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.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have advanced to the Central Division Semifinal via a sweep of Texas in their play-in series. The piglets capped off an impressive defensive performance against the Stars with a 1-0 overtime triumph after winning Game 1 by a score of 2-1.

Rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom stopped 68 of 69 Texas Stars in the two games, good for a .986 save percentage. To the surprise of no one, he was voted the First Star of Game 2 for his 36-save shutout.

After a couple of days to prepare, Rockford opens a best-of-five series with the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont on Thursday night. The Wolves are the top seed in the Central Division. They won more games in the regular season than any team in the league. Their .724 points percentage was the best in the AHL.

The Wolves roster boasts the leagues top goal scorer (Stefan Noessen, 48 goals) as well at the league’s top point-producer (Andrew Poturalski, 101 points). On paper, the Flying Piglets of ‘Bago County will be lucky to win a single game.

Not only do I think the Hogs could win one game, I figure the belief is there for Rockford to shock everyone and win this series.

These teams met 12 times in the regular season. Rockford won eight times.

The IceHogs are 5-0-0-1 at Allstate Arena this season.

Each of the last five meetings was a one-goal decision. Rockford was 4-1 in those games.

The last meeting between Rockford and the Wolves came in the regular-season finale April 30. Chicago was gunning to out-do Stockton for the AHL’s top record. The IceHogs had nothing to gain, having been locked into fourth in the division.

Rockford rested several starters, including Soderblom. Chicago pinned back its ears and swamped the Hogs in their own zone. The Wolves out-shot Rockford 54-25 on the evening.

And yet, the IceHogs had an offensive draw in the final 30 seconds with a chance to tie the contest before ultimately losing 3-2.

Rockford can win this series. They know it. The Wolves know it.

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Chicago was the division champ. The Wolves were swept by the fourth-seeded Hogs. That history, plus Rockford’s success against this year’s division champs, makes it unlikely that the piglets are going to be taken lightly by Chicago.

What does Rockford have going for it? Confidence and momentum. They have a hot goalie heading into a series against a team that hasn’t had a game in what will be 12 days when the teams collide on Thursday, May 12.

The Hogs calling card for much of the last couple of months is solid play in the defensive zone and timely goals from a host of young prospects. They’ve had a wildly successful season and have nothing to lose as they enter this series.

 

Playoff Musings

  • The goal scorers in Game 1 were Lukas Reichel and Carson Gicewicz. Reichel deftly handled a pass from Michal Teply on a 2-on-1 in the second period and snapped home the first goal of the game. Gicewicz deflected an Issak Phillips shot past Stars goalie Matthew Murray (who played very well in the two games for Texas) for the eventual game-winner.
  • After a scoreless regulation, Dylan McLaughlin got loose in the high slot, hauled in a pass from Phillips, and sniped the Game 2 winner 56 seconds into overtime.
  • The secondary assist on McLaughlin’s goal went to Ian Mitchell, who returned from a wrist injury suffered in practice April 26.
  • IceHogs forwards Kurtis Gabriel, Dimitri Osipov, and Garrett Mitchell played their part in the series sweep. The three were able to regularly administer devastating hits to Texas skaters without so much as a single infraction between them. In all, the IceHogs committed just three penalties in the two games.
  • Forward Andrei Altybarmakian, who came on strong in the last month of the season, did not skate in either game of the series. His last game action was April 30 in Milwaukee.
  • Game 1 vs Chicago will take place at Allstate Arena on Thursday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., with Game 3 coming to the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and thoughts throughout Rockford’s playoff run.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs this weekend, capping off a 2-2 week of action. The piglets knocked off the top two teams in the Central Division (Chicago and Manitoba), and also dropped decisions to the worst two teams (Grand Rapids and Iowa).

Rockford is in fourth place in the division standings, with an outside shot at overtaking Milwaukee for third place. The Hogs will need to win their last three games-at Iowa and Milwaukee on Wednesday and Friday, then the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday night.

A fourth-place finish will result in a play-in series with the division’s fifth seed; that looks like the Texas Stars at this point. Winning the play-in sets up a best-of-five series with Chicago. Gaining third-place puts Rockford in an opening round series with the Moose.

The IceHogs have defeated the Wolves eight times in eleven meetings this season, including Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Rosemont. The season series with Manitoba is 5-3 in favor of Rockford, who beat the Moose 5-3 to punch its ticket to the postseason Saturday.

In this last week of regular-season action, the piglets will look to stay healthy and finish strong. It’s been a pretty successful campaign for Rockford. With some good fortune, this club could get some extended development time in May.

 

Roster News

The key development for Rockford is the loss of veteran forward Brett Connolly with a left knee injury. The team announced Saturday that Connolly will be out four to six weeks. It’s unlikely we see him in action with the Hogs again this season.

D.J. Busdeker is nursing a sore shoulder but could possibly return for the playoffs. However, it’s Connolly’s leadership and offensive punch (17 G, 18 A) that is going to be tough to replace.

With his last appearance being in Manitoba April 16, Rockford is 3-2 without Connolly. The IceHogs have managed to score without his presence, which will have to continue over the next couple of weeks.

 

Notes

  • Lukas Reichel added four assists to his team leading point total. He now owns the IceHogs rookie scoring mark with 53 points, besting Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51-point effort in the 2016-17 season.
  • Andrei Altybarmakian extended his goal streak to five games in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Iowa. He now has 10 goals and 30 points in 63 games this season.
  • Mike Hardman had four goals this week; one of his two goals against the Wolves was the game-winner in the final minute of regulation. Hardman 19 goals is second on the team behind Reichel’s 21. He will be counted on to provide offense in lieu of Connolly.
  • Arvid Soderblom continues to be the team’s workhorse in goal, having started ten of Rockford’s last twelve games. Cale Morris turned in a solid performance in the win over Chicago Wednesday, but it would appear that Soderblom will anchor the Hogs in the postseason.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for more thoughts on the IceHogs playoff prospects as the regular season winds down.

Hockey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roster News

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

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

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

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

 

Spare Thoughts

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

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have been struggling to put points on the scoreboard this season. The AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks scored just seven times in their previous five games entering play on Friday.

The weekend saw a noticeable change.

Rockford blew up for 14 goals in two wins over Chicago and Milwaukee, releasing a torrent of offensive firepower in the piglets first game action since being shut out by the Admirals on December 21. The IceHogs ended the Wolves 12-game winning streak with an 8-0 rout. Rockford then traveled to Milwaukee and posted an impressive 6-2 win.

The IceHogs (13-11-1-1) had been on pause due to the AHL’s holiday break, followed by ten players entering the league’s COVID protocols.

Chicago was without any of their regular goalies this weekend due to recall and injury. Milwaukee used Devin Cooley in net, choosing to rest Connor Ingram on Saturday night. The IceHogs certainly took advantage in both victories; Rockford never trailed the Wolves or the Admirals.

Collin Delia was used in goal by the Hogs for both games. He responded with a 30-save shutout of Chicago and stopped 33 shots in Milwaukee. Rockford was very solid from a defensive standpoint all weekend. However, let’s aim the spotlight on a prolific offensive effort.

  • Lukas Reichel may be in line for AHL Player of the Week honors, totaling six points in the two games. After a four-point (2 G, 2 A) night against the Wolves, Reichel added a goal and a helper in Milwaukee Saturday.
  • Brandon Pirri, who signed a PTO with Rockford Friday morning, immediately got on the scoresheet this weekend. After picking up an assist against Chicago, Pirri posted a hat trick Saturday, propelling the Hogs to a 2-0 lead in the first three minutes of action.
  • Pirri, Rockford’s all-time leading point scorer, has points in eight of his last nine games with the IceHogs dating back to last year. In those games, he has 14 points (11 G, 3 A), with Rockford going  6-2.
  • Interim coach Anders Sorensen used Reichel and Pirri on occasion at even strength, in addition to both being on the Hogs top power play unit. However, the two spent most of the weekend on different lines. This resulted in two extremely active forward combinations-Reichel with Michal Teply and Andrei Altybarmakian, and Pirri with Dylan McLaughlin and D.J. Busdeker.
  • Altybarmikian, who was without a goal in his first 19 games this weekend, found the net in both games. This included the game-winner on Saturday. Teply also recorded his first goal of the season Friday.
  • McLaughlin dished out three assists in the two games-two to Pirri and one to Reichel. He now has points in seven of his last nine games.
  • Chad Yetman and Cameron Morrison also picked up their first goals of the season in Friday’s blowout. Kale Howarth, recently over a shoulder injury, skated for Morrison Saturday.

 

Cooking At Home

The Rockford IceHogs will be playing at home for the next two and a half weeks. A seven-game home stand awaits the IceHogs.

The home stand is bookended with visits from the Iowa Wild, who come to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Tuesday. The Wild have struggled over the last couple of weeks, but have won three of the four meetings with the Hogs this season.

Rockford hosts Cleveland for a weekend set on January 14 and 15, followed by a January 17 afternoon game with the Wolves. The Texas Stars arrive on January 21 for the first of back-to-back games before the return date with Iowa on January 26.

Rockford is 6-5-1 in its own barn this season. With an increase of COVID issues across the AHL in recent weeks, it’s an opportune time to stay home. The Hogs will try to stay healthy and build on their two-game win streak.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split a weekend in Texas, running their December record to 5-3 and maintaining third place in the AHL’s Central Division. Rockford (11-10-1-1) has used improved defense to go 6-3-1 over its last ten games.

The piglets are giving up 3.26 goals per contest. That’s about a half goal less than a month ago. In seven December contests, Rockford is holding opponents to 2.85 goals. The tightened defense has definitely been a catalyst to a more competitive IceHogs squad.

The Chicago Wolves has separated them from the other division clubs, having lost just five games this season. Three of those five losses have come at the hands of the Hogs. Rockford’s 3-2 shootout triumph on November 20 was the last defeat of Chicago by anyone in a month; the Wolves (20-4-1) have won twelve straight since then.

 

Roster News

Defenseman Ian Mitchell was recalled by the Blackhawks after skating for Rockford in Friday’s win in Cedar Park. Mitchell and forward Josiah Slavin were assigned to the Hogs Sunday.

A host of Rockford skaters returned to action over the weekend, including Lukas Reichel (concussion) Dylan McLaughlin (COVID protocol), and Jakub Galvas (concussion). Goalie Arvid Soderblom came out of the concussion protocol to play Saturday night.

 

Weekend Recaps

Friday, December 17-Rockford 3, Texas 1

Rockford slowed the Stars in impressive fashion, making a first-period lead stick in Cedar Park Friday.

The IceHogs struck twice in 30 seconds in the opening period. Dylan McLaughlin hauled in a long stretch pass from Nicolas Beaudin at the Texas blueline. McLaughlin, back in action for Rockford after missing four games, skated to the front of the net and five-holed Stars goalie Anton Khodobin at the seven minute-mark for a 1-0 Hogs lead.

Alex Nylander, assisted by Issak Phillips on an odd-man rush, extended the Rockford advantage with a wrister past Khodobin at 7:30 of the first. Texas cut the lead to 2-1 at 8:55 on a Ben Gleason goal.

Rockford out-shot the Stars 13-7 in the second period, garnering several up-close scoring opportunities. Khudobin kept Texas in the game in the second period, then stifled the Hogs throughout the third. His paddle save of McLaughlin’s shot at an open net midway through the period was one of many outstanding stops.

The IceHogs were only able to pick up an insurance goal when the Texas netminder was called to the bench in the closing minutes. Ironically, the goal was credited to Rockford goalie Collin Delia, who made a pad save for his 24th stop of the evening. An errant centering pass wound up in the Stars net; as the last Rockford player to touch the puck, the Cucamonga Kid picked up his first AHL goal at the 19:57 mark.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mike Hardman-Lukas Reichel-Alexander Nylander

Michal Teply-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Cameron Morrison-Evan Barratt-Carson Gicewicz

Andrei Altybarmakian-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dimitri Osipov

Issak Phillips-Ian Mitchell

Wyatt Kalynuk-Alec Regula

Ryan Stanton (A)-Nicolas Beaudin

Collin Delia

Arvid Soderblom

 

Saturday, December 18-Texas 3, Rockford 2

Rockford staged a late rally that came up short, as the Stars rode another solid performance by Anton Khudobin in Saturday’s rematch.

After a scoreless first period, Texas took a 1-0 lead on a Curtis McKenzie goal 2:28 into the second. The goal was set up off a Josh Melnick shot attempt that was blocked by Hogs defenseman Nicolas Beaudin. McKenzie got the puck on his stick at the right post and slipped it past Hogs starter Arvid Soderblom.

The Stars captain picked up his second of the night late in the second. Joel L’Esperance sent a cross-ice pass over the stick of Hogs defenseman Issak Phillips to McKenzie at the right dot. The goal came with 1:05 remaining, sending Rockford to the intermission down 2-0.

Texas went up 3-0 midway through the third period on Tye Felhaber’s first goal of the season. The Hogs broke up Anton Khudobin’s shutout bid with a Mike Hardman goal from the right post at the 14:04 mark.

A high-sticking penalty by the Stars Riley Damiani prompted Rockford to pull Soderblom for an extra skater. Lukas Reichel found the mark from the top of the right circle with 2:35 left to pull the Hogs within a goal. Unfortunately, that’s as close as the game got.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mike Hardman-Lukas Reichel-Alexander Nylander

Michal Teply-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Cameron Morrison-Evan Barratt-Carson Gicewicz

Andrei Altybarmakian-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dimitri Osipov

Issak Phillips-Jakub Galvas

Wyatt Kalynuk-Alec Regula

Ryan Stanton (A)-Nicolas Beaudin

Arvid Soderblom

Collin Delia

 

This Week

The IceHogs host Milwaukee Tuesday night in their only action this week.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news and notes on the IceHogs throughout the season.