Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs provided a sneak peek at what’s in store for the next couple of months with the commencement of Rockford’s sole preseason tilt with the Chicago Wolves. These are two AHL franchises with diametric philosophies that were on full display at the Wolves practice facility in Hoffman Estates.

Rockford is approaching the upcoming four months as an extended prospect camp. The Wolves, as usual, are playing to win, Calder Cup or no Calder Cup.

The little campers went down to a 6-1 defeat, though Rockford did score the first goal of the contest. All I can say is…get used to it, kids.

With a shortened schedule coupled with the likelihood that the BMO Harris Bank Center will be largely fan-free, this shall be the way for Rockford. As I said earlier this week, this is completely understandable. The top prospects are tied to the bottom of the Blackhawks roster and the taxi squad. A lot of teams are taking similar approaches to the upcoming season.

Coach Derek King and his staff have another week to get this year’s crop of prospects ready for action. How will they fare against their Central Division opposition? Chicago, Grand Rapids, Iowa, and Cleveland have a bit more experience throughout their lineups than Rockford, which could mean trouble. Expect the piglets to take some lumps, especially in February and March.

Let’s complete our look at the IceHogs roster, beginning with the forwards.

 

Forward

Every season, I lament the lack of scoring punch in the IceHogs lineup. This year, it could be even worse if no one steps up. There are a lot of potential goals lost on the Blackhawks taxi squad, so there are jobs to be earned in Rockford by players who can fill the net.

There are five Hawks prospects set to begin their first professional seasons, topped by their two third-round picks from 2017. Evan Barratt spent three seasons developing his game at Penn State. Andrei Altybarmaykan spent most of that time in the KHL, where he posted 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 49 games with HK Sochi last season.

Matej Chalupa was signed last May and will be making his North American debut with the IceHogs. Fellow Czech Michal Teply joins him in Rockford. Teply skated for Winnipeg in the WHL last season, scoring 63 points (29 G, 34 A) in 53 games. Look for Teply to be one of Rockford’s offensive threats as he attempts to improve his skating.

Cam Morrison was originally a second-round pick of the Avalanche who became a free agent after his college career at Notre Dame. The Blackhawks signed him to a two-year entry deal. Morrison should get the chance to show his potential as a power forward.

Returning NHL contracts start with John Quenneville, who cleared waivers and was assigned to Rockford. Quenneville is one of the few forwards on the current roster who can be counted on to score. He’s been a consistent 30 to 40-point scorer throughout his four years in the AHL.

Two returning players with a lot to prove are Mikael Hakkarainen and Tim Soderlund. Neither player got a lot of playing time with the IceHogs last season. Hakkarainen, a fifth-round pick by Chicago in 2018, was injured to begin the season and played in just eight games between Rockford. The Finnish center will be looking to make a bigger impact; he should get that chance with fewer players ahead of him on the depth chart.

Soderlund also didn’t get many chances to show off his wheels in Rockford. He had a goal and two assists in 29 appearances with Rockford and I liked what I saw of his forechecking game. During the fall, Soderlund was loaned out to Almtuna IS in Sweden’s second-tier league. He was really good there, with 10 goals and six assists in 23 games.

Soderlund has the type of game that could make him a fan favorite if he could get the puck into the net on a regular basis (and also if there were fans at the games). He’ll have to show that he can produce offensively at higher levels, but should get plenty of chances to do that with the Hogs.

Brad Morrison comes to Rockford from the Kings in the Ollie Matta trade. He spent the previous season in the ECHL, skating in 17 games with Fort Wayne. In that time, he had six goals and seven assists. 

The IceHogs signed eight players to AHL contracts in the offseason. Many of those players should make the roster. Garrett Mitchell is a long-time AHL veteran who was signed to mid-season PTO after Rockford was dinged up. He closed the season with an A on his sweater and earned a contract with the IceHogs. Mitchell is my odds-on favorite for team captain.

Gabriel Gagne is another pickup from last season that should see regular playing time. Gagne has an effective shot and could be a force on the Hogs power play. Dylan McLaughlin and Matthew Thompson also saw time in Rockford and could wind up with regular bottom-six minutes.

New faces signed by the IceHogs include D.J. Busdeker, who was one of three players assigned to the Indy Fuel by Rockford to begin the ECHL season. The right wing had four points (2 G, 2 A) in seven games with the Fuel. Also skating for Indy was Riley McKay, who was scoreless in five appearances.

Mitchell Fossier was signed to an AHL deal after a four-year college career at Maine. He was captain his senior year and had 42 points (10 G, 32 A) in 34 games.

Christopher Wilkie put up a 23-goal season in his final year at Colorado College and will be looking to make his pro debut with Rockford. Chad Yetman was selected in the sixth round in the 2020 draft by Chicago. He’s on an AHL contract looking to make an early impression on the Blackhawks. He was a big goal scorer in juniors (43 for the Erie Otters last season) and could find a spot in the lineup.

 

Defense

The Hogs blueline will feature a lot of size but also a lot of inexperience. Like the forwards, there are a lot of openings in the regular lineup.

Cody Franson, currently on an AHL contract with the IceHogs, will be the de facto leader of this group. Franson will provide solid two-way play in Rockford and displayed a lethal one-timer while helping the Hogs to the Western Conference Final back in 2018. Franson will likely wind up pairing with several of the young defensemen on the Hogs roster.

Anton Lindholm is an experienced AHL defenseman that can help bring pucks out of his own zone. He hasn’t made a big impact on the scoreboard in his four years in the Avalanche organization. However, he does have 164 games of AHL action for San Antonio and Colorado. Rockford should benefit from that experience.

On Thursday, the Blackhawks signed 25-year-old Madison Bowey to a two-year contract and placed him on waivers. Should he clear, which seems likely, Bowey provides another experienced piece on the Rockford blueline, having skated 113 games for the Hershey Bears. He has 154 NHL appearances with Washington and Detroit; he should provide some offense from the point for Rockford.

Chad Krys has a lot to prove after a middling rookie campaign for the Hogs in 2019-20. Krys potted the only IceHogs goal on Wednesday in that 6-1 loss to the Wolves. He should get more of a chance to showcase his game and needs to take advantage.

Alex Regula is the prospect to watch in Rockford now that most of the organization’s youth is up in Chicago. Regula is coming off of a junior career with the OHL’s London Knights, capped off by a 27 goal, 33 assist effort in 56 games last season. One of the bigger stories to watch in Rockford this season is how the 6’4” Regula adjusts to the professional game.

Jack Ramsey was signed to an AHL deal this spring and will compete for a spot in the lineup. Another defenseman with size, the 6’3” former Minnesota skater spent all of last season with the Indy Fuel, where he totaled two goals and eight helpers in 46 games.

Dmitry Osipov brings physical play to the mix. He got steady playing time for Rockford as the 2019-20 season progressed. He skated in 28 games for the IceHogs and should see regular minutes.

Rockford also signed several recent Blackhawks draft picks to tryout agreements heading into the season. Cole Moberg, a seventh-rounder from the 2019 NHL Draft, is on a PTO with the Hogs. Michael Krutil and Issak Phillips, Chicago’s fourth and fifth-rounders from the 2020 NHL Draft, are getting the opportunity to play AHL hockey on amateur deals.

Give me a follow @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

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.