Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are in a tie for third place entering the last two weeks of December. The 14-8-1-2 piglets won two of three games this past week and have the opportunity to climb up the Central Division ladder to close out the calendar year.

To do that, however, they’ll have to tame the hottest team in the AHL. That would be the Texas Stars, who have won nine of its last ten contests.

Texas has yet to be defeated in December. The Stars have won their last seven games to rocket to the top of the Central wit 36 points. Milwaukee (32 points), Manitoba (31 points), and Rockford (31 points) are all bunched up and chasing their Lone Star rivals.

The IceHogs visit Cedar Park Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Rockford has two wins in three previous games with the Stars this season, the last being a 7-2 shellacking of Texas at the BMO Center on November 23. The Stars have gone 9-1 since that loss.

Texas has performed well. However, in its last five wins, three were against Chicago, who inhabits the division basement. The Stars then swept a weekend series in Iowa, where Rockford defeated the Wild 7-4 on Tuesday night.

The formula for Texas has been to get control of games early. The Stars are 11-0 when leading after the first period. Rockford has been able to overcome first-period deficits, having gone 7-4 in such situations this season. Games in this rivalry are usually fast paced and usually hinge on who has control of the puck.

Sweeping the Stars would put the IceHogs right behind Texas in the standings. Rockford finishes December with three games against the Wolves along with one verses Grand Rapids. The schedule is favorable for a contending club to finish the month strong. It will be up to the IceHogs to take advantage.

 

Roster Moves

Sunday, the IceHogs recalled D Cliff Watson, along with F Kale Howarth. Watson has been shuttled between Rockford and the Indy Fuel several times this season. For Howarth, this is his first recall after scoring six goals in 14 games with Indy. Last year, he took part in 12 games for the Hogs, with two goals and an assist.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell returned to the lineup on Saturday night, which saw the IceHogs beat Hartford 3-2 at the BMO. Mitchell had been out since November 16, when he injured his left shoulder against the end boards of Allstate Arena in a game against the Wolves.

Filip Roos, sent to Rockford by the Blackhawks a week ago, has made an immediate impact on the ice. He picked up his first AHL goal in the win over Iowa on Tuesday, then potted the game-winner Saturday against Hartford.

 

The Week That Was (Readers Digest Version)

David Gust (13 G, 16 A) led the way in Tuesday’s 7-4 win with a hat trick against the Wild. Cole Guttman (9 G, 7 A) added a pair of goals in the victory.

Friday, the Toronto Marlies broke open a 2-2 game with two goals 31 seconds apart in the middle of the third period. The Hogs battled back and got a Brett Seney goal late, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over the Wolf Pack saw D.J. Busdeker secure his first goal of the season as part of a three-goal second period. Michal Teply got his fifth of the season less than a minute later. After Hartford tied the game, Roos drove to the net and shelfed his attempt. That was enough for the Hogs to hold on, aided by 38 saves from Dylan Wells.

 

Coming Up

After the trip to Texas Tuesday and Wednesday, Rockford will journey to Rosemont for a Friday renewal of the I-90 rivalry with the Wolves.

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

 

Hockey

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

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

 

Scoreboard!

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

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

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

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

 

Roster News

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

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

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

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

 

Who’s Got The Call?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who’s Got The Cup?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 16-Rockford 5, Grand Rapids 1

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, November 18-Chicago 4, Rockford 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This Week

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

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have two major problems ten games into the 2021-22 campaign:

  1. They have problems getting shots.
  2. They have problems preventing shots.

The piglets 3-6-1 record and status as cellar-dwellers in the AHL’s Western Conference can be easily explained with a look at the stat sheet. Rockford is badly outshot on a nightly basis and gives up tons of chances from close range.

The IceHogs are dead last in the league in both shots taken (21.50) and shots allowed (37.40) per game. Rockford is being outshot in the first period 134-68. When your opponent gets double the pucks to the net to open play, it’s easy to dig yourself into a hole.

Friday night, the Hogs took on the visiting Chicago Wolves, who were at the top of the AHL’s Central Division entering the contest. Rockford mustered a single shot on goal midway through the opening frame-Brett Connolly’s offering from the outside of the right circle.

Chicago, on the other hand, went up 3-0 after peppering rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom with 16 shots. The IceHogs skated to the locker room to a chorus of boos.

Rockford is 1-3 four games into a five-game home stand. They are off until this weekend, when they have a home-and-away with the same Wolves who spanked them so thoroughly Friday night.

 

Musings

  • The goalie rotation of Arvid Soderblom, Malcom Subban, and Collin Delia has been shortened to Soderblom and Subban. Delia has not dressed for Rockford since the Hogs returned home from Texas.
  • Wyatt Kalynuk made his season debut for Rockford Wednesday after the Blackhawks assigned him to the Hogs the day before. His goal against the Wild was the first for an IceHogs defenseman this season. It is also the only one.
  • Hogs defenseman Alec Regula made his season debut Friday after missing most of the last six weeks with a back issue.
  • Defenseman Issak Phillips was returned to Rockford Wednesday after being removed from COVID protocol, but did not play this week.
  • Defenseman Cliff Watson was loaned to the Indy Fuel on Thursday.
  • Forward Chris Wilkie, who tied for the team lead in goals (eight) last season and was fourth in points (13), was traded to the Belleville Senators on Saturday for future considerations. Wilkie was scoreless in his only game with Rockford on October 30. However, he had a goal and an assist in his debut with the Senators, a 3-2 win over Bridgeport Saturday night.
  • I caught my first action at the BMO Wednesday night. The ice looked great. The paper towel dispensers must be getting repaired in the next wave of renovations.

 

Hey There, Indy…’Sup?

The IceHogs have many contracted players with the Fuel…how are they faring?

Well, the Fuel finished a five-game road trip Sunday. Indy was 0-4-0-1 on the jaunt, which concluded with a 7-4 loss to Toledo. The Fuel are 2-6-0-1 overall and in the basement of the ECHL’s Central Division.

Chad Yetman leads Indy in scoring with nine points (3 G, 6 A). Riley McKay (2 G, 3 A) and Liam Folkes (3 G, 1 A) are also contributors for the Fuel in the early going. Kale Howarth, who began the season with an injury, had a pair of goals Sunday in the loss. Watson (3 A in four games and Jacob Leguerrier (one goal in six games) are Rockford contracts on the blueline.

Cale Morris has seen the bulk of the work in net, appearing in seven of Indy’s nine games. He is currently 1-3-0-1, with a 2.97 GAA and an .894 save percentage. Tom Aubrun, in his first start of the season, gave up seven goals in a 7-2 loss to Kalamazoo Saturday night.

(Note: How’s this for a fun road weekend? Indy was in Coralville Friday night, losing 5-3 to the Iowa Heartlanders. Then, they drove six-plus hours to Kalamazoo to get blown out by the Wings Saturday. Then, a couple of hours east to lose to the Walleye. Ouch.)

Recaps

Wednesday, November 10-Iowa 4, Rockford 3 (OT)

The IceHogs were seconds away from their first winning streak of the 2021-22 season Wednesday night. Unfortunately for Rockford, the Wild rallied to force Gus Macker Time, then handed the Hogs a tough loss.

Iowa scored first, getting a Dakota Mermis goal 11:15 into the game. However, the IceHogs special teams put Rockford in the lead heading into the intermission.

Brett Connolly one-timed a Josiah Slavin pass from the slot to convert on the man advantage at 15:15 of the first period. Two minutes later, Connolly started a shorthanded rush up the ice with Carson Gicewicz in the box for slashing. Ian Mitchell and Slavin reached Wild goalie Dereck Baribeau with no defender in front of them. Slavin’s third goal of the season had the Hogs up 2-1 at the break.

The Wild evened the score on Connor Dewar’s goal 3:21 into the second stanza. The score remained tied until Wyatt Kalynuk sent a slap shot from the left point 8:12 into the third. Rockford limited the Iowa offense for most of the final frame until Wild coach Tim Army brought Baribeau to the bench in favor of an extra skater.

Hogs goaltender Malcolm Subban was able to keep shots by Mason Shaw and Swaney out of the net as the final minute ticked away. However, Swaney was able to put back his own rebound past Subban with 26 seconds left to set up overtime.

With Connelly in the box for tripping, Joe Hicketts sent home the game-winner with the Wild on a 4-on-3 power play 3:53 into the extra session. Subban was a hard-luck loser, stopping 39 Iowa shots as the IceHogs were outshot 43-21.

The win put a damper on the performance of veteran Connolly, who had a three-point (1 G, 2 A) effort spoiled by Iowa’s late heroics.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Josiah Slavin-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly

Alexander Nylander-Dylan McLaughlin-Andrei Altybarmakian

Jakub Pour-Carson Gicewicz-D.J. Busdeker

Cameron Morrison-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian Mitchell

Jakub Galvas-Wyatt Kalynuk

Ryan Stanton (A)-Cliff Watson

Malcom Subban

Arvid Soderblom

 

Friday, November 12-Chicago 4, Rockford 1

The Wolves opened up a three-goal lead on the overmatched Hogs, who were never in the game.

The beating commenced from the opening faceoff. The Wolves scored 49 seconds into the contest, taking a 1-0 after Andrew Poturalski nabbed a backhand pass from Stefan Noesen and got behind a stick-less Wyatt Kalynuk. Poturalski easily maneuvered the puck past Hogs goalie Arvid Soderblom to open the scoring.

Chicago wasn’t finished in the opening period. Noesen got in on the goal-scoring at the eleven-minute mark, redirecting a Max Lejoie shot from the point past Soderblom while on the man advantage. A long shot by Eric Gelinas caught twine 17: 05 into the first period, sending the IceHogs to the locker room down three 3-0.

It was largely academic for the final 40 minutes.  The IceHogs, who were out shot 16-1 in the first period, couldn’t get much going. For the night, Chicago sent 34 pucks to the net. The IceHogs finished with 19 shots on goal.

Rockford’s Brett Connolly pushed his scoring streak to five games, sending a wrist shot from the right circle past Chicago goalie Eetu Makiniemi to spoil the shutout bid. Kalynuk and Josiah Slavin assisted on the power play strike at 16:31 of the third period, making it 3-1 Wolves. Chicago closed out the scoring with an empty net goal by Maxim Letunov.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Josiah Slavin-Lucas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Cameron Morrison-Dylan McLaughlin-Alexander Nylander

Jakub Pour-Carson Gicewicz-Michal Teply

Evan Barratt-Garrett Mitchell (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Jakub Galvas-Ian Mitchell

Wyatt Kalynuk-Alec Regula

Ryan Stanton-Micheal Krutil

Arvid Soderblom

Malcom Subban

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, now owned and operated by the Chicago Blackhawks, will continue their youth movement at defense. There are plenty of familiar faces among the prospects. They will be led into the 2021-22 campaign by another one.

On August 4, the Blackhawks secured the services of Ryan Stanton via an AHL contract. Stanton spent his first three professional seasons in Rockford, starting in the 2010-11 campaign. Hogs coach Derek King was more than pleased with the pickup.

“Exactly what we needed,” King told Rockford broadcaster Joseph Zakrzewski after learning of the acquisition. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about this guy. I had a nice conversation with him and I think he’s going to be a perfect fit for this organization.”

The reason Stanton will come in handy this season is the departure of Cody Franson, who anchored the blueline last season and is now playing for Hershey. Franson put up 17 points (4 G, 13 A) in 26 games with Rockford.

Stanton was a prospect himself in his first stint with the Hogs. He is now at the other end of the spectrum; a 32-year old blueliner entering his twelfth season in pro hockey, Stanton has spent time with six NHL organizations.

His best Hogs campaign came in 2012-13. Stanton skated in 73 games for Rockford, with three goals and 22 assists. The following fall, Chicago tried to sneak him through waivers and he was nabbed by the Canucks. Stanton spent two years with Vancouver, where he played 118 of his 120 career NHL games. He has 514 AHL tilts under his belt, spending last season on an AHL contract with Bakersfield.

With the Condors, Stanton was cast in a similar leadership role that he’s being asked to play with the IceHogs. In 35 games, he had 13 points (1 G, 12 A). Stanton had a 20 point (5 G, 15 A in 65 games) effort with Bakersfield in 2018-19, the last full AHL season.

Stanton probably doesn’t put up offensive numbers like Franson is capable of producing. However, he should chip in and solidify the back end with a physical, defense-first game. It should be to Rockford’s benefit. With fellow AHL teammate Dmitri Osipov being converted to forward this season, the IceHogs can use what Stanton brings to the table.

Stanton will be mentoring a young crop of prospects that may be cycling back and forth between Chicago and Rockford. Wyatt Kalynuk will start the season with the Hawks, as he is currently injured and can’t be sent to the AHL until healthy.

Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, and Jakub Galvas are players who will be trying to become permanent NHL defensemen this season. It’s likely that each will have plenty of ice time in Rockford.

At least one of this trio is probably beginning the season in Chicago. With news that Caleb Jones will be out up to six weeks with a wrist injury, all three could remain in Chicago. Mitchell and Beaudin both had time with the Blackhawks in 2020-21. Galvas has a couple of years of experience in the top professional Czech league and has impressed the brass with his play.

Two young prospects who are looking to move up the ladder are Alec Regula and Issak Phillips. Regula was the prospect many fans were interested in seeing develop at the beginning of the 2021-22 season. He appeared in just 16 games with the IceHogs due to some injuries. However, he did earn a call-up late in Chicago’s season.

Phillips, on the other hand, was off the radar heading into last season because he wasn’t expected to be around long. Starting the season on an amateur tryout, Phillips was in a position to take advantage of being allowed to skate in the AHL when his junior season was canceled.

Phillips posted a pair of goals to go with seven helpers in 27 games with the IceHogs last season, earning his entry contract with Chicago. Both Phillips and Regula are big defensemen who could help the Blackhawks in a couple of years. Filling out and continuing to learn the pro game will be priorities for both players.

Injuries limited former second-round pick Chad Krys to six games in Rockford in 2020-21. Entering the final year of his entry deal, Krys may have a tough time finding a regular spot in the IceHogs lineup. With Kalynuk out for the first few weeks of action, Krys needs to make an impact early.

In addition to Stanton, Rockford has a couple of players signed to AHL contracts. Michael Krutil was signed last season, appearing in 21 games with the IceHogs. He’s still just 19, but is another bigger body at 6’3″ and 203 pounds. He’ll be playing to earn an NHL entry deal from Chicago.

Cliff Watson was signed to several PTO contracts by Rockford last season, appearing in eight contests. He was signed to an AHL deal this summer, though he will probably spend most of his time with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel.

On Thursday, the IceHogs announced that they had signed Jacob LeGuerrier to an AHL contract. LeGuerrier was scoreless in four games for the Laval Rocket in 2020-21.

Rockford surrendered 3.59 goals per game in a 32-game slate last season. The piglets were overmatched everywhere on the ice in 2020-21 and there was a fair share of breakdowns from a green defensive corps. Most of the lineup is another year older and (hopefully) wiser. With Stanton being the lone veteran penciled into the Hogs pairings, the kids are going to hold up their end in order for Rockford to see improvement defensively.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts and coverage of the IceHogs all season long. Next week, I’ll offer up a look at the forwards.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are closing out the 2020-21 season this weekend with a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves. For the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, the season concludes much like it began.

The Hogs dropped a 6-5 game in Hoffman Estates to the Wolves. This is Rockford’s third-straight loss; the piglets lost on Friday and again Sunday to Iowa.

The season commenced at the Triphahn Center Ice Arena (the Wolves practice facility) and will end there on Saturday night. The Wolves will be hoisting the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup, having beaten Rockford in seven of the nine games held so far between the two teams.

The rivalry has been one-sided to say the least. Chicago has boasted a loaded squad for the bulk of the season, yet the only hardware they will hoist will be the above mentioned talisman. The AHL’s Central Division will eschew postseason activities; the Wolves can take their trophy from Rockford and go home.

The IceHogs would be going home regardless, being in the division basement by a considerable margin. They were pretty up front in their intentions of getting ice time for a young group. In all, 35 skaters and six goalies got into the action during what amounted to extended prospect camp.

Rookie goalie Tom Aubrun got his first start of the season for the Hogs on Monday, giving up four goals to the Wolves in the first period on the way to the loss. Before that, Iowa dominated Rockford in DesMoines Friday night, winning 6-1 before grinding out a 2-0 win over the IceHogs at the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon.

 

No Recaps, Just Musings

  • The final two games with the Wild were brutal affairs. Iowa wanted to get physical with the IceHogs and did so in the two wins.
  • Brandon Pirri, who did not travel to Iowa, was pointless on Sunday to bring his five-game point streak to a close. He responded with two goals against the Wolves, pulling him into a tie with Chris Wilkie for the team lead in that category with eight.
  • For the most part, Rockford allowed far more up-close opportunities to their opponents than the Hogs were able to generate in their last three contests. This has been the theme for the piglets; they just can’t maneuver their way to a lot of high-percentage shots.
  • Defenseman Cliff Watson, who is the captain of the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, played in all three games for Rockford, picking up an assist Monday afternoon. He has been signed to four PTO contracts by the Hogs this season.
  • Remember back when I openly wondered what happened to Jack Ramsey, the defenseman who signed an AHL contract with Rockford last spring? The best I can offer is that he looks to have retired.

 

Live From The BMO

My number came up in the ticket lottery the IceHogs held for season ticket holders, so I will be attending the home finale Friday night. You’ll get intermission updates along with whatever observations I can muster. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for all the fun.

 

Hockey

In two games separated by eight days, the Rockford IceHogs were out scored 12-5 by the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins. Rockford (3-8-1 on the season) and Grand Rapids (6-3) now move to Van Andel Arena for their next two games. Can the IceHogs turn the tables on Grand Rapids on Saturday and Tuesday?

That will be a tall order for the piglets.

Thursday night, the Blackhawks AHL affiliate got solid goal tending from Matt Tomkins and kept the Griffins in check for most of the first two periods. The IceHogs didn’t get blown out on the scoreboard, as was the case in last week’s 9-4 loss. However, Rockford still wound up on the short end of a 3-1 decision at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Rockford just doesn’t have the skill in the offensive zone to compete with most AHL teams. The Hogs are dependent on getting to the net and capitalizing on rebounds and loose pucks. Rockford just doesn’t generate open looks at close range. The Griffins have excelled at this in both of their last two games at the BMO.

Thursday night, Rockford was credited with a single shot originating from the front of the Griffins net. That shot was an attempt from the point that struck the skate of D.J. Busdeker and found the net late in the contest. By comparison, 16 of 32 Grand Rapids shots came from right in front of the crease.

If your opponent bangs away from the porch and you can’t manage to penetrate even to the faceoff dots, chances are you aren’t going to win a lot of games. In both quality and quantity of shots, the IceHogs have been overwhelmed on a regular basis.

The recipe for success in Grand Rapids? Try like the devil to keep the Griffins away from the slot with the puck. Get monster performances from your goalie and make your offensive chances count. Like I said, grinding out a win at Van Andel is going to be tough for the young, inexperienced group currently toiling in ‘Bago County.

Roster News

The IceHogs announced that defenseman Chad Krys underwent shoulder surgery this week. He is expected to miss the next five to seven months. Rockford signed defenseman Cliff Watson to a PTO on Monday to compensate. Watson has spent this season as the captain of the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

Monday afternoon, G Collin Delia, D Nicolas Beaudin, and F Reese Johnson were recalled to the Blackhawks. G Matt Tomkins and F Tim Soderlund were returned to the IceHogs. After being sent to Indy on Monday, Tom Aubrun was recalled to Rockford on Thursday after playing Tuesday night in the Fuel’s 6-0 loss to Wheeling.

Alec Regula returned to action for the first time since February 27 on Thursday. The Big Regu is currently the only NHL contract playing on Rockford’s blueline.

Cody Franson, Dmitry Osipov, and Michael Krutil are on AHL contracts. Watson and Cole Moberg are on PTOs, while Issak Phillips is on an amateur tryout until the OHL starts back up.

 

Thursday, March 11-Grand Rapids 3, Rockford 1

The IceHogs kept things close before Grand Rapids pulled ahead in the final period. However, Rockford just didn’t have enough going on in the offensive zone to keep up with the Griffins. Grand Rapids was more aggressive and moved the puck around the Hogs zone with ease.

After a scoreless first, the Griffins took advantage of a turnover in the Hogs zone by Dimitry Osipov early in the middle frame. Chase Pearson skated the puck into the high slot, dropping a pass to Riley Barber. Barber sent a high shot over the glove of Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins for a 1-0 Grand Rapids lead 2:04 into the second.

Tomkins was able to keep the IceHogs in the contest despite facing a slew of Griffins shots from close range through the first forty minutes of action. Rockford was outshot 22-11 in periods one and two; the Hogs had no shot on the Grand Rapids net as close as the faceoff dots in that time.

The dam broke in the third period. Grand Rapids put up a pair of goals in a three-minute span to take full control of the contest. The first came 6:04 into the third, when Osipov blocked an attempt by Gustav Lindstrom that bounced to the left post. Kyle Criscuola was on hand to knock the puck into the cage for a 2-0 Griffins lead.

Grand Rapids captain Brian Lashoff finished off a pretty bit of passing from Tyler Spezia. Lashoff sent his shot to the stick side of Tomkins at the 9:09 mark, making it 3-0 Griffins.

Rockford broke up Pat Nagle’s shutout bid with a goal late in the game. Michael Krutil’s long-distance offering caromed off the skate of D.J. Busdeker at 16:19 of the third, cutting the lead to 3-1. Despite pulling Tomkins (29 saves on 32 shots) for most of the final three minutes, the IceHogs could not close the gap.

Nagle had a relatively easy night in net for Grand Rapids, stopping 17 of the 18 shots the IceHogs could muster. Each team had just one attempt with a man advantage. Neither the Hogs or Griffins converted.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Rockford went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen due to the late scratch of John Quenneville.

Matej Chalupa-Evan Barratt-Andrei Altybarmakyan

Riley McKay-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Tim Soderlund

Brad Morrison-Chad Yetman-Chris Wilkie

MacKenzie Entwistle-D.J. Busdeker

Alec Regula-Cody Franson (A)

Michael Krutil-Dimitry Osipov

Issak Phillips-Cole Moberg

Cliff Watson

Matt Tomkins

Cale Morris

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