Everything Else

There were many new faces at forward for the Rockford IceHogs in the 2017-18 season. On a roster that went through some changes in the latter half of the campaign, there was a lot to cover in this area.

I’ve previously cast a magnifying glass on the goalies and defensemen in recent posts. For now, let’s move forward with the forwards from Rockford’s big season.

Rookies

Matthew Highmore-64 games, 24 G, 19 A, minus-six

Rockford’s rookie of the year was the big story throughout the first half of the season. Highmore epitomized the fast-paced style Colliton emphasized, with 15 points (9 G, 6 A) in his first 21 games. His nose for the net resulted in Highmore pacing the team in goals.

An appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic, coupled with a spring call-up to the Hawks made for a memorable first-year of pro hockey for the free-agent signing. Highmore is definitely in the mix of prospects who could find themselves in Chicago in the coming years.

Like a lot of the prospects, Highmore’s numbers dipped just a bit with the veteran influx in February. By the playoffs, he was skating on one of the lower lines while still playing solid hockey. In 13 postseason games, he was a plus-eight to go with a pair of goals and seven helpers.

 

Anthony Louis-70 games, 14 G, 30 A, plus-six

Louis was Rockford’s point leader (44) in the regular season, though the addition of the veterans had a big effect on his game down the stretch. To say his role was diminished is probably an understatement.

Skating a little lower in the Hogs lineup, Louis still managed 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in the last two months of action. However, the physical nature of the playoffs seemed to take a toll on his effectiveness. After five assists in 9 games, Colliton sat Louis in favor of Samuelsson three games into the conference final.

Louis is a strong passer and can flourish with linemates who can finish the chances he creates. I think he’ll be a player to watch as he makes the adjustments to raise his game in his sophomore campaign.

 

Alexandre Fortin-53 games, 4 G, 17 A, minus-one

Based on the expectations of a player who had such a strong training camp in 2016 before being sent back to juniors, Fortin was an under-performer in his first season with the IceHogs.

To be fair, he missed a couple weeks in January and three more in March due to injury. His speed was often on display, though there were many instances of Fortin streaking out of control and committing turnovers. A shooting percentage of 4.3 did him no favors; finishing scoring plays and playing under control should be at the top of Fortin’s list of improvements heading into next season.

 

Matheson Iacopelli-50 games, 11 G, 7 A, plus-seven

The real head-scratcher among the piglets. Iacopelli brought offense, scoring 20 goals between Rockford and Indy, where he had nine in ten games for the Fuel. He is arguably the best sniper the IceHogs had this season. So…why couldn’t he find a place in the lineup?

With someone to get him the puck, coupled with a net hound who can convert on rebound opportunities, Iacopelli could be a dangerous AHL forward. He is going to have to improve on his skating as well as find a way to create space for his shot. The question will be if he can do that at age 24.

Iacopelli often found himself on the bottom line with players more suited for checking roles. He’s not that type of player right now. Hopefully he got a list of things to work on this summer. If he can carve out a steady spot on a scoring line, we could see big numbers out of Iacopelli.

 

Graham Knott-70 games, 4 G, 5 A, minus-one

There isn’t much offense to Knott’s game. He had three separate 11-game pointless streaks while skating fourth line minutes and killing penalties. In his final 38 games this past season, he had three goals and no apples.

Knott held down the fourth line through the regular season; he did not appear in the playoffs for Rockford. On the other hand, he was a frequent winner of the Schnucks Grand Prix over speedier teammates Alexandre Fortin and William Pelletier.

Knott is still just 21 and has two more years on his entry deal to develop at both ends of the ice. With most of the new faces coming in on defense, he may still have the spot in the lineup to do so next fall.

Nathan Noel-17 games, 1 G, minus two

Noel really deserves a redo button; his season never really got on track after being injured in training camp.

By the time he was set to return, there was no spot in Rockford to be had. Noel went to Indy, where he played 17 games before getting hurt and missing a couple of months. He was brought up to Rockford in mid-February and had limited chances to develop into the IceHogs agitator.

Until Chris DiDomenico arrived, that job was up for grabs. A healthy Noel might have run with that role. My interest was peaked in the short stint Noel was with the IceHogs.

Finishing the regular season with the Fuel, Noel played well in Indy’s short playoff appearance. If Noel is in game shape to start 2018-19, he may be able to find his niche.

 

Call Ups

Vinnie Hinostroza-23 games, 9 G, 13 A, plus-seven

Tomas Jurco-36 games, 13 G, 12 A, plus-four

David Kampf-33 games, 7 G, 11 A, plus-one

Laurent Dauphin-33 games, 4 G, 10 A, minus-six

These players, Hinostroza in particular, carried Rockford in the first couple of months. Hinostroza was recalled by the Hawks December 8, Kampf on December 27 and Jurco on January 8.

Kampf returned in April to finish up the season and playoffs for the Hogs. In 16 games, he managed just a goal (Game Five vs Texas) and two assists (in Chicago in the last game of the regular season).

Dauphin, who played with a full face shield following a altercation in San Antonio December 15, was traded back to Arizona in the Anthony Duclair deal. Adam Clendening came to Rockford was a key part of the spring resurgence; Dauphin played 17 games for Tuscon (5 G, 10 A) before being recalled to the Coyotes. He was injured blocking a shot March 11 and missed the rest of the season.

 

Reinforcements

Chris DiDomenico-22 games, 8 G, 15 A, plus-three

All this guy did was spark Rockford into its late-season push to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Once there, he was the league’s top point producer (7 G, 11 A in 13 games) until the final games of the Calder Cup Final. If anybody saw this coming, step forward and be called Fibber McGee.

Returning to AHL rinks after several seasons abroad, DiDomenico was obtained for Ville Pokka in a trade with Ottawa in mid-February. Along with a heavy dose of veteran leadership that was injected into the piglets, DiDomenico brought a chippy element to a club that had practically none before he arrived.

By the time the playoffs started, you had skaters of all shapes and sizes finishing checks all over the ice. The motor was still firing, but the Hogs picked up a definite snarl that was a major part of the playoff success.

DiDomenico rides off into the sunset, having signed to play in the Swiss League for two seasons soon after cleaning out his locker at the BMO. One richly deserved stick tap, coming right up.

 

Lance Bouma-20 games, 7 G, 7 A, plus-seven

Chicago sending the physical forward to Rockford in February proved to be good for the IceHogs. Like DiDomenico, Bouma added veteran grit that was in short supply at that point of the campaign. Like DiDomenico, I would not expect to see Bouma in a Hogs sweater next season.

 

Tanner Kero-36 games, 8 G, 12 A, minus-ten

I’m finding out about the Hawks trade with Vancouver just as I was set to ponder Kero’s season for this post. Basically, Kero’s 2017-18 season has produced Michael Chaput.

Kero came to Rockford in December. He was out for about a month after an injury against San Antonio on February 18 and also missed a few games at the close of the regular season.

 

John Hayden-24 games, 5 G, 12 A, even

Arrived January 10 when he was assigned to the Hogs by Chicago, playing through the beginning of March before being recalled. Hayden was also with Rockford once the Blackhawks season ended.

Hayden was physical for sure…but he just didn’t seem to make the impact I imagined when he was sent to Rockford. That goes double in the playoffs; he delivered his share of hits but accounted for just three goals in 13 postseason games.

 

Henrik Samuelsson-25 games, 9 G, 3 A, minus-one

The former first-round selection of the Coyotes was skating in the ECHL for Idaho when Rockford inked him to a PTO in February. The move became a permanent arrangement when the IceHogs signed him through the 2018-19 season.

Samuelsson found the net in each of his first three games with Rockford, including a game-winner against San Antonio February 18. He worked his way onto a power play unit and was a steady presence through the rest of the regular season.

Samuelsson showcased some offensive know-how to go with a strong presence in the corners in his stint with the Hogs. After sitting out the first two rounds of the postseason, he was inserted for the last four games of the conference final with Texas.

 

Viktor Ejdsell-five games, 1 A, minus-three

Ejdsell, of course, made his mark in the postseason, where he totaled 12 points (7 G, 5 A) in 13 games. The lanky forward displayed a nice shot and enough skating ability to keep up with his linemates. He certainly didn’t look out of place in the smaller North American rinks.

The 23-year old Swede had a good sense of timing. Four of his postseason goals were game-winners, the most notable being the one that ended the Game 3 triple-overtime affair with the Wolves. Another came in an elimination game with Texas, where he had a three-point Game 4.

A full season in Rockford could prove to be very interesting, as Ejdsell could probably use a year to hone his skating before hitting NHL ice. Depending on the makeup of the Hawks roster, he could see himself riding the I-90 shuttle for parts of next season.

 

The Vet

Andreas Martinsen-64 games, 12 G, 16 A, plus-seven

So far as early season veteran presence, Martinsen was about it through the first months, save for Jurco and Dauphin. The big Norwegian was key to any physical element to the piglet’s game until the latter part of February when guys like DiDomenico and Bouma showed up.

Obtained for Kyle Baun just before the start of the season, this trade was a definite win for the Blackhawks. Baun wasn’t terrible this season, with 22 points (5 G, 17 A) in Laval and the Toronto Marlies (with whom he won a Calder Cup despite not playing in the playoffs). For the IceHogs, however, Martinsen brought more to the table and was a good fit.

Aside from a spell in Chicago this spring, Martinsen was a mainstay in the lineup, often teaming with Sikura and Alexandre Fortin on what proved to be a very effective group. The 6’4″, 230-pounder re-upped with the Blackhawks for 2018-19. He should be able to skate fourth-line minutes in Chicago if needed and is a nice piece for Colliton to have in Rockford.

 

AHL Standouts

Tyler Sikura-74 games, 23 G, 16 A, plus-24

Sikura failed to stick in three AHL cities following his college career at Dartmouth. Before signing with Rockford, he was still looking for his first AHL point. This season, he earned the team MVP award and an NHL entry contract to boot.

Sikura was a hard worker in the first two months of the season, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard. Through November, he had three goals in 19 contests. In fact, it wasn’t until the post-Christmas part of the schedule that Sikura started seeing the fruits of his efforts.

Starting on December 28 until signing his NHL contract for next season March 6, Sikura put up 13 goals and six helpers in 29 games. To celebrate his new ink, he had 14 points (7 G, 7 A) to close out the last 17 games of the regular season.

Sikura proved to be quite the redirection artist throughout the season. By the spring, not only was he killing penalties but was on the red-hot first power play unit. Sikura also showed that he can create scoring chances on occasion when away from the net.

This was by far the most productive season by a Hogs AHL-signing in the history of the franchise, eclipsing P.C. Labrie’s 2015-16 34-point explosion. Labrie, however, was between NHL deals at the time. Sikura truly announced his presence with authority in his rookie season.

What lies ahead for the elder Sikura brother? I don’t know if he can match last season’s 18.3 shooting percentage, but he’s welcome to try. It will be interesting to see how he follows up such a remarkable performance.

 

William Pelletier-69 games, 14 G, 15 A, plus-13

Another AHL rookie that kept several Hawks prospects out of the lineup was Pelletier, who came out of Division III Norwich looking to prove he could skate at this level. He did.

Pelletier’s wheels allowed the Hogs to send pucks way down the ice, knowing the 5’7″ forward could negate icing and chase down the biscuit. His fore check was tenacious all season and as the playoffs got underway, he started bringing the action to his opponents along the boards.

This was good to see, because Pelletier was a guy opposing teams loved to target on the ice with big hits. Dishing back a little physical business didn’t hurt his effectiveness. Pelletier earned an extension of his AHL deal with Rockford for his efforts and should yet again be a fun player to watch zooming up and down the ice.

 

Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson-73 games, 13 G, 17 A, minus-four

I’m giving Johnson his own category in this review. On a roster of first-year prospects and veteran additions, Johnson perhaps had the most to prove out of any of the returning players.

In last year’s season recap, I suggested that Johnson needed to step up his game from a 17-point rookie campaign in 2016-17 to avoid being pushed to the bench by all the new faces in Rockford. I’d say that Johnson took that step and then some.

Johnson was a steady producer at both ends of the ice for Rockford. He also was a player who took on some big dance partners when circumstances dictated. Four of the IceHogs league-low 11 fighting majors were attributed to Johnson.

In a very quiet manner, Johnson raised his position within the organization. He drew praise from NHL veteran Cody Franson as well as with coach Jeremy Colliton. John Dietz of the Daily Herald got both men to open up about Johnson’s game during the playoffs.

If Colliton names a captain for the 2018-19 IceHogs (after not doing so this past season), don’t be surprised if the C is slapped on Johnson’s sweater.

 

Coffee Cups

Alex Wideman

Tommy Olczyk

Kyle Maksimovich

These three players produced a grand total of zero points for the IceHogs this season. Wideman (13 games in Rockford) did have another good season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, with 16 goals and 32 assists. Most of his time in town came in January and February.

Olczyk saw action once for the Hogs, skating in Grand Rapids January 20. Maksimovich was signed to an ATO in March after scoring 31 goals in the OHL for Erie. He got into four games late in the season and was inactive once the playoffs got underway.

 

Unlike a year ago, there should be lots of returning faces up front for the Hogs. Depending on what kind of veteran skaters Rockford is afforded, there could be several players who could make big strides in their games. Like last season, it should be exciting to watch.

I’m sure there will be some activity worth shouting about in the coming weeks. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter just in case I think of something. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to sort through the summer.

 

 

Everything Else

Generally on Friday afternoon is when anyone that has bad news to announce will release it, figuring most will miss out as they’re on their way home for the weekend and media departments are depleted. The signings of John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza to contract extensions aren’t exactly that, as they’re not bad news, but still basically flying under the radar before the draft.

John Hayden signed a one-way deal for two years at $750K. I’m just going to go ahead and state that if John Hayden has any serious role to play on the Hawks in those two years, the Hawks will then suck. Hayden really is only a body, and not even a strong or powerful one. He was sent down to Rockford in the middle of the season so he could play with the puck more, which he wasn’t on a fourth line. He then proceeded to not play with the puck in the AHL. I’m fairly sure “John Hayden” is another way to say, “Jimmy Hayes” or “Kyle Baun,” but will reserve judgement. The one-way deal is somewhat intriguing, I guess, but the Hawks have kept one-way deals down in the minors before and I fully expect if things turn around for the Hawks, that’s where Hayden can expect to be until injuries hit.

As for Hinostroza, he signed for twice that for two years, $1.5 million a year. As most anyone knows, I’m bullish on Vinnie Smalls as his underlying numbers suggest something of a secret weapon. Ideally he’s driving play on a third line and creating multitudes of chances against bums, and we’ll see if the Hawks can get him there instead of needing him to moonlight on the top six. I feel there’s a poor man’s Sheary or Guentzel here though, if the Hawks could stop fixating on his size for five minutes and worry about getting him and his game-breaking speed in open ice more often. $1.5 million might seem like an utter steal soon.

Anyway, that’s about it for the day. We’ll be here next week doing full draft-preview and maybe even reaction to a trade or two, given how the past has gone.

Everything Else

There’s a bit of a fuzziness to it, but John Hayden ended up playing more than half of the games on the schedule for the Blackhawks. He was here until January, got sent down to Rockford, then came back up in March. Do you remember much about what he did? Because I sure don’t.

John Hayden

47 GP, 4 Goals, 9 Assists, 13 Points, -4, 54 PIM

47.6 CF% (Evens), -6.4 CF% Rel (Evens), 48.97 SCF% (5v5), 45.06 xGF% (5v5), -5.5 xGF% Rel (5v5)

 44.8% oZ Start (Evens)

What We Said: He probably won’t be more than an answer to a trivia question in a few years (Who was the 20th Yale Bulldog to crack an NHL roster?).  He’s the Atlas Shrugged of hockey players: not nearly as great as his proponents say, an overhyped tome of theoretical muck whose pedigree rests mostly on his size and standing out among the mediocre.

What We Got: Going into the season, we asked, “Who is John Hayden?” Well, he’s not quite a scorer, and he’s not quite a fighter, but man. . . . So to answer the question, I don’t know.

The best answer I can come up with is probably no more than a bottom-six puck absorber. And really, that’s all Hayden will ever have to be on the Hawks. In the time he was up, he spent most of his time with other Blackhawks castoffs, Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels. You’ll certainly take the 13 points he provided skating primarily with and against the dreck of the league.

The most surprising thing about his year was his zone-start ratio. When we previewed Hayden at the beginning of the season, I wondered whether Hayden was a “start in the offensive zone” kind of guy, and this year showed he wasn’t. He tended to fall more into what would have been a Marcus Kruger–line role. And all of his advanced stats reflect that: His Corsi and expected goals for percentages all reek of a guy who spends most of his time in the ass-end of the ice.

Hayden also played the role of tenured fighter, leading the team with four fights. I had always held out hope that with his improved skating, Hayden could be a sneaky scorer on the bottom half, but it looks like the Blackhawks expect him to be the guy who initiates fights for HOCKEY REASONS. Much like every Yale graduate ever, the idea of John Hayden being more than an exhausting waste of time and money always flatters to deceive.

Where We Go From Here: Assuming Hayden doesn’t get traded to a team looking for some dick-swinging grit (looking at you, Tom Dundon), he’ll likely do the same thing he did last year. He’ll putter around on the fourth line, have a few fights, then play a few shifts with Toews because he’s DA BIG BODY WIT A BIG HEART DEY NEED IN FRUNNA DA NET. We’ll see a few flashes of skill from him before he bares his red, overeducated ass, because the myth of the rough-edged hockey fighter scraping out a living despite the odds gives no quarter.

Ideally, we’ll see Hayden on the fourth line with guys like Kampf, Wingels, and Highmore. He’s a useful guy if you’re looking to build a line that acts as a big meat slab, which looks like the direction the Hawks are going to go with him, judging by his fancy stats and zone starts. He might even be able to find a home next to guys like Ejdsell and Sikura, and that might work out too. He’s got just enough skill to run with guys like them, and doing it on the bottom lines might open the Hawks up to some much needed depth scoring.

At the end of the day, John Hayden is like the Kevin Orie or Jorge Fabregas of the Blackhawks: Just good enough to stick around, but never much more than a hazy memory.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks, are halfway to a Central Division Final victory over Manitoba. The Hogs have surged to a 2-0 series advantage of the strength of two wins on the road this past weekend.

Rockford took Game 1 Friday by a score of 4-2, then came back the next afternoon and beat the Moose 4-1. The IceHogs are 5-0 so far in the postseason. They can build upon that streak in the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center with Wednesday night’s Game 3.

The Hogs special teams continued to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. Rockford was 3-10 in power play opportunities, while holding the Moose scoreless in five chances. The IceHogs controlled large stretches of action in Manitoba and were more effective physically to boot.

Here are a few thoughts to chew on as the action returns to Winnebago County in a couple of days.

 

A Team Transformed On The Fly

A lot has been made about the six players the Blackhawks sent to Rockford following the conclusion of their season. The broadcasters in Manitoba brought it up several times this weekend, as did the Chicago Wolves crew in the first round.

To suggest the Hogs are being led by mercenaries who arrived just to buoy a Rockford playoff run is not giving enough credit to the players who were around for the late-season push to the postseason. Yes, Victor Ejdsell has certainly been an x-factor so far. John Hayden and David Kampf have deepened the lineup for sure.

However, Andreas Martinsen spent most of his season toiling in Rockford. Jeff Glass, due to the strong play of Collin Delia, hasn’t seen the ice in the playoffs. The other goalie that came down, J.F. Berube, didn’t even report to Rockford after being re-assigned.

When the 2017-18 season began, the IceHogs were well-stocked with prospects but lacking in veteran leadership and physical know-how. At some point in the schedule, this glaring need was recognized and addressed in a host of moves.

This includes Cody Franson’s January assignment to Rockford, the acquiring of Chris DiDomenico in mid-February and Lance Bouma being assigned to the Hogs  to Rockford late in that month. Over the last half of the AHL season, the piglets got a year of experience under their belts. They also were reinforced in a way that added a physical, veteran element that is tailor-made for postseason staying power.

 

Short Handed Moose

Manitoba went into this series without its leading scorer. Mason Appleton, the league’s top rookie, has been out with an injury suffered in the previous round of playoff action.

Saturday, Bouma crunched AHL Defenseman Of The Year Sami Niku against the boards in the corner of the Manitoba zone in the second period. Niku was able to finish his shift but left the game. He did not return. Appleton and Niku were arguably the two best rookies in the league this season. Having them both out against Rockford is going to leave a lot of scoring slack for the Moose to pick up.

 

Hogs Of Note

Tyler Sikura potted goals in both games and played strong hockey in his own end as well. The IceHogs MVP of the regular season has continued to do the dirty work needed to get pucks in the net. For the postseason, he’s tied for the team lead (with DiDomenico and Ejdsell) with three goals.

Rockford’s rookie goalie has been Deliariffic, stopping 57 of the 60 pucks sent to his net. He was instrumental in the Game 1 win, negating several Rockford turnovers that could have had the Hogs in a hole over the first 40 minutes. Delia owns a 1.52 GAA and a .949 save percentage in addition to a 5-0 postseason mark.

 

Packing The BMO…Or Not?

I am definitely interested in how the piglets will draw as the games take on more importance. The Moose, on a weekend, drew 3,816 and 3,955 fans to the Bell MTS Place for the opening pair of contests. That is more than a bit off their season average of 5,277; to be fair, Winnipeg does have an NHL team in the same building in action this spring.

In 2017-18, Rockford saw an average of 3,915 enter the BMO Harris Bank Center each game. This is the lowest season attendance for the IceHogs since the 2008-09 campaign and an 1,100-fan per game drop-off from two seasons ago, when Rockford drew over 5,000 a night.

Game 3 is Wednesday, which isn’t typically a big attendance night at the BMO. Back in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, Rockford hosted three games against Grand Rapids in the second round. The IceHogs averaged 4,834 that season but had the following gates attend the playoff match-up:

Wednesday, May 13-1,780

Thursday, May 14-1,620

Sunday, May 17-1,624

Over 5,400 fans turned out for the Hogs win over Chicago in Game 2 of the first round. I believe that that is a franchise high for playoff attendance by a couple of thousand people. The previous high was May 11, 2008, when 3,306 showed up for Game 6 of Rockford’s second-round series with the Wolves.

Is the playoff buzz sufficient around this part of Northern Illinois to pull people away from local high school sports action? The IceHogs have an enthusiastic fan base who will be making the trek to the BMO Wednesday night. If that total tops 2,500 fans, I will be pleasantly surprised. If the game draws over 3,000 fans, I’ll be stunned (but in a good way).

It would be great if the IceHogs playoff run could pick up fan momentum; a telling indicator may well come on Friday, when Rockford hosts Game 4.

 

Central Division Final-Game 1

Friday, May 4-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

The IceHogs opened the Central Division Final in impressive fashion, taking Game 1 at the Bell MTS Place.

The Moose opened the scoring late in the opening period after Julian Melchiori lobbed the puck out of his zone and into Hogs territory. Viktor Svedberg and Cody Franson were both safely back, but Svedberg was unable to get control of the bouncing biscuit. Buddy Robinson got the handle on the loose puck and beat Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the right post for a 1-0 Manitoba advantage at the 16:56 mark.

Rockford got an equalizer midway through the game on a slick transition play that started with Carl Dahlstrom getting possession of the puck in the corner of his own zone. In short order, the puck made its way to Matthew Highmore in neutral ice. Highmore sent it across the ice to Victor Ejdsell entering the Moose zone. The big forward zipped around Melchiori to gain a path to the right post, where his backhanded attempt got by Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie at 11:53 of the second.

The IceHogs used the power play to take the lead 3:29 into the final frame after a delay of game penalty on Manitoba. Tyler Sikura got a stick on a Chris DiDomenico offering to redirect the puck past Comrie for a 2-1 Rockford advantage.

Just 45 seconds later, John Hayden one-timed a pass from Andreas Martinsen. The shot from the slot kissed cord and put Rockford ahead 3-1.

The Hogs added an empty net goal from Cody Franson when a shorthanded Moose club yanked Comrie from the crease with less than a minute to go. Manitoba got a tip-in from Jan Kostelek, but the clock ran out with Rockford on top.

Delia, who kept his team close in the first two periods on several point-blank chances off of Rockford turnovers, made 24 saves to pick up the win along with first star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-6)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-2)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Central Division Final-Game 2

Saturday, May 5-Rockford 4, Manitoba 1 

Game 2 was another strong effort, as the IceHogs controlled the pace of the game on the way to a weekend sweep of Manitoba.

For the second straight game, the Moose scored first, getting the best of Hogs goalie Collin Delia when Brenden Lemiuex redirected a shot by Nic Petan 16:03 into the game. As was the case Friday night, Rockford responded with the next three goals.

The Hogs answered Lemiuex’s goal 2:35 later when Viktor Svedberg intercepted Petan’s clearing attempt in the high slot. Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie made the stop but left a juicy rebound in the front of the net. Tyler Sikura was on hand to knock it into the cage to tie the score.

The Hogs man advantage unit gave Rockford a 2-1 lead 4:45 into the second. Chris DiDomenico gained possession of a puck along the left half boards, skated across the ice into the slot and fired past Comrie’s stick side for the lamp-lighter.

Assists on the goal came from Sikura and Luke Johnson. However, a big part of the scoring play came when Cody Franson lifted the stick of Buddy Robinson of the Moose, allowing Sikura’s ring-around pass to get to DiDomenico.

The IceHogs moved out to a two-goal lead late in the middle frame. Some nice puck work in the corner of the Manitoba zone by Ejdsell and Tanner Kero resulted in Gustav Forsling sliding a cross-ice pass to a waiting Carl Dahlstrom. The one-timer sailed past Comrie for a 3-1 Rockford advantage 16:03 into the second period.

From there, Rockford kept its collective thumb on the Moose offense, killing a couple of Manitoba power plays and limiting scoring opportunities. Andreas Martinsen added an empty net goal in the closing seconds after the Moose went with six skaters most of the last three minutes.

Delia’s effort nabbed him First Star honors for the second consecutive night. Lemieux and Sikura were voted second and third stars. Luke Johnson left after a rough collision with the end boards in the second period, but returned for the start of the third.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Gustav Forsling-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-3)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Coming Up

Following Game 3 Wednesday, Rockford hosts the Moose for Game 4 Friday night. Game 5 will happen on Sunday afternoon, should it be deemed necessary.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for tidbits of lucid thought throughout the AHL playoffs.

 

Everything Else

In running himself out of town by means of his performance and (allegedly) his mouth, Ryan Hartman turned into a late first-round pick and the towering Victor Ejdsell. Ejdsell impressed in his NHL debut, lining up between Saad and Kane to the tune of a 51+ CF% and three shots on goal. Then he sort of disappeared in his last five, primarily between DeBrincat and Sikura. Let’s see what we can pick out in a mere six games from our newest Éric Dazé–sized center.

Victor Ejdsell

6 GP, 0 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 Point, -1, 0 PIM

43.3 CF% (Evens), -2.7 CF% Rel (Evens), 37.88 SCF% (5v5), 35.96 xGF% (5v5), -8.66 xGF% Rel (5v5)

 60% oZ Start (Evens)

What We Said: Ejdsell comes with plus-hands . . . The big concern is whether or not he can skate enough to make any of it matter . . . The Hawks were after Ejdsell when he chose the Predators, and generally the European players they’ve been hot on tend to work out at least ok . . .

What We Got: Overall, we got a small feel for what Ejdsell might be able to provide in a sheltered role. His first two games were his best, as he managed four shots and his lone assist. After that, he disappeared completely for his next three, losing 66% of his faceoffs or more, and managing zero shots on goal. He took three shots in the very last game, then got sent down to Rockford for their playoff run.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Ejdsell’s cup of coffee was that he didn’t spend too much time playing the role of Annette Frontpresence. He’s got soft hands and good vision according to most scouting reports, and in his debut, he spent much more time in the high slot than in front of the goaltender. That’s a good thing, because by all accounts, Ejdsell’s play style is much smaller and more skilled than his frame suggests. There’s still plenty of time for Quenneville et al. to fuck that up and neuter him by cementing him in the crease because he happens to be large, but in his mini-audition, they seemed willing to let Ejdsell be Ejdsell and not Artem Anisimov.

There isn’t a ton more we can glean from his six games in terms of performance. While all of his advanced stats are downright awful, it’s over six mostly meaningless games, during which he played most of his time with DeBrincat and Sikura. More encouraging is how he’s playing in Rockford. He’s got two goals and two assists in three games, including a triple-overtime, series-sweep-clinching goal against the Wolves. Jon Fromi had some positive things to say about him:

Wasn’t bad in his own end and showed he can finish a scoring play in Game 3 [against the Wolves] . . . I haven’t seen any problems as far as him keeping up with the pace the Hogs like to play. He hasn’t looked out of place at all coming from the larger ice.

Fromi also said that the Ice Hogs are letting him play in transition, as he’s been at the front of some of the rushes. He’s also played a bit on the point during the power play with Dahlstrom, which might be encouraging.

Where We Go From Here: Given the Hawks’s makeup at center—with Toews and Schmaltz in the top two, Tommy Wingels all but guaranteed to come back, Artem Anisimov not yet traded, and our David Kampf in the background—it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of wiggle room for Ejdsell next year. But with his size and the supposed skill he’s got in his hands, there could be a spot for him somewhere in the bottom six—maybe next to Duclair and Sikura—assuming Saad, Kane, DeBrincat, and Vinnie round out the top six, as they should.

Realistically, he’ll find a home in the bottom six, making us wonder whether he’s actually two smaller hockey players underneath a trench coat sneaking into a movie they shouldn’t be at.

But you didn’t come to the Victor Ejdsell review for rational, stats-based analysis, and neither did I.

What you came for is a complete skullfuck of unbelievable and nearly impossible trades involving Ejdsell, and I’m here to give it to you.

Because the Blackhawks are running out of time with this core’s window, they’re going to make two moves to pry it back open, and they involve a ton of risk. But with the core aging and three consecutive disappointing years behind them, it’s time for Bowman to ride the snake.

The first move can come in one of three flavors, each one requiring more GENIOUS BRAIN neurons than the last to comprehend, to fill the big hole in the blue line. The second, of course, is a no-brainer. Everything that follows assumes the cap goes up to at least $80 million and that the Hawks either trade or LTIR Hossa before the draft.

1a. Package both first-round picks, Ejdsell, and Schmaltz for Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton. Throw in Rutta, and Anisimov and his 11 power play goals if you can get him to waive his NMC. According to Kent Wilson over at The Athletic, “The Flames will be looking to recoup some draft picks and find an impact right winger to solidify the attack up front. The team may be tempted to put Hamilton on the auction block to fill one or both of those needs, but that would likely turn out to be a mistake.”

Schmaltz’s 52 points and 21 goals last year might not be the high-level scoring Calgary would need to justify the trade, especially since Giordano–Hamilton is one of the best pairings in the league. Then again, Wilson pointed out that the Flames seemed to have trust issues with Dougie, using him both less than T.J. Brodie on average and rarely in higher-leverage defensive situations (penalty kill, overtime, as the sole defender on the power play). And this is a team that signed Jaromir Jagr as an offensive solution then acted surprised when he stopped giving a shit, and thought signing Michael Stone was a solution for defensive depth, so Flames GM Brad Treliving might be a moron.

2a. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. Our fearless leader, King of All Media, and overall maven already laid it out for you. If that went through, you’d have

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Hinostroza

Duclair–Kampf–Sikura

Highmore/Jurco–Anisimov/Wingels–Hayden

Keith–Hamilton

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

1b. Package both first-round picks, Ejdsell, Hinostroza, and Schmaltz for Erik Karlsson, and even that might not be enough for what Ottawa would need for the best D-man in the game (Bobby Ryan would probably be involved, making this impossible for the cap). But let’s assume Pierre Dorion is a special kind of moron, and Ryan isn’t involved.

2b. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. That leaves you

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Duclair

Jurco–Kampf–Sikura

Highmore–Anisimov–Hayden

Keith–Karlsson

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

1c. Package their #8 pick, Artem Anisimov, Victor Ejdsell, and Vinnie Hinostroza for Justin Faulk. The scuttlebutt is that Carolina is losing patience with with Faulk, and given Canes owner Tom Dundon’s questionable ability to properly value and compensate the people who work for him, he might be griftable. Dundon, a man with next to no professional experience in hockey, wants to play Mark Cuban, so maybe you sell him on Anisimov’s VETERAN PRESENCE and 20-goal season as a center, Vinnie’s offensive potential, and Ejdsell’s size and skillset. The problem here is Anisimov’s no-move clause doesn’t turn into a limited no-trade clause until after the draft. Maybe you get him to waive it by selling him on playing with Andrei Svechnikov, I don’t know.

2c. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. That gives you

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Duclair

Jurco–Schmaltz–Sikura

Highmore–Kampf–Hayden

Keith–Faulk

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

Ejdsell may not be a gun, but maybe he can be one of the bullets that get the Hawks the top-pairing D-man they need, based on his size alone and the coinflip that is NHL GM dipshittery. Though it’s 99.9% certain none of this will happen, especially since DeBrincat would probably need to go for most of these trades to even be plausible, a boy can dream.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are a single point away from earning a spot in the 2017-18 Calder Cup Playoffs. With the Blackhawks season over, there will be a lot of options for Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton this week.

Following the conclusion of the NHL season, the organization sent six players to Rockford to fortify the ‘Bago County Flying Piglets. Is this flood of talent a boon or bane to the IceHogs?

On the surface, this is a great problem for Colliton and the Hogs to have. What we have is a team that has put it together at an opportune time picking up some high-caliber talent. Lake Erie (now Cleveland) parlayed that combination into a Calder Cup just two years ago. Surely Colliton is going to find it hard to keep arrivals John Hayden, Andreas Martinsen, David Kampf and Victor Ejdsell off the forward lines.

On the other hand, why mess with what’s working? The current group has played very well in the past few weeks. Shouldn’t that be taken into consideration?

It would be easy to suggest that Colliton sit his AHL contracts in favor of a more high-end lineup. Of course, that would mean sitting your second leading goal-scorer and some other key personnel.

I can’t see the IceHogs sitting Tyler Sikura for anyone at this point. Having earned an NHL-deal for next season, Sikura added three more goals this weekend to push his season total to 22. Over his last ten games, Sikura the Elder has six goals and six helpers.

William Pelletier is another AHL contract that would be hard to see in the press box. His speed alone has been a huge plus for the IceHogs, who can count on the former Division-III standout to chase down pucks and negate icing. Oh…he also has 28 points (13 G, 15 A) on the season.

Hayden, Martinsen and Kampf have all spent a good portion of the season in the AHL. It’s difficult not to see them making Rockford a much tougher team to face, chemistry be damned. With three games remaining on the IceHogs regular season schedule, Colliton is going to have some interesting choices to make in the final week of the season, and possibly beyond.

So…who shines a seat? Here’s some speculatin’…

  • First off, I would think the depth at forward would keep D Robin Norell off a forward line, regardless of how much Colliton and/or the organization likes him skating on a wing.
  • If a playoff spot were to be locked up early this week, maybe we see Kyle Maksimovich or recently-signed Mathias From out there in the final weekend of action. Otherwise, they’ll just be along for the ride.
  • Graham Knott, who has been a fourth-line center for the bulk of the campaign, is probably the first regular who loses his spot.
  • Tanner Kero was injured Wednesday night in San Antonio; no word so far as I know regarding a return.
  • Henrik Samuelsson, who earned a full-time AHL contract from the Hogs with some strong play during the stretch run, is likely to be another candidate to sit.

Colliton will also have to decide which of three goalies (Collin Delia, J.F. Berube or Jeff Glass) anchors this team from here on out. Delia has had the hot hand, going 7-0-2 in his last nine starts, including both of Rockford’s wins this week. In that nine-game span, he’s posted a 1.84 GAA and a .935 save percentage.

Of course, Berube has taken a team to the AHL championship back in 2014-15 with Manchester and has good AHL numbers this season (2.37 GAA, .920 save percentage) despite being 7-8 for the Hogs. Glass has had some effective stints in Rockford this season as well, with very similar season numbers to Delia.

If Rockford can collect a single point in any of its last three games, or if Milwaukee fails to win any of its last three, then the IceHogs are playoff bound. Depending on how the final week plays out, it is possible that Rockford winds up as any of the four playoff seeds. Chicago leads the Central as of Monday; the Hogs have a home-and-home Friday and Saturday with the Wolves that could well decide the division.

The recent additions, along with the potential for advancement in the standings, are going to make for a crazy final week of the regular season.

 

Recaps

The IceHogs traveled to Texas this past week, claiming a pair of wins to put them on the brink of locking down a postseason berth. Rockford is fourth in the Central and within striking distance of first-place Chicago. Manitoba and Grand Rapids, who, like the Wolves have assured themselves of playoff action, sit just two points ahead of the Hogs.

Wednesday, April 4-Rockford 4, San Antonio 2

Rockford’s fifth win in a row came against a desperate Rampage club that was fighting for their playoff lives. The IceHogs came out on top of a fast-paced contest that saw quality chances turned away at both ends of the ice.

Matthew Highmore got the scoring started 4:21 into the first period, taking a backhand drop pass from Tanner Kero in the slot and five-holing San Antonio goalie Spencer Martin. Kero would wind up missing most of this game with an injury, but got hold of a stretch pass from Carl Dahlstrom coming into the Rampage zone to set up the goal.

The Rockford lead was short-lived, as San Antonio quickly potted goals by Michael Joly and Tommy Vinnelli. The Hogs tied the score late in a wild first period when Anthony Louis hoisted a backhand into the Rampage zone from just inside his blueline toward a waiting Martin. The bouncing puck was mishandled by Martin, allowing Lance Bouma to get to the rebound and knock it into Twine Town at the 17:11 mark.

The rest of the scoring on this night would be provided by rookie forward William Pelletier. The eventual game-winner came early in the second period with Rockford on the penalty kill. Viktor Svedberg got the play started by winning control of the puck along the half boards of the defensive zone. He tapped the biscuit to Highmore, who banked it to Pelletier in neutral ice.

Pelletier streaked down the left side into San Antonio territory, leading Highmore on a two-on-one rush. Electing to hold on to the puck, Pelletier struck gold short side to complete the shorthanded lamp-lighter 3:03 into the period.

Three goals were enough for Collin Delia, who stopped the Rampage’s last 19 shots over the final 40 minutes. Pelletier chased down Tyler Sikura’s clearing attempt in the final minute and guided it into an empty net to put a bow on the victory.

Highmore was voted the game’s first star. Along with Kero, Luc Snuggerud’s night ended early when he came off holding his wrist in the middle of the first period. Both the Hogs and the Rampage went 0-3 on the man advantage.

 

Friday, April 6-Rockford 3, Texas 2 (SO)

It took an extended shootout to decide this contest. When the smoke cleared, Rockford came out on top thanks to a big blast by Viktor Svedberg.

The piglets went down 1-0 to Texas on a Brent Regner tally late in the first. The IceHogs used a pair of power play goals to take a 2-1 lead by the first few minutes of the third period.

The first Rockford goal came midway through the game. Tyler Sikura was in front of Stars goalie Landon Bow to tip in an Adam Clendening offering from up top, tying the score 1-1 at the 8:56 mark of the second period.

The Hogs took the lead 4:11 into the third when Cody Franson found Chris DiDomenico above the right circle on the man advantage. The shot whizzed by Bow and into the top left corner of the Texas net.

The Stars pulled Bow late in the game and it paid off in the form of a Gavin Bayreuther goal that came off of a long rebound with 1:13 to play. Neither team could convert in Gus Macker Time, necessitating the shootout.

Travis Morin put Texas up 1-0 in the third round of the shootout, but Franson was able to respond for the IceHogs. In the bottom of round five, Svedberg skated to the slot and slapped home the game-winner, earning him first star honors.

Rockford wound up going 2-2 on the power play, while stopping both of the Stars opportunities. Collin Delia made 22 stops on the night as the Hogs picked up their sixth straight win.

Saturday, April 7-Texas 4, Rockford 3

Rockford couldn’t hold onto a two-goal lead in the final period, giving up a trio of Texas goals to drop the final game of a Lone Star road trip.

As he had the night before, Brent Regner put the Stars up 1-0 with a goal 5:51 into the game. This one came on the power play, which would burn Rockford twice on this evening.

The Hogs would draw even late in the first, with Tyler Sikura gaining control of a loose puck in the slot and sending it past Stars goalie Landon Bow at the 18:31 mark. Sikura would get his second goal of the game 4:29 into the second period. This one came from a long-distance attempt from the left half boards.

Rockford gained a 3-1 advantage midway through the second after Anthony Louis whiffed on a centering attempt by Luke Johnson. The puck slid through the circles and onto the waiting stick of Alexandre Fortin, who knocked it past Bow at the 11:29 mark.

Unfortunately for the Hogs, Texas rallied in the final 20 minutes. Brian Flynn sent a slap shot past Rockford goalie Matt Tomkins in the third minute. Roope Hintz skated to the bottom of the left circle and beat Tomkins high to tie the game with 6:13 remaining.

Travis Morin turned a stretch pass from Gavin Bayreuther into a two-on-one rush late in the game. His pass to Joel L’Esperance was one-timed past Tomkins to complete the comeback with 2:54 left.

Tomkins, who was starting his first game for Rockford since February 3, stopped 30 of 34 shots on the night. The IceHogs failed to convert on either of their two power play chances, while Texas was 2-5. Sikura’s two-goal performance was enough to be named the game’s second star.

 

The Final Countdown

Tuesday night in Iowa would be a great time to punch that playoff ticket. The Wild have plummeted in the standings down the stretch, losing nine of their last ten.

The regular season is an intriguing home-and-home with Chicago Friday and Saturday. The Wolves have locked up a playoff berth but is the type of organization that likes division titles to brag on. Hard to see them resting starters. The Hogs, however, had three straight wins over Chicago in March.

Milwaukee, for those that gaze upon the out-of-town scoreboard, play in Chicago Tuesday, then wind up the season with a home-and-home with Iowa. Nothing is assured yet.

For updates on Rockford’s playoff status this week, follow me @JonFromi on twitter.

Everything Else

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

Each effort more useless than the last. To the bullets.

– Brad Marchand, acting on every instinct to be the biggest, wettest garbage bag of human shit possible, likely ended Anthony Duclair’s season today, and perhaps his career with the Blackhawks. Pat and Eddie went out of their way to say that it looked like an accident, but I don’t know how they came to that conclusion. Here it is in slow motion:

And full speed:

The full-speed shot makes it look even more intentional, with Marchand leaving his feet and slinging his arm at Duclair’s head. With Marchand’s pedigree as a pus-filled ass polyp, you have to assume that it was at least partially nefarious, as it looks like Duclair is in his sight the entire time. But with Marchand playing as well as he has and the Bruins on a playoff run, don’t be surprised to see him get maybe a game suspension.

As for Duclair, what a horrible way to end his year. He’d had a rough go of it lately, and now this. Season in a nutshell.

– Duncan Keith had one of the worst games I can remember since he came up all those years ago. His bad passing, poor positioning, and inability to strap in his jock led to the Bruins’s first three goals, respectively. He and Seabrook were on the ice for three of Boston’s four PP goals as well.

He’s obviously lost a full step, and without him, the Hawks have only Murphy who has any potential to play defense as a defenseman. We knew going in that the Hawks would need to rely on Keith, so if this is what he’s going to be, the next few years are going to be drudgery.

– Erik Gustafsson had a hot and cold game. The offense was on display early, as he set up Toews on a tip, buried a goal from the blue line, and set up Highmore with a gorgeous shimmy on the far boards followed by a slick pass through the Royal Road. But he also let Pastrnak behind him for Boston’s game-tying goal (and wasn’t helped by Brent Seabrook, who let human plantar wart Brad Marchand soft-shoe his way around him effortlessly) and looked generally lost in the defensive end.

Gustafsson is a fine player to have when you have four or five other guys who are obviously better than him on your team, and when you’re paying him $1.2 million over two years, not per year. But if this is one of the guys that the brain trust is going to lean on next year, this team is fucked.

– John Hayden looked good coming up to replace Vinnie. Other than his unnecessary fight in the first, he showed strength with the puck and seemed to fit decently with Schmaltz and DeBrincat. The Hawks are going to have to decide whether he’s going to be a scoring power forward—which was sort of the point of sending him down in the first place—or a big body who drags his dick around looking for fights. If it’s the latter, this team, again, is fucked.

– Credit to Kampf for setting up the Hayden goal. He had a nice strip and an even better pass off the far boards to spring Hayden.

– Congrats to Highmore on his first NHL goal. Like Hayden, I’m still not sure what he’s supposed to be, but he didn’t look particularly bad today.

– As is becoming more common, Berube got hung out to dry on most of his goals. The stat line is going to look horrible after being out there for six, but I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do with the defense that’s in front of him.

We’ve got 12 more. And if the Hawks decide that the defensive corps that they dressed tonight is what they’re going with next year, the next 94 games are going to be one gigantic Giordano’s fart.

Beer du Jour: Coffee and Eagle Rare.

Line of the Night: “They’re getting going north fast, and it’s coming down your throat.” –Adam Burish during the pre-game, describing the Bruins’s transition game.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have hit the All-Star Break in their 2017-18 schedule. Rockford has the next few days to prepare for action Friday and Saturday. The AHL All-Star Classic is tonight. With two Hogs skaters participating, it’s as good as time as any to weigh in on the campaign thus far.

Surprise, surprise, a team of young prospects has been a little inconsistent in some areas of play through the first 46 games. One thing that has been a constant from this club, however, has been their level of compete.

Simply put, this team has battled hard for first-year coach Jeremy Colliton. Regardless of the score, they don’t pack it in. This has made them a very entertaining squad to watch. This trait also served them well this past week; twice Rockford rallied from third-period deficits to post wins.

The boys from ‘Bago County have a current mark of 24-17-2-3. That places them fourth in the Central Division standings. Rockford has as many regulation/overtime wins (19) as they had all of last season. Aside from first-place Manitoba, who the Hogs host Friday night, the Central is going to be a dog fight these last 30 games. Still, a spot in the postseason is well within reach.

The IceHogs are the least penalized team in the league, earning just 9.78 minutes in the sin bin per contest. The team has been disciplined, though the dearth of penalty minutes can be attributed to committing just six major penalties this season.

Rockford has been a better team at home (15-8-1-1) than on the road (9-9-1-2), but has kept its head above water when away from the BMO Harris Bank Center. After struggling mightily in games that stretched beyond regulation a season ago, the IceHogs are 4-2 in Gus Macker Time and have a 5-3 mark in shootouts.

The Hogs are scoring 3.15 goals per game. That’s tenth in the AHL. This is light years better that last year’s bunch, who depended way too much on greasy goals and were the worst offensive team in Rockford history.

Rookie Matthew Highmore, who is playing for the Central Division All-Star squad Monday, leads the IceHogs with 18 goals and 29 points. Six of those goals have come on the power play, which easily paces the team.

Tyler Sikura has provided surprising offensive punch for Rockford. His 12 goals are second to Highmore among active Hogs. Anthony Louis (7 G, 19 A) has been a steady offensive contributor, as has Andreas Martinsen (8 G, 12 A).

Luke Johnson has brought his game up in his second season, with nine goals and ten helpers. Both John Hayden and Tanner Kero have helped shoulder the offensive load since being sent to Rockford.

AHL All-Star Carl Dahlstrom has three goals and 20 assists to lead the blueline in scoring. Ville Pokka (21 points) and rookie Darren Raddysh (11 points) each have four goals to pace the defense.

Of the active Hogs, four have two game-winning goals-Highmore, Kero, Raddysh and William Pelletier (7 G, 10 A).

Colliton has preached a high-tempo style. His players haven’t disappointed in this department. Rockford is averaging 35.04 shots per game; that leads the AHL by over two shots more than division rivals Grand Rapids and Chicago.

The Hogs are giving up 3.02 goals per game. As you would expect from a team that is pushing hard to get pucks on the net, more than a few of those come back at them for prime scoring chances.

The play in goal has been vital to Rockford’s fortunes. It was very good to start the campaign. However, the IceHogs have been playing with a pair of rookies for almost a month after an injury to J.F. Berube and Jeff Glass being recalled to Chicago.

After some settling in, Colin Delia has played well for Rockford this past slate of games. If the Hogs can reach the playoffs, this last couple of weeks could well be the key stretch.

Delia and Matt Tomkins have been good enough for Rockford to compile a 7-6-1-2 record since Glass was recalled December 27. That’s far from dominating, but after starting 1-4, the rookies have held up and given the IceHogs a chance to win.

 

Special Teams

If Rockford can get a handle on this part of the game, it would be a big help. The power play has shown signs of life the last two weeks. However, the 12.4% conversion rate is still the AHL’s worst. The IceHogs have also surrendered seven shorthanded goals.

The penalty kill is not faring much better. Rockford has stopped just 78.7% of opponents power plays. They are 28th out of 30 teams in this category. Sikura has two of the IceHogs five shorthanded goals.

 

Odds And Ends

Rockford still does not have a captain.

Berube appears to be nearing a return, as is defenseman Luc Snuggerud. Both have been practicing.

Rockford sent F Tommy Olczyk, who skated in Grand Rapids for the Hogs January 20, back to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel.

 

The Bottom Line

This has been a streaky team, which is what I expected to see when previewing Rockford back in the fall. The Hogs have a pair of four-game win streaks this season and two three-game win streaks. They currently have points in nine of their last 11 games.

Rockford also have lost four straight on two occasions this season. Throughout it all, however, the Hogs have continued to play hard right up to the horn. This is a group that could go on a tear in the playoffs…should they make the playoffs.

The piglets have a road-heavy schedule and will have to keep earning points to stay with the pack in the middle of the division. It will likely come down the final week of the season in terms of making the postseason field.

Getting Berube back should be a boost, as will recently acquired D Adam Clendening, who adds AHL experience and offense from the blueline. There will be some roster turnover as the trade deadline looms, for better or worse.

Can this team make the top four in the Central and keep playing hockey this spring? With the motor I’ve seen from this group, I would say yes.

Recaps

Tuesday, January 23-Rockford 4, Bakersfield 1

A big third period was the catalyst for the Hogs win in their return to the BMO Harris Bank Center after a two-week road jaunt.

A Dillon Simpson goal 7:29 into the game was all the scoring through the first 40 minutes. This, despite the IceHogs tossing 30 shots on goal to that point. The cover would come off the Condors net early in the final frame, however.

As a 4-on-4 session was wrapping up, Andreas Martinsen gathered in a Matthew Highmore pass and skated into the Bakersfield zone. Swooping toward the left post, Martinsen got to the bottom of the left circle before flipping a shot high to the short side of the cage. Condors goalie Laurent Brossoit couldn’t keep it from cuing the horn, tying the score at a goal apiece 48 seconds in to period three.

The game-winner came at 7:38 on a pretty piece of work that started with Tanner Kero digging a puck out of the corner of the offensive zone. William Pelletier gathered the biscuit before backhanding a pass to Anthony Louis. Weaving to the top of the crease, Louis hit Kero in front of the net to complete the scoring play.

Up 2-1, Rockford extended the advantage on an unassisted goal by new arrival Gustav Forsling. Picking off Brossoit’s clearing attempt in the neutral zone, Forsling skated across the Condors blue line. Firing from the high slot, his shot zipped under Brossoit’s glove for a 3-1 Hogs lead at 8:27 of the third. Adam Clendening completed the scoring for Rockford, clearing the puck he length of the ice and into an empty net in the final minutes.

Colin Delia got stingy after the early Bakersfield goal, stopping 23 of 24 shots on the night to pick up his fifth win of the season. Forsling and Delia were the first and second stars of the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Darren Raddysh-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, Ville Pokka, J.F. Berube

Power Play (0-5)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Condors were 0-1)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Friday, January 26-Rockford 3, Ontario 2 (OT)

In the pink glow of Rockford’s annual cancer awareness game, the Hogs put on another rally for the BMO faithful. This time, Rockford came back from two goals down, tied the game in the closing seconds, and beat the Reign to sweep the season series between the two squads.

Jonny Brodzinski tipped in a Sean Walker shot to give Ontario a 1-0 lead 6:04 into the game. It stayed that way until the waning portion of the middle frame, when the IceHogs appeared to have blown a golden opportunity to draw even.

Penalties by Jamie Devane and Paul LaDue resulted in Rockford receiving a two-man advantage with 3:29 remaining in the period. Unfortunately, Tyler Sikura was called for interference after winning the resulting offensive zone draw.

Now with a 4-on-3 power play, Rockford lost the draw down at the other end. The Reign promptly doubled their lead when Brett Sutter slid a long-distance shot past Hogs goalie Colin Delia. At 16:37 of the second, Rockford was down a pair. However, Delia tightened his belt and the piglets got to work.

As their 4-on-3 was running out, Cody Franson got a shot on net that rebounded off of the pads of Reign goalie Jack Campbell. John Hayden was on hand in front of the net to poke it across the goal line to get Rockford back within a goal at 18:24 of the second.

The Hogs had several decent chances to pot the equalizer during their third period push. Campbell was up to the task for the first dozen Rockford attempts. Jeremy Colliton brought Delia to the bench with nearly three minutes remaining in the contest. A risky move, for sure, but it would pay off.

Ville Pokka one-timed an offering from Carl Dahlstrom at the top of the left circle. With Luke Johnson coming across the crease to screen the goalie, the puck got under Campbell’s pads and slid into the Ontario cage with 15 seconds remaining to make it a 2-2 game.

Johnson would drive the game-winner home to complete the comeback in Gus Macker Time. Taking a pass from Adam Clendening, Johnson looped up to the right circle as a Justin Auger and Andrew Crescenzi ran into each other while trying to make a defensive switch.

Johnson skated to the right dot unchecked, then fired a shot that caught the far side of Campbell’s net, ending the contest in the IceHogs favor 1:59 into the extra session.

Johnson (first), Pokka (second) and Campbell (third, 39 saves) were the game’s three stars, though Delia deserves a stick tap for another solid effort. He stopped 31 of 33 shots and kept Rockford within striking distance for most of the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Ville Pokka-Carl Dahlstrom

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, Darren Raddysh, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-3, gave up 4-on-3 shorty)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Ontario was 0-2)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Saturday, January 27-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 1

Rockford scored the first goal of the game but that was all the offense the Hogs could muster at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins limited Rockford to just 17 shots, pulling away with three second-period goals.

The IceHogs goal came late in the first period. Williiam Pelletier brought the biscuit across the Griffins blueline and centered to Anthony Louis, who couldn’t initially come up with the puck. It hopped toward the left circle, where Louis collected it before beating Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau at 18:06 for a 1-0 Rockford lead.

That was it as far as IceHogs highlights. Matt Puempel hammered in a power play shot to the far side of Matt Tomkins net to tie the game 1-1 2:56 into the second. Midway though the period, John Hayden surrendered the puck to Brian Lashoff in the corner of the Hogs zone. Lashoff skated below the goal line and banked the eventual game-winner off Tomkins and into the cage at 11:17.

Hayden did some shoving in front of the Grand Rapids net a few minutes later. Turner Elson jumped into the fray and the two engaged in a brief scuffle that saw some jabs from the Griffins forward and a wild right by Hayden. Call it a draw.

At the 15:25 mark, Eric Tangradi set up Evgeny Svechnikov in the high slot. Tomkins couln’t track the one-timer quickly enough, and the Griffins led 3-1 after 40 minutes. Matthew Ford would complete the scoring for Grand Rapids with a put-back goal at 16:57 of the third period.

No lines for this one; I was out of town and didn’t have time. Cody Franson left this game and did not return. Colliton dressed seven defensemen and skated Robin Norrell at forward in what has been a regular gig for him.

 

Weekend Preview

Friday night, Rockford will get a chance to atone for a 8-1 spanking at the hands of Manitoba on November 28 when the Moose visit the BMO for the second time this season.

Manitoba comes bearing the league’s best offense (3.66 goals per game) to go with the second-best defense (2.39 goals allowed per game). They’ve cooled a bit, but the Moose won their last three games going into the All-Star break, outscoring their opponents 13-4.

The Manitoba roster boasts four players who have notched 30-plus points this season. They are led by rookie Mason Appleton (15 G, 26 A). D Cameron Schilling, a former IceHog, is having a career season (5 G, 19 A). He is second among Moose defensemen in scoring behind rookie Sami Niku (8 G, 21 A).

This will be a tough team to hang with, let alone beat. Rockford’s post-break schedule definitely begins with a test.

Saturday, the Hogs head east on I-90 for a friendly bit of Illinois Lottery Cup fun with the Chicago Wolves. Cup aside, Rockford needs a win over the Wolves, who currently sit one spot above the IceHogs in the division standings.

Rockford is 3-3 against Chicago in 2017-18, but has yet to claim a victory at Allstate Arena this season.

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

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs squad that returns to action at the BMO Harris Bank Center is going to look a little different than the team that hit the road a couple of weeks ago.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate had some roster changes over the course of a six-game road trip. Several of those players factored into what was a pretty successful jaunt away from home.

Rockford fared pretty well on the trip, winning three of the games and picking up points in two others. This week, the Hogs split a pair with Cleveland before dropping Saturday’s game with Grand Rapids. Considering some roster turnover and two rookie net-minders, the results were heartening.

Those rookie goalies stepped up and played well in this week’s games. Colin Delia has a 2.40 GAA and a .925 save percentage in his last four starts. Matt Tomkins picked up his first AHL victory Friday night in Cleveland, stopping 32 of 35 shots to beat the Monsters.

Currently, the IceHogs (22-16-2-3) are still in third place in the Central Division, just behind Iowa, just ahead of Milwaukee and even with Chicago. The four teams are nip and tuck for the second through fifth spots in the division.

 

Changing Faces (Sort Of)

Defensively, Rockford has a very different look with the additions of Cody Franson and Adam Clendening. John Hayden adds a more physical dimension to the forward lines. All three players have figured into the scoring column since joining the team.

Clendening has assists in three of the five games he’s spent in his second tour with Rockford. He has moved onto the Hogs power play unit, which scored twice in four chances this week. Clendening should fit right into the fast-paced style coach Jeremy Colliton wants to play.

Franson has taken a leadership role with this young group of skaters. He seems to be commanding the respect of his teammates. The 6’5″ Franson also forms a lengthy blue line tandem with 6’9″ Viktor Svedberg.

Hayden has certainly made an impact around the net, with five points (2 G, 3 A) in the six games he’s spent with Rockford since Chicago sent him down. Hayden will benefit from an bigger role with the IceHogs; Rockford should also see positive returns.

On Friday, Rockford assigned D Brandon Anselmini to the Indy Fuel and called up F Tommy Olczyk, who made his Hogs debut Saturday in Grand Rapids. Sunday, Chicago sent defenseman Gustav Forsling to Rockford, which presents a bit of a quandary…

 

Log Jam On The Blue Line

The addition of Forsling gives Rockford the following defensemen on the roster: Forsling, Franson, Clendening, Svedberg, Ville Pokka, Carl Dahlstrom, Robin Norell, Luc Snuggerud, and Darren Raddysh. Eight of those players are on NHL contracts with the Blackhawks (Raddysh being on an AHL deal).

Norell has been skating as a forward in the last several games, otherwise he’d be firmly seated in the team box. Snuggerud is nearing a return from an injury and needs playing time. The Hawks didn’t send Forsling down to sit. How is Colliton going to divvy up the minutes?

Raddysh would appear to be the odd man out if the roster remains as is. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sent to Indy…unless another defenseman is moved in a trade. That seems more plausible than Chicago recalling someone to be an eighth defenseman.

I wouldn’t expect to see this situation linger for too long. Franson is looking for a spot on an NHL roster. Clendening is well traveled. Svedberg and Pokka could be throw-ins to a deadline deal. Hey, maybe Norell gets a extended look up front (though I don’t see the benefit of such a move).

 

Recaps

Wednesday, January 17-Cleveland 4, Rockford 3 (SO)

The IceHogs rallied from a pair down but saw a big overtime chance pass them by and left the second point on the table. Still, Rockford stretched its point streak to six games.

The Hogs opened the scoring 5:45 into the game when Graham Knott turned a broken play into his second goal of the season. As he brought a puck out of the defensive zone, Viktor Svedberg had fired a pass that didn’t connect with the rookie forward.

However, the puck came off the right half boards and slid into Monsters territory and toward the crease. Knott caught up to the loose puck and got a shot on net. Cleveland goalie Matiss Kivelnieks made the stop but the rebound glanced off of Monters defenseman Garret Cockerill and into the goal.

Cleveland tied the game late in the opening period on a Zac Dalpe goal, then took a 3-1 advantage in the first half of the sandwich stanza. Dalpe struck again, this time on the power play at the 9:03 mark. Brady Austin then provided the two-goal lead when his floater got by Rockford goalie Colin Delia.

Rockford closed to within a goal late in the period. Tanner Kero got the play started by swiping a puck on the fore check. He got the turnover to Anthoy Louis, who skated left to right before backhanding a top shelf attempt past Kivelnieks at 18:08.

The IceHogs came up with the equalizer 8:45 into the third when Luke Johnson finished off a nice bit of hustle by Hayden. The former Yale captain got a stick on an attempted outlet pass by Kivelnieks and followed the block behind the net. Flipping the puck to the left post, Johnson was on hand to tap it past the Cleveland goalie, making it 3-3.

The score remained tied through the end of regulation. Rockford had a tremendous chance when Monsters defenseman Dean Kukan fell down in Gus Macker Time. Louis and William Pelletier came down the ice with only Kivlenieks between them and a win. Louis got a return pass from Pelletier and had a wide open net.

Unfortunately for Rockford, Louis was nearly past the net when he got the puck. His attempt to complete the tough-angle shot was wide and this game would be decided by a shootout.

Dalpe converted for Cleveland in the first round, Louis for the Hogs in the second. It took an extra round to settle the matter after Alex Broadhurst and Svedberg were stopped in round three. Terry Broadhurst got a puck by Delia that would give the second point to the Monsters.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Andrea Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Collin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, J.F. Berube

The Hogs did not have a power play opportunity tonight. This may be the first time I’ve had to write this.

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 1-3)

Highmore-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Hayden-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Knott-Raddysh-Clendening

 

Friday, January 19-Rockford 4, Cleveland 3

Again, the Hogs had to dig themselves out of a two-goal hole. Three marks in the final 20 minutes did the trick, giving Rockford the victory over the Monsters.

Cameron Gaunce took advantage of a broken play by the Monsters, banging in a loose puck in the slot to put Cleveland up 1-0 9:43 into the first period. Just 24 seconds into the middle frame, Terry Broadhurst picked the pocket of Adam Clendening and sprung Zac Dalpe on a 2-on-1. Dalpe kept the puck and fired past Hogs goal tender Matt Tomkins to make it 2-0 Monsters.

After being badly outplayed in the opening 20 minutes, Rockford got down to the business of getting back in the contest. The power play got things started.

Clendening slid a pass to the stick of Cody Franson, who one-timed the puck to the net. Cleveland goalie Matiss Kivlenieks made the initial save, but Andrea Martinsen was in front of the net to finish the scoring play at the 7:11 mark.

The IceHogs rally kicked into full gear in the third. John Hayden took an entry pass from Matthew Highmore down the left halfboards, into the corner and back up the boards. He was at the outside hash marks of the left circle when he turned and fired on net. Highmore was there for the screen, allowing the shot to sneak by Kivlenieks and draw Rockford even 6:38 into the final frame.

Hayden returned the favor to Highmore a few minutes later. Entering the Cleveland zone, Hayden backhanded the puck behind him to Highmore at the top of the left circle. Highmore’s aim was true and The Hogs had a 3-2 advantage at the 11:16 mark.

The Monsters yanked Kivlenieks with just under three minutes to play for an extra skater. In clearing a puck from the Rockford zone, William Pelletier’s backhanded fling caromed off the boards for a long-distance empty-netter that made it 4-2 with 2:19 to play.

Alex Broadhurst potted a 6-on-5 goal 17 seconds later, but that was as close as Cleveland could get. The IceHogs posted the win, stretching their point streak to seven games. Tomkins got his first AHL victory, making 32 saves to do so. Highmore nabbed the game’s First Star honors, while Gaunce and Martinsen rounded out the top three.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Andrea Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-2)

Hayden-Martinsen-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Kero-Highmore-Johnson-Louis-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Hayden-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Knott-Raddysh-Clendening

 

Saturday, January 20-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 3

The end of the road trip saw the only regulation loss for Rockford. As has been the case throughout the season, the Hogs kept at Grand Rapids even when trailing by a pair late. Getting a point at Van Andel Arena just wasn’t in the cards on this night, though.

The IceHogs got an early power play when Anthony Louis was taken down by Turner Elson in the opening minute. John Hayden got a behind the net feed by Tyler Sikura and got the puck by Griffins goalie Jared Coreau at the 1:22 mark.

Grand Rapids quickly answered with a Eric Tangradi tally 14 seconds later. The action was back and forth, though neither club could break the tie in the opening 20 minutes.

The action remained even through most of the second period until Matt Peumpel struck for the Griffins while on the man advantage. His goal at 17:39 gave Grand Rapids a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.

Rockford tied the game 4:21 into the third on Tanner Kero’s redirect of an Adam Clendening shot. The elation was short-lived, however. Dominic Shine restored the Griffins advantage 21 seconds later to go up 3-2. A couple minutes later in 4-on-4 action, Robbie Russo found himself wide open in the slot. Taking his sweet time, Russo made it 4-2 Grand Rapids at the 7:26 mark.

The Hogs continued to battle and got within a goal in the last minute. This time, it was Tyler Sikura getting a stick on a Clendening blast to make it 4-3 with 38 seconds remaining. Time ran out on Rockford, however, snapping a seven-game point streak and ending the road trip on a losing note.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Andrea Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Tommy Olczyk

Adam Clendening-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Cody Franson-Viktor Svedberg

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Alex Wideman, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-2)

Hayden-Martinsen-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Kero-Highmore-Johnson-Louis-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Griffins were 0-4)

Highmore-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Johnson-Hayden-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Knott-Raddysh-Clendening

 

This Week

Rockford will host two of the California teams the Hogs visited two weeks hence. Bakersfield comes to the BMO on Tuesday night, while the annual Pink In The Rink game will be against Ontario Friday night.

The IceHogs dropped their game against the Condors in Gus Macker Time by a score of 3-2. Ty Rattie is a potent AHL scorer; he had a late equalizer in regulation in that contest and potted the game-winner as well. Rattie has 16 goals and 13 apples to pace Bakersfield this season.

Grayson Downing, who Rockford fans have seen plenty while he was with Iowa, had a three-point night in the Condor’s win. Bakersfield is at the bottom of the Pacific Division, though that didn’t prevent them from knocking off the IceHogs January 13.

Rockford bested Ontario 5-2 back on January 10, paced by William Pelletier’s hat trick. The Reign have won four of their last five games, including a weekend sweep of Stockton. Park Ridge native Michael Mersch is Ontario’s active leading scorer (14 G, 14 A), while NHL veteran Matt Moulson has six goals and 20 helpers in 20 games with the Reign.

Saturday night sees Rockford back at Van Andel Arena for another division game with Grand Rapids. The Griffins, winners of seven of their last ten games, have won the previous two contests between the teams.

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