Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are about to begin a three-game weekend with big-time playoff implications. Chicago’s AHL affiliate kicks things off with a home-and-home with Grand Rapids before paying a visit to Rosemont and the Chicago Wolves.

Here’s a quick look at what’s waiting for the IceHogs this weekend.

Both the Griffins and Wolves are ahead of Rockford in the Central Division standings. The Hogs have split the season series with Grand Rapids. Their rivals from Michigan have taken ten points out of the first eight games between the teams, compared to Rockford’s eight.

Both teams have won twice on the road in the season series, though in recent years the trend has favored the home team in the rivalry. Over the last five seasons, Rockford is 15-8 against the Griffins at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Grand Rapids owns a 15-4-2-2 mark against the Hogs at Van Andel Arena.

Things get started in Rockford Friday night. A split just isn’t going to be good enough with the Griffins. The piglets need points in regulation, especially against a team battling with them for the postseason.

Back on February 18, Grand Rapids beat the Hogs 2-1 in Rockford. Three of this season’s tilts have been decided by that score. The next two games should also be hotly contested.

Veteran Chris Terry is pacing the Griffins in scoring, with 20 goals and 30 assists on the season. Grand Rapids also gets offense from familiar faces like Matthew Ford (10 G, 16 A) and Matt Puempel (15 G, 22 A). Goalies Calvin Pickard and Pat Nagle have been excellent against Rockford, giving up just seven goals in five games between them.

Rockford enters the weekend with John Quenneville (13 G, 9 A) still out with a strained neck. Joseph Cramarossa’s phyiscal game would be a welcome addition to the Hogs lineup. However, he also may not be ready to play this weekend.

The big injury news comes with Rockford’s announcement Thursday that goalie Kevin Lankinen is finished for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Things may not have ended like Lankinen had hoped this year, but the net is still in the capable hands of Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins.

Could Delia play in three straight games this weekend? He’s been the primary man in goal since Lankinen left a February 13 game after the first period. It would probably make sense to use Tomkins on Saturday in Grand Rapids and give the net to Delia Friday and Sunday, when Rockford visits the Wolves.

Chicago has lost four straight, including Thursday’s 4-2 decision to Tucson. The Roadrunners are at Allstate Arena Saturday night before Rockford comes a calling on Sunday.

The Wolves have been a little undermanned of late. They did, however, knock off the Hogs 5-1 in Rosemont on February 23 and made the piglets look pretty bad in doing so. Rockford is 6-2 against Chicago this season. They can wrap up the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup for the first time in three years with a win in any of the last four meetings with the Wolves.

What’s really important, of course, is overtaking Chicago in the standings. That means getting the job done Sunday afternoon.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks affiliate in the American Hockey League, hope to continue their strong play into the month of December. The piglets got the month started right with a 4-2 win over Manitoba Tuesday. Another big Central Division weekend looms for the IceHogs. Friday sees Rockford in Grand Rapids. The first meeting of the season with Western Conference-leading Milwaukee is Saturday.

 

Roster Activity

On Tuesday, D Dennis Gilbert was recalled to the Blackhawks. Rockford has seven defenseman on its current roster. However, Philip Holm has been out the last couple of games and Lucas Carlsson took a puck in the face late in Tuesday’s game with the Moose. No one has been brought up from Indy this week, so I’d guess one or both players should be ready to play.

 

Weekday Recap

Tuesday, December 3-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

Rockford won its third straight game behind a strong performance from goalie Collin Delia, who posted a 37-save performance in his first action since November 3.

The Hogs drew cord on the power play 4:15 into the contest. The play was set up with a long pass by Delia to Dylan Sikura. Sikura maneuvered to the high slot and drew three defenders before sliding the puck to MacKenzie Entwistle. The rookie forward went forehand-backhand on Manitoba goalie Mikhail Berdin, striking through the five-hole to put Rockford up 1-0.

The Moose quickly responded with a Seth Griffith goal. However, the piglets regained the lead on a point blast by Joni Tuulola. Tyler Sikura picked up the apple with some deft stick work along the half boards and the IceHogs held a 2-1 advantage at the 8:53 mark.

Manitoba came back with a power play goal by Skylar McKenzie 14:48 into the first. Delia, who was having trouble securing the puck at times, made a nice pair of saves late in the period to send the teams to intermission even at two goals.

Both teams had a couple of power play chances in the second period. Brandon Hagel had recently come out of the penalty box for hooking when Matthew Highmore slid a pass his way in front of the Rockford net. Hagel did the rest, streaking past the Moose defense to buzz the goal mouth and backhand the puck into the Manitoba cage. The IceHogs led 3-2 at the 16:48 mark and held that advantage as the teams skated to the second intermission.

Delia held off the charging Moose in the third period. The Hogs goalie stopped twelve shots, including an outstanding pad save on a back door attempt midway through the period. Nick Moutrey added an empty net goal with 32 seconds remaining in regulation to put a topper on the win.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Matthew Highmore

Dylan Sikura-Phillipp Kurashev-Tim Soderlund

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Joni Tuulola-Adam Boqvist

Lucas Carlsson-Dennis Gilbert (A)

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian McCoshen

Collin Delia

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-4)

Boqvist-Quenneville-Hagel-Nilsson-Kurashev

Carlsson-Beaudin-Sikura-Entwistle-Soderlund

Penalty Kill (Moose were 1-5)

Forwards-T. Sikura-Soderlund-Nilsson-Entwistle-Moutrey-Cramarossa

Defense-Gilbert-McCoshen-Tuulola-Beaudin

 

Previewing The Weekend

Friday night, Rockford is in Grand Rapids. The Griffins have lost six straight, including a 3-1 loss to the Hogs at the BMO last Saturday.

Saturday night is the IceHogs first look at the Milwaukee Admirals. It’s also the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss Night. The Ads had a 13-game win streak snapped by Texas on Monday night but still lead the Central Division with a 17-4-1-2 mark.

Admirals center Yakov Trenin is second in the AHL with 14 goals this season. Daniel Carr (11 G, 10 A) was a 30-goal scorer with the Wolves last year but has been out of the Milwaukee lineup for a couple of weeks. The Admirals are bolstered by the scoring of Cole Schneider (6 G, 14 A), Colin Blackwell (6 G, 13 A) as well as defensemen Alexandre Carrier (3 G, 13 A) and Matt Donovan (1 G, 13 A). Former IceHogs forward Laurent Dauphin (5 G, 5 A) will also be facing off against Rockford.

It’s been a true tandem in goal for Milwaukee. Veterans Connor Ingram and Troy Grosenick have split the workload and together boast a 2.36 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. The Admirals are the stingiest defensive team in the AHL despite giving up over 31 shots a game, so the goalies are getting it done big time.

I would speculate that the Hogs will be facing Grosenick Saturday, as Ingram will likely play Friday when Milwaukee hosts Iowa. Regardless, getting pucks in the Ads net could prove challenging.

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