Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have 16 games under their belt entering the month of December. The piglets kicked off November with a pair of wins in Manitoba. The IceHogs are hoping to do the same this weekend with games Friday and Sunday up in Winnipeg.

Rockford (9-5-2-0, 20 points) sits in second place in the Central Division standings. The IceHogs are right in the hunt for the division lead with Texas (23 points) and Milwaukee (19 points). Rockford, along with the Stars and Admirals, have created a bit of separation at the top of the Central. The Hogs aim to stay in the upper echelon; the first step towards that goal is waiting for them up in Manitoba.

The IceHogs own a 3-0 mark over Manitoba this season. Most recently, Rockford defeated the Moose 6-2 at the BMO Center on November 22. The Hogs welcomed former goalie Collin Delia back to town, then dropped a six-pack in his net in the first 40 minutes of action.

Following a November 12 clunker in Rosemont in which the last-place Chicago Wolves dealt Rockford a 5-0 defeat, the IceHogs finished the month strong. They enter this weekend’s action on a six-game point streak. Rockford has gone 4-0-2 over the past two weeks to finish November with a 6-3-2 mark.

Solid Opening For Rockford

How has the season been so far? Rockford has been good, if not dominant. They’ve had moments where they’ve defended very well but have struggled for consistency in this area. Even more so than last year, Rockford is dependent on their veteran scoring. This could be problematic with Joey Anderson (7 G, 9 A) and Cole Guttman (3 G, 6 A), two of the Hogs top scorers being recalled to Chicago last week.

David Gust (6 G, 10 A) and Brett Seney (6 G, 7 A) currently pace Rockford on the offensive end. Anders Bjork (4 G, 9 A) has been a welcome addition, as has rookie forward Colton Dach (5 G, 5 A), who joined the team after recovering from a preseason injury. On November 24 in Rockford, Dach factored in both IceHogs goals in a 2-1 overtime win over the Admirals.

On the blueline, Ethan Del Mastro (1 G, 8 A) has been a bright spot on what has been a very young group in recent weeks due to call-ups and injuries.

Rockford will likely start rookie Drew Commesso in net on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. CDT in Winnipeg. Commesso stopped 26 shots in a 4-1 IceHogs victory in Manitoba November 5.

Commesso and Jaxson Stauber have split the starts for Rockford. Commesso is 5-2-1 with a 2.24 GAA and a .917 save percentage. That goals against average is tenth in the AHL and fourth among rookies this season. Stauber (3.59, .891) struggled early but has put together some solid games over the past two weeks, going 2-0-1 in his last three starts.

Special Teams

Despite the six-game point streak, the IceHogs power play has stalled over the past couple of weeks. In 25 opportunities in that span, Rockford has just three goals on the man advantage. Overall, the IceHogs are still fifth in the AHL with a 22.6 percent success rate, due to a potent October.

The recall of Anderson, who had four goals and five assists on the power play, doesn’t help moving into December. Seney also has four goals and five helpers on the power play this season. Gust (1 G, 6 A) and Bjork (2 G, 4 A) have also been top performers for the IceHogs man-advantage unit.

The penalty killing has been nothing to write home about; at 80.4 percent efficiency, Rockford is 21st in the league in this category.

Banged Up

Rockford has several players nursing injuries at the moment.

Kale Howarth has been in the AHL’s concussion protocol since opening night. Jalen Luypen was placed in the concussion protocol on November 20.

Mike Hardman has been out with a shoulder injury he suffered on the first shift of the game November 17 against Milwaukee. Rookie Antti Saarela will miss the Manitoba trip with a wrist injury. Defenseman Josh Healey last played November 12 in Chicago.

Thoughts

  • Rockford got blown out at the BMO by the Stars in the only meeting between the teams this season. The piglets don’t draw with Texas until January 5 and 6 in Cedar Park. The Hogs December schedule includes four games with a terrible San Diego team and lots of winnable games before a home-and-home with the Admirals December 30 and 31.
  • The Hogs are 1-0-2 against Milwaukee and have struggled with the tight defense of the Ads. They are 7-1 combined against Manitoba, Iowa, and Grand Rapids; Rockford has six games in December against these teams. Picking up eight or nine wins in December is certainly attainable.
  • Head coach Anders Sorensen has not named a captain this season. He may not. Bjork, on an AHL contract and likely in Rockford for the duration, would be a good bet should Sorensen decide to name a captain.
  • Things could go south real fast for the Hogs if veterans like Gust and Seney are recalled to Chicago. There just isn’t enough scoring in the lineup to pick up the slack in such a situation. Luke Philp may return next month, which would help.
  • Until then, who steps up? Michal Teply is in a ten-game goal drought. December would be a great time for him to go on a tear. Ryder Rolston (4 G, 1 A) has brought some energy to the lower lines, especially on the forecheck. He’s another rookie who could chip in this month. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The 2022-23 season ended for the Rockford IceHogs Wednesday night in Cedar Park. The playoffs concluded for Rockford with a 4-2 loss to Texas, giving the Stars a three-game sweep of the Hogs in the Central Division semis.

The IceHogs finish in a similar fashion to last season, when they won a play-in series before being blown out by the eventual AHL Calder Cup champs, the Chicago Wolves. If that’s the case, why do things feel less than satisfying following Rockford’s exit two days ago?

You can start with one word-expectations.

The Blackhawks organization offered some big talk last spring and summer. They backed that up in free agency, building a roster that was designed to compete for a deep playoff run. This, in turn, would provide valuable development time for the organization’s prospects.

The IceHogs prospects did get some playoff experience. However, Rockford lasted no longer than the five games last spring’s scrappers managed in 2022. On paper, this doesn’t seem possible. The veteran firepower collected in the offseason should have been able to win more regularly, secure a higher seed, and reach the division final (or at least extend an opponent past the play-in stage). What happened? Who is to blame for falling short of those expectations?

It’s a long story, with the potential for varied conclusions. Since this is my choose-your-own-analysis, I will cast my first glance toward the crease. If any one decision had the potential to hold the Hogs back this season, it was the way the organization set up the mix at goalie.

The rest of the Hogs AHL roster was heavily reinforced with experienced, veteran talent that could fill in at the NHL level if need be. In contrast, the Blackhawks went into October relying on a tandem of Arvid Soderblom and Jaxson Stauber in goal. That would have been fine, provided the two spent the bulk of the season with the IceHogs. However, that was not to be the case.

Not signing a veteran netminder to float between Rockford and Chicago proved costly nearly from day one. Soderblom was pressed into service with the Hawks after just two starts for the IceHogs. He didn’t return to Rockford until December 18, after being lit up in Chicago for two months. Soderblom struggled to regain confidence in two return starts, suffered a groin injury, and didn’t really get his AHL season in gear until late January.

Nothing’s for sure, of course, but if Soderblom had remained in Rockford, he would have likely picked up 45-50 starts befitting his role of primary starter (and likely the organization’s plan). I would imagine his numbers would have been similar to or better than his 2021-22 totals (38 games, 21-15-2-2, 2.76 GAA, .919 save percentage) than to his more pedestrian stats (33 games, 15-12-5, 2.92, .905) this season.

Once Soderblom settled into Rockford and piled up the starts, he began to resemble the goalie he was in his rookie season. Beginning on January 20, after he returned from the injury, he started 28 of the Hogs final 35 games, posting a 14-9-5 mark with a 2.66 GAA and a .911 save percentage.

Rockford got some credible production in November and December from their two AHL contracts, Dylan Wells and Mitchell Weeks. The offensive explosion came in handy in that span as the IceHogs climbed up the Central Division standings. In particular, a strong December by Wells (4-0-1, 1.95, .928) pushed Rockford into contention with Texas for the top spot in the division.

Stauber had his ups and downs this season. He was out a couple of weeks with an injury in November and spent two months with the Hawks, going 5-1 in January and February before finishing the season with just five more appearances in Rockford in the last six weeks of action. His AHL time showed flashes but Stauber never really got a steady stretch of game action to work toward any consistency. His Rockford numbers: a 6-8 record, a 3.32 GAA and an .894 save percentage.

There were many times this fall and winter when I pointed out that the Hogs would go as far as their goaltending could take them. What would a dozen additional starts from Soderblom have done to Rockford’s point total? Injuries happen, but it’s fair to believe Soderblom and the IceHogs would have been better off had he remained in Rockford in the first half of the season.

By the time Soderblom played his way back into form, the offense that was the IceHogs calling card in the first three months dropped way off. Shuffling pieces of the roster at the trade deadline didn’t prove to be a springboard to success. Key pieces of the lineup were recalled to Chicago, leaving a thin roster for about six weeks until some of the top scorers returned. These things happen in the AHL; at some point, control isn’t an option.

What could have been handled better was hedging bets on two injury-prone goalies in Chicago. Soderblom did not return to the Blackhawks following his return; the organization elected to recall Stauber was recalled in January, which allowed Soderblom to pile up the starts. Anton Khudobin, obtained at the trade deadline, would have been the perfect solution for Chicago (albeit a pricy one) to keep its two prospects toiling in Rockford.

Looking ahead, it would appear that Soderblom will be re-singed and continue his development in Chicago next season. The early forecast on the Hogs tandem would seem to suggest Drew Commesso and Stauber will be the approach.

Weeks will be back for the second year of his AHL deal. He was excellent (15-5-1, 2.35 GAA, .916 save percentage) for the Indy Fuel in addition to solid numbers in 12 appearances in Rockford (5-2-3, 2.72, .906), so he should provide quality play in a pinch. Still, a veteran goalie on a two-way deal would be a welcome addition come July.

The forward bunch had a lot to do with Rockford’s fortunes this season, both good and bad. I will take a more detailed look at the Hogs skaters, along with the trade deadline moves that factored into the final results, in the coming weeks.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the spring and into the offseason.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs squeaked into the Calder Cup Playoffs by winning three of their last four games in the last week of the regular season. After an epic 6-3 victory over the surging Chicago Wolves Wednesday night, Rockford edged the Griffins in Grand Rapids Friday before coming up short in the home finale to Manitoba Saturday night. Needing a win to keep the Wolves at bay in sixth place, the piglets used a strong opening period to defeat Milwaukee 4-1 on the road Sunday.

Rockford opens the Central Division play-in series Wednesday night at the BMO Center against the Iowa Wild, a team with whom the Hogs have been involved in a lot of close contests in the season series. The play-in is a best-of-three affair; the action will move to DesMoines for games on Friday and, if necessary, Sunday.

The Wild won the regulation wins tiebreaker with Rockford. Both teams finished with 79 points. In twelve matchups this season, the Wild hold a 7-3-1-1 advantage against Rockford. Iowa is 4-0-1-1 in Rockford, while the teams split six games in DesMoines. The IceHogs won four of the last five meetings, with the Wild shutting out Rockford 2-0 at the BMO Center in the last tilt between the teams on February 25. Seven of the twelve games required overtime or a shootout to decide the winner, so buckle up.

This promises to be a series that hinges on just a few bounces of the puck. How’s it gonna go? This is playoff hockey between two evenly matched teams. Here’s how things look entering Wednesday’s puck drop.

 

Those Flyin’ Piglets

The IceHogs came out firing this season and challenged for the division lead for most of the first three months of the season. The offensive firepower took a hit with roster call-ups in January, when Rockford lost seven straight games. The Hogs struggled to play .500 hockey from there, having to adjust to a trade-deadline roster shake-up. They do come in with a deep a roster as they’ve had all season.

Rocco Grimaldi (33 G, 40 A) came aboard at the trade deadline from San Diego and has contributed six goals and 11 helpers in 16 games with Rockford. David Gust (26 G, 33 A), Brett Seney (23 G, 31 A) and Luke Philp (29 G, 24 A) have been the heart of the Hogs offense all season.

Recently back with the Hogs is Lukas Reichel (20 G, 31 A), who was an AHL All-Star along with Seney and Gust. The x-factor may be in the form of Joey Anderson, who was assigned to Rockford this past weekend by the Blackhawks. Anderson had 27 points (14 G, 13 A) in 30 games with the Toronto Marlies earlier this season and was paired with Grimaldi and Reichel to much success in Rockford’s final three games.

With the addition of Reichel and Anderson, the Hogs can send out two very potent scoring lines, along with a pair of lines that can bang with the Wild at both ends. This group includes Bobby Lynch (11 G, 8 A), Buddy Robinson (9 G, 11 A), Mike Hardman (5 G, 13 A), and D.J. Busdeker (4 G, 9 A). Defensively, Rockford’s pairings are chock full of developing prospects like Issak Phillips (6 G, 17 A), Jakub Galvas (3 G, 26 A), Alec Regula (5 G, 16 A), and Alex Vlasic (2 G, 17 A).

IceHogs goalie Arvid Soderblom (15-12-5, 2.92 GAA, .905 save percentage) has been up and down this season, but has raised his game against Iowa. In five starts, Soderblom is 4-0-1 with a 1.93 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. His best outing came on February 24, a 29-save performance in Rockford’s 3-1 win.

It’s good that Soderblom has been sharp against the Wild, because it solidifies the need for Rockford to send the second-year prospect out to the crease for as long as the IceHogs remain in the playoffs. It was the organization’s plan to make Soderblom the workhorse this season before his services were needed in Chicago early in the season. Upon returning from an injury on January 20, he’s started 28 of the IceHogs 35 games. Soderblom started the last seven games of the regular season and eleven of the last twelve.

Dylan Wells, the primary starter early in the season for Rockford, was traded to Dallas at the deadline. The only other goalie who has seen the ice for the Hogs since is Jaxson Stauber. In five appearances since coming back from his own stint with the Blackhawks, Stauber is 0-4 with a 3.88 GAA and an .890 save percentage. He also hasn’t played in almost three weeks.

Anton Khudobin is on the roster, though he hasn’t made an appearance for Rockford since coming over for Wells in February. Drew Commesso is also signed to a PTO, but he’s likely just along for the ride. It’s Soderblom or bust for the piglets. Rockford goes as far as he can take them.

 

A Look At The Wild

Iowa put together a league-high 14-point streak in January and February. From December 28 to February 4, the Wild went 11-1-3-2, then proceeded to lose seven straight. Iowa recovered to finish 12-6-1-1 in its last 20 games. Like Rockford, Iowa posted a win on Sunday, beating Texas 5-2 to punch its playoff ticket.

The Wild are paced by veteran center Nic Petan, who set career-highs in goals (23) and points (62) in 53 games for Iowa. Rookie Sammy Walker (27 G, 21 A) led Iowa in goals, while Adam Beckman added 24 goals in 53 games. Marco Rossi (16 G, 35 A) and Steven Fogarty (19 G, 30 A) are also big point producers for the Wild.

Rossi leads Iowa with 14 points (3 G, 11 A) in eleven games against Rockford this season. Fogarty paces the Wild with seven goals and also has five helpers in his ten games against the IceHogs. Petan (3 G, 7 A) has a pair of game-winners over Rockford.

Joe Hicketts (6 G, 42 A) is a seven-year veteran defenseman who provides the spark on the Wild power play. He has three goals and 24 helpers on the man advantage. The Iowa blueline also sports Dakota Mermis (5 G, 21 A) and tough defender Turner Ottenbreit (4 G, 8 A).

In net, rookie Jesper Wallstedt (18-15-5-1, 2.68 GAA, .908 save percentage) and veteran Zane McIntyre (16-12-5-3, 2.87 GAA, .899 save percentage) have alternated starts all season, appearing in all but one game for the Wild this season. It’s been one, then the other, for the last 20 games of Iowa’s schedule. Each have been solid against the Hogs. Wallstedt is 4-2-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .922 save percentage. McIntyre is 3-1-0-1 with a 2.60 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

 

What’s The Bottom Line?

Whether Iowa coach Tim Army elects to keep the tandem going or go with just one goalie, the Wild has a slight edge in the crease, at least on paper. Fortunately, this series will be played on ice, both at the BMO Center and at Wells Fargo Arena.

If Rockford can set an up-tempo pace and maintain order in both zones, while getting Soderblom’s best hockey, there is a good chance that the IceHogs can advance to the next round against Texas. It might well take extra skating on a Sunday afternoon to do so, but it projects to be that close.

Will the additions to roster put Rockford over the top in this series? We find out soon.

 

Series Schedule

Game One-BMO Center, Rockford, Illinois, Wednesday, April 19, 7:00 p.m. CDT

Game Two-Wells Fargo Arena, DesMoines, Iowa, Friday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. CDT

Game Three-Wells Fargo Arena, DesMoines Iowa, Sunday, April 23, 3:00 p.m. CDT (If necessary)

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and reflections on this play-in series.

 

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 turned things around this past week. It took nearly the maximum of extra time, but the piglets got it done.

As the AHL goes on a short All-Star break, the Hogs snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout besting of Manitoba. Rockford then started what is now a three-game winning streak after a sweep of Iowa at the BMO this weekend.

Both games against the Wild took a similar path. The IceHogs fell behind early, trailed by a goal after two periods, found an equalizer to force Gus Macker Time, and rode marvelous play in net by Arvid Soderblom in the extra sessions to prevail by identical 3-2 scores.

Soderblom claimed the win in all three games this week, posting a 1.86 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. He faced and stopped six shootout attempts Tuesday and Friday; Soderblom’s encore was a sprawling glove save in the opening seconds of overtime, robbing Iowa’s Marco Rossi of a game-winning goal.

The Rockford offense has fallen off from the first three months of the season. The Hogs are still tenth in the league at 3.24 goals per game, but they have been in a number of tight games for the last couple of weeks. Five of Rockford’s last six games have gone past regulation. Soderblom has been the starter in goal for each of them.

For the first time this year, the IceHogs have been able to give Soderblom the workload I expected he’d get when the season began. He’s either been up in Chicago or injured; once Soderblom returned from a groin injury on January 20, he started seven of Rockford’s next eight games.

The organization allowed him some clinkers. This included giving up seven goals to Springfield in that first game back and five more before being pulled after two periods in Milwaukee on January 27. Sticking with Soderblom has paid off for sure.

The Blackhawks recalled Jaxson Stauber on Sunday ahead of Chicago next game on Tuesday. Stauber was impressive in his two prior starts in the NHL, though Soderblom would seem to be in the Hawks most immediate plans for the future. For now, it appears that they will leave him in Rockford to build on this past week’s performance.

 

Thoughts While The Goulash Simmers

  • The Hogs power play was 0-12 for the week before Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A) tipped in an Adam Clendening (3 G, 19 A) point blast midway through the third period Saturday night. All that did was tie the game. Rockford is currently at 18.1 percent efficiency when on the man advantage.
  • Rockford is near the bottom of the AHL in shorthanded goals, while giving up a league-leading ten. However, Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) came up with the Hogs third shorty of the year, keeping them in Saturday’s game with Iowa.
  • The IceHogs have two point-per-game players on the roster, Seney (44 points in 43 games), and David Gust (45 points in 45 games). Lukas Reichel (15 G, 26 A), who tied Friday’s game with an impressive drive to the net in the third period, and Luke Philp (14 G, 17 A) are right there as well.
  • Reichel’s equalizer on Friday was impressive in that he had options to pass but chose to take the shot. Reichel had Dylan Sikura with him on the rush and Filip Roos trailing the play. However, Reichel was locked and loaded, going far-side on Wild goalie Drew McIntyre.
  • Forward Bobby Lynch made a rare 3-on-3 appearance and wound up potting the game-winner with just 15 seconds left in overtime. Lynch (4 G, 5 A in 39 games) has been a hard worker for Rockford and it was fun to see him get rewarded when Cole Guttman found him in the slot.
  • Hogs coach Anders Sorensen singled out his bottom six after Friday’s win. With captain Garret Mitchell out for the season, players like Lynch, Josiah Slavin, Mike Hardman, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, and Kale Howarth should continue to add a touch of grit to the mix.
  • Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) did not play in any of the three games this week. Since recording a goal and a helper against Hartford on December 17, Teply is sans points in his last 11 games.

 

Working For The Weekend

Rockford is back to the grind on Friday, with a home-and-home series with Milwaukee begins at UW-Panther Arena. The series comes to the BMO Center on Saturday.

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

 

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

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

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

 

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.