Hockey

vs

Game Times: 6:00PM (5/9), 7:00PM (5/10)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, SportsNet (5/9), NBCSN (5/10), WGN-AM 720
JerryWorld: Defending Big D

First of all Happy Mothers Day out there to all whom it may apply to. And anyone who actually cares for the mother figures in their lives would be best served to keep them as far away from watching these games as possible. Seats still available!

Hockey

VS.

 

Records: Panthers 32-74-5 (69) (Nice) Hawks 22-22-5 (49)

Puck Drop: 7:00 Thurs/Sat

TV/Radio: NBCSN / WGN720

Mouth Of The South: Litter Box Cats

 

Welp. We’ve reached the point of the season that seemed unthinkable 6 weeks ago, yet suddenly seemed inevitable 3 weeks later. The Hawks are all but eliminated from playoff contention, and now will be looking with an eye to the horizon to next season and beyond. The next few weeks, however, will be without the services of Adam Boqvist who had his wrist broken in a collision with human meat tree Erik Cernak in the loss to Tampa on Tuesday night. As former maven of the program Sam Fels pointed out on twitter:

While this is not a great development, Boqvist made progress enough this season and his loss should be the gain of people like Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin and Riley Stillman. Playing time should be plentiful for all of the younger players here on out, as the Hawks need to decide which of these guys will be pieces for future playoff runs. In a perfect world, these tryouts would also include Nikita Zadorov being stapled to a recliner in the press box, but I doubt we will be so lucky.

As for the Swamp Cats, they currently sit one point ahead of the Bolts for 2nd in the division with Tampa having 2 games in hand. The Panth have managed to go 6-3-1 in their last 10, despite losing their best defenceman in Aaron Ekblad to a fairly disgusting-looking knee injury approximately a month ago.

In response, Panthers GM Bill Zito went out and got Brandon Montour from Buffalo for a middling return (which seems to be the motto of the Buffalo Sabres front office). On the surface, Montour doesn’t seem like he would be able to fill the gaping hole left by Ekblad, but Montour’s numbers are probably better than you’d think. He’s racked up 6 goals and 9 assists, and played solid defense on the PK to boot on an absolutely moribund Sabers team. He’s not Ekblad, but with the way the rest of the D has been playing he doesn’t have to be.

On the forward end, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau continue to punch a hole in the universe offensively with 18 points between the two of them in the last 5 games alone. They score at evens, they score on the powerplay, and they score shorthanded. The team as a whole has scored 36 goals in the last 10, and have owned the possession edge at a 54% clip up to this point. They push the play up the ice like it was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and will put constant pressure on opposing defenders in their own zone, which we know the Hawks don’t handle well at all.

In net, the Panthers big acquisition of Sergi Bobrovsky has very slowly started to pay off the last month. After a terrible January and February, Bob has gotten his save percentage above .900 and his goals against below 3. That being said, he’s had a couple rough outings against Nashville this week which didn’t help his case to keep those numbers there. He’s had issues with his groin in the past, and seems to be having difficulty going post to post this season, which Kane and DeBrincat could definitely take advantage of.

In the Hawks net, Kevin Lankinen seems to be running on empty as evidenced by his getting yanked before the 2nd period Tuesday night against the Bolts after giving up 3 in the first. Unfortunately Malcom Suban didn’t fare much better, as the Bolts dropped 4 on him in the 2nd and 3rd combined. It’s probably a toss-up as to who gets the starts here on out, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give a few of them to Colin Delia. With the possibility of Subban being sniped by Seattle in the expansion draft, Delia’s services may be needed going forward unless Stan has an idea of maybe signing a 1A to have Lankinen’s back next year. Perhaps someone along the lines of a Devan Dubnyk or James Reimer could fit the bill if the price was right. Though these games don’t statistically matter for the Hawks anymore, they will go a long way to see how Coach Smoothbrain handles giving playing time to audition the kids for next year.

At the end of the day, while expectations for the Hawks this season were low, we allowed ourselves to feel a little hope and were inevitably let down by this team’s inability to win a game with any type of playoff implications. We’re back to square one, waiting to see what some of these admittedly intriguing pieces might be able to bring to the table. While it’s enough to pique my interest, it’s just not what it could’ve been…and that kinda sucks.

Let’s Go Hawks?

Hockey

Box Score 1 Box Score 2
Game Log 1 Game Log 2
Natural Stat Trick 1 Natural Stat Trick 2

 

Well this started out about as generously as could be expected given the how wide the gulf between these two teams currently is. There were extended stretches of both games where the Bolts were seemingly just playing with their food, rope-a-doping the Hawks into tiring themselves out and then immediately capitalizing on the slightest miscue and creating odd-man rushes going the other way with a single stride. This team is still favored to win this makeshift, slapdash division without Nikita Kucherov for a reason, as Andrei Vasilivskiy in particular barely broke a sweat in these two games, looking as locked in as he ever has. Of course, when Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter are the ones just tossing prayers in your direction, it’s certainly easy to look that way.

  • It has long been established that part of the style guide here is to avoid questioning drive, jump, effort, body language, COMPETE, whatever horse shit term anyone wants to use when analyzing a game. But this team certainly already looks like it is acutely aware that this is a lost season to be played in empty buildings amid a plague, and knows it is woefully outgunned. This couldn’t possibly speak to the fact that the coach is a mealy mouthed boy band reject who’s idea of a firey pregame speech is whispering from a toilet stall while his hall of fame captain stares daggers into the abyss because it’s clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which all COULD work, if there was any semblance of his tactics having on-ice results. Being a stomping redass with snot and spit flying everywhere as he screams isn’t a solution either.
  • Speaking of revolutionary defensive zone coverage, a fun game to play at home is to do a shot every time the Hawks are scored against while both defensemen are in the same corner. Don’t worry, during lockdown it’s “Airport Rules”  – no one is allowed to question why, when, how much, or what you’re drinking.
  • Especially guilty of the aforementioned crimes against hockey sensibilities is Nikita Zadorov, who appears to be the perfect storm of lunkheadedness, obliviousness, aggression, and having a lack of coherent structure from his coaching staff to be profoundly, tragically out of position at all times. It’s a good thing he’s paired with Adam Boqvist, who was already teetering on the brink of being broken by this organization.
  • Speaking of Boqvist (and Ian Mitchell), it’s clear that the tools are there for both of them, but it’s still very clear that these two are playing either scared to make a mistake, or in-between in their heads fighting their shotgunny instincts that made them prospects in the first place. And if every single mistake ends up in the back of the net and/or is subsequently punished, it could break these two young careers before they even start.
  • Boqvist in particular let his instincts show late last night when it was still 3-2, where he jumped down from the right point looking for a seam pass that obviously missed, and sprang a Bolts rush the other way that Ondrej Palat buried. But those are the type of chances the Hawks have not only got to live with, but encourage from Boqvist and Mitchell. His insticts were absolutely right, given that the passing lane was there and he was uncovered, and that within the context of the score and clock it was absolutely a judicious chance to take. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great idea, and that cannot be punished or coached out of him.
  • In another round of coaching brilliance, Coach Jeremy Trestman has got Andrew Shaw in the trigger man spot in the high slot/near the top of the rings on the first unit, with Dylan Strome in front. While the unit has scored twice (Game #1’s goal was…..yeah), it’s fairly safe to say that that spot is not where Andrew Shaw’s skill set is maximized. True Brain Genious/Cortex Warrior thinking here.
  • In net, while both Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia gave up five goals a piece, Delia looked sharper for the most part, making some more difficult saves even if him handling the puck is clearly an adventure. Don’t anticipate either distinguishing himself for a #1 workload any time soon, especially with what the defense in front of them is providing.
  • There is no reason at all that Philipp Kurashev shouldn’t be playing every single game, especially when the alternative is Brandon Pirri.
  • Pius Suter at least doesn’t look out of place here in the NHL, but it remains to be seen if he’s on trajectory to be just “a guy” or a contributor.

That’s about it for now, the Hawks visit old friend Joel and his Cats tomorrow night for their season opener as their first two games against Dallas got banged due to PESTILENCE. Maybe these games will be closer or the Hawks might win one, but don’t bet the stimulus check on it.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, may see some players departing via trade in the coming weeks. Whether you consider the Hawks buyers or sellers at this stage of the season, it would seem likely that some deals will be make before the February 26 trade deadline.

I’m thinking that one of those moves will involve defenseman Ville Pokka.

With a host of defensemen currently in Rockford, the young Finnish skater has seen himself in what must be an unfamiliar role in his IceHogs tenure. That would be that of a spectator.

In each of the last two seasons, Pokka has played in all 76 regular season contests. He played in the first 41 heading into a January 23 game with Bakersfield. Pokka was scratched that night before returning to action that weekend, which included a game-tying goal in an eventual win over Ontario.

The 23-year-old Pokka was not in uniform for Rockford this weekend. It is possible that he is injured. It also could be writing on the wall that Pokka’s days in the organization are numbered.

I can’t say that Pokka has been Rockford’s best defenseman this season. That said, he certainly hasn’t been bad. He is on his way to what should be his fourth 30-point season for the IceHogs. In Pokka’s four-year pro career in Rockford, he’s been a steady offensive player.

Though Pokka spent some time on Chicago’s roster this season, he did not see any game action for the Blackhawks. As is the case with other prospects, it may have been decided that the organization doesn’t see him as a fit moving forward.

Keep in mind that this is my speculation only, here. Maybe the kid’s hurt. Perhaps the team just wants to give Pokka a mid-season rest. However, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that there are several Hogs (Cody Franson, Gustav Forsling and Adam Clendening, for instance) who would rate call-ups before Pokka at this point.

Pokka has been one of coach Jeremy Colliton’s alternate captains for the bulk of the season. His game has been solid at the AHL level this season. It just may not be enough to get his foot in the door with Chicago. Pokka will definitely be a name to watch when the trade winds begin to blow.

 

Roster Happenings

On Thursday, the IceHogs recalled F Nathan Noel from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Noel, who has yet to suit up for Rockford, last played for the Fuel December 27.

This may be a case of the Blackhawks, to whom Noel is signed to an entry deal, wanting to have him rehab an injury closer to town. I would assume that if he was healthy Noel would have slotted into the fourth line this weekend. Instead, D Robin Norell continues to get minutes there. We may be waiting a while for Noel to make his Rockford debut.

D Luc Snuggerud made his return to the lineup this weekend after missing nearly two months of action. Goalie J.F. Berube, who has been practicing with the team of late, is still out. Berube has not played since suffering a lower-body injury December 9.

 

Weekend Woes

The IceHogs had themselves a rough weekend. A pair of losses dropped the piglets into a tie for fourth with Grand Rapids in the Central Division standings.

Friday, February 2-Manitoba 4, Rockford 3 (OT)

After a blowout loss to Manitoba in November, the effort was better but not quite enough to get both points from the visiting Moose.

Manitoba took a 1-0 lead on a Patrice Cormier power play goal. The IceHogs drew even late in the first when Anthony Louis slapped in a loose puck from the left circle past Moose goalie Eric Comrie at 17:44.

Rockford took a 2-1 lead 4:04 into the second period when Tyler Sikura put back a rebound of a Andreas Martinsen shot. Manitoba made it a 2-2 contest when Jan Kostalek got one past Hogs goalie Colin Delia at the 15:18 mark.

Midway through the third, some rapid-fire passing by the Manitoba power play resulted in a wide-open net for Brendan Lemieux to find the top shelf from the slot. Rockford now needed another rally. It got one by the skin of its teeth.

As it appeared that the Hogs would yank Delia for an extra skater, Luke Johnson brought the puck into Manitoba territory and got off a shot from the right circle. The puck squirted past Comrie and slid in tortoise-like fashion across the goal line to knot the game 3-3 with 1:58 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero, who had been denied in two breakaway opportunities earlier in the evening, had the game on his stick in Gus Macker Time. Alas, his attempt was snuffed out by Comrie. As so often happens in these affairs, this led to a rush the other way. Nic Petan fired past Delia and the game was over.

Delia faced 50 shots on the night, stopping 46 of them to pick up third star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Colin Delia

Power Play (0-2)

Highmore-Johnson-Hayden-Louis-Forsling

Kero-Sikura-Martinesen-Clendening-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 2-3)

Sikura-Pelletier-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Knott-Kero-Clendening-Forsling

Martinsen-Johnson-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Saturday, February 3-Chicago 7, Rockford 4

Things got ugly in the middle frame as four of eight Wolves shots found the back of the Hogs net, turning a 2-1 Rockford advantage into a blowout.

Chicago scored first, with Kevin Lough finishing an odd-man rush with a puck off the crossbar and into the net 8:02 into the game. Before the sands ran out on the first period, however, the IceHogs had gained the lead.

Paul Thompson was bringing the puck along the right boards in the Rockford zone when Alexandre Fortin made the steal. Fortin hit Tyler Sikura coming across the blueline and Sikura did the rest. Skating into Chicago territory, his shot attempt got under the pads of Wolves goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo. At 16:21, the game was tied at a goal apiece.

Two minutes later, William Pelletier caught up to a loose puck and made a nifty move to the Chicago net. Kaskisuo made the pad save, but Anthony Louis was on hand to shoot over the prone Wolves goalie, giving Rockford a 2-1 lead that they took into the locker room.

A Luke Johnson high-sticking double-minor gave the Wolves the chance to expose the IceHogs penalty kill. Brett Sterling connected with twine at 2:03 of the second period to tie the game 2-2.

From there, things got a little out of hand. Moments later, T.J. Tynan and Bryce Gervais worked a 2-on-1 to perfection, with Gervais besting Delia to put Chicago up 3-2 at the 2:59 mark. Shortly thereafter, a defensive turnover wound up in the back of Delia’s net, courtesy of Tyler Wong.

Late in the second, Jake Bischoff capped another successful Wolves power play, lighting the lamp from the point for a 5-2 Chicago lead. Delia, who allowed five goals on just 12 shots, gave way to Matt Tomkins when the teams came out for the final frame.

Early in the third, Adam Clendening lost the handle on the puck just inside the Wolves blueline. Mackenzie MacEachern took the gift, beating Tomkins on the breakaway to make it 6-2 Chicago. Minutes later, a re-direct by Teemu Pulkkinen gave the Wolves a 7-2 lead.

Rockford did get goals from Cody Franson and Andreas Martinsen in the extended garbage time that followed. The Wolves, however, won their 12th straight game at Allstate Arena with little difficulty.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Cody Franson-Carl Dahlstrom

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Colin Delia

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-2)

Highmore-Johnson-Hayden-Louis-Forsling

Kero-Sikura-Martinesen-Clendening-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 2-3)

Sikura-Pelletier-Dahlstrom-Franson

Knott-Kero-Clendening-Forsling

Martinsen-Johnson-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Coming Up…

The Hogs welcome San Antonio to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Wednesday night before spending the weekend with two familiar division opponents.

Rockford has yet to defeat the Rampage. In fact, they have been outscored 12-2 in three contests with San Antonio this season.

Friday, the IceHogs host Milwaukee, against whom they are 2-3-0-1 in 2017-18. The Admirals, who are 3-0 at the BMO this season, recently picked up former Rockford forward Mark McNeill, by the way.

Saturday night, its off to Des Moines and another tilt with the Iowa Wild. Iowa is third in the Central behind Manitoba and the surging Wolves. The Wild are also playing well, having won seven of their last ten games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get the occasional thought on the IceHogs throughout the season.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have hit the All-Star Break in their 2017-18 schedule. Rockford has the next few days to prepare for action Friday and Saturday. The AHL All-Star Classic is tonight. With two Hogs skaters participating, it’s as good as time as any to weigh in on the campaign thus far.

Surprise, surprise, a team of young prospects has been a little inconsistent in some areas of play through the first 46 games. One thing that has been a constant from this club, however, has been their level of compete.

Simply put, this team has battled hard for first-year coach Jeremy Colliton. Regardless of the score, they don’t pack it in. This has made them a very entertaining squad to watch. This trait also served them well this past week; twice Rockford rallied from third-period deficits to post wins.

The boys from ‘Bago County have a current mark of 24-17-2-3. That places them fourth in the Central Division standings. Rockford has as many regulation/overtime wins (19) as they had all of last season. Aside from first-place Manitoba, who the Hogs host Friday night, the Central is going to be a dog fight these last 30 games. Still, a spot in the postseason is well within reach.

The IceHogs are the least penalized team in the league, earning just 9.78 minutes in the sin bin per contest. The team has been disciplined, though the dearth of penalty minutes can be attributed to committing just six major penalties this season.

Rockford has been a better team at home (15-8-1-1) than on the road (9-9-1-2), but has kept its head above water when away from the BMO Harris Bank Center. After struggling mightily in games that stretched beyond regulation a season ago, the IceHogs are 4-2 in Gus Macker Time and have a 5-3 mark in shootouts.

The Hogs are scoring 3.15 goals per game. That’s tenth in the AHL. This is light years better that last year’s bunch, who depended way too much on greasy goals and were the worst offensive team in Rockford history.

Rookie Matthew Highmore, who is playing for the Central Division All-Star squad Monday, leads the IceHogs with 18 goals and 29 points. Six of those goals have come on the power play, which easily paces the team.

Tyler Sikura has provided surprising offensive punch for Rockford. His 12 goals are second to Highmore among active Hogs. Anthony Louis (7 G, 19 A) has been a steady offensive contributor, as has Andreas Martinsen (8 G, 12 A).

Luke Johnson has brought his game up in his second season, with nine goals and ten helpers. Both John Hayden and Tanner Kero have helped shoulder the offensive load since being sent to Rockford.

AHL All-Star Carl Dahlstrom has three goals and 20 assists to lead the blueline in scoring. Ville Pokka (21 points) and rookie Darren Raddysh (11 points) each have four goals to pace the defense.

Of the active Hogs, four have two game-winning goals-Highmore, Kero, Raddysh and William Pelletier (7 G, 10 A).

Colliton has preached a high-tempo style. His players haven’t disappointed in this department. Rockford is averaging 35.04 shots per game; that leads the AHL by over two shots more than division rivals Grand Rapids and Chicago.

The Hogs are giving up 3.02 goals per game. As you would expect from a team that is pushing hard to get pucks on the net, more than a few of those come back at them for prime scoring chances.

The play in goal has been vital to Rockford’s fortunes. It was very good to start the campaign. However, the IceHogs have been playing with a pair of rookies for almost a month after an injury to J.F. Berube and Jeff Glass being recalled to Chicago.

After some settling in, Colin Delia has played well for Rockford this past slate of games. If the Hogs can reach the playoffs, this last couple of weeks could well be the key stretch.

Delia and Matt Tomkins have been good enough for Rockford to compile a 7-6-1-2 record since Glass was recalled December 27. That’s far from dominating, but after starting 1-4, the rookies have held up and given the IceHogs a chance to win.

 

Special Teams

If Rockford can get a handle on this part of the game, it would be a big help. The power play has shown signs of life the last two weeks. However, the 12.4% conversion rate is still the AHL’s worst. The IceHogs have also surrendered seven shorthanded goals.

The penalty kill is not faring much better. Rockford has stopped just 78.7% of opponents power plays. They are 28th out of 30 teams in this category. Sikura has two of the IceHogs five shorthanded goals.

 

Odds And Ends

Rockford still does not have a captain.

Berube appears to be nearing a return, as is defenseman Luc Snuggerud. Both have been practicing.

Rockford sent F Tommy Olczyk, who skated in Grand Rapids for the Hogs January 20, back to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel.

 

The Bottom Line

This has been a streaky team, which is what I expected to see when previewing Rockford back in the fall. The Hogs have a pair of four-game win streaks this season and two three-game win streaks. They currently have points in nine of their last 11 games.

Rockford also have lost four straight on two occasions this season. Throughout it all, however, the Hogs have continued to play hard right up to the horn. This is a group that could go on a tear in the playoffs…should they make the playoffs.

The piglets have a road-heavy schedule and will have to keep earning points to stay with the pack in the middle of the division. It will likely come down the final week of the season in terms of making the postseason field.

Getting Berube back should be a boost, as will recently acquired D Adam Clendening, who adds AHL experience and offense from the blueline. There will be some roster turnover as the trade deadline looms, for better or worse.

Can this team make the top four in the Central and keep playing hockey this spring? With the motor I’ve seen from this group, I would say yes.

Recaps

Tuesday, January 23-Rockford 4, Bakersfield 1

A big third period was the catalyst for the Hogs win in their return to the BMO Harris Bank Center after a two-week road jaunt.

A Dillon Simpson goal 7:29 into the game was all the scoring through the first 40 minutes. This, despite the IceHogs tossing 30 shots on goal to that point. The cover would come off the Condors net early in the final frame, however.

As a 4-on-4 session was wrapping up, Andreas Martinsen gathered in a Matthew Highmore pass and skated into the Bakersfield zone. Swooping toward the left post, Martinsen got to the bottom of the left circle before flipping a shot high to the short side of the cage. Condors goalie Laurent Brossoit couldn’t keep it from cuing the horn, tying the score at a goal apiece 48 seconds in to period three.

The game-winner came at 7:38 on a pretty piece of work that started with Tanner Kero digging a puck out of the corner of the offensive zone. William Pelletier gathered the biscuit before backhanding a pass to Anthony Louis. Weaving to the top of the crease, Louis hit Kero in front of the net to complete the scoring play.

Up 2-1, Rockford extended the advantage on an unassisted goal by new arrival Gustav Forsling. Picking off Brossoit’s clearing attempt in the neutral zone, Forsling skated across the Condors blue line. Firing from the high slot, his shot zipped under Brossoit’s glove for a 3-1 Hogs lead at 8:27 of the third. Adam Clendening completed the scoring for Rockford, clearing the puck he length of the ice and into an empty net in the final minutes.

Colin Delia got stingy after the early Bakersfield goal, stopping 23 of 24 shots on the night to pick up his fifth win of the season. Forsling and Delia were the first and second stars of the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Darren Raddysh-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, Ville Pokka, J.F. Berube

Power Play (0-5)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Condors were 0-1)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Friday, January 26-Rockford 3, Ontario 2 (OT)

In the pink glow of Rockford’s annual cancer awareness game, the Hogs put on another rally for the BMO faithful. This time, Rockford came back from two goals down, tied the game in the closing seconds, and beat the Reign to sweep the season series between the two squads.

Jonny Brodzinski tipped in a Sean Walker shot to give Ontario a 1-0 lead 6:04 into the game. It stayed that way until the waning portion of the middle frame, when the IceHogs appeared to have blown a golden opportunity to draw even.

Penalties by Jamie Devane and Paul LaDue resulted in Rockford receiving a two-man advantage with 3:29 remaining in the period. Unfortunately, Tyler Sikura was called for interference after winning the resulting offensive zone draw.

Now with a 4-on-3 power play, Rockford lost the draw down at the other end. The Reign promptly doubled their lead when Brett Sutter slid a long-distance shot past Hogs goalie Colin Delia. At 16:37 of the second, Rockford was down a pair. However, Delia tightened his belt and the piglets got to work.

As their 4-on-3 was running out, Cody Franson got a shot on net that rebounded off of the pads of Reign goalie Jack Campbell. John Hayden was on hand in front of the net to poke it across the goal line to get Rockford back within a goal at 18:24 of the second.

The Hogs had several decent chances to pot the equalizer during their third period push. Campbell was up to the task for the first dozen Rockford attempts. Jeremy Colliton brought Delia to the bench with nearly three minutes remaining in the contest. A risky move, for sure, but it would pay off.

Ville Pokka one-timed an offering from Carl Dahlstrom at the top of the left circle. With Luke Johnson coming across the crease to screen the goalie, the puck got under Campbell’s pads and slid into the Ontario cage with 15 seconds remaining to make it a 2-2 game.

Johnson would drive the game-winner home to complete the comeback in Gus Macker Time. Taking a pass from Adam Clendening, Johnson looped up to the right circle as a Justin Auger and Andrew Crescenzi ran into each other while trying to make a defensive switch.

Johnson skated to the right dot unchecked, then fired a shot that caught the far side of Campbell’s net, ending the contest in the IceHogs favor 1:59 into the extra session.

Johnson (first), Pokka (second) and Campbell (third, 39 saves) were the game’s three stars, though Delia deserves a stick tap for another solid effort. He stopped 31 of 33 shots and kept Rockford within striking distance for most of the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Ville Pokka-Carl Dahlstrom

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, Darren Raddysh, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-3, gave up 4-on-3 shorty)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Ontario was 0-2)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Saturday, January 27-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 1

Rockford scored the first goal of the game but that was all the offense the Hogs could muster at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins limited Rockford to just 17 shots, pulling away with three second-period goals.

The IceHogs goal came late in the first period. Williiam Pelletier brought the biscuit across the Griffins blueline and centered to Anthony Louis, who couldn’t initially come up with the puck. It hopped toward the left circle, where Louis collected it before beating Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau at 18:06 for a 1-0 Rockford lead.

That was it as far as IceHogs highlights. Matt Puempel hammered in a power play shot to the far side of Matt Tomkins net to tie the game 1-1 2:56 into the second. Midway though the period, John Hayden surrendered the puck to Brian Lashoff in the corner of the Hogs zone. Lashoff skated below the goal line and banked the eventual game-winner off Tomkins and into the cage at 11:17.

Hayden did some shoving in front of the Grand Rapids net a few minutes later. Turner Elson jumped into the fray and the two engaged in a brief scuffle that saw some jabs from the Griffins forward and a wild right by Hayden. Call it a draw.

At the 15:25 mark, Eric Tangradi set up Evgeny Svechnikov in the high slot. Tomkins couln’t track the one-timer quickly enough, and the Griffins led 3-1 after 40 minutes. Matthew Ford would complete the scoring for Grand Rapids with a put-back goal at 16:57 of the third period.

No lines for this one; I was out of town and didn’t have time. Cody Franson left this game and did not return. Colliton dressed seven defensemen and skated Robin Norrell at forward in what has been a regular gig for him.

 

Weekend Preview

Friday night, Rockford will get a chance to atone for a 8-1 spanking at the hands of Manitoba on November 28 when the Moose visit the BMO for the second time this season.

Manitoba comes bearing the league’s best offense (3.66 goals per game) to go with the second-best defense (2.39 goals allowed per game). They’ve cooled a bit, but the Moose won their last three games going into the All-Star break, outscoring their opponents 13-4.

The Manitoba roster boasts four players who have notched 30-plus points this season. They are led by rookie Mason Appleton (15 G, 26 A). D Cameron Schilling, a former IceHog, is having a career season (5 G, 19 A). He is second among Moose defensemen in scoring behind rookie Sami Niku (8 G, 21 A).

This will be a tough team to hang with, let alone beat. Rockford’s post-break schedule definitely begins with a test.

Saturday, the Hogs head east on I-90 for a friendly bit of Illinois Lottery Cup fun with the Chicago Wolves. Cup aside, Rockford needs a win over the Wolves, who currently sit one spot above the IceHogs in the division standings.

Rockford is 3-3 against Chicago in 2017-18, but has yet to claim a victory at Allstate Arena this season.

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

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs squad that returns to action at the BMO Harris Bank Center is going to look a little different than the team that hit the road a couple of weeks ago.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate had some roster changes over the course of a six-game road trip. Several of those players factored into what was a pretty successful jaunt away from home.

Rockford fared pretty well on the trip, winning three of the games and picking up points in two others. This week, the Hogs split a pair with Cleveland before dropping Saturday’s game with Grand Rapids. Considering some roster turnover and two rookie net-minders, the results were heartening.

Those rookie goalies stepped up and played well in this week’s games. Colin Delia has a 2.40 GAA and a .925 save percentage in his last four starts. Matt Tomkins picked up his first AHL victory Friday night in Cleveland, stopping 32 of 35 shots to beat the Monsters.

Currently, the IceHogs (22-16-2-3) are still in third place in the Central Division, just behind Iowa, just ahead of Milwaukee and even with Chicago. The four teams are nip and tuck for the second through fifth spots in the division.

 

Changing Faces (Sort Of)

Defensively, Rockford has a very different look with the additions of Cody Franson and Adam Clendening. John Hayden adds a more physical dimension to the forward lines. All three players have figured into the scoring column since joining the team.

Clendening has assists in three of the five games he’s spent in his second tour with Rockford. He has moved onto the Hogs power play unit, which scored twice in four chances this week. Clendening should fit right into the fast-paced style coach Jeremy Colliton wants to play.

Franson has taken a leadership role with this young group of skaters. He seems to be commanding the respect of his teammates. The 6’5″ Franson also forms a lengthy blue line tandem with 6’9″ Viktor Svedberg.

Hayden has certainly made an impact around the net, with five points (2 G, 3 A) in the six games he’s spent with Rockford since Chicago sent him down. Hayden will benefit from an bigger role with the IceHogs; Rockford should also see positive returns.

On Friday, Rockford assigned D Brandon Anselmini to the Indy Fuel and called up F Tommy Olczyk, who made his Hogs debut Saturday in Grand Rapids. Sunday, Chicago sent defenseman Gustav Forsling to Rockford, which presents a bit of a quandary…

 

Log Jam On The Blue Line

The addition of Forsling gives Rockford the following defensemen on the roster: Forsling, Franson, Clendening, Svedberg, Ville Pokka, Carl Dahlstrom, Robin Norell, Luc Snuggerud, and Darren Raddysh. Eight of those players are on NHL contracts with the Blackhawks (Raddysh being on an AHL deal).

Norell has been skating as a forward in the last several games, otherwise he’d be firmly seated in the team box. Snuggerud is nearing a return from an injury and needs playing time. The Hawks didn’t send Forsling down to sit. How is Colliton going to divvy up the minutes?

Raddysh would appear to be the odd man out if the roster remains as is. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sent to Indy…unless another defenseman is moved in a trade. That seems more plausible than Chicago recalling someone to be an eighth defenseman.

I wouldn’t expect to see this situation linger for too long. Franson is looking for a spot on an NHL roster. Clendening is well traveled. Svedberg and Pokka could be throw-ins to a deadline deal. Hey, maybe Norell gets a extended look up front (though I don’t see the benefit of such a move).

 

Recaps

Wednesday, January 17-Cleveland 4, Rockford 3 (SO)

The IceHogs rallied from a pair down but saw a big overtime chance pass them by and left the second point on the table. Still, Rockford stretched its point streak to six games.

The Hogs opened the scoring 5:45 into the game when Graham Knott turned a broken play into his second goal of the season. As he brought a puck out of the defensive zone, Viktor Svedberg had fired a pass that didn’t connect with the rookie forward.

However, the puck came off the right half boards and slid into Monsters territory and toward the crease. Knott caught up to the loose puck and got a shot on net. Cleveland goalie Matiss Kivelnieks made the stop but the rebound glanced off of Monters defenseman Garret Cockerill and into the goal.

Cleveland tied the game late in the opening period on a Zac Dalpe goal, then took a 3-1 advantage in the first half of the sandwich stanza. Dalpe struck again, this time on the power play at the 9:03 mark. Brady Austin then provided the two-goal lead when his floater got by Rockford goalie Colin Delia.

Rockford closed to within a goal late in the period. Tanner Kero got the play started by swiping a puck on the fore check. He got the turnover to Anthoy Louis, who skated left to right before backhanding a top shelf attempt past Kivelnieks at 18:08.

The IceHogs came up with the equalizer 8:45 into the third when Luke Johnson finished off a nice bit of hustle by Hayden. The former Yale captain got a stick on an attempted outlet pass by Kivelnieks and followed the block behind the net. Flipping the puck to the left post, Johnson was on hand to tap it past the Cleveland goalie, making it 3-3.

The score remained tied through the end of regulation. Rockford had a tremendous chance when Monsters defenseman Dean Kukan fell down in Gus Macker Time. Louis and William Pelletier came down the ice with only Kivlenieks between them and a win. Louis got a return pass from Pelletier and had a wide open net.

Unfortunately for Rockford, Louis was nearly past the net when he got the puck. His attempt to complete the tough-angle shot was wide and this game would be decided by a shootout.

Dalpe converted for Cleveland in the first round, Louis for the Hogs in the second. It took an extra round to settle the matter after Alex Broadhurst and Svedberg were stopped in round three. Terry Broadhurst got a puck by Delia that would give the second point to the Monsters.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Andrea Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Collin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, J.F. Berube

The Hogs did not have a power play opportunity tonight. This may be the first time I’ve had to write this.

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 1-3)

Highmore-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Hayden-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Knott-Raddysh-Clendening

 

Friday, January 19-Rockford 4, Cleveland 3

Again, the Hogs had to dig themselves out of a two-goal hole. Three marks in the final 20 minutes did the trick, giving Rockford the victory over the Monsters.

Cameron Gaunce took advantage of a broken play by the Monsters, banging in a loose puck in the slot to put Cleveland up 1-0 9:43 into the first period. Just 24 seconds into the middle frame, Terry Broadhurst picked the pocket of Adam Clendening and sprung Zac Dalpe on a 2-on-1. Dalpe kept the puck and fired past Hogs goal tender Matt Tomkins to make it 2-0 Monsters.

After being badly outplayed in the opening 20 minutes, Rockford got down to the business of getting back in the contest. The power play got things started.

Clendening slid a pass to the stick of Cody Franson, who one-timed the puck to the net. Cleveland goalie Matiss Kivlenieks made the initial save, but Andrea Martinsen was in front of the net to finish the scoring play at the 7:11 mark.

The IceHogs rally kicked into full gear in the third. John Hayden took an entry pass from Matthew Highmore down the left halfboards, into the corner and back up the boards. He was at the outside hash marks of the left circle when he turned and fired on net. Highmore was there for the screen, allowing the shot to sneak by Kivlenieks and draw Rockford even 6:38 into the final frame.

Hayden returned the favor to Highmore a few minutes later. Entering the Cleveland zone, Hayden backhanded the puck behind him to Highmore at the top of the left circle. Highmore’s aim was true and The Hogs had a 3-2 advantage at the 11:16 mark.

The Monsters yanked Kivlenieks with just under three minutes to play for an extra skater. In clearing a puck from the Rockford zone, William Pelletier’s backhanded fling caromed off the boards for a long-distance empty-netter that made it 4-2 with 2:19 to play.

Alex Broadhurst potted a 6-on-5 goal 17 seconds later, but that was as close as Cleveland could get. The IceHogs posted the win, stretching their point streak to seven games. Tomkins got his first AHL victory, making 32 saves to do so. Highmore nabbed the game’s First Star honors, while Gaunce and Martinsen rounded out the top three.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Andrea Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-2)

Hayden-Martinsen-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Kero-Highmore-Johnson-Louis-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Hayden-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Knott-Raddysh-Clendening

 

Saturday, January 20-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 3

The end of the road trip saw the only regulation loss for Rockford. As has been the case throughout the season, the Hogs kept at Grand Rapids even when trailing by a pair late. Getting a point at Van Andel Arena just wasn’t in the cards on this night, though.

The IceHogs got an early power play when Anthony Louis was taken down by Turner Elson in the opening minute. John Hayden got a behind the net feed by Tyler Sikura and got the puck by Griffins goalie Jared Coreau at the 1:22 mark.

Grand Rapids quickly answered with a Eric Tangradi tally 14 seconds later. The action was back and forth, though neither club could break the tie in the opening 20 minutes.

The action remained even through most of the second period until Matt Peumpel struck for the Griffins while on the man advantage. His goal at 17:39 gave Grand Rapids a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.

Rockford tied the game 4:21 into the third on Tanner Kero’s redirect of an Adam Clendening shot. The elation was short-lived, however. Dominic Shine restored the Griffins advantage 21 seconds later to go up 3-2. A couple minutes later in 4-on-4 action, Robbie Russo found himself wide open in the slot. Taking his sweet time, Russo made it 4-2 Grand Rapids at the 7:26 mark.

The Hogs continued to battle and got within a goal in the last minute. This time, it was Tyler Sikura getting a stick on a Clendening blast to make it 4-3 with 38 seconds remaining. Time ran out on Rockford, however, snapping a seven-game point streak and ending the road trip on a losing note.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Andrea Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Tommy Olczyk

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Alex Wideman, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-2)

Hayden-Martinsen-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Kero-Highmore-Johnson-Louis-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Griffins were 0-4)

Highmore-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Hayden-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Knott-Raddysh-Clendening

 

This Week

Rockford will host two of the California teams the Hogs visited two weeks hence. Bakersfield comes to the BMO on Tuesday night, while the annual Pink In The Rink game will be against Ontario Friday night.

The IceHogs dropped their game against the Condors in Gus Macker Time by a score of 3-2. Ty Rattie is a potent AHL scorer; he had a late equalizer in regulation in that contest and potted the game-winner as well. Rattie has 16 goals and 13 apples to pace Bakersfield this season.

Grayson Downing, who Rockford fans have seen plenty while he was with Iowa, had a three-point night in the Condor’s win. Bakersfield is at the bottom of the Pacific Division, though that didn’t prevent them from knocking off the IceHogs January 13.

Rockford bested Ontario 5-2 back on January 10, paced by William Pelletier’s hat trick. The Reign have won four of their last five games, including a weekend sweep of Stockton. Park Ridge native Michael Mersch is Ontario’s active leading scorer (14 G, 14 A), while NHL veteran Matt Moulson has six goals and 20 helpers in 20 games with the Reign.

Saturday night sees Rockford back at Van Andel Arena for another division game with Grand Rapids. The Griffins, winners of seven of their last ten games, have won the previous two contests between the teams.

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

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs found success in the first half of a six-game road trip, taking five of six points on their California jaunt this past week. With some new faces in the mix, Rockford remained in the playoff hunt in the AHL’s Central Division.

The Hogs sit third in the division standings as of this past weekend’s action, thanks in part to improved play in the crease and a red-hot Tyler Sikura.

Sikura, who has been a solid bottom-six contributor for Rockford all season, has exploded for eight goals and an asssist in his last ten contests. In California, Sikura stretched his current goal streak to five games.

Sikura is in his third season of pro hockey after a college career at Dartmouth. Before joining the IceHogs this summer, he had shown to be a good point producer at the ECHL level. However, Sikura had yet to register a point in 22 AHL games with three different clubs.

Sikura’s success follows a pretty simple formula; hustle to loose pucks and get to the front of the net. He’s shown a real knack for the redirect the last few weeks and has gotten his shot through in leading odd-man rushes up the ice.

Sikura leads the IceHogs with a 19.6 shot percentage. Its hard to see him hitting at that rate throughout the season, but I’m guessing the hard work Sikura displays on a nightly basis will continue.

Hogs rookie goalie Colin Delia is a California native and gave the hometown fans reason to cheer. His 33-save Wednesday night in Ontario was easily his finest performance to date in a Rockford sweater. Delia followed up that 5-2 victory over the Reign with a 4-2 win in San Jose Friday night.

Matt Tomkins suffered an overtime loss to Bakersfield on Saturday, but turned in a 32-save effort in a 3-2 defeat. With no change on the organization’s goalie situation, it is great to see the youngsters stepping up.

 

Iacopelli Shoots, He Scores…And Sometimes Sits

Another Hogs skater hitting twine with frequency is rookie Matheson Iacopelli. The former Western Michigan forward is showcasing his lethal shot to the tune of nine goals and seven assists for Rockford. Iacopelli just doesn’t get to showcase that shot as often as other piglets.

Chicago’s third-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft has been a frequent healthy scratch for the Hogs this season. Iacopelli is definitely the low man on the totem pole despite his offensive acumen; he’s dressed in 30 of Rockford’s 40 games.

This is not to be unexpected; this year’s roster is loaded with prospects and someone has to sit most nights. On a team built around speed, Iacopelli’s skating ability is in need of improvement. He does have a bit of trouble creating space for himself in AHL action. On the other hand, he has a shot that generates scoring chances and is a plus-seven on the campaign so far.

Iacopelli has sat for an extra defenseman a couple of times this season. On Saturday, Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton elected to skate D Robin Norell as a forward in lieu of Iacopelli. This, after he had swiped a puck and scored in the win over San Jose the previous evening.

On a team with fewer prospects in the lineup, Iacopelli might be getting a ton of power play minutes and a spot on a scoring line. Right now, he’ll have to continue to make do with the ice time he’s getting.

 

Roster Movement

The week started with Tomas Jurco and John Hayden flipping places in the organization; Hayden was sent to Rockford, with Jurco moving up to the Blackhawks. Rockford sent D Robin Press to the Indy Fuel and recalled AHL contract F Alex Wideman.

After clearing waivers, D Cody Franson was assigned to the IceHogs Tuesday, with Erik Gustafsson moving up the ladder to the Hawks. The next day, Chicago’s trade with Arizona resulted in Laurent Dauphin returning to the Coyotes organization and D Adam Clendening rejoining the team he skated for from 2012 to 2015.

Clendening’s best Rockford season was 2013-14, when he notched a 59-point (12 G, 47 A) campaign. He has spent parts of four seasons with NHL clubs, including 31 games with the Rangers last year. He was with the Coyotes for five games this fall but had spent most of 2017-18 in AHL Tuscon, where Clendening had a goal and four assists.

 

California Recaps

Gonna be a bit sparse, as time and other commitments results in a line-less look this week:

  • William Pelletier highlighted Rockford’s 5-2 win in Ontario Wednesday with his first pro hat-trick. Delia was awesome (33 saves) and Viktor Svedberg potted the game-winner. Tyler Sikura won a race for a loose puck and got himself a shorty for the effort.
  • The Hogs fired 42 shots at the San Jose Barracuda, winning 4-2. Rockford was paced by two goals by Tanner Kero, including a power play strike late in the contest assisted by recent acquisition Adam Clendening. Sikura and Matheson Iacopelli also scored for the Hogs.
  • Second period goals by Sikura and Carl Dahlstrom had Rockford in position to sweep the week. Bakersfield’s Ty Rattie, a former Chicago Wolves thorn in the Hogs side, tied the game midway through the third. Rattie then won it for the Condors in the closing minute of Gus Macker Time after Rockford just missed on several attempts.

Three games, two wins, five points. Couldn’t ask for much more than that. If Rockford can wind up in the postseason this spring, you can point to this week’s performance as a reason.

 

This Week

The IceHogs are camping out in Cleveland this week, with games at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday and Friday night. Saturday, Rockford closes out the road trip in Grand Rapids.

The Monsters and Rockford have split four meetings this season, including a pair in Rockford two weeks ago. Former IceHogs Alex and Terry Broadhurst each have a pair of goals against Rockford in the prior match ups.

Rockford is 6-1 vs the Griffins in 2017-18, though the Hogs dropped the last meeting between the two teams January 5 at Van Andel Arena.

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, will be embarking on a pivotal road trip this week. At six games, it is the longest time away from the BMO Harris Bank Center this season.

This is a key stretch; after a very friendly schedule to begin the season, the piglets are going to have to get it done in the opposition’s barn for a while. With two rookie goalies still trying to get acclimated to AHL competition, Rockford is in danger of dovetailing out of playoff contention.

In what is proving to be quite the log jam behind Central Division-leading Manitoba, Rockford is finding themselves drifting down the ladder. The Hogs started the week in second place. As of Monday morning, they’re in fifth following a 1-2-0-1 week.

The play in net has been inconsistent. After Jeff Glass’s promotion to the Hawks, Rockford has won just twice in its last seven games. Rockford’s young club has grown accustomed to a bit of a Get Out Of Jail Free card behind them. That is not going to be the case as this road trip begins.

The IceHogs power play has perked up, with goals in each game of what was the team’s final three-in-three stretch of the campaign. However, the penalty kill gave up five goals in 11 opportunities for the opposition. The Hogs also surrendered a key shorthanded goal to Milwaukee Sunday that cost them a point in what became a shootout loss to the Admirals.

The youngsters have fared well in the first half of the 2017-18 season. Now comes a real gut-check of a second half…hop on the bus, Gus.

Rockford will be playing 24 of its final 39 games as the visiting team from now until the regular season ends. The Hogs are 6-7-0-1 on the road heading into action this week. For this team to nab a spot in the playoffs, they will have to be better than that.

The trip begins with a California swing that will see Rockford play three games in four days. First up is Ontario on Wednesday night. The IceHogs next visit San Jose and Bakersfield on Friday and Saturday.

Coincidentally, the Reign, Barracuda and Condors occupy the last three spots in the AHL’s Pacific Division right now. Battling cellar-dwellers isn’t all its cracked up to be; Rockford managed just one win in three games with Cleveland and Grand Rapids.

Next week, Rockford visits Cleveland on January 17 and 19 before wrapping up the trip in Grand Rapids. The boys will likely return to Rockford for a few days following the return from the coast, so it won’t be quite as demanding as it sounds.

However, Chicago (and Milwaukee to a lesser extent) is surging right now. Grand Rapids is starting to put together wins. The results of this jaunt could factor into playoff potential for the IceHogs in a few months.

 

Nay, Cap’n?

We are well into the fourth month of the season and Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton has yet to announce a captain for his club. Will Colliton find leadership out on the road?

At home, the “A”s have been on the sweaters of Laurent Dauphin, Ville Pokka and Luke Johnson.

On the road, the “A”s have been worn by Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg and Andreas Martinsen.

This week, the latter group wore the letters on Tuesday (home game), Friday (road game) and Saturday (home game). On Sunday (home game), the regular home group displayed letters.

Wrinkle: The red sweaters, usually worn on the road, were used on the aforementioned games Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday, Rockford wore the alternate sweaters. Maybe they just didn’t want to take the letters off.

Seems like the team leaders should have emerged by this point. Maybe someone upgrades to a “C” when the team returns to the BMO. Stay tuned.

 

All Stars Named

Two Rockford skaters were named to the Central Division squad for the 2018 All-Star Classic, to be held January 28-29. Well…one Rockford skater and one Blackhawks skater.

Erik Gustafsson will be making his first appearance in the event. Vinnie Hinostroza will likely need a substitute for his spot on the team, unless the Hawks send him back to Rockford before the end of the month. Hey…how about Matthew Highmore? The rookie leads Rockford in points (26) and goals (17).

 

Roster Happenings

No movement from the Hogs this past week. I’d think a recall might be in order this week, though.

Rockford has been skating with 12 forwards on the current roster since David Kampf was recalled to Chicago. Alexandre Fortin was a late scratch on Sunday; it might be beneficial to have an extra forward for the road trip.

Luc Snuggerud has still not returned to the lineup. He’s been out since December 8. Carl Dahlstrom was also a scratch Sunday. Rockford still has seven healthy defensemen if both Snuggerud and Dahlstrom are unavailable.

A return hasn’t been announced for injured goalie J.F. Berube; I’m guessing he will not be ready to play in California and sits out that half of the trip.

 

Recaps

Tuesday, January 2-Cleveland 4, Rockford 1

A pair of former IceHogs factored heavily in the Monsters coming to town and handing Rockford its third straight loss. Local products Alex and Terry Broadhurst have four of Cleveland’s seven goals against the IceHogs this season. Three of those came Tuesday for the last-place Monsters.

Cleveland got the scoring started when Terry Broadhurst got an open look in front of Hogs goalie Colin Delia in the opening minutes. Delia made the pad save, but the rebound came right back to Broadhurst and the second attempt got over that left pad an into the net at the 3:23 mark.

Rockford had several chances to even the score. Alexandre Fortin got a stretch pass and was way behind the defense. However, his backhand attempt was snuffed out by Cleveland rookie goalie Matiss Kivelnieks. The IceHogs had two power plays in the first 20 minutes but squandered both chances.The Monsters led 1-0 through the first period.

Rockford would whiff on another man advantage midway through the second before Laurent Dauphin was sent to the box. The Monsters power play, worst in the league headed into the contest, came up with a goal at 11: 14 of the second when Paul Bittner stuck back a rebound of Alex Broadhurst’s attempt.

The Hogs trailed 2-0 for most of the remainder of the game. With 3:44 left in the final period, Tomas Jurco tossed the puck toward Kivelnieks from the left corner of the offensive zone. The tough-angle shot struck the Cleveland goalie and settled into the net.

The hope of tying the game prompted Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton to pull Delia in the final minutes. Terry Broadhurst outraced Anthony Louis for a loose puck and poked it down the ice into the empty net to put Cleveland up 3-1 with 1:18 remaining.

Colliton brought Delia to the bench again; this time Alex Broadhurst was the recipient of an empty net after catching up to Brady Austin’s clearing pass. Broadhust guided the puck into the Hogs net with 15 seconds remaining.

Delia had his best night since being called up to the IceHogs. He wasn’t spectacular but turned in a solid effort, stopping 22 of the 24 shots he faced. Most nights, that would have been enough to earn a win. Just not on this night.

Kivelnieks’s 35-save performance earned him the game’s first star, followed by Terry (2 G) and Alex (1 G, 2 A) Broadhurst.

Lines (Starters in italics; Rockford went with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin

Erik Gustafsson (A)-Darren Raddysh

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg (A))

Brandon Anselmini

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Matheson Iacopelli , Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Cleveland was 1-1)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Friday, January 5-Grand Rapids 5, Rockford 3

Grand Rapids got the scoring started midway through the first with a wide open back door conversion on the power play. The fireworks came in the middle frame.

The Hogs and Griffins traded goals three times, starting two minutes into the second with a Dominik Shine tally. Just seconds later, Matheson Iacopelli  and Graham Knott played a little patty cake on a 2-on-1 rush, culminating in Iacopelli’s seventh goal of the season at 2:17.

IceHogs goalie Colin Delia misplayed a puck behind his own net following the center ice faceoff. As happens in these situations, it would up in the back of his net, courtesy of Ben Street at 2:28 of the second.

The Griffins committed their own gaffe a few minutes later, turning the puck over between the circles in their own zone. Iacopelli was there to collect the gift. The rookie victimized the stick side of Grand Rapids goalie Jaren Coreau for the second time of the night, cutting the Griffins lead to 3-2 at 5:01 of the second.

Another misplay by Delia, this time off a Street shot, slid to Eric Tangradi at the right post. The veteran Griffins forward slid the offering across the goal line at 7:13 for a 4-2 Grand Rapids advantage.

Rockford returned fire with a power play goal at the 14:05 mark. The score was set up by an Erik Gustafsson blast from the point that rebounded off Coreau. Matthew Highmore was on the scene in front of the Griffins net to knock the puck in to close the gap to 4-3. That score held up into the second intermission.

Street’s second goal of the evening, a power play tally at 12:01 of the third, proved to be the nail in the Hogs coffin. Rockford threw 17 shots at Coreau in the final 20 minutes, but no dice.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka

Erik Gustafsson (A)-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg (A))

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-2)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 0-2)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Saturday, January 6-Rockford 4, Cleveland 3 (SO)

Down two goals early, Rockford was able to rally to win the rematch with the Monsters at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Sam Kurker and Zac Dalpe put Cleveland ahead 2-0 in the first period. Before the night got away from the Hogs, the Rockford power play got a puck behind Joonas Korpisalo. Erik Gustafsson sent a shot from the top of the right circle that the Monsters goalie stopped. Matthew Highmore and Tanner Kero took whacks at the loose puck until Tomas Jurco collected it at the extended goal line. His shot caught cord at 18:18 of the first period; Rockford skated into the locker room down 2-1.

The Hogs tied the game 15 seconds into the second when Highmore redirected a Gustafsson blast into the Griffins net. The 2-2 score held up until the midway point of the game. Cleveland forced a turnover in the IceHogs zone after Rockford had scored a clean faceoff win. Cameron Gaunce one-timed a Carter Camper set up past Colin Delia to put the Monsters up 3-2 at the 10:42 mark.

Rockford evened the score again five minutes later. Laurent Dauphin came in ahead of the Cleveland defense to get a puck on net. Korpisalo knocked it aside, but Tyler Sikura was on hand to collect the rebound in the right corner along the goal line. Sikura’s shot eluded Korpisalo and made it 3-3 at 15:51 of the second.

Neither team could manage a goal in the third period or overtime. In fact, the only shot that made it across a goal line came from the stick of Anthony Louis, who beat Korpisalo in the opening round of the shootout. Delia held off attempts from Dalpe and Terry and Alex Broadhurst to give Rockford the victory.

Highmore, Jurco and Alex Broadhurst were named the game’s three stars, but Delia deserves recognition in what may have been his strongest game to date in the IceHogs net. Delia stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced, including a couple of big stops late in the game to keep the score even.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka

Erik Gustafsson (A)-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg (A))

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-6)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Griffins were 2-4)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Sunday, January 7-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 4 (SO)

Rockford failed to hold on to a late advantage, picking up a single point but falling to the Admirals in the shooting competition.

The power play got the Hogs started on the scoreboard midway through the opening period. As the clock wound down on the man advantage, Tomas Jurco took a pass from Anthony Louis at he top of the left circle. He worked his way toward the faceoff dot before snapping home a winner past Ads goalie Anders Lindback at 10:35 of the first.

Rockford started the second period up 1-0 and on a power play, nearly scoring early in the period. However, some sloppy play in the neutral zone allowed a shorthanded break the other way. Mark Zengerle had a free look in the slot, beating Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins high to tie the game 1-1 at 1:26 of the middle frame.

The IceHogs regained the lead 12:07 into the period. Viktor Svedberg skated the puck out of his zone and all the way to the Admirals goal line. His backhanded centering attempt was knocked into the Milwaukee net by Matthew Highmore for a 2-1 Rockford advantage at 12:07.

Former Hogs forward Cody Bass brought the Admirals back to even about four minutes later, when he batted in a floating puck off the crossbar and into the Rockford cage. The officials took a long look at the replay before upholding the goal call on the ice. That made it 2-2 at the 16:03 mark; the score held up as the buzzer ended the second period.

Milwaukee grabbed a 3-2 lead on a Bobby Butler power play goal 1:10 into the third. This time, it was Rockford’s turn to reply. They did at the 5:28 mark when William Pelletier jumped on a Milwaukee turnover and fired past Lindback in the slot. The puck hit the left post, but Tanner Kero was there to knock it into the net for a 3-3 tie.

It looked as if the IceHogs were going to come away with a win after Tyler Sikura’s terrific redirect effort of Matheson Iacopelli’s shot attempt. The score put Rockford up 4-3 at 17:08 of the third period. However, with 58 seconds remaining and Lindback on the bench, Butler stuck in a rebound to knot the game at four goals.

Milwaukee, shooting second after neither team could end the contest in overtime, got a first-round goal from Justin Kirkland. Jurco, Rockford’s third shooter, hit on a backhand attempt. Harry Zolnierczyk beat Tomkins on the Ads final shot to claim the win for the visitors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson-Tomas Jurco

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Laurent Dauphin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Graham Knott-Matheson Iacopelli

Erik Gustafsson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka

Darren Raddysh-Brandon Anselmini

Robin Press

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Alexandre Fortin, Jordin Tootoo, Carl Dahlstrom, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Penalty Kill (Admirals were 1-4)

Highmore-Kero-Pokka-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Pokka-Svedberg

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have an attendance problem. This, despite having a young, exciting group of prospects that sit in second place in the league’s Central Division through 33 games.

Through this point in the calendar a year ago, Rockford was averaging 3905 fans a night for 17 home games. In 20 home dates this season, the Hogs are averaging 3515. For the second straight season, the franchise is facing a big drop in attendance.

Why are fewer people congregating at the BMO Harris Bank Center to cheer on the ‘Bago County Flying Piglets? Apparently because they’re not the ‘Bago County Fighting Piglets.

Some of you might find that statement ridiculous. Others may be nodding pensively. How would the absence of fisticuffs be keeping hockey fans from checking out the quality product showcased in the Forest City? Something else has to be the culprit.

The IceHogs are a much better team this season, both in terms of quality of play and win-loss record. They play a fast-paced style for 60 minutes a night. What’s not to like?

Still, let’s speculate. What could be vastly different about this season that the attendance has dropped the way it has?

Is it the power play? Its still abysmal, though Rockford managed a pair of goals on the man advantage this week. Their success rate of 13.3 percent in the last three games actually raised the Hogs overall total for the season. Regardless, that doesn’t seem to be a factor in attendance.

Could it be bad public relations? This is a young, talented and pretty likable team. No scandalous happenings to the best of my knowledge.

How about turnover in the broadcast booth? Rockford is on its third play-by-play man in the last three months. Bob Mills resigned back in October; Mike Peck handled the mic on an interim basis before the club hired Joe Zakzewski. I’ve enjoyed listening to Joey Z and feel like his open style on social media is a big plus to drawing in fans.

Underwhelming giveaway promotions? 4,296 fans showed up to nab free blankets Friday night, down about 1,200 for a similar promotion last December. Seems like the swag is of similar quality as other years.

Sunspots? I guess that’s for the scientists to decide.

Lack of fighting? Hmmmm…could be…

I would guess that its not just the lack of fighting, but the substantial drop in this category over the past three months of action. Here’s how that three-month total has looked over the past few seasons:

2013-14: 15 FM

2014-15: 30 FM

2015-16: 20 FM

2016-17: 17 FM

2017-18: 5 FM

Through 33 games this season, Rockford has been assessed five fighting majors.

Five.

Not fifteen, five. You can literally count them on one hand.

Last year, the IceHogs set a franchise-low in the category with just 39 fighting majors assessed. Keep in mind, that figure was still good for eighth-highest in the AHL. Rockford is last in the league in fights, which is unprecedented.

It’s simple to explain this prodigious drop in glove dropping. Rockford doesn’t have anyone remotely counting as a fighter on its roster (though Matt Tomkins was in a goalie fight last week before being promoted from Indy). Its probably fortunate that more Hogs aren’t getting into scraps…because they’re not good at it.

The lone December fracas saw Laurent Dauphin square off with Duncan Siemens of the Rampage on the 15th. The Hogs center has been wearing a full face shield ever since; a bit ironic as his bout was the least one-sided of any Rockford has been a part of this season…by far.

If Rockford players are going to get into fights and continue to take damage that could lead to missed time, I’d rather they keep their gloves on. The team does not appear to be bringing in someone with pugilistic tendencies anytime soon, so I would expect more of the status quo.

As I have said repeatedly here, the lack of fighting has not diminished my enjoyment of the games or kept me from showing up. I suspect that I am in the minority when it comes to this issue, though.

Maybe that’s assuming too much. However, it wouldn’t shock me if that drop of 400 fans a night consists in some part of folks who want blood every night and don’t feel its worth the drive downtown if they aren’t going to see it.

Based on the advertising I’ve seen this fall, the emphasis on fighting is as non-existent as it is on the ice. Again, that doesn’t bother me a bit.

I could understand a drop in attendance last season. The team was terrible and going nowhere in an awful hurry. This season, I can’t figure it out. The team has been fun to watch even when they don’t win, and they are in great position in terms of the standings right now.

The Rockford fan base has always supported this team going back to the UHL days, good or bad. Why not now? Hopefully the new year brings in some bigger gates as the season rolls on.

Piglets In Net

Rockford completed a three-games-in-three-nights stretch Saturday, showcasing the style of play that we’ve come to expect from this group. The difference lay in the crease, where the Hogs have two very green goalies to choose from for the foreseeable future.

Due to injuries in Chicago (Corey Crawford) and Rockford (J.F. Berube), both of the organization’s veteran net minders are up with the Blackhawks. This leaves the less than seasoned tandem of Colin Delia and Matt Tomkins to backstop the IceHogs.

Delia, signed to an entry deal by the Blackhawks this summer, made his second and third AHL starts against Iowa this week, having just ten ECHL games under his belt with the Indy Fuel. Tomkins, who made his AHL debut Saturday night, had just eight games played with the Fuel. An AHL contract signing by Rockford, the former Chicago draft pick is now in his first stint in Rockford.

Neither rookie is making anyone forget Berube or Jeff Glass, who were adept at keeping some of Rockford’s more aggressive mistakes from showing up on the scoreboard. Delia seemed to spend quite a bit of time off his skates; there may have been reason that he sat in favor of Glass until their was no other recourse but to give him a start this week.

Tomkins showed some smart rebound control but was still torched for six goals in his start against the Wolves. He let a puck drop and roll into his net on Chicago’s first power play goal Saturday, then failed to cover a loose puck in front of him that resulted in a shorthanded tally for the Wolves.

With Berube not available for possibly a couple more weeks, Rockford will have to stay afloat with Delia and Tomkins for the immediate future. The IceHogs have four games this week against division foes. Limiting shots on goal and staying out of the penalty box are going to be keys in each of those contests.

I think Rockford can tread water with the current goalie situation for another week or so. Any further and they may have to find an experienced AHL veteran and sign him to a PTO to sure things up.

 

Hot Line

The grouping of Alexandre Fortin, Tyler Sikura and Andreas Martinsen has been a very effective line for Rockford. This week, that line accounted for four goals.

Sikura, in particular, was excellent. He found the net in all three games and had four points this past week. Fortin put up a goal and two helpers while Martinsen chipped in with an assist and freed up some pucks with his physical presence.

With the Hogs power play as bad as it is, Sikura and his knack for getting to the front of the net sure wouldn’t do any harm. He continues to be a quality signing for Rockford. Sikura has six goals and four assists on the season and carries the second highest skater rating on the club (plus-11).

Rookie Matthew Highmore continues to lead the IceHogs in goals; his hat trick Thursday night puts him at 14 for the season. His 22 points is tied with Tomas Jurco (10 G, 12 A) for the team lead among the active roster.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson made his return from an upper body injury this week. He had an assist in both Thursday and Friday’s games with Iowa. Luke Johnson broke a six-game pointless streak with a goal and two helpers this week.

 

Recaps

Thursday, December 27-Rockford 6, Iowa 3

Rockford picked up a third straight win, paced by a Matthew Highmore hat trick, some solid defensive play and a bit of puck luck.

The IceHogs got on the board 3:02 into the contest. The opening goal was set up by Andreas Martinsen, who separated a Wild skater from the puck in the corner of the Iowa zone. Tyler Sikura grabbed the turnover, skated toward the right post and hit Alexandre Fortin in the slot for the lamp-lighter.

That 1-0 lead was short-lived, as the Wild returned fire just 12 seconds later. Cal O’Reilly got a pass through Anthony Louis and Erik Gustafsson to Zach Parise. The rehabbing Parise easily found Luke Kunin in the high slot. Kunin’s shot got over the blocker of Hogs goalie Colin Delia to tie the score at a goal apiece.

Rockford took a 2-1 advantage thanks to some hard work by Luke Johnson and Matthew Highmore. Johnson fought for and won a puck battle along the left half boards of the Wild zone. Highmore took a pass from Johnson and wove his way to the left post. The initial shot was stopped by the pad of Steve Michalek. Highmore, however, collected the rebound and flung it home at the 8:47 mark.

Iowa drew even again on a Justin Kloos power play goal 11:30 into the first, then went up 3-2 a couple of minutes later when Johnson whiffed on a pass attempt in the neutral zone. AHL veteran Pat Cannone maneuvered around Viktor Svedberg to the right dot, where he beat Delia’s glove with a wrister at the 14:10 mark. The Wild held that advantage into the first intermission.

The Hogs outshot Iowa 11-3 in the second period. Delia wasn’t real busy in that time, but did make a couple of big stops. It was soon after a point-blank stop on a Kunin attempt from the slot that Rockford evened the score.

Fortin got to a loose puck in the neutral zone and hit Tyler Sikura just short of the red line. Sikura skated hard into Wild territory and fired from the top of the left circle. The shot befuddled Michalek and settled into the basket at 16:59 of the period.

A Nick Seeler holding infraction gave Rockford a man advantage late in the middle frame. For the first time in several games, the IceHogs took advantage. Erik Gustafsson, returning to the lineup for the first time since November 25, hit Tomas Jurco at the top of the left circle. Jurco’s shot ricocheted off of the shin pads of Highmore and into the cage at the 19:29 mark. The Hogs led 4-3 after 40 minutes.

A clearing attempt by Svedberg early in the third period resulted in some insurance for the IceHogs. William Pelletier chased down the puck ahead of his Iowa counterparts to negate icing, then took advantage of a odd bounce off of the end boards to snipe one past Michalek’s stick side. That made the score 5-3 just 2:08 into the third.

Twice in the final frame, Iowa skaters were taken down on the way to breakaway attempts. Both Mario Lucia and Sam Anas were awarded penalty shots and had Delia beaten with an open net in front of them. Lucia’s backhand attempt sailed wide of the cage. Anas had his offering denied by the left post.

The pressure was on for most of the last three minutes, as Iowa pulled Michalek and camped out in the Rockford zone. Ville Pokka was finally able to clear the defensive zone with 48 seconds remaining. Pelletier slid the puck into the Wild zone and Highmore helpfully guided it into the empty net with 43 seconds left.

Delia stopped 15 of the 18 shots he faced to pick up his first AHL victory. Highmore and Sikura were awarded the game’s first and second stars, respectively.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Erik Gustafsson-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 1-4)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Friday, December 29-Iowa 5, Rockford 3

Some third-period fireworks created a bit of excitement, but the Hogs couldn’t complete a three-goal comeback despite out shooting the Wild 48-30.

Rockford got on the board quickly. Iowa goalie Steve Michalek fought off a Laurent Dauphin put-back attempt after Erik Gustafsson put a shot on net. The puck made its way out to the waiting stick of Matheson Iacopelli. With a wide-open net to aim for, Iacopelli drove home his sixth of the season at 2:51 of the first period.

Iowa scored the next four goals of the contest, starting late in the first when Mario Lucia stuck in a rebound past Hogs goalie Colin Delia to tie the game on the power play. Iowa’s man advantage struck again when Luke Kunin one-timed a Ryan Murphy pass into Delia’s net 1:34 into the second.

At the 8:31 mark, Delia was left to defend a three-on-one rush that ended with an easy tap-in for Lucia. A little over two minutes later, a turnover by Rockford’s Darren Raddysh wound up in the back of the Hogs cage, courtesy of Landon Ferraro.

Down 4-1, it appeared that 4,296 folks who braved the elements to catch the action at the BMO would be able to get a head start home. That’s certainly how it looked for the first ten minutes of the final frame. However, in a span of 25 seconds, the IceHogs suddenly made it a hockey game.

It started off an offensive zone draw midway through the period. Tanner Kero flipped a backhand past Michalek, set up by Anthony Louis, for his first goal this season with Rockford at 10:41. On the subsequent shift, Tyler Sikura deftly redirected a Ville Pokka blast from the point. The puck eluded the Iowa net-minder and the Hogs had cut the lead to 4-3 at 11:06.

Rockford gained a power play with 2:25 remaining for a last shot at the equalizer. Once they established control in the Wild zone, Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton brought Delia to the bench for the extra skater. Soon after, Pokka had his shot attempt blocked by Kyle Rau. The two skaters raced to the loose puck. Rau got enough stick on it to get it into the empty net to close out the scoring at 18:58.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Erik Gustafsson-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (0-6)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 2-7)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Saturday, December 30-Chicago 6, Rockford 2 

The Wolves took a 1-0 lead at the 7:29 mark. Brandon Pirri’s power play tally came right off of a Wade Megan faceoff win. Pirri sent a screamer to goal from the high slot that rookie Matt Tomkins appeared to absorb. However, the puck got away from the Hogs goalie, struck his left leg, and rolled across the goal line to give Chicago an advantage they would hold into the first intermission.

Rockford had an early power play opportunity in the sandwich stanza. However, it was the Wolves who wound up taking advantage. Mackenzie Meachern was stopped by Tomkins, who failed to get his glove over the puck in front of him to gain a stoppage. Before he could make a second attempt at covering, Anthony Louis tried to clear the puck into the corner. The attempt banked off the skate of T.J. Tynan and slid past Tomkins for a 2-0 Chicago lead at the 3:24 mark.

Back came the IceHogs. Capitalizing on a sloppy line change by the Wolves, Tyler Sikua scooped up a loose puck between the benches and struck out for the Chicago zone with Alexandre Fortin on his left side. Wolves goalie Kazimir Kaskisuo was forced to hold his ground; Sikura zipped his shot to the far side to cut the lead to 2-1 4:25 into the second.

The Wolves got another power play goal midway through the period when Tomas Hyka was left open at the doorstep. However, late in the period, Rockford responded with a power play strike of its own.

Luke Johnson started and finished the play, gaining possesion in the neutral zone and hitting Darren Raddysh crossing the Wolves blueline along the right side. Johnson made a beeline for the slot, completing the give-and-go at 18:26 to get Rockford back to within a goal entering the final period.

Unfortunately, things got kind of ugly in the final 20 minutes of the contest. Chris Casto and Hyka scored within 71 seconds of each other in the early part of the third to go up 5-2. Rockford continued to skate hard, but the game was effectively over at that point. Wade Megan closed out the scoring for Chicago late in the game on a 3-on-2 rush.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Erik Gustafsson-Darren Raddysh

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-5)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 2-5)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

A Little Four-Play: Previewing This Week

Rockford hits 2018 running, with four games this week. It gets started Tuesday when Cleveland comes to the BMO. Friday, the Hogs visit Grand Rapids, who has yet to defeat Rockford in six tries this season. Rockford hosts Cleveland again Saturday night, then takes on Milwaukee at the BMO Sunday afternoon.

Currently, the Monsters are a good team to be facing twice in a five-day span. Cleveland is scuffling right now, having won just twice in its last ten games. They’ve lost four straight going into Tuesday’s game.

The Monsters are limping along offensively, scoring just 2.24 goals per contest (that’s last in the AHL). Their power play is keeping Rockford’s unit out of last place in efficiency, though not by much.

With just two road wins this season, Cleveland is a optimal club to come to your building while you’re nursing a pair of young goalies. Center Carter Campner leads the club in goals and scoring (7 G, 13 A); rookies Mike Koules (7 G, 6 A) and Sam Vignault (6 G, 6 A) are the only other current Monsters with double digit points.

Cleveland also is using a rookie duo in net.  Matiss Kivlenicks (3.38 GAA, .874 save percentage) and Ivan Kulbakov (4.17 GAA, .869 save percentage) have been the Monsters tandem for the past month.

The IceHogs are 12-1-1 at the BMO against the Monsters over the last five seasons. This Cleveland team is ripe for the picking right now. Rockford needs to take advantage and get all four points.

Rockford hasn’t seen the Admirals since November 11, when they won 5-2 in Milwaukee. The Ads hold a 3-2 edge in head-to-head match ups this season, including both games played at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Leading the way offensively for the Ads is Bobby Butler (13 G, 12 A). Emil Petterssen (8 G, 16 A) has two goals and four apples against the Hogs this season. Anders Lindback has been very good for Milwaukee this season and will likely be the man in the cage Sunday.

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, welcomed a couple of new arrivals to the roster last week. How have these new faces fared so far in the Forest City?

So far, the jury is out; neither has taken the ice since the roster moves were made.

On Thursday, after he cleared waivers, veteran forward Jordin Tootoo was assigned to Rockford. The next day, the Blackhawks recalled Jean-Francois Berube to back up Anton Forsberg while Corey Crawford recovers from an injury. As a result, Hawks goalie prospect Colin Delia was brought up from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel to serve as backup to Jeff Glass.

Rockford had games Friday and Saturday following a blowout loss to Manitoba Tuesday. The IceHogs defeated the Chicago Wolves in overtime before soundly beating Texas to pick up four points on the weekend.

IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton opted not to use either Tootoo or Delia (or recent addition Robin Press, for that matter) in either contest this weekend. There could be varying reasons for this.

Let’s put the microscope to both Tootoo and Delia and see how they could factor into the mix.

Jordin Tootoo

The Hawks re-signed Tootoo this summer but he hasn’t played since training camp. He has spent the bulk of the season on injured reserve.

From an AHL standpoint, Tootoo could add a dimension the Hogs have lacked. Namely, a veteran grinder who has been around the NHL and is capable with his hands once the gloves come off.

Among the questions I have are:

  1. How healthy is Tootoo?
  2. How motivated is he to come in and bang for Rockford?
  3. Who sits/goes to Indy in order to get him into the lineup?
  4. Does the organization want him mentoring the piglets or are they content to let Tootoo and his cap hit sit in the team box for a few months?

 

At some point, we should get more clarity as to what Tootoo’s role on the club will be. Best case, he skates frequently, brings some toughness to a very young roster, imparts a bit of wisdom about life in pro hockey and maybe knocks in a couple of goals.

 

Colin Delia

Delia has struggled so far in his first pro season. His lone start in the AHL was a shaky effort as the Hogs lost in Iowa November 9. His numbers with the Fuel don’t impress; a 4.12 GAA to go with a .887 save percentage.

His last action in net was for Indy on November 25. In that start, he gave up six goals to Kansas City. While it is a good opportunity for Delia to get some instruction from the goalie coaches in Rockford, I wonder if Colliton affords him another start.

Rockford has a week of practice and a weekend home-and-home coming up with Grand Rapids. It might not be a bad idea to have Delia watch Glass on the road Friday and get his home debut at the BMO the following evening.

Another start in the Rockford cage for Delia may depend on how long Crawford is out, coupled with how much confidence the organization has in his ability to handle AHL shooters.

 

Other Roster News

Press has not gotten into a game since being recalled by Rockford last Saturday. Neither has forward Radovan Bondra. As I mentioned last week, however, I believe that’s due to an injury Bondra is rehabbing with the IceHogs.

Center Laurent Dauphin did not appear in either game this past weekend. He appears to have been injured in the latter stages of the loss to Manitoba Tuesday night.

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad-Recaps

Tuesday, November 28-Manitoba 8, Rockford 1

This one’s just as bad as it sounds. You can point to the fact that the IceHogs got 48 pucks to the net, but this was an old-fashioned keister stomp. The division’s hottest team came, saw and conquered the piglets, paced by a J.C. Lipon hat trick.

Rockford was down 5-0 late in the second when Viktor Svedberg got a puck to neutral ice that was won by Anthony Louis. The rookie forward made his way into Moose territory and punched home the only Hogs tally of the night past Michael Hutchinson at 17:22 of the second period.

Jeff Glass was left in the crease for the duration. On a night where Manitoba exploited nearly every Hogs miscue into a scoring chance, Glass was probably the only reason the Moose didn’t reach double-digits on the scoreboard. And with that, let’s just move along…

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)

Vinnie Hinostroza-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Anthony Louis-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Andreas Martinsen

Graham Knott-Tyler Sikura-Matheson Iacopelli

Viktor Svedberg-Robin Norell

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, William Pelletier

Power Play (0-5)

Jurco-Kampf-Hinostroza-Martinsen-Raddysh

Louis-Johnson-Dauphin-Highmore-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 2-3)

Johnson-Kampf-Svedberg-Norell

Hinostroza-Dauphin-Snuggerud-Pokka

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

 

Friday, December 1-Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (OT)

The IceHogs blew a 3-0 advantage only to prevail in Gus Macker Time thanks to Vinnie Hinostroza’s game-winner.

Tomas Jurco got his sixth goal of the season the hard way 12:32 into the contest. Jurco was providing the screen for a Ville Pokka shot attempt. While trying to avoid the wrist shot, Jurco was struck by the puck (I’ve watched this a dozen times and still don’t know if it hit his head, chest or stick.), which then beat Wolves goalie Michael Leighton to the cord.

About five minutes later, Pokka got one of his own. As he pinched down to the bottom of the left circle, Pokka got a rebound off the end boards of a Robin Norell attempt. He then knocked it past the back door of Leighton for a 2-0 Rockford lead 17:36 into the first period.

The Hogs fourth line stretched the advantage to 3-0 3:35 into the middle frame. Carl Dahlstrom got the play started from the Rockford zone. His pass to Andreas Martinsen was quickly sent to Tyler Sikura and Graham Knott coming across the Wolves blueline.

Knott fed Sikura in front of Leighton, who stopped the initial attempt. In the scrum that followed, Martinsen was able to get the puck across the goal line for his second goal of the campaign.

From there, Chicago chipped away at the three-goal advantage. Brandon Pirri got the Wolves on the board with a power play goal three minutes later. Late in the second, Brett Sterling picked the pocket of Hinostroza at the Wolves blueline. He then scored on the resulting breakaway to cut the lead to a single goal.

Noted Hogs-killer Teemu Pulkkinen tied the game at 15:18 of the third. Pirri set up Pulkkinen’s right dot blast after beating Darren Raddysh to a puck in the corner of the Hogs zone. It now appeared that Rockford’s closest and most bitter rival could swipe two points from the Hogs.

Hinostroza prevented a total collapse in overtime, thanks to some help from Dahlstrom. After passing to Hinostroza at the top of the left circle, Dahlstrom buzzed Leighton. This prevented the former Hogs goalie from getting a clean look at Hinostroza’s snap shot. Rubber and twine hooked up to Leighton’s stick side and all was right at the BMO, save for the point the Wolves received for tying the game in regulation.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Vinnie Hinostroza-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Alexandre Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)

Anthony Louis-William Pelletier-Graham Kott

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Vikto Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Laurent Dauphin

Power Play (0-3)

Jurco-Kampf-Hinostroza-Martinsen-Raddysh

Louis-Johnson-Iacopelli-Highmore-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 1-3)

Johnson-Kampf-Svedberg-Norell

Hinostroza-Knott-Snuggerud-Pokka

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

 

Saturday, December 2-Rockford 6, Texas 2

Rockford made a clean sweep of the weekend against the Stars, who had won five straight entering the contest.

Texas took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a Roope Hintz power play goal late in the opening twenty. Thousands of BMO fans stood by the ready to hurl stuffed animals onto the ice. It wasn’t to be in the first period, however.

The teddy bear tossers would have to wait nearly half the game to send their furry offerings to the ice surface. There dreams were realized when Anthony Louis broke Rockford’s 0-35 home power play slump with a snipe from the right dot. Vinnie Hinostroza provided the primary apple on the play, which tied things up at a goal apiece 8:01 into the second period.

At that point, the cover was blown off of Stars goalie Landon Bow’s net. Moments later, Matthew Highmore took a drop pass from Carl Dahlstrom at he bottom of the right circle. His shot fought it’s way through Bow’s pads and trickled across the goal line at the 9:55 mark.

The Rockford advantage increased to 3-1 late in the second when Louis created a turnover along the right side of the Texas zone. His pass was blasted past Bow from the slot by William Pelletier at the 18:06 mark.

Goal number four came 2:32 into the third, courtesy of some nimble skating by Hinostroza. In a play we’ve become accustomed to seeing, Hinostroza wove around the offensive zone before backhanding a pass to Darren Raddysh. Raddysh came across the goal mouth for a backhander that Bow stopped with his pads. Persistence paid off for the rookie defenseman; Raddysh simply collected the rebound and guided the puck to the back of the net.

Luc Snuggerud got in on the butt-kicking fun 11:38 into the third. The genesis of the scoring play came from behind the Stars net, where Highmore had sent the puck after winning a battle in the corner. Alexandre Fortin passed out to a wide-open Snuggerud in the high slot. The shot was true and Rockford led 5-1.

Former IceHogs forward Mark McNeill scored for Texas at the 14:00 minute mark, but that’s as close as the Stars could get. Tomas Jurco finished the scoring for the evening with a between-the-legs backhand past defensman Gavin Bayreuther and into an empty net in the closing minute.

Hinostroza (first), Louis (second) and Highmore (third) were the three stars of the game.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Vinnie Hinostroza-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Alexandre Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)

Anthony Louis-William Pelletier-Graham Kott

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Vikto Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Laurent Dauphin

Power Play (1-6)

Jurco-Kampf-Hinostroza-Martinsen-Raddysh

Louis-Johnson-Iacopelli-Highmore-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Stars were 1-4)

Johnson-Kampf-Svedberg-Norell

Hinostroza-Knott-Snuggerud-Pokka

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

 

Grand Rapids Home-And-Home Primer

Rockford will have several days to prepare for a weekend home-and-home with the defending Calder Cup champs, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Friday’s game is in Michigan, while the teams come to the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday night.

Detroit’s AHL affiliate has had a tepid start (9-10-0-3) to the season, but the Griffins have endured slow openings to dominate the Central Division in the past. The Griffins beat Chicago 5-2 Saturday night to break a five-game losing streak. Like Rockford, Grand Rapids has five days off before dropping the puck Friday night.

The IceHogs are currently 3-0 against Grand Rapids. Rockford owns a pair of 3-2 shootout victories on October 20 and November 18 to go with a 4-3 come-from-behind win at the BMO October 28.

Friday’s tilt will be the first of the season between the two teams at Van Andel Arena, where Grand Rapids has toiled to a 4-6-0-1 record. Last year, the Hogs were 1-4 in that building, for what its worth.

Matt Puempel came over from Hartford early in the season and is pacing the Griffins offense with 17 points in 21 games (7 G, 10 A). Eric Tangradi is a big, physical winger who can fill the net, so he presents problems for Rockford. Tangradi has three goals and an assist against the Hogs to date this season and could well be a factor in how Rockford fares this weekend.

Tyler Bertuzzi is a hard-nosed player who is currently on a three-game point streak. Matt Lorito and veteran center Ben Street are also players to watch.

On the defensive side, Westmont native Robbie Russo has had two successful seasons under his belt with Grand Rapids. He has a pair of goals and seven helpers so far in 2017-18. Dylan McIlrath is a rugged presence on the blueline for whom the Hogs don’t really have a counterpart.

Jared Coreau and Tom McCollom are both familiar faces in net for the Griffins. Its likely the IceHogs could see both goalies this weekend.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to catch IceHogs happenings all season long.