Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs last took the ice March 8, when they dropped an overtime game to the Chicago Wolves. The piglets had 13 games remaining in the 2019-20 season before the AHL suspended operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way things are beginning to look, the IceHogs and the AHL may be finished for the current season.

I don’t have the time to banter about the Blackhawks affiliate’s chances of returning to action in the immediate future. Maybe the season continues in some form. Maybe it doesn’t.

As I’ve been a hermit for the past six weeks or so, the Hogs have made some moves. Veteran forward Garrett Mitchell, who joined the team on a PTO February 6 and signed an AHL deal just before play was halted, will be back next season on a one-year deal.

The IceHogs also signed some youngsters to AHL ink, including goalie Tom Aubrun and forwards Riley McKay and D.J. Busdeker. Defenseman Jack Ramsey was re-upped by Rockford as well. There’s plenty of time to look forward. Let me take a quick look at my shoulder at the season that was…mostly was.

The IceHogs were 29-30-2-2 in 63 games. A more that solid opening two months gave way to struggles with injury and call ups. Additions like Mitchell, Gabriel Gagne and Ben Youds filled in some gaps and made for some interesting action this winter, if not entirely successful in terms of wins and losses.

Since the season has not officially been cancelled, there hasn’t been any mention by the team as to the season-ending awards typically given at the last home game of the season. Here’s how I saw those team awards as the regular season wound down.

 

Defensive Player Of The Year-Lucas Carlsson

Carlsson, unlike several of Rockford’s candidates in this category, was around for the bulk of the season. Philip Holm, the class of the first couple of months, asked for his release to ply his trade in Europe. Dennis Gilbert was up and down between Rockford and Chicago.

Ian McCoshen was hard-nosed and a regular face in the lineup. He took a lot of dumb penalties, though,  and was a minus-13 for the Hogs in 56 games.

Carlsson, on the other hand, made some strides from a defensive standpoint and led the Rockford blueline with 26 points (5 G, 21 A) in 48 games. He has outshone more regarded Blackhawks defensive prospects at the AHL level for the past two seasons.

The organization rewarded Carlsson with a call up; he appeared in six games with Chicago before the NHL suspended play.

 

Most Improved Player-Alexandre Fortin

I guess you could make a case for several players. However, if your looking for an example of a guy making a bigger impact based on his play from the season before, Fortin’s your man.

I’ve called out his finishing ability for much of the last three years. This season, Fortin put up a career-high eight goals in just 44 games. Despite spending a couple of stretches on the injured list, Fortin’s game added some sort of offensive element.

In the latter stages of the 2019-20 campaign, Fortin started to become a scoring threat after his feet generated opportunities. His shooting percentage, which was a paltry 4.3 percent in his rookie season two years ago, rose to 9.1 percent this season.

Not getting to finish the regular season was unfortunate for Fortin, who likely would have topped 100 shots (he had 88 when play ended) and career-high point production. Not sure if the Blackhawks re-sign him, but Fortin showed much-needed signs of life on the offensive end.

 

Rookie Of The Year-Brandon Hagel

This one isn’t even close. Hagel, who earned a call-up to Chicago in March, led Rockford with 19 goals. He was second in team scoring with 31 points. His four game-winning goals also paced the IceHogs.

Hagel being a no-brainer for this award doesn’t take away from the rookie season MacKenzie Entwistle had. Entwistle led Rockford newcomers with 15 assists and was tied with Carlsson for fourth in overall scoring with 26 points. Three of his 11 goals were of the game-winning variety. Entwistle showed up at both ends of the ice, accounting well for himself in 56 games.

Phillipp Kurashev’s freshman campaign was halted for a couple of months with a concussion suffered on December 29. Up until that point, Kurashev was starting to look very comfortable in the AHL game, with 16 points (5 G, 11 A) in his first 29 games. He returned at the end of February and wound up with seven goals and 12 helpers in 36 contests.

 

Unsung Hero-Nick Moutrey

One of Rockford’s AHL contracts, Moutrey was a regular in coach Derek King’s bottom six. He played physical, smart hockey in an energy role. His five-goal, six assist effort in 52 games was his best point production in the AHL since the 2016-17 season.

Moutrey wasn’t anything fancy. He just came out and did his job every night.

 

Heavy Hitter-Joseph Cramarossa

In a less-enlightened era, Cramarossa would likely have earned a moniker reflecting his willingness to tangle with a much bigger opponent. In this day and age, we’ll go with “Moxie Joe”. As in, “Jeez, Michael McCarron’s knocking our kids around the crease, but at 6’6″, 240, who’s gonna stop…look, there goes Moxie Joe!”

Mad respect to Cramarossa, who had no problem dropping gloves with several heavyweights for the IceHogs after coming aboard in late November. He also added a level of veteran presence following the retirement of Kris Versteeg.

Cramarossa chipped in with 12 points (5 G, 7 A) in 42 games, with a couple of shootout tallies (both of which won games against Grand Rapids). His eight fighting majors was second in the AHL; six of those came while rocking a Hogs sweater.

 

Man Of The Year-Collin Delia

The IceHogs announced earlier this month that Delia had been named the team’s representative for IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award. Delia was a ultra-visible presence in the Rockford community when he wasn’t anchoring the Hogs in net.

This is the second such award for Delia, who earned the award back in 2017-18.

Like that rookie season, it was an up and down affair for Delia. He struggled mightily out of the gate and was benched for the better part of three weeks. He was the Hogs main man in net for most of the last month of the season. Delia finished 2019-20 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.

 

Team MVP-Tyler Sikura

Sikura The Elder narrowly edges out Sikura The Younger for M-V-P of R-F-D.

After an injury slowed his roll in 2018-19, Sikura led the IceHogs with 34 points (14 G, 20 A). His skater rating (plus-ten) was second to brother Dylan (plus-11) this season. He took over the captaincy after Versteeg left the team. He was Rockford’s best penalty killer and also had three power play goals.

Plus, he was instrumental in getting teammates Matthew Highmore and Dennis Gilbert to the BMO Harris Bank Center for Rockford’s Lego night. In his dreams, that is.

(FYI, all I had to do to find that video is go to YouTube and type in “Tyler Sikura’s LEGO Dream”. God bless the internet.

Dylan was one helper shy of Tyler’s point total, though he was only in Rockford for 45 games. When he wasn’t with the Blackhawks, Sikura The Younger was the offensive catalyst for a team that struggled to score at times this season.

 

Questions Answered?

Back in October, I posed several questions concerning the 2019-20 season. Hindsight being what it is, here are the questions I asked, plus the answers I received.

 

Who carries the scoring load?

What I said: “(Aleksi) Saarela, (Matthew) Highmore, Sikura the Younger, (Adam) Boqvist and (Chad) Krys.”

What actually happened: Saarela had 12 goals and 19 assists-after the Hawks traded him to Florida. Boqvist totaled six points (G, 5 A) in the 15 games he spent in Rockford. Highmore (4 G, 8 A in 21 games) spent most of the season in Chicago.

Krys never really got his offensive game on track; he didn’t put his first puck in a net until January 15. Krys finished the season with two goals and four assists in 24 games. This was a bit underwhelming, in my opinion, as I thought Krys would do a little more on the offensive side.

Carlsson was the only defender with offensive punch once Holm departed. Up front, it was Hagel, the Sikuras, John Quenneville (13 G, 9 A) and Entwistle that led the way. When all was said and done, however, Rockford lacked big-time point producers.

At 2.48 goals per game, the Hogs were the lowest scoring team in the Western Conference. Only Bridgeport (2.41) scored at a worse clip than Rockford.

 

Which rookies are going to impress early?

What I said: “Kurashev, Boqvist…and Hagel.”

What actually happened: Well, Boqvist impressed the Hawks enough for them to recall him after those aforementioned 15 games. Hagel started slowly in the first month, then had 11 goals and four assists in November and December.

Kurashev? Like Hagel, he was hitting his stride after getting a few games under his belt. He had five goals and nine helpers in the 21 games from November 6 until he was injured in Manitoba December 29.

 

Can Alexandre Fortin find an offensive game?

What I said: “I really, really hope so.”

What actually happened: I’ve documented the improvement in Fortin in terms of uniting rubber and twine earlier in this post. Whether he has enough scoring ability to make an NHL roster is still up for debate, but he certainly showed an increased offensive presence for the IceHogs.

 

How many games will Versteeg play?

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

What actually happened: There was no gravy. There was barely any Versteeg.

The veteran picked up an assist in four games, then missed about a month with an injured hip. Versteeg gave it one more go for a pair of games in November before citing an inability to handle the AHL banging and getting out of Dodge.

The question regarding Versteeg entering the season was whether there was anything left in the tank. The spirit was willing, at least; Versteeg looked to have a great attitude in his second stint in Rockford. Unfortunately, his body couldn’t hold up it’s end of the bargain.

 

Can this team make the playoffs?

What I said: 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.

What actually happened: Well…you kind of know how this ended up.

Rockford was in fifth place in the Central Division, tied with the Wolves with 62 points. Chicago had a pair of games in hand on the Hogs, as did the bulk of the teams battling for that fourth playoff spot.

The IceHogs were 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Hagel and Carlsson were up with the Blackhawks, as were Highmore and defenseman Nicolas Beaudin. They were going to have to win nine or ten of their final 13 games to have a legit shot at a postseason spot.

Seven of those games were against Iowa and Milwaukee, who absolutely owned the Hogs this season. Rockford was 2-11 against those teams. Could the piglets have put together a run and made the Calder Cup Playoffs? Maybe, but I don’t know that they had it in them to reel off the required stretch. With the AHL season looking like it is kaput, that point is moot.

I’ll be back in a week or two to put a finer point on the IceHogs abbreviated season. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter and I’ll see if I can’t whip up some thoughts on the IceHogs while in captivity.

Hockey

As the AHL schedule begins to approach the finish line, the Rockford IceHogs were able to begin righting the ship after two months of rough seas. Chicago’s AHL affiliate won three straight games this past week and have now won five of their last six.

Rockford got the job done against basement dwellers, but the points count the same in the standings.  The Hogs will now have to parlay this stretch into the final two months of regular season action.

The recent wins have come against San Antonio, Texas, Manitoba and Cleveland. The former three teams sit below Rockford in the last three spots in the Central Division. The Monsters occupy last place in the North Division. Again, points are points.

All of the IceHogs remaining 23 games will be against division rivals. Four of those are with the Stars and three more with the Rampage. On the other end of the spectrum, Rockford has four games apiece with the top two teams in the Central, Milwaukee and Iowa. The Hogs are 1-6-1 against the Admirals and 1-3 against the Wild this season.

Rockford hosts Grand Rapids on Tuesday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center in the first of three games remaining in the season series. The Griffins are just above the IceHogs in the division standings, sitting in fourth place with 55 points. Rockford is 4-3 versus Grand Rapids this season, though both teams have earned eight points against the other.

With 75 and 70 points respectively, it is unlikely that the rest of the division will overtake Milwaukee and Iowa. The third place team in the Central right now? The Chicago Wolves, who have 55 points and a game in hand on the Griffins.

Rockford still has five tilts remaining with the Wolves. They have a 6-1 record against Chicago so far this season. Remaining dominant over their interstate rival would sure help the Hogs climb into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Of course, every game is going to be important for the IceHogs from here on in. It appears that two postseason spots are available in the Central Division, with the bottom six teams scrapping for them.

 

Sweeping The Week

Rockford won in Manitoba on back-to-back nights Wednesday and Thursday. They scored a 2-1 win in the first game behind a strong performance by goalie Kevin Lankinen, who made 28 stops. The Hogs went down a goal early but battled back, getting a second-period tally by Alexandre Fortin before John Quenneville potted the game-winner 4:47 into the final frames.

The following evening, Lankinen was back in net, making 16 saves in the opening period as the Hogs took a 2-0 advantage on goals by Joseph Cramarossa and Garrett Mitchell (who would later score and empty netter in the closing minutes). Collin Delia then came out for the last two periods in a 5-2 Rockford victory. Also lighting the lamp in Thursday’s win were Jacob Nilsson and Tyler Sikura.

Delia made the start Saturday against Cleveland, stopping 25 shots as the IceHogs won 4-1. Rockford went out to a 2-0 lead with first-period goals by Dylan Sikura and Brandon Hagel. Ian McCoshen picked up his first goal of the season midway through the third period. His second came with the Monsters net empty net late in the contest.

 

Musings On A Monday Morn

  • Matt Tomkins signed his NHL deal back on January 24. Since that signing, he has been used just once-a 7-1 loss to Milwaukee on February 1. Delia gave up seven goals to the Admirals last month. Of course, it wasn’t Matt Tomkins Bobblehead Night at the BMO Saturday. Hence, it wasn’t a surprise that Delia, who played really well and picked up an assist on the McCoshen empty-netter, got the start after relieving Lankinen in the previous game.
  • That said, it should be interesting how Tomkins is deployed in the immediate future. Lankinen obviously tweaked something Thursday and Rockford has four games this week, included a three-game weekend.
  • Dylan Sikura ran his points streak to ten games over the weekend. During that run, he has four goals and nine assists.
  • John Quenneville is in a stretch of eight games in which he has five goals. Two of those goals came via the power play. Two of the others were game-winners.
  • Brandon Hagel is now sixth among AHL rookies with 18 goals. His 27 points on the season has him 16th in rookie scoring. Hagel has goals in five of the last nine games.
  • Lucas Carlsson owns a six-game points streak heading into Tuesday night’s game with Grand Rapids. He has three assists in six games against the Griffins. Carlsson has really emerged as the team’s go-to defenseman in terms of getting the puck up the ice.
  • The rest of Rockford’s blueline has evolved into a pretty physical bunch. Dennis Gilbert, McCoshen, Joni Tuulola and Dmitri Osipov are all bigger players that have made the Hogs a bit tougher to play against. The level of competition was down a bit from earlier this month, but I thought the IceHogs were better defensively the last couple of weeks in terms of limiting shots.
  • With a week before the NHL trade deadline, there may still be a chance that an impact player will join the Hogs as part of a swap involving the Blackhawks. If not, it may come down to Rockford making its own attempt to bolster the roster.
  • Garrett Mitchell, signed to a PTO February 6, has five games with the IceHogs. He had a pair of goals Thursday night and added an assist on Cramarossa’s goal Saturday. Mitchell is a nice pickup for Rockford. He well-versed in the physical nature of the AHL and skates hard at both ends of the ice.
  • With Nick Moutrey injured at the moment, Mitchell will capably fill Moutrey’s role in the bottom six. PTO Gabriel Gagne has also been a solid contributor for Rockford, with seven points (3 G, 4 A) in 13 games.
  • Defenseman Josh McArdle was up with Rockford this past week. He did not see action before teh IceHogs sent him back down to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Saturday. Also returning to Indianapolis was forward Liam Coughlin, who skated in two games for Rockford after being recalled February 1.

 

Busy Week

After facing Grand Rapids at the BMO Tuesday, the IceHogs have three games in three nights over the coming weekend. Rockford will play host to San Antonio Friday night before hitting the road for Milwaukee Saturday. On Sunday, the Hogs have an afternoon date with the Wolves in Rosemont.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs end a six-game home stand this weekend against the San Antonio Rampage. Rockford has been trying to get its arrow pointed up for some time. A nice win over Texas on Tuesday night has the team entering Friday’s action on the positive tip.

The IceHogs posted a 5-2 victory against the Stars, with goals from Dylan Sikura, John Quenneville, Gabriel Gagne, Brandon Hagel and Dennis Gilbert. Collin Delia fended off 35 shots to help get Rockford a much-needed win.

Hagel continues to be the standout rookie on the IceHogs this season. His 17 goals lead the club and places him in a tie for fourth among freshmen goal scorers. With 25 points on the season, Hagel is 15th among rookies.

Sikura the Younger’s tally was his twelfth of the campaign, tying him with brother Tyler for second place in team scoring. Sikura the Elder leads Rockford with 29 points (12 G, 17 A).

 

Roster News

Dylan Sikura did leave Tuesday’s game in the second period. However, Jacob Nilsson was back in action after a kneeing incident last Friday. Nick Moutrey did not skate on Tuesday after being injured last weekend.

The IceHogs released Peter Quenneville from his tryout contract this week, signing veteran skater Garrett Mitchell to a PTO on Thursday. Mitchell was a long-time member of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, though he has been primarily an ECHL player this season. Rockford also sent D Jack Ramsey back to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Thursday.

 

Bringing Brandon Bollig Back To The BMO

Former IceHogs forward Brandon Bollig will be at the puck-dropping ceremony at the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday night. Bollig spent parts of three seasons with the IceHogs. He is second all-time to Jake Dowell on Rockford’s AHL leader board with 44 fighting majors.

Bollig was an undrafted free agent who wound up playing five NHL seasons and winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013. I’ll remember Bollig for the ecstatic grin he wore as he hammered away at an opponent. Which he would do regularly.

This year’s IceHogs team, by the way, is up to 18 fighting majors heading into the weekend. At this pace, this will be the feistiest Rockford teams in several seasons. Joseph Cramarossa leads the Hogs in this category with five scraps, while Dmitri Osipov has dropped the gloves four times.

 

Rampage On The Road (To Vegas)

Visiting San Antonio, in the midst of a ten-game road jaunt, was purchased by the Vegas Golden Knights for the purpose of moving the franchise to Nevada this fall. The Rampage sit right below the Hogs in the seventh spot in the Central Division as they pull into the BMO for games on Friday and Saturday.

Rockford is 2-1 against San Antonio this season. They last saw the Rampage in Texas back in November, when they split the last two games of their Lone Star swing.

San Antonio was shut out by Iowa Wednesday night. Like Rockford, the Rampage have struggled of late, having just three wins in their last ten games. San Antonio leads the league with 33.30 shots per game Though they have had trouble getting those shots into the net, this could be a factor this weekend since the IceHogs have been giving up a lot of shots themselves.

Defenseman Derrick Pouliot paces San Antonio with 32 points (6 G, 26 A). Two of those goals have come against Rockford. The Rampage have two 18-goal scorers in Nathan Walker and Mike Vecchione.

Ville Husso has had the bulk of the workload in the San Antonio net. Husso is 11-13-8 this season with a 2.94 GAA and an .898 save percentage. Rockford may also see Adam Wilcox (5-6-3, 2.92, .881) between the pipes this weekend.

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

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs faced the best team in the AHL twice this weekend. They were soundly defeated in both tilts.

Following Saturday’s game, the league went on its All-Star break. Rockford’s equipment managers should take the impending free time to sew a patch onto the IceHogs sweaters.

One that reads “Property Of The Milwaukee Admirals”.

Milwaukee has been outstanding through 45 games this season. They sport a 31-8-4-2 mark and a .756 points percentage. They now sit atop the AHL with 68 standings points, nine more than any other team in the league.

The Ads boast the best goalie tandem in the league, with Connor Ingram and Troy Grosenick combining for a 2.16 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Combined with the AHL’s top power play (25.7%), the league’s sixth-best offensive output (3.36 goals per game) and a fast-paced, aggressive brand of hockey, Milwaukee is taking it to the opposition on a nightly basis.

Rockford has faced off with the Admirals seven times since the first meeting of the teams this season on December 7. In those games, the IceHogs have gone 1-6 and been outscored 26-12. The lone win came on December 10; all Kevin Lankinen had to do that night was make 55 saves to propel Rockford to a 2-1 overtime victory.

The last three confrontations with Milwaukee have resulted in three-goal losses, including both games this past weekend. Following a physical affair in Milwaukee Friday, Hogs coach Derek King was left without a full set of forwards. Even with rookie Tim Soderlund returning to the lineup, King iced ten healthy forwards, used defenseman Ben Youds as a forward and went with seven defensemen.

The Admirals had no issues using their depth advantage this weekend. Milwaukee camped out in high-danger scoring areas and whaled away at Rockford goalies Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Both saw their goals against average rise thanks to Milwaukee.

I’ll attempt resembling a broken record, but the All-Star break comes at a good time for the Hogs. Somehow, they have to get healthier and in a new mindset following a span in which they have lost 14 of their last 17 games.

Rockford gets back at it with two games at home this coming weekend. The piglets host Manitoba on Friday night, followed by a Saturday contest with…you guessed it…the Admirals Juggernaut.

 

Roster Happenings

On Saturday, Rockford sent goalie Chase Marchand, who they have on an AHL deal, back to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

Phillipp Kurashev, Mikael Hakkarainen, Anton Wedin and Matthew Thompson continue to be unavailable due to injury. John Quenneville sat out the weekend as well.

Alexandre Fortin, Dylan McLaughlin and Peter Quenneville were all scratches on Saturday.

 

Recaps

Friday, January 24-Milwaukee 7, Rockford 4

Rockford picked up the scoring but couldn’t keep the Ads out of the net, opening the weekend home-and-home series with a loss.

The IceHogs snapped a seven-game scoreless streak early in the game. Dylan Sikura took a shot at goal nine seconds into a Rockford power play. His offering glanced off the stick of Milwaukee’s Jared Tinordi and sailed by Ads goalie Troy Grosenick 3:39 into the game for a 1-0 Hogs lead.

Milwaukee answered on their first man advantage a few minutes later. Alexadre Carrier set up Frederick Gaudreau at the left circle for a one-timer that beat Rockford goalie Collin Delia to the cord. The goal tied the game 1-1 6:15 into the first.

The Ads took a 3-1 advantage after Mathieu Olivier and Mikka Salomakki got pucks past Delia at 10:59 and 14:54, respectively. Rockford would close the gap to 3-2 late in the period on MacKenzie Entwistle’s power play goal. The breakaway attempt was set up by a finely-threaded pass from Nicolas Beaudin. Entwistle skated across the crease and backhanded the puck over Grosenick.

Milwaukee ran out to a 5-2 lead after Gaudreau and Eeli Tolvanen hit on power play markers 20 seconds apart in the opening 67 seconds of the middle frame. The Hogs climbed back into the contest with a pair of their own.

Chad Krys found the back of the net from the blueline at the 4:56 mark to close to within two goals. Three minutes later, the power play came up big for the third time in the game. This time, Brandon Hagel put back a rebound of Gabriel Gagne’s shot 8:34 into the period to cut the Milwaukee lead to 5-4.

The Admirals went up 6-4 following some nifty passing that ended with Rem Pitlick knocked in Tolvanen’s pass at the right post at the 14:50 mark. Milwaukee stretched the lead to 7-4 on Daniel Carr’s goal 4:33 into the third period.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson-MacKenzie Entwistle

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Alexandre Fortin-Peter Quenneville-Dylan McLaughlin

Chad Krys-Dennis Gilbert

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian McCoshen (A)

Collin Delia

Kevin Lankinen

Power Play (3-8)

Carlsson-Hagel-D. Sikura-Gagne-Nilsson

Beaudin-McLaughlin-Entwistle-T. Sikura-Fortin

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 3-7)

Forwards: Nilsson-Johnson-Moutrey-Fortin-T. Sikura

Defense: Tuulola-Gilbert-Krys-McCoshen

 

Saturday, January 25-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2

The IceHogs dropped the back half of the home-and-home, losing to the Admirals at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Rockford opened the scoring as they had the previous evening, on the power play. MacKenzie Entwistle got inside position on his defender and was on hand to send the rebound of Ben Youds shot attempt past Admirals goalie Connor Ingram. At 10:09, the piglets owned a 1-0 lead.

From that point on, Milwaukee took over. Eeli Tolvanen tied the game at the 11:42 mark with a put back in front of Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen. Michael McCarron’s presence in the crease yielded a pair of goals in the second period to stake the Admirals to a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes.

Milwaukee pressed its advantage in the final frame, with Tanner Jeannot and Daniel Carr finding the back of the net midway through the third. Rockford picked up a late goal at the 18:30 mark when Tyler Sikura redirected a Chad Krys blast from the point.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Rockford employed seven defensemen tonight and skated an eighth (Ben Youds) as a forward.

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson-MacKenzie Entwistle

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Tim Soderlund-Ben Youds

Dennis Gilbert-Ian McCoshen (A)

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Dmitri Osipov-Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Kevin Lankinen

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-4)

Carlsson-Hagel-D. Sikura-Gagne-Nilsson

Beaudin-Soderlund-Entwistle-T. Sikura-Youds

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 1-4)

Forwards: Nilsson-Johnson-Moutrey-Cramarossa-Soderlund-T. Sikura

Defense: Tuulola-Gilbert-Krys-McCoshen

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have seen the midpoint of the 2019-20 season come and go. It has been an up and down campaign for the piglets. A young bunch of Hawks prospects gelled early in the season and was playing well in the first three months.

Then Hogs began being called up. And injured. And injured some more.

The IceHogs have struggled as the calendar turned, going 3-4-1-1 in January after dropping their final four games in December. In the nine games this month, Rockford has managed just 1.56 goals per contest.

With no fortification from above on the immediate horizon, the IceHogs signed a slew of players to tryout agreements. Three of the ECHL’s top point-producers, Spencer Watson (January 5), Peter Quenneville (January 11) and Gabriel Gagne (January 18), all inked PTOs with Rockford. The Hogs signed Joshua Winquist to a PTO on January 6, releasing him from the deal after three games of action.

Watson skated five games for Rockford before an injury. Gagne made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist in Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Wolves. Quenneville has appeared in four games since coming aboard.

The list of injured players is lengthy. Rockford has had to skate with just 11 forwards on numerous occasions over the last few weeks. With John Quenneville, Dylan Sikura and now Brandon Hagel returning to the Hogs after stints in Chicago, perhaps better times are coming.

Rockford is still in the hunt for a playoff berth 41 games into the season. They are fifth in the Central Division with a .512 points percentage.  After Milwaukee and Iowa, any of the six remaining Central teams could surge into the third and fourth-place positions.

Here’s a look at how things stand in Winnebago County, starting with the infirmary…I mean, the forwards.

 

Forward

Tyler Sikura has been the constant in the IceHogs lineup. The captain is Rockford’s top scorer, with 24 points (11 G, 13 A). He also leads the team with a plus-eight skater rating.

Both John Quenneville (8 G, 7 A) and Dylan Sikura (9 G, 8 A) were a big part of the Hogs early season success. Jacob Nilsson (6 G, 12 A) has also been a steady presence in the lineup. Like Sikura the Elder, Nilsson has been on the ice for all 41 of Rockford’s games.

Brandon Hagel (13 G, 8 A) was easily the club’s top-performing rookie over the first half. He was recalled by the Blackhawks this past week but has been reassigned without taking part in a game. MacKenzie Entwistle (7 G, 10 A) has been one of the Hogs bright spots this month, showing game at both ends of the ice.

Just as Phillipp Kurashev was beginning to heat up in his rookie season, he suffered a concussion in Manitoba on December 29. He hasn’t played since. Rookie Tim Soderlund has been out of the lineup since January 3. Mikael Hakkarainen missed most of the first three months with an injury. He played seven games for Rockford before a January 5 injury shelved him again.

Anton Wedin, another solid two-way player for the IceHogs, last played on December 31. Matthew Thompson, who was recalled from Indy to help fill out the roster, promptly was injured January 3. Alexandre Fortin has been on the shelf a couple of times this season but has been back in the lineup this past week.

Joseph Cramarossa, who has three goals and six helpers in 26 games since arriving via trade in November, has provided experience and stability on the Hogs bottom six. His shootout tally gave Rockford a big win in Grand Rapids on Thursday night. AHL contract Nick Moutrey (4 G, 3 A) has also played well in a fourth-line role.

Defense

Philip Holm, Rockford’s best defenseman of the first three months, opted out of his contract to play in Europe. This has left a void on the back end.

Nicolas Beaudin (2 G, 8 A) hasn’t been spectacular in his first 38 games as a pro. I haven’t been enamored by his hockey sense like others have been. He’s had his share of rookie gaffes and his passing hasn’t been as sharp as you’d like to see. That said, he is showing some improvement and should get lots of opportunity to refine his game in the next few months.

Lucas Carlsson has been the Hogs most noticeable performer aside from Holm. With four goals and a dozen assists, Carlsson has also shown some quality puck-handling skills. His plus-six rating is tops among the defense.

I thought Chad Krys (1 G, 4 A) would have a bit more impact on the scoreboard than he has. Krys did pick up his first AHL goal in Thursday’s win over Grand Rapids. Joni Tuulola (2 G, 3 A) has probably been as steady from a defensive standpoint as anyone the fist half.

Ian McCoshen joined the team after the Hawks traded Alexi Saarela to Florida back in October. He has contributed some snarl to the blueline, along with some dumb penalties and six helpers since his arrival in Rockford.

Ben Youds is in Rockford on a PTO. He’s been a regular in the lineup since signing on December 9, even skating as a forward for coach Derek King when things got too thin up front. Dmitri Osipov was recalled from Indy December 7 and has provided solid minutes.

On Sunday, the Blackhawks reassigned Dennis Gilbert to Rockford. This move gives the Hogs another player who can help their cause. Gilbert played 20 games in Chicago with a goal and two assists. The big defenseman has just 11 games with the IceHogs this season.

Goalie

IceHogs net-minders have a combined goals against average of 2.87 and a .908 save percentage. By and large, this has been the strength of the team. The three goalies have faced a lot of high-percentage shots and kept Rockford in a lot of games.

Matt Tomkins has made a case for an NHL entry deal, posting a 5-3 record with a team-low 2.62 GAA. He also helped Team Canada win the Spengler Cup.

After struggling mightily in the first two months, Collin Delia found himself out of the mix for a couple weeks in November. Since December 3, the Cucamonga Kid has been stellar, going 6-3 with a 1.59 GAA and a .949 save percentage.

Kevin Lankinen is Rockford’s lone All-Star selection, though his has had some struggles over the last few weeks. Currently, Lankinen sports a 3.03 GAA to go with a .908 save percentage.

Collectively, this three-way in goal has been pretty good for Rockford. Again, they have fended off pressure from opponents on a nightly basis and is a big reason the Hogs have been competitive.

 

Tidbits Good And Bad

  • The power play is the worst in the AHL’s Western Conference, connecting on just 10.7 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • The penalty kill is 28th in the league, at 78.2 efficiency.
  • The IceHogs are 12-8 at home and 8-11-1-1 away from the BMO this season. Unlike previous seasons, the remaining schedule is pretty balanced between home and road games.
  • Cramarossa’s six fighting majors places him tied for second in the AHL in the catagory. With 15 FMs on the season, Rockford is tied for tenth in the league. The Hogs have been a bit feistier than in recent seasons.
  • The piglets are 4-1 in overtime games and are 3-1 in shootouts.
  • On Sunday, the IceHogs recalled G Chase Marchand from the Indy Fuel. Marchand hasn’t manned the net for the Fuel in over a month. He did make ten starts for Indy this season, most coming in November. He was 4-6 with a 2.56 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

 

First Semester Grade: B

…and a solid one at that. This team is primarily comprised of greenhorns. Healthy or not, the Hogs have played hard. When healthy, Rockford has shown that they can play with the best teams in the Central Division. Even as crushing as the injury situation has been, the 20-19-1-1 record is very respectable and has the IceHogs in playoff contention.

The key, of course, is how the roster evolves in the next couple of months. Getting players like Wedin, Kurashev and Soderlund upgrades the Hogs nearly as much as getting Quenneville and Sikura back.

Maybe some veteran depth is provided for Rockford in a trade down the line. Perhaps not. The IceHogs sure could use some experienced scoring types in the final months of the season. However, a healthy batch of piglets could make things interesting down the stretch.

 

Back To The Grind

The Hogs split four games last week, losing 4-1 to Milwaukee Tuesday night before spitting two games in Grand Rapids Wednesday and Friday. Sunday, Rockford blanked the Wolves in Rosemont.

This week is another busy stretch for the IceHogs. Monday afternoon sees them playing Belleville at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Wednesday, they host Texas. A home-and-home with the division-leading Admirals is on the docket for the weekend. Friday’s tilt is in Milwaukee; the teams are in Rockford Saturday night.

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