Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Absolutely fucking terrible. Until the last 10 minutes of this game, the Hawks were out-possessed and outclassed by the worst NHL team of the 21st century in the middle of a run that they’re calling a playoff push. A completely botched circumcision of an effort.

– The big story of the night is Adam Boqvist’s scratch. He was having trouble with his right wrist, which forced Dennis fucking Gilbert into the lineup to expected results. It’s the right call to play it safe with him, although based on the pre-game skate it looked like Boqvist had to take himself out rather than his absolute embarrassment of a coach doing it for him.

If you’re an optimist, you look at Boqvist’s absence and the fact that the Hawks had no drive whatsoever without him as portending to a good future for the kid. If you’re a pessimist, you look at Boqvist’s absence and the fact that the Hawks had no drive whatsoever without a 19-year-old defenseman who’s actively being bridled by his complete fraud of a coach as comprehensive proof that this fucking coach and this fucking front office have absolutely no fucking idea what the fuck they’re doing. Take a wild fucking guess where we land.

– You can talk about how the Hawks beat the Lightning and Oilers recently and use that as proof that this is a team THAT DOESN’T QUIT and HAS A LOT OF MOXIE, which is exactly what Coach Nerdlinger wants you to think. You can also eat the shit end of my ass with that horseshit. Beating playoff-entrenched teams at the end of February, when they have no reason to give a full effort, is smoke and mirrors. Beating the Panthers and Ducks should be a fucking given. But losing to literally the worst NHL team of the 21st century in an absolute must-have game is inexcusable for a team with so-called playoff aspirations.

Slater Koekkoek, Nick Seeler, and Dennis Gilbert all played real, meaningful minutes tonight. If we weren’t 100% convinced that Colliton and Bowman are pants-shitting morons in terms of blue line signings and favoritism already, tonight would hammer that nail into each and every one of our skulls. Fuck your injuries and excuses. This is unacceptable at a professional level.

On Detroit’s first goal—and please remember that going into this game the Wings had a -121 goal differential as a team—we got to see Slater Koekkoek show us why Jeremy Colliton should not be coaching a fucking professional hockey team. He did that thing that Colliton tells them to do and went onto the far boards to cover Trevor Daley. Yes, THAT Trevor Daley. You know, the one who if you give him enough room and time will fuck up on his own because he fucking sucks? Koekkoek’s by-design coverage led to a wide-open Tyler Bertuzzi in the slot, with Olli Maatta screening Crawford just cuz. Outstanding. Playoff caliber.

On the second goal, Dennis Gilbert did Dennis Gilbert things, such as picking his ass in the crease and wondering which mix of rocks he’d have for dinner on his bus ride back to Rockford, God willing. By the time he had all the synapses firing to lay out on the ice, Fabbry Robbi or Robby Fabbri had picked his spot and potted his shot. But boy was Eddie quick to blame Crawford, because of fucking course he was.

And though Nick Seeler wasn’t directly responsible for any goals, when your presence makes the question “Is Dennis Gilbert not the worst defenseman on the ice?” one worth asking, well.

– Everyone on the broadcast made sure that you knew that the Hawks got in late last night and that the scheduling was rough and that the Hawks really had something to overcome. Fuck you. Jonathan Bernier had a .906 SV% going into this game. Detroit has allowed the most goals of all teams, with the next closest, Ottawa, allowing 26 fewer goals on the year. And again, -121 goal differential going into tonight. Playoff teams do not lose games to teams like this, especially not when it matters as much as it did tonight.

Connor Murphy did not have a good game. Two penalties, one of which turned into a PK goal against. But babysitting Nick Seeler might do that to you.

– And as much as we love Murphy, we absolutely do not need to see him on the ice in a 6-on-5 situation at the end of a game with the goalie pulled. As if we needed even more evidence that Jeremy Colliton should be fucking up someone’s taxes on purpose and getting rewarded by his boss for “accessing a new revenue stream” instead of doing whatever it is he calls what he’s doing behind the bench, not having Dominik Kubalik, who you may know as the Blackhawks’s top goal scorer along with Kane going into this game, on the ice in a situation where you need a motherfucking goal might be the dumbest fucking thing anyone has done since Stan Bowman hired Jeremy Colliton to coach this team.

The 2019–20 Detroit Red Wings will go down as the worst team of the 21st century thus far. And the Hawks—in the midst of a playoff run they’re just prematurely ejaculating over to tell you about—lost to them in a must-win game. It always sucked losing to them when they were the better team. But this?

Fucking pathetic.

Until Sunday.

Beer du Jour: Evan Williams and Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “Force Detroit to come out of their comfort zone.” –Eddie O describing how the Hawks could overcome the worst statistical team in almost every single category in hockey.

Hockey

Minor note here, but the Hawks today claimed Nick Seeler on waivers from the Wild, who they play tomorrow as luck would have it.

This isn’t some monumental shift and it barely registers a level worth talking about. Basically, the Hawks don’t want to keep Dennis Gilbert in a suit full-time, which they would have to at the top level because he sucks. The IceHogs are also incredibly beat up, so they could use him playing minutes down there in his never-ending journey to not suck.

Seeler isn’t much better. He surprised the Wild out of camp last year and played 71 games, but has some serious, rock-headed tendencies, which we know the Hawks love for some reason. Think of Seeler as an older Gilbert, really. But he can easily replace Gilbert as the extra hand on deck in case someone gets injured.

In truth, Slater Koekkoek has earned his time above whatever swamp thing is taking up the #7 role, be it Gilbert or Seeler. Yeah, he had that cock-up on Saturday, but that will happen. What Koekkoek has that the other two don’t is mobility, and the Hawks need as much as they can get right now.

At least the Hawks seem to realize what Gilbert is, even if they just go the older version. This rates a whatever.

Hockey

Who was good, who was bad, and who was just running heavy, heavy fuel this past week. 

The Dizzying Highs

Patrick Kane – Much like last year, we could just put him in this spot every week and it would almost certainly never be wrong. Four goals, seven points in three games, which kept him top ten in the scoring race. If the Hawks were even close to the playoffs, he’d probably drumming up MVP talk again, because he’s had to do it with so many different teammates who are either having off years or just plain suck. McDavid has Draisaitl, MacKinnon has, at least part of the season, Makar and Rantanen. Huberdeau has Barkov. Even Jack Eichel has had Olofsson, though not anymore. Alex DeBrincat could argue to at least be standing outside this club begging the bouncer to let him in, but Kane hasn’t spent all that much time on his line. Toews was off when Kane was there, and now it’s Ryan Carpenter and Sikura. But I digress. Kane’s rocketing toward another 100-point season, which would be his third. Since he came into the league, the only players to have three 100-point seasons are Crosby, McDavid, Malkin, and Ovechkin. Worse company to be in.

The Terrifying Lows

Dennis Gilbert – This probably isn’t fair to him per se, because he is what he is. And it’s hard for even me to reconcile that Gilbert is vomit-on-ice, and yet the Hawks have nothing to lose by playing him every night. Still, he was on the ice for four goals against in Vancouver, and routinely is either chasing hits that put him out of position, lazily getting back to the front of the net, or both. Oh and he’s slow. But again, he didn’t force anyone to put him in a position he’s clearly no way equipped for. And fuck, he watched Brent Seabrook do this for years, so how can we blame him for emulating that?

The Creamy Middles

Dylan Sikura – Look, if him scoring his first NHL goal and the reaction from him and his teammates after didn’t bring a smile to your face at least, then I don’t really know why you even watch sports in the first place. There’s no way it wasn’t weighing on him, and even the organization could use it as a cudgel against him, or at least an excuse to ignore all the stuff that Sikura does do. He’s no star-in-the-making, but Sikura can be a useful bottom-six player on a good team. Perhaps a Michael Frolik type. He has NHL-level speed, which the Hawks sorely lack. He doesn’t need a GPS in his own zone, and there’s more skill than his waiting a year for a goal would suggest. Hopefully breaking that chain will give him the confidence and relax him a bit to let it all hang out, because you feel like there’s more there. Unlike Alex Nylander, whom he has replaced in the lineup, Sikura isn’t afraid to play in tight spaces despite his small size and he has actual instincts. Hopefully he gets a long look and pots a few goals, because he’s doing more than immediately meets the eye.

Hockey

-We’ve commented in the past year that when the Hawks have played in games against teams that are fighting directly for the playoff spots the Hawks claim to be after, they’ve fallen flat on their face. This can be a big fudge-y to determine, as some teams are in for automatic spots, some teams should be but aren’t, and others definitely are in the wildcard chase.

But this harkens back to last year. And going over the actual records, it’s kind of funny that we thought the Hawks were so in it, and they were, as they were under .500 at the time when this started. That’s more on the Western Conference than the Hawks, but the standings said they had a chance. And here’s what they came up with:

2/22/19 – Colorado: lost 5-3

2/24/19 – Dallas: lost 4-3

3/9/19 – @Dallas: won 2-1

3/11/19 – @Arizona: won 7-1

3/23 – @Colorado: lost 4-2 (this pretty much ended things)

3/24/19 – Colorado: Won 2-1 in OT

3/26/19 – @Arizona: lost 1-0, definitely ended things

So my claims that they’ve never taken a point is an exaggeration, but 3-4-0 with one of those wins in OT isn’t exactly impressive either. And the win in Arizona was before the Coyotes had made their last charge toward the playoffs, and the OT win over Colorado was basically after the horse was out of the barn. Still, you get it.

It could be argued that the win over Calgary on Tuesday was over a fellow playoff competitor, as the Flames are in the wildcard mess at the moment. We can go back and forth on that. My wager would be on the Flames eventually joining Vegas and some other random third team in the automatic spots, and rather easily as well. Time will tell on that one.

It’s hard to know what games that came before have the same meaning, but now that we’re in the second half we’ll definitely get sharper context for some. They’ll have games with the Flames, Predators, and Jets in the next couple weeks (all at home) so that will be a good start. Next month is rife with them as well.

-One thing we know the Hawks simply aren’t equipped to do is protect a lead, and a big one. They might hang on desperately and let their goalies bail them out, but they can’t shut down a game. We saw it last night, we saw it in Calgary, we saw it in St. Louis earlier in the year.

Looking back over the schedule, a lot of wins were the Hawks coming from behind or catching a team cold. The Islanders were clearly out to lunch. Their one authoritative effort of late was against the Jets, and even then they had to survive an utter onslaught in the second period when leading. The win against the Wild saw them take the lead with six minutes left. The Bruins were able to storm back to get to OT. You have to go all the way back to their win at home against the Stars, which was Dallas’s third game in four nights for another “easy” win.

This isn’t much of a surprise, given the state of the Hawks defense. They can basically only toss out Keith and Murphy to keep things “calm,” and even then Keith was a culprit for the winner last night. Keep them separate, and you’re still asking Adam Boqvist and Erik Gustafsson to see things out in later minutes. There’s just no way.

It’s been a constant complaint around here, but the Hawks blue line is the prime example of how there’s just no plan. If they had any idea that Seabrook wouldn’t be part of the every day lineup, and they should have, then the minutes going to Dennis Gilbert right now would be going to Henri Jokiharju (who’s no genius but he’s a hell of a lot better than Gilbert and wouldn’t you look but the Sabres just moved along an overpaid vet to keep him in the lineup. What’s that like?). Instead they have a winger who is deservedly sitting behind Matthew Highmore. After being given literally every chance and boost to succeed.

At this point, there is no downside to letting Phillip Holm or even Nicolas Beaudin take those minutes. They can’t be anymore helpless than Gilbert, who is Brandon Manning bad, and perhaps they would respond better to the NHL game than the AHL one which has happened before. Gilbert is definitely meant for the AHL game. Fuck, you’ve scratched and clawed to keep Fetch on the NHL roster, perhaps it’s time to give him one last stretch of games to see if anything can be salvaged here. The Hawks were so convinced of it earlier.

Or maybe you can just keep throwing things at the wall. It’s going great so far.

-Also it’s time for MY GUY Philipp Kurashev to get a look over John Quenneville, who doesn’t really do anything. The Hawks are still far too infatuated with plugs who “work hard” instead of those with actual skill. Quenneville is never going to be more than a fourth-liner. Again, you have nothing to lose.

-I feel like two or three times a game I marvel that Zack Smith always seems to be in a good spot but then completely undoes that by having no feet or hands.

-John mentioned it last night, but there’s no excuse for coming out of a TV timeout and having Gus, Strome, and Top Cat out for a defensive draw, no matter how much you trust Carpenter to take it. This is base-level NHL coaching, and Colliton gets it wrong far too much.

I have spoken.

 

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Afternoon hockey always has the agonizing sting of digging out an ingrown hair from your inner thigh with a hot pin and missing. And for the first 40 minutes, it remained a tradition unlike any other. But a tip here, and a couple of redemptions there, and the Hawks come out of Columbus with two points. We may have learned all the same lessons we knew, but it was fun, and that’s all we ask. To the bullets!

Erik Gustafsson scored the game-tying goal, and that’ll probably be all that matters. That’s a good thing, because before that goal, Gus had had one of his most embarrassingly bad games of the season. Just look at his positioning on the Murphy penalty:

First off, any defensive structure that makes Alex Wennberg look like Wayne Gretzky is fucking bad. There’s no reason whatsoever for Wennberg to have that much time and space on what’s essentially a 2-on-4. Yet, here we are. But after Gus fails to clear Wennberg’s botched shot, look how far out he goes to defend Ryan MacInnis. This is a low-danger spot. Yes, Matthew Highmore sucks and shouldn’t be behind the play. (Notice that he couldn’t even skate backward trying to keep up with Wennberg as the play developed, which is definitely something you should see happen at an NHL level.) But there’s little point in meeting him out there, especially when Wennberg ends up occupying the spot you just vacated to cover a low-danger chance.

Gus was also directly responsible for Columbus’s second goal. His turnover pass into the slot in his own zone is the kind of mistake Gus makes all too often. Toews was nowhere near where the pass ended up, and so Dubois had nothing but time and space to set up the shot that led to the rebound that set up his goal.

Despite these boners, Gus managed to tie the game with a knuckling slapper past a good Carpenter screen, which is enough to get you a second star in this Late Rites of a hockey game.

– The DeBrincat–Dach–Strome line was dominant in possession, with respective 68+, 64+, and 66+ CF%s. DeBrincat is having a terrible season shooting the puck, with his S% sitting at around 8%. His two previous years produced 15+ and 18+. With Dach and Strome’s passing skill, and especially Dach’s constantly improving and impressive vision, you should expect that to jump at some point. Today simply wasn’t that day. But it looks like Colliton might have found something nice with this, even if it means putting Kane with Nylander and Carpenter.

Ryan Carpenter was a good signing. He was toward the top on the possession ledger and had an excellent fly-by screen that contributed to Gus’s game-tying goal. He probably shouldn’t be playing with Toews and Kane regularly, but when asked to step into an outsized role tonight, he did well.

Duncan Keith also had himself a pretty strong game, aside from getting blown away by Seth Jones in the third. His positioning and anticipation were good throughout. Playing him with Boqvist seems to bring something out of him.

– We can only wish the converse were true. Adam Boqvist is only 19 years old, but he’s already looking concerningly tentative. While QB’ing the PP1, Boqvist turned the puck over in his own zone to start, then spent the rest of his time demurring, relying on Kane to set everything up. You get it, but that’s not why you’re up here. He did have an excellent one timer that Korpisalo almost let get by, but outside of that, he looked lost and scared. At some point, he’s got to let loose on the offensive side. How he can do that when he chooses to defer as his first option is hard to see.

– We understand that there are lots of injuries and not many options on the blue line. But Slater Koekkoek is not, has never been, and never will be an answer to any question other than “Which player would you ice if you were actively trying to lose a hockey game?” He doesn’t ever do anything right. Look at this positioning on Nash’s goal:

Why cheat to the outside when you have Gilbert covering that spot? How are you letting Riley Nash break your ankles on an inside move? Why are you giving him that much space in the first place? So many questions, and the only real answer is that he’s not an NHL-caliber player. Yeah, Robin Lehner should have had that, but he was likely distracted thinking about what he’d say to the media about Koekkoek’s positioning after the game, because he’s SUCH A GOOD QUOTE or whatever. And yeah, it went off his skate. But if he closes the gap earlier and doesn’t cheat to the outside for whatever reason, we probably don’t see that shot.

Dennis Gilbert is high comedy at the very least. Getting bulldozed by Nathan Gerbe is an all-time laugher, as was his missed hip check in the third.

– Robin Lehner won in a shootout because hockey is the beautiful game. And if Torts isn’t lighting his own pubic hair on fire in front of Gary Bettman after losing his goaltender because of a shootout, it’ll be a first. What a stupid gimmick.

They made it fun and got two points to boot. Not a bad way to close out the penultimate game of 2019. Flames on NYE.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: Zombie Dust

Line of the Night: “You know, the players can’t hear you.” Eddie O doing his best Neil DeGrasse Tyson impression about fans who slap the glass.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks win a game that looked like mononucleosis on ice. There were some really nice highlights from guys you care about, too. Let’s keep it tight, cuz it’s a drinkin’ night.

Corey Crawford might not get his number retired. He probably won’t make the Hall of Fame. But he’s now a 250-win goaltender and has firmly established himself as at least a Top-3 Hawks goaltender of all time. It’s easy to take him for granted because he does so well without the panache of someone like Robin Lehner, but once again, he proved to be the crux of a Hawks victory. He stoned three of four Devils power plays and held on in the shootout, stopping 29 of 30 overall. The fact that Dennis Gilbert got Player of the Game just reinforces that Crawford is Chicago’s Rodney Dangerfield.

Kirby Dach had himself a nice game, too. He was aces in the first period with three shots on goal and a smooth steal to set up his first shot. The scuttlebutt has been that Dach needs to shoot the puck more, and tonight he showed he took that idea seriously. His forehand deke in the second was just a bit wide, but he had the right idea. Though the shootout is a waste of everyone’s time, his patience on it got the Hawks the extra point. It’s still extremely dumb to see him playing fourth-line minutes with Smith and Carpenter, even though if you squint, you can sort of get the logic—having him play against trash and all. Let’s get him more time against better talent and see what he can do going forward.

– If Brandon Saad had any sense of finish about him, we’d actually get to call him Hossa Jr. Once again, he was strong in possession and dominant on defense, but he also got stoned on breakaways twice. His pass to a wide-open Kubalik in the waning minutes of the third was art, and if not for Kubalik gripping his stick too hard it could have been a game winner.

– We got to see Dominik Kubalik skate with Toews and Saad for a bit, after Nylander once again proved that he’s done nothing to deserve that spot. Saad–Toews–Kubalik has all the potential in the world to be a strong, right-kind-of-heavy line for this team if only that coach of theirs would let them. Credit for doing it at all, but do it more, now.

– The DeBrincat–Strome–Kane line was a threat all night. DeBrincat’s goal showcased all the things they can do when they’re clicking. Kane came toward the circle off the near boards and lofted a pass to Strome. Strome batted it out of the air with the shaft of his stick in one of the more impressive displays of hand-eye coordination we’ve gotten to see this year, then fed Kane for a quick, hard shot. The rebound deflected to an uncovered Top Cat, who bit the snake back with a backhander. Eddie gave Toews the credit for standing in the crease, but Dylan Strome was the real hero on that play.

– The next time Brent Seabrook tries to tell you that he’s still got something left to give, remember this clip:

There’s no reason for Brent Seabrook to be that far out for that long, unless you’re running Supre Brain Genious Jeremy Colliton’s dumbass system. The Hawks were fortunate that Hughes didn’t pot that shot.

– We shouldn’t be surprised when Foley and Eddie dump all over Subban, but listening to Eddie do a three-minute Andrew Dice Clay impression about Subban’s scoring woes just minutes after claiming that the things Dennis Gilbert does are things “you can never get enough of” is pitch-perfect HOCKEY MAN bullshit. Wad that up and shove it in your dick, Eddie.

Four points is four points, and the Hawks get the added bonus of leaving New Jersey. Overall, not a bad trip.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: High Life

Line of the Night: “It IS meaningful.” Pat Foley describing Dennis Gilbert’s fight, trying harder to convince himself than any of us.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, kick off the home portion of their schedule Saturday night. After dropping the season opener in Iowa last Friday, the IceHogs are at home for their next three games.

Following Saturday’s game with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Rockford hosts the Laval Rocket for the first time ever on Monday afternoon. The home stand concludes October 18 with the first tilt of the season against the Chicago Wolves.

 

Roster Moves

With Dennis Gilbert joining Rockford this week, defenseman Jack Ramsey was assigned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel.

The Hogs currently have 17 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies on the roster. I would expect that to change, starting with Matt Tomkins being sent to Indy soon.

 

Spotlight On The Opponent: Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids reached the postseason last spring, losing in five games to Chicago in the first round. The Hogs took seven of the ten meetings between the two teams in 2018-19. Four of those wins were decided in Gus Macker Time. Rockford was 4-1 against the Griffins at the BMO Harris Bank Center last season.

After besting the Wolves 8-5 in Chicago Saturday night, Grand Rapids will be hosting Milwaukee Friday before pulling into Rockford.

Grand Rapids is a veteran-laden club, with a lot of players who have put in their time in AHL rinks. The Griffins also present a physical challenge to a Rockford team that is predicated on pushing the tempo.

Leading that bunch is Chris Terry, a 30-year-old wing who has been a points machine in the league for the last decade. Terry, who had 29 goals and 32 assists in 2018-19, will be a focal point of the Griffins attack.

Matthew Ford, who turned 35 this week, has been with Grand Rapids the last three seasons. Matt Puempel has nearly 300 AHL games under his belt and is coming off a 50-point season.Turner Elson, a seventh-year pro, starts his third season in the Wings organization. He had a pair of assists in the Griffins 8-5 win over Chicago. Center Dominic Tergeon is back for his fourth year with Grand Rapids.

Givani Smith is a hard-hitting forward that comes back for his second full season with the Griffins. Also returning up front is Filip Zadina, who will be looking to improve upon a solid rookie campaign (16 G, 19 A)

On defense, the Griffins are also very experienced. Alex Biega comes over from Vancouver, where he has 179 NHL games to his credit. He joins Brian Lashoff and Dylan McIlrath, two physical veterans who have been in the league for years. Joe Hicketts returns for a fourth season with Grand Rapids.

Goalie Calvin Pickard has faced Rockford while with Lake Erie and San Antonio earlier in his career. Rockford will be shooting at Pickard or rookie Filip Larsson Saturday night.

Among the newer faces in the Grand Rapids lineup are Joe Veleno, who was Detroit’s first-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. Veleno is a speedy forward who had 104 points with Drummondville in his last year of juniors. Also coming from Drummondville is Gregor MacLeod.

Jarid Lukosevicius is entering his first pro season after a college career at Denver. Princeton’s Ryan Kuffner and Northern Michigan’s Troy Loggins also begin their first full seasons in the AHL.

6’6″ center Michael Rasmussen, the Red Wings 2017 first-rounder, spent most of last season in Detroit but is starting 2019-20 with the Griffins.

Newcomers to the blueline include Oliwer Kaski, Gustav Lindstrom, Moritz Seider and former Cornell skater Alec Mcrea.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on Saturday’s action well as news and opinions on the IceHogs all season long.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s affiliate in the American Hockey League, get their season underway Friday night in DesMoines. Rockford will face the Iowa Wild with fresh faces; the team released the opening-night roster Thursday. It’s time for a look at this bunch as the 2019-20 season begins.

Note: Rockford’s AHL contracts are italicized.

Forward

Vets-Nick Moutrey, Matthew Highmore (A), Kris Versteeg (C), Dylan Sikura, Tyler Sikura (A), Jacob Nilsson (A), Alexandre Fortin, Aleksi Saarela.

Rookies-Mikael Hakkarainen, Dylan McLaughlin, Brandon Hagel, Reese Johnson, Phillipp Kurashev Tim Soderlund, MacKenzie Entwistle, Anton Wedin.

It’s hard to think that the Hogs will carry 16 healthy forwards for too long. Hawks prospects Graham Knott and Nathan Noel are already with the Indy Fuel as room is made for new prospects. The three AHL deals in this group are Versteeg, Sikura the Elder and Moutrey.

There is no way that Versteeg, freshly anointed captain by coach Derek King, is going anywhere. Tyler Sikura is an alternate captain and figures to get heavy minutes. Maybe Moutrey finds himself with the Fuel. However, there’s a good chance a few of the younger guys spends a stretch in the ECHL in the first couple of months.

Key Players

Highmore, who is returning from a 2018-19 lost to injury, is going to be counted on to help pace the offense. Saarela has 30-goal talent at the AHL level and a hot start by the new guy would be great.

Versteeg really seems stoked to be playing hockey in Rockford. If he is a constant in the lineup, there’s no reason he can’t put up 20 goals. Both Sikuras have shown a knack for point-producing in their own ways at this level. Nilsson will be looking to follow up on a promising rookie campaign.

After league-worst offensive production last season, someone’s got to sneak some rubber by opposing goalies on a regular basis. The potential is there, but the new faces are going to have to find chemistry quickly and hope the players above can light the way early.

 

Defense

Vets-Philip Holm, Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson, Joni Tuulola.

Rookies-Chad Krys, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Jack Ramsey.

This is a really young group without any real veteran presence. Carl Dahlstrom getting picked up on waivers by Winnipeg really hurts in this area, but if the high draft picks perform as advertised, that may not be a problem.

Key Players

Boqvist and Beadin are the latest of a series of highly-touted defensive prospects. Will this duo go the way of Ville Pokka and Gustav Forsling, or will they develop into solid members of Chicago’s blueline?

Gilbert stuck around a good while at Blackhawks training camp. He is still in Europe with Chicago and will apparently be called up to play in this afternoon’s game in Prague. The big defenseman looks like he’s ready to build on last season, where he came on slowly but steadily for the Hogs. Look to Gilbert and Holm to be the defensive stoppers for Rockford. Carlsson showed potential in his rookie season; can he be a power play factor for Rockford?

Krys impressed me in his short stint with the IceHogs this past spring. It will be interesting to see where he will fit into the picture.

 

Goalie

Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, Matt Tomkins.

I’m speculating that Tomkins is on the roster until Delia returns from Europe. The Lankinen/Delia combo could be the best tandem in the league by season’s end.

 

Questions To Be Answered In 2019-20

Time to shift into full-on speculation mode. Here goes…

Who carries the scoring load?

Saarela, Highmore, Sikura the Younger, Boqvist and Krys.

Which rookies are going to impress early?

Kurashev, Boqvist…and Hagel.

Can Alexandre Fortin find an offensive game?

I really, really hope so.

How many games will Versteeg play?

He’ll play 60, with 16 goals and 16 assists. Anything above this is gravy. Heck, if he hits those numbers, its still gravy.

Can this team make the playoffs?

Well…first, the Hogs will need to find a way to get the best of the veteran-laden teams in their division like Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. It really depends on how quickly a team with 12 rookies can get up to speed in the AHL.

Can the piglets make the postseason? Sure. Will they? That’s for them to know and all of us to find out.

 

Friday Night vs The Wild

Unlike Rockford, the Wild had a two-game preseason series with Manitoba to get into game shape. Iowa made it to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs after finishing third in the Central Division last season.

Gerald Mayhew is coming off a 60-point season and is beginning his fourth full loop in Iowa. Dmitri Sokolov returns from a rookie season of 16 goals and 14 helpers.  Kyle Rau had 26 goals for Iowa in 2018-19.

Gabriel Dumont comes over from the Lightning organization. He had 43 points (15 G, 28 A) for Syracuse in 2018-19. Sam Anas is also a forward who can fill a net.

Among the familiar faces in Iowa is former Hogs center Luke Johnson, who signed with Minnesota this summer after posting career-highs in goals (18) and points (31) with Rockford in 2018-19. Mike Liambas, who was in Rockford back in 2015-16, brings his hard-hitting mentality to the Wild after joining Iowa last season.

Brennan Menell dished out 42 helpers from the blueline for the Wild last year and returns for his third season. Louis Belpedio (6 G, 15 A), Carson Souchy (5 G, 15 A) and Matt Bartkowski (4 G, 15 A) also return to the Iowa defense.

Kaapo Kahkonen flat-out owned the IceHogs last season, shutting Rockford out three times. It is likely that Kahkonen will man the pipes for Iowa to open the season Friday night.

If things break correctly for me, I’ll be taking in Friday’s opener at BMO South (my basement) and sending out a tweet or twelve during the game. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to join in the discussion, along with thoughts on the Hogs throughout the season.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

A ho-hum affair in which the Chicago Blackhawks kicked the shit out of the Wings in just about every way except the score. We’ll do a quick clean up, since I’m in preseason drinking form.

– Alex Nylander is clearly going to get every chance to make Stan Bowman look like not a moron. Tonight saw him with three good plays and one not so good one. First, the three good ones. In the first period, near his own blue line, Nylander dropped a good backhand pass to a streaking Toews, who nearly peeled away for a breakaway. Second, also in the first, he made a good drop pass to Keith for a nice setup that didn’t really go anywhere. Third, he made a subtle pick play in the second period that freed Kane to hit Keith on his slapper goal. All in all, not bad.

But Nylander completely boofed a wide-open opportunity. With Toews crashing the slot with possession east to west, Nylander had the near post yawning. Toews slipped a pass to the area Nylander was supposed to be in, but Nylander wasn’t at all ready. This is a perfect example of Nylander loafing when the puck isn’t on his stick. If he stays engaged on the play, it’s an easy goal. I truly hope he gets that out of his system soon.

Aside from that, Nylander was perimetery all night, but you wouldn’t know it with Eddie O lavishing praise on him for not shitting his pants. He’s the Jonah Falcon of the preseason so far.

– Dominik Kubalik is probably going to be good, even if his last 40 minutes were uninspiring. In the first, he had a nifty pass to a wide-open Saad in the low slot (which Saad couldn’t pot, because this is how it’s always gonna go) after some great pressure along the near corner from Kampf. I’d like to see Colliton roll the dice and put him with Kane and Toews just to take advantage of that wicked shot he’s got.

– If you are under 18, please don’t watch this video of Adam Boqvist.

He was quiet otherwise, but goddamn. If that translates at all to the NHL, all of our wailing and gnashing of teeth about this blue line may end up in the ether. Yes, he has a ton of work to do in his own end. But you can live with some bed wetting if that’s the offense you’re gonna get. Fuck, they’re gonna give Gus 6×6, and he doesn’t do shit like this.

– Crow didn’t get hurt and looked good doing it.

Dennis Gilbert getting into a preseason fight was as unnecessary as a Betamax of your own conception.

– Based on Pat and Eddie’s coverage, we can safely state that the scoreboard was the best off-season acquisition.

– Maatta and Seabrook were paired tonight. They looked very good against the Grand Rapid Griffins, which was a serious question going into the game, which is exactly what you want from your presumptive second pairing.

Everyone else is either a lock on this team or AHL fodder, though I’d be surprised if Gilbert didn’t come up for air at some point.

Onward.

Booze du Jour: Bulleit bourbon and Miller High Life

Line of the Night: “Unlike the NFL, these guys wanna get their reps.” –Eddie O in mid-season form on players playing in the preseason.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s AHL affiliate, wrapped up the 2018-19 season last night against Milwaukee. The Hogs were beaten by the Admirals 3-2, concluding the IceHogs season with a 35-31-4-6 mark. The 80 points earned by Rockford placed them seventh in the Central Division, out of the playoff picture this season.

As often happens with April snowstorms, I opted for my basement over the BMO Harris Bank Center to watch the curtain fall on this year’s crop of prospects. What follows are my thoughts as the piglets finished this season Sunday evening.

 

Pregame

Looks like a less than full throttle bunch to close out the season. Hogs MIAs include Peter Holland, Matthew Highmore, Jordan Schroeder, Jacob Nilsson, Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson, Collin Delia and Anton Forsberg. Kevin Lankinen is starting in goal; Matt Tomkins is backing him up. Apparently, with no tomorrow for Rockford, the Hogs have decided to punt.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh; obviously, the brass want to see some of the newer faces take to the ice. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is gunning for the second seed in the Central Division. Back on March 22, the Ads were five points behind Rockford for the fourth playoff spot. Milwaukee has gone 9-0-1 since.

The IceHogs went 4-6 in their past ten games. Rockford beat the Admirals in overtime Tuesday in Milwaukee. They fell 3-0 in Iowa Saturday night; it was the seventh time this season that the piglets have been shut out this season. Right to the end, goals were too scarce for this bunch.

The Lankinen-Tomkins connection could be a preview of the goalie tandem next fall, though it’s very possible a veteran will be obtained to pair up with Lankinen, who was very good in limited opportunities for the IceHogs. He definitely needs 40 starts in Rockford instead of the 18 he got this season.

Highmore, who spent most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, left Tuesday’s game and hasn’t played since. Last year’s top goal-scorer suffered through a disappointing season. Hopefully he’s just being held out to keep him healthy and his summer can be spent getting ready for a more productive campaign.

 

Team Awards

Before the game got underway, the IceHogs handed out their team awards. I tweeted my selections (@JonFromi) earlier Sunday afternoon. Here’s how things shook out:

Defensive Player Of The Year-Lucas Carlsson, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: I had Carlsson, who led Rockford defensemen with 33 points (9 G, 24 A) this season.

Most Improved Player-Dennis Gilbert, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Gilbert, who really added to his physical game throughout the season at both ends of the ice.

Rookie Of The Year-Dylan Sikura

My Pick: Jacob Nilsson, who had a promising rookie season, with 15 goals and 18 helpers in 62 games. Sikura was an outstanding rookie for the IceHogs; my selection of Nilsson was largely because he spent the bulk of the season in Rockford, as opposed to Sikura, who played 49 games.

Unsung Hero(es)-Tyler Sikura, William Pelletier

My Pick: Andrew Campbell, who anchored this young team despite not putting up the points. His three-goal, five assist season was what I expected offensively from Campbell. I also expected a strong veteran presence, which Campbell more than delivered.

Heavy Hitter-Andreas Martinsen, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Gilbert, who put a lot of butts on the ice during the season. He also dropped the gloves seven times to pace the club.

Man Of The Year-Pelletier

My Pick: The team announced this a while back, so we all knew how this would go. I really hope Pelletier, who missed the first couple of months, is back with the IceHogs for a third season. His motor is a definite asset.

Team MVP-Jacob Nilsson, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Jordan Schroeder, who also isn’t playing tonight after being injured last weekend. All Schroeder did was set a career-high in points with 45 (19 G, 26 A) and score 19 goals for Rockford. With points in 37 of his 62 games, Schroeder’s longest point drought was three games.

He had points in 23 of those games, including the Hogs only hat trick against Iowa January 6. However, Schroeder was a steadier scoring threat for the offensively-challenged Hogs.

On a team that was woefully short on veteran scoring, Schroeder stepped up his game. He was consistently Rockford’s most productive offensive player all season. In my opinion, this was the team’s biggest miss in regards to the awards.

 

First Period

Tanner Jeanneau puts Milwaukee up 1-0 with a tip-in at 6:29. A couple minutes later, Milwaukee scores again on a power play goal by Cole Schneider. Just over eight minutes in and Rockford trails by a pair.

The Hogs get a goal back when Alexandre Fortin knocks in a centering pass by Dylan McLaughlin midway through the frame. Fortin has had difficulty converting on scoring opportunities this season (this was his sixth goal of 2018-19). The speed is there, but the kid needs to learn how to finish plays.

Pelletier gets hooked a moment later and Rockford’s 29th-ranked power play hits the ice. As happens more often than not, the IceHogs come up short. Could a more effective man advantage have helped Rockford this season? Definitely.

The IceHogs are out-shot 12-3 in the first 20 minutes and head to the intermission down a goal.

We already know that Rockford will not be participating in the postseason. That’s because (sorry) the Hogs were not a playoff-level team.

Rockford, as you would expect from a prospect-laden squad, ran very hot and cold this season. The Hogs lost six straight games on two occasions and had several three and four-game skids.

Rockford did put together a six-game winning streak in late January and early February and had the goal-tending to put together a solid campaign. However, there was never enough offense to capitalize on the great play between the pipes.

 

Second Period

Hogs broadcaster Joey Zakrzewski mentions that there are 19 skaters for Rockford who will be free agents this summer. I will forecast which of those we can expect to return to the organization in the next few weeks.

Tyler Sikura is one of those skaters who I would like to see back. He may not be quite the prospect that Sikura the Younger is, but Sikura the Elder can still make a difference for the Hogs next fall. His season wasn’t as productive and he lost a lot of time to injury. However, Sikura still had seven goals and a dozen assists in 50 games.

The Ads go up 3-1 during some four-on-four time on a goal at 6:33 by Adam Halewka, his 21st of the season. Rockford, like last season, hasn’t let a two-goal lead get them down. This team has battled hard under interim coach Derek King. What does that mean to King’s chances of getting the gig moving forward?

I don’t know.

Rockford is on its way to a seventh-place finish. This is about how last year’s team would have fared without the slew of veterans who took over in the spring. Management is going to have to believe that King can get some of these prospects ready for action at the next level. I would think that that decision will come in the next couple of days.

Fortin has a clear path to the net midway through the period; he loses the handle and another scoring chances fritters away. The shots are now 25-9 in favor of Milwaukee, who take the 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

 

Third Period

Rockford has a couple of big rallies this season, including a four-goal third period against San Antonio last week that pulled out a crucial victory at the BMO. They came back from 3-1 in Milwaukee Tuesday, so I am not counting the piglets out of this game yet.

As if on cue, Luke Johnson gets a rebound of a Nick Moutrey shot into the cage at 8:57 of the third. It’s Johnson’s 18th of the season (career high) as well as his 31st point (also a career high), despite only 53 games played for the IceHogs in 2018-19. Johnson is an RFA this summer that has shown steady progress in Rockford.

The Hogs refusal to capitulate has been a big selling point these last two seasons. There is a nice crowd at the BMO tonight. Not sure it’s going to be enough to prevent another drop in the yearly attendance, though.

Right now, Rockford’s average is 3828, down just a tad from 3915 last season. The hockey wave may have crested, but it’s too bad more people aren’t taking an interest in a young team that plays hard and gets up and down the ice with urgency.

Rockford is pressuring the Admirals as the sands begin to run out in the final stanza; they’ve out shot Milwaukee 7-2 in the first 15 minutes of the period. Johnson and Dylan Sikura each have six game-winners this season and have a lot of other clutch goals. Maybe they sneak one past Tom McCullom to knot this game.

Lankinen heads to the bench and the Hogs take their last hacks. Phillipp Kurashev, who I imagine will be in Rockford full-time this fall, has a good look from the bottom of the right circle that is snatched out of the air by the Ads goalie. Time out called by King.

The IceHogs win the faceoff but just can’t put that key third goal in the back of the Milwaukee net. The Admirals vault Iowa and Grand Rapids for the second seed. They’ll start with the Wild in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs; Chicago gets the slumping Griffins. The Hogs skate off the ice to clear out their lockers.

So ends the twentieth season of pro hockey in the Forest City and the twelfth as the Blackhawks AHL affiliate. Was this season a success?

My thoughts on that question (and probably many others) will come in future posts. Stay tuned.