Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s AHL affiliate, wrapped up the 2018-19 season last night against Milwaukee. The Hogs were beaten by the Admirals 3-2, concluding the IceHogs season with a 35-31-4-6 mark. The 80 points earned by Rockford placed them seventh in the Central Division, out of the playoff picture this season.

As often happens with April snowstorms, I opted for my basement over the BMO Harris Bank Center to watch the curtain fall on this year’s crop of prospects. What follows are my thoughts as the piglets finished this season Sunday evening.

 

Pregame

Looks like a less than full throttle bunch to close out the season. Hogs MIAs include Peter Holland, Matthew Highmore, Jordan Schroeder, Jacob Nilsson, Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson, Collin Delia and Anton Forsberg. Kevin Lankinen is starting in goal; Matt Tomkins is backing him up. Apparently, with no tomorrow for Rockford, the Hogs have decided to punt.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh; obviously, the brass want to see some of the newer faces take to the ice. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is gunning for the second seed in the Central Division. Back on March 22, the Ads were five points behind Rockford for the fourth playoff spot. Milwaukee has gone 9-0-1 since.

The IceHogs went 4-6 in their past ten games. Rockford beat the Admirals in overtime Tuesday in Milwaukee. They fell 3-0 in Iowa Saturday night; it was the seventh time this season that the piglets have been shut out this season. Right to the end, goals were too scarce for this bunch.

The Lankinen-Tomkins connection could be a preview of the goalie tandem next fall, though it’s very possible a veteran will be obtained to pair up with Lankinen, who was very good in limited opportunities for the IceHogs. He definitely needs 40 starts in Rockford instead of the 18 he got this season.

Highmore, who spent most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, left Tuesday’s game and hasn’t played since. Last year’s top goal-scorer suffered through a disappointing season. Hopefully he’s just being held out to keep him healthy and his summer can be spent getting ready for a more productive campaign.

 

Team Awards

Before the game got underway, the IceHogs handed out their team awards. I tweeted my selections (@JonFromi) earlier Sunday afternoon. Here’s how things shook out:

Defensive Player Of The Year-Lucas Carlsson, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: I had Carlsson, who led Rockford defensemen with 33 points (9 G, 24 A) this season.

Most Improved Player-Dennis Gilbert, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Gilbert, who really added to his physical game throughout the season at both ends of the ice.

Rookie Of The Year-Dylan Sikura

My Pick: Jacob Nilsson, who had a promising rookie season, with 15 goals and 18 helpers in 62 games. Sikura was an outstanding rookie for the IceHogs; my selection of Nilsson was largely because he spent the bulk of the season in Rockford, as opposed to Sikura, who played 49 games.

Unsung Hero(es)-Tyler Sikura, William Pelletier

My Pick: Andrew Campbell, who anchored this young team despite not putting up the points. His three-goal, five assist season was what I expected offensively from Campbell. I also expected a strong veteran presence, which Campbell more than delivered.

Heavy Hitter-Andreas Martinsen, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Gilbert, who put a lot of butts on the ice during the season. He also dropped the gloves seven times to pace the club.

Man Of The Year-Pelletier

My Pick: The team announced this a while back, so we all knew how this would go. I really hope Pelletier, who missed the first couple of months, is back with the IceHogs for a third season. His motor is a definite asset.

Team MVP-Jacob Nilsson, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Jordan Schroeder, who also isn’t playing tonight after being injured last weekend. All Schroeder did was set a career-high in points with 45 (19 G, 26 A) and score 19 goals for Rockford. With points in 37 of his 62 games, Schroeder’s longest point drought was three games.

He had points in 23 of those games, including the Hogs only hat trick against Iowa January 6. However, Schroeder was a steadier scoring threat for the offensively-challenged Hogs.

On a team that was woefully short on veteran scoring, Schroeder stepped up his game. He was consistently Rockford’s most productive offensive player all season. In my opinion, this was the team’s biggest miss in regards to the awards.

 

First Period

Tanner Jeanneau puts Milwaukee up 1-0 with a tip-in at 6:29. A couple minutes later, Milwaukee scores again on a power play goal by Cole Schneider. Just over eight minutes in and Rockford trails by a pair.

The Hogs get a goal back when Alexandre Fortin knocks in a centering pass by Dylan McLaughlin midway through the frame. Fortin has had difficulty converting on scoring opportunities this season (this was his sixth goal of 2018-19). The speed is there, but the kid needs to learn how to finish plays.

Pelletier gets hooked a moment later and Rockford’s 29th-ranked power play hits the ice. As happens more often than not, the IceHogs come up short. Could a more effective man advantage have helped Rockford this season? Definitely.

The IceHogs are out-shot 12-3 in the first 20 minutes and head to the intermission down a goal.

We already know that Rockford will not be participating in the postseason. That’s because (sorry) the Hogs were not a playoff-level team.

Rockford, as you would expect from a prospect-laden squad, ran very hot and cold this season. The Hogs lost six straight games on two occasions and had several three and four-game skids.

Rockford did put together a six-game winning streak in late January and early February and had the goal-tending to put together a solid campaign. However, there was never enough offense to capitalize on the great play between the pipes.

 

Second Period

Hogs broadcaster Joey Zakrzewski mentions that there are 19 skaters for Rockford who will be free agents this summer. I will forecast which of those we can expect to return to the organization in the next few weeks.

Tyler Sikura is one of those skaters who I would like to see back. He may not be quite the prospect that Sikura the Younger is, but Sikura the Elder can still make a difference for the Hogs next fall. His season wasn’t as productive and he lost a lot of time to injury. However, Sikura still had seven goals and a dozen assists in 50 games.

The Ads go up 3-1 during some four-on-four time on a goal at 6:33 by Adam Halewka, his 21st of the season. Rockford, like last season, hasn’t let a two-goal lead get them down. This team has battled hard under interim coach Derek King. What does that mean to King’s chances of getting the gig moving forward?

I don’t know.

Rockford is on its way to a seventh-place finish. This is about how last year’s team would have fared without the slew of veterans who took over in the spring. Management is going to have to believe that King can get some of these prospects ready for action at the next level. I would think that that decision will come in the next couple of days.

Fortin has a clear path to the net midway through the period; he loses the handle and another scoring chances fritters away. The shots are now 25-9 in favor of Milwaukee, who take the 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

 

Third Period

Rockford has a couple of big rallies this season, including a four-goal third period against San Antonio last week that pulled out a crucial victory at the BMO. They came back from 3-1 in Milwaukee Tuesday, so I am not counting the piglets out of this game yet.

As if on cue, Luke Johnson gets a rebound of a Nick Moutrey shot into the cage at 8:57 of the third. It’s Johnson’s 18th of the season (career high) as well as his 31st point (also a career high), despite only 53 games played for the IceHogs in 2018-19. Johnson is an RFA this summer that has shown steady progress in Rockford.

The Hogs refusal to capitulate has been a big selling point these last two seasons. There is a nice crowd at the BMO tonight. Not sure it’s going to be enough to prevent another drop in the yearly attendance, though.

Right now, Rockford’s average is 3828, down just a tad from 3915 last season. The hockey wave may have crested, but it’s too bad more people aren’t taking an interest in a young team that plays hard and gets up and down the ice with urgency.

Rockford is pressuring the Admirals as the sands begin to run out in the final stanza; they’ve out shot Milwaukee 7-2 in the first 15 minutes of the period. Johnson and Dylan Sikura each have six game-winners this season and have a lot of other clutch goals. Maybe they sneak one past Tom McCullom to knot this game.

Lankinen heads to the bench and the Hogs take their last hacks. Phillipp Kurashev, who I imagine will be in Rockford full-time this fall, has a good look from the bottom of the right circle that is snatched out of the air by the Ads goalie. Time out called by King.

The IceHogs win the faceoff but just can’t put that key third goal in the back of the Milwaukee net. The Admirals vault Iowa and Grand Rapids for the second seed. They’ll start with the Wild in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs; Chicago gets the slumping Griffins. The Hogs skate off the ice to clear out their lockers.

So ends the twentieth season of pro hockey in the Forest City and the twelfth as the Blackhawks AHL affiliate. Was this season a success?

My thoughts on that question (and probably many others) will come in future posts. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have been at home for most of the last three weeks. They made the most of the extended time in their own barn.

The Hogs had nine of their last ten games at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Their record at home during that stretch was 7-2. That includes a thrilling finish to the home stand this weekend.

Rockford had dropped two games in a row heading into the weekend and found themselves down 4-0 Saturday night against visiting Iowa. The piglets roared back into contention to force a shootout and bested the Wild, then finished the weekend with a win over San Antonio.

The IceHogs are now 25-21-3-5 on the season. The pendulum swings the other way for Rockford, who are on the road for seven of its next eight games. The current jaunt begins in Grand Rapids, where the Central Division leaders are 20-5-1-3 this season. The Griffins have won eight of the last tilts at Van Andel Arena; Rockford is 1-2 in Grand Rapids this season.

From there, the Hogs go East to take on Hershey on Saturday and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Sunday. Rockford has home victories in prior meetings with the Bears and Penguins.

 

Musings

  • Kevin Lankinen was in net for all three of Rockford’s games this week, including work on back-to-back nights. The rookie has proved himself this season, sporting a 2.47 GAA and a .911 save percentage despite a 7-6-3 record. If Lankinen needed to carry the load in net for Rockford, it appears that he would be up to the task.
  • On the other hand, why has Anton Forsberg been glued to the bench? There’s the possibility that Collin Delia could be back in Rockford sometime soon and would likely get a bigger share of the starts. Could Forsberg be sitting while a deal to send him out of town is made?
  • Luke Johnson has stepped up his play the last few weeks, with two-point efforts in both weekend games. Johnson’s shooting percentage is 17.5, the highest of the active IceHogs skaters. Right behind him is Jacob Nilsson, who hits nets at a 17.1 percent rate.
  • In contrast to Johnson and Nilsson, two guys who have difficulty converting on their opportunities are Alexandre Fortin and Graham Knott. Both create some decent scoring chances with speed (Fortin) and hustle (Knott). The problem is that those chances don’t cue many horns.
  • Saturday night, Fortin was sprung for a breakaway chance early in the contest. As happens with frequency, he was not able to put an effective shot on net. This has been a consistent problem with the speedy forward. Fortin has 29 games in Rockford and has nine points (4 G, 5 A) to show for it. In 33 games, Johnson has collected 22 points (11 G, 11 A).
  • In fairness to Fortin, his 8.2 shooting percentage is nearly double last year’s effort. He is a plus-seven this season, highest on the squad. You can still see plenty of potential in his game. Sooner or later, however, the kid’s got to knock the cover off of the net.
  • Knott, who like Fortin has another year on his entry deal, is going to better his rookie numbers. His passing has been more noticeable in the offensive end and two of his three goals are game-winners. Aside from the penalty kill, Knott has yet to really stand out in any area of the game. How much higher is the ceiling on Chicago’s second-round pick from 2015?
  • Henri Jokiharju is not long for Rockford; I would imagine he’ll be back in Chicago by the beginning of next month. In eight games with the Hogs, he has seven points (1 G, 6 A). He is also creating a slew of scoring opportunities from the point. Jokiharju is averaging nearly four shots a game and is making an impact since being assigned to Rockford.
  • Jordan Schroeder is emerging as the team MVP. The 28-year-old forward leads the IceHogs in goals (14), assists (19) and points (33). Schroeder’s five-game point streak came to a close on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Texas. However, he had a pair of goals in Saturday’s comeback win on the way to a four-point weekend.
  • Rockford’s power play had scored in five straight games before coming up empty Sunday against San Antonio. However, the Hogs (15.3 percent) are still 30th out of 31 teams on the man advantage. The penalty kill has slipped a bit, to 80.8 percent. That’s good for 17th in the AHL.
  • The Rockford offense is still the worst in the league, with an average of 2.46 goals per game. However, over this last ten-game stretch, the Hogs have scored 3.50 goals per game.
  • Simply put, if Rockford can get three goals, they have an excellent chance of winning. There’s still a lot of battle in these kids and the defense and goalie play are going to keep them in games.

 

Roster News

There hasn’t really been any roster activity this week. Brandon Davidson returned from injury Sunday. He scored the game-winner against the Rampage after being out for nine games. Blake Hillman also rejoined the lineup Saturday after missing five games.

Nathan Noel’s last game was back on January 12. Tyler Sikura’s thumb has kept him out of the lineup since January 6. Terry Broadhust was a late scratch on Sunday; no word as to his status for this week.

Matthew Highmore, who had shoulder surgery back in November, is practicing with the team. A return from the second-year forward could provide a big boost to the Hogs playoff hopes.

 

Recaps

Tuesday, February 12-Texas 3, Rockford 2

The Hogs dropped their second straight game as the Stars inched closer to Rockford in the Central Division standings.

Texas drew first cord late in the opening period. The goal came from Park Ridge native Michael Mersch, who sent a deflection past Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen at the 17:10 mark.

The IceHogs narrowly avoided a shorthanded goal against them early in the second period, then came down the ice to tie the contest. Luke Johnson brought the puck out of the Hogs zone after Lankinen stopped a Justin Dowling attempt. Making his way to the opposite coast, Johnson maneuvered between the circles and passed to Henri Jokiharu.

Jokiharu’s shot rebounded off the pads of Texas goalie Phillipe Derosiers, where Johnson had first dibs. The putback was denied, but Jacob Nilsson finished off the scoring play by knocking the puck across the border and into the city. The game was tied at one 2:37 into the second.

The Stars responded with a pair of power play goals of their own to build a 3-1 advantage. Travis Morin added to his hefty scoring totals against Rockford at 6:51 of the second, while rookie Joel L’Esperance put in his league-leading 27th goal of the season 3:31 into the third period.

The IceHogs rallied for a Viktor Ejdsell strike with Lankinen on the bench at the 16:51 mark, but Rockford ran out of clock before they could finish the comeback.

 

Saturday, February 16-Rockford 5, Iowa 4 (SO)

In what just may have been the game to see at the BMO this season, Rockford erased a four-goal deficit in the last 21:32 of action. The Hogs triumphed over the Wild to break a two-game skid in exciting fashion.

The Wild skated into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Brennan Menell’s deflection of Cal O’Reilly’s shot 18:36 into the first period. Goals by J.T. Brown and Sam Anas in the first two minutes of the middle frame had the IceHogs reeling and down three. A Gerald Mayhew tally 16:34 into the second had Iowa leading 4-0 and the outcome seemed academic.

The rally started on a late power play chance, after William Pelletier was cross-checked by Iowa’s Michael Kapla. Luke Johnson won the subsequent draw, with Jacob Nilsson sliding the disc to Jordan Schroeder in the high slot. The offering beat Wild rookie Kaapo Kahkonen’s glove and caught the upper right corner of the net at 18:28 of the second period.

Down 4-1 to start the third period, the piglets came out with some urgency for the first time all evening. Johnson got to the left post to redirect a Henri Jokiharu blast into the Iowa cage 4:38 into the third period. The secondary assist was given to Andrew Campbell, who made a nice play to keep a Wild clearing attempt in the offensive zone.

Midway through the third, Nilsson dropped the puck off to Jokiharju, who skated to the right corner of the Iowa zone and center to Schroeder for his second goal of the night. With 9:10 left in regulation, the Hogs had cut the lead to 4-3.

The much-anticipated equalizer came after Rockford had come up short on a power play. After the Wild’s Mason Shaw came out of the box. Viktor Ejdsell withstood a hard check along the half boards to keep possession. Andreas Martinsen got clear with the puck and sent a pass across the ice to Joni Tuulola at the left dot. Tuulola’s shot cleared the blocker of Kahkonen and rattled into the net at the 15:59 mark.

Neither team could breach the opposing goal in the remainder of regulation or overtime. This comeback would have to be completed via the shootout. Jokiharu and Schroeder were stopped by Kahkonen. Sam Anas and Dimitri Sokolov were denied by Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen.

Ejdsell’s third-round attempt would be the pivotal moment. The shot met Kahkonen’s pads but still retained the giddy-up to slide across the goal line. Mayhew’s attempt was snuffed out by Lankinen and the BMO erupted in celebration.

 

Sunday, February 17-Rockford 5, San Antonio 2

The IceHogs won their second straight game, closing out a six-game home stand with a 4-2 mark.

Rockford got the first goal of the game late in the opening period. Nifty backhand passing by William Pelletier and Andreas Martinsen set up Luke Johnson coming across the Rampage crease. Johnson was able to wait out San Antonio goalie Jared Coreau and slide in his eleventh goal of the season at the 16:33 mark.

The Hogs doubled the lead early in the second period when Dennis Gilbert got off a long pass to Jordan Schroeder coming into the Rampage zone. Schroeder skated to the right circle and let fly with a lamp-lighter for a 2-0 advantage at the 1:02 mark.

San Antonio got a goal back at 3:54 of the period when Adam Musil sent a shot past Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen. A couple of minutes later, Mitch Reinke sent a shot off of Lankinen. Joey LaLeggia got a hold of the rebound and banked in the equalizer off of the Hogs rookie.

The score remained knotted at two through the second intermission, until the IceHogs got a goal from returning defenseman Brandon Davidson. Davidson crashed the Rampage net to follow up on a Nilsson attempt. Collecting the rebound, Davidson stuffed the puck past Coreau at 4:51 of the third period to put Rockford up 3-2.

San Antonio went with an empty net for most of the final minutes, allowing William Pelletier and Nick Moutrey the chance to send the BMO faithful home with free Culvers and wrap up a weekend sweep.

If the feeling moves you, follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news, updates and thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs had a six-game win streak snapped Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The recent success of the ‘Bago County Flying Piglets has brought at least a smidge of hope to an appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Hogs boosted their season mark to 23-20-3-5 with a 7-3 record over the last ten games. Rockford is in a tie for fourth in points with Milwaukee (54) in the Central Division. However…

…if the season ended today (which it won’t), neither the Hogs or the Ads would qualify for the postseason. Texas is in that fourth position due to its .531 points percentage, the stat that decides the highest-ranking teams in each division.

In case you are unaware, several Pacific Division teams play 68, not 76 games over the course of the season. This necessitates the use of the points percentage statistic. Since it ranks the teams regardless of how many games in hand one team may have on another, I choose to set the standings in this fashion.

I guess points will eventually matter in the Central Division after the final day of the regular season. Until that day arrives, I will report the standings (as I have for some time now) according to points percentage. So Rockford is tied for fifth, not fourth place. I am killjoy, hear me roar.

Actually, there is a lot to be excited about here on our stretch of I-90. The IceHogs still have home-cookin’ ahead of them through this upcoming weekend. They have three division opponents coming in, with the opportunity to keep pushing up North in the standings. There’s the potential of a trade deadline pact that could provide some help in Rockford.

Plus, some of the boys currently residing in town are beginning to step up.

 

Pacing A Winning Streak

The Rockford win streak was anchored by solid defense and some outstanding play in net. However, pucks need to get into the net for a six-pack of wins.

As needs to be the case with the current roster, the push is communal. Here are some players who have  come to the forefront the last few weeks:

Luke Johnson

Johnson (9 G, 8 A), leads Rockford with five game-winning goals this season. He picked up the deciding tally in both IceHogs wins this week. Over the last seven games, Johnson has four goals and a pair of helpers, including two power play strikes. All four of those goals came in Rockford victories.

 

Dylan Sikura

The Hogs leader in goals and points this season (13 G, 17 A) was very noticeable during the winning streak. Sikura The Younger put up eight points (2 G, 6 A) in his last eight games and is currently on a four-game points streak. (UPDATE-The Blackhawks recalled Sikura Monday morning.)

 

Jordan Schroeder

In 42 games, the veteran has 11 goals and 18 assists on the season. Schroeder is on pace to set a career-high in points, his previous high being 44, set with the Wolves in 2011-12. Schroeder ran his current point streak to five games and has seven points (2 G, 5 A) in his last eight contests.

 

Lucas Carlsson

With several injuries on the blue line, the rookie has continued to contribute at both ends of the ice. With eight goals and 17 helpers in 47 games this season, he is a lone assist from tying Darren Raddysh as the team’s top-scoring defenseman. In his last seven games, Carlsson has a goal and four assists.

 

Dennis Gilbert

I’m throwing Gilbert into this bunch mostly because of his outstanding evening on Saturday night. Even before the big rookie notched what was a game-tying goal at the time, I was impressed with how aggressive his was in the offensive zone.

Gilbert sent a personal-best five shots on the Tucson net Saturday, just missing on a couple of attempts and following up on several rebounds. He has 45 shot on the year in 39 games. In his last 15 games, however, he has put pucks on goal 24 times.

A very nice pass by Gilbert set up Johnson’s eventual game-winner Friday to go with his strong showing the following night. Gilbert may be benefiting from increased responsibility in lieu of several Hogs defenders out of commission at the moment.

The former Notre Dame skater has consistently brought a hard-nosed style to the ice this season. Gilbert is not a puck-moving type by any means. However, if he can display just a bit more of the aggressive game he showed Saturday on a regular basis, he could be an exciting player to watch.

 

Roster Moves

Last Monday, forward Matheson Iacopelli was assigned to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Iacopelli, a third-round draft pick in 2014 for the Blackhawks, had a goal for the Fuel Saturday night in a 5-4 loss to the Quad City Thunder.

At times, Iacopelli has displayed a high-quality shot from the left side. This season, he has again failed to get solid footing in the IceHogs lineup. With his rookie contract set to expire this summer, it’s hard to see the young man back in the organization.

Several IceHogs defensemen are still nursing injuries. Blake Hillman, who took a nasty turn into the end boards February 1, was proclaimed to be okay the next day by the coaching staff. Hillman, however, has not played since. He skated in warmups Saturday night but was still a scratch. Also scratched Saturday was D Joni Tuulola, who did return from injury the previous night. Brandon Davidson has not played since January 21, missing the last seven games.

Luc Snuggerud, who has missed three months with a concussion, may be at a crossroads in his hockey career. It was reported by theathletic.com’s Scott Powers yesterday that the Blackhawks have placed Snuggerud on unconditional waivers.

Snuggerud, a fifth-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, also missed a sizable chunk of his rookie season with a concussion. After putting up 5 goals and 12 assists in 40 games last season, Snuggerud had appeared in just four games this season before suffering his current injury November 6.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, February 6-Rockford 2, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 1

Rockford won its fifth-straight game with a pair of first-period goals, riding a fine night of goal tending by Anton Forsberg to the victory.

Local product Josh McArdle got the Hogs on the board with his first AHL goal just 1:42 into the contest. The play developed after Viktor Ejdsell sent a shot on goal from the high slot. The rebound was fought for in front of the net by Jordan Schroeder and Nick Moutrey, who sent the puck back out to the slot. McArdle pounced on the opportunity, knocking the biscuit past Penguins goalie Anthony Peters for a 1-0 IceHogs lead.

Just over a minute later, Jarrett Burton beat Darren Raddysh to a Ryan Haggerty pass, leading to a breakaway goal that tied the game. The IceHogs got the game-winner 12:49 into the first, however, converting on a 5-on-3 power play.

Lucas Carlsson had won a battle for the puck behind the boards after a Raddysh attempt was wide of the net. Dylan Sikura gained possession in the corner, skated it back up top and sent a pass to Luke Johnson at the bottom of the left circle. Johnson didn’t get all of the one-timer, but the shot found its way past Peters for a 2-1 Hogs advantage at the 12:49 mark.

That lead held up for the remainder of the game, largely because of Forsberg. Rockford was out shot 39-13 in the final 40 minutes, but the IceHogs goalie was up to the challenge. Fittingly, Forsberg was named the game’s First Star for his 45-save performance.

 

Friday, February 8-Rockford 3, Tucson 1

Late in the first period, Rockford opened the scoring on a transition goal set up by a long cross-ice pass by Jordan Schroeder. The pass found the stick of Jacob Nilsson, who skated the the left dot before hitting Anthony Louis at the opposite dot for the one-timer. The goal came at the 17:38 mark.

The Hogs lead doubled 6:27 into the second period after Dennis Gilbert gathered in a loose puck in the Rockford zone. The rookie defenseman slid a stretch pass to Luke Johnson as he entered Tucson ice. Johnson skated to just outside of the right dot before letting fly with a shot that bested the glove of Roadrunners goalie Adin Hill.

Tucson’s Lane Pedersen knocked home a rebound past Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen later in the period to cut the lead to a single goal. However, the rookie net-minder would not allow another puck past him on this night, stopping 23 shots to secure the victory.

Meanwhile, the IceHogs picked up a late insurance goal when Nilsson caught cord on the power play, drifting across the slot and flinging the puck past Hill at 15:09.

Saturday, February 9-Tucson 5, Rockford 3

The Hogs put together a rally in the third period from two goals down, tying the game before ultimately losing to end a six-game winning streak.

Rockford took a 1-0 lead 8:19 into the game with a power play goal from the top of the left circle by Lucas Carlsson. With time running out on the man advantage, Carlsson sent a Darren Raddysh feed past Tucson goalie Adin Hill.

The Roadrunners quickly responded, tying the game 25 seconds later on Brayden Burke’s ninth goal of the season. New pickup Jeremy Gregoire made it a 2-1 game at the 11:22 mark. Five minutes into the second period, Robbie Russo got a shot past Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg on a power play. Rockford faced a 3-1 deficit heading into the final frame.

The IceHogs comeback hinged on a roughing penalty by Tucson captain Dakota Mermis, who was called for his mugging of Hogs forward Jacob Nilsson. Rockford took advantage, with Jordan Schroeder catching the top corner of Hill’s net 10:28 into the third period.

Less than a minute later, the Hogs came up with the equalizer. Alexandre Fortin drove into the Roadrunners zone and sent a shot off of Hill’s pads. Dennis Gilbert, who had four previous shot attempts turned away, punched in the long rebound from the left circle and drew Rockford even at 11:08 of the period.

Unfortunately, a penalty on the Hogs side proved to be the turning point of the contest. Andreas Martinsen somehow avoided a boarding call on Mermis before shoving him to the ice. Martinsen was sent to the box for interference at 15:55; near the end of the subsequent power play, Russo banged in his second goal of the evening to give Tucson a 4-3 lead. An empty netter 30 seconds later sealed the fate of the IceHogs.

 

This Week

The Hogs are back at it Tuesday night in Rockford, when they host the Texas Stars. Iowa visits the BMO on Saturday night, followed by a game with San Antonio that will close out this lengthy home stand.

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

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

Like many of you, weather and work kept me away from the BMO this weekend. I pledged to pack in an hour of Hogs-related musings. The clock starts…now.

First off, the kids down in Rockford put together a gritty weekend at home and came out with a pair of victories. Friday night, the IceHogs tied the game with a Jordan Schroeder goal with three seconds in regulation, completing a comeback from two goals down in the final two minutes with a 4-3 shootout win over Manitoba.

On Saturday, Rockford hosted Iowa. The Hogs got enough rubber past Kaapo Kahkonen knock off the Wild 3-1. The game-winner came off the stick of Terry Broadhurst early in the third period. First star of that game was Anton Forsberg, who stopped 33 of 34 Iowa shots.

So…for the sixth time this season, the IceHogs have a two-game win streak. Plus, Rockford joined the rest of the AHL on the 100-goal plateau this season, though those 105 goals are still last in the league.

Just once in the 2018-19 campaign has Rockford stretched a streak to three games. Conversely, the piglets have compiled losing streaks of six (twice) and four games. Rockford (19-19-3-5) shares the Central Division basement with the Moose. Both teams sport a .500 points percentage.

Can the IceHogs parlay a pair of home wins into some sort of climb up the division ladder? I just don’t know. As was the case at this point last year, the piglets were not a playoff-level squad. A lot of things had to change on the personnel side in February of 2018 to transform the roster into the juggernaut that reached the conference final.

As of this morning, this is not a roster that’s going to be competing for a postseason berth. Prove me wrong, boys.

Are there additions from the Hawks roster that could make a difference in the next couple of months? Not unless you think Gustav Forsling can come down and have the impact Cody Franson had in Rockford the last three months of last season. Which I don’t.

Even with some tinkering from above, the hole may be just a bit too deep for the Hogs to vacate. Like last year, the prospect talent alone isn’t close to being able to go on an extended tear through the league. Now, Rockford is two games into a stretch of nine home dates in a span of ten games. If this team has anything resembling a hot patch in it, now would be a great time to display that fire.

Broken record, but the goalies have really been good. Kevin Lankinen and Anton Forsberg have been splitting the work in net and the Swedish Connection continue to stand out despite some less than optimal goal support.

A quick look at this weekend’s AHL All-Star Classic puts things into perspective. With goalie Collin Delia in Chicago, the only representative is Western Conference captain Andrew Campbell.  The veteran defenseman was not selected for his play on the ice.

Anthony Louis is the team’s leading scorer with 27 points (10 G, 17 A). He’s on his way to a similar showing to last season’s 44-point effort. Dylan Sikura leads the team with 12 goals to go with a dozen assists. Jacob Nilsson picked up his 11th goal this weekend, while Louis and Jordan Schroeder each have ten.

Rookie defenseman Lucas Carlsson has been a bright spot, with seven goals and 15 helpers. Darren Raddysh has identical numbers, though he had just a single point in his last 12 games.

Alexandre Fortin assisted on Broadhurst’s game-winner Saturday. The trouble is that was his first point in a month. As was the case last year, Fortin hasn’t made an impact on the scoreboard, with just six points (2 G, 4 A) in 21 games.

Well…the sands are running out on me this week. Rockford hosts the Wolves this Friday, then visit Milwaukee Saturday. With two wins to close out the month, perhaps February is more hospitable to the IceHogs.

Follow me @JonFromi for tidbits on the Hogs throughout the season.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs have 34 games behind them this season. They currently sit in sixth place in the AHL’s Central Division with a 15-12-3-4 mark, good for a .544 points percentage. Truth be told, this year’s Hogs are faring about as well as they did a season ago.

Yes, before the roster was bolstered with veteran talent in the last three months, it was a young, inexperienced group that was in a similar position at this time of the 2017-18 campaign. Through 34 games, that club was 18-14-1-1 for a .558. That’s about the difference of a standings point for those of you who don’t want to do the math.

The glaring difference in this year’s and last year’s club is the offensive numbers. The IceHogs of a season ago scored at nearly a goal per game better than this year’s crop of piglets. In 2017-18, Rockford had 105 goals scored and 101 goals allowed at this point of the season. This year, the Hogs have drawn cord 78 times while surrendering 98 goals.

Even with the Wolves putting together a 10-0-1 streak this month, the Central Division is pretty closely contested. No one has run away with the division yet. Last season, several teams put together hot stretches of hockey that had them moving up and down the division ladder. It stands to reason that the playoff spots are all up for the taking come spring.

For that to happen, Rockford is going to have to be better in the opposing zone. The IceHogs do not have a player in the top 20 scorers of the league. That’s a huge understatement, actually. Defenseman Darren Raddysh, Rockford’s top point man with 21, is currently tied for 85th in the AHL in that category.

Last season, the IceHogs were shut out just once. So far, Rockford has been already been blanked on four occasions. The lack of scoring punch is being felt all over the lineup

The Hogs potted three goals in three games this week, squeezing a point on Saturday because of a strong performance from goalie Kevin Lankinen. At 2.29 goals per game, they occupy the league basement. Like Saturday’s overtime loss, what’s keeping Rockford in contention this season is the play in the crease.

There is rarely elite scoring on the Hogs roster from year to year. Most seasons, they’ve put up points by committee. This season, Rockford again lacks top-end scoring power…and the committee has been out to lunch.

Matthew Highmore, last year’s high goal scorer, has missed all but seven games with a shoulder injury. Tyler Sikura, who put up 23 goals a season ago, has just six so far. Vikor Ejdsell is currently out with a groin injury and has just four goals in 27 games.

Jordan Schroeder has 18 points (7 G, 11 A) on the season and is putting up numbers that measure up to his past output in the AHL. However, he is a complimentary scorer. Veteran Terry Broadhurst (2 G, 4 A) hasn’t been productive from a scoring standpoint, but, like Schroeder, he isn’t a guy who should be pacing your club.

There are bright spots. Raddysh has stepped up his game in his sophomore campaign, with seven goals and 14 helpers. Rookie Lucas Carlsson (6 G, 10 A) has also come on in the last few weeks in response to increased responsibility on the blue line.

Jacob Nilsson (7 G, 8 A), who was up for one game with the Blackhawks, has five goals this month. Nilsson isn’t going to lead this team to offensive respectability single-handed. Several players need to bring more to the table. Here are but a few:

Graham Knott (2 G, 6 A in 32 games)-If this kid could find the net on the opportunities he’s had, it certainly would help. Knott has had some top-six time at center and has put himself in places to score at times. He just hasn’t shown any knack for getting a puck past a goalie in his season-plus in Rockford.

Alexandre Fortin (2 G, 3 A in 10 games)-Fortin seems to be a bit more under control after a spell in Chicago. He’s now getting top-line minutes and power play time with the Hogs. Now would be a good time for him to go on a points explosion.

William Pelletier (0 G, 2 A in five games)-Recently returned from offseason surgery, Pelletier is a player who can be used throughout the lineup. He’s capable of chipping in on the offensive end; hopefully he’ll start making a dent as he gets more games under his belt.

You can also toss Sikura and Broadhurst onto that heap. Unless the organization swings a trade that brings a blue-chip AHL goal scorer to town (not counting on it), Rockford is going to have to pick it up throughout the lineup.

 

Roster Bits

On Friday, Jacob Nilsson was sent back to Rockford by the Blackhawks. He played in both weekend games against Chicago. Defenseman Dennis Gilbert suffered a lower body injury in Wednesday’s loss in Iowa. He did not suit up for either game this weekend.

Following Sunday’s trade with Edmonton, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a player assigned to Rockford from the current Hawks roster. If Garrison, who had 28 points (8 G, 20 A) in 58 games with the Wolves last season, gets through waivers, his shot would be a welcome pickup for the IceHogs.

 

Recaps

No lines this week.

Wednesday, December 26-Iowa 4, Rockford 0

This Boxing Day effort was nothing to write home about. The Hogs went to DesMoines and got shut out by Kaapo Kahkanen. The rookie goalie stopped 39 Rockford shots to continue his impressive season.

The IceHogs out shot Iowa 15-3 in the opening period, though neither team scored. The Wild took a 1-0 lead 3:11 into the second period on a Matt Bartkowski snipe. A defensive zone turnover led to a Gerry Fitzgerald goal at the 14:41 mark put the Hogs down a pair.

A Will Bitten tip-in made it 3-0 1:25 into the final frame and pretty much sealed the fate of Rockford. Hogs coach Derek King yanked starting goalie Kevin Lankinen for an extra skater with 3:17 remaining to try and foil the shutout bid, but Matt Read intercepted a pass and threw in an empty netter to close out the scoring.

Rockford denied three Wild power plays but failed to convert on four of its own man advantage opportunities.

 

Friday, December 28-Chicago 4, Rockford 2

Rockford dropped its second straight game despite leading twice in this game. Curtis McKenzie’s two goal effort provided the winning margin at the BMO Friday night.

After skating to the tune of no goals for most of the opening period, the teams traded goals in the latter part of the frame.

Jordan Schroeder got Rockford up 1-0 at the 15:26 mark. Schroeder got to a rebound off a Darren Raddysh shot at the right post, knocking his attempt through Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk and just across the goal line. Moments later, Chicago responded with a Curtis McKenzie goal. The teams went to the first intermission all even.

Lucas Carlsson was set up by Graham Knott early in the second period to give the Hogs a 2-1 lead. At the seven minute mark, the Wolves Keegan Kolesar potted the equalizer. After a delay of game penalty on Rockford, McKenzie drew cord on the power play for his second goal of the contest. His back hand attempt slipped under the stick arm of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg at 11:24 to give Chicago a 3-2 advantage.

Late in the second period, the Wovles man advantage struck again. Dylan Coughlin sent a hard slap shot from the slot that skidded past Forsberg for a 4-2 Chicago lead with 14 seconds to play in the period.

The IceHogs made a push to get back into the contest but found the post uncooperative on numerous occasions in the third period. The Wolves couldn’t score, but didn’t need to.

Chicago won the special teams battle, converting twice in six chances. The IceHogs came up empty on four power play attempts.

 

Saturday, December 29-Chicago 2, Rockford 1 (OT)

The Hogs salvaged a point in Rosemont solely on the strength of Kevin Lankinen’s performance on the evening. The rookie goalie stopped 43 shots and weathered a first-period assault by the Wolves to keep his team in the game.

Chicago came out smoking; Lankinen fended off 25 of the 26 shots the Wolves sent at him in the opening frame. Brooks Macek capped an extended scrum in front of the crease by knocking in his 17th of the season at the 14:18 mark, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead that they would hold through the bulk of regulation.

Rockford managed to play a more competitive game after the first intermission. However, they wouldn’t come up with the equalizer until the waning minutes. Stefan Matteau provided the opportunity after throwing an elbow at the IceHogs Blake Hillman.

Nathan Noel and Curtis McKenzie were already in the bin of sin for an earlier altercation. As they exited the box, Jordan Schroeder faked the shotand hit Jacob Nilsson at the goal line with a pass. Nilsson got Wolves goalie Max Lagace to bite on a fake, scooted around the cage and beat Max Lagace to the right post. Nilsson’s wrap-around made it 1-1 with 3:25 remaining.

An IceHogs infraction would set up the Chicago game-winner. Rockford was called for too many men on the ice three minutes into Gus Macker Time. The Hogs got caught in a partial change and Macek set up McKenzie in front of the net. Lankinen stopped the point-blank chance, but Dylan Coughlin followed up on the rebound, backhanding the puck though Lankinen’s pads and across the goal line at 3:55 of overtime.

Both teams scored once on the power play; Rockford was one of four, while the Wolves were one for six.

 

This Week

The IceHogs will be in Grand Rapids Monday night to close out the 2018 portion of the schedule. Starting Wednesday, the Hogs will don their white sweaters at the BMO. First home date of the new year is with Milwaukee. Friday, Rockford travels to Iowa before hosting the Wild on Sunday afternoon.

 

Everything Else

Entering Friday’s game in Grand Rapids, the Rockford IceHogs are staring at three consecutive games this weekend. The piglets, who have already been struggling, will be missing their leading scorer, along with their most capable defender.

Dylan Sikura (9 G, 9 A) and Carl Dahlstrom were recalled this week to the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving several players behind that will need to pick up the slack. One of those players could be Alexandre Fortin, who was assigned to Rockford after spending the first couple of months with Chicago.

Provided no other team makes a claim, defenseman Jan Rutta may also be with the IceHogs in time to take part in this weekend’s action. How much impact Fortin and Rutta could have in Rockford remains to be seen. However, there are several players currently on the Hogs roster who would do well to step up. Time to name names…

 

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Tyler Sikura (5 G, 5 A)

Over his last ten games, Sikura the Elder has just one goal and one assist. He has been as active around the net as any of the Hogs have been in that time, but it hasn’t shown up on the scoreboard.

Anthony Louis (8 G, 5 A)

Last year’s points leader is scoreless in four December contests heading into Friday. His last goal came on November 23 in a loss to the Wolves.

Jordan Schroeder (4 G, 7 A)

Since returning from an injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks back in November, Schroeder has just one goal in ten contests. His other three goals this season have come off the power play, which has been a little quiet the last month.

Viktor Ejdsell (4 G, 7 A)

Ejdsell has a goal and five helpers in 16 games in November and December. He’s also carrying a minus-three skater rating in that span.

Darren Raddysh (5 G, 10 A)

In his last 11 games, Raddysh has a goal and two asssists.

Terry Broadhurst (2 G, 4 A)

Like Louis, Broadhurst is pointless in December. In his defense, he’s recently returned from injury. However, the Hogs thirst for veteran scoring and Broadhurst is one of the players who can help in this area.

Rockford’s best players are not producing on the scoreboard. That has to change soon. If each of the above players could get on the score sheet this weekend, I like the IceHogs chances for a couple of wins.

 

Who Could Provide Some Jump To The Lineup?

Well, Fortin brings speed. He had trouble hitting twine last season; perhaps he’ll come down from the NHL and contribute on the offensive end. It appears that William Pelletier could be ready to get his season started soon. He might be able to provide a spark.

You know what? If Graham Knott could convert on his scoring chances, you could see a scoring outburst out of him. He’s put himself in some high-percentage opportunities but just lacked the power to finish. Maybe it takes that one shot that gets past a goalie to open some sort of flood gate.

 

Statistics Of Note

With strong goal-tending this season, it should come as no surprise that the IceHogs are quite adept at killing penalties. Their kill rate of 87 percent is third in the AHL in this catagory. The power play is converting at just 14.5 percent, though.

The Hogs are still dead last in the league in goals and by a fair sight. They are scoring at a 2.27 goals per game clip. Rockford only gives up 2.88 goals per game, good for third in the AHL. As mentioned earlier, if the team’s top offensive players could start representing, the play in net could sustain a hot stretch.

As it is, Rockford (11-10-1-4) just hasn’t been able to string together victories. The IceHogs have not won more than two in a row all season long.

 

Three In Three

The weekend is book ended with meetings with the Griffins, with whom Rockford has split two previous meetings this season. The Hogs visit Van Andel Arena Friday and host Grand Rapids at the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon.

Rockford has not fared well in Grand Rapids in recent seasons. In the past five years, the piglets are 5-11-3-0 at Van Andel Arena. The Giffins are third in the Central Division and are coming off of a 5-2 loss in Milwaukee Tuesday night.

On Saturday night, the IceHogs host Texas, who have won four straight and are fourth in the division standings. This is the third meeting between the two teams, having split the first two.

The Stars are scoring four goals a game and have the AHL’s second-best power play unit (28.4%). Leading the way for Texas is Eric Condra (13 G, 17 A), Denis Gurianov (9 G, 19 A), Justin Dowling (7 G, 17 A) and rookie Joel L’Esperance (12 G, 11 A).

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

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are sitting in San Antonio with plenty to think about. Chicago’s AHL affiliate has its second game in four days against the Rampage coming up Tuesday night. Rockford will be attempting to snap a three-game skid, its longest of the young season.

It wasn’t a particularly memorable weekend for the piglets. After dropping a 3-1 decision to Grand Rapids Wednesday morning, Rockford flew down to Texas and were dominated in a 5-1 loss to the Stars. The following evening, the offensively-challenged Rampage beat the Hogs 2-1.

With the recent setbacks, Rockford is now 8-7-1-2 on the season. That .528 points percentage is good for sixth place in the Central Division.

In three games, the IceHogs scored three goals. They were 1-14 on the power play. The weekend did not produce a lot of offense in the way of shots, either. Rockford recorded just 16 shots on goal against Texas, then followed that up with a 15-shot performance in San Antonio.

To be fair, the IceHogs were missing some players. However, Rockford got solid goal-tending that had them even with its Lone Star opponents through 40 minutes on both Friday and Saturday. Texas out shot the Hogs 14-2 in the third period to pull away; Rockford mustered six third-period shots against the Rampage.

Jordan Schroeder got back into the lineup after missing nine games, finding the twine in his return Friday night. Tyler Sikura missed his third and fourth games with an illness. Anton Forsberg stayed home to recover from a similar illness.

 

Highmore Grounded

The organization got some bad news this week. Matthew Highmore, who injured his shoulder October 28 in a fall at the BMO Harris Bank Center against Manitoba, will be out for the next four to six months following surgery last Wednesday.

Highmore had seven points (3 G, 4 A) in eight games before leaving that game in the second period. He is one of the Hogs young prospects who can make things happen around the net, so his game is going to be missed.

 

King Quotes

Derek King is hoping to get the ship righted starting Tuesday in San Antonio. Here are some of his observations during the losing streak.

On the Hogs problems getting started in Wednesday morning’s 3-1 loss in Grand Rapids:

“We were walking through the game there for a while. We were standing still, they were setting the pace.”

On Jacob Nilsson, who scored the only goal in the loss to the Griffins:

“(Nilsson)’s a pretty solid player. He’s not going to toe-drag and be super flashy out there, but he’ll get the points when he gets the chance to. He kills penalties, he’s a good guy on the power play, he’s a good faceoff guy. He’s an all-around complete player and I’m going to look to him to lead this team, here.”

On Texas dominating play throughout a 5-1 loss Friday night:

“We were standing still watching them. It was kind of like watching Gretzky or Lemieux out there. When you watch them play you just kind of stand still in awe and watch them play. We gave them (Texas) a lot of respect. We should have been clogging them up like we wanted to and we were just standing there watching.”

On trying to break the current losing streak in Tuesday’s rematch with San Antonio:

“Like I say to the guys, I’ll put up reminders and these are the instructions for tonight. So, you’ve got to read the instructions. If you’re trying to build a drawer from IKEA and you’re not reading the instructions, good luck getting that put together. We put a game plan together; let’s follow it. Sometimes we stray from it and that’s (Saturday’s 2-1 loss) what happens.”

 

Recaps

Friday, November 16-Texas 5, Rockford 1

The Stars, who pressured Collin Delia all evening, broke open a tie game in the third period with four goals. The Hogs goalie kept out 26 of 27 shots in the first 40 minutes before the dam broke.

Texas opened the scoring 6:25 into the contest while the teams were skating four to a side. Denis Gurianov swiped the puck from Rockford defenseman Darren Raddysh just inside the Stars blue line. Gurianov led an odd man rush the other way, setting up Roope Hintz for the score.

Despite being out shot 27-14 in the first 40 minutes, the IceHogs pulled even late in the second period. Viktor Ejdsell had thrown a shot attempt wide of the Texas net. Dylan Sikura chased it down behind the cage, passing to Jordan Schroeder as Sikura came around the end boards. Schroeder, making his return to action after missing nine games, tied the game from the right post at 18:44 of the middle frame.

If the Stars had dominated the game everywhere but on the scoreboard in the first two periods, they remedied that expeditiously in the final twenty minutes. While Texas captain Travis Morin screened Joni Tuulola, Tyler Fedun drew twine on a long-distance wrist shot fifteen seconds into the third period for a 2-1 advantage.

Rockford mustered just two shots to the Stars 14 in the third period. Texas got a goal from Morin at the midway point of the frame, then another from Samuel Lebarge 37 seconds later. Colton Hargrove’s exclamation point on the rout came 15:25 into the period.

For the game, the IceHogs were out shot 41-16. The relentless offensive pressure was too much for Delia in the final period but he still made 36 saves in the contest.

 

Saturday, November 17-San Antonio 2, Rockford 1 

The IceHogs were out of sorts against the AHL’s worst team, dropping their third straight game despite a solid effort by Kevin Lankinen in goal. The rookie, returning from a spell with the Indy Fuel, stopped 19 of 21 shots but didn’t get the support he needed at the other end of the ice.

Rockford experienced a bevy of issues in getting pucks to Rampage goalie Jordan Binnington. Two early power plays yielded nothing in the way of shots, and the two teams spent most of the opening period throwing the puck to each other or chasing it around the ice.

San Antonio took a 1-0 lead at the 14:35 mark of the second period after Graham Knott was called for holding. Austin Poganski knocked a loose puck under the pads of Lankinen to put the Rampage on top.

The Hogs came up with an answer a few minutes later, also while on the man advantage. Carl Dahlstom fielded a pass from Anthony Louis and sent a shot from the point that snaked past Binnington. Justin Auger provided cover from the front of the crease and Rockford tied the game at 18:05.

The Rampage took advantage of a neutral ice turnover midway through the third period to regain the lead. Adam Musil beat Lankinen from the slot at 9:07, assisted by Tanner Kaspick and Joey LaLeggia.

Musil’s goal held up; the IceHogs could muster only 15 goals on the evening. Lankinen was brought to the bench for a sixth skater, but Rockford was unable to utilize the additional manpower and the clock ran out on the Hogs.

 

This Week

Rockford gets a second shot at the Rampage Tuesday night before a brief return to the BMO Friday. The Hogs host the Chicago Wolves on Hockey Fights Cancer Night in the first tilt of a three-game weekend. Rockford visits Milwaukee Saturday night and Chicago Sunday afternoon.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs face their first three-game weekend against some familiar opponents. After opening the season series against the Milwaukee Admirals, the Hogs have a home-and-home with the Iowa Wild. A quick look at the Central Division standings tells us that Rockford is in for a tough start to the month of November.

The Admirals sit atop the division with an 8-1-2 mark. Iowa is third in the Central with a 5-2 record and are scoring nearly five goals a game. The IceHogs (4-3-1-1, .556 points percentage) are currently in a tie for fourth place with Texas and Manitoba. Rockford will have its hands full this weekend.

The IceHogs are a bit banged up and will have to rely on some players a little further down on the depth chart. Rockford is coming off of two losses to Cleveland and Manitoba despite solid play in their own net. The piglets could muster a single goal in each of the last two contests. They will have to improve upon that to keep up in this early-season division test.

 

Roster Moves

On Monday, Kevin Lankinen was sent to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Coming up in an unrelated move was forward Brett Welychka, who had four points (2 G, 2 A) in five games for the Fuel this season. Also coming up to Rockford on Wednesday was forward Radovan Bondra. Bondra missed a large chunk of last season to injury after signing an AHL deal with Rockford.

Welychka and Bondra are likely up due to injury issues with Jordan Schroeder and Matthew Highmore. Schroeder may not be ready to return from an injury that kept him out last weekend, while Highmore left Sunday’s game with Manitoba with an apparent shoulder injury.

Defenseman Carl Dahlstrom left Sunday’s game with a groin injury. His availability would seem to also be in doubt, though there should be plenty of healthy bodies for coach Jeremy Colliton to use on the blueline.

 

Milwaukee Admirals-Friday

Rockford travels to UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena for a 7:00 p.m. puck drop. The Ads won eight of the ten meetings between the two teams last season and are currently on a five-game points streak.

Veteran forward Rocco Grimaldi is up with the Predators, so Milwaukee loses his point-producing abilities. However, the Admirals still have several weapons on offense.

Anthony Richard is tied for the team lead with six goals after potting 19 a season ago. Emil Pettersson (4 G, 5 A) is back for his second season after putting up 46 points in his rookie year.

Defenseman Matt Donovan (6 G, 6 A)is back in the AHL after two seasons in Europe. His six goals is tied for first among league defensemen. Frederic Allard (1 G, 9 A) has also been strong for Milwaukee on the back end.

Longtime Grand Rapids goalie Tom McCollum (2.44 goals against, .913 save percentage) has been the primary starter and will likely face the IceHogs Friday. He is backed up by six-year veteran Troy Grosenick (2.60, .918)

 

Iowa Wild-Saturday & Sunday

Rockford plays host to the Wild at 6:00 p.m. Saturday before hopping on the bus and taking on Iowa at Wells Fargo Arena Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

The Wild power play is the class of the AHL so far; Iowa has ten goals in 26 opportunities (38.5 percent). At 4.71 goals per contest, Iowa is second only to Springfield in scoring in the league. The Wild come off a sweep of Colorado last weekend, putting up a dozen goals in the two games.

Center Cal O’Reilly has five seasons of 60-plus points in his 13 AHL seasons, including 64 points (15 G, 49 A) with the Wild in 2017-18. With seven points in Iowa’s seven games (2 G, 5 A), the 32-year-old O’Reilly shares the team points lead with Luke Kunin (3 G, 4 A) and rookie Mason Shaw (1 G, 6 A).

Other point-producers are forwards Justin Kloos (3 G, 3 A) and Kyle Rau (3 G, 3 A), who put up 23 goals with the Wild last season. Landon Ferraro is a familiar name, having skated with Grand Rapids and Chicago as well as Iowa in his seven-year pro career.

Former Hogs forward Mike Liambas will not be afraid to finish a check. He also has three goals already this season. Rookie center Gerry Fitzgerald has four goals for the Wild.

Ryan Murphy is back for his second season with Iowa after five years with Charlotte. He paced the defensemen with three goals and three helpers.

In goal, Rockford will likely be shooting at Andrew Hammond, who has started six of Iowa’s first seven games. He’s 5-1 with a 2.64 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. Rookie Kaapo Kahkonen comes from the Finnish Ligua, where he posted six shutouts to go with a 2.20 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in 56 games with Luuko.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for the occasional thought over the weekend.

 

 

 

Everything Else

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

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

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

 

Recaps

Saturday, October 13 – Rockford 5, Texas 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore (A)-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Anthony Louis

Viktor Ejdsell-Jordan Schroeder-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Dennis Gilbert-Joni Tuulola

Collin Delia 

Power Play (1-6)

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

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Stars were 0-1)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Fortin-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Sunday, October 14-Rockford 5 , Hershey 2 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore (A)-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Tyler Sikura-Anthony Louis

Viktor Ejdsell-Jordan Schroeder-Terry Broadhurst (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Blake Hillman-Carl Dahlstrom (A)

Lucas Carlsson-Darren Raddysh

Dennis Gilbert-Joni Tuulola

Collin Delia 

Power Play (1-4)

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

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Bears were 0-3)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Hillman

Fortin-Knott-Gilbert-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Carlsson-Raddysh

 

Go West, Young Hogs

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs commence on-ice operations for the 2018-19 season this weekend. The piglets are opening their AHL slate in Cleveland, where they play Friday night and again Saturday afternoon. In the interest of getting you ready to take in the action at your respective bases of operation, here’s a preview of the upcoming weekend for the Blackhawks affiliate.

The Hogs dropped two straight to the Monsters to open 2016-17, a harbinger of miserable times to come.  Rockford split four games at Quicken Loans Arena last season, though the franchise is just 5-9-1-1 in Cleveland over the past five campaigns.

The Monsters should have a different look from the squad that finished dead last in the Western Conference by a wide margin. For starters, two of Cleveland’s top scorers from that club now don the Hogs head.

Jordan Schroeder (36 points) and Terry Broadhurst (32 points) were third and fourth, respectively, in scoring for the Monsters. I would expect both veterans to be in Rockford’s lineup this weekend. The only returning Cleveland player from the top of the score sheet is Alex Broadhurst, who was second on the team with 41 points.

Cleveland (again helmed by Hawks alumn John Madden) has several veteran players coming in that should more than make up for the loss of offense over the summer. Topping that list is former Penguins/Blue Jackets/Oilers center Mark Letestu. The 33-year-old hasn’t skated in the AHL since the 2019-10 season, when he had 55 points (21 G, 34 A) for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The scoring load will also be shouldered by 31-year-old Nathan Gerbe, who has 398 NHL games under his belt. He skated in 24 games for the Monsters after signing with Columbus mid-season with four goals and 14 assists. He is a more than capable AHL scorer.

Tommy Cross, a 6’3” defenseman, is also new to the Monsters this season after playing in the Bruins organization. The 29-year-old has spent most of his seven-year career in the AHL with Providence. Cross had 12 goals from the blueline two years ago and finished 2017-18 with eight goals to go with 28 assists. He isn’t afraid to finish a check, either.

Oilers farmhand Dillon Simpson is a new addition to the Monsters blueline, which is made up of some big bodies. Dillon is set to begin his fifth season of AHL action. Former Notre Dame defenseman and Aurora native Justin Wade was signed to an AHL deal by Cleveland.

Along with Alex Broadhurst, who skated with Rockford for several seasons, Hogs skaters may see a familiar face in net this weekend. Jean-Francois Berube was assigned to Cleveland this week; he’ll probably face off against his former team at least once or twice this season.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs roster has been trimmed to 24 players headed into game one. Brett Welychka and Josh McArdle were assigned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Monday. Matt Tomkins followed suit the next day.

I expect that William Pelletier will not be available to begin the season; he was at the BMO for Friday’s Fan Fest with what appears to be an injured left thumb or wrist. I don’t believe he took part in any on-ice activities in training camp.

Right now, Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton should have 13 forwards on hand to use in Cleveland. There are eight defensemen on the roster; keep in mind that Colliton would often an extra skater on the blueline and go with just 11 forwards. With several rookie defenders on the team, it is an option Colliton may choose to employ again this season.

The unexpected call up of Collin Delia following an injury suffered by Hawks goalie Anton Forsberg makes for a bit of uncertainty between the pipes. Matt Tomkins was called up from Indy while Delia is with Chicago, joining Kevin Lankinen as the current net tandem.

If Delia isn’t needed past last night, perhaps he is sent back down to the Hogs and makes a start in the crease Friday or Saturday. I would guess that with two games less than 24 hours apart, Colliton was planning on using both of his goalies against the Monsters. It will be either Delia and Lankinen or Lankinen and Tomkins, depending on if Delia’s presence is required with the Hawks in St. Louis.

It is likely that I’ll be watching both IceHogs games vs Cleveland and might just fire off a tweet or two. Follow me @JonFromi for updates, thoughts and general foofooraw all season long.