IceHogs started Gus Macker Time with four skaters thanks to an unfinished power play from regulation. However, it took the bulk of the extra session to declare a winner. That declaration was made by Teply, who skated into the slot as the clock began to run out. His shot beat Morris, clanged off the crossbar, and tumbled into Twinesville to end the game with 11 seconds remaining in overtime.

 

This Week

The piglets have a Wednesday night showdown with Texas at the BMO, then start a home-and-home with Milwaukee in Rockford on Friday. Saturday, the Hogs travel to Milwaukee for another tilt with the Admirals.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for semi-rational thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

Hockey

Back before the Rockford IceHogs home opener the previous weekend, I predicted that the scoring potential of this veteran-laden team would result in a slew of goals. Rockford put up four goals in a pair of losses at the BMO Center.

Turns out I was just a week off. The piglets were flying around the BMO ice this past weekend, and the offense came out to play.

The Hogs sent 13 shots to the back of opposing nets in a pair of wins, beating the Wolves 5-3 on Friday, then clobbering the Belleville Senators 8-2 on Saturday night. Rockford evened up its overall record to 3-3 while racing up the AHL offensive leaderboard.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; the IceHogs are dangerously thin in their own cage. That situation may have become exacerbated with an injury to rookie Jaxson Stauber that may take a few days to evaluate.

Stauber took a puck to the mask in the second period in Saturday’s win that stuck in the eye hole. He left the game under his own power, but his immediate status is unknown. Regardless, the organization needs to address the lack of a veteran backstop for Rockford.

 

The Best Line In The AHL?

You could definitely make an argument that David Gust, Lukas Reichel and Brett Seney have been the league’s most effective forward line. They certainly are the hottest.

Gust had a tremendous weekend, following up a five-point effort against his former team with a pair of assists against Belleville. He’s tied for second in the league with eleven points (3 G, 8 A).

Reichel (4 G, 6 A) and Seney (4 G, 6 A) are tied for ninth in AHL scoring, with each player totaling ten points.

 

Goalie Depth Stretched To The Limit

Jaxson Stauber took a puck to the eye in the second period of Saturday’s win. After stopping seven of eight Senators shots, Stauber left the contest and did not return. Dylan Wells came in for the remainder of the game. Although he gave up a goal, he denied sixteen shots. The evening before, Wells picked up the win over the Wolves, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

Assuming that Rockford isn’t going to post five or six goals every night, the Hogs are dangerously thin in net at the moment. With Arvid Soderblom up in Chicago with the Blackhawks for the foreseeable future, the potential of Stauber missing some time does not give Rockford much experience in the crease.

Wells has 25 games of AHL action in four professional seasons. Stauber was removed from just his third AHL start when he was injured. In hindsight, the Blackhawks organization may have wanted to pick up a veteran who could have slipped through waivers and floated back and forth from Chicago to Rockford when needed.

If Stauber isn’t ready to play by Rockford’s game with Milwaukee Wednesday, expect Mitchell Weeks to be recalled to the IceHogs from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Weeks is 3-0 for Indy, with a 3.00 GAA and a .899 save percentage.

 

Loose Change

  • Friday morning, the IceHogs were 31st in the AHL (out of 32 teams) in offense with a 2.25 goals per-game average. Monday morning, Rockford was ninth at 3.67 goals.
  • The IceHogs power play was also 31st in the league, at just 6.1 percent (1-16). Monday morning, Rockford was…well, 25th, but at least they got their success rate (16.1, 5-31) into double digits.
  • Minus Adam Clendening, who did not play in either game this weekend, the D scored their first three goals of the season. Alec Regula had one in each game; Jakub Galvas pinched in on Friday for the lamp-lighter that ignited Rockford’s scoring explosion.
  • It was good to see Dylan Sikura and Buddy Robinson get their first goals over the weekend. Both players, especially Robinson, were just missing on prime chances until Saturday night. The line of Sikura and Mike Hardman, centered by Luke Philp, has the potential to be just as effective as the firm of Seney, Reichel, and Gust.
  • Carson Gicewicz and D.J. Busdeker are two of the few AHL holdovers from last season getting regular work so far this season. They’re toiling on the fourth line with good returns so far. Gicewicz tipped in an Issak Phillips slap shot for the sixth Hogs goal on Saturday, a play on which Busdeker was awarded the secondary assist. Both are high-motor skaters that helped anchor a group that killed ten of eleven penalties over the weekend.
  • Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain, sat out the Belleville game, with Bobby Lynch joining the fourth line.
  • Lost in the shuffle of Saturday’s goal-fest was new acquisition Cooper Zech getting his first start on the IceHogs defense. Zech didn’t break into the scoring column.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 28-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs broke a three-game skid in a big way Friday night.  With a pair of goals and three helpers, Gust factored in on every Rockford goal in the victory. Rockford picked up its first win this season at the BMO Center, thanks in part to a flurry of second-period goals.

The Wolves started strong, taking a 1-0 lead midway through the first on an Alexander Pashin tally. Rockford created some scoring opportunities late in the period but trailed by that score heading into the locker room.

The goal that got the Hogs rolling came off the stick of defenseman Jakub Galvas, who drove to the right slot and went far side on Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko. This tied the game at a goal apiece just 2:12 into the middle frame. Gust gave Rockford a 2-1 lead at the 6:15 mark, taking a pass from Brett Seney before splitting the defense and backhanding the puck into the Wolves net.

Chicago knotted the game at 8:39 of the second period when Nathan Sucese put back a long rebound of a David Ferrance attempt. However, the IceHogs responded by capitalizing on a Wolves turnover in their own zone. Mike Hardman deflected a pass attempt to Gust, who sent a shot from the slot past Sawchenko at 14:30 of the second.

The key sequence in the contest came in the closing minutes of the period. With 1:27 remaining, Max Lajoie appeared to tie the game for Chicago. The officials, however, ruled that Lajoie had knocked in the puck with a high stick, disallowing the goal. Rockford took full advantage, getting a deflection of a Galvas shot by Seney with two seconds to play in the second. This gave the IceHogs a 4-2 advantage at the second intermission.

An Alec Regula slapshot 25 seconds into the third period provided plenty of insurance. The Wolves Jamieson Rees closed out the scoring a few minutes later, but the Hogs held on behind Dylan Wells, who picked up his first win in net with 24 saves.

 

Saturday, October 29-Rockford 8, Belleville 2

After scoring five times in a win over Chicago on Friday, Rockford erupted for eight goals at the BMO Center.

The IceHogs got to work early, scoring 51 seconds into the contest with Dylan Sikura‘s first goal of the season. Less than a minute later, Lukas Reichel worked a two-man rush with Brett Seney and scored from the right post to put the IceHogs up 2-0.

Sikura got his second of the night at the 11:36 mark of the first period, the first of what would be four Rockford power play tallies. The one-timer from the top of the left circle trickled through the pads of Senators goalie Kevin Mandolese, prompting Belleville coach Troy Mann to remove him from the game for Mads Sogaard.

Belleville, who was outshot 9-1 by Rockford, stopped the bleeding and went into the locker room down 3-0. Instead of a push back from the Senators, the Hogs turned the offense up a notch.

The middle frame was a wild affair. Rockford put up four goals in the span of 2:15, starting at the three-minute mark with a power-play goal by Alec Regula. Buddy Robinson (PP), Carson Gicewicz, and Reichel quickly followed suit.

Mann removed Sogaard from the action after Reichel’s second of the evening in favor of Mandolese. it didn’t mater. Mike Hardman quickly sent a shot off the right post and into the net at the 7:40 mark.

Jake Lucchini broke up the shutout with a goal at the 11:03 mark, but Belleville trailed 8-1 at the second intermission. From there, it was mostly the teams trying to run out the clock and the officials trying to prevent garbage-time fights. Angus Crookshank converted on a power-play chance midway through the third to close out the scoring.

 

Busy Week Ahead

The piglets will rise early to take on Milwaukee in a 10:30 a.m. start on Wednesday. After getting its first gander at the Admirals, Rockford ends the seven-game home stand Saturday and Sunday. Saturday at 7:00 p.m., the Hogs open the season series with Grand Rapids. The following afternoon, the Iowa Wild visit the BMO Center for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs opened the refurbished BMO Center (note the refurbished name) with a pair of disappointing losses. On Friday, the Chicago Wolves picked up an easy win over Rockford. The next afternoon, Manitoba moved to the top of the Central Division standings behind a half-dozen goals.

What went wrong over the weekend? Allow me to share some thoughts before this week’s recaps.

  • Offensively, Luke Philp and Brett Seney have been as good as advertised. Each has three goals and an assist in Rockford’s first four games. Lukas Reichel (2 G, 4 A) paces the piglets with six points, but looks to be pushing the action a bit, rather than slowing down and letting scoring opportunities develop.
  • Aside from David Gust’s goal in Manitoba October 15, the firm of Philp, Seney and Reichel have accounted for all of Rockford’s goal scoring. Some diversity is sorely needed.
  • The IceHogs were better Sunday in terms of creating legit scoring chances. They just didn’t convert. Passes connected but couldn’t be hauled in. Pucks were in the crease with no one to jump on them. In short, this Rockford offense is just a tad out of synch.
  • Players like Buddy Robinson and Dylan Sikura had some chances that weren’t fully realized. Hopefully Hogs coach Anders Sorensen can get three lines that click in practice this week, then get the occasional greasy goal from players like Josiah Slavin and Evan Barratt.
  • The goalie situation suffered with Arvid Soderblom being recalled to the Blackhawks Friday after a injury to Petr Mrazek. A tandem of Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells is not the tandem of a contending AHL team. It was on full display this weekend, particularly on Sunday. If Soderblom is to be with the Blackhawks for an extended period of time, a move needs to be made to obtain a veteran goalie to pick up some slack in Rockford.
  • Adam Clendening had a rough game on Saturday, taking three penalties and encountering trouble quarterbacking the power play. He was better on Sunday, with a secondary assist on Seney’s third-period goal. The first power play unit is four forwards and Clendening. On several occasions, opponents have been able to generate shorthanded opportunities by skating hard up the ice and forcing Clendening to defend.
  • Rockford was 1-8 on the man advantage this weekend, while giving up four power play goals on ten opponent chances. The lack of success on the penalty kill had a big effect on the Hogs fortunes; both Chicago and Manitoba swung the games in their favor with two power play strikes in the second period.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan made his IceHogs debut on Sunday afternoon. He scrapped with Jeff Malott and Mikey Eyssimont in a ten-minute span of the third period and was given a game misconduct for doing so. He now leads Rockford with two fighting majors and 20 penalty minutes.
  • On Saturday morning, the IceHogs announced that rookie forward Cole Guttman was in concussion protocol, dating back to October 15 in Manitoba when he appeared to hit his head on the ice in a fall.
  • Alex Vlasic and Alec Regula added to the blueline depth in Rockford. Both Vlasic and Regula played in both games this weekend.

Recaps

Saturday, October 22-Chicago 4, Rockford 1

A rash of penalties in the first two periods was too much for the IceHogs to overcome despite several key scoring opportunities. The Wolves spoiled Rockford’s home opener, beating their Central Division rival in convincing fashion.

Chicago took a 1-0 lead at the 14:28 mark of the opening period, after the Hogs sent an early flurry of pucks toward Wolves goalie Zachary Sawchenko. William Lagesson struck from the left post to give Chicago a lead they would never relinquish.

Rockford had a chance to tie the score when Bobby Lynch was awarded a penalty shot at 16:37 of the first period. Lynch got Sawchenko down on the ice, but couldn’t get the backhand shot over the goalie’s pads.

The Wolves began the middle frame with a short power play held over from a slashing penalty by Hogs defenseman Adam Clendening. Chicago needed just 16 seconds to convert. Jack Drury knocked in a feed by Anttoni Honka for a 2-0 Wolves lead.

The IceHogs closed the gap to 2-1 with a one-timer off the stick of Lukas Reichel. Assists went to Brett Seney and former Wolves forward David Gust at the 14:08 mark.

Seney was called for tripping late in the second period, leading to Brenden Perlini‘s first goal of the season with 51 seconds remaining. Outshot by Chicago 26-16 through 40 minutes, the IceHogs trailed 3-1.

The pivotal point in the final period was near the midway point, when Griffin Mendel and Ryan Dzingel committed penalties 51 seconds apart, leading to a 5-on-3 advantage for Rockford. The Wolves hustled defensively and killed both infractions, ending the Hogs best chance to get back into the contest. Malte Stromwall closed out the scoring with an unassisted shorthanded goal with 1:25 to play, sealing Rockford’s fate.

Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber made his pro debut Saturday following Arvid Soderblom‘s recall by the Blackhawks. Stauber stopped 19 of 22 Wolves shots. Sawchenko made 27 saves to pick up the win for Chicago.

Sunday, October 23-Manitoba 6, Rockford 3

The IceHogs got off to a solid start, attacking the Manitoba net and scoring the first goal of the game. It came off the stick of Brett Seney, who buried home Lukas Reichel’s feed 4:04 into the game. The Moose surged in the latter stages of the first period, tying the contest at the 18:03 mark. Jansen Harkins gathered in a rebound of Ville Heinola’s initial shot and beat Rockford goalie Dylan Wells to the twine.

Things went south for Rockford five minutes into the middle frame. Jeff Malott put Manitoba up 2-1 at 6:41 of the second period. Eight minutes later, Henri Nikkanen scored to put Rockford into a two-goal hole. The wheels came off for the IceHogs in the final five minutes of the second.

Two Rockford penalties gave the Moose a chance to put the game out of reach. They did just that, needing just seven seconds to convert on a Buddy Robinson interference penalty. Declan Chisholm sent a slap shot past the glove of Wells at 15:29 for a 4-1 Manitoba advantage.

Shortly thereafter, Reichel sent a puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. At 17:09, Kevin Stenlund scored his second goal of the season and put the IceHogs down 5-1 heading into the second intermission.

Rockford was able to mount a response in the third period, picking up a Luke Philp goal and Seney’s second of the game, sandwiched around a Mikey Eyssimont tally for Manitoba.

Seney’s two-goal night earned him First Star honors in a losing effort. Eyssimont had a goal and two assists in being named Second Star. Reichel was Third Star on the strength of two assists. Heinola also recorded two helpers in the contest.

Wells had a rough night, giving up five goals on 21 shots before being lifted for Jaxson Stauber to start the third period. At the other end of the ice, rookie Oskari Salminen went to 3-0 on the season with the win, with 28 saves on the afternoon.

 

This Weekend

Rockford continues what is to be a seven-game home stand this weekend. The Wolves come back to play another Illinois Lottery Cup game Friday night. The Belleville Senators come to the BMO Center on Saturday.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs will be opening their home schedule this weekend, hosting the Chicago Wolves Saturday night and the Manitoba Moose Sunday afternoon. They’ll be doing this at the BMO Center-formally known as the Rockford Metro Centre and the BMO Harris Bank Center.

It’s the same old BMO. Except that it isn’t.

There is much to marvel at as the new-look IceHogs roster settles into their home digs. Rockford’s sweaters now feature an updated logo, though not the new team logo that debuted back in the summer. Adorning the front of the sweater is Hamilton E. Hog, otherwise known as Hammy.

The folks in design have exorcised the “Rockford IceHogs” part of the logo and also taken the stick out of Hammy’s mouth. They did not, however, close Hammy’s stickless mouth.

Hammy has apparently been hitting the weights this summer, part of what will surely be a rebranding of sorts for the long-time Rockford mascot. Why is the face on the sweater the pre-health-conscious Hammy? Is the new scoreboard as awesome as has been foretold? Did they fix the towel dispensers in the restrooms? Will we ever see the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup again, or did the Wolves lose it in Rosemont?

These questions get answered starting Saturday night.

Oh…and we get to see how the veteran-laden Hogs fare against the defending Calder Cup Champions. The Wolves roster has been depleted of many of the key names that helped hoist the cup, including David Gust, who had three points (1 G, 2 A) for Rockford last weekend.

Six of Chicago’s top-seven scorers last season are with other clubs. Jack Drury (20 G, 32 A) is the lone holdover. Newcomers include veteran forward and Wheaton native Ryan Dzingel, who has a couple of 20-goal seasons with Ottawa and will provide offense for Chicago. Former Blackhawks forward Brenden Perlini also signed a PTO with the Wolves.

Max Lajoie (4 G 29 A) is back as a key piece of the Chicago blueline. Vying for playing time are several Carolina Hurricanes prospects and 37 -year-old Jason Garrison, who is also signed to a PTO.

Goalie Pyotr Kochetkov was very impressive for the Wolves down the stretch when he wasn’t stopping pucks for Carolina. His play in net may cover some of the departures in the Chicago roster.

The Wolves tangle with Manitoba Friday night heading into their first meeting with the piglets, for what it is worth. Will Rockford take advantage of fresh legs, or will there be jitters as they hit the BMO ice for the first time this season?

Aside from a four-goal explosion in the third period of the season opener October 15, the IceHogs have failed to make an impact on offense through their first two games. I would expect that to change, as the skill-level on offense should keep scoring droughts to a minimum. I’m going to stick my neck out and look for Rockford to drop a big number on one or both of their weekend opposition.

Roster News

On Monday, the Blackhawks assigned D Alex Vlasic to Rockford. The Hogs also recalled D Andrew Perrott and G Dylan Wells from Indy for the week, then sent both down to the Fuel along with D Koletrane Wilson on Thursday.

F Cole Guttman left Saturday’s game in Manitoba in the third period after taking a fall and struggling to get the the Rockford bench. The IceHogs were pretty consistent with medical updates last season, but haven’t commented on Guttman’s status for this weekend.

 

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs playoffs were unceremoniously ended by the Chicago Wolves over the weekend. Rockford dropped three straight to the Wolves, looking very overmatched. After having a lot of success against their interstate rival in the regular season, it wasn’t far-fetched to think the piglets could compete with the best team in the AHL.

Instead, Chicago shifted into a gear that the Hogs could not match.

The Wolves were able to keep Rockford on its heels for the entire series. The details varied a bit, but the formula was the same: swamp the Hogs in their own zone and hammer away at goalie Arvid Soderblom. Chicago out-shot Rockford 127-61 overall and prevented the IceHogs from putting any kind of offense together.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Wolves sweep:

Game 1: On Thursday night, Lukas Reichel forced a turnover and skated in for the first goal of the contest. That would be the only lead the Hogs would hold. Chicago potted two goals in the final minute of the first period, then scored three times on the way to a 6-2 win at Allstate Arena.

Game 2: The Wolves treated the first period like a 20-minute power play Friday. Rockford, who managed a single shot in the opening frame, held on for dear life until a pair of goals late in the period gave Chicago a 2-0 advantage. From there, the Wolves cruised to a 4-1 win.

Game 3: The IceHogs did their best to extend the series, but fell behind early at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday afternoon. Rockford actually put together its only serious pressure in the Wolves zone in the second stanza. Not only did the Hogs fail to score, however, but Chicago made it 2-0 late in the period. Rockford mustered a goal down three in the third, but the Wolves converted a 5-on-3 chance to end the IceHogs season with a 4-1 victory.

Rockford didn’t play terrible. Soderblom had a .910 save percentage in the final two games and the IceHogs were still routed. Chicago simply overwhelmed them. Rockford’s only even-strength goals came in Game 1; Reichel’s steal and score and another forced turnover that wound up in the Wolves net via Evan Barratt.

Alec Regula went coast-to-coast for a sweet power-play goal in Game 2. Ian Mitchell followed up a nifty move in the corner into a power-play snipe over Alex Lyon’s glove in the final period of Game 3. None of these goals were the result of steady presence in the Wolves zone.

It’s a sudden end to a pretty decent 2021-22 campaign for the Hogs. That’s the playoffs, kids. It would have been nice to see a couple or additional games, but once the Wolves flipped the switch it was just a matter of a more talented, more experienced squad taking care of business.

In the coming weeks, I’ll break down the season offer some thoughts on the highs and lows contained within. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for some musings on the Hogs in the wake of their playoff exit.