Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit the skids over the holidays. Call-ups and injuries have left the piglets a shell of the team that played so well back just a few weeks ago.

From November 2 to December 20, Rockford ran off a 14-5-0-1 stretch that had them in second place in the Central Division. Since then, the IceHogs have dropped six in a row. This is a depleted squad, to say the least.

As the month of December progressed, several key Hogs were recalled to the Blackhawks. Forwards Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore and John Quenneville, along with defensemen Dennis Gilbert and Adam Boqvist were big pieces of Rockford’s success.

Alexandre Fortin, Phillipp Kurashev and Anton Wedin are out of the lineup with injuries-and may be out for a while. Defenseman Philip Holm, the most solid performer on the blueline this season, is returning to Europe after requesting to be let out of his NHL contract.

The above circumstances have left the Hogs very thin, quite green…and the losers of six straight.

Rockford brought up AHL contracts Dylan McLaughlin and Matthew Thompson from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on January 1. They also signed the Fuel’s leading scorer, Spencer Watson, to a PTO on Sunday after Thomson was injured in Friday’s game in Iowa.

Hogs coach Derek King used every healthy player at his disposal against the Chicago Wolves Sunday, employing AHL defenseman Ben Youds as a forward to fill out his lineup card. In the second period of that game, Mikael Hakkarainen, who missed most of the first three months of the season after an opening night injury, left the game. When it rains, it pours.

 

Lankinen Lone All-Star

Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen was named as Rockford’s only representative in the AHL’s All-Star Classic, to be held in Ontario, California on January 26 and 27.

Lankinen got the news in the midst of a rough patch of play. In his last three starts, Lankinen has surrendered 15 goals. His line for the season so far through 15 appearances: a 7-7-1 record, a 3.17 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

 

Recaps

Friday, January 3-Iowa 5, Rockford 1

The IceHogs dug themselves a three-goal hole in the first period and never recovered, dropping their fifth-straight contest.

The Wild quickly took command of the game, scoring on a pair of power play opportunities. Gerald Mayhew beat Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen from the slot 1:29 into the first period. Mayhew stuck in a rebound of a Kyle Rau attempt at the 8:08 mark for a 2-0 Iowa advantage.

Late in the first, Mayhew sent a long shot toward Lankinen. It was redirected by Nico Sturm, creating a 3-0 deficit heading into the first intermission.

Sturm got around the defense early in the second period and slipped a shot under Lankinen’s pads, making it 4-0 at the 2:20 mark. Luke Johnson extended the Wild lead to 5-0 on a 5-on-3 power play goal 52 seconds into the third period.

Rockford got on the scoreboard midway through the final frame. Dylan McLaughlin picked up his first AHL goal, one-timing an offering from Joseph Cramarossa. The power play goal came at the 9:01 mark.

Forward Matthew Thompson left the game midway through the third period and did not return to action. Iowa was three for six on the power play, while the IceHogs converted just one of their six chances.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mikael Hakkarainen-Reese Johnson-Nick Moutrey

Joseph Cramarossa-Tyler Sikura (C)-Dylan McLaughlin

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle

Tim Soderlund-Matthew Thompson-Nathan Noel

Philip Holm-Lucas Carlsson

Ian McCoshen (A)-Joni Tuulola

Nicolas Beaudin-Dmitri Osipov

Kevin Lankinen

Collin Delia

 

Sunday, January 5-Chicago 3, Rockford 2

The Wolves picked up their first win of the season against the Hogs in the Illinois Lottery Cup series.

Rockford drew first cord, taking a 1-0 first period lead on a second effort goal by Jacob Nilsson. Nilsson’s initial shot was thwarted by Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk. However, Nilsson recovered the rebound and sent a shot off the back of Dansk and into the Wolves net at the 6:36 mark.

Chicago dominated the second period, taking a 2-1 advantage on goals by Dylan Coghlan and Valentin Zykov. The Wolves lead stretched to 3-1 at 1:56 of the third when Tye McGinn beat the glove of Hogs goalie Collin Delia.

The IceHogs kept plugging away, pressuring Dansk on the way to 15 shots in the final frame. Dylan McLaughlin got a slap shot past Dansk 12:18 into the third. Despite several good looks at the Chicago net, Rockford was unable to complete the comeback.

Mikael Hakkarainen left the game in the second period and did not return to action.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Joseph Cramarossa-Tyler Sikura (C)-Dylan McLaughlin

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Spencer Watson

Mikael Hakkarainen-Nathan Noel-Ben Youds

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Ian McCoshen-Dmitri Osipov

Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Collin Delia

Matt Tomkins

 

Next

Things don’t get easier for the IceHogs, who host Manitoba on Wednesday night before heading to Milwaukee for a pair of games with the division-leading Admirals on Friday and Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news, updates and thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

Hockey

Last week, I laid out the lack of success of the Blackhawks organization in developing defensive talent. Stan Bowman’s draft record is incredibly poor in this regard. However, there are other ways to replenish a blueline.

This week, we’ll recap Bowman’s track record in obtaining defensive prospects via trade or free agency. My criteria is going to be players that Chicago brought in to develop into solid pieces on defense, as opposed to veterans acquisitions.

The player at the top of this list would have to be Nick Leddy, who was obtained with Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker in February of 2010. It’s a stretch to say that Leddy developed in Rockford, but he did play 22 games for the Hogs in 2010-11 and was with the team during the NHL strike in 2012-13 before helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Leddy is currently in his tenth season. He’s a two-time All-Star and has avoided injuries in his NHL career. Chicago was able to hold on to Leddy for all of four seasons before having to move him to the New York Islanders. However, Stan Bowman was able to wrest the next defensive gem from the Isles. Or so it was thought.

Bowman sent Leddy and Kent Simpson to New York in exchange for goalie prospect Anders Nilsson, AHL juggernaut T.J. Brennan…and defensive prospect Ville Pokka.

Nilsson was traded the following summer; Brennan spent five months piling up offense in Rockford before he was traded to Toronto. Pokka was the piece that the Blackhawks hoped to polish into a top-four defender.

They didn’t.

Pokka put up solid numbers with the IceHogs for three and a half seasons but never played a game for Chicago. Bowman’s return for Pokka in February of 2018: three months of Chris DiDomenico for the IceHogs run to the Western Conference Final. Pokka is now skating in the KHL.

Another young defenseman Bowman traded for was Gustav Forsling, who the Hawks picked up from Vancouver. Having given up on Adam Clendening as a long-term solution on defense, Bowman had high hopes for Forsling, who skated for parts of three seasons in Rockford.

Unfortunately, that time was mostly spent following unimpressive stints in Chicago.

Forsling was sent to the Hogs mid-season in both 2016-17 and 2017-18. He was rather pedestrian in his time in Rockford, was moved this past summer in a trade with Carolina and has spent this season in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers.

Bowman has also attempted to bring in defense via signing free agents and developing them in Rockford. This has produced a couple of players who have spent time in the NHL, Erik Gustafsson being perhaps the most prominent.

Gustafsson skated 120 games with the IceHogs, including all of the 2016-17 campaign. Like his tenure with the Hawks, Gustafsson was a one-way player who struggled mightily in his own end. However, he does have nearly 200 games of NHL experience at this point.

Chicago has had limited success with undrafted free agents. Ryan Stanton appeared in a game for the Hawks in 2013 and played two full NHL seasons with Vancouver. Viktor Svedberg, who spent five seasons in Rockford, played in 27 games for Chicago in 2015-16. You would have to credit Svedberg and Stanton’s time with the IceHogs for the two at least reaching the NHL.

Otherwise, the cupboard has been bare. Gustafsson is the only one of these players currently contributing to the Blackhawks defense. Bowman has not been able to replace veteran pieces on his roster effectively. It certainly is a big reason the organization is scuffling right now.

 

Anyway, Back To The IceHogs…

…who are mired in a four-game losing steak as they ready for this weekend’s action. Rockford (17-14-0-1) is in fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. They have upcoming games with the two teams directly above them in the standings.

Friday night, the piglets are in Iowa. The Wild have won two of the three previous meetings in the season series, including a 6-2 pasting of Rockford last Friday. Iowa comes in the winners of four of its last five games.

Sunday, Rockford is back at the BMO Harris Bank Center for another tilt with the Chicago Wolves. The Hogs have won all five games against their closest rival in the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup. It’s been over a month since Rockford saw the Wolves; the IceHogs defeated Chicago 4-2 back on November 29.

Roster Moves

Matt Tomkins returned to the IceHogs on Wednesday following his stint with Team Canada, who won the Spengler Cup. Tomkins won in his only appearance in the tournament, a 5-1 victory over HC Davos.

Rockford also recalled forwards Matthew Thompson and Dylan McLaughlin from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Wednesday.

 

Recap

Tuesday, December 31-Manitoba 4, Rockford 3

The Hogs dropped a fourth-straight contest, buried by four Moose tallies in the opening 7:14 of the second period.

After neither team drew cord in the first twenty minutes, Manitoba quickly converted on two power plays in the middle frame. C.J. Suess and Kristian Vesalainen scored fifty seconds apart, at 2:58 and 3:48, respectively.

Emilie Poirier and Cole Maier struck in quick succession in the seventh and eighth minutes, leading to a goalie change for the IceHogs. Kevin Lankinen gave way to Collin Delia, who faced 20 shots the rest of the way but held firm, allowing Rockford to slowly get back into shouting distance.

Brandon Hagel got the Hogs on the board with a strong move into the Manitoba zone following a pass from Chad Krys. Hagel powered around the net and completed the wraparound successfully to make it 4-1 Moose 12:58 into the second.

Nicolas Beaudin’s ttempt from the high slot late in the period caromed high in the air, glancing off of Moose goalie Mikail Berdin and into the cage at the 18:05 mark.

Down 4-2 to begin the third period, the IceHogs displayed the tenacity that has been their trademark this season. Anton Wedin redirected a long pass from Joseph Cramarossa, who had swiped the puck back in the defensive zone seconds earlier. Wedin’s seventh of the season closed the gap to 4-3 at 9:02 of the third. That was as close as Rockford could get, however.

I will hopefully be sending out live tweets @JonFromi during the Wolves game tonight. Follow me for game updates along with my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs took some lumps over the weekend. The piglets are currently mired in a three-game losing streak after a 6-2 loss at the BMO to Iowa Friday night and a 3-2 loss in Manitoba Sunday afternoon.

The group that finished the matinee with the Moose was a wee bit thin up front. To put a finer point on it, the Hogs were skating with ten forwards for the bulk of that game.

Why so shorthanded? Here’s a quick look at how things shook out over the weekend.

The IceHogs entered Friday with 13 forwards. In the third period of what was a very chippy game with the Wild, Nathan Noel was called for a slew foot of Iowa’s Brennen Menell. Noel was given a match penalty for the play and suspended for one game by the AHL.

Despite protests by the BMO faithful, this was absolutely the correct call.

From the waist up, Noel delivers a perfectly legal hit as the players are going up against the end boards. That misdirection kept a lot of folks from seeing Noel’s left leg, which swept the Wild defenseman’s skates out from under him. Hard to determine intent, but it was an obvious slew foot.

As you would expect, Hogs announcer Joey Zakrzewski was drawn in by the legal part of the hit. Iowa broadcaster Joe O’Donnell called the slew foot right away. It just depends on where you were looking on the play. However, Noel was guilty, the officials got it right, and the third-year forward was unavailable for Sunday’s game.

On Sunday, forward Anton Wedin was ill, forcing Rockford coach Derek King to send 11 forwards and seven defensemen onto the ice. In the eighth minute, Phillipp was attempting to get his stick on a loose puck in the defensive zone when Manitoba’s Ryan White skated by and caught the Hogs rookie in the face with an elbow.

Kurashev skated off under his own power but did not return to the contest. As usual, the IceHogs skated hard despite being down to ten forwards but lost the game.

A suspension will likely be announced today for White, who was tagged for a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the play. It appeared that White was trying to avoid contact with Kurashev, though that resulted in undeniable contact to the head.

Following Sunday’s game, King had this to say about Kurashev:

“I think he’s feeling all right. I’ll have to see how he is tomorrow morning, if he feels any better. I think he’s just got a little bit of a headache, or what have you. We’ll try him out, see if he wants to skate, and if he feels good, we’ll see where we go from there.”

I would assume that the organization is going to evaluate their 20-year old prospect’s “headache” before sending him back out for another tilt with the Moose on Tuesday. Rockford may try and finish the Manitoba trip with Noel and possibly Wedin returning. We could see a call up from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, or King could go with seven defensemen again.

 

Tomkins Shines At Spengler Cup

Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins is with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup. He got his first action on Saturday, stopping 22 of 23 shots in a 5-1 victory over the host team, HC Davos.

 

This Week

The IceHogs travel to DesMoines Friday for another go at the Wild, returning to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday afternoon. There, they tangle with the Chicago Wolves.

I’ll be back on Friday to recap Tuesday’s game in Manitoba and also continue my look at the Hawks difficulties in developing defensive talent. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split this past weekend’s action, defeating a hot Texas Stars club Friday night before falling to Cleveland the following evening. Rockford (17-11-0-1) trails Iowa by a standings point for second place in the AHL’s Central Division but can leapfrog the Wild when the two teams hook up in Rockford this coming weekend.

The piglets have continued to play well in the face of recent call-ups by the Blackhawks. The roster thins a bit more heading into the holiday break, but the Hogs have still won seven of their last ten games.

 

By The Numbers

Here are a few statistics of note for Rockford through 29 games this season:

  • The Hogs are 11-5 at home and 6-6-0-1 on the road so far in 2019-20.
  • Rockford is scoring 2.93 goals per game…and allowing 2.93 goals per game.
  • Rockford averages 28.59 shots and surrenders 31.76 shots per contest. Only six teams in the league give up more shots on goal than the IceHogs. Strong play in net has been important to the team’s success so far.
  • The power play is 30th out of 31 teams, converting just 10.8 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • While the penalty kill has been better, the Hogs are still working at an 80 percent kill rate. That is good for a tie with Chicago at 23rd in the AHL.
  • The IceHogs have posted seven shorthanded goals this season. That’s tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
  • Kevin Lankinen’s 55 saves on December 10 is the second-highest total in the league this season. On December 4, Phillipe Desrosiers saved 62 shots for Springfield in a win over Lehigh Valley.
  • Brandon Hagel (8 G, 7 A) and Phillipp Kurashev (5 G, 10 A) are tied for 16th among rookies in scoring with 15 points.
  • Team captain Tyler Sikura (8 G, 9 A) leads Rockford in scoring with 17 points. Dylan Sikura, currently in Rockford, has 16 points (9 G, 7 A) for the Hogs. Hagel and Kurashev are right behind the Sikuras. Defenseman Philip Holm has 14 points (3 G, 11 A).
  • Joseph Cramarossa, who had both goals in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland, is tied for the AHL lead with five fighting majors. He has scrapped three times for Rockford since coming aboard last month. That leads the IceHogs. Reese Johnson has dropped the gloves twice for Rockford. In all, the team has nine fighting majors this season.

Tomkins Playing For Spengler Cup

The goalie situation becomes a bit less crowded over the holidays. Rockford has loaned Matt Tomkins to Team Canada for the upcoming Spengler Cup. The former Ohio State net minder gets an opportunity to impress on the international tournament after some solid play for the piglets.

Tomkins has started six games for the IceHogs this season. He’s 4-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 save percentage. This leaves Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia as Rockford’s goalie tandem for the first time this season.

 

Quenneville Recalled

The IceHogs lost another productive skater when Chicago recalled forward John Quenneville on Sunday. Quenneville is coming off a stretch in Rockford where he had four goals and four helpers over his last five contests. His plus-nine skater rating was the highest on the team at the time of the call-up.

This leaves the Hogs roster at 23 players; 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. Alexandre Fortin has yet to return from an injury suffered November 29 against the Wolves. Anton Wedin sat out both games this weekend. Nathan Noel, fresh off his recall from the Indy Fuel, was injured Friday and did not play in Saturday’s game with Cleveland.

Mikael Hakkarainen skated in a game at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the first time. Returning from an injury in Iowa on October 4, Hakkarainen played in both weekend contests.

Barring I would expect at least a couple of forwards to be brought up from Indy sometime before Rockford’s next game. That comes on Friday when the Wild come to town.

 

Weekend Recaps

Friday, December 20-Rockford 4, Texas 2

The Stars were 8-1-1 in their last ten games before coming into the BMO Friday. Rockford put together a terrific 60-minute effort to knock off Texas.

Brandon Hagel was the catalyst for the first IceHogs goal of the evening, forcing a turnover in the Stars zone, then gathering in a long rebound off the pads of Texas goalie Landon Bow. Hagel skated out to the top of the zone and dropped a pass to John Quenneville at the left point. Quenneville’s long-distance offering slipped by Bow and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead 4:23 into the opening period.

Josh Melnick tied the game for Texas in the 13th minute, but Rockford took a 2-1 intermission lead thanks to some nifty passing on a late power play. Phillip Kurashev, assisted by Quenneville and Lucas Carlsson, sent a wrist shot by Bow with 2:53 remaining in the first period.

Carlsson made it 3-1 Hogs after one-timing a cross-ice feed off the boards from MacKenzie Entwistle 5:09 into the second period. That was plenty for Collin Delia, who stopped 33 of the 35 shots he saw on the night. The Stars pulled Bow and scored with six skaters at the 17:05 mark of the third, but Hagel’s empty-netter in the final minute of play sealed the victory.

 

Saturday, December 21-Cleveland 3, Rockford 2

Joseph Cramarossa was the offense for the IceHogs; his pair of lamp-lighters wasn’t enough to beat the visiting Monsters.

Cramarossa gave Rockford an early 1-0 lead, taking a drop pass from Phillipp Kurashev  and sending shot from the right circle that got though Cleveland goalie Veini Vehvilainen just 29 seconds into the game.

The Monsters took control of the game in the second period with three unanswered goals. Brett Gallant redirected an Adam Clendening blast by Hogs starter Kevin Lankinen 4:03 into the period. The Cleveland power play gave the Monsters a 2-1 lead on Nathan Gerbe’s snipe from the left circle 13:15 into the second. Two minutes later, Stefan Matteau potted an unassisted shorthanded goal to increase the Cleveland advantage to 3-1.

The IceHogs, as is their custom, played hard in the final twenty, closing the gap to 3-2 on the man advantage. Cramarossa’s first attempt from the left post was stopped, but the second effort elevated over Mehvilainen’s pad at the 7:57 mark. Lankinen spent most of the last three minutes on the Rockford bench in favor of the extra skater, to no avail.

 

Coming Up

The IceHogs host the Wild Friday, then head to Manitoba for games on Sunday and Tuesday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates this weekend as well as thoughts on the team all season long.