Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split this past weekend’s action, defeating a hot Texas Stars club Friday night before falling to Cleveland the following evening. Rockford (17-11-0-1) trails Iowa by a standings point for second place in the AHL’s Central Division but can leapfrog the Wild when the two teams hook up in Rockford this coming weekend.

The piglets have continued to play well in the face of recent call-ups by the Blackhawks. The roster thins a bit more heading into the holiday break, but the Hogs have still won seven of their last ten games.

 

By The Numbers

Here are a few statistics of note for Rockford through 29 games this season:

  • The Hogs are 11-5 at home and 6-6-0-1 on the road so far in 2019-20.
  • Rockford is scoring 2.93 goals per game…and allowing 2.93 goals per game.
  • Rockford averages 28.59 shots and surrenders 31.76 shots per contest. Only six teams in the league give up more shots on goal than the IceHogs. Strong play in net has been important to the team’s success so far.
  • The power play is 30th out of 31 teams, converting just 10.8 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • While the penalty kill has been better, the Hogs are still working at an 80 percent kill rate. That is good for a tie with Chicago at 23rd in the AHL.
  • The IceHogs have posted seven shorthanded goals this season. That’s tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
  • Kevin Lankinen’s 55 saves on December 10 is the second-highest total in the league this season. On December 4, Phillipe Desrosiers saved 62 shots for Springfield in a win over Lehigh Valley.
  • Brandon Hagel (8 G, 7 A) and Phillipp Kurashev (5 G, 10 A) are tied for 16th among rookies in scoring with 15 points.
  • Team captain Tyler Sikura (8 G, 9 A) leads Rockford in scoring with 17 points. Dylan Sikura, currently in Rockford, has 16 points (9 G, 7 A) for the Hogs. Hagel and Kurashev are right behind the Sikuras. Defenseman Philip Holm has 14 points (3 G, 11 A).
  • Joseph Cramarossa, who had both goals in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland, is tied for the AHL lead with five fighting majors. He has scrapped three times for Rockford since coming aboard last month. That leads the IceHogs. Reese Johnson has dropped the gloves twice for Rockford. In all, the team has nine fighting majors this season.

Tomkins Playing For Spengler Cup

The goalie situation becomes a bit less crowded over the holidays. Rockford has loaned Matt Tomkins to Team Canada for the upcoming Spengler Cup. The former Ohio State net minder gets an opportunity to impress on the international tournament after some solid play for the piglets.

Tomkins has started six games for the IceHogs this season. He’s 4-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 save percentage. This leaves Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia as Rockford’s goalie tandem for the first time this season.

 

Quenneville Recalled

The IceHogs lost another productive skater when Chicago recalled forward John Quenneville on Sunday. Quenneville is coming off a stretch in Rockford where he had four goals and four helpers over his last five contests. His plus-nine skater rating was the highest on the team at the time of the call-up.

This leaves the Hogs roster at 23 players; 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. Alexandre Fortin has yet to return from an injury suffered November 29 against the Wolves. Anton Wedin sat out both games this weekend. Nathan Noel, fresh off his recall from the Indy Fuel, was injured Friday and did not play in Saturday’s game with Cleveland.

Mikael Hakkarainen skated in a game at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the first time. Returning from an injury in Iowa on October 4, Hakkarainen played in both weekend contests.

Barring I would expect at least a couple of forwards to be brought up from Indy sometime before Rockford’s next game. That comes on Friday when the Wild come to town.

 

Weekend Recaps

Friday, December 20-Rockford 4, Texas 2

The Stars were 8-1-1 in their last ten games before coming into the BMO Friday. Rockford put together a terrific 60-minute effort to knock off Texas.

Brandon Hagel was the catalyst for the first IceHogs goal of the evening, forcing a turnover in the Stars zone, then gathering in a long rebound off the pads of Texas goalie Landon Bow. Hagel skated out to the top of the zone and dropped a pass to John Quenneville at the left point. Quenneville’s long-distance offering slipped by Bow and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead 4:23 into the opening period.

Josh Melnick tied the game for Texas in the 13th minute, but Rockford took a 2-1 intermission lead thanks to some nifty passing on a late power play. Phillip Kurashev, assisted by Quenneville and Lucas Carlsson, sent a wrist shot by Bow with 2:53 remaining in the first period.

Carlsson made it 3-1 Hogs after one-timing a cross-ice feed off the boards from MacKenzie Entwistle 5:09 into the second period. That was plenty for Collin Delia, who stopped 33 of the 35 shots he saw on the night. The Stars pulled Bow and scored with six skaters at the 17:05 mark of the third, but Hagel’s empty-netter in the final minute of play sealed the victory.

 

Saturday, December 21-Cleveland 3, Rockford 2

Joseph Cramarossa was the offense for the IceHogs; his pair of lamp-lighters wasn’t enough to beat the visiting Monsters.

Cramarossa gave Rockford an early 1-0 lead, taking a drop pass from Phillipp Kurashev  and sending shot from the right circle that got though Cleveland goalie Veini Vehvilainen just 29 seconds into the game.

The Monsters took control of the game in the second period with three unanswered goals. Brett Gallant redirected an Adam Clendening blast by Hogs starter Kevin Lankinen 4:03 into the period. The Cleveland power play gave the Monsters a 2-1 lead on Nathan Gerbe’s snipe from the left circle 13:15 into the second. Two minutes later, Stefan Matteau potted an unassisted shorthanded goal to increase the Cleveland advantage to 3-1.

The IceHogs, as is their custom, played hard in the final twenty, closing the gap to 3-2 on the man advantage. Cramarossa’s first attempt from the left post was stopped, but the second effort elevated over Mehvilainen’s pad at the 7:57 mark. Lankinen spent most of the last three minutes on the Rockford bench in favor of the extra skater, to no avail.

 

Coming Up

The IceHogs host the Wild Friday, then head to Manitoba for games on Sunday and Tuesday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates this weekend as well as thoughts on the team all season long.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have a pair of home games this weekend, hosting Texas Friday and Cleveland Saturday. Coach Derek King’s club is 16-10-0-1 as the holidays approach. As promised, here are some musings on the piglets as I clear my head Spongebob-style in preparation for a Star Wars kind of day.

  • Rockford is in second place in the Central with at least a pair of games in hand on the rest of the division. The Hogs have earned 33 points in the standings and can boast a .611 points percentage. On a team with minimal veteran presence, that’s not shabby at all.
  • Let me say the following about Derek King; he’s not NHL head-coaching material at this stage of his career (just in case a position would open up somewhere), but he is doing an outstanding job in his first full season at the helm in Rockford. I hear lots of chirping around the BMO and Hogs fans social media complaining about the guy. I’m really not sure what their problem is with King, except that he’s not Jeremy Colliton, who dazzled them the previous year and change.
  • While I thought Colliton did a decent enough job in his AHL coaching stint, his resume was inflated by a late-season influx of veteran talent from the organization. Take away the host of players that bolstered the roster in the latter months of the 2017-18 season and you would have had a borderline .500 team at best, not the Western Conference finalists.
  • King inherited a fresh-faced roster when he took over on an interim basis last season and has an even less experienced group this year. Colliton could not have this roster in any better position than King has them right now. They play hard every night and have been successful even with several standout players up in Chicago. I could continue to expound on this; instead, I’ll sum up. Give King his due, then get off his back.
  • As well as the IceHogs have performed of late, they still have a long season ahead of them. Matthew Highmore and Dylan Sikura were two steady point-producers. In their absence, Rockford has had to make the most of the goals they score. A lot of shots are being given up, and high-percentage one’s at that. This next two-week stretch could be challenging for the piglets.
  • Rockford still has a three-headed goalie as we close out 2019. Right now, all three are playing well. The 64,000 dollar question looms: why is Matt Tomkins sharing the net with Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia? The latter two are on NHL contracts and at least one will be counted on at that level in the near future. Why is Rockford’s AHL contract taking time away from them?
  • Short answer: Tomkins has earned it by playing great.
  • Long answer: Here’s where I speculate…the only reason Tomkins is up in Rockford and playing is because the organization is taking an extended look at their seventh-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.
  • Both Delia and Lankinen are healthy and could easily handle Rockford’s workload by themselves. There’s no reason to throw Tomkins into the net as many times as the Hogs have unless Chicago is considering adding him to the stable.
  • In roster news, Rockford sent AHL forwards Dylan McLaughlin and Matthew Thompson to the Indy Fuel. The Hogs then called up forward Nathan Noel…just in time for Christmas.
  • Noel had four goals and eight assists in 24 games with the Fuel, for whom he has toiled all season since being assigned to Indy by Chicago. Noel’s entry contract is up following this season; if he has anything to show the organization, this may be his final shot to do so.
  • Could this be the weekend that Mikael Hakkarainen makes his return to the Rockford lineup? Hakkarainen was recalled from Indy on Sunday after a three-game stint in which he posted four points (2 G, 2 A).
  • Saturday is Star Wars Night at the BMO. I’ll be missing Friday’s game for…well…Star Wars.
  • Texas is in the basement of the Central but has been the hottest team in the division over the last couple of weeks. The Stars are 8-1-1 in their last team and are not to be overlooked.
  • Follow me @JonFromi for updates on the IceHogs throughout the season. Don’t expect much tonight; maybe a quick recap tweet or two. No spoilers, I promise.

Recap

Tuesday, December 17-Rockford 3, Laval 2 (SO)

The IceHogs dug themselves out of a hole to post a win in the final game of their Canadian jaunt.

Laval went out to a 2-0 lead, using the special teams to do so. An early power play chance resulted in Charles Hudon’s snipe from the right circle 1:52 into the contest.

The Rocket would be given three shots at the man advantage in the period. Rockford had a short power play stint go bad when the Hogs left Alexandre Alain all alone in the slot when trying to set up in the defensive zone. Josh Brook got him the puck and Alain converted past Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the 13:02 mark.

Rockford spent a good portion of the second period on the power play. However, it was while shorthanded that the Hogs got back in the game. Joseph Cramarossa picked off a pass by Xavier Ouellet, with whom he had scrapped late in the first period. Cramarossa raced down the ice and slipped a backhander through the five-hole of Laval goalie Keith Kinkaid. The deficit was cut to 2-1 at 12:46 of the middle frame.

The IceHogs drew back to even ground midway through the third period. Dmitri Osipov nabbed his first AHL goal, taking a shot pass from Philip Holm and firing from just inside the blueline. The shot got through Kinkaid and into the cage 11:14 into the period; neither team could break the tie in regulation or Gus Macker Time.

Delia, who made 31 saves and kept the Hogs in the game for the bulk of the night, stopped all five shooters he faced until Anton Wedin snapped the game-winner past Kinkaid.

Lines (Starters in italics.)

John Quenneville-Phillip Kurashev-MacKenzie Entwistle

Anton Wedin-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel

Tim Soderlund-Tyler Sikura (C)-Joseph Cramarossa

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Dylan McLaughlin

Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Philip Holm-Dmitri Osipov

Ian McCoshen (A)-Ben Youds

Collin Delia

Matt Tomkins