Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs kicked off the 2023-24 season in San Jose this past weekend. The good news is that they won a game by a score of 7-2. The bad news is that they lost a game by a score of 7-2.

I am back for another season of thoughts and recaps as the Mighty Piglets of Flight patrol Winnebago County in their quest for Calder Cup glory. Rockford’s championship aspirations have not survived past the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Can this year’s crop yield a longer run?

Maybe. As will ever be the case for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, it will all hinge on the development of the prospects. The makeup of the Hogs roster is very similar to that of last season.

The IceHogs are coached by Anders Sorensen, who returns for his third full season at the helm in Rockford. Assistants Jared Nightengale and Rob Klinkhammer also are back for the IceHogs. Matt Smith is the new face on Sorensen’s staff; Smith will oversee the goalies this season.

The veteran presence is similar to the 2022-23 edition of the IceHogs, with a lot of familiar scorers coming back. Let’s start with the forward skaters.

Forward

Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain for the past three seasons, retired this summer. However, there are several veterans who will be on hand to provide leadership. This includes two of last season’s top scorers, David Gust (26 G, 33 A last season) and Brett Seney (23 G, 31 A). Both players should see plenty of time on Rockford’s top line.

Luke Philp (29 G, 24 A) is going to be a tough player to replace; the IceHogs leading goal-scorer is out with an Achilles tendon injury for the next several months. Anders Bjork, signed to an AHL contract by Rockford in the offseason, has 225 NHL appearances. Bjork will attempt to pick up the slack in terms of veteran scoring until Philp is back in action.

Another veteran who can help the IceHogs on the scoreboard is Joey Anderson, who split time between the AHL and the NHL both with Toronto and Chicago in 2022-23. Anderson was assigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks and provides Sorensen with another top-six option.

Among its many returning players, Rockford also has several returning prospects with something to prove this season. Both Mike Hardman (5 G, 13 A) and Michal Teply (9 G, 16 A) saw their scoring numbers drop despite steady playing time last season. As impending RFAs, Hardman and Teply are eyeing a return to form.

The forward group also includes several intriguing prospects. The fresh faces include Ryder Rolston, who makes the jump from college hockey. Colton Dach (currently nursing an ankle injury) and Jalen Luypen are fresh out of juniors. In addition, European rookies Antti Saarela and Marcel Marcel are also looking to crack the IceHogs lineup.

Defense

On the blue line, Issak Phillips (6 G, 17 A) will begin the season in Rockford, along with fellow prospect Filip Roos (3 G, 8 A). They are joined by Louis Crevier (0 G, 5 A) and two 2021 Blackhawks draft picks, Nolan Allen (1st round) and Ethan Del Mastro (4th round).

Rockford secured veteran defenseman Josh Healey to mentor the prospect-laden defensive corps. Healey, 29, enters his seventh professional season. Most of that time has been in the AHL with stops in Stockton, Milwaukee, Chicago, and San Diego.

Goalie

The IceHogs will begin the season with a goalie tandem of Drew Commesso and Jaxson Stauber. Commesso, a second-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, carries high expectations in the Hawks organization after three seasons at Boston University. Stauber split his time between Chicago and Rockford in his rookie season. Commesso and Stauber split the starts against the Barracuda this past weekend.

Any Questions?

A few. Such as…

With Lukas Reichel now in Chicago, what prospects step up to help carry the scoring load?

Rolston picked up a hustle goal in Friday’s victory. However, the remaining eight Rockford goals came from the sticks of the veterans. This club will depend on Gust, Seney, Bjork, and Anderson to get pucks in the net. Teply and Hardman got off to promising starts in San Jose. Both are in prime position to take advantage of being on potent lines that should provide plenty of opportunity. Saarela has some upside in the offensive zone, but he was invisible in the opening two games.

Can Gust match last season’s career numbers?

Even if he simply logs a 30-40 point season, Gust is a key part of an AHL roster. There may not be a better finisher in the Central Division. Gust competes and he converts. If the first weekend is any indication, he will generate his share of scoring chances. He already leads the Hogs with two goals heading into the home opener at the BMO on Saturday.

Can a young defense figure things out?

Rockford surrendered 85 shots in the first two games. Stauber faced 49 in Saturday’s loss. If Phillips winds up in Chicago for long stretches, things could get problematic on the blue line. Picking up some help on the back end may be necessary unless Allen and Del Mastro mature quickly.

Does Anders Sorensen name a captain? If so, who will it be?

Mitchell came to Rockford in February of 2020 and won over the locker room shortly thereafter. He was a no-brainer for Hogs captain for the last three seasons. He had a longtime pedigree with the Hershey Bears captaincy; his retirement leaves a hole for sure.

I think that Sorensen names a captain by the end of the month, and that it will likely be one of his AHL contracts. That would mean Bjork or Healey, who look to be here for the entire season. If not one of those two, I would guess Gust would be the selection, though him or Seney could see time in Chicago throughout the season.

Will not obtaining of a veteran goalie bite the Hogs as badly as it did last year?

Not unless one of Chicago’s goalies gets hurt. Then yeah, probably. It’s not like there’s any chance of…oh…now I remember what happened last season.

Mitchell Weeks will be up with Rockford in the event of Commesso or Stauber being needed with the Hawks. He was pretty solid for the IceHogs in spot duty last season, but it still would have been nice if a AHL veteran-type goalie had also been acquired over the summer so that the organization wouldn’t have to scramble to pick up such a player mid-season. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

How will Rockford handle the Chicago Wolves factor?

The IceHogs play the Wolves a dozen times this year, per usual. This year’s Rosemont entry into the AHL is an independent entity, something they’ve longed to be since they entered the league. Now they get their chance.

The Wolves went out and picked up some high-end AHL talent like Chris Terry and Cole Schneider. I think they will have some problems in terms of depth. On the other hand, no callups. I’ll go more in depth on the Rockford-Chicago matchup throughout the season, but everyone’s looking at the Wolves to see how this works out.

No matter what happens, remember this; the Wolves wanted this. They’ve always wanted this. Now they have it. Get your popcorn ready.

Is this IceHogs team a playoff team?

They certainly can be. They’re no worse than the two teams that made the playoffs the past two seasons. Right now, I don’t know how much better they are than those teams that won play-ins but were swept in the first round. It’s the AHL, so a lot will hinge on how the roster morphs over the next six months and how the prospects develop. We’ll just have to hang on for all the ups and downs, of which there will be many. Buckle up.

And Now…Recaps

Friday, October 13-Rockford 7, San Jose 2

Drew Commesso picked up the win for the Hogs in his AHL debut in net. Last year’s big guns were on full display as Rockford began the season with a nice road win.

After getting their bearings in the opening minutes of action, Rockford got on the board via the power play midway through the first. After Brett Seney’s faceoff win, the Hogs never lost possession of the biscuit. David Gust found Joey Anderson at the goal line; Anderson threaded a pass across the front of the net to Anders Bjork at the right post. The backdoor was unlocked and Rockford led 1-0 at 10:47 of the first period.

The piglets got an even-strength goal a few minutes later, when rookie defenseman Ethan Del Mastro forced a turnover in the neutral zone. Bjork collected the loose puck and skated into Barracuda territory. Andersen took in his pass at the top of the right circle and sent another sweet feed across the ice to Mike Hardman skating to the left post. San Jose goalie Magnus Chrona never had a chance and Rockford went up 2-0 at the 14:05 mark.

The Barracuda answered with a Brandon Cole tally after he snuck into the slot in front of Commesso. The shot went past Commesso on the glove side at 15:58 of the first. The Rockford lead was 2-1 entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period, Ozzy Wiesblatt lowered a shoulder into Hogs forward Kale Howarth, who was not in possession of the puck as Rockford was attempting a defensive zone breakout. Howarth was taken to the locker room and did not return to action. Wiesblatt (who was later suspended three games by the AHL for the hit) was handed a five-minute major penalty for a check to the head and was also finished for the evening.

Rockford took full advantage of the unfortunate hit, scoring twice on the lengthy power play. Michal Teply knocked in a long rebound of an Issak Phillips shot at 5:16 of the middle frame. Teply’s goal was quickly followed by a successful drive to the net by David Gust, who five-holed Chrona to give the IceHogs a 4-1 advantage through forty minutes.

Gust tacked on his second goal of the night 12:05 into the final period, capping a 2-on-1 rush led by Brett Seney. Two minutes later, the rookies got in on the fun. Jalen Luypen was able to force a turnover behind the San Jose net, leading to his pass to Ryder Rolston at the left post for a 6-1 IceHogs lead. Bryce Kindopp added an empty net goal late in the game before the Barracuda picked up a goal of their own from Shakir Mukhamadullin in the closing minutes to finish the scoring.

Commesso picked up the win in his pro debut with 34 saves. He also was given an assist on Gust’s tally.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Michal Teply-Brett Seney-David Gust

Mike Hardman-Anders Bjork-Joey Anderson

Antti Saarela-Jalen Luypen-Ryder Rolston

Logan Niijoff-Kale Howarth-Bryce Kindopp

Filip Roos-Issak Phillips

Ethan Del Mastro-Nolan Allen

Josh Healey-Louis Crevier

Drew Commesso

Jaxson Stauber

 

Saturday, October 14-San Jose 7, Rockford 2

The piglets seemed a bit sleepy in the return matchup with San Jose. Rockford let the game slip away early in the middle frame and had to settle for a weekend split.

The Barracuda broke a scoreless tie late in the opening frame, when Ethan Cardwell slipped a second-chance effort through the five-hole of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber. The goal came 17:42 into the first and San Jose took that 1-0 lead into the intermission.

Some Joey Anderson hustle behind the Barracuda net got the Hogs even at one just 1:48 into the middle stanza. Beating Matthew Sredl to the puck, Anderson completed the wraparound attempt through San Jose goalie Georgi Romanov. Rockford took a brief 2-1 advantage on a Brett Seney power play goal at the three minute mark, set up by a David Gust pass.

Justin Bailey tied the game for the Barracuda just 1:17 later. San Jose took a 3-2 lead on a Tanner Kaspick goal in front of the Hogs net.

Despite being outshot 24-5 in the second period, it appeared that Rockford would escape with just a one-goal deficit. Unfortunately, Ryan Carpenter put a rebound past Stauber with two ticks remaining in the frame to make it 4-2 San Jose.

The Barracuda lead widened early in the third, at the conclusion of an unsuccessful Hogs power play. Leon Gawanke sent a long pass to Cole Cassels, who had a clear path to the Rockford net. Stauber came out to challenge but was unable to separate Cassels from the puck. The San Jose forward had no problem finding the back of the vacated net 2:33 into the final frame.

From there, it was just a matter of San Jose skating out the clock and adding goals from Oskar Lindblom and Carpenter. Stauber was deluged by vulcanized rubber throughout; Rockford was outshot 49-28 on the afternoon.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Mike Hardman-Anders Bjork-Joey Anderson

Michal Teply-Brett Seney-David Gust

Antti Saarela-Jalen Luypen-Ryder Rolston

Logan Niijoff-Kale Howarth-Bryce Kindopp

Ethan Del Mastro-Nolan Allen

Filip Roos-Issak Phillips

Josh Healey-Louis Crevier

Jaxson Stauber

Drew Commesso

Here Come The (Lone) Wolves

Round One with Chicago gets underway at the Hogs home opener at the BMO Center Saturday night. The action begins at 7:00 p.m. CDT.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for musings on the IceHogs on a regular basis.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs dug themselves a mighty big hole at the BMO Center this weekend. With two chances to grab some momentum in their Central Division Semifinal series with Texas, the Hogs  whiffed against the division’s top club. Texas returns home with a 2-0 series advantage on the strength of a superior transition game and a knack for capitalizing on IceHogs mistakes.

Game 3 is Wednesday night in Cedar Park. Rockford must win three in a row on the road to stay in the playoffs. To do that, the Hogs will need to start making passes with purpose, as opposed to sending pucks into the ether.

Friday’s 5-3 loss was pivotal, as it was a game well within reach of the piglets. Rockford let two leads slip away through sloppy passing and overzealousness.

The Stars took a 1-0 lead on a Rhett Gardner tally 12:34 into the contest. Lukas Reichel dropped a pass to no one in the neutral zone, leading to a Texas rush to the net. Rockford then built a 2-1 advantage on a power-play goal by Joey Anderson in the final seconds of the first period, followed by a D.J. Busdeker goal 1:16 into the second.

Texas was able to use a misplay by Rockford goalie Arvid Soderblom behind his own net in the second period to erase the deficit. Marian Studenic did the honors 14:33 into the middle frame. After the IceHogs took a 3-2 advantage early in the third on Bobby Lynch’s put-back, the Stars got the equalizer from Scott Reedy on the power play after a Mike Hardman elbowing penalty.

The game-winner was a direct result of a blind spinning pass from the stick of Reichel, who is still looking for his first point of the playoffs. Stars defenseman Alex Petrovic hauled in the puck in the high slot to start the rush the other way. Mavrik Bourque skated the puck to the left circle before finding Nicholas Caamano, who had snuck behind Issak Phillips, for a tap-in with less than four minutes remaining in the third period. Studenic found the empty net late for his second goal of the night.

On Sunday, the big guns came out to play for the Stars. Curtis McKenzie and Riley Barber gave Texas a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. Anderson got the Hogs on the board early in the third, but that’s as close as things got. Barber got his second of the evening 16:32 into the third, with Tanner Kero adding an empty-netter in the final minute.

Thoughts

  • There was no need for Hartman to finish a check as far behind the play as he was. Same for Reichel just forcing pucks into areas with nary a teammate in sight.  Rockford can not afford to make mistakes like these against the best offensive team in the league. Texas can and did make the Hogs pay for those mistakes Friday night.
  • Soderblom played pretty well for most of the first two games. Before coughing up the puck in the second period Friday, he prevented at least two pucks from finding the net. Sunday was another good, but not great, type of performance. Matthew Murray was the better goalie in both games.
  • Several times during Friday’s game, fans were warned not to throw objects onto the ice. Midway through the third period, a puck was tossed over the glass, initially resulting in a delay of game call against Rockford. It turned out that a Texas fan had committed the transgression, so the penalty was rescinded and the fan was removed from the game.
  • The IceHogs played a smarter game on Sunday, but just couldn’t get a puck past Murray at several key moments. This included hitting a post on a second-period power-play chance.
  • Jalen Luypen, who was signed to an entry contract by the Hawks last fall, made his AHL debut on Friday and also played in Sunday’s tilt. Centering the fourth line, he certainly did not look out of place for Rockford.

Wednesday’s Game 3 is set to start at Cedar Park’s H.E.B. Center at 7:00 p.m. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have advanced to the Central Division Semifinals for the second year in a row. It’s a familiar tale-the piglets sweep their play-in opponents and are rewarded with the division’s top club in a best-of-five series.

Last season, the Hogs swept Texas before being swept themselves by the Chicago Wolves. This season, Rockford won two straight overtime decisions against Iowa in the play-in series. The team awaiting them? The Stars, who finished the regular season by winning five of their last seven games for the Central Division title.

How did the IceHogs get into this position? To recap:

  • In Game One Wednesday, a pretty healthy (for a weeknight) crowd was on hand at the BMO Center to watch a back-and-forth affair that came to a halt when Rocco Grimaldi forced a turnover in the Wild zone. After knocking down Nic Petan’s attempt to clear the puck, Grimaldi streaked to the right dot and sent the game-winner past Iowa goalie Jesper Wallstedt 3:59 into overtime.
  • The Hogs lost a 2-1 lead early in the third period of Friday’s Game Two in DesMoines. Rockford fell behind 3-2 but tied the game on a Michal Teply put-back midway through the final frame. Arvid Soderblom made a key stop on Steven Fogarty’s point-blank shot from the left post 30 seconds into overtime. A minute later, Grimaldi skated a puck behind the net and tried to find Lukas Reichel out front. The pass did not connect, but Alex Vlasic hauled it in at the top of the left circle, skated to the half boards, and threw a shot on goal that Buddy Robinson was able to redirect past Wallstedt. Rockford knocked Iowa out of the series with the 4-3 triumph.
  • The following day, the Wild announced that they were moving on from a good portion of their AHL coaching staff, including head coach Tim Army. (I’m not sure that is a direct consequence of the IceHogs sweep, but I’m mentioning it all the same.)

Rockford’s additional depth certainly helped get over the hump against the Wild, especially in Game Two. The bottom six were active at both ends of the ice, something that will have to happen consistently against Texas when the division semis begin. That will be on Friday at the BMO, where the IceHogs play host for the opening game of the series.

Last spring, I believed that the piglets matched up well with the Wolves and might have a chance to surprise them. Wrong; Chicago shifted into another gear and completely overwhelmed a young Rockford team on the way to the Calder Cup. Sure, Texas was the class of the division this season. However, I again believe that the Hogs can present a stiff challenge for the Stars.

At the BMO Center back on January 3, Rockford beat Texas (who was also in first place at the time) 4-3 in overtime. The IceHogs roster was still as it was for much of the season’s first three months. In eight meetings with the Stars in the regular season, Rockford was 5-3. It’s safe to say that Texas is more than capable of ramping up its game for the playoffs. As opposed to last spring, I feel like the IceHogs are equally capable of raising their game a level.

Rockford carries more experience into this series than it did against the Wolves. Several prospects like Soderblom, Teply, Lukas Reichel, Issak Phillips, Jakub Galvas, and Mike Hardman were part of last season’s playoff team. Add in high-scoring playoff veterans like David Gust, Rocco Grimaldi, and Luke Philp, and there is plenty of postseason experience on hand.

This is not to say that the Stars don’t know their way around a playoff game. Long-time Texas captain Curtis McKenzie has several long postseason runs, including a Calder Cup with the Stars back in 2014. McKenzie has been around the AHL for a dozen years, but is still a dangerous scorer who had 22 goals and 32 helpers this season.

Veteran Riley Barber (32 G, 32 A) led Texas in scoring and had eight game-winning goals for the Stars. The Hogs will also have to contend with former Rockford forward Tanner Kero (17 G, 33 A), Marian Studenic (21 G, 27 A), and rookies Mavrik Bourque (20 G, 27 A) and Matej Blumel (19 G, 25 A).

Anchoring Texas in net is Matthew Murray, who finishes up his first full AHL season with a record of 18-10-5 to go with a 2.37 GAA and a .911 save percentage. One of the leagues best goalies, Murray has not been good in three prior matchups with the Hogs this season. In those games, he is 0-2-1 with a 5.09 GAA and an .849 save percentage. He was a tough man to get a puck past in last spring’s playoff sweep of Texas, in which he played both games.

As poorly as Murray was against Rockford this season, Soderblom was even worse against the Stars. He gave up four goals in a loss to Texas on February 22. In the other start, Soderblom’s first after a couple of months with the Blackhawks, ended midway through the second period after he surrendered five goals on 12 shots.

Murray’s play earns Texas the edge in goal heading into the series. However, Soderblom turned in solid performances against the Wild and is carrying a 2.13 GAA and a .925 save percentage over his last eight games dating back to March 31. Soderblom was a couple of saves better than Jesper Wallstedt last week. If he can match Murray this weekend, Rockford has a chance to pick up one or both of the first two games.

The Hogs are smack dab in the middle of exactly what the organization wanted from it’s AHL affiliate; meaningful spring hockey games. How many additional games Rockford gets factors on if it can hold its own in the crease and control what promises to be a track meet in terms of pace.

The AHL’s travel policy affords the IceHogs a chance to get the most out of their two home dates. Grabbing a Game One win on Friday is the obvious course of action; it would be nice to see Rockford extend the Stars at the very least.

Follow me @JonFromi for the occasional thought and game update throughout the playoffs.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are inching closer to the end of their regular season. Will that season continue following the April 16 finale in Milwaukee? Maybe. Probably. The piglets playoff picture continues to develop with just nine games remaining. Here we go…

The IceHogs entered this week seven points behind Manitoba for the third-seed in the Central Division. Following two games at Canada Life Centre, Rockford is eight points behind. The Hogs defeated the Moose 4-3 in a shootout Wednesday on the only attempt that reached twine, that of Rocco Grimaldi’s shot in round two.

This came after Manitoba tied the game with ten seconds remaining in regulation. Picking up two points was key to catching the Moose in the Central Division standings; letting Manitoba slip away with a point was considerably poor form. Two of Manitoba’s three goals came via two-man advantages. Arvid Soderblom stopped 43 shots and denied three shootout attempts for a hard-earn victory.

Friday, Manitoba cruised to a 5-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of action. Soderblom was pulled in favor of Jaxson Stauber after four first-period goals by the Moose. Manitoba claimed a 6-2 win that pretty much ended hopes of Rockford vaulting into a top-three finish in the division.

 

Where Does This Leave The Hogs?

Rockford (30-24-5-4) currently sits in fifth place in the Central with nine games remaining on its regular-season slate. With 69 points, the Hogs trail fourth-place Iowa (72 points) and have two games in hand on the Wild.

Grand Rapids (eight games left) and Chicago (ten games left) sit in the division basement with 61 points entering play this week. The Griffins and Wolves play each other twice the rest of the way. Each also has two games remaining with Rockford. After the Hogs host Laval this Friday, they will finish a three-in-three weekend in Rosemont on Saturday and at the BMO Sunday when Grand Rapids visits.

The IceHogs won’t be winning any tie-breaking scenarios, as Rockford has just 15 regulation wins this season. Twelve points in the final nine games would force Chicago to run the table to tie Rockford. 81 points sounds like a relatively safe finish for the piglets; it may or may not overtake the Wild, but Rockford is looking at a best-of-three play-in series with Iowa whether it finishes fourth or fifth in the Central.

Could the IceHogs catch fire and reel off 6-7 wins to close out the regular season? Perhaps. Let’s go back and find the last nine-game stretch where RFD won six games.

That would be Dec. 21-Jan. 13, where the piglets went 6-2-1. Immediately after that nine-game run, RFD lost seven straight. The best the IceHogs have managed since was a 5-2-0-2 mark from Jan. 31-Feb. 22.

To summarize, Rockford could play its best hockey of the last three months to lock up a spot in the post season. Just winning the remaining four games with Grand Rapids and Chicago in regulation probably does it as well. Finishing with 79 points, or ten points in these last nine games, is likely good enough to qualify. The IceHogs certainly have control of their playoff destiny at the moment.

 

How’s The Roster?

Rockford is slowly re-gaining some depth up front. The Blackhawks reassigned F Buddy Robinson to the Hogs on Sunday. Another player or two could possibly follow to help Rockford before hitting the BMO ice against Laval Friday. At the moment, the IceHogs have been competitive largely on the strength of Grimaldi, Luke Philp, and David Gust, who accounted for four of Rockford’s five goals this past weekend (The fifth belonged to D Issak Phillips).

Getting Robinson back is another step towards what could be a deep, formidable playoff roster. Lukas Reichel, Joey Anderson, and Mike Hardman are playoff-eligible and would provide a boost to close out the regular season. The IceHogs could also pick up a PTO or an ATO that could chip in as the regular season winds down.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my musings as Rockford finishes the stretch run over the next couple of weeks.

Hockey

As the Rockford IceHogs prepare to start the process of locking down a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it’s probably a good time to focus on the way the roster was reshaped over the past week. In case you missed it, the Blackhawks made a couple of trades.

This flurry of transactions was a two-prong effort between Chicago and Rockford. As was the case around the league, moves were made involving what amounted to swaps of AHL and NHL contracts. The get-around was using “future considerations”. This fleshed out what seemed to be one-sided trades at the NHL level with reciprocal AHL deals that got the players where everyone wanted them to go.

If you want to sort out all the moves, be my guest. I’m more concerned with the pieces that departed and arrived in Rockford when the trade deadline occurred. Here’s how things currently stand.

Out

NHL Contracts

G Dylan Wells-to Dallas

D Cooper Zech-to Rangers

AHL Contracts

D Adam Clendening-to Hartford

F Carson Gicewicz-to Rochester

In

NHL Contracts

D Andrew Welinski-from Rangers

F Pavel Gogolev-from Toronto

F Maxim Golod-from Anaheim (Hawks assigned Golod to the Indy Fuel)

G Anton Khudobin-from Dallas

AHL Contracts

F Rocco Grimaldi-from San Diego

F Logan Nijhoff-from San Diego (Hogs assigned Nijhoff to the Indy Fuel)

F Zach Jordan-from Hartford (Hogs assigned Jordan to the Indy Fuel)

F Colin Bilek-from Mantitoba (Hogs assigned Bilek to the Indy Fuel)

 

In Addition…

The Blackhawks assigned David Gust, Brett Seney, Issak Phillips, Lukas Reichel, and Joey Anderson (newly acquired from Toronto) to the IceHogs. Reichel and Anderson were paper moves that were pulled back to Chicago following the trade deadline, but both players are eligible to participate in the postseason for Rockford.

So…how did the Hogs make out?

Surprisingly well. Grimaldi is the type of player BMO fans should salivate over; a veteran AHL sniper who has produced in AHL stops in San Antonio, Portland, and Milwaukee. In San Diego this season, the 30-year-old Grimaldi had 27 goals and 29 helpers in 54 games.

Gogolev was responsible for Rockford’s only regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout win in Laval Saturday night, tipping in a shot by Welinski (4 G, 12 A in 40 games with Hartford).

Khudobin sure would have come in handy earlier this season. There was a need for a veteran goalie who could have played the role Arvid Soderblom was cast in due to injuries. With Soderblom now set to receive the bulk of the starts down the stretch and Jaxson Stauber playing well in a Hogs loss in Belleville Friday, the 36-year-old veteran still provides experienced insurance for Rockford.

As a result of the bevy of moves, the Hogs found themselves a little undermanned this past week. Rockford battled but lost 5-3 in Toronto on Wednesday and 4-1 Belleville on Friday before defeating the Rocket Saturday.

Seney and forward D.J. Busdeker left Friday’s contest with injuries. Busdeker returned for the third period. The following night, both players sat out, forcing the Hogs to play two defensemen, Nolan Valleau and Koletrane Wilson, at forward.

I would imaging that Gust, who was with his expecting wife, and Grimaldi will be in the lineup for Rockford this coming weekend, when the IceHogs finish their five-game road trip in Grand Rapids Friday and in Rosemont on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they look to maintain and improve upon their playoff position.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have taken a bit of a hit from the realities of the AHL over the last week. Before the smoke clears following the NHL trade deadline, the Hogs roster could morph into any number of forms.

Trades and injuries have tested the depth in ‘Bago County. Rockford battled its way to a road victory, sandwiched between a pair of tough losses at the BMO Center this past week. The piglets are still on a course for the postseason. How that voyage concludes will depend a lot on the Blackhawks organization and how committed they really are to ensuring playoff hockey for its prospects.

Let’s lead off with…

 

Roster Happenings

On Thursday, the Blackhawks traded forward Josiah Slavin to Anaheim in exchange for forward Hunter Drew. Both players have struggled to repeat career-high numbers set the season before, so this is likely a change-of-scenery type of transaction. Drew (5 G, 6 A in 44 games with San Diego) skated in Rockford’s two games with Iowa this weekend.

Drew is listed as a RW/D and there was some speculation as to where he would slot in for the Hogs. Despite being decimated on the blueline, Drew skated as a forward, as he has done for the past couple of seasons. That probably indicates that he’ll remain a forward moving, uh, forward.

About that blueline…

Also on Thursday, the team announced that D Alec Regula and Jakub Galvas have been placed in the concussion protocol and that D Cliff Watson will be out “indefinitely” with a sprained right knee. The Hogs brought up D Andrew Parrott from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel that day.

On Friday, the IceHogs signed D Nolan Valleau to a PTO. Valleau, who was with Rockford for a couple of seasons a few years ago, skated on Saturday night with D Filip Roos being a scratch. Yet another Indy defenseman, Koletrane Wilson, was recalled by Rockford on Sunday.

Thursday also saw the Blackhawks sign Rockford’s leading scorer, David Gust (24 G, 26 A), to a two-year NHL contract. Gust, who had a pair of goals Wednesday night in a loss to Texas, picked up his first NHL goal on his first shift in Chicago’s win in San Jose. The IceHogs recalled F Cameron Hillis from the Fuel in response. Hillis, who was Indy’s top point-producer at the time, was in the Hogs lineup Friday and Saturday.

So…to summarize…

Rockford is down four of its top defensemen (including Issak Phillips, who was recalled to the Hawks the previous week). The Hogs are also sans their two leading scorers in Gust and Brett Seney (who also scored for the Hawks Saturday night).

Despite the depletion, the IceHogs did manage to compete.

On Tuesday, Rockford entered the third tied 2-2 with the division-leading Stars before eventually falling 5-3. Friday, the Hogs went into DesMoines and posted a 3-1 win over Iowa behind two-goals by Luke Philp (17 G, 19 A). In the rematch Saturday, Rockford couldn’t get enough pucks past a tough Wild defense, let alone find the net. Zane McIntyre shut out the IceHogs 2-0 as Rockford was out shot 38-23.

The IceHogs currently sit in the middle of the Central Division. With 60 points, they are four points behind third-place Manitoba and five points ahead of the fifth-place Wild. Rockford went 5-3-0-2 in February and are about to start a five-game road trip over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The Canadian portion of that jaunt is this week. The Hogs visit Toronto on Wednesday, then stop in Belleville and Laval on Friday and Saturday. The Marlies are arguably the league’s top club, though the Senators and Rocket are very beatable teams. However, questions linger entering the month of March:

  1. How much will the Hogs roster change in the next five days?
  2. What are the Blackhawks going to do about it?

 

Yeah! What Are They Gonna Do About It?

There is no doubt that several trades are going to be completed by Friday’s trade deadline. At least two or three will involve the Blackhawks. Players may need to be recalled to Chicago to fill out the NHL roster.

In the past, the Blackhawks have included prospects in deals that left the Hogs toothless in terms of their ability to compete. They have also occasionally obtained some help for Rockford and strengthened the piglets. If the organization is serious about keeping the IceHogs a contender, the scales should be tipped in the latter category.

The Blackhawks may also choose to keep some players eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs even if they figure to remain in Chicago for a while. In order to be playoff eligible for the AHL postseason, a player has to be on that team’s roster at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 3. There are exceptions, like signed draft choices, amateur tryouts, etc.., but player on Chicago’s NHL roster won’t qualify.

However, the Hawks could (and absolutely should) assign players to Rockford Friday morning, then recalled them after the trade deadline. This “paper” move would allow the players involved to play in any postseason games Rockford has whenever they are finished with Chicago this season.

The way things stand right now, if I was Kyle Davidson (which I’m not) and I was putting my money where my mouth was, I would temporarily assign the following players to Rockford by Friday morning:

David Gust, Brett Seney, Cole Guttman, Issak Phillips, Ian Mitchell, Jaxson Stauber (One down-Chicago assigned Stauber to Rockford Sunday night)

Anything less than four of those names (provided none are involved in a trade) and talk of wanting to go on a deep playoff run with Rockford is just that-talk.

Back in 2017-18, when the IceHogs reached the Western Conference Final, Rockford was bolstered in both trades and paper assignments. A lot of talent came down to the BMO in time for the playoffs. Is it possible that Davidson equips the IceHogs to go on a similar run this spring? For sure.

Is it also possible that he weakens the roster in the name of draft stock? Not if you believe the organizational rhetoric over the past season.

The 64,000-dollar question, of course, is…do you believe that rhetoric?

The answer to that question hinges upon the course Davidson takes in the next few days.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs put together a successful weekend, rebounding from a Wednesday defeat in Grand Rapids to pick up four valuable standings points against a pair of tough Central Division opponents. Hopefully the Hogs remember how it felt to knock off Texas and Iowa, because that’s all the piglets will be seeing this week.

Rockford dropped a 5-4 decision to the Griffins on Wednesday before getting an outstanding performance from goalie Dylan Wells Friday night at the BMO Center. Wells kept the IceHogs in contention, stopping 37 Texas shots. This allowed Rockford to post a big 3-2 victory. Alex Vlasic scored the game-winner 45 seconds into Gus Macker Time. The rookie defenseman nabbed a loose puck and send a pass Lukas Reichel to start the rush, then skated to the left post. Reichel found the tape on the return pass and Vlasic finished off the Stars.

On Sunday afternoon, the IceHogs rode Dylan Sikura’s hat trick to a 5-3 win in DesMoines. The Wild threatened to tie the game in the waning minutes but Rockford prevailed despite being out shot 25-16. The win was the Hogs third straight over Iowa, giving Rockford a cushion of five points between the two teams in the Central Division standings.

Rockford is 25-17-4-4 through 50 games in the 2022-23 campaign with 58 standings points. The IceHogs trail Milwaukee and Texas, who share the Division lead, by six points.

This week, Rockford hosts the Stars on Wednesday night, then have a home-and-home weekend with Iowa. The action will be at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night before the teams return to the BMO Center for a Saturday showdown.

February comes to an end with some tough games. Things only get tougher in March, when the IceHogs begin with a five-game road trip to Toronto, Belleville, Laval, Grand Rapids, and Rosemont. It’s called the playoff push; Rockford is in for some heavy lifting over the next three weeks.

 

Friday Was Pride Night At The BMO. Observations?

  • For an event that was promoted by the organization, I was a bit surprised at how the Hogs came out for warmups. The players came out in their regular red sweaters. There were no patches, though the team handed out stickers which would have made a nice patch had they wanted to go in that direction.
  • I kind of figured that there would be some multi-colored tape on some of the sticks of the IceHogs skaters. That was not the case. The only stick with such adornment belonged to Hammy Hog. Hammy also made his rounds through the BMO stands with the Hogs pride logo sticker on his chest.
  • The IceHogs played a videotaped Pride Night intro featuring several of the players as well as coach Anders Sorensen. I know that I saw Brett Seney, David Gust, Cooper Zech, and Lukas Reichel in the video. There very likely were more players representing, but I wasn’t taking notes and AHL TV did not share the scoreboard view. Nor has any team media put it out on youtube or other social media as of yet.
  • Members of Madison Gay Hockey and Team Trans Ice Hockey were on hand at the puck drop. The teams scrimmaged at the BMO earlier in the afternoon. There was a video feature on the groups shown between periods. Pride Night merchandise was promoted throughout the evening.
  • Late in the second period, during the Kiss Cam feature at a media timeout, the in-house camera production staff put on a shot of a person in the stands holding up a sign reading “Except Ye Repent, Ye Shall Perish”. Live at the BMO, there was some booing and negative reaction to the sign.
  • If the sign-bearer had flipped off the camera instead, I doubt the production staff would have held the shot for six seconds. That’s how long the sign was visible on the big screen before they moved on to another kissing couple.
  • Speculation into the way this situation developed is just that. Who knows what the production staff was up to before or after the incident. Was the fan approached by team staff in any way? What is the IceHogs official word on what took place? We don’t know; the team has not offered any response as of Sunday night.

 

Roster News

On Tuesday, forwards Cole Guttman (16 G, 14 A) and Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A), along with defenseman Issak Phillips (4 G, 16 A), were recalled to the Blackhawks. For the IceHogs to have won two of three games minus some of their top performers says a lot about Rockford’s depth this season.

On Wednesday, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 9 A) made his return to the lineup after missing twelve games with a wrist fracture. Robinson posted an assist in the loss to Grand Rapids.

Sunday afternoon, defenseman Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) was knocked to the ice by Iowa’s Brandon Baddock early in the first period. He left the game shortly thereafter and did not return.

Missing Galvas and Phillips for an extended period puts a bit more pressure on Vlasic (2 G, 9 A) and Alec Regula (5 G, 14 A) to hold down the blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 4 A) broke an 18-game point drought with an assist on Wednesday and may see an increase of minutes.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs extended its point-streak to six games this weekend despite falling short in two games with Milwaukee. The piglets dropped shootout decisions on Friday and Saturday, including a 15-round marathon of penalty shots at the BMO Center on Saturday night.

The IceHogs exited the weekend in third place in the Central Division. However, fourth-place Manitoba is a point behind with three games in hand. Some regulation victories would be nice for Rockford to attempt to catch up with the second-place Admirals, who have beaten the Hogs in five of their seven meetings.

Saturday’s loss was Rockford’s sixth consecutive tilt that broke the chains of regulation skating. In fact, no team in the AHL can match the IceHogs propensity for giving fans extra hockey this season. In eighteen of Rockford’s 47 games, the Hogs have needed overtime or a shootout to decide a winner. They are 10-8 in those contests; Rockford is 6-4 in overtime decisions and 4-4 in the shootout.

Arvid Soderblom found himself on the short end of two showdowns with Milwaukee rookie Yaroslav Askarov. Askarov blanked Rockford in Friday’s shootout; the Ads prevailed on successful attempts by Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino. Soderblom stopped 31 shots but lost 2-1 as his counterpart made 44 saves in regulation and overtime.

On Saturday, Soderblom turned in another decent performance but found himself outplayed by Askarov. Rockford finished overtime with a 4-on-3 power play and peppered the Admirals goalie with seven shots in the extra session. Askarov held firm.

Michal Teply gave the Hogs a goal in round one of the shootout. Tomasino evened it up in the second round. In round five, Cole Guttman, who had a first-period goal to go with the lone Rockford goal on Friday, slipped a puck past Askarov. Kiefer Sherwood responded to keep things even. Each goalie would deny the next 18 shooters as the BMO faithful saw their chance to pick up Arby’s on the way home dwindle and die.

(Note: the “BMO faithful” in question was me. Arby’s closes at ten, even on Saturday nights.)

The end came when Alex Vlasic missed his attempt, followed by Soderblom surrendering the twine to Keaton Thompson. Rockford led three times in regulation on goals by Issak Phillips, Guttman, and Mike Hardman. The best the piglets could do, alas, was collect a standings point in a 4-3 loss.

 

Geez…How Do You Beat These Admirals?

For the IceHogs, it would include the following:

  • Keep Milwaukee from planting their big forwards in front of the Rockford crease.
  • Take advantage of penalties. Rockford was 1-12 on the power play this weekend. The Hogs had two full minutes of power play time to start Friday’s overtime and finished the last 1:51 of Saturday’s overtime up a man. No excuse for failing to win at least one of those games.
  • Hope the Ads start Devin Cooley in net. Askarov is 5-0-1 against Rockford this season.

 

Roster Moves

On Monday, D Cliff Watson was recalled to the Hogs from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Watson did not skate in either game this weekend.

 

On The Horizon

The piglets do not have consecutive games at home or on the road for the rest of February. This week, Rockford travels to Grand Rapids Wednesday, comes back to the BMO Friday night for a showdown with Texas, then hoof it over to DesMoines for a Sunday matinee with Iowa.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs hit the road this past week, badly in need of a win to break what was a season-long losing streak. They didn’t get it.

The piglets dropped three games, picking up points in two of them, but now have the AHL’s longest current stretch of futility at seven. As is the case in such things, the Hogs are seemingly finding different ways to lose every night.

Rockford rallied late in Iowa Tuesday, tying the game on a nice drive to the net by rookie Cole Guttman. The Hogs fell short of the elusive win in Gus Macker Time by a score of 2-1, dropping their sixth of seven games in the season series to the Wild.

Friday, the IceHogs managed to break the two-goal barrier for the first time in nine games. Unfortunately, most of the offense came in garbage time, as Milwaukee jumped ahead early and piled on late in an 8-4 drubbing at the hands of the Admirals.

Saturday, it was the Chicago Wolves turn to hand a basket of disappointment to Rockford. The IceHogs led the game twice, getting goals from Bobby Lynch and Carson Gicewicz. Chicago drew even both times before Max Lajoie got an overtime breakaway shot past Arvid Soderblom, sending Rockford away from Rosemont 3-2 losers.

In case you’re wondering, the IceHogs are approaching the franchise record in consecutive losses. Rockford’s seven-game winless streak vaults ahead of several six-game skids and into a tie for third longest; the Hogs dropped seven in a row back in the 2013-14 season.

In February of 2008, in it’s inaugural AHL season, Rockford was defeated in eight straight games. The IceHogs lost nine straight back in the 2016-17 campaign, from November 23 to December 10 of 2016.

Rockford is now 20-16-4-2 in 2022-23. They sit in fourth place in the Central Division with 46 points. Can the Hogs recover from this New Year Slump? Sure; that 2007-08 squad was 30-11-8 before losing eight straight. They rallied to go 14-9 the rest of the way and reached the second round of the playoffs. There is a measure of hope that the IceHogs can shake off the stink of the last month and start moving back up the division ladder.

 

Time To Find One’s Game

Soderblom, who missed three weeks with a groin injury, has not had the opportunity to stretch out in Rockford’s net. After playing in 38 games with the IceHogs in his rookie campaign, Soderblom had just two appearances after the Hawks returned him to Rockford before leaving minutes into a game with Grand Rapids December 28.

Soderblom gave up seven goals in his return January 20. To the credit of the organization, Rockford has stuck with him and given him a chance to get his game back in shape despite the injury to Alex Stalock. Soderblom remained in Rockford and started all three games for the IceHogs this week, with mixed results.

On Tuesday, he stopped 32 shots and kept the Hogs in the game long enough to earn a point. Saturday, he may or may not have mishandled Lajoie’s overtime winner. However, Lajoie was unchecked and skating into the slot. The same could be said for the Wolves game-tying goal in the third, when Logan Lambdin came out of the penalty box and had ample opportunity to deke Soderblom out of position.

In between, it wasn’t as debatable; it was a rough outing on Friday in Milwaukee. Soderblom was pulled after 40 minutes after allowing five goals on fifteen Admirals shots. Mitchell Weeks came out an promptly gave up three in the final period, so maybe it wasn’t in the cards for any Hogs goalie that evening.

With Jaxson Stauber playing surprisingly well in his first two starts with Chicago and the Hawks off until February 7, perhaps the organization has decided to give Soderblom some much-needed time to right the ship in the confines of the BMO Center, where the IceHogs play their next three games.

 

Roster News

A long-anticipated medical update was sent out by the team on Friday. Captain Garrett Mitchell is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Mitchel had returned from a month-long absence earlier this season after injuring the shoulder November 19 in Rosemont. He’d played 13 games before going down with a similar injury January 18 against Grand Rapids.

In addition, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) suffered a right wrist fracture on January 13. He has missed seven games since then and will likely miss another month of the season.

Rockford will miss Robinson’s net presence on the scoreboard. Mitchell was still looking for his first point of the season at the time of his injury, but having your captain go down is never good news.

Kale Howarth was recalled from the Indy Fuel last week and should be able to replicate Mitchell’s game as a bottom-six forward. Howarth was in the lineup for all three games this week.

Last Monday, F Luke Philp and D Filip Roos were recalled to the Blackhawks, with D Issak Phillips returning to Rockford. Might Philp, Roos, and possibly Stauber be sent to Rockford to get some game action in the light of Chicago’s down time? The answer is yes; all three were assigned to the Hogs on Sunday.

 

This Week

Rockford is at the BMO for its next three games. All would be nice to win.

Tuesday, the Hogs host Manitoba, who is right below them in the division standings. Friday and Saturday see the Wild, the Western Conference’s hottest team at 8-0-1-1 in their last ten, come to Rockford for two games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they attempt to snap the losing streak this week.

 

Hockey

This past weekend, the Rockford IceHogs wrapped up the first half of the season with a split of two games in Colorado. It has been a successful 2022-23 campaign so far, but we only have one-half of the picture.

How did things go in the season’s first half? How might things go as the piglets enter the final 36 games? Set your timer; I’m free-wheeling for sixty minutes with a thought or two.

With 36 games in the books, Rockford is 20-12-2-2. The IceHogs are 10-5-1-2 at the BMO Center and 10-7-1-0. They’ve avoided long skids; after losing three straight in beginning the season 1-3, the Hogs have not dropped consecutive regulation tilts.

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee for second place in the Central Division with 44 points. Texas has put together an impressive run in the last two months and pace the division with 50 points. Manitoba is fourth with 39 points, while Iowa is fifth with 38.

Despite scoring just three goals over the weekend, the IceHogs are ninth in the AHL in offense, scoring at a 3.44 goals per game clip. Rockford is giving up 3.11 goals per game, putting the Hogs in the middle of the pack defensively. The power play is 13th in the league at 19.9 percent. Rockford’s is killing penalties with 80.9 percent efficiency, good for 17th in the AHL.

In short, the piglets are getting plenty of goals to win regular-season games. The goaltending was very shaky in the first month of the season. However, it has improved over the last two months, despite Rockford having to dip into their ECHL depth for a good portion of that time.

Rockford’s top three scorers were selected to the Central Division squad in this year’s AHL All-Star Classic. Brett Seney (15 G, 24 A) David Gust (18 G, 20 A) and Lukas Reichel (14 G, 23 A) have dominated the IceHogs scoresheet, though they have had steady contributions from veterans like Luke Philp (13 G, 14 A), Dylan Sikura (9 G, 13 A), and Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A). Rookie Cole Guttman overcame a concussion that kept him out of most of the first month of the season and has 12 goals and 11 assists.

Issak Phillips was one of the best defenseman in the AHL until being recalled by the Blackhawks. Adam Clendening (2 G, 16 A) and Jakub Galvas (1 G, 17 A) currently lead the Hogs blueline in scoring.

It certainly isn’t the way the organization drew it up in terms of the Rockford crease, but the play in net has been solid after some early struggles. The two goalies tabbed for the Indy Fuel at the start of the season have led the way for the Hogs.

Dylan Wells was an emergency call-up to Chicago. After securing an NHL contract, Wells has returned to Rockford and put together his best season of his four-year pro career. He currently leads Rockford in games played (13) wins (eight), goals against average (2.63) and save percentage (.909). This, after giving up five goals in two periods in his IceHogs debut October 23.

Wells was red hot in December, with a 4-0-1 record, a 1.95 GAA, and a .928 save percentage. Despite this, he went over three weeks between an impressive 3-2 overtime win in Texas December 21 and Friday night’s impressive 2-1 overtime win in Colorado.

Mitchell Weeks has been nearly as good (5-2-3, 2.67 GAA, .908 save percentage) for Rockford. Good thing, because injuries and call-ups have kept the opening night tandem of Arvid Soderblom (1-3, 4.17 GAA, .862 save percentage) and Jaxson Stauber (6-4, 3.0 GAA, .896 save percentage) from steady work for the IceHogs through the first half.

Soderblom has been out with a groin injury, but should be returning to action soon. Once that happens, he’ll probably be getting a big workload, with Wells and Stauber (who was just reassigned to Rockford Saturday) likely splitting the backup starts. It’s hard to ignore the success Wells has had of late, though. He might have earned more consistent work in net until Soderblom gets into a groove.

 

Speculatin’ Time

  • Can the Hogs keep up their winning ways? Sure, so long as there isn’t an exodus to Chicago post-trade deadline. As long as the goalies play to the form of the last six weeks, Rockford should be able to stay in the division hunt.
  • Physical teams like Colorado and Iowa have proved to be a bit problematic for the IceHogs. Rockford is built on speed and may have to adjust as the postseason draws closer.
  • Might some more physical help be obtained in trade? Perhaps. However, bigger forwards like Mike Hardman (2 G, 10 A) and Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) could also help internally by asserting themselves a bit more.

 

This Week

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night when Grand Rapids visits the BMO. The Hogs then host Springfield on Friday and the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

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