Everything Else

There were many new faces at forward for the Rockford IceHogs in the 2017-18 season. On a roster that went through some changes in the latter half of the campaign, there was a lot to cover in this area.

I’ve previously cast a magnifying glass on the goalies and defensemen in recent posts. For now, let’s move forward with the forwards from Rockford’s big season.

Rookies

Matthew Highmore-64 games, 24 G, 19 A, minus-six

Rockford’s rookie of the year was the big story throughout the first half of the season. Highmore epitomized the fast-paced style Colliton emphasized, with 15 points (9 G, 6 A) in his first 21 games. His nose for the net resulted in Highmore pacing the team in goals.

An appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic, coupled with a spring call-up to the Hawks made for a memorable first-year of pro hockey for the free-agent signing. Highmore is definitely in the mix of prospects who could find themselves in Chicago in the coming years.

Like a lot of the prospects, Highmore’s numbers dipped just a bit with the veteran influx in February. By the playoffs, he was skating on one of the lower lines while still playing solid hockey. In 13 postseason games, he was a plus-eight to go with a pair of goals and seven helpers.

 

Anthony Louis-70 games, 14 G, 30 A, plus-six

Louis was Rockford’s point leader (44) in the regular season, though the addition of the veterans had a big effect on his game down the stretch. To say his role was diminished is probably an understatement.

Skating a little lower in the Hogs lineup, Louis still managed 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in the last two months of action. However, the physical nature of the playoffs seemed to take a toll on his effectiveness. After five assists in 9 games, Colliton sat Louis in favor of Samuelsson three games into the conference final.

Louis is a strong passer and can flourish with linemates who can finish the chances he creates. I think he’ll be a player to watch as he makes the adjustments to raise his game in his sophomore campaign.

 

Alexandre Fortin-53 games, 4 G, 17 A, minus-one

Based on the expectations of a player who had such a strong training camp in 2016 before being sent back to juniors, Fortin was an under-performer in his first season with the IceHogs.

To be fair, he missed a couple weeks in January and three more in March due to injury. His speed was often on display, though there were many instances of Fortin streaking out of control and committing turnovers. A shooting percentage of 4.3 did him no favors; finishing scoring plays and playing under control should be at the top of Fortin’s list of improvements heading into next season.

 

Matheson Iacopelli-50 games, 11 G, 7 A, plus-seven

The real head-scratcher among the piglets. Iacopelli brought offense, scoring 20 goals between Rockford and Indy, where he had nine in ten games for the Fuel. He is arguably the best sniper the IceHogs had this season. So…why couldn’t he find a place in the lineup?

With someone to get him the puck, coupled with a net hound who can convert on rebound opportunities, Iacopelli could be a dangerous AHL forward. He is going to have to improve on his skating as well as find a way to create space for his shot. The question will be if he can do that at age 24.

Iacopelli often found himself on the bottom line with players more suited for checking roles. He’s not that type of player right now. Hopefully he got a list of things to work on this summer. If he can carve out a steady spot on a scoring line, we could see big numbers out of Iacopelli.

 

Graham Knott-70 games, 4 G, 5 A, minus-one

There isn’t much offense to Knott’s game. He had three separate 11-game pointless streaks while skating fourth line minutes and killing penalties. In his final 38 games this past season, he had three goals and no apples.

Knott held down the fourth line through the regular season; he did not appear in the playoffs for Rockford. On the other hand, he was a frequent winner of the Schnucks Grand Prix over speedier teammates Alexandre Fortin and William Pelletier.

Knott is still just 21 and has two more years on his entry deal to develop at both ends of the ice. With most of the new faces coming in on defense, he may still have the spot in the lineup to do so next fall.

Nathan Noel-17 games, 1 G, minus two

Noel really deserves a redo button; his season never really got on track after being injured in training camp.

By the time he was set to return, there was no spot in Rockford to be had. Noel went to Indy, where he played 17 games before getting hurt and missing a couple of months. He was brought up to Rockford in mid-February and had limited chances to develop into the IceHogs agitator.

Until Chris DiDomenico arrived, that job was up for grabs. A healthy Noel might have run with that role. My interest was peaked in the short stint Noel was with the IceHogs.

Finishing the regular season with the Fuel, Noel played well in Indy’s short playoff appearance. If Noel is in game shape to start 2018-19, he may be able to find his niche.

 

Call Ups

Vinnie Hinostroza-23 games, 9 G, 13 A, plus-seven

Tomas Jurco-36 games, 13 G, 12 A, plus-four

David Kampf-33 games, 7 G, 11 A, plus-one

Laurent Dauphin-33 games, 4 G, 10 A, minus-six

These players, Hinostroza in particular, carried Rockford in the first couple of months. Hinostroza was recalled by the Hawks December 8, Kampf on December 27 and Jurco on January 8.

Kampf returned in April to finish up the season and playoffs for the Hogs. In 16 games, he managed just a goal (Game Five vs Texas) and two assists (in Chicago in the last game of the regular season).

Dauphin, who played with a full face shield following a altercation in San Antonio December 15, was traded back to Arizona in the Anthony Duclair deal. Adam Clendening came to Rockford was a key part of the spring resurgence; Dauphin played 17 games for Tuscon (5 G, 10 A) before being recalled to the Coyotes. He was injured blocking a shot March 11 and missed the rest of the season.

 

Reinforcements

Chris DiDomenico-22 games, 8 G, 15 A, plus-three

All this guy did was spark Rockford into its late-season push to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Once there, he was the league’s top point producer (7 G, 11 A in 13 games) until the final games of the Calder Cup Final. If anybody saw this coming, step forward and be called Fibber McGee.

Returning to AHL rinks after several seasons abroad, DiDomenico was obtained for Ville Pokka in a trade with Ottawa in mid-February. Along with a heavy dose of veteran leadership that was injected into the piglets, DiDomenico brought a chippy element to a club that had practically none before he arrived.

By the time the playoffs started, you had skaters of all shapes and sizes finishing checks all over the ice. The motor was still firing, but the Hogs picked up a definite snarl that was a major part of the playoff success.

DiDomenico rides off into the sunset, having signed to play in the Swiss League for two seasons soon after cleaning out his locker at the BMO. One richly deserved stick tap, coming right up.

 

Lance Bouma-20 games, 7 G, 7 A, plus-seven

Chicago sending the physical forward to Rockford in February proved to be good for the IceHogs. Like DiDomenico, Bouma added veteran grit that was in short supply at that point of the campaign. Like DiDomenico, I would not expect to see Bouma in a Hogs sweater next season.

 

Tanner Kero-36 games, 8 G, 12 A, minus-ten

I’m finding out about the Hawks trade with Vancouver just as I was set to ponder Kero’s season for this post. Basically, Kero’s 2017-18 season has produced Michael Chaput.

Kero came to Rockford in December. He was out for about a month after an injury against San Antonio on February 18 and also missed a few games at the close of the regular season.

 

John Hayden-24 games, 5 G, 12 A, even

Arrived January 10 when he was assigned to the Hogs by Chicago, playing through the beginning of March before being recalled. Hayden was also with Rockford once the Blackhawks season ended.

Hayden was physical for sure…but he just didn’t seem to make the impact I imagined when he was sent to Rockford. That goes double in the playoffs; he delivered his share of hits but accounted for just three goals in 13 postseason games.

 

Henrik Samuelsson-25 games, 9 G, 3 A, minus-one

The former first-round selection of the Coyotes was skating in the ECHL for Idaho when Rockford inked him to a PTO in February. The move became a permanent arrangement when the IceHogs signed him through the 2018-19 season.

Samuelsson found the net in each of his first three games with Rockford, including a game-winner against San Antonio February 18. He worked his way onto a power play unit and was a steady presence through the rest of the regular season.

Samuelsson showcased some offensive know-how to go with a strong presence in the corners in his stint with the Hogs. After sitting out the first two rounds of the postseason, he was inserted for the last four games of the conference final with Texas.

 

Viktor Ejdsell-five games, 1 A, minus-three

Ejdsell, of course, made his mark in the postseason, where he totaled 12 points (7 G, 5 A) in 13 games. The lanky forward displayed a nice shot and enough skating ability to keep up with his linemates. He certainly didn’t look out of place in the smaller North American rinks.

The 23-year old Swede had a good sense of timing. Four of his postseason goals were game-winners, the most notable being the one that ended the Game 3 triple-overtime affair with the Wolves. Another came in an elimination game with Texas, where he had a three-point Game 4.

A full season in Rockford could prove to be very interesting, as Ejdsell could probably use a year to hone his skating before hitting NHL ice. Depending on the makeup of the Hawks roster, he could see himself riding the I-90 shuttle for parts of next season.

 

The Vet

Andreas Martinsen-64 games, 12 G, 16 A, plus-seven

So far as early season veteran presence, Martinsen was about it through the first months, save for Jurco and Dauphin. The big Norwegian was key to any physical element to the piglet’s game until the latter part of February when guys like DiDomenico and Bouma showed up.

Obtained for Kyle Baun just before the start of the season, this trade was a definite win for the Blackhawks. Baun wasn’t terrible this season, with 22 points (5 G, 17 A) in Laval and the Toronto Marlies (with whom he won a Calder Cup despite not playing in the playoffs). For the IceHogs, however, Martinsen brought more to the table and was a good fit.

Aside from a spell in Chicago this spring, Martinsen was a mainstay in the lineup, often teaming with Sikura and Alexandre Fortin on what proved to be a very effective group. The 6’4″, 230-pounder re-upped with the Blackhawks for 2018-19. He should be able to skate fourth-line minutes in Chicago if needed and is a nice piece for Colliton to have in Rockford.

 

AHL Standouts

Tyler Sikura-74 games, 23 G, 16 A, plus-24

Sikura failed to stick in three AHL cities following his college career at Dartmouth. Before signing with Rockford, he was still looking for his first AHL point. This season, he earned the team MVP award and an NHL entry contract to boot.

Sikura was a hard worker in the first two months of the season, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard. Through November, he had three goals in 19 contests. In fact, it wasn’t until the post-Christmas part of the schedule that Sikura started seeing the fruits of his efforts.

Starting on December 28 until signing his NHL contract for next season March 6, Sikura put up 13 goals and six helpers in 29 games. To celebrate his new ink, he had 14 points (7 G, 7 A) to close out the last 17 games of the regular season.

Sikura proved to be quite the redirection artist throughout the season. By the spring, not only was he killing penalties but was on the red-hot first power play unit. Sikura also showed that he can create scoring chances on occasion when away from the net.

This was by far the most productive season by a Hogs AHL-signing in the history of the franchise, eclipsing P.C. Labrie’s 2015-16 34-point explosion. Labrie, however, was between NHL deals at the time. Sikura truly announced his presence with authority in his rookie season.

What lies ahead for the elder Sikura brother? I don’t know if he can match last season’s 18.3 shooting percentage, but he’s welcome to try. It will be interesting to see how he follows up such a remarkable performance.

 

William Pelletier-69 games, 14 G, 15 A, plus-13

Another AHL rookie that kept several Hawks prospects out of the lineup was Pelletier, who came out of Division III Norwich looking to prove he could skate at this level. He did.

Pelletier’s wheels allowed the Hogs to send pucks way down the ice, knowing the 5’7″ forward could negate icing and chase down the biscuit. His fore check was tenacious all season and as the playoffs got underway, he started bringing the action to his opponents along the boards.

This was good to see, because Pelletier was a guy opposing teams loved to target on the ice with big hits. Dishing back a little physical business didn’t hurt his effectiveness. Pelletier earned an extension of his AHL deal with Rockford for his efforts and should yet again be a fun player to watch zooming up and down the ice.

 

Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson-73 games, 13 G, 17 A, minus-four

I’m giving Johnson his own category in this review. On a roster of first-year prospects and veteran additions, Johnson perhaps had the most to prove out of any of the returning players.

In last year’s season recap, I suggested that Johnson needed to step up his game from a 17-point rookie campaign in 2016-17 to avoid being pushed to the bench by all the new faces in Rockford. I’d say that Johnson took that step and then some.

Johnson was a steady producer at both ends of the ice for Rockford. He also was a player who took on some big dance partners when circumstances dictated. Four of the IceHogs league-low 11 fighting majors were attributed to Johnson.

In a very quiet manner, Johnson raised his position within the organization. He drew praise from NHL veteran Cody Franson as well as with coach Jeremy Colliton. John Dietz of the Daily Herald got both men to open up about Johnson’s game during the playoffs.

If Colliton names a captain for the 2018-19 IceHogs (after not doing so this past season), don’t be surprised if the C is slapped on Johnson’s sweater.

 

Coffee Cups

Alex Wideman

Tommy Olczyk

Kyle Maksimovich

These three players produced a grand total of zero points for the IceHogs this season. Wideman (13 games in Rockford) did have another good season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, with 16 goals and 32 assists. Most of his time in town came in January and February.

Olczyk saw action once for the Hogs, skating in Grand Rapids January 20. Maksimovich was signed to an ATO in March after scoring 31 goals in the OHL for Erie. He got into four games late in the season and was inactive once the playoffs got underway.

 

Unlike a year ago, there should be lots of returning faces up front for the Hogs. Depending on what kind of veteran skaters Rockford is afforded, there could be several players who could make big strides in their games. Like last season, it should be exciting to watch.

I’m sure there will be some activity worth shouting about in the coming weeks. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter just in case I think of something. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to sort through the summer.

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are still alive in their Western Conference Final with Texas. Barely.

The Stars found a way to win yet again over a Rockford team that dominated large stretches of the contest. The IceHogs rallied with a late goal to send Game 3 to overtime Tuesday night. However, Rockford fell victim to another Curtis McKenzie game-winner five minutes into the extra session, losing 6-5.

The piglets find themselves down 3-0 in the series and have a day to regroup before Game 4 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Thursday. Is it time to pack it in? Rockford has shown its characteristic stick-to-it-ive-ness throughout the series. Trouble is, the Stars have possessed just a bit more of whatever you want to call postseason resiliency.

(Maybe just call it postseason resiliency? Oh, that’s no fun.)

IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton elected to make a couple of changes in what has been a very consistent lineup Tuesday. Henrik Samuelsson took the place of Anthony Louis on a forward line. Joni Tuulola drew in for Darren Raddysh on defense.

Bringing in a big body like Samuelsson didn’t hurt the Hogs, though it didn’t show up on the scoreboard. Tuulola seemed an odd choice, seeing as how he had two regular season games under his belt coming into Game 3. I would have figured Robin Norell, who was lauded for his defensive skills by the team whether he was on defense or skating on a forward line, would have been a candidate to get a start. However, Colliton likely wanted the big body Tuulola brought to the table.

If you told me before the game that Rockford would put up five goals, I would have felt pretty good about the IceHogs chances. Things didn’t work out to plan, though.

Tyler Sikura got the scoring started 4:43 into period one with an incredible individual effort. After receiving a pass from Chris DiDomenico in neutral ice, Sikura skated into the Texas zone. He fought through Matt Mangene and Dillon Heatherington before firing past a stunned Mike McKenna to give Rockford a 1-0 lead.

Texas got back to even ground by converting a 5-on-3 advantage, with McKenzie knocking in a rebound of Justin Dowling’s shot at the 7:13 mark. It would prove to be the only power play goal of the game, though the Hogs would score for the first of two times when up a man in Game 3.

The first came on a delayed penalty, with John Hayden lining up a shot from the slot that McKenna couldn’t handle. Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling assisted as the Hogs took a 2-1 advantage at 12:10 of the first period.

The Stars came back with two quick goals by Dowling and Sheldon Dries and led 3-2 at the intermission. Rockford was in need of a response and did so, dominating the second period.

Forsling sent a laser into the ropes just after a power play expired 6:17 into the second to tie the game at three. At the 12:21 mark, the Hogs had just completed killing a interference call on DiDomenico. Rockford’s playoff spark plug scooped up a loose puck in the corner of the Texas zone and skated behind the net to the right circle. DiDomenico found Matthew Highmore open at the left dot. Luke Johnson was knocking at McKenna’s back door and got a stick on the centering pass to put the IceHogs up 4-3.

The IceHogs were in need of some insurance to begin the third period. For the first ten minutes of action, it appeared that they were going to get it. Rockford camped out in the offensive zone and slammed away at McKenna. Despite a host of opportunities, the Hogs failed to build on their lead. It proved costly.

Dries would get his second goal of the night midway through the period. The rookie forward found a huge pocket at the left dot. Taking a feed from Reece Scarlett, Dries had the time and space to outmaneuver Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the left post to tie the game at the 10:54 mark.

With 5:30 left in the contest, McKenzie was walled up along the right half boards by Tuulola and Hayden. His pass attempt was blocked by Hayden’s stick and up in the air. Austin Fyten, playing in his first game in the AHL, grabbed the puck, settled it and powered it past Delia to give Texas a 5-4 lead.

Credit the resolve of the IceHogs, who pulled Delia from the crease with just under three minutes to go and tied the game with 50 seconds to play. DiDomenico and Johnson were able to cycle the puck out of the corner, sending it out to the point.

The pass was off the ice, but Cody Franson was able to catch the puck, set it down and send a low shot toward net. McKenna had a lot of traffic in front of him, allowing the shot to slide into the net and give Rockford new life.

The IceHogs would see their overtime fortunes turn sour for the second straight game via the stick of the Stars captain. McKenzie won control of a loose puck inside the blue line and skated to the top of the right circle. His centering pass to Dries caught the stick of a back checking Adam Clendening and over Delia’s blocker to close out Game 3.

A bit of controversy surrounded the game-winner. Hogs players argued that Texas had too many men on the ice for the goal. Lance Bouma looked like he thought he had cleared the zone and that McKenzie was offside. Regardless, the fate of Rockford was sealed. Colliton and Company are now in must-win mode…big time.

The audience at the BMO was once again impressive for a weeknight game. Nearly 3,000 showed up to wave red rally towels and boo the officials off of the ice following the finish of Game 3. A lot of those fans probably went home thinking that bad calls cost Rockford the game. I’m not sure I agree.

Texas has been a very difficult team to put away in the playoffs. The IceHogs had ample opportunity to do so in the third period and have had their chances in the other games as well. The Stars, as they have done all series, found a way to win, be it catching a airborne puck, cashing in on a fortunate rebound, or converting an odd-man rush off a defender’s blade.

Rockford was the better team for huge stretches of Game 3. But for a bounce here or there, they could be up 2-1 in the Western Conference Final. They are not, though. To win Game 4 on Thursday and prolong the series, the Hogs need to find a way to finish off the Stars.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs headed to Texas this weekend looking to take at least a game at the HEB Center to open the Western Conference Final with the Stars. That didn’t happen.

The first two games were rife with opportunity. However, Rockford dropped Game 1 on Friday and Game 2 Sunday. Texas leads the series 2-0 as the action now shifts to Winnebago County for the next three games.

The BMO could be the difference maker for the IceHogs, though Texas earned their advantage with some hard work around the net. Greasy goals did the trick in a 4-2 Stars win Friday night. A put back in overtime made Texas 3-2 winners Sunday.

 

Game 1

Friday, May 18-Texas 4, Rockford 2

Game 1 of the Western Conference Final did not turn out the way the Hogs wanted. Rockford was outworked in front of the net, dropping its first postseason game.

Texas was active around the net early. After Dillon Heatherington caught a post on a shot attempt, the Stars swarmed the crease of Hogs goalie Collin Delia. Curtis McKenzie knocked in a loose puck 4:22 into the contest to give the Stars a 1-0 advantage.

The Hogs responded midway through the first period on the power play. Carl Dahlstrom took a page from fellow blueliner Cody Franson’s book to tie the game. As opposed to Franson’s happy place, the left dot, Dahlstrom sent his left-handed shot from the right dot, one-timing Chris DiDomenico’s pass into the Stars cage at the 11:19 mark.

The Texas response was quick. Roope Hintz, who had gained separation from Rockford defenseman Gustav Forsling, took a stretch pass from Denis Gurianov and entered the IceHogs zone on a breakaway. Hintz was able to five-hole Delia and the Stars led 2-1 at 12:37 of the first. Texas took that lead into the locker room.

DiDomenico evened the score for Rockford early in the second stanza. Darren Raddysh fired toward the Texas net from just inside of the Stars blueline. Lance Bouma got a stick on the puck in front of the net, sending it over to DiDomenico at the bottom of the left circle. The attempt beat Texas goalie Mike McKenna and nestled into the ropes at 4:35 to make it a 2-2 game.

The Stars regained the lead at the tail end of a power play a few minutes later. Remi Elie finished off the scoring play by knocking another loose puck in behind Delia 8:47 into the second. The IceHogs kept the pressure on the Texas defense but couldn’t solve McKenna and entered the second intermission on the short end of the scoreboard for the first time this postseason.

Rockford gave up a key goal 7:18 into the final frame after a Sheldon Dries pass attempt was broken up in the slot by Viktor Svedberg. The loose puck came back out to Dries at the left dot. The rookie forward settled the puck and backhanded a shot toward goal. The attempt got the best of Delia, who appeared to have an obstructed view courtesy of Stars forward Jason Dickinson. The puck got through on the far side of Delia’s net to make the score 4-2 Stars.

That was too much for Rockford, who mustered only five shots in the final 20 minutes after sending 28 McKenna’s way in the first two periods. The Stars goalie stopped 31 of 33 shots on the night.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Frosling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom (Clendening was in for Louis when Dahlstrom scored)

Penalty Kill (Stars were 1-4)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Game 2

Sunday, May 20-Texas 3, Rockford 2 (OT)

Too much time in the box did in the piglets in Game 2. Collin Delia stopped 34 shots but it wasn’t enough to keep Texas from going up 2-0 in the Western Conference Final.

Rockford got on the board at 6:09 of the opening period. Andreas Martinsen got the scoring play started when he won control of the puck behind the Stars net. He sent it out to Adam Clendening at the right point, who then got it back to Martinsen at the right dot.

John Hayden was in front of the net waiting for a centering pass…and got it. Whiffing on his initial attempt, Hayden slid home the lamp-lighter under Texas goalie Mike McKenna for a 1-0 Hogs advantage.

Texas scored the next two goals in the first half of the second period. Jason Dickinson struck from the right dot after getting a cross-ice pass from Matt Mangene at the 2:45 mark. The Stars took a 2-1 lead after a shot from Brent Regner pinballed off the stick of Luke Johnson, the ice surface and the right post before settling into the net for a power play goal at 8:15.

The power play allowed Rockford to even the score less than two minutes later. After a 5-on-3 chance ended, Cody Franson threaded a circle-to-circle pass to Chris DiDomenico. Streaking to the far side of the right circle, DiDomenico sniped the equalizer past McKenna at 11:09 to make it a 2-2 game.

Despite the Stars dominating the third period, Hogs goalie Collin Delia kept his team in contention, anchoring a Rockford penalty kill unit that negated four Texas chances. The IceHogs were out shot 12-4 but took the game into overtime with a chance to steal Game 2.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Rockford let a huge opportunity to end the game slip away when Victor Ejdsell started a 2-on-1 rush with DiDomenico five minutes into the extra session. Ejdsell tried to make a late pass which was broken up by McKenna’s stick, ending the threat.

Curtis McKenzie was tripped by Gustav Forsling 10:08 into overtime, leading to the game-winner. McKenzie did the honors on the subsequent power play, knocking in a rebound of a Brian Flynn shot to end the contest.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Gustav Frosling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-5)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Stars were 2-7)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Back To The BMO

Game 3 will be at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Tuesday night. Game 4 is set for Thursday with Game 5 the following night provided the Hogs pick up a win in this series.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for thoughts on Rockford’s postseason run.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks, are halfway to a Central Division Final victory over Manitoba. The Hogs have surged to a 2-0 series advantage of the strength of two wins on the road this past weekend.

Rockford took Game 1 Friday by a score of 4-2, then came back the next afternoon and beat the Moose 4-1. The IceHogs are 5-0 so far in the postseason. They can build upon that streak in the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center with Wednesday night’s Game 3.

The Hogs special teams continued to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. Rockford was 3-10 in power play opportunities, while holding the Moose scoreless in five chances. The IceHogs controlled large stretches of action in Manitoba and were more effective physically to boot.

Here are a few thoughts to chew on as the action returns to Winnebago County in a couple of days.

 

A Team Transformed On The Fly

A lot has been made about the six players the Blackhawks sent to Rockford following the conclusion of their season. The broadcasters in Manitoba brought it up several times this weekend, as did the Chicago Wolves crew in the first round.

To suggest the Hogs are being led by mercenaries who arrived just to buoy a Rockford playoff run is not giving enough credit to the players who were around for the late-season push to the postseason. Yes, Victor Ejdsell has certainly been an x-factor so far. John Hayden and David Kampf have deepened the lineup for sure.

However, Andreas Martinsen spent most of his season toiling in Rockford. Jeff Glass, due to the strong play of Collin Delia, hasn’t seen the ice in the playoffs. The other goalie that came down, J.F. Berube, didn’t even report to Rockford after being re-assigned.

When the 2017-18 season began, the IceHogs were well-stocked with prospects but lacking in veteran leadership and physical know-how. At some point in the schedule, this glaring need was recognized and addressed in a host of moves.

This includes Cody Franson’s January assignment to Rockford, the acquiring of Chris DiDomenico in mid-February and Lance Bouma being assigned to the Hogs  to Rockford late in that month. Over the last half of the AHL season, the piglets got a year of experience under their belts. They also were reinforced in a way that added a physical, veteran element that is tailor-made for postseason staying power.

 

Short Handed Moose

Manitoba went into this series without its leading scorer. Mason Appleton, the league’s top rookie, has been out with an injury suffered in the previous round of playoff action.

Saturday, Bouma crunched AHL Defenseman Of The Year Sami Niku against the boards in the corner of the Manitoba zone in the second period. Niku was able to finish his shift but left the game. He did not return. Appleton and Niku were arguably the two best rookies in the league this season. Having them both out against Rockford is going to leave a lot of scoring slack for the Moose to pick up.

 

Hogs Of Note

Tyler Sikura potted goals in both games and played strong hockey in his own end as well. The IceHogs MVP of the regular season has continued to do the dirty work needed to get pucks in the net. For the postseason, he’s tied for the team lead (with DiDomenico and Ejdsell) with three goals.

Rockford’s rookie goalie has been Deliariffic, stopping 57 of the 60 pucks sent to his net. He was instrumental in the Game 1 win, negating several Rockford turnovers that could have had the Hogs in a hole over the first 40 minutes. Delia owns a 1.52 GAA and a .949 save percentage in addition to a 5-0 postseason mark.

 

Packing The BMO…Or Not?

I am definitely interested in how the piglets will draw as the games take on more importance. The Moose, on a weekend, drew 3,816 and 3,955 fans to the Bell MTS Place for the opening pair of contests. That is more than a bit off their season average of 5,277; to be fair, Winnipeg does have an NHL team in the same building in action this spring.

In 2017-18, Rockford saw an average of 3,915 enter the BMO Harris Bank Center each game. This is the lowest season attendance for the IceHogs since the 2008-09 campaign and an 1,100-fan per game drop-off from two seasons ago, when Rockford drew over 5,000 a night.

Game 3 is Wednesday, which isn’t typically a big attendance night at the BMO. Back in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, Rockford hosted three games against Grand Rapids in the second round. The IceHogs averaged 4,834 that season but had the following gates attend the playoff match-up:

Wednesday, May 13-1,780

Thursday, May 14-1,620

Sunday, May 17-1,624

Over 5,400 fans turned out for the Hogs win over Chicago in Game 2 of the first round. I believe that that is a franchise high for playoff attendance by a couple of thousand people. The previous high was May 11, 2008, when 3,306 showed up for Game 6 of Rockford’s second-round series with the Wolves.

Is the playoff buzz sufficient around this part of Northern Illinois to pull people away from local high school sports action? The IceHogs have an enthusiastic fan base who will be making the trek to the BMO Wednesday night. If that total tops 2,500 fans, I will be pleasantly surprised. If the game draws over 3,000 fans, I’ll be stunned (but in a good way).

It would be great if the IceHogs playoff run could pick up fan momentum; a telling indicator may well come on Friday, when Rockford hosts Game 4.

 

Central Division Final-Game 1

Friday, May 4-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

The IceHogs opened the Central Division Final in impressive fashion, taking Game 1 at the Bell MTS Place.

The Moose opened the scoring late in the opening period after Julian Melchiori lobbed the puck out of his zone and into Hogs territory. Viktor Svedberg and Cody Franson were both safely back, but Svedberg was unable to get control of the bouncing biscuit. Buddy Robinson got the handle on the loose puck and beat Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the right post for a 1-0 Manitoba advantage at the 16:56 mark.

Rockford got an equalizer midway through the game on a slick transition play that started with Carl Dahlstrom getting possession of the puck in the corner of his own zone. In short order, the puck made its way to Matthew Highmore in neutral ice. Highmore sent it across the ice to Victor Ejdsell entering the Moose zone. The big forward zipped around Melchiori to gain a path to the right post, where his backhanded attempt got by Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie at 11:53 of the second.

The IceHogs used the power play to take the lead 3:29 into the final frame after a delay of game penalty on Manitoba. Tyler Sikura got a stick on a Chris DiDomenico offering to redirect the puck past Comrie for a 2-1 Rockford advantage.

Just 45 seconds later, John Hayden one-timed a pass from Andreas Martinsen. The shot from the slot kissed cord and put Rockford ahead 3-1.

The Hogs added an empty net goal from Cody Franson when a shorthanded Moose club yanked Comrie from the crease with less than a minute to go. Manitoba got a tip-in from Jan Kostelek, but the clock ran out with Rockford on top.

Delia, who kept his team close in the first two periods on several point-blank chances off of Rockford turnovers, made 24 saves to pick up the win along with first star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-6)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-2)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Central Division Final-Game 2

Saturday, May 5-Rockford 4, Manitoba 1 

Game 2 was another strong effort, as the IceHogs controlled the pace of the game on the way to a weekend sweep of Manitoba.

For the second straight game, the Moose scored first, getting the best of Hogs goalie Collin Delia when Brenden Lemiuex redirected a shot by Nic Petan 16:03 into the game. As was the case Friday night, Rockford responded with the next three goals.

The Hogs answered Lemiuex’s goal 2:35 later when Viktor Svedberg intercepted Petan’s clearing attempt in the high slot. Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie made the stop but left a juicy rebound in the front of the net. Tyler Sikura was on hand to knock it into the cage to tie the score.

The Hogs man advantage unit gave Rockford a 2-1 lead 4:45 into the second. Chris DiDomenico gained possession of a puck along the left half boards, skated across the ice into the slot and fired past Comrie’s stick side for the lamp-lighter.

Assists on the goal came from Sikura and Luke Johnson. However, a big part of the scoring play came when Cody Franson lifted the stick of Buddy Robinson of the Moose, allowing Sikura’s ring-around pass to get to DiDomenico.

The IceHogs moved out to a two-goal lead late in the middle frame. Some nice puck work in the corner of the Manitoba zone by Ejdsell and Tanner Kero resulted in Gustav Forsling sliding a cross-ice pass to a waiting Carl Dahlstrom. The one-timer sailed past Comrie for a 3-1 Rockford advantage 16:03 into the second period.

From there, Rockford kept its collective thumb on the Moose offense, killing a couple of Manitoba power plays and limiting scoring opportunities. Andreas Martinsen added an empty net goal in the closing seconds after the Moose went with six skaters most of the last three minutes.

Delia’s effort nabbed him First Star honors for the second consecutive night. Lemieux and Sikura were voted second and third stars. Luke Johnson left after a rough collision with the end boards in the second period, but returned for the start of the third.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Gustav Forsling-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-3)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Coming Up

Following Game 3 Wednesday, Rockford hosts the Moose for Game 4 Friday night. Game 5 will happen on Sunday afternoon, should it be deemed necessary.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for tidbits of lucid thought throughout the AHL playoffs.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, are playing a waiting game until later this evening. Monday night, Rockford’s Central Division Final opponent will be decided when Manitoba or Grand Rapids wrap up their Game 5 tilt.

The IceHogs have been to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs on two previous occasions since the Hawks affiliate arrived in the Forest City. They have never advanced past this round.

Back in 2008, Rockford’s inaugural campaign, the Hogs were eliminated by the Chicago Wolves. The piglets swept Chicago last week to advance to their current position.

In 2014-15, the IceHogs finished a single point behind Grand Rapids for the top spot in the Midwest Division with a franchise-high 46-23-0-5 mark. They swept Texas to meet the Griffins in round two. Grand Rapids then dispensed the Hogs in five games.

Will the third appearance in the second round be the charm for Rockford? The ingredients for a successful postseason run have been stewing over the course of the past six weeks.

 

How’s That, You Say? Here’s Why The Arrow Is Pointing North:

The IceHogs are playing their best hockey of the season.

Rockford finished the regular season 14-5-1-1 before winning three straight against the division champions in the opening round of postseason action.

They’re getting loads of veteran leadership at both ends of the ice.

Veteran players like Chris DiDomenico (arguably the Hogs best forward the past few weeks), Lance Bouma and Andreas Martinsen have added a layer of ruggedness that has served Rockford well as the physical nature of playoff hockey becomes more of a factor. Cody Franson and Adam Clendening deepened the back end dramatically.

Their special teams, particularly the power play, has kicked it up a couple of notches.

Heading into the Wolves series, I pointed out that just looking at Rockford’s pathetic man-advantage numbers would be misleading. I’m guessing Chicago knew that going in. I’m darn sure the Wolves knew that when they skated off the Allstate Arena ice following their 4-3 loss to Rockford.

The IceHogs converted their power-play chances at a rate of 39 percent (7-18) against Chicago. ‘Nuff said.

The goal-tending has been very good.

Rookie Collin Delia has earned the right to anchor the Hogs in net regardless of the opposition in the division final. He was by far the hottest goalie in town heading into the postseason, going 10-1-2 in his final 13 starts of the regular season.

In three playoff games (nearly four, with the extra sessions Thursday night), Delia posted three wins with a 1.62 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Since the IceHogs punched their ticket to the second round, speculation on who Rockford would be better off facing has run rampant. Personally, I’d rather face the team that lost their best-of-five series. That’s not the way it works, though.

I figured that the Griffins would make quick work of a slumping Manitoba club, but the Moose have played well. Grand Rapids had to win Thursday to force a Game 5. Either of these teams are going to be a formidable opponent.

Eric Tangradi, the Griffins leading goal-scorer and a veteran of AHL playoff battles, is out for Game 5 via suspension. Both teams have won in the other’s barn this series, with Game 5 being in Grand Rapids. It could go either way, to be honest.

Later this week, when the IceHogs have an opponent, I will return with a in-depth look at what could be a historic playoff series for the folks here in Winnebago County.

 

 

Everything Else

The ‘Bago County Flying Piglets earned themselves a spot in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs early this morning. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford put in the extra effort at Allstate Arena to sweep the Chicago Wolves.

How much extra effort? Try 57:22 on the old time card.

The IceHogs brought the few fans who stuck it out a 4-3 triple overtime triumph, ending their best-of-five series with Chicago in three games. Rockford will have some time to recharge, as their opponent won’t be decided until Monday night.

I’ll be here with my regular spot on Monday with a look at both potential opponents, but here’s how things played out in Game 3:

Chicago came out as hard as you would expect a team facing elimination would, taking a 2-0 lead by the midpoint of regulation. Most of the tomfoolery of the previous two games was kept in check; neither team seemed to want to spend time killing macho penalties.

It was, however, on the power play where Rockford sparked a run that put it up 3-2 by the second intermission. It all happened in a 4:04 span shortly after Keegan Kolesar gave the Wolves a 2-0 advantage.

Cody Franson one-timed a Chris DiDomenico pass into an opening left by Chicago goalie Max Lagace at 9:50 of the second period. A little over three minutes later, DiDomenico took a drop pass from Andreas Martinsen at the top of the right circle and tied the contest.

The veteran forward was also the catalyst for the third Rockford goal, nabbing the puck in neutral ice and starting a rush into Wolves territory. From DiDomenico to Anthony Louis at the right circle, the puck then was sent to Victor Ejdsell coming across the goal mouth. A backhander past Lagace gave the Hogs a one-goal lead into the second intermission.

Chicago got back to even ground early in the third period when Wade Megan made a terrific second effort to regain possession of his missed shot, come around the net and stuff a wraparound attempt just over the goal line. At that point, both Lagace and Hogs starter Collin Delia put the back of their respective nets on lockdown.

Delia stopped 30 shots in the extra sessions; Lagace withstood 34 on the way to 72 saves for the evening/morning. Chicago looked to have won the contest early in the first overtime on a delayed penalty. A quick whistle (which did not seem warranted as the Hogs did not seem to gain control of the puck) negated that goal and the teams played on…and on…and on…

The game-winner came on the man advantage; Ejdsell took a pass from Louis and fired past Lagace to end the proceedings at 17:22 of the third overtime. Fittingly, Ejdsell’s two-goal performance earned him the game’s first star honors. Lagace had to settle for second star, while DiDomenico (1 G, 2 A) was third star.

Rockford now sits in anticipation of Monday night’s Game 5 between Grand Rapids and Manitoba. This is the third time in the Hogs AHL history that the team has made it out of the opening round. The power play went 7-18 against Chicago and Delia proved to be quite hardy in net. How far can that combination go in the tournament? We’ll see, starting with a preview of the second-round series on Monday.

 

Everything Else

When the 2017-18 season got underway, the Rockford IceHogs were fresh-faced piglets with very little veteran presence. The need for experience, especially up front, was painfully evident despite the talent Rockford sported in the early part of the AHL season.

Over the course of the past few months, the Hawks organization has infused key veterans into the lineup that have the Hogs poised for a return to the postseason after last year’s last-place finish. Here are a few players who have made a big impact on Rockford’s fortunes since coming aboard in the last few months.

 

Cody Franson

Since being sent down to Rockford by the Blackhawks, Franson has six goals and 14 assists in 32 games. He has been a standout on the power play (5 G, 7 A) and has been a key veteran mentor for coach Jeremy Colliton. Over his last 14 games, Franson has 12 points (4 G, 8 A) to go with a plus-eight skater rating.

Franson has been a catalyst on the man advantage, with five goals and seven helpers. His right-handed blasts from the left dot have consistently found twine. In the last seven games, the IceHogs are 8-32 when up a man. Rockford is finally making opponents pay for taking penalties.

 

Adam Clendening

In Rockford’s six-point week of action, Clendening had seven points (2 G, 5 A). On Monday, Clendening was named the CCM/AHL Player Of The Week for his efforts. To say the move back to the IceHogs was symbiotic for both parties is an understatement.

Before the trade that brought Clendening to the organization, he had a goal and four assists in 21 games with Tuscon. In 32 games with Rockford, he has 28 points (4 G, 24 A).

The acquisition of Clendening and Franson are a major factor in this late-season success. The defense has two veterans who have teamed up on a lethal power play of late. The blue line runs pretty deep for Rockford heading into any potential postseason action.

 

Chris DiDomenico

Currently on an eight-game point streak, DiDomenico has brought an offensive jolt to the club. In his last ten games, during which Rockford has gone 8-1-1, the 29-year-old forward has five goals and eight apples.

In just 16 games with the Hogs, DiDomenico has 19 points (6 G, 13 A). Seven of those points have come on the power play.

 

Lance Bouma

After clearing waivers, the Blackhawks assigned Bouma to Rockford February 26. In 14 games with the IceHogs, the 27-year-old forward has five goals and six assists. His rugged style has helped bring a little more snarl to Rockford’s game.

 

Roster Moves

Goalie Matt Tomkins was brought from Indy up to back up Jeff Glass while Collin Delia and J.F. Berube finish up the season in Chicago. On Monday, forward Nathan Noel was loaned to the Fuel. In 17 games with the IceHogs, Noel had a goal and was a minus-two.

UPDATE-Monday afternoon, the Hawks recalled Glass and re-assigned Delia to Rockford.

 

Recaps

Rockford, now 37-25-4-4 piled up six points in the standings with three wins this week. As of Monday, the Hogs have gone 8-1-1 in their last ten games and sit in fourth place in the Central Division with a .586 points percentage. They have a bit of breathing room over Milwaukee and Iowa below them, while Grand Rapids and Manitoba (both at .606) are definitely within striking distance if the piglets remain hot.

 

Monday, March 26-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

A pair of power play goals provided the winning margin for Rockford. In the first of two games north of the border, Collin Delia and the Hogs were able to subdue the Moose.

The first IceHogs goal came via the man advantage, sparked by a sweet dot-to-dot pass by Chris DiDomenico. Working a give and go with Adam Clendening, DiDomenico skated into the right circle and threaded the puck to Cody Franson at the left dot. Franson’s one-timer zipped past Manitoba goalie Jamie Phillips and snuggled into the ropes at 9:10 of the first period.

Less than two minutes later, Tyler Sikura won an offensive draw and Clendening took possession. Tossing a shot toward goal from the right point, the puck snuck past Phillips and was escorted across the goal line by Henrik Samuelsson for a 2-0 Rockford advantage.

Mason Appleton drew the Moose to within a goal midway through the second, but late in the period the Hogs power play struck again. Clendening took a drop pass from DiDomenico and sent a slap shot to net that Phillips was able to block. The rebound was collected by Sikura, who hooked up rubber and twine to put the Hogs up 3-1 at the 16:59 mark.

Delia preserved that two-goal lead with some fine work in the crease in the last three minutes of the middle frame. William Pelletier provided some insurance midway through the third, capping off a odd-man rush by Darren Raddysh and Luc Snuggerud. Snuggerud’s attempt bounced off the speedy forward and tumbled into the Manitoba net to make it 4-1 Rockford.

The Moose would score at 16:54 but would get no closer as the IceHogs claimed their first victory over Manitoba this season. Delia, who stopped 32 shots, was named the game’s first star, with Clendening nabbing second star honors for his three-apple evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

William Pelletier-Luke Johnson (A)-Tanner Kero (A)

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Viktor Svedberg-Cody Franson

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening (A)

Darren Raddysh-Luc Snuggerud

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-4)

Sikura-Johnson-DiDonenico-Clendening-Franson

Kero-Samuelsson-Louis-Iacopelli-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-5)

Johnson-Kero-Dahlstrom-Norell

Sikura-Pelletier-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-DiDomenico-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Wednesday, March 28-Rockford 4, Manitoba 3

For the second time in three days, the Hogs were victorious in Winnipeg, posting four unanswered goals after falling behind 1-0. The win knocked Manitoba out of first place in the Central Division for the first time in several months.

The Moose drew first cord at the 8:51 mark. Former Hogs defenseman Kirill Gotovets sent a puck to net that was redirected by Chase DeLeo and past Hogs starting goalie Jeff Glass. The next half-hour of action was dominated by the IceHogs.

Rockford’s power play had an answer just minutes later. Adam Clendening struck the crossbar with his shot from the right point. Tyler Sikura pounced on the loose puck and put it firmly into the back of the Manitoba net, tying the game at a goal apiece 10:38 into the game.

The IceHogs closed out the opening period with a couple of scores to take command of the contest. After William Pelletier won a battle for the puck in the Moose zone, he sent a pass to Luke Johnson in the corner. Johnson was able to hit the stick of a falling Tanner Kero in front of the net. The puck glanced off of the back of Manitoba goalie Michael Hutchinson and into the cage at 17:14 of the first period.

Up 2-1, Rockford broke out of their own zone a minute later and took a two-goal lead with a nice bit of transition work. Newly returned Matthew Highmore started the play, sliding the puck along the half boards to Sikura. Taking the puck into neutral ice, Sikura hit Clendening crossing the red line. Clendening carried the puck into Manitoba territory, wound up at the top of the right circle and blasted it past Hutchinson at 18:20 for a 3-1 Hogs lead.

Rockford extended the advantage to 4-1 on a Chris DiDomenico wrister from the slot 4:31 into the second. The play was set up by Anthony Louis, who took pass from linemate Lance Bouma and dropped the puck back to the streaking DiDomenico.

Manitoba would creep back into contention with goals by Cameron Schilling late in the middle frame and Brody Sutter with 3:05 left in the game. Glass and the Hogs held on to post Rockford’s third-straight win. DiDomenico and Clendening were the game’s first two stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Matthew Highmore

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

Tanner Kero (A)-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening (A)

Viktor Svedberg-Cody Franson

Darren Raddysh-Luc Snuggerud

Jeff Glass

Power Play (1-6)

Sikura-Johnson-DiDonenico-Clendening-Franson

Kero-Samuelsson-Louis-Iacopelli-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-2)

Johnson-Kero-Dahlstrom-Clendening

Sikura-Pelletier-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-DiDomenico-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Saturday, March 31-Rockford 5, San Jose 3

It was a wild kind of luau at the BMO. The Hogs celebrated Hawaiian Night with a huge comeback victory over the Barracuda.

Sloppy play in their own zone cost the IceHogs midway through the first period. Darren Raddysh had a pass attempt broken up as he was trying to enter neutral ice. The puck was collected by San Jose’s Sam Warning, who skated to the net and backhanded a shot past Hogs goalie Jeff Glass.

Rockford evened the score on a power play goal by Adam Clendening. Taking control of Luke Johnson’s faceoff win, Clendening moved to the high slot area and fired past Barracuda goalie Stephon Williams. At 15:38, the Hogs and San Jose were tied at one.

The Barracuda dominated the second period, getting goals from former Hog Brandon Mashinter and Caleb Herbert. Rockford was down 3-1 and in need of some quick offense in the third period. They got it.

Things got rolling in the opening minute of the final frame. Another Clendening blast from the right point was tipped in by Lance Bouma to cut the San Jose lead to 3-2 just 41 seconds in. Ninety seconds later, Henrik Samuelsson was waiting at the right post for Luc Snuggerud to find him coming around the San Jose net. His goal tied the game 3-3 at the 2:11 mark.

Two minutes later, Snuggerud would send a shot toward net that caught the skate of Barracuda defenseman Radim Simek and wound up in the back of the cage. With Rockford now up 4-3, a shell-shocked San Jose club called its timeout.

Upon returning to the ice, the Hogs scored for the forth time in four minutes. This one was an unassisted goal by Matthew Highmore, who picked up a loose puck along the boards, skated to the right dot and stuck one past Williams for a 5-3 Rockford advantage just 4:25 into the third.

That ended the scoring for both teams. The IceHogs rode the momentum of their offensive outburst to a fourth-straight victory. Highmore (first), Clendening (second) and Snuggerud (third) were voted the games three stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Matthew Highmore

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Cody Franson (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening

Darren Raddysh-Luc Snuggerud

Jeff Glass

Power Play (1-7)

Sikura-Johnson-DiDonenico-Clendening-Franson

Kero-Samuelsson-Louis-Iacopelli-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (San Jose was 1-6)

Johnson-Kero-Dahlstrom-Clendening

Sikura-Pelletier-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-DiDomenico-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

This Week

The Hogs are Lone Star bound this week, with a game Wednesday night in San Antonio followed by back-to-back skates with the Texas Stars Friday and Saturday.

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

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs have battled their way into a spot in the AHL’s postseason party…for now.

With nine games left heading into action Monday, the Hogs are a point ahead of Iowa for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Rockford overtook the Wild with two regulation wins in three games this week, including a 5-2 win in DesMoines last Monday.

This season is far from over. Just two of Rockford’s final nine games is at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Iowa and Milwaukee, who beat the IceHogs in Rockford Friday night, are still within striking distance. The Admirals sit just three points back of Rockford, who like Iowa and Milwaukee have played 67 games this season.

The Hogs draw a tough assignment to start this week’s action. Rockford is in Winnipeg for two games with the division-leading Moose on Monday and Wednesday.

Manitoba is not the same red-hot squad of earlier this season and they have been much better on the road than in its own building. However, the Moose have won both contests with Rockford this season. Manitoba is second in the AHL in scoring with 3.39 goals per contest. They have a lethal power play (21.6 efficiency) and are fast and physical on the ice.

The Moose have five 40-plus point scorers on the active roster. By contrast, Rockford’s top point producer, Anthony Louis, has 38 points on the season. The Hogs have been grinding out a lot of wins lately, though Rockford is putting up an average of 3.03 goals a game.

I figure that the IceHogs are going to have to win six of these last nine games to make the postseason. A split up north is vital to making that happen. Following Wednesday’s tilt with the Moose, Rockford hosts San Jose on Saturday night.

 

Viktor S Scores A Viktor-E

It is very apparent that the IceHogs will set a franchise record for courtesy this season. This weekend, a Rockford skater earned a fighting major for just the tenth time this season. The Hogs will obliterate the previous low of 39.

That tenth scrap came in the third period of a tight game with the Chicago Wolves, when Viktor Svedberg got tired of the antics of Wolves forward Keegan Kolesar. What made this fight memorable is the fact that for the first time this season, a Rockford skater scored anything resembling a clear win over an opponent.

In his second dropping of the gloves this month, Svedberg landed several blows and bloodied the nose of his adversary. The 6’9” defenseman spent the next five minutes icing his right hand, so hopefully he’s none the worse for wear.

Svedberg has been a healthy and effective part of the lineup in 2017-18. In 64 games this season, he has set career highs in goals (six) and points (21).  His skater rating of plus-16 is tied for the team lead.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs saw the arrival of forward Victor Ejdsell this past week, as well as his departure. Ejdsell played two games with Rockford before be recalled by the Hawks. The 6’5″ Swede impressed me with his skating and positioning in his appearances at the BMO this weekend. He had an assist against Milwaukee Friday.

Rockford also signed D Joni Tuulola to a PTO on Friday. Tuulola had been playing in his native Finland this season.

 

Recaps

Rockford won two of three games this week, good enough to move into fourth place in the Central Division. The Hogs are 34-25-4-4 in 2017-18.

Monday, March 19-Rockford 5, Iowa 2

The Hogs posted a key road win over the Wild, paced by a pair of goals by Chris DiDomenico.

Rockford got on the board in the sixth minute when Graham Knott got a piece of a Luc Snuggerud shot on its way to the net. At the 12:23 mark, Luke Johnson made it a 2-0 game after taking a pass from Cody Franson and skaking to the right dot.

Iowa pulled back to 2-1 on a Mitch McLain goal, but DiDomenico won control of a loose puck in the Rockford zone and brought it all the way back into Wild territory. Shooting from the left circle, the puck glanced off the crossbar, off defenseman Alex Grant and into the cage for a 3-1 Hogs lead 17:19 into the first period.

DiDomenico made it a 4-1 Rockford advantage with a power play strike 3:18 into the second period. The goal was set up by Adam Clendening, who found DiDomenico at the top of the right circle for the slap shot.

Kyle Rau scored midway through the second period to close the gap to 4-2, but that was as close as things got in DesMoine on this night. Viktor Svedberg banked a clearing attempt off the glass and into an empty net in the closing minutes to seal the win.

No lines tonight; Robin Norell skated as a forward. The Hogs were two of five on the power play. Jeff Glass stopped 31 of 33 shots to pick up his 13th win of the season. DiDomenico and Franson (two assists) were named the first and third stars of the game.

 

Friday, March 23-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2

Things got away from the IceHogs in the final period. The desperate Admirals dropped four goals on Rockford to end an eight-game Hogs points streak.

Tyler Sikura got a shot past the pads of Anders Lindback 5:01 into the game. The puck slowly slid toward the goal line until Henrik Samuelsson gave it a last push to the net to give the IceHogs the lead.

The score would remain 1-0 through the majority of the first two periods. Milwaukee tied the game with 25 seconds left in the middle frame on an Anthony Richard goal.

The third period was a wild affair that did not end well for Rockford. Former Hog Mark McNeill gave the Ads a 2-1 lead after Adam Clendening whiffed on a pass attempt from deep in his own zone. Midway through the third, Lance Bouma slipped a shot between Lindback and the left post to tie the game. From there, it was all Milwaukee.

Bobby Butler hit on the game-winner with a backdoor goal 10:09 into the final period. McNeill and Richard both added empty net scores in the last minute to finish off the Hogs.

Lines (starters in italics)

Tanner Kero (A)-Graham Knott-Kyle Maksimovich

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Victor Ejdsell

Alex Wideman-Luke Johnson (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Adam Clendening (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Power Play (0-1)

Johnson-Sikura-DiDomenico-Clendening-Franson

Louis-Ejdsell-Iacopelli-Samuelsson-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Ads were 1-4, though that goal came with the Hogs net empty.)

Bouma-Sikura-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-Kero-Norell-Dahlstrom

Johnson-Samuelsson-Clendening-Raddysh

 

Saturday, March 24-Rockford 5, Chicago 3

The IceHogs rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to post the win over the Wolves.

Chicago got goals from Brandon Pirri and Teemu Pulkkinen in the first 20 minutes to put the Hogs in a hole. Rockford came out digging in the second period.

In the opening minute of the middle frame, William Pelletier had a shot deflect off of Wolves defenseman Griffin Reinhardt. The puck was gathered in by Lance Bouma at the left circle. His shot got the best of Chicago goalie Max Legace and made it a 2-1 game 49 seconds into the second.

Rockford tied the game at the 8:37 mark when Matheson Iacopelli zipped a wrist shot from the left point that caught the far side corner past Legace. A few minutes later, the Hogs took the lead.

Tyler Sikura went behind the Chicago net to chase down Luc Snuggerud’s shot attempt. Finding Henrik Samuelsson open at the right dot, Sikura’s pass was rifled into the back of the Wolves net at the 15:28 mark.

Less than a minute later, Darren Raddysh broke up a entry pass by Wade Megan and got the puck to Chris DiDomenico skating the other way. DiDomenico hit Bouma coming into the Wolves zone and Bouma handled the rest, twining his attempt past Legace for a 4-2 Rockford advantage at 16:17 of the second period.

Pulkkinen answered for Chicago late in the second to cut the Hogs advantage to 4-3. However, that was it for the Wolves offense. Collin Delia made several outstanding saves on point blank Wolves attempts late in the second to preserve the one-goal lead. Rockford added an empty-netter from DiDomenico with 1:50 remaining to put a ribbon on a fine comeback effort.

Bouma and DiDomenico were the game’s first two stars. Delia wound up with the victory, with 33 saves on the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson

Lance Bouma-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

Henrik Samuelsson-Victor Ejdsell-Tyler Sikura

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Darren Raddysh-Luc Snuggerud

Colin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

Sikura-Johnson-DiDomenico-Clendening-Franson

Samuelsson-Iacopelli-Louis-Ejdsell-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 1-4)

Bouma-Sikura-Svedberg-Franson

Knott-Kero-Raddysh-Dahlstrom

Johnson-Samuelsson-Clendening-Snuggerud

 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates of the IceHogs push to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, managed just two regulation goals in their weekend road jaunt against their two most familiar division rivals. They still managed to collect three of four possible points as they kept pace in the Central Division standings.

The IceHogs still are on the outside looking in as far as the postseason is concerned. However, they kept the gap between them and the two teams above them in the standings a manageable one.

Collin Delia and Jeff Glass each played well enough for Rockford to take both games into overtime. The Hogs dropped a shootout with Milwaukee Saturday before going into Allstate Arena Sunday and getting an overtime win over Chicago.

Rockford has had to hustle for goals, with just eight in its last five games. The Hogs have won three of those contest and picked up a point in another. This may be the case for this bunch as the season winds down.

Matthew Highmore, Rockford’s leading scorer, has been with the Blackhawks for a few games now. John Hayden was recalled on Saturday by Chicago. Other leading scorers like Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Erik Gustafsson have been with the Hawks for a while. The IceHogs don’t have the same explosive offensive punch they had earlier this season.

Fortunately, Rockford has some things going for it. The play in goal has made it possible for the Hogs to stay in games of late. They also have some veterans on board who could make a difference in the final month of action.

Cody Franson, assuming he isn’t recalled, adds leadership and a potent shot from the back end. He and Adam Clendening are both contributing to the scoring column. Franson has five goals in 23 games with Rockford; he’s tied for the team lead for defenseman goals with Darren Raddysh.

Chris DiDomenico has seven points (2 G, 5 A) in seven games since coming to Rockford. DiDomenico and Franson hooked up for the game-winner against the Wolves Sunday. The play was pretty on both ends; Franson chased down a clearing attempt in Gus Macker Time and slid the puck cross-ice to a waiting DiDomenico, who showed some stick-handling skill before catching cord and ending the game in Rockford’s favor.

It’s possible that several players could come down to Rockford late in the season and give the team a boost in talent should a playoff spot be within the team’s grasp. Until then, the Hogs will have to make every goal count.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs were active this week. Back on Wednesday, Rockford inked former Hogs defenseman Nolan Valleau to a PTO. Valleau played in both games over the weekend, as did Carl Dahlstrom, who was assigned to Rockford on Friday.

With Hayden being recalled to Chicago Saturday, the IceHogs recalled Matheson Iacopelli from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel that evening. The young forward played nine games for the Fuel and scored nine goals in his stint in Indy. Iacopelli took the ice for the Hogs for the first time in a month against Chicago Sunday afternoon.

 

Recaps

As of Monday morning, Rockford (30-24-3-4) sits in fifth place in the Central Division, despite sharing a .549 points percentage with sixth-place Milwaukee.

Saturday, March 10-Milwaukee 2, Rockford 1 (SO)

Rockford picked up a point, but found Admirals goalie Anders Lindback hard to solve and dropped this one in the shootout.

The Ads got the scoring started in the middle frame, taking a 1-0 lead on a Trevor Smith goal 4:15 into the period. Rockford out shot their opponents 19-5 through the first 40 minutes but had nothing to show for it.

William Pelletier got the Hogs even on the scoreboard midway through the third period after gaining possession of a loose puck in neutral ice. The speedy forward made a beeline for the right dot, flinging the puck past the glove side of Lindback at the 12:08 mark.

The score remained 1-1 through regulation and an exciting overtime period which saw both teams foiled on several scoring chances. The third point was decided by penalty shots, specifically Justin Kirkland’s. His attempt beat Delia in the first round; Anthony Louis, Adam Clendening and Chris DiDomenico came up empty and Milwaukee picked up the win.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Henrik Samuelsson-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Anthony Louis-Chris DiDomenico-Lance Bouma

Robin Norell-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Alexandre Fortin-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Viktor Svedberg-Cody Franson

Luc Snuggerud-Adam Clendening (A)

Nolan Valleau-Carl Dahlstrom

Collin Delia

Power Play (0-3)

DiDomenico-Sikura-Johnson-Clendening-Franson

Pelletier-Louis-Samuelsson-Snuggerud-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 0-5)

Bouma-Johnson-Franson-Svedberg

Sikura-Martinsen-Norell-Dahlstrom

DiDomenico-Pelletier-Snuggerud-Valleau

 

Sunday, March 11-Rockford 2, Chicago 1 (OT)

Allstate Arena has been a tough place for any AHL team to get a win the last couple of months. The Hogs needed Gus Macker Time to do so but posted two huge points against the surging Wolves.

As was the case the night before, it was a goalie duel. Sunday, the combatants were Oscar Dansk for Chicago and Jeff Glass for Rockford. Neither team found the net in the first period. Dansk stopped 14 IceHogs shots in the first 20 minutes, then foiled William Pelletier on a penalty shot early in the second.

Rockford opened the scoring when Cody Franson pinched to the right dot, one-timing a feed from Andreas Martinsen coming around from behind the Wolves net. The goal came at the 6:29 mark; the IceHogs held onto that lead until midway through the third period.

Rockford appeared to take a two-goal lead when Adam Clendening centered to Henrik Samuelsson 7:31 into the final frame. However, the replay showed that Samuelsson had kicked the puck past Dansk.

Chicago’s Teemu Pulkkinen knotted the score at a goal apiece with a power-play re-direct at 12:52 of the third. For the fourth time in the season series, the Hogs and Wolves could not settle the matter in regulation.

Brandon Pirri hooked Martinsen in the second minute of overtime, giving Rockford a 4-on-3 advantage. Chris DiDomenico would capitalize for the IceHogs, benefiting from an outstanding play by Franson.

Chicago’s T.J. Tynan had pushed the puck toward neutral ice. Before he could complete the clearing attempt, Franson beat him to the puck and slid a pass all the way to DiDomenico at the left post. The shot beat Dansk to the twine and seal a huge win for Rockford.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Anthony Louis-Chris DiDomenico-Lance Bouma

Henrik Samuelsson-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Robin Norell-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Nolan Valleau-Carl Dahlstrom

Viktor Svedberg-Cody Franson

Luc Snuggerud-Adam Clendening (A)

Jeff Glass

Power Play (1-5)

DiDomenico-Sikura-Johnson-Clendening-Franson

Pelletier-Louis-Samuelsson-Snuggerud-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 1-5)

Bouma-Johnson-Franson-Svedberg

Sikura-Martinsen-Norell-Dahlstrom

DiDomenico-Pelletier-Snuggerud-Valleau

 

Preview

Tuesday’s game at the BMO against Iowa is a must-win. The Wild sit in third place in the Central but are within reach of the Hogs. Reeling them in begins with a regulation victory. Rockford has three games remaining with the Wild; the remaining two meetings are in DesMoines.

The Hogs last shot at Grand Rapids comes Friday when Rockford visits Van Andel Arena. After winning the first six meetings between the teams, the IceHogs have dropped three straight to the Griffins, who lead Rockford by four points in the standings as of Monday.

Saturday night, it’s another tough go with the Wolves in their building. Each team has won four games in the season series. All four of Chicago’s wins have come in regulation. All four of Rockford’s victories have come in extra skating or a shootout.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the scene in Rockford all season long.

 

Everything Else

This week’s Rockford IceHogs post is abbreviated. I mean, I could talk about what Blackhawks prospects factored into a weekend split. However, there is a good chance that some of those players will be the property of other organizations.

Due to the uncertainty that is the trade deadline, I’ll hold off on some of this week’s analysis for a day or two. I will sift through any roster shakeup later this week.

Rockford skaters did reach a couple of milestones over the weekend. Matthew Highmore set an AHL franchise record for rookies with his 21st goal in Saturday’s victory in Hershey. Defenseman Adam Clendening also tied a franchise mark, logging his 134th point and 110th helper. Both tie the previous high for IceHogs defensemen with Brian Connelly.

Will Clendening be around to break that tie? Who knows?

Moves will likely be made, either large or small. Viktor Svedberg was a healthy scratch on Saturday and is one of several veteran blueliners who I would not be surprised to see included in a deal. Same goes for Cody Franson and Clendening.

 

Roster Moves

On Wednesday, with new acquisition Chris DiDomenico ready to roll, Rockford sent forward Matheson Iacopelli to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. As a player with an NHL entry contract, it’s not a common occurrence.

Iacopelli has spent most of his rookie season as a bottom six option. Without a real strong linemate to get him shot opportunities, the former Western Michigan standout still had nine goals in 40 games this season. He’s been a frequent scratch and it’s apparent the coaching staff feels that there is something missing from his game.

Whatever that is, it isn’t his shot. If Iacopelli could secure a role on a scoring line, he has 30-goal potential in the AHL. With this year’s crop of prospects, top-six minutes haven’t been in the cards for him.

Upon arriving in Indy, Iacopelli quickly displayed the kind of offensive punch of which he is capable. He promptly lit the lamp in each of his first two appearances before Saturday night’s hat trick against Quad City.

I’m not sure why Iacopelli has had trouble finding playing time with the IceHogs, but the only thing that can help him fill out his game is steady minutes. I’m positive he’ll get those minutes in Indy for as long as he’s there.

 

Recaps

The IceHogs are still on the outside looking in in terms of the postseason. Rockford did, however, leapfrog Milwaukee into fifth place in the Central Division standings. The threesome of Grand Rapids, Chicago and Iowa still needs to be chased down to grab one of the three spots behind Manitoba in the playoff picture.

Friday, February 23-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 6, Rockford 3

Rockford’s road trip began in not-so-impressive fashion, falling behind early to the Penguins and never getting back into contention.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took a 2-0 advantage in the first 8:04 of the contest before the IceHogs could get on the board. Tyler Sikura slipped in front of the net to tip in a John Hayden offering at 10:22 of the first period to cut the Penguins lead to 2-1. However, a late Penguins goal put them up 3-1 at the first intermission.

Over the next 30 minutes of action, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got three more pucks by Hogs goalie Jeff Glass, taking a 6-1 lead midway through the final frame. At that point, Rockford managed to gain a measure of respectability with a couple of garbage-time goals.

The IceHogs power play got rubber to twine when new addition Chris DiDomenico got a piece of Viktor Svedberg’s slap-shot at the 13:40 mark. A few minutes later, DiDomenico got to a puck in the corner of the Penguins zone. His pass found Anthony Louis near the right post for the score at 16:19.

 

Saturday, February 24-Rockford 4, Hershey 3 (OT)

The ending was not without controversy, but the Hogs were able to pull out a win in what was a pretty unusual affair with the Bears.

Despite a landslide advantage in shots on goal, this game was nip-and-tuck in terms of score. Rockford was able to gain the first goal of the contest while killing a delay of game penalty.

John Hayden proved to be the catalyst on a shorthanded chance, creating a turnover along the half boards and getting a shot on net that was knocked aside by Hershey goalie Vitek Vanacek. Matthew Highmore was at the left post to collect the rebound, setting a Hogs rookie record for goals with his 21st of the season. Rockford led 1-0 at the 12:35 mark.

The Bears answered in the second period when Liam O’Brien laid a big hit on Alexandre Fortin to separate him from the puck. The big winger worked a give-and-go with Zach Sill before firing past Hogs goalie Collin Delia to tie the game 1-1 at the 13:25 mark.

Rockford’s power play made it a 2-1 game late in the period. Adam Clendening sent a stretch pass to William Pelletier, who got across the Bears blueline ahead of the defense. Pelletier skated to the net before getting a backhander past Vanecek at 17:46 of the second.

Hershey rallied again, drawing even on Travis Boyd’s power-play goal 6:35 into the third period. The IceHogs regained the lead 70 seconds later when Pelletier tipped in a Chris DiDomenico shot for his second of the night.

The Bears, for the third time of the evening, were able to come up with the equalizer, again while on the power play. Riley Barber took advantage of an open look from the right circle to tie the game on what was just Hershey’s 14th shot of the game. Rockford had 38 shots, by contrast, but the scoreboard showed three goals for each club. That’s how things ended in regulation.

Gus Macker Time ended 1:46 into the proceedings. What could easily have been a penalty on DiDomenico after getting tangled up with Barber wound up an odd-man rush the other way. Hayden brought the puck into the Hershey zone and fired past Vanecek to notch the game-winner.

Most nights, stopping just 11 of 14 shots wouldn’t be good enough for a win. On this night, it was as Delia picked up his ninth win of the season. Hayden and Pelletier were named the first and second stars of the game, respectively.

 

Coming Up

Rockford has a Wednesday night skate with the Texas Stars at the BMO, visit Milwaukee on Friday, then hosts the Penguins of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday night.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get some nuggets of thought on Rockford doings all season long.