Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, much like their NHL parent club in Chicago, have been slumping hard in February. As a result, they’ve created some separation between themselves and the teams looking to secure a playoff spot in the AHL’s Central Division.

It’s the bad type of separation. The ‘Bago County Piglets may be hitting a wall in the AHL schedule. It’s coming at a rather inopportune time.

Rockford managed to snap a four-game losing streak Sunday with a win over San Antonio. The win took some of the stink off of two home losses to a weak Cleveland squad earlier in the week. The Hogs problems with the last-place Monsters goes a long way in part to explain why Rockford has plummeted to sixth-place.

The formula for success in the divisional standings is simple-beat the teams in your division. Unfortunately, this has been much easier to say than for the IceHogs to do this season.

Rockford is in its current position in the Central Division table precisely because of a poor showing among their regular opponents. Here’s how the teams stack up in inter-divisional play after this weekend’s action:

Team                 Record       Point Percentage

Manitoba          17-8-3-2     .650

Grand Rapids  23-13-1-4   .621

Chicago             20-11-3-2   .625

Iowa                   20-11-2-3   .625

Milwaukee        21-16-3-0   .562

Rockford       18-20-2-2 .476

Cleveland          14-23-1-3    .390

The Hogs are 6-3 against the Griffins this season. However, they have dropped the last three meetings with Grand Rapids, who currently are on a 9-0-0-2 run that has them in that second-place spot in the Central.

The IceHogs do not own a winning record against any of the other teams in the division. To make matters worse, the two games they lost at home to Cleveland this week leaves Rockford with a 3-4-0-1 mark in the season series with the Monsters. Not terrible, you say? Here’s how the rest of the loop is faring with the division cellar-dwellers:

Manitoba: 4-1-1

Grand Rapids: 5-1-0-1

Chicago: 4-1

Iowa: 6-0-1

Milwaukee: 4-3

Rockford is 3-6-1 over its last ten contests. All three wins are against teams from the Pacific Division (Ontario, San Antonio). Meanwhile, Grand Rapids is 8-0-0-2, the Wolves are 7-2-1 and Iowa is 7-3 in that same span.

 

Road Hogs

Rockford can certainly work its way out of this tailspin. However, they will have to do most of the heavy lifting on the road.

Of the IceHogs 22 remaining games, just seven will be in the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center. Rockford has consecutive games just once for the rest of the campaign when they host Milwaukee and Chicago March 23-24.

The Hogs have 14 division games left. Ten of those contests are on the road. For a team that has to rack up regulation wins against the teams above them in the standings, that’s a tall order.

 

The New Guys

There were a number of moves made last week on the roster front. Last Sunday, the IceHogs inked forward Henrik Samuelsson to a PTO. A former first-round pick of Arizona and the son of Hawks assistant Ulf Samuelsson, the big wing paid early dividends for Rockford.

Samuelsson, who had 43 points (16 G, 27 A) with Idaho of the ECHL this season, posted a goal in each of his first three games with the IceHogs. He has already worked his way into the Rockford power play mix and skated with Matthew Highmore and Luke Johnson over the weekend.

Thursday was rife with moves. Goalie Jeff Glass came down to Rockford, with J.F. Berube being recalled to the Blackhawks. Chicago also pulled the trigger on a deal with Ottawa that saw defenseman Ville Pokka depart after nearly four seasons with the Hogs.

The organization reacquired forward Chris DiDomenico from the Senators in exchange for Pokka. DiDomenico skated in Rockford from 2010 to 2012. He’s spent this season between Ottawa 6 G, 4 A in 24 games) and AHL Belleville (5 G, 9 A in 25 games). DiDomenico did not skate in either IceHogs game since the trade.

A player who did get his first on-ice action with Rockford was rookie forward Nathan Noel, who made his debut Tuesday and got his first AHL goal Sunday afternoon. Noel made it clear what style of play we should expect from the fourth-round selection of the Hawks in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Noel stood out in that he is a pesky instigating-type that is in short supply on the Hogs roster. The 5’11”, 175-pound forward didn’t seem to have any problems finishing checks or adding an extra shove around the net.

Noel was injured to start the season. He was sent to Indy when he recovered and is coming off another injured stint while with the Fuel. In 17 games in Indy, Noel had four goals and five assists. It should be interesting to see if he can stay healthy and what Noel can contribute to this team.

 

Recaps (Readers Digest Version)

It wasn’t the best of weeks for Rockford. The Hogs managed to avoid being swept at the BMO, but lost two games to Cleveland before beating San Antonio. Here’s the long and the (mostly) short of it:

Tuesday, February 13-Cleveland 3, Rockford 1

Terry Broadhurst potted a shorthanded goal to open the scoring for Cleveland, taking advantage of a Gustav Forsling turnover. Rockford had five power play chances on the night; the only one that ended up on the scoreboard was the one from Broadhurst’s stick.

The Hogs evened the score with Henrik Samuelsson’s first goal with the team. The new guy was camped out in the slot, took a pass from Matthew Highmore and sent it to Twineville at 16:42.

The Monsters took the lead late in the second on a Carter Camper goal, then held off the Hogs the rest of the way. Alex Broadhurst hit an empty net to lock the game up in the final minute as the brothers continued to pile up offense against their former team.

J.F. Berube was solid in his second game back from injury, stopping 27 of 29 shots thrown his way. I wasn’t enough as the Hogs dropped their third-straight.

 

Saturday, February 17-Cleveland 5, Rockford 2

It was another exercise in futility on the special teams. Rockford went scoreless in five attempts, including a five-minute major. They surrendered another shorthanded goal and gave up a Monsters goal on the man advantage.

After a scoreless first, Cleveland came out and scored three goals in the first 8:29 of the middle frame. The offensive outburst was capped by Zach Dalpe’s shorty past Jeff Glass, who had little in the way of help in the second period.

Back came the Hogs with a pair of goals. Graham Knott’s shot bounced off sliding defenseman Cameron Gaunce and through the wickets of Monsters goalie Matiss Kivlenieks and into the net at 12:50 of the second. Henrik Samuelsson caught Matthew Highmore’s bank shot off the end boards and scored from the goal line at the 18:38 mark.

Rockford entered the third period down 3-2. That’s as close as this one got. Cleveland scored 1:35 into the third and added an empty-netter from Terry Broadhurst with 1:02 remaining.

 

Sunday, February 18-Rockford 4, San Antonio 3

The IceHogs got things turned around on the power play, with a pair of first-period conversions after falling behind 1-0.

Luke Johnson drew cord after putting in a long rebound of an Adam Clendening shot, tying the game 1-1 at the 14:20 mark. Less then two minutes later, Henrik Samuelsson had the space in the slot to sling home a Cody Franson pass for a 2-1 Hogs advantage.

Tanner Kero scored from the right post to give Rockford a 3-1 lead early in the second. Less than a minute later, Alexandre Fortin forced a turnover that wound up in front of the Rampage net. Nathan Noel was on the scene to get his first goal of the season at 2:33 of the second.

That chased San Antonio starter Spencer Martin from the crease. Ville Husso came into the game and held Rockford scoreless the rest of the way.

The Rampage added power play goals midway through the second and early in the final frame. However, Collin Delia made enough stops (25 of 28) to give the IceHogs a much-needed victory.

 

Save My Life, I’m Going Down For The Last Time-The Hogs Head East

Rockford is on the road this weekend, taking on a pair of Eastern Conference clubs.

Friday, the IceHogs tangle with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the first time since ever. The Penguins, who will visit the BMO in a couple of weeks, are 30-15-4-1 heading into this week’s play. They are led by Daniel Sprong, who is third among AHL rookies with 40 points (20 G, 20 A). Behind him is former IceHogs forward Ryan Haggerty, who has 16 goals and 15 helpers in addition to leading the team with a plus-21 skater rating.

In net, the Hogs will likely face Casey DeSmith, who has a 2.74 GAA and a .911 save percentage. DeSmith has lost four of his last five starts, though. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has dropped its last three games heading into the match-up.

Saturday, Rockford plays in Hershey, who are in seventh-place in the eight-team Atlantic Division. The Bears have won three straight games, however.

The IceHogs came out on top in the team’s first-ever meeting at the BMO, a 5-0 win. Three of Rockford’s goal scorers on that night, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Erik Gustafsson, are not on the current roster.

The Bears have a lot of experienced skaters, including forward Joe Whitney (24 points). Hershey is led in scoring by Travis Boyd (14 G 26 A) and Riley Barber (17 G, 16 A). Former Rockford forward Jeremy Langlois is skating for the Bears this season.

Hershey has used a tandem of Vitek Vanacek (2.79, .892) and former Chicago Wolves goalie Phoenix Copley (3.02, .892) in net.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my occasional musings on the Rockford scene.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, were short on the physical element as they prepared to begin the 2017-18 season. Just before the schedule got underway in October, Chicago and Montreal made a swap of forwards. The IceHogs leading point scorer, Kyle Baun, went to the Canadiens organization in exchange for Andreas Martinsen.

This was very much an under the radar transaction, as neither player figures to see NHL action this season. However, in terms of what Martinsen has brought to the IceHogs, I think the Hawks got the better of this trade.

Baun had a pretty decent campaign in 2016-17, finishing with 34 points (14 G, 20 A) to pace a depleted Hogs lineup. While his second pro season was a very productive one, it did help that there was a dearth of prospects on the roster, giving Baun opportunities he would not have this season.

Martinsen brings two things to the table that Baun lacked; NHL experience and a propensity for big hits. While Baun was no shrinking violet, the 6’3″, 220-pound native of Norway is a much more physical player.

With 119 games of NHL experience with Colorado and Montreal, the 27-year old Martinsen adds the facet of leadership to a youthful roster. He and Tyler Sikura have anchored what has been a very productive forward line at both ends of the ice.

Both Martinsen (9 G, 13 A) and Sikura (15 G, 7 A) are tied for third among active Hogs skaters with 22 points. Whether teamed with Alexandre Fortin or another Rockford forward, the pair have been tough forecheckers and have been a big reason the IceHogs have been an effective team at even strength.

Baun currently has 15 points (3 G, 12 A) for Laval in 49 games. He works hard and is a pretty heady player, though I have long questioned Baun’s chances to be a contributor at the NHL level. Regardless, I feel like Martinsen is a better fit for the current IceHogs roster.

 

Samuelsson Inked To PTO

Sunday night, the IceHogs announced that they had signed forward Henrik Samuelsson, son of Hawks assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, to a Professional Tryout contract. This move comes with Rockford being a little light in the forward ranks of late.

William Pelletier was a scratch in both games this weekend. No word from the team, but I would guess he could be missing some time due to injury. Nathan Noel has not played since being recalled, so I would hazard a guess that he isn’t ready to take the ice.

Luke Johnson may also be among a bevy of injured piglets. He took a big hit in the third period of Friday’s loss to Milwaukee and slowly made his way to the bench. Johnson returned to action a few minutes later, but was a scratch in Iowa Saturday and could also be dinged up.

At this point, defenseman Robin Norell has been a fixture at forward the last few weeks. Even with AHL-signing Alex Wideman on the roster from Indy, the IceHogs had just 13 forwards. With Pelletier, Noel and possibly Johnson unavailable, Rockford is in need of bodies up front.

As far as bodies go, Samuelsson should do just fine. A former first-round draft pick by Arizona in 2012, he had a 40-point season (18 G, 22 A) with AHL Portland in 2014-15. This season, Samuelsson has been with Idaho of the ECHL, where he had 16 goals and 27 helpers for the Steelheads in 49 games.

At 6’3″ and 210 pounds, the 24-year-old Samuelsson could help out in the corners for the IceHogs and has a pretty decent offensive arsenal. I’d guess we’ll see him in action this week.

In other roster moves, Rockford sent Matt Tomkins back to the Indy Fuel Thursday after J.F. Berube returned to active duty. Friday, defenseman Carl Dahlstrom was recalled to the Blackhawks, where he skated in the Hawks 3-0 loss to Minnesota.

 

Recaps

The IceHogs dropped two of three games this week, including one to Milwaukee. The Ads have won four straight and have leapfrogged Rockford in the division standings. Coupled with a streaking Grand Rapids club that has won seven of its last ten, Rockford is in sixth place in the Central Division.

Wednesday, February 7-Rockford 3, San Antonio 1

The Rampage have had Rockford’s number in three previous meetings. The Hogs came out on top in the final meeting between the two teams this season with a pair of goals in the third period.

Rockford had several scoring chances in the opening frame but didn’t get on the board until late in the period. Matthew Highmore redirected a Viktor Svedberg blast past Rampage goalie Spencer Martin for a 1-0 Hogs advantage at 18:56 of the first.

Felix Girard tied things up 8:01 into the second period, coming from behind the net and finishing a successful wraparound attempt. Through 40 minutes, Hogs goalie Colin Delia had stopped 24 of 25 shots to keep Rockford even. From there, the IceHogs power play proved to be the difference.

Working with the final seconds of a Shawn Ouellette-St. Amant interference infraction incurred late in the previous period, Rockford got the game-winner with Highmore’s second goal of the evening. The play was set up with a pass from Tanner Kero to Highmore at the goal line. The rookie forward maneuvered to the front of Martin’s cage and deposited a backhand shot into the piggy bank 22 seconds into the third.

The man advantage also provided insurance later in the period when San Antonio was called for delay of game in the eighth minute of action. Adam Clendening one-timed an Anthony Louis feed toward the net. Andreas Martinsen had Martin screened but good. The Rampage goalie never had a chance and Clendening’s goal made it 3-1 Rockford at the 8:06 mark.

The three stars proved to be an all-Rockford edition; Highmore, Delia (33 saves) and Clendening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson-John Hayden

Andreas Martinsen (A)-Tyler Sikura-Alexandre Fortin

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Luc Snuggerud-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Colin Delia

Scratches-Nathan Noel, Darren Raddysh, Ville Pokka, J.F. Berube

Power Play (2-5)

Highmore-Kero-Johnson-Forsling-Dahlstrom

Martinsen-Hayden-Louis-Clendening-Franson

Penalty Kill (San Antonio was 0-4)

Kero-Sikura-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Martinsen-Dalstrom-Snuggerud

Pelletier-Hayden-Franson-Svedberg

 

Friday, February 9-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

The IceHogs earased one-goal deficits twice before Milwaukee prevailed in what was a tough home loss to a division rival.

Jimmy Oligny got the scoring started for the Ads with his goal at 11:34 of the opening frame. Rockford answered a few minutes later on the power play. Anthony Louis made a cross-ice pass that Cody Franson handled at the right dot before snapping off a lamp-lighter past Milwaukee goalie Anders Lindback. This tied the game at a goal apiece at the 14:29 mark.

The Admirals gained a man advantage late in the first on a Viktor Svedberg tripping penalty. They wasted little time in regaining the lead. After winning the resulting faceoff, Frederick Gaudreau scored from the left circle to make it 2-1 Milwaukee headed into the locker room.

Rockford out shot the Ads 16-6 in the second and drew even again in the fifteenth minute. Darren Raddysh did the honors, aided in part to a nice screen in front of the net by Tyler Sikura. Raddysh’s wrister zipped through the legs of Sikura and past Lindback at 14:18, capping off a nice shift in the Milwaukee zone and knotting the game at two.

At that point, Admirals forward Justin Kirkland, who had all of one goal for the season at that point, finished off the Hogs. His nifty move across the crease after receiving a Yakov Trenin feed got Hogs goalie Collin Delia on the ice. His backhand caught cord for a 3-2 Milwaukee lead 2:42 into the third period.

Kirkland added to the lead ten minutes later, when Delia mishandled Trenin’s shot to his glove side. The puck lay unattended momentarily at the right post. Kirkland knocked it in for a 4-2 Admirals advantage at 12:33.

Rockford closed to within a goal at the 14:24 mark when John Hayden received a pass from Sikura and skated out to the top of the right circle. Utilizing another Sikura screen, Hayden beat Lindback to the twine. The IceHogs trailed 4-3.

That was as close as Rockford got, though. With Delia on the bench for an extra skater, Kirkland completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal from just inside his blueline at 18:31.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson-John Hayden

Alex Wideman-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Andreas Martinsen (A)-Tyler Sikura-Alexandre Fortin

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka

Viktor Svedberg-Cody Franson

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, William Pelletier, Nathan Noel

Power Play (1-4)

Martinsen-Louis-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Kero-Highmore-Johnson-Sikura-Forsling

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 1-2)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Hayden-Knott-Forsling-Raddysh

Martinsen-Sikura-Svedberg-Clendening

 

Saturday, February 10-Iowa 2, Rockford 1

Jean-Francois Berube was back in goal for the first time in two months after recovering from a left leg injury. A 27-save effort was a solid return but not enough to get Rockford past the Wild at Wells Fargo Arena.

The first period saw the Hogs and Wild trade deflection goals. Kurtis Gabriel re-directed a Brennen Mennell shot past Berube 5:55 into the contest. Moments later, Tyler Sikura changed the trajectory of a Ville Pokka shot from the right point, knotting the game 1-1 at the 7:41 mark.

As both Berube and Iowa goalie Niklas Svedberg were quite stingy from that point on, the score remained 1-1 until the third period. Iowa potted a power play goal on a Justin Kloos one-timer from the right dot at the 7:31 mark.

The IceHogs had some strong chances to tie both before and after pulling Berube for an extra attacker, but it was not to be. Rockford dropped its second-straight and lost just a little more ground to a division rival.

Lines (Starters in italics-Rockford used 7 defensemen and just 11 forwards)

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero (A)-Anthony Louis

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Alexandre Fortin-John Hayden

Viktor Svedberg-Cody Franson

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Luc Snuggerud

Jean-Francois Berube

Scratches-William Pelletier, Nathan Noel, Luke Johnson

Power Play (0-2)

Highmore-Kero-Louis-Clendening-Franson

Martinsen-Sikura-Hayden-Raddysh-Forsling

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 1-5)

Kero-Hayden-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Pokka-Clendening

Fortin-Knott-Raddysh-Forsling

 

This Week

The Hogs are at home for all three games this week. This is the last real home stand of the season for Rockford; only seven of the IceHogs last 22 games following this week’s games will be at the BMO.

The Cleveland Monsters visit Rockford Tuesday, play in Chicago Thursday, then return to the BMO for a Saturday tilt. Both teams have won three of the six meetings this season. Each has won and lost a shootout. The Monsters have dropped seven of their last ten but did break a three-game losing streak Sunday with an overtime win over Manitoba.

Sunday afternoon, San Antonio returns to the BMO for the last time this season. Rockford won the last meeting this past Wednesday night.

Points are vital to Rockford right now, as every divisional loss extends the gap between them and the pack of teams in the playoff hunt. Getting Berube back is a step in the right direction, though losing regulars like Pelletier and Johnson will make things a bit tougher.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the Rockford scene all season long.