Hockey

It’s been a hot minute since this fair website did one of these, and for a while this season the team hasn’t looked that horrible in 12 years. Although we’ve seen some improvement over the past 25-ish games with Derek King at the helm, the Hawks are still fraught with issues that will take quite a few years to fix. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Dizzying Highs

Alex DeBrincat – God help him if he ever leaves us. The Cat has been the main scorer as of late, netting a quarter of the Blackhawks goals so far this season. His offense is so valued that he has been bumped down to the second line to try and generate more chances with Toews and Kubalik, and it worked out well for Kubalik last game as he was able to score on a play set up by the Cat. DeBrincat is also the pity representative for the Hawks at the All-Star Game this year, and it is well-deserved considering the plethora of highlight-reel goals he has scored for us this season.

Defensive Improvement – Compared to the galaxy-brained Systems that Jeremy Colliton was forcing on young and impressionable hockey players, Marc Crawford has been able to help restructure the back end so they give up slightly less chances than they did before, and look better while doing so. Under Colliton, the team had a 46.3 CF% and under King they’ve improved slightly to 47.2%. Their newer, grinding style has almost everyone playing more defensive-mindedly, preferring to get greasier goals at the net or waiting for Kane or the Cat to work their magic. It also helps the defense that the Hawks are getting better goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, as the man continues to garner up wins and another shutout or two for his storied career.

The Terrifying Lows

The Offense – It’s gotten a little bit better as of late, but more guys are definitely going to need to step up in the immediate and distant future, especially considering we can likely kiss this year’s first-round draft pick goodbye. Kane and DeBrincat are in on 35% of the team’s goals, and after them the top points-producer is Seth Jones with 25 points (22 assists). The 3rd-highest scorer on the team is Brandon Hagel, who is tied with Kane for 9 goals. Kubalik has recently been picking up the pace with two goals over the past two games after a six-game pointless streak, and hopefully he can continue to produce because God knows we need it. The Hawks have the 4th-worst goals for per game in the league with 2.37, and because of it there is a very low margin for error for the defense in order for the Hawks to pull out a win these days.

Future Goaltending – Let’s be honest: the Blackhawks will be a bit of a stopover for Marc-Andre Fleury. Although I’m not sure the Hawks will be able to deal him at the trade deadline because of how hesitant he’s been in the past to uproot his family to a new city, he will become a free agent this summer and I think it’s unlikely the Hawks will re-sign him. Kevin Lankinen’s contract will also be up this summer, and although he’s been a serviceable backup, his numbers don’t exactly scream NHL starter: .884 save percentage, .899 at evens this year? No thanks. Arvid Soderblom is next in the pipeline, but at only 22 years old and playing his first season in North America, he will need more time before getting thrown to the wolves in front of this team. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks deal with this glaring issue in the offseason.

The Mushy Middles

Derek King – It wasn’t hard to rise up from rock bottom, which is where Coach Cool Youth Pastor left this team when he got fired. But interim coach Derek King has been serviceable so far. Everyone keeps talking about how much more confident they are on the ice, although that doesn’t stop Kane from looking like he doesn’t give a shit if his team is losing during a mid-January game. (And can anyone blame him?) They’ve had a lower goals against per game with King: 2.92 vs. Colliton’s 3.91. However, after a 4-game win streak to begin King’s tenure with the Hawks, they leveled out a bit with a 14-9-3 record, which included a six-game losing streak and another four-game winning streak. He’s doing about as much as can be expected with the current roster, but it’s still hard for me to see him staying on as the permanent head coach unless Marc Crawford becomes The Man Behind the Curtain. And if that happens, then God help us all.

Landon Slaggert? – I recently watched the Hawks’ 2020 3rd round draft pick have a career game against Ohio State on Friday night, where he absolutely dominated offensively. He scored a goal and assisted on the other two Notre Dame scored, including the overtime winner. And the Hawks coaching staff should be pleased to hear he showed GRIT and HEART when he flattened a Buckeye and took a roughing penalty in the 2nd period, watched as the Bucks couldn’t complete a single successful zone entry in the ensuing powerplay, and scored minutes after coming out of the box. He was super quick on his feet and might be able to max out as a Brandon Hagel-like surprise success in the NHL. Granted, this is all after seeing by far his best game of his college career so far, so maybe I need to temper my expectations. He’s still a few years away from being able to sniff the NHL, but at least there could be SOMETHING bubbling down the pipeline.

Hockey

Rockford IceHogs goalie Collin Delia may have won the most important game of his career Saturday night. Too much hyperbole for a mid-November tilt with the Chicago Wolves? Not for a 27-year old goaltender that’s being used as infrequently as Delia.

Saturday night, the Rancho Cucamonga, California native was between the pipes for the Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate for the first time in nearly a month. Delia’s 31-save performance in Rockford’s 3-2 shootout win over the Wolves in Rosemont comes at a most crucial time for the fifth-year pro.

Before Saturday, Delia had played eleven games over the previous 20 months. Thanks to last year’s NHL taxi squad and some poor planning by the Blackhawks organization, time in the crease has been at a high premium for Delia.

“When you have three,” explained Hogs interim head coach Anders Sorensen last week, “you’ve got to make sure you’re getting the right development times, they’re getting the right game times. Sometimes it’s hard, but we’re working through it.”

Coming into the stoppage that ultimately ended the 2019-20 campaign, Delia was being handled like a future NHL backup for the Blackhawks. Having played in 16 games for Chicago the season before, Delia was getting his work in with the IceHogs as the spring of 2020 began.

Beginning in February, Delia started 12 of Rockford’s final 17 games before play was halted in mid-March. Since then, Delia has felt the crunch in net more than any other goalie in the organization over the past two seasons.

Malcom Subban was obtained in the summer of 2020. With the NHL requiring three goalies on the 2020-21 rosters, the Blackhawks grouped Delia with Subban and Kevin Lankinen. Delia had shaky performances in his first two starts of the season and quickly became the odd man out in Chicago’s goalie mix.

He sat, inactive, for six weeks before requesting and receiving a conditioning assignment to Rockford, where he played four games in two weeks. After shaking off some understandable rust, Delia beat the Iowa Wild in back-to-back starts March 6 and 7 with solid performances.

Two months later, Delia got into his next game, a 5-2 loss to Carolina. Relieving Subban, Delia stopped all 19 shots he faced. He was 1-1-1 in three starts following that contest.

This past summer, Marc-Andre Fleury’s acquisition crowed the goalie room further. The Blackhawks passed Delia and Subban through waivers, perhaps hoping one would be claimed. They were not.

Based on then-coach Derek King’s comments earlier this month, Chicago’s plan was to give rookie Arvid Soderblom half of the starts in Rockford this season, dividing the other half to the tandem of Subban and Delia.

“Right now, when those guys (Delia and Subban) came down, Soderblom was obviously going to play a lot of the games,” explained King back on November 2. “So, it’s always been Soderblom, plus one of those guys. Then, the next weekend, it’s been Soderblom plus Delia or Soderblom plus Subi. Those guys (Delia and Subban) haven’t gotten in rhythm at all. They’re kind of playing once every two weeks, which is hard to be fresh and be sharp.”

Subban’s weekend was first up. Delia gave up five goals to the Wild in his season debut on October 23. He dressed in Texas on October 28 as Subban’s back up. Subban was used the last two weeks in tandem with Soderblom. Where was Delia? The answer arrived on November 16 from Sorensen.

“Collin was on COVID protocol the last ten days here. He just got back this week,” Sorensen explained when discussing his goalie situation.

Delia practiced this past week and backed up Soderblom in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Saturday, the crease was finally his.

After the Wolves put a shorthanded chance and a power play goal past him early, Delia settled down and denied Chicago’s last 28 shots in regulation and overtime. He then stopped four shootout attempts from the Wolves to allow Rockford to prevail.

It can’t be overstated how important this result was for Delia. Meanwhile, the issue remains; Rockford has three goalies who are capable of carrying the work load. There just aren’t enough minutes to go around.

“If you look at Arvid,” Sorensen points out, “he’s had a really good start to his North American career. He’s been really poised. He’s a big kid. He reads the play well, he comes ready to practice, he comes ready to play every day. Malcom has been fantastic. He’s been really good in the locker room, but also his last couple of outings in net have been really good. (Delia) needs some practice time here, but obviously we know him from the past and we know what he can do.”

In the current state of affairs, the best Delia can hope for is a start every other week. It is poor asset management by the Blackhawks, who signed Delia to a three-year, three million dollar contract back in February of 2019.

A goalie needs to be traded or loaned out. The organization either can’t or won’t make that move happen. Delia, who, like Subban is an unrestricted free agent this summer, isn’t going to have many chances to make his case for being an NHL goalie. Saturday night was a pivotal game for his future.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs recalled forward Kale Howarth from Indy on Thursday. Howarth missed the start of the season with a lower body injury before being loaned to the Fuel November 9. The former UCONN skater had two goals and an assist for Indy in five games in his stint in the ECHL. Howarth played in both games for the IceHogs this weekend.

Issak Phillips also made his return to the lineup after the Blackhawks removed him from COVID protocols and assigned him to Rockford last week.

 

Weekend Recaps

The piglets won two in a row over Chicago, grinding out wins in both ends of the home-and-home series.

Friday, November 19-Rockford 6, Chicago 3 

The Hogs trailed by a pair early, picked themselves up off the deck, rallied behind their special teams, and wound up topping the Wolves. Rockford improves to 4-6-1 and claimed the first of a home-and-home series with Chicago.

The Wolves (8-4-1) dug into the Rockford zone throughout the first fifteen minutes of action. Dominick Bokk finished off a barrage of pucks in front of Hogs goalie Arvid Soderblom for a 1-0 Chicago advantage 2:48 into the contest. Josh Jacobs capped a slick faceoff sequence with a scoring strike from the outside of the right circle at the 7:31 mark to make it 2-0 Wolves.

At this point, Rockford was being dominated at even strength. The turning point in the game came when a Joey Keane hooking infraction gave the IceHogs their only man advantage of the evening. Brett Connolly capitalized on the opportunity, one-timing a Lukas Reichel feed into the back door of Eetu Makiniemi‘s crease. The goal signaled a significant change of momentum at 13:57 of the first period.

Down 2-1, the Hogs got back to even ground on the penalty kill. After being tagged with too many skaters on the ice, Rockford’s Ian Mitchell and Josiah Slavin dug a puck out the boards in front of the IceHogs bench. Slavin found Carson Gicewicz leaving the defensive zone to start an odd-man rush toward the Chicago net. Gicewicz returned the puck to Slavin at the left post; the resulting tap-in tied the game at two goals at 15:07 of the first.

Rockford came out in the second period with a bit more jump, matching the Wolves intensity and grabbing its first lead of the night midway through the frame. Alexander Nylander put back a rebound off of a Dylan McLaughlin offering 10:55 into the period to make it 3-2 Rockford.

Back came the Wolves, who tied the game on David Gust‘s fourth goal of the season. Gust finished off a quick-developing Chicago rush into the Hogs zone, sending a pass from Maxim Letunov from the right dot past Soderblom at the 12:21 mark.

The score remained 3-3 until the second minute of the third period. Issak Phillips got the game-winner started, tipping a pass into the Wolves zone before finishing his shift. Reichel chased the puck down behind the net before Wyatt Kalynuk won possession coming around the endboards. Kalynuk circled the Chicago net before threading a pass to Reichel, who guided the biscuit past Makiniemi 1:04 into the final frame to give the Hogs a 4-3 lead.

The Wolves pushed hard for the equalizer, but it was not in the cards. Rockford added empty-net goals from Evan Barratt and Garrett Mitchell in the final minutes to secure the victory.

Soderblom wound up stopping 31 of 34 shots on the night. It was all Rockford for the Three Stars, with Nylander (First), Reichel (Second) and Slavin (Third) earning the honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz

Alexander Nylander-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Jakub Pour-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-Michael Teply

Kale Howarth-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Wyatt Kalynuk-Ian Mitchell

Arvid Soderblom

Collin Delia

 

Saturday, November 20-Rockford 3, Chicago 2 (SO)

Collin Delia got his first start in almost a month Saturday. He saved 31 shots to lead the Hogs (5-6-1) to a second straight victory over Chicago.

Rockford had an early power play opportunity that led to the first goal of the night. Unfortunately, it was a shorthanded tally by the Wolves. Andrew Poturalski picked the pocket of Nicolas Beaudin just across the Hogs blue line. He passed to Stefan Noesen, who smartly maneuvered through D.J. Busdeker and sent a shot past the stick side of Hogs goalie Collin Delia. The Wolves led 1-0 2:26 into the contest.

The Wolves burned the Rockford defense in transition later in the opening frame. David Gust sped through the middle of the ice, leaving several Hogs in his wake. Gust beat Delia at the left at the 8:06 mark to make it 2-0 Chicago.

The Hogs patiently tried to cut into the Wolves advantage in the second stanza. It took most of the period, but Rockford finally figured out Chicago goalie Alex Lyon in the closing minutes. Jakub Galvas sent a shot on goal from the point that was redirected by Busdeker. Lyon stopped the attempt, but Dylan McLaughlin was on hand to clean up, flipping the rebound into the cage with 1:01 remaining in the second.

Down 2-1 entering the third, Rockford got back to even footing in the opening minutes. The equalizer came on the power play; McLaughlin brought the puck to the Chicago blue line and hit Andrei Altybarmakian coming down the middle of the ice. Altybarmakian sent a shot wide of the Wolves net that rebounded out to Evan Barratt at the bottom of the left circle. His shot banked off of Lyon and tumbled into the cage 1:44 into the period.

From there, the Hogs concentrated on keeping Chicago from prime scoring chances. Delia stopped 12 Wolves shots in the final 20 minutes and another two in Gus Macker Time, forcing Rockford’s first shootout of the season.

Lyon stopped Alexander Nylander, Lukas Reichel and Brett Connolly. Delia responded by denying Noesen, Dominick Bokk and Andrew Poturalski. In round four, McLaughlin sent a shot under Lyon’s blocker and into the net. Delia snuffed out Gust’s attempt to claim First Star honors and pick up his first win of the campaign.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexander Nylander-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Evan Barratt-Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz

Andrei Altybarmakian-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Kale Howarth-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Wyatt Kalynuk-Ian Mitchell

Collin Delia

Arvid Soderblom

 

Next

The IceHogs have their first three-game weekend to close the book on November. Rockford hosts a struggling Milwaukee team on Friday and Sunday, bookending a Saturday night trip to Rosemont and the Wolves.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

Since we last wrote, the Reckoning finally happened, and the Hawks won their first two games of the season. As we are all aware of now, Jeremy Colliton finally got ousted as Blackhawks head coach, and hopefully his galaxy-brained “Systems” are gone with him. After a 5-1 win against the paltry Senators, the Hawks went back to their usual play under Colliton this season, coughing up a two-goal lead to the Hurricanes and getting trounced by the Jets before the interim general manager decided after only a week on the job that it was time for a new coach.

Although many speculated it would be Marc Crawford who would get the interim job, it was instead given to Derek King, who had been head coach of the IceHogs and already has a strong relationship with a lot of the younger guys who came up through Rockford. Though he mentioned before last night’s game that he didn’t have time to be changing the Systems the team is currently playing with, I saw marked improvement on the defensive front last night and hope to see that continue. There’s nowhere else to go but up.

11/1/21
Hawks 5 – Senators 1
Box Score |
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks finally get a win on the season, and all it took was for Patrick Kane to go off after returning from COVID protocol—no, the irony is not lost on us. He had a hat trick and an assist, being part of all but one of the goals scored by the Hawks. Brandon Hagel scored the other two goals, giving me a slight bit of hope that he’s learning how to finish. He also tends to be incredibly streaky with his points production going back to last year—if he can figure out how to score consistently, I think he’ll be productive in this league for years to come.

Seth Jones also had a pretty good game, stealing pucks away from opponents, making good plays, keeping pucks in the offensive zone, and getting another assist on the night. (He leads the team in assists and led in points until this game when Kane went off.)

Defensively, it’s still same-old, same-old. The Hawks got domed possession-wise in the first period, yet thankfully didn’t throw their hands in the air and give up midway through the game. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots and put on a stellar performance despite this entire organization not being deserving of any save he makes. This came after he made 39 saves in the previous game and continues to get trotted out and asked to provide nearly all of the team’s defense via saves against the league’s best teams.

Finally, I’m not sure who’s big-brained idea it was to put Dylan Strome on a line with the likes of Reese Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle, but I didn’t wonder for a second why he wasn’t producing this game. Surround him with likeminded players who can help him score if you actually want to capitalize on his offensive talents? Or don’t, I guess. It’s all a wash anyway.

11/3/21
Hawks 3, Hurricanes 4
Box Score | Natural Stat Trick

I don’t think anyone genuinely believed the Hawks would win this one, but the way they completely collapsed to start the 3rd period after sending the Hurricanes into their first two-goal deficit of their season was a sight to behold. Perhaps it has something to do with people like Reese Johnson getting playing time ahead of Dylan Strome and Ryan Carpenter on the PP1 instead of Dylan Strome. But obviously what do I know?

This loss was no fault of the Cat, who scored two of the Hawks’ three goals and had a quality chance during the four-minute powerplay to end the game that didn’t end up going in. He and Kane are the only reliable scorers on this team, as everyone else seems desperately unable to finish. Kubalik seemed especially snakebitten tonight despite his fine performance against Ottawa. He had only two shots tonight and was on the ice for Carolina’s first goal in which he was unable to defend Tony DeAngelo of all people from tipping the puck to Derek Stepan, who knocked it in past Fleury.

Speaking of, this loss can also be partially blamed on Fleury, though that doesn’t keep me from pitying every second he has to stand on this ice behind this team. The 3-2 Hawks lead going into the 3rd period was blown by a bad goal on his part. He got five-holed by Jesper Fast, a goal Fleury absolutely has to have especially when your defenseman Jake McCabe becomes a turnstile before everyone’s eyes. The Canes’ fourth goal could be entirely blamed on Fleury, as he got a piece of the puck but was unable to keep it from dribbling behind him and into the goal. Tough loss, and yet there’s more to come before the weekend winds down.

11/5/21
Hawks 1, Jets 5
Box Score | Natural Stat Trick

The game that finally got Colliton canned was a pretty horrific one, with the Hawks essentially mailing it in after giving up a quick goal to the Jets just 47 seconds into the game. It featured Seth Jones getting caught in the neutral zone, leaving Paul Stastny completely alone in the slot. About two minutes later, the Jets converted on a powerplay opportunity thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury being screened by like three people, two of them Hawks. It doesn’t get much worse than this.

The underlying numbers were horrific; the Hawks had only 18 shots on goal the entire game and were crushed possession-wise in both the second and third periods. An offside powerplay goal for the Hawks early in the 2nd period continued to frustrate the entire team. The lone Hawks goal was thanks to Entwistle on yet another powerplay opportunity because expecting 5-on-5 goals with a Jeremy Colliton team is not a realistic expectation. I turned this one off early, if I’m going to be honest, and opted instead for my yearly re-watch of Slap Shot to fill my time.

11/7/21
Hawks 2, Predators 1 (OT)
Box Score | Natural Stat Trick

For the first time this season, which already feels so long because of all the horrible things that have happened thus far, there was cause for excitement as the Hawks took the ice. Both Derek King and interim GM Kyle Davidson had said the right things earlier that day in their introductory press conference, and the fact that the Hawks were playing against the fodder that is the Nashville Predators made it seem like a win was entirely possible.

It almost seemed like night and day for this Hawks team, becoming reinvigorated with a new voice in the room and a fresh start. It was pretty even possession-wise for most of the game with both Kevin Lankinen and Juuse Saros making big stops to keep the game close through the end. This is progress.

Brandon Hagel scored the lone goal of regulation for the Hawks; he was able to deflect a Seth Jones shot from the blueline into the net. Unfortunately Hagel later left the game with a shoulder injury and did not participate in this afternoon’s practice either, because this team can never have nice things happen for too long. Entwistle also hurt his ankle this game after a spectacular collision with Mike Hardman in the neutral zone, meaning by the end of this one the Hawks were playing with only 10 forwards.

The Hawks allowed the Predators to tie things up a few minutes after that Hagel goal thanks to some wacky defense from both de Haan and Stillman. However, the D looked a bit better this game, perhaps thanks to King limiting Erik Gustafsson’s minutes as much as humanly possible down the stretch. For a 12-minute stretch, the Hawks allowed the Predators without a shot on goal, though that can also be chalked up to their offense being quite bad.

The winning OT goal was DeBrincat to Kane to DeBrincat just seconds into overtime—just another beautiful play to add to both players’ highlight reels. Ryan Johansen and Saros didn’t stand a chance.

The Hawks only have two games this week, seeing the Penguins tomorrow who are still without Crosby and the even more abysmal Arizona Coyotes on Friday. This gives King time to tinker with lines, systems, and whatever else before focusing on winning some theoretically winnable games. And with Hagel and Entwistle out we might see some other players get a chance in the lineup as well. We’ll see how things shake out tomorrow.

I leave you with footage of all three goals Lukas Reichel scored last night for the IceHogs; go check out Jon Fromi’s extended coverage of that game and the Hogs here.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue their October tour this weekend. The action takes place in DesMoines, where the piglets will face the Iowa Wild on Friday and Saturday nights. After splitting the first two games of the season in Grand Rapids and Chicago, the Hogs could see their points percentage climb above the .500 mark for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign.

Roster News

On Monday, the Blackhawks called up forward Mike Hardman, sending defenseman Ian Mitchell to Rockford. The IceHogs assigned goalie Cale Morris to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

Morris joins goalie Tom Aubrun in Indy. In addition to the two netminders, Rockford has several AHL contracts assigned to the Fuel roster. These include forwards Liam Folkes, Riley McKay and Chad Yetman. Indy hosts Cinncinati on October 23 to open its schedule.

 

A Look At The Wild

Iowa has some new faces, though the Hogs should be familiar with some of them. Forward Dominic Turgeon and defenseman Joe Hicketts come over from Grand Rapids. Longtime Iowa forward Kyle Rau is back after spending last season with Minnesota. Center Connor Dewar returns for his third season after posting 23 points (12 G, 11 A) in 32 games for the Wild in 2020-21. He currently leads Iowa in scoring (2 points) following the first weekend.

The Wild split two games with the Texas Stars to open their season. Veteran goalie Andrew Hammond shut out the Stars on October 16. He’s coming off a solid season with Rochester last spring (2.53 GAA, .908 save percentage) and will likely split starts with prospect Dereck Baribeau against the IceHogs. Baribeau was 2-0 against Rockford last season, with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Overall, he was 6-1-2 in ten appearances (2.54 GAA, .914 save percentage).

The IceHogs were 1-4-1 at Wells Fargo Arena last season. Nicolas Beaudin had a lot of success against the Wild; in five games, the defenseman had six points (2 G, 4 A). In ten games with the Wild, Reese Johnson also posted six points (2 G, 4 A). Rockford was 4-5-1 in those games.

The Hogs will be leaving Malcom Subban at home for the weekend. Collin Delia looks to get his first start of the season. Arvid Soderblom, who will likely get the other start this weekend, shut out the Wild when the teams met in the preseason on October 23.

Nothing has been announced as of yet, but Chad Krys may be out for a stretch after suffering a knee injury on October 16 in Chicago. Mitchell will likely draw into the defensive mix regardless.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on this weekend’s games, as well as my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

 

 

Hockey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs concluded the 2020-21 season this weekend. The piglets split a back-to-back with the Chicago Wolves to put an end to extended prospect camp.

Rockford beat the Wolves 4-1 Friday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center to wrap up the home slate with a 8-9 mark. Chicago bested the IceHogs by that same margin in Hoffman Estates on Saturday.

The Hogs finish the shortened season with an unremarkable 12-19-1 record. Their .391 point percentage put them solidly in the basement of the Central Division. Rockford was near the bottom of the league in goals, goals allowed, shots, shots allowed…you get the idea.

While this was a frustrating season to watch, it’s difficult to call it a disappointing one. The Blackhawks (who bought the IceHogs franchise earlier this season) were pretty up front in terms of what we were to expect from this year’s model in Rockford.

The bar was set incredibly low. Practically on the ground.

The IceHogs consisted of a slew of rookies and AHL contracts that would likely been in the team’s ECHL affiliate in normal circumstances. When the 30-game schedule was announced before play began, I figured that Rockford would be lucky to win ten.

Three games were added during the season; one postponed game with Cleveland was never rescheduled. Twelve wins in 32 games isn’t anything to write home about. However, there were some positives to be had.

The piglets got off the deck after a 1-7-1 start and went 11-12 the rest of the way. Head coach Derek King had the young Hogs playing hard and competing with teams that were vastly more experienced and talented. Several players got key experience they would not otherwise have had if not for a depleted roster.

There is much to digest following the last four months. I’ll get started later this week with a look at some of the players I thought made and impact for the IceHogs.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as I take a closer look at the past season.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are not going to finish with a winning record in 2020-21. However, the piglets have made substantial progress toward respectability.

Rockford opened this season back in February with a woefully stocked roster of players. The talent gap between the Hogs and the rest of the AHL was vast. In previewing this year’s crop on the farm, I noted that this young and inexperienced team was going to take its lumps in the early going. And take them they did.

The IceHogs limped out to a 1-7-1 start, losing six straight games to begin the season. The nadir of the first month was a 9-4 shellacking by Grand Rapids on March 3.

Fortunately, the Hogs got their legs under them. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but coach Derek King has the undermanned roster scrapping to be competitive. Rockford has gone 10-8 dating back on March 6.

The IceHogs are currently coming off of a pair of wins over the Griffins. Last Saturday, Rockford bested Grand Rapids 3-2 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Monday, the Hogs prevailed 3-2 in a shootout at Van Andel Arena.

What has proven to be the difference in the IceHogs over their last 18 games? Let’s make a list:

  • Rockford has gotten some frequent influxes of talent via the taxi squad. Players like MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson have contributed at both ends of the ice.
  • Dylan McLaughlin has really stepped up his game in his sophomore season with Rockford. Dating back to March 13, McLaughlin has 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in his last 15 games.
  • The piglets have been able to hold their own in physical affairs with Grand Rapids and Iowa in the past few weeks.
  • The goal tending has been better. Ivan Nalimov has looked more comfortable in net. Cale Morris left after two periods in Grand Rapids with an injury April 28, but was keeping Rockford in games. Matt Tomkins had a great game in Monday’s win, stopping 24 shots in regulation and overtime. Since coming down from Chicago’s taxi squad March 11, Tomkins has a 2.71 GAA and a .919 save percentage in his last seven games.
  • Brandon Pirri, when he has been used, has been an offensive force for the IceHogs. The power play has teeth when Pirri is manning the wing. In five games, Pirri is second on the team with six goals. He has points in each of those five games; Rockford is 4-1 when Pirri is in the lineup.
  • As he has done throughout his short tenure at the helm, King has the IceHogs playing hard every night. They have managed to be competitive even when being badly overmatched.

This weekend, Rockford has its last two games of the season with the Iowa Wild. The Hogs are at Iowa on Friday night; the Wild come to the BMO on Sunday afternoon.

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