Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, American Hockey League affiliate of the Blackhawks, are getting underway with training camp for the 2020-21 campaign on Monday. With the season set to kick off on February 5, the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets once again take to the BMO Harris Bank Center to do battle with the other teams of the AHL.

Sort of. The schedule is cut down to 30 games, the opponents are cut down to four, and the roster…well, we shall address that in just a bit.

Derek King is back for his second full season at the helm of the IceHogs. He’s 58-55-3-6 since taking over for Jeremy Colliton early in the 2028-29 season. King will be working with a lot of new faces, as is per usual for Rockford.

How much do the IceHogs have returning from the 2019-20 campaign? Let’s take a look at the stat sheet.

Starting at the top of the list of last season’s top point scorers in Rockford:

  1. Tyler Sikura (14 G, 20 A)-He’ll be at the BMO when the season opens-as a member of the Cleveland Monsters, with whom he signed in October.
  2. Dylan Sikura (14 G, 19 A)-Traded to Vegas and currently set to skate for their AHL team in Henderson.
  3. Brandon Hagel (19 G, 12 A)-Last season’s goals leader for the Hogs is with the Blackhawks.
  4. Mackenzie Entwistle (11 G, 15 A)-Currently on the Hawks taxi squad.
  5. Lucas Carlsson (5 G, 21 A)-Same.

Forward John Quenneville, sixth in team scoring with 13 goals and nine helpers, has been assigned to Rockford. I could continue down this list, but it gets a little too dire for me to have to write. Only the 14th (AHL contract Gabriel Gagne) and 20th (Chad Krys) of the Hogs top scorers join Quenneville in Rockford. In all, the Hogs have just ten skaters who saw action with Rockford last season heading into training camp.

The taxi squad delivers quite the blow to the IceHogs offensive potential. Brandon Pirri, who has cleared waivers, is an AHL scoring machine but may or may not be assigned to Rockford. Entwistle and Carlsson are returning prospects who could both be expected to improve upon previous AHL efforts.

Even with players like Hagel, Phillip Kurashev, and the aforementioned taxi squad skaters, the Hogs would be hard-pressed to qualify as even an average offensive squad. This is a team that struggled to put three goals on the board last season.

Rockford wound up 29th out of 31 teams in goals scored last season. The team right below them, the Chicago Wolves, will be drawing prospects from Carolina, whose affiliate in Charlotte won a Calder Cup in 2019. They will also be sent prospects from Nashville, whose affiliate in Milwaukee was the league juggernaut up until the season was canceled in March.

Rockford should not expect the same influx of top-end prospects. The IceHogs cupboard is bare. In terms of AHL game experience, the piglets are dead last of the 28 teams set to begin the 2020-21 season. (Springfield, Charlotte and Milwaukee opted out of play for 2020-21.)

Doubling down on young prospects is the way the Hawks organization has decided to play this shortened AHL season. A team wanting to compete this year could snap up several impact players even at as the AHL approaches its startup date. Many teams, including Rockford, are passing on the solid AHL talent still out there, probably due to financial reasons.

Like a lot of teams around the league, the IceHogs will begin play in an empty BMO. That may be the case for the bulk of the 30-game schedule. Little or no revenue coming in and no plan for a postseason make this an understandable, if a less than optimal, path moving forward.

On the other hand, a lot of young players who may otherwise have no shot at steady AHL minutes have been afforded a small window of opportunity. A slew of them could be skating for Rockford.

 

The 2020-21 Schedule

As previously stated, Rockford has a 30-game slate. The Hogs are in the six-team Central Division, though they have no games scheduled with the Texas Stars. Rockford’s action this season is comprised of dates with the four remaining Central Division teams.

The Hogs have ten games with the Iowa Wild and eight apiece between the Chicago Wolves and the Grand Rapids Griffins. Rockford also has four match-ups with the Cleveland Monsters, who visit the BMO for a two-game set February 5 and 6 to kick off the season.

Fans will not be allowed into the BMO to begin the season. That could chance later in the spring, though the schedule makers did Rockford no favors in this regard. Ten of RFD’s first 16 games, through the end of March, are at home. Starting in April, the Hogs have just five home dates in their remaining 14 games.

Let’s begin our look at the team that could awaiting the puck drop against the Monsters February 5 with a look at the crease.

 

Goalie

With the NHL required to keep three goalies on the roster/taxi squad, the only net-minder under contract to the Blackhawks currently eligible to skate for the IceHogs is 26-year-old Matt Tomkins. Tomkins is in the last year of a two-year contract he signed in the middle of the 2019-20 campaign.

Despite being signed to NHL ink by Chicago, the organization hasn’t really given Tomkins a lot of playing time. He seemed to have earned a contract with strong play in nine starts in the first half of the season when Collin Delia was struggling mightily and Kevin Lankinen was battling injuries. Following his signing on January 23 of 2020, he made just four appearances before play was halted in March.

The Hawks seventh-round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, Tomkins seemingly has his biggest opportunity with the team since turning pro. He played well when called upon last season; we’ll see if he gets regular work as the Hogs begin action.

Rockford also has a pair of goalies signed to AHL deals. Tom Aubrun, who was signed to a two-year contract after a standout career at NCAA Division III Norwich University, is currently with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, where he has seen limited action. Former Chicago Steel and Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris was signed to a one-year contract by Rockford back in October.

Lankinen is the only Hawks goalie who is waiver exempt. The way he has played early in the season for Chicago, it seems unlikely that he, Delia or Malcom Subban are sent to Rockford. This leaves Tomkins, Morris and Aubrun responsible for the pipes at the BMO.

Not so fast, pilgrim. Sunday night, Tony Androckitis of insideahlhockey.com reported that former Hogs and Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling had signed to play in Rockford this season.

Darling parlayed a strong first half of the 2014-15 season with the IceHogs into success with the Blackhawks and a big contract with Carolina. The Hurricanes later bought out Darling, who has struggled with his game the past three seasons.

At this point, I’m not sure if Darling signed a standard contract with Rockford or just a PTO, which runs for 25 games. As training camp progresses, we should see what role Darling plays for the IceHogs.

 

Coming Up Friday: Season Preview, Part Two

The IceHogs have a preseason game scheduled for the afternoon of Wednesday, January 27 in Hoffman Estates. On Friday, I will take a closer look at the landscape at forward and defense.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the AHL season.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs took some lumps over the weekend. The piglets are currently mired in a three-game losing streak after a 6-2 loss at the BMO to Iowa Friday night and a 3-2 loss in Manitoba Sunday afternoon.

The group that finished the matinee with the Moose was a wee bit thin up front. To put a finer point on it, the Hogs were skating with ten forwards for the bulk of that game.

Why so shorthanded? Here’s a quick look at how things shook out over the weekend.

The IceHogs entered Friday with 13 forwards. In the third period of what was a very chippy game with the Wild, Nathan Noel was called for a slew foot of Iowa’s Brennen Menell. Noel was given a match penalty for the play and suspended for one game by the AHL.

Despite protests by the BMO faithful, this was absolutely the correct call.

From the waist up, Noel delivers a perfectly legal hit as the players are going up against the end boards. That misdirection kept a lot of folks from seeing Noel’s left leg, which swept the Wild defenseman’s skates out from under him. Hard to determine intent, but it was an obvious slew foot.

As you would expect, Hogs announcer Joey Zakrzewski was drawn in by the legal part of the hit. Iowa broadcaster Joe O’Donnell called the slew foot right away. It just depends on where you were looking on the play. However, Noel was guilty, the officials got it right, and the third-year forward was unavailable for Sunday’s game.

On Sunday, forward Anton Wedin was ill, forcing Rockford coach Derek King to send 11 forwards and seven defensemen onto the ice. In the eighth minute, Phillipp was attempting to get his stick on a loose puck in the defensive zone when Manitoba’s Ryan White skated by and caught the Hogs rookie in the face with an elbow.

Kurashev skated off under his own power but did not return to the contest. As usual, the IceHogs skated hard despite being down to ten forwards but lost the game.

A suspension will likely be announced today for White, who was tagged for a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the play. It appeared that White was trying to avoid contact with Kurashev, though that resulted in undeniable contact to the head.

Following Sunday’s game, King had this to say about Kurashev:

“I think he’s feeling all right. I’ll have to see how he is tomorrow morning, if he feels any better. I think he’s just got a little bit of a headache, or what have you. We’ll try him out, see if he wants to skate, and if he feels good, we’ll see where we go from there.”

I would assume that the organization is going to evaluate their 20-year old prospect’s “headache” before sending him back out for another tilt with the Moose on Tuesday. Rockford may try and finish the Manitoba trip with Noel and possibly Wedin returning. We could see a call up from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, or King could go with seven defensemen again.

 

Tomkins Shines At Spengler Cup

Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins is with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup. He got his first action on Saturday, stopping 22 of 23 shots in a 5-1 victory over the host team, HC Davos.

 

This Week

The IceHogs travel to DesMoines Friday for another go at the Wild, returning to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday afternoon. There, they tangle with the Chicago Wolves.

I’ll be back on Friday to recap Tuesday’s game in Manitoba and also continue my look at the Hawks difficulties in developing defensive talent. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines (Starters in italics.)

John Quenneville-Phillip Kurashev-MacKenzie Entwistle

Anton Wedin-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel

Tim Soderlund-Tyler Sikura (C)-Joseph Cramarossa

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Dylan McLaughlin

Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Philip Holm-Dmitri Osipov

Ian McCoshen (A)-Ben Youds

Collin Delia

Matt Tomkins

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continued their run of solid play this weekend, earning a split of a pair of games with division rivals. The Hogs outlasted Grand Rapids Friday before coming back to Rockford for a big test against the Milwaukee Admirals.

They didn’t pass.

Rockford was the latest victim of the hottest team in the AHL, winding up on the short end of a 5-2 decision Saturday night. The piglets will be getting another shot at the Admirals Tuesday night.

Can any adjustments be made by Rockford coach Derek King that can help his team’s chances?

“We should take some notes from them,” King told the media after the game. “That’s where we should be.”

The Admirals have won 15 of their last 16 games heading into Tuesday’s game, including a 7-1 thrashing of second-place Iowa on Friday. Milwaukee kept the pressure on the Hogs all evening, generating a slew of high-percentage looks at the net. Unlike Rockford, the Admirals followed up on many of the shots fired at Kevin Lankinen Saturday.

“They’re all on the same page,” King said when asked about Milwaukee’s winning formula this season. “The guy with the puck is skating it and his line mates know what’s going on. It’s either going in, or he’s going to make a play. At times we do that, and then there’s times where the maturity of our guys are just not quite there yet.”

What makes the Ads win more impressive is the face that two of their top scorers, Yakov Trenin (14 G, 12 A) and Daniel Carr (11 G, 10 A) were up with Nashville and out of Milwaukee’s lineup Saturday. It’s not a surprise to see why the Admirals lead the AHL with 41 points. Milwaukee is 13 points up on the Wild in the Central Division standings.

The IceHogs get to face off with Milwaukee eleven more times this season. It should be interesting to see how the youngsters respond to the challenge.

 

Roster Movement

There was a lot of action on Saturday. The IceHogs recalled forwards Matthew Thompson and Dylan McLaughlin and defenseman Dmitri Osipov from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. After Rockford’s game Saturday night, the Hawks recalled Dylan Sikura and re-assigned Anton Wedin to the IceHogs.

 

Recaps

Friday, December 6-Rockford 2, Grand Rapids 1 (SO)

The piglets went into Van Andel Arena and outlasted the Griffins to pick up their fourth straight win. At the heart of the victory was a standout performance in net by Collin Delia, who followed up his win Tuesday night with another great effort.

Delia saved 28 of 29 shots in regulation and stopped both penalty shots after the game could not be decided in Gus Macker Time. Coach Derek King elected to hand Delia the keys to the cage for a second straight game. Delia did not disappoint.

The scoring in regulation was limited to the second period. Recent acquisition Eric Tangradi gave the Griffins a 1-0 lead with an unassisted goal at the 4:24 mark. While his centering pass was broken up by Reese Johnson, the veteran forward calmly retrieved the loose puck behind the Hogs net, powered to the front of the crease and beat Delia with the backhand.

Rockford would answer late in the period. Ian McCoshen found Tyler Sikura at the right dot. Sikura sent a touch pass to brother Dylan a few feet to his right; the subsequent one-timer was over the glove of Griffins goalie Calvin Pickard. The Hogs drew even at one goal 17:07 into the second.

It would remained tied, thanks to Delia and Pickard, through regulation and overtime. Pickard stopped Dylan Sikura in the opening round of the shootout, but Tim Soderlund and Joseph Cramarossa found the back of the net to earn Rockford the win.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Dylan Sikura

Brandon Hagel-Phillipp Kurashev-MacKenzie Entwistle

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Tim Soderlund

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Joni Tuulola-Adam Boqvist

Philip Holm-Lucas Carlsson

Chad Krys-Ian McCoshen (A)

Collin Delia

Saturday, December 7-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2

The IceHogs win streak ended at four games as they were spanked at the BMO by the Western Conference’s best team.

The Admirals consistently peppered Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen with pucks and swarmed the net to create lots of second and third chances. It was such a play that opened the scoring 4:06 into the game.

Jeremy Davies came around Lankinen’s net and was stopped by the goalie’s left pad. Former Laurent Dauphin was there to throw the rebound on net, only to be denied again by Lankinen. Lukas Craggs made good on his attempt from the goal line when the Hogs failed to clear the puck and Milwaukee led 1-0.

Rockford fans were in possession of 4,300 stuffed animals and were itching to let them fly to the ice. Two minutes later, they would receive their chance.

Jarred Tinordi’s pass attempt was swiped by Matthew Highmore, who hit Brandon Hagel coming out of the defensive zone. Hagel’s wheels did the rest, easily flying by Alexandre Carrier on his way to the front of the Admirals net. His shot beat the glove of Troy Groesenick at 5:59 of the first period to cue the bears and tie the contest.

That was to be the high-water mark for Rockford on this evening, however. Steven Santini was left open at the right circle late in the opening frame. His shot zipped over the shoulder of Lankinen for a 2-1 Milwaukee lead that they held at the break.

Tommy Novak and Mathieu Olivier would score in similar fashion in the second period to build a 4-1 Admirals lead. The Hogs found themselves just missing on several one-and-done chances, while Milwaukee was generating great looks at Lankinen, who saved 29 of 34 shots, most of which came within a few feet of the goal mouth.

The Admirals went up three goals early in the third when Anthony Richard converted on Dauphin’s pass on the odd-man rush. The IceHogs would get a goal from Phillipp Kurashev with 3:53 remaining, but by then the outcome had been decided.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Dylan Sikura

Matthew Highmore-Phillipp Kurashev-Brandon Hagel

Tim Soderlund-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Joseph Cramarossa

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Matthew Thompson

Philip Holm-Adam Boqvist

Chad Krys-Ian McCoshen (A)

Nicolas Beaudin-Dmitri Osipov

Kevin Lankinen

 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the scene in Rockford throughout the season.