Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have extended the time they have to develop some key prospects by qualifying for the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. The postseason gets underway Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center, when the IceHogs play Texas Stars in a best-of-three play-in series.

Rockford is the fourth-seed and will host the fifth-seeded Stars for every game of the series, per the league’s travel guidelines. The winner moves on to face the Central Division champs, the Chicago Wolves in a best-of-five affair.

Here is the postseason forecast for the Piglets as I see it.

First of all, it would not shock me for the IceHogs to knock off any of their Central Division rivals in a playoff series. Even after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Wolves in the regular season finale Saturday night, Rockford finished 8-3-0-1 against Chicago. They have split the season series with Texas and Milwaukee and were 5-3 against Manitoba. The only Central opponent that dominated them (Iowa) is not in the playoffs.

The IceHogs have generated enough offense to be competitive. For the first time in a couple of seasons, Rockford posted a per game average of over three goals this season. The Hogs 3.10 per game clip was their highest since the 2017-18 season, when they reached the Western Conference Final scoring 3.14 goals per contest.

Unlike that veteran-laden group, this year’s group have been grinding out wins for the bulk of the season. A poised and deep blueline, coupled with very capable goaltending, have been the ticket in the past couple of months. This could prove to be a major strength in the postseason.

Or, the youngsters could get bounced in two games by a hot Texas team that won its last four games. Such is the mystery of playoff hockey. Some confidence and a hot goalie can take you far. A slow start could quickly slam the door on a very solid season for Rockford.

 

Roster News

On Sunday, the Blackhawks assigned D Nolan Allen and F Colton Dach to the IceHogs following the conclusion of their junior seasons. I wouldn’t expect either to play. Maybe one or both could step in and make a surprise impact. I would avoid holding my breath on it, though.

Chicago could also assign some players like G Collin Delia, D Alex Vlasic to bolster the IceHogs roster. As of Monday, they have not done so. At this point, it looks like Rockford will dance with the players it has leaned on for the last month of action.

Ian Mitchell has been out of the lineup since injuring his right wrist in practice last Tuesday. He would be set to come back late in the week, but is probably out for the opening series. The IceHogs depth at defense makes this a little easier to bear, but Mitchell was voted the team’s top defenseman award for good reason. His return makes the Hogs a bit tougher to play against.

D.J. Busdeker returned from a shoulder injury for the last two games of the season, though Brett Connolly is likely out for the duration of the playoffs with a knee injury.

Cale Morris took the net against the Wolves Saturday and stopped 50 shots in the loss. I would imagine that he will back up Arivd Soderblom, who, along with F Dylan McLaughlin, were selected co-MVPs for Rockford this season.

 

Under The Microscope: The Texas Stars

Rockford battled the Stars eight times this season. Both teams won four games. The season series concluded way back on February 27, when Texas won 3-2 at the BMO.

The Stars were 9-4-1 in April, while Rockford wound up 9-6. Of all the possible opponents for the piglets to have, Texas is the one who shouldn’t intimidate the Hogs physically.

There are four players who took the ice in the 2018 Western Conference Final contested between these two franchises; all currently reside on the Stars roster. This includes former Hogs forwards Anthony Louis (24 G, 31 A) and Tanner Kero (5 G, 12 A), as well as Texas captain Curtis McKenzie (21 G, 29 A) and Joel L’Esperance (24 G, 25 A).

Center Ty Dellandrea had an impressive rookie campaign, with a 50-point season (23 G, 27 A). Riley Damiani (13 G, 23 A) was last year’s outstanding rookie in the AHL and could play a big part in the opening series. Ben Gleason (9 G, 35 A) and Ryan Shea (3 G, 29 A) pace the Texas defense.

The x-factor in this series could well lay in the crease. Matthew Murray has been used quite a bit since signing an ATO out of UMass this spring. He split time with second-year goalie Adam Scheel, who was recalled to Dallas on Saturday.

If Murray winds up being the man in net for Texas, he’s coming in hot. Currently, he is sporting a 1.68 GAA and a .947 save percentage in his six AHL starts. Likely to serve as Murray’s backup is LaGrange native Matt Jurusik.

 

Keys For The IceHogs

  • Rockford needs to be to limit the Stars speed in transition and continue to take care of the puck in their own zone. That’s been the formula for the Hogs success this season; no reason to change things up.
  • Players like Mike Hardman (19 G, 13 A), Michal Teply (13 G, 18 A) and Andrei Altybarmakian (10 G, 21 A) have to capitalize on the play-making abilities of Lukas Reichel (the team’s Rookie Of The Year with 21 goals and 36 helpers) and McLaughlin.
  • In 14 April games, Josiah Slavin has eight goals and seven assists. He is a big part of the Hogs penalty kill and leads the team with three shorthanded goals.  It’s important for Slavin to continue leading Rockford’s forecheck against the Stars. Slavin’s game should be well-suited for playoff hockey; he could have a big series.
  • Slavin sat out the final regular season game with Chicago along with Altybarmakian, Alec Regula, Kurtis Gabriel and Soderblom. Texas has been off since April 26, but both teams should be rested and ready Wednesday night.

 

Schedule

Game One is set to begin on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., as will Game Two on Friday. If necessary, Game Three will start at 6:00 p.m.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the Calder Cup Playoffs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs got the first half of a four-game road trip off to a great start over the weekend. The IceHogs continued their push to the Calder Cup Playoffs with a pair of wins over the Tucson Roadrunners.

In doing so, Rockford (30-24-4-1) tightened its hold on the fourth-place spot in the AHL’s Central Division. The IceHogs have won seven of their last ten games as the action moves further West to Henderson to complete the road jaunt.

Rockford opened the weekend with an overtime victory Friday night. The IceHogs rallied from a two-goal deficit in the first five minutes to take a 3-2 lead by the second intermission. Former Hogs skater Terry Broadhurst tied the game for the Roadrunners late in regulation, but Rockford won the game 23 seconds into extra skating when Dylan McLaughlin scored.

The IceHogs also fell behind Saturday before prevailing 6-3. Rockford took the lead in a back-and-forth contest with a shorthanded strike by D.J. Busdeker late in the middle frame.  Lukas Reichel put the game away with his 21st goal of the season early in the third period.

 

The Playoff Hunt

On Tuesday, the Hogs hosted Milwaukee with a chance to overtake the Admirals for third place in the division. That failed to materialize in the face of a 5-3 loss, but Rockford could avoid a play-in series by overtaking Milwaukee.

The Texas Stars have won five straight and are a few games behind the IceHogs. At this point, Rockford and the Stars would play a best-of-three series to decide who gets to take on the Chicago Wolves.

 

Fights Piling Up

After several seasons of seeing its fight totals dropping, Rockford is currently tied for fourth with 32 fighting majors this season. With Tucson at the top of the league with 43 fighting majors, it should come as no surprise that some gloves hit the ice over the weekend.

Friday night, Kurtis Gabriel squared off with the Roadrunners Bokondji Imama a few minutes into the contest. It was Imama’s tenth fighting major of the season, earning an automatic one-game suspension from the AHL. Gabriel, with nine fighting majors this season (seven coming with the IceHogs), will be suspended following his next scrap.

On Saturday, Carson Gicewicz objected to a hit Ty Emberson laid on Cameron Morrison and took the Tucson defenseman for a spin around the dance floor. It was Gicewicz’s second scrap of the season; he also was tagged with an instigating minor and a game misconduct for his actions.

In all, 12 different Hogs have at least one fighting major. The bulk have been earned by Gabriel, Garrett Mitchell and Dimitri Osipov. The latter two each have six fighting majors to go with the aforementioned seven by Gabriel.

This will be the IceHogs highest total in this category since racking up 39 FMs in the 2016-17 campaign.

 

Pertinent Thoughts

  • Brett Connolly, who left early in a March 29 loss to Milwaukee, made the trip and had a big impact in both games. After setting up McLaughlin for the game-winner Friday, Connolly picked up a goal and two assists the following evening. He currently has the league’s longest-running point streak at nine games.
  • Josiah Slavin returned to the lineup Friday after missing two games. Like Connolly, Slavin also had a four-point weekend. He had a goal and two helpers Friday before assisting on Busdeker’s game-winner on Saturday.
  • Arvid Soderblom manned the pipes in both games for the IceHogs. Cale Morris returned from a hip injury to serve as the backup. This comes after Rockford recalled Tom Aubrun from the Indy Fuel and released Mitch Gillam from his PTO on Tuesday. I’d guess that Soderblom gets the net in at least nine of Rockford’s last 13 games.
  • Also returning to Rockford’s ECHL affiliate on Tuesday were forwards Riley McKay and Chad Yetman, along with defenseman Cliff Watson. Several IceHogs have returned from injury this past week, including McLaughlin (concussion), Garrett Mitchell (back) and Michal Teply (shoulder).
  • Mitchell celebrated his 500th AHL game with the Hogs first goal on Saturday. Rockford’s captain has six goals and six assists on the season.
  • Defenseman Ryan Stanton set a franchise mark for defenseman by playing in his 267th game with Rockford on Friday night, assisting on Ian Mitchell’s second-period goal. Stanton, who has two goals and assists in 44 games with the IceHogs this season, played both games this weekend.

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

Hockey

Rockford IceHogs defenseman Ian Mitchell has owned a hot hand over the last few weeks. Mitchell is one of several young blueliners making an impact for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate.

Rockford dropped both ends of a home-and-home with Grand Rapids this weekend, ending a season-high four game winning streak in the process. Still, the Hogs defense continues to perform well at both ends of the ice.

Mitchell had a four-game points streak snapped in Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Griffins. He did pick up an assist at the BMO during Sunday’s 5-2 to Grand Rapids. In February, Mitchell has five goals and three assists.

A recent example of Mitchell’s surge came back on February 15, when he one-timed a late goal to tie Iowa. He then earned Rockford the third point with a successful shootout attempt.

The IceHogs have also gotten strong defensive play from Wyatt Kalynuk, Issac Phillips, Jakub Galvas, Alec Regula and Nicolas Beaudin. All six prospects have proven adept at forcing turnovers and jumping into the offensive rush.

 

Musings

  • It has proven difficult for the piglets to put together wins in recent seasons. Rockford’s four-in-a-row was the longest such streak since December of 2019. The Hogs managed that feat twice in the 2019-20 campaign.
  • Both losses to Grand Rapids this weekend came as a result of the Griffins breaking open tight games in the final frame. Rockford had tied the contest on Saturday with a Cameron Morrison goal early in the third, only to see Grand Rapids pull away with three scores.
  • Sunday’s loss stung because Rockford frittered away a 2-0 advantage in the final 40 minutes. Grand Rapids tied the game with a pair of goals in the second, then surrendered another three goals in the third.
  • The Blackhawks continue to shuffle players back and forth from Chicago to Rockford. Brett Connolly had a goal Sunday in his return to the IceHogs. Josiah Slavin was also reassigned to Rockford on Sunday.
  • The IceHogs recalled center Liam Folkes to Rockford from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel this morning. Folkes has been with the Fuel all season, with 11 points (5 G, 6 A) in 25 games.

 

This Week

The IceHogs travel to Iowa Friday for the first of a three-game weekend. Rockford then returns to the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday and Sunday for two games with the Texas Stars.

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

 

Hockey

Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks allowed their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, to be severly undermanned in terms of depth. Nowhere was this more evident than at forward, where the organization went with a few NHL prospects and a slew of AHL signings.

How do things look entering the 2021-22 season? Right now, I’d say there’s some optimism that wasn’t there a year ago. This forward group will still consist of a lot of fresh-faced prospects. However, the piglets should be a lot deeper up front.

Is that going to show up on the scoreboard and the standings? Time’s going to tell on that one.

Rockford has been near the league basement for several seasons in terms of goals per game. Last season, the IceHogs were 25th of 28 teams with a 2.78 per game scoring average. The lack of offensive bite was a big factor in the team’s last-place finish in the Central Division.

AHL signing Dylan McLaughlin paced Rockford with 22 points (8 G, 14 A) in 28 games last season. That point total was good for 55th place in AHL scoring in 2020-21. Chris Wilkie co-led the team with eight goals and finished the season with 13 points in 22 games, while fellow rookie Evan Barratt totaled 14 points (5 G, 9 A).

Other forwards who chipped in on offense included D.J. Busdeker (5 G, 7 A), Andrei Altybarmakian (5 G, 7 A), and MacKenzie Entwistle (4 G, 8 A). All figure to be back in action for Rockford, thought Entwistle may find a spot on the NHL roster to open the season.

Getting consistent offense out of players getting their feet wet in professional hockey is a challenge. Some organizations keep their rosters well-stocked with proven, AHL-level scorers to bolster their prospects. That’s a strategy the Blackhawks have employed sparingly, if at all, over the past few seasons.

In 2020-21, the taxi squad required of NHL teams kept several potential lamp-lighters in a kind of limbo. Chicago had obtained former AHL scoring champ Brandon Pirri with the plan of him anchoring the IceHogs offense. Pirri spent most of his season on the Blackhawks taxi squad.

When Pirri was unleashed on AHL opponents, he filled the net. In just seven games, the veteran forward potted eight goals, tying him for the team lead. He had points in six of those contests, including a hat trick against the Chicago Wolves on April 7. Unfortunately, Pirri spent far more time not playing for Chicago than he spent on the ice for Rockford.

Pirri, along with other experienced scorers, are still free agents waiting to contribute to an AHL club. The Blackhawks, who own the IceHogs as of this season, don’t seem to be inclined to move in the direction of seeking established scorers. However, there may still be some offensive punch on this year’s roster.

NHL veteran Brett Connelly, obtained in a trade with Florida last season, cleared waivers this month and was assigned to Rockford. 2020-21 was a tough year for Connelly, but he’s been a consistent NHL scorer in the past. He put up a 31-goal season with Syracuse in a full season with the Crunch back in 2012-13.

Chicago is getting some cap relief by sending the 29-year-old Connelly to the AHL. If this serves as motivation for him to play his way back to the Hawks or another NHL organization, the IceHogs could have a big offensive weapon to open play in Grand Rapids October 15.

Another potential goal-scorer comes in the form of Alex Nylander, who was assigned to Rockford after he was declared waiver-exempt by the NHL. Nylander, who missed all of last season, could have been claimed otherwise.

It is unclear how long Nylander remains with the Hogs. However, he is certainly skilled enough to post a 40-point season in a full AHL campaign. Skill with the puck was in short supply in the abbreviated 2020-21 season, so any time he spends in Rockford will be a bonus to IceHogs fans.

Center Garrett Mitchell will captain Rockford, as he did last season. Mitchell, who is on an AHL contract, is probably past the days where you could expect 20-30 points from his stick, but the long-time veteran is on board to mentor the prospects.

Reese Johnson is one of the elder statesmen on the IceHogs, even at age 23. Johnson split time between Rockford and Chicago and is back for his third pro season. He was in Rockford for 18 games in 2020-21, putting up eight points (4 G, 4 A).

Other Blackhawks prospects include Matej Chalupa, Josiah Slavin, and Michal Teply. Slavin showed some offensive spark after he was signed midseason, with three goals and three helpers in his first six games.

It appears that 2020 first-round pick Lucas Reichel will begin his North American career with the Hogs. Reichel will be a player to watch in terms of offensive potential. First up for the 19-year-old Reichel will be getting used to maneuvering the rink in the grinding, physical AHL.

Cameron Morrison will also be looking to get his pro career started. In Morrison’s case, it’s a bit of a restart. The former Notre Dame skater was injured in the 2020-21 preseason and was out for the year. The question last year was how Morrison’s game translated to the professional level. Hopefully he gets the chance to answer those questions starting this weekend.

Mike Hardman and Jakub Pour are additional new faces on the IceHogs roster. Hardman turned pro after his second season at Boston College and saw some action with the Blackhawks before the season ended. Pour, who, like Hardman, is 22 years old, has spent the last two seasons playing professionally in the Czech League.

Last year, the taxi squad and a lack of depth signings made it necessary for a lot of Rockford’s AHL contracts to carry the load. Besides Mitchell, McLaughlin, and possibly Busdeker, it may be harder for some returning AHL contracts to find ice time.

Wilkie, Chad Yetman, Riley McKay, and Carson Gicewicz could split time between Rockford and the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel. New faces include Kale Howarth, who was signed following his college career ended at UCONN, and Liam Folkes, who was obtained in an AHL trade with Bakersfield.

Dmitri Osipov is a bit of an outlier. The former defenseman is apparently being converted to forward by the Blackhawks. He may get a chance to play the position with the IceHogs, or head to Indy to continue to learn the new position.

The first month of the season may see the IceHogs struggle for points. A team of young players will need to build chemistry and find the same kind of scoring touch from their college or junior days. If Rockford has aspirations of competing in the Central Division, they will have to find some steady point producers.

How will the Hogs fare in this year’s AHL schedule? Things get started in Grand Rapids on Friday, October 15. Rockford visits Chicago the following evening. I’ll be back in a few days to preview the opening weekend of action with the Griffins and Wolves.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the action in Rockford throughout the season.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have offered opportunities for prospects throughout the 2020-21 campaign. The lack of NHL contracts on the Hogs roster has allowed some players the ice time to make an impression on the organization.

Several of Rockford’s AHL contracts have been regulars in coach Derek King’s lineup. King cited one in particular in last week’s media availability.

“A kid who has really opened my eyes is (D.J.) Busdeker,” King admitted.

Busdeker is a 5′ 10″ forward who signed an AHL contract with the IceHogs after posting 57 points (22 G, 35 A) for Saginaw in the OHL last season. The 21-year-old native of Dexter, Michigan spent about a month with the Indy Fuel before the AHL season got underway. He’s been in Rockford from opening day on, and has ten points (5 G, 5 A) in 17 appearances for the Hogs.

“When he did come back up, he took full advantage of it,” King said. “He’s probably one of our biggest surprises of this season.”

Busdeker is one of several players who may have spent this season with the Fuel under ordinary conditions. However, he’s been a contributor up and down the lineup for Rockford. Busdeker has a nose for the puck and has been an effective forechecker and penalty killer.

In April, Busdeker has points in four of Rockford’s six games. He has points in each of the IceHogs three wins this month, including a pair of goals in Saturday’s victory in Iowa. He was also instrumental in a comeback win over the Chicago Wolves back on April 17.

Busdeker is second among IceHogs rookies in goals and points. Like Chris Wilkie (who tops Rockford in both rookie categories), he has taken a unique opportunity and made the most of it.

 

A Weekend Split In Iowa

This weekend’s action in DesMoines was about as physical as the piglets have had to deal with. They gave as good as they got, splitting a pair of games with the Wild.

Friday, April 23-Iowa 3, Rockford 2

The game was scarcely underway when Dimitry Osipov delivered a big open ice hit to Iowa forward Damien Giroux. Keaton Thompson objected to Osipov’s rough play; the two battled fifteen seconds in.

Rockford got the first goal of the game at the 3:33 mark. Josiah Slavin came up with a loose puck in the Wild zone, passing to Chris Wilkie. Wilkie was allowed to operate on the doorstep of the Iowa crease, hitting the top right corner to put the Hogs up 1-0.

A bad bounce off the boards set Gerry Mayhew up for an easy tap-in at 7:53 of the first to tie the game. However, less than a minute later, Rockford took a 2-1 lead after Garrett Mitchell tipped in a long-distance offering by Anton Lindholm.

Wilkie was chasing down a stretch pass when he collided with Iowa goalie Derek Baribeau, who had come out to clear the puck. Baribeau had to leave the game in favor of Hunter Jones. Wilkie was assessed a five-minute penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.

The Wild began the middle frame with over four minutes of power play time. Iowa drew even at two goals with a Connor Dewar strike at 1:21 of the second. The IceHogs held first for the rest of the shorthanded time to limit the damage.

Iowa gained a 3-2 lead after forcing a turnover behind the Hogs net. Morris stopped a shot by Gabriel Dumont, but Brandon Duhaime gathered in the rebound, skated back out to the right dot and threaded his shot between Morris and the right post. The goal came at the 15:00 mark and Rockford skated to the locker room needing to rally.

Jones kept the IceHogs at bay, stopping all 20 shots he faced in relief of Baribeau in the final two periods. Rockford was 0-3 on the night on the power play, including a chance twelve minutes into the third period.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Josiah Slavin-Caron Gicewicz-Chris Wilkie

Tim Soderlund-Dylan McLaughlin-MacKenzie Entwistle

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Michal Teply

Andrei Altybarmakian-Garrett Mitchell (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Anton Lindholm-Dimitry Osipov

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Cole Moberg-Michael Krutil

Cale Morris

Ivan Nalimov

 

Saturday, April 24-Rockford 5, Iowa 3

The physical tone set the previous evening continued in the rematch. Iowa took a 1-0 advantage 2:10 into the game on a Cody McLeod tally. Hogs goalie Ivan Nalimov did a nice job keeping the Wild from building on that lead in the remainder of the frame. In all, the Hogs were listless in the offensive zone, getting out-shot 17-8 by Iowa.

D.J. Busdeker provided some net-front presence to tie the contest 4:29 into the second stanza. Busdeker got his stick on a drive by Dylan McLaughlin to redirect the puck past Iowa goalie Hunter Jones.

Late in the second, Dimitry Osipov sent a shot from the right point that glanced off the right post. The puck struck Jones in the back and into the Wild cage at the 15:51 mark for a 2-1 Rockford lead. The goal was set up by some dirty work behind the net by Carson Gicewicz, who gained possession and found Osipov for the primary assist.

The Wild got some late momentum with a Gabriel Dumont goal with 32 seconds remaining in the second period. Dumont jumped on a loose puck in the slot and fired past Nalimov to send the teams to the locker room all square at two goals.

Rockford stormed out to a 4-2 lead early in the third. Busdeker potted goal number two on the evening at the 3:39 mark, pouncing of a rebound of a McLaughlin shot. McLaughlin got in on the goal scoring at 6:30, putting a shot from the high slot through the pads of Jones.

Iowa responded quickly, getting a goal from Connor Dewar at 7:02 of the third period to draw within one. However, Nalimov and the IceHogs prevented the equalizer, locking up the contest with an empty-netter from Garrett Mitchell in the final minute.

Lines (Starters in italics)

MacKenzie Entwistle-Dylan McLaughlin-D.J. Busdeker

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Michal Teply

Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz-Mitchell Fossier

Matej Chalupa-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Andrei Altybarmakian

Cole Moberg-Cody Franson (A)

Anton Lindholm-Dimitry Osipov

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Ivan Nalimov

Cale Morris

 

Grand Rapids State Of Mind

The IceHogs begin a three-game set with the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday in Rockford. The piglets travel to Grand Rapids Saturday before returning to ‘Bago County on May 1.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue to maneuver through the COVID minefield that is the 2020-21 season. The IceHogs have had to adjust to several postponements throughout the campaign. This weekend may see more of that trend.

Rockford’s game last Saturday in Grand Rapids was postponed due to issues within the Griffins organization. After losing in Iowa Tuesday night, the Hogs are due to host the Chicago Wolves this Saturday before traveling to Hoffman Estates for a game with the Wolves Wednesday.

However, COVID issues affecting the Wolves forced Chicago to postpone Thursday’s game with the Griffins. This may put Saturday’s affair on hold, though the AHL has not yet postponed the contest.

All four of the Central Division teams on Rockford’s schedule have had to postpone games with the IceHogs due to COVID issues during the season. The game Rockford missed last Saturday is supposed to be played on May 3. A February 28 date in Cleveland has not yet been rescheduled.

The IceHogs have played 21 games heading into the weekend. They are 7-13-1 and in the basement of the Central Division standings.

 

Roster Moves

Goalie Matt Tomkins is currently on the Blackhaws taxi squad. Tom Aubrun is on loan to the Indy Fuel.  This leaves Rockford with just two goalies on the roster, Cale Morris and Ivan Nalimov.

Wednesday, defensemen Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin were brought up to the Hawks taxi squad, with forward Brandon Pirri being assigned yet again to Rockford. Despite playing in just three games for the Hogs this season, Pirri is second on the team with five goals.

On Thursday, the IceHogs announced that they had signed UMass forward Carson Gicewicz to an AHL contract through the 2022-23 season. Gicewicz had 17 goals and seven assists for the Minutemen, who recently were crowned NCAA Champs.

I can’t recall Rockford inking a player to a three-year deal in the past. Expect the 24-year old Gicewicz to get into some action, provided the Hogs have an opponent to play in the coming weeks.

 

Tuesday, April 13-Iowa 4, Rockford 1

The Hogs win streak ends at one game. Iowa put up four unanswered goals to beat Rockford.

With Cody Franson in the box for hooking, Rockford took the lead on a fine individual effort by Josiah Slavin. Winning a board battle in neutral ice, Slavin skated the puck into Wild territory and let fly from the right circle. The shot beat Iowa goalie Dereck Baribeau to the stick side for a 1-0 Hogs lead just 3:26 into the game.

The Wild tied the game with a transition goal that caught the Rockford defense on its heels. Damien Giroux got things started in the neutral zone and cleaned up a rebound of Connor Dewar’s initial attempt. Cale Morris was unable to make a second stop on the rush and the game was even at a goal apiece 9:03 into the first period.

Iowa built a 3-1 lead in the middle frame on goals by Will Bitten and Mason Shaw. The Hogs were unable to generate any offensive pressure in the third period, as Iowa would out-shoot Rockford 13-6 in the final twenty. Gerry Mayhew added an empty-net goal for the Wild in the final minutes to wrap things up.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Andrei Altybarmakian-Dylan McLaughlin-John Quenneville (A)

Josiah Slavin-MacKenzie Entwistle-Michal Teply

Evan Barratt-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Chris Wilkie

Mitchell Fossier-D.J. Busdeker-Tim Soderlund

Nicolas Beaudin-Cody Franson (A)

Issak Phillips-Ian Mitchell

Cole Moberg-Micheal Krutil

Cale Morris

Ivan Nalimov

 

Fingers Crossed

If all goes as planned, Rockford hosts the Wolves at the BMO Saturday night. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

Hockey

The entrance to the BMO Harris Bank Center is a revolving door for several of the Rockford IceHogs. I’ve nearly given up on following the transaction wire, which is bringing players up and down on what feels like a daily basis.

As of this morning, here is the status of several players.  With the Hogs idle until Tuesday now that Saturday’s game in Grand Rapids is postponed, there could well be additional movement as the organization navigates the taxi squad minimum.

Brandon Pirri: Taxi Squad. Was sent to Rockford long enough to post a hat trick Wednesday night and single-handedly got the Hogs their first win of the season against the Wolves.

Alec Regula: IceHogs. The Big Regu last took to the ice on March 16. I suspect he’s injured and is being used to fill the taxi squad quota as needed for Chicago. Otherwise, the back and forth makes no sense; why let a highly-touted prospect sit for three weeks?

MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin: Still in Rockford at the moment.

Lucas Carlsson: Taxi Squad. Well, Florida’s taxi squad. Carlsson was part of Thursday’s trade with the Panthers.

At this point in the season, most of these moves exist only on paper, with players “moving” to Rockford for game experience and “returning” to the taxi squad so that Chicago has the required numbers.

 

Meet The New Boss…Same As The Old Boss

On Wednesday, everyone got together at the BMO to announce that the Blackhawks had purchased the IceHogs franchise and will be making improvements to the 40-year-old barn. It was revealed that the arrangement will keep Chicago’s AHL franchise in Rockford for the next fifteen seasons.

What changes? Well, I imagine that the organization upgrades the training facilities and gives the building an overall spit-shine. The Blackhawks already dictate the hockey decisions, so it’s hard to see the on-ice product getting substantially better in terms of wins and losses.

Perhaps I am wrong. It is possible that an organization that has consistently placed development over winning will suddenly change its tune. However, I can recall the IceHogs basically having to tank a chance at a division title a few seasons ago so that the Blackhawks could play a half-dozen fresh acquisitions on the final weekend. Time, as always, will tell.

 

Catching Up On Recaps

Saturday, April 3-Chicago 4, Rockford 2

Rockford kept it close, but lost its sixth straight to the Wolves this season.

The Hogs were active defensively in the first period, breaking up Chicago rushes and limiting traffic in front of rookie goalie Cale Morris. Rockford went up 1-0 after Dylan McLaughlin picked off a pass attempt by the Wolves Max Lajoie in the high slot. McLaughlin went straight to the left circle and zipped home his fourth goal of the season past Chicago goalie Devin Cooley at the 7:33 mark.

The lead held until 13:38 of the first period, when Sean Malone centered to Dominik Bokk in the slot. The resulting one-timer got past Morris and off the crossbar before tying the game at one.

The Wolves took a 2-1 lead 4:27 into the middle frame when David Cotton struck on a shot from between the circles. Rockford came up with a response later in the second period when Chicago got caught changing lines. D.J. Busdeker led the rush, passing to Josiah Slavin at the left circle for the equalizer at the 13:44 mark.

Late in the period, Issak Phillips was called for holding trying to stop a breakaway chance by Malone. Morris was able to make a pad save on a long shot by David Warsofsky in the resulting power play. However, the rebound was scooped up by Tanner Jeannot, who flipped it past Morris for a 3-2 Chicago advantage with 43 seconds remaining in the second.

Rockford was unable to find a way to pull back even with the Wolves in the final twenty minutes. Cole Smith added an empty-net goal in the final minute to finish off the Hogs.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Garrett Mitchell (C)

Josian Slavin-MacKenzie Entwistle-D.J. Busdeker

Andrei Altybarmakyan-Dylan McLaughlin-John Quenneville (A)

Matej Chalupa-Michal Teply

Lucas Carlsson-Ian Mitchell

Anton Lindholm-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Cole Moberg

Michael Krutil

Cale Morris

Ivan Nalimov

 

Wednesday, April 9-Rockford 4, Chicago 3

Brandon Pirri posted a hat trick, leading the Hogs to their first win in seven tries this season against the Wolves. The IceHogs moved to 7-12-1 despite being outshot 33-17 by Chicago.

Rockford took a 2-0 lead in the first period with a pair of quick strikes. The first came seven minutes in, when Evan Barratt hit MacKenzie Entwistleas he came over the boards. Entwistle finished the breakaway opportunity with a nice deke past Wolves goalie Beck Warm.

Rockford’s public address announcer had scarcely finished the call of the first Hogs goal when Josiah Slavin corralled a high bouncing puck to keep it in the offensive zone. Pirri took a pass from Slavin at the right circle and sent a laser past Warm’s blocker at the 7:40 mark.

The Wolves closed the gap to 2-1 4:07 into the second period on a Phil Tomasino goal. Pirri restored the two-goal advantage minutes later with a one-timer from the right dot. Pirri’s second goal of the evening came at 7:58 with assists from Nicolas Beaudin and Slavin.

The hat trick was completed at the 14:50 mark. Andrei Altybarmakyan set the goal up by winning a board battle and sliding the puck into the high slot. Pirri skated over and slapped the biscuit past Warm for a 4-1 Rockford lead.

Chicago pushed hard in the third period, out-shooting the Hogs 12-3 in the final twenty minutes. Tanner Jeannot converted on a sweet pass by Tomasino at the 3:53 mark. The Wolves power play made it 4-3 at 8:07 on a Dominik Bokk tally. Warm was brought to the bench with two minutes remaining in regulation, but Tomkins (30 saves) and the IceHogs held on for the victory.

Pirri, to the surprise of no one, was voted the game’s First Star. He paced the IceHogs with six shots on the evening. The taxi squad has grounded Pirri for the bulk of the AHL season; Wednesday was just his third appearance for Rockford. In those games, he has posted five goals.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-D.J. Busdeker

Andrei Altybarmakyan-Dylan McLaughlin-John Quenneville (A)

Josiah Slavin-MacKenzie Entwistle-Brandon Pirri

Matej Chalupa-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Chad Yetman

Issak Phillips-Cody Franson (A)

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian Mitchell

Lucas Carlsson-Michael Krutil

Matt Tomkins

Ivan Nalimov

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs dropped a pair of games to the Chicago Wolves over the weekend. The piglets were blown out in the Wolves practice facility in Hoffman Estates Saturday night. The following afternoon, Rockford lost a back-and-forth affair to Chicago at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Here are some musings on the first two of what will be four straight games with the Wolves.

  • The Hogs were never in Saturday’s 6-3 loss. Ivan Nalimov made his debut in net for Rockford and was not good at all. The Wolves were up two goals before the opening minute elapsed and led 3-0 after the first. Cody Franson, Evan Barratt, and Reese Johnson scored for the piglets.
  • Rockford had just one power play chance in Hoffman Estates. Sunday, the Hogs went three-for-five on the man advantage, which allowed then to be more competitive against the class of the Central Division.
  • In his pro debut, Josiah Slavin tied the score with a power play goal early in the third period on Sunday. 1:15 into the final frame, the score was tied 4-4. From that point on, the Hogs were out shot 11-1 over the rest of the contest, losing 5-4.
  • Barratt picked up another goal in Sunday’s loss, his fourth of the season. Barratt has eleven points in 18 games (4 G, 7 A) and is on a three-game point streak. Dylan McLaughlin and Wyatt Kalynuk also caught cord for Rockford.
  • Franson had a three-point weekend and has a four-game point streak going. He is atop the Hogs in points with 14 (4 G, 10 A).
  • Andrei Altybarmakyan sat out the weekend. Hopefully it’s nothing long-term, as he’s been a bright spot in terms of Hawks prospects.
  • Matt Tomkins didn’t fare much better than Nalimov in net in Sunday’s defeat. He was victimized by a couple of deflections, but misplayed a puck behind his net which led to the game-winner from the Wolves Jamieson Rees.
  • Tomkins is still deserving of the bulk of Rockford’s work load in net. That said, I would really like to see rookie Cale Morris (1.72 GAA, .956 save percentage in three appearances) get a chance to face down the Wolves in one of the IceHogs next two games.
  • Chad Yetman, who had a goal in Rockford’s first game of the season, was sent to the Indy Fuel on Friday. The IceHogs also sent D Dimitry Osipov to their ECHL affiliate. Cliff Watson returns to the Fuel after Rockford released him from his PTO. The Blackhawks also assigned Brad Morrison (3 G, 2 A in six games for the Hogs) to Indy Friday.
  • Mikael Hakkarainen is one of several Chicago prospects to yo-yo between Rockford and Chicago’s taxi squad. Hakkarainen has appeared in just six games for the IceHogs this season. Currently in his second season of his entry contract, Hakkarainen is pointless in 14 games for his pro career.
  • Brandon Pirri and Alec Regula also were recalled to the taxi squad, with forwards MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson and defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk, Lucas Carlsson, and Ian Mitchell coming down to Rockford for the weekend’s action.
  • John Quenneville has struggled to produce on the offensive end this season. In twelve games, he has just one goal and one assist. Quenneville has spent most of the campaign dealing with nagging injuries. He took a big hit against the Wolves on Saturday and was out of the lineup on Sunday.
  • Rockford finishes March with a 5-5 record and is 6-11-1 overall. They are currently 0-5 against the Wolves this season. The Hogs will attempt to pick up that elusive first win over Chicago on the road Saturday night.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news and opinions on the IceHogs throughout the season.