Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs have a couple of new faces in the fold. With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, there could be a couple more before the day is out.

The Blackhawks made two trades this past week. They aren’t likely to have a big impact in Chicago, but they could boost the playoff chances of the Hogs, who beat Grand Rapids in overtime Wednesday before dropping games in Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the weekend.

Rockford (26-22-3-6) are currently fourth in the Central Division with a .537 points percentage. With Chicago, Grand Rapids and Iowa a bit above the rest of the division, the last postseason spot could turn into a dogfight between the IceHogs, Texas and Milwaukee.

On Monday night, the Hawks made a move to bolster the offense, which is still last in the AHL as the month of February nears an end. Chicago sent defenseman Darren Raddysh to the Rangers in exchange for center Peter Holland.

The 28-year-old Holland is a veteran of 266 NHL games with ANaheim, Toronto, Arizona and the Rangers. He is nearly a point-a-game player in his stints in the AHL. In 52 games this season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Holland had 20 goals and 29 assists.

Obtaining one of the AHL’s top scorers was worth the price of losing Raddysh, who has shown steady improvement in two seasons in Rockford. With a young defenseman like Lucas Carlsson showing he can bring a similar game and a number of young defensemen poised to join the club next year, Raddysh was expendable.

Holland made an impact upon joining the Hogs; he had two assists in a 3-2 win over the Griffins Wednesday, then potted his first goal in a Rockford sweater Saturday in Hershey. I’ve frequently said this season that the IceHogs needed some top-end veteran scoring. Stick tap to Hawks GM Stan Bowman for going out and adding a piece for Rockford.

On Sunday, it was announced that a deal had been struck with the Kings to send Matheson Iacopelli to Los Angeles in exchange for forward Spencer Watson. This is not a move that figures heavily in the plans of the Blackhawks…or the IceHogs, for that matter.

Watson turned pro last season and played 11 games for the Kings AHL affiliate in Ontario. He’s amassed great point totals in the ECHL, including 47 points in 47 games with Manchester. So far this season, though, he hasn’t been able to break into an Ontario lineup that is last in the league. Watson has been up for two games with the Reign this season.

Iacopelli, despite possessing a beauty of a shot, couldn’t find steady work with the IceHogs. He has 27 games in Rockford and has been in Indy for most of the last two months. Watson, who was added to the Hogs roster Sunday, could see some action in lieu of AHL forwards Terry Broadhurst and William Pelletier being banged up.

For the time being, Watson gets a chance to win a regular spot and help keep Rockford afloat at forward. Worst case, he moves down to Indy and helps the Fuel in their hunt for the playoffs.

Could any of the current IceHogs be moved today before the deadline? Very possible. Aside from goalie Kevin Lankinen, not much would surprise me over the next few hours.

 

Roster Moves

Henri Jokiharju and Josh McArdle were men on the move this week. Both left and returned to the Hogs in the matter of a couple of days.

Jokiharju was an emergency call-up by the Blackhawks Friday. He was re-assigned to Rockford the next day and arrived in Hershey in time to dress for Saturday’s game. McArdle was sent to the Fuel last Sunday, then was recalled by the Hogs Saturday.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, February 20-Rockford 3, Grand Rapids 2 (OT)

Rockford stayed the course after a rough opening period to outlast the Central Divisions top team. They beat the Griffins in Gus Macker Time and at Van Andel Arena to boot.

Grand Rapids got goals from Wade Megan and Matt Peumpel in the first period. That 2-0 lead held until the fourteenth minute of the middle frame. Joni Tuulola sent a Peter Holland pass by Griffins goalie Harri Sateri to foil the shutout bid.

Jordan Schroeder knotted the game on the power play, aided by Holland’s second apple of the evening. The game remained a 2-2 affair through the remainder of regulation.

Both teams had chances in overtime. For most of the extra five minutes, Sateri and Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg made the required stops. In the closing seconds, Rockford was able to get into the Griffins zone.

Graham Knott sent a shot from the right circle that came off of Sateri’s pads and right onto the stick of Luke Johnson. Johnson sent the rebound into the open Grand Rapids net with less than a second remaining in the overtime period.

Forsberg sent away 37 shots on the evening to pick up the win, Rockford’s third in a row.

 

Saturday, February 23-Hershey 3, Rockford 2 (SO)

The Bears kept their recent win streak going, winning their eleventh straight. Rockford picked up a point to keep their point streak alive at four games.

Newcomer Peter Holland got the Hogs on the board first, via the power play. Holland one-timed a Henri Jokiharju pass into the Hershey net just 1:21 into the contest. The Bears tied the score at the 14:54 mark when Ryan Sproul’s shot from the goal line caught the blocker of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg and tumbled into the cage.

Rockford regained the upper hand a few minutes later after Viktor Ejdsell sent a clearing attempt ringing around the boards and out of the defensive zone. Anthony Louis eventually caught up with the puck coming into Bears territory, skated to the goal line, and dropped a pass to a waiting Jacob Nilsson. The shot beat Hershey goalie Ilya Samsonov to the upper right corner of the net for a 2-1 IceHogs advantage.

After a scoreless middle frame, Hershey tied the game after an early Rockford turnover in the final period. Henri Jokiharju sent a pass that Joni Tuulola couldn’t get under control. The Bears Beck Malenstyn scooped up the puck and dealt it to Garrett Pilon, who beat Forsberg to the cord at 1:28 of the third.

The remainder of regulation and overtime passed with nary a puck in a net. The shootout would decide this contest. With the tally 1-1 going into the third round, Hershey’s Nathan Walker beat Forsberg. Anthony Louis lost control of the puck on his third-round attempt. The biscuit rolled into the net under Samsonov but was ruled a no-goal by the officials, ending the game.

 

Sunday, February 24-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4, Rockford 1

The Penguins scored first, getting a Ryan Scarfo goal at the 6:48 mark. Rockford evened things up late in the period. The Hogs were established in the offensive zone and benefited from some slick passing from defensemen Dennis Gilbert and Lucas Carlsson.

Gilbert sent the puck out to Luke Johnson at the point, who slid a pass to Carlsson along the blue line before skating to the high slot. Carlsson found Johnson on the return feed; Johnson’s shot beat the glove of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. The light came on at 18:07 of the first and the teams went into the intermission on equal ground.

Former Rockford skater Jimmy Hayes provide the offense in the second stanza, scoring twice to give Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a 3-1 advantage. Hayes banked a centering pass off of Carlsson 5:45 into the second, then beat Lankinen with a one-timer from the right circle at the 11: 21 mark.

The IceHogs pushed to get back in the game to no avail. Rockford put 12 shots on Jarry (the Hogs out shot the Penguins 34-27 on the afternoon) but couldn’t chip into the deficit. Adam Johnson added and empty-net goal for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 3:18 remaining.

 

Action This Week

Rockford continues its road trip Tuesday in Rosemont and an Illinois Lottery Cup tilt with the first-place Wolves. The Hogs are at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Friday night to host Grand Rapids.

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

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks, kicked off their home schedule with style, scoring 10 goals in two victories over Texas and Hershey.

The piglets were on full display this weekend, righting the ship after a 0-2 start in Cleveland to open the season. Here are some of my weekend observations:

  • The IceHogs have scored the first goal in each of the four games they’ve had so far. This weekend, they also showed the resolve to come out on top of a couple of back-and-forth affairs. Rockford outscored their opponents 5-0 in the third period these last two games. “
  • (It was) nice to see we found a way to close a couple of games out,” said head coach Jeremy Colliton during the post-game presser following a 5-2 win over the Bears on Sunday. “I think the third period in both games was reasonably solid. We got some pace and showed we have quick strike potential in the group.”
  • That offense was generated throughout the lineup; Rockford’s 13 goals have come from 11 different skaters. Eight IceHogs picked up their first goals of the 2018-19 campaign in front of the friendly folks at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
  • Tyler Sikura is poised for another strong season for the IceHogs. So far, he’s been in the middle of a slew of scoring chances for Rockford. He always seems to be around the puck or in front of the net. He tops the Hogs score sheet with two goals and four points through four games.
  • Dylan Sikura’s play-making was a factor in both games. He also has four points on the season (1 G, 3 A) and looks to be finding his stride in the AHL. The Brothers Sikura are teaming up on a power play unit that has shown flashes of extreme competence.
  • Schroeder isn’t as adept at the one-timer from the left circle as Cody Franson was last spring, but he’s shown a fondness for taking them on the second power play unit. His third attempt Sunday from that spot resulted in a goal; more could be on the way if he can find the range because the opportunities should come.
  • Matheson Iacopelli made his first two starts of the season, skating with Graham Knott and Nathan Noel. You can dub them the “Prove It” line because all three players are looking to make bigger impacts than they did in their rookie seasons. This weekend, they posted goals in both games. Iacopelli tied the score in the third period Saturday and started a Hogs rally. Knott followed up an Iacopelli shot Sunday that turned out to be the game-winner over Hershey.
  • Also seeing game action for the first time were defensemen Dennis Gilbert and Blake Hillman. Both recorded assists in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Texas.
  • Collin Delia started both games for the Hogs and looked very good doing so. I thought he was especially impressive Sunday when the Bears fired 38 shots his way, most of which came from close range. The second-year goalie showed a lot of poise, stopping 70 of 75 shots this weekend for a .933 save percentage.
  • Delia shouldn’t have had to work as hard as he has. I am not sold on this defense in the early stages of the season. Andrew Campbell and Luc Snuggerud sat out the action this weekend, leaving a very inexperienced group out on the ice. That inexperience definitely showed in the play on the back end. Despite five goals by the Hogs on Sunday, none of the six defensemen recorded so much as an assist on any of them.
  • The Rockford blueline lacks a dynamic offensive performer in the mold of Franson, Adam Clendening or even Ville Pokka. They also haven’t locked down opponents in their own end real well throughout the first two weeks of play. Delia’s play covered up the deficiencies; Colliton admitted as much after Sunday’s contest. If this team is going to compete in the Central Division this season, they will have to improve defensively.

 

Recaps

Saturday, October 13 – Rockford 5, Texas 3

The IceHogs rallied in the final period to pick up the season’s first win. A crowd of 4,773 was on hand to watch Rockford in the home opener.

As has been the case in each game this season, the Hogs got on the board first. The goal came four minutes into the contest and was the result of the man advantage. Dylan Sikura got a puck on net that was stopped by Stars goalie Colton Point but settled in front of the crease. Brother Tyler twisted around his defender and backhanded the loose biscuit into the basket for a 1-0 Rockford lead.

Texas responded with a couple of transition goals to go up 2-1. James Phelan got to the left post just before Hogs goalie Collin Delia to knock in a pass from Colton Hargrove at the 7:31 mark. In the last minute of the first, a Jacob Nilsson turnover led to a rush that ended with Denis Gurianov finishing from the left post.

Rockford knotted the game at two goals at 2:27 of the second period when Henrik Samuelsson put a rebound of Joni Tuulola’s shot over the shoulder of Point. Midway though the period, however, Justin Dowling got a stick on a drive by Gavin Bayreuther, changing the trajectory just enough to send it past Delia for a 3-2 Stars advantage.

After misfiring for much of the evening, Rockford began to connect on some passes. This led to a change in the IceHogs fortunes over the final 20 minutes.

Matheson Iacopelli, in his first action this season, tied the game from the left circle after taking a feed from Graham Knott on a 2-on-1 rush to the Texas cage. Iacopelli’s shot glanced off the left post and settled into Twine Town at 11:06 of the third period.

A few minutes later, the IceHogs regained the led on Dylan Sikura’s first AHL goal. It was set up by Nilsson, who gained possession of a rebounding Texas shot in the slot and brought the puck out of the zone and across the red line.

Nilsson hit Matthew Highmore coming into the Stars zone. Sikura handled Highmore’s offering at the top of the left circle, skated to the dot and sent a wrist shot past Point’s glove and into the far side of the net. Rockford now led 4-3 with just under six minutes to play.

Texas pressed hard and had some up close and personal scoring chances that were kept out of harm’s way by Delia, who totaled 34 saves on the night and won First Star honors. The Hogs locked things up in the final minute on a long-distance empty netter by Darren Raddysh.

Rounding out the three stars behind Delia was Iacopelli (Second Star) and Dylan Sikura (Third Star).

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore (A)-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Anthony Louis

Viktor Ejdsell-Jordan Schroeder-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Dennis Gilbert-Joni Tuulola

Collin Delia 

Power Play (1-6)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Stars were 0-1)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Fortin-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Sunday, October 14-Rockford 5 , Hershey 2 

The Bears peppered Collin Delia with shots, but the Hogs goalie was up to the task, making 36 saves to help Rockford win its second straight.

Anthony Louis got the Hogs on the scoreboard with his first goal of the season at the 3:30 mark. The play got started when Darren Raddysh took control of the puck at his blueline and hit Tyler Sikura entering the middle of the Hershey zone. Sikura passed to Henrik Samuelsson coming down the right side, who found Louis skating toward the left dot. Pass, shoot, score; Rockford led 1-0.

The Bears tied the game midway through the period on a point shot by Tyler Lewington. Despite being out shot 16-7 in the opening 20 minutes, the IceHogs were all square going into the locker room.

A high-sticking infraction by Hershey’s Mike Sgarbossa led to Jordan Schroeder’s first goal of the season. Schroeder’s one-timer from the left circle found the far side of Ilya Samsonov’s net for a 2-1 advantage for the Hogs at 3:13 of the second stanza. Credit Dylan Sikura with an excellent cross-ice feed to Schroeder.

At 6:56 of the second, Liam O’Brien sent a wrister over the glove of Delia. The game wouldn’t stay tied for long, however.

Rockford regained the lead after Matheson Iacopelli gathered in a loose puck in the slot and skated it back out past the top of the left circle before throwing a shot toward the Hershey net. Samsonov made the stop but failed to gather in the loose puck. Graham Knott was skating across the crease when the puck struck his foot and slid under the Bears goalie at 8:17 of the second.

The 3-2 lead held up until the middle of the third period, when Schroeder teamed up with Terry Broadhurst for some much-needed insurance. Viktor Ejdsell brought the puck into Hershey territory and found Schroeder skating up the middle of the ice.

Schroeder bore down on Samsonov, waiting until he was nearly on top of the crease before sliding a pass to a streaking Broadhurst at the left post. The resulting one-timer made it 4-2 Rockford at 10:21 of the third. Matthew Highmore added an empty-net goal with 1:40 remaining to close out the scoring.

Schroeder was named the game’s first star for his efforts on the afternoon, followed by Delia and Tyler Sikura, who had a pair of assists.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore (A)-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Anthony Louis

Viktor Ejdsell-Jordan Schroeder-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Dennis Gilbert-Joni Tuulola

Collin Delia 

Power Play (1-4)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Bears were 0-3)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Fortin-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Go West, Young Hogs

Rockford hits the road for a pair of games with Tuscon this weekend. The Hogs will be in action on Friday and Saturday nights. I’ll have a look at that Roadrunners club on Friday along with other Rockford happenings. Until then, follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the Hogs all season long.

 

Everything Else

After beginning the 2017-18 season 0-for-Cleveland, the Rockford IceHogs are back in action in friendlier confines this weekend. Chicago’s AHL affiliate kicks off the home portion of the schedule Saturday night vs Texas. Sunday, the IceHogs host the Hershey Bears.

Here’s an update on the piglets as coach Jeremy Colliton readies his charges for the weekend set, along with an in-depth look at the upcoming opponents.

 

Roster Moves

On Tuesday, Alexandre Fortin was recalled to the Blackhawks. He played Thursday night in Minnesota. He may be headed back to Rockford in time to take part in the festivities this weekend. If not, there’s a possibility that the Hogs could recall one of their AHL contracts in Indianapolis.

 

Texas Stars-Saturday, 10/13 @ 6:00 p.m.

The home portion of the season gets underway at the BMO Harris Bank Center when the Texas Stars visit following their Friday night tilt in Iowa.

The Stars are new to the Central Division, though Hogs fans are mighty familiar with this team from the 2018 Western Conference Final. Texas defeated Rockford in six games to advance to the Calder Cup Final, which they dropped to Toronto.

The Stars develop players and are also committed to winning, which they have done with regularity. Now entering their tenth year of operations, Texas has three trips to the Calder Cup Final, including an AHL championship in 2013-14. They have reached the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons.

There was quite a bit of turnover from last spring’s club. Several lynchpins to the Stars playoff run, like their Rockford counterparts, have moved on. This includes captain Curtis McKenzie, forwards Brian Flynn, Sheldon Dries and Jason Dickinson as well as swingman Brent Regner.

First on the list of familar faces is Travis Morin, who has been with the team since its inception. The 34-year-old forward is on an AHL deal with Texas and is coming off a 61-point season (10 G, 51 A). Center Justin Dowling (17 points in the postseason) is also a long-time fixture for the Stars who is capable of creating offense, as is Denis Gurianov (19 goals in 2017-18).

Texas added Park Ridge, Illinois resident Michael Mersch, a power forward who scored 49 points (21 G, 28 A) for Ontario a season ago. Also coming in to help up front is former Bruins farmhand Colton Hargrove, who is coming off a 33-point season (16 G, 17 A) with Providence.

Erik Condra, who spent the last two seasons with Syracuse, has 366 games of NHL action under his belt. He is still an effective two-way player at the AHL level and will bring a lot of experience to the table for Texas, much like Flynn did last season.

On the defensive side of the puck, AHL veterans Dillion Heatherington and Reece Scarlett (who injured his left leg in the season opener with Grand Rapids) are joined by Joel Hanley, who has spent time in Portland, St. Johns and Tuscon in his five-year pro career. Gavin Bayreuther is also back for his third season after a seven goal, 25 assist effort in 2017-18.

John Nyberg is beginning his first pro season, though he did square off with the Hogs in the playoffs last spring. Free agent defenseman Ben Gleason is also in his rookie year with Texas.

Mike McKenna, who anchored the crease for the Stars late last season, is now continuing his tour of the AHL with Belleville (his 15th AHL stop). Last year’s starter through much of the regular season, Landon Bow, should be the primary goalie for Texas. Joining him in net is rookie Colton Point.

 

Hershey Bears-Sunday, 10/14 @ 4:00 p.m.

Arriving at the BMO Sunday, after visiting Grand Rapids on Friday night, is the AHL’s oldest franchise, the Hershey Bears. The IceHogs have a home and away with the Bears after facing Hershey for the first time ever in two games last season. Rockford won both meetings.

The Bears were last in the Atlantic Division in 2017-18, missing the playoffs for only the second time in the last 13 seasons. A number of the team’s leading scorers are with other clubs, like Chris Bourque (53 points) and Wayne Simpson (42 points). Riley Barber (20 G, 18 A) returns to Hershey for his fourth season. Liam O’Brien (17 G, 9 A) is another holdover.

One new addition is center Mike Sgarbossa, a seven-year AHL vet who had 40 points (16 G, 24 A) with Manitoba last season. Another notable newcomer to Hershey is former Hogs forward Jeremy Morin. Back to the AHL after a year in Europe, Morin is on an AHL deal with the Bears. Morin had several productive campaigns with the IceHogs, including a 30-goal effort in the 2012-13 season.

Longtime AHL veteran Aaron Ness is back for another season on the Hershey blueline after scoring four goals and 25 assists for the Bears last year. 6’2″ defenseman Lucas Johansen (6 G, 21 A) is back for his second season, as is Connor Hobbs (3 G, 13 A). Colby Williams is another experienced defender who returns to the Bears lineup.

The net duties are being handled by Vitek Vanecek, who is starting his third pro season in Hershey. He posted a 3.04 goals against average and an .888 save percentage in 32 games last season. The IceHogs beat him in 4-3 in an overtime game in Hershey back in February.

Rookie Ilya Samsonov was the Capitals second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. The 21-year-old came over from the KHL, where he had played for the last three years.

Everything Else

This week’s Rockford IceHogs post is abbreviated. I mean, I could talk about what Blackhawks prospects factored into a weekend split. However, there is a good chance that some of those players will be the property of other organizations.

Due to the uncertainty that is the trade deadline, I’ll hold off on some of this week’s analysis for a day or two. I will sift through any roster shakeup later this week.

Rockford skaters did reach a couple of milestones over the weekend. Matthew Highmore set an AHL franchise record for rookies with his 21st goal in Saturday’s victory in Hershey. Defenseman Adam Clendening also tied a franchise mark, logging his 134th point and 110th helper. Both tie the previous high for IceHogs defensemen with Brian Connelly.

Will Clendening be around to break that tie? Who knows?

Moves will likely be made, either large or small. Viktor Svedberg was a healthy scratch on Saturday and is one of several veteran blueliners who I would not be surprised to see included in a deal. Same goes for Cody Franson and Clendening.

 

Roster Moves

On Wednesday, with new acquisition Chris DiDomenico ready to roll, Rockford sent forward Matheson Iacopelli to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. As a player with an NHL entry contract, it’s not a common occurrence.

Iacopelli has spent most of his rookie season as a bottom six option. Without a real strong linemate to get him shot opportunities, the former Western Michigan standout still had nine goals in 40 games this season. He’s been a frequent scratch and it’s apparent the coaching staff feels that there is something missing from his game.

Whatever that is, it isn’t his shot. If Iacopelli could secure a role on a scoring line, he has 30-goal potential in the AHL. With this year’s crop of prospects, top-six minutes haven’t been in the cards for him.

Upon arriving in Indy, Iacopelli quickly displayed the kind of offensive punch of which he is capable. He promptly lit the lamp in each of his first two appearances before Saturday night’s hat trick against Quad City.

I’m not sure why Iacopelli has had trouble finding playing time with the IceHogs, but the only thing that can help him fill out his game is steady minutes. I’m positive he’ll get those minutes in Indy for as long as he’s there.

 

Recaps

The IceHogs are still on the outside looking in in terms of the postseason. Rockford did, however, leapfrog Milwaukee into fifth place in the Central Division standings. The threesome of Grand Rapids, Chicago and Iowa still needs to be chased down to grab one of the three spots behind Manitoba in the playoff picture.

Friday, February 23-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 6, Rockford 3

Rockford’s road trip began in not-so-impressive fashion, falling behind early to the Penguins and never getting back into contention.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took a 2-0 advantage in the first 8:04 of the contest before the IceHogs could get on the board. Tyler Sikura slipped in front of the net to tip in a John Hayden offering at 10:22 of the first period to cut the Penguins lead to 2-1. However, a late Penguins goal put them up 3-1 at the first intermission.

Over the next 30 minutes of action, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got three more pucks by Hogs goalie Jeff Glass, taking a 6-1 lead midway through the final frame. At that point, Rockford managed to gain a measure of respectability with a couple of garbage-time goals.

The IceHogs power play got rubber to twine when new addition Chris DiDomenico got a piece of Viktor Svedberg’s slap-shot at the 13:40 mark. A few minutes later, DiDomenico got to a puck in the corner of the Penguins zone. His pass found Anthony Louis near the right post for the score at 16:19.

 

Saturday, February 24-Rockford 4, Hershey 3 (OT)

The ending was not without controversy, but the Hogs were able to pull out a win in what was a pretty unusual affair with the Bears.

Despite a landslide advantage in shots on goal, this game was nip-and-tuck in terms of score. Rockford was able to gain the first goal of the contest while killing a delay of game penalty.

John Hayden proved to be the catalyst on a shorthanded chance, creating a turnover along the half boards and getting a shot on net that was knocked aside by Hershey goalie Vitek Vanacek. Matthew Highmore was at the left post to collect the rebound, setting a Hogs rookie record for goals with his 21st of the season. Rockford led 1-0 at the 12:35 mark.

The Bears answered in the second period when Liam O’Brien laid a big hit on Alexandre Fortin to separate him from the puck. The big winger worked a give-and-go with Zach Sill before firing past Hogs goalie Collin Delia to tie the game 1-1 at the 13:25 mark.

Rockford’s power play made it a 2-1 game late in the period. Adam Clendening sent a stretch pass to William Pelletier, who got across the Bears blueline ahead of the defense. Pelletier skated to the net before getting a backhander past Vanecek at 17:46 of the second.

Hershey rallied again, drawing even on Travis Boyd’s power-play goal 6:35 into the third period. The IceHogs regained the lead 70 seconds later when Pelletier tipped in a Chris DiDomenico shot for his second of the night.

The Bears, for the third time of the evening, were able to come up with the equalizer, again while on the power play. Riley Barber took advantage of an open look from the right circle to tie the game on what was just Hershey’s 14th shot of the game. Rockford had 38 shots, by contrast, but the scoreboard showed three goals for each club. That’s how things ended in regulation.

Gus Macker Time ended 1:46 into the proceedings. What could easily have been a penalty on DiDomenico after getting tangled up with Barber wound up an odd-man rush the other way. Hayden brought the puck into the Hershey zone and fired past Vanecek to notch the game-winner.

Most nights, stopping just 11 of 14 shots wouldn’t be good enough for a win. On this night, it was as Delia picked up his ninth win of the season. Hayden and Pelletier were named the first and second stars of the game, respectively.

 

Coming Up

Rockford has a Wednesday night skate with the Texas Stars at the BMO, visit Milwaukee on Friday, then hosts the Penguins of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday night.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get some nuggets of thought on Rockford doings all season long.

 

 

 

 

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.