Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs earned a split in a two-game series with Cleveland this past weekend. Both teams picked up a win at the BMO Harris Bank Center-along with plenty of bruises.

The piglets, now 13-12-1-1 on the season, were in two of the more physical affairs of their 2021-22 season in the first half of the season series with Cleveland. In Friday’s contest, Rockford was able to handle the Monsters in the defensive zone, anchored by 33 saves by Arvid Soderblom. The IceHogs took the opener 5-2.

Saturday, Cleveland was even more aggressive, generating a lot of odd-man rushes at Collin Delia to the tune of a 5-2 second-period advantage. The Hogs rallied in the third and had chances to tie the game in the closing seconds, but wound up dropping a 5-4 decision.

 

Roster News

Following Saturday’s loss, the Blackhawks recalled G Cale Morris to the taxi squad, along with F Mike Hardman, who had a pair of goals over the weekend for Rockford.

Ian Mitchell played a big part in Friday’s win, was recalled to Chicago Saturday and subsequently sent back to Rockford. Also coming back to the IceHogs was rookie forward Lukas Reichel.

Both Chad Yetman and Brandon Pirri were on personal leave for the weekend.

Cameron Morrison was banged up in Friday’s game and did not play on Saturday. In his place was F Kale Howarth, who has recently come back from a shoulder injury.

 

Weekend Notes

  • Reichel and Pirri, two of the Hogs’ more prolific scorers of late, did not take part in the action this weekend. Despite this, Rockford was still able to get consistent scoring. It’s a good sign that the piglets can put points on the board after really struggling to do so in the first three months of the season.
  • Dylan McLaughlin is now on a four-game point streak. He had goals in both games this weekend and added a pair of assists in Friday’s win.
  • Hardman had a nice weekend in his return to the Hogs, with three points in the two games. He had a shorthanded goal after forcing a turnover on Friday, then added a power-play goal and assist Saturday.
  • Former IceHogs captain Tyler Sikura skated in both games for Cleveland, recording an assist on Saturday. In 29 games with the Monsters this season, Sikura The Elder has six goals and eight helpers.
  • Wyatt Kalynuk picked up a power play goal to kick off the scoring for Rockford on Friday. He had a spirited bout with Trey Fix-Wolansky late in that game. Kalynuk landed several punches to the helmet of his Monsters opponent, yet it was Fix-Wolansky who sat out Saturday’s rematch with a sore hand.
  • Two more Rockford skaters picked up their first goals of the 2021-22 campaign. Both came on Saturday night when Dimitri Osipov and Nicolas Beaudin both drew cord.
  • Osipov, who is being used as a forward for the first time this season, had one of his better games despite the loss Saturday. He was as involved on the offensive end as he has been all season and still was able to throw his weight around with several big hits.
  • Defenseman Alec Regula picked up assists on all four IceHogs goals in Saturday’s loss.
  • Collin Delia did not receive the same support in the Hogs zone Saturday as Soderblom had the previous evening. Coming into the contest, Delia was sporting a 1.01 goals against average and a .969 save percentage in his last four starts. However, he found himself struggling to stop the waves of Monsters bearing down on him.
  • The Hogs win streak ends at three games, matching a season-high that was set back in December. Rockford has not won four in a row since November 29-December 6 of 2019.

 

This Week

The IceHogs host Chicago Monday afternoon as the home stand continues. The Texas Stars arrive on Friday and Saturday for a weekend set.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are coming off the road a bit lighter in the roster than when they left for the three-game jaunt. They did, however, manage a 2-1 record this week.

Rockford ran up a three-game winning streak with a 2-1 triumph in Milwaukee Wednesday and a 4-1 win in Grand Rapids Friday. The wheels came off in a 6-2 loss to the Griffins in the finale, but overall the piglets played pretty well.

There were some more subtractions to the lineup, though.

Malcom Subban, who turned in a fine performance against the Admirals Wednesday, was traded by the  Blackhawks to Buffalo. Dylan McLaughlin, who has been a steady offensive presence in the lineup, was held out of Saturday’s game in Grand Rapids on the COVID protocol.

Rookie defenseman Jakub Galvas took an elbow from Luke Witkowski in the first period of Saturday’s loss. He missed the rest of the game and might be looking at some time off. Defenseman Ian Mitchell was recalled by Chicago on Saturday. Rockford got a blueliner back when the Hawks reassigned Wyatt Kalynuk on Sunday. The IceHogs also recalled D Cliff Watson Sunday.

Goalie Arvid Soderblom did not dress for any of the three road games this week. No reason has been given, but Cale Morris was recalled to Rockford from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Friday to back up Collin Delia. Morris wound up relieving Delia Saturday, making 17 saves on 19 shots in 50 minute of action.

With McLaughlin unavailable Saturday, Chad Yetmen was a late call up from Indy. Yetman, who has five goals and nine assists for the Fuel in 15 games, was in the lineup for interim coach Anders Sorensen Saturday night.

Back on Tuesday, the IceHogs announced that Lukas Reichel (concussion), Brett Connolly (right leg), Kale Howarth (right shoulder) and Michael Krutil (left hand) would be out for the next couple of weeks. Reichel is in concussion protocol and could return at any time.

Despite having a slew of players on the shelf, Rockford is treading water in the Central Division. The Hogs record sits at 8-8-1-1. This .500 points percentage has them in a tie for fourth with the Griffins. Points percentage will factor into any postseason decisions. Grand Rapids, Chicago and Milwaukee each are scheduled for 76 games, as opposed to the 72 scheduled for the rest of the division.

 

Coming Up

The IceHogs stay busy this week; Rockford hosts the Iowa Wild on Wednesday. The Henderson Silver Knights are scheduled to visit the BMO Harris Bank Center for games Friday and Saturday.

 

Weekend Recaps

Friday, December 3-Rockford 4, Grand Rapids 1

Rockford picked up a satisfying victory, anchored by a marvelous 40-save performance by Collin Delia.

Grand Rapids opened the scoring on the power play after Ryan Stanton was called for cross-checking. Kyle Criscuolo redirected Jonathan Berggren’s shot from the left circle past Delia at 5:19 of the first period.

The IceHogs used the man advantage to even the score 6:20 into the second. The goal came from a Ian Mitchell blast from the left circle, set up by Andrei Altybarmakian and Nicolas Beaudin. A few minutes later, Rockford took a 2-1 lead when Alec Regula struck from the right slot, fed by IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell at the 9:43 mark.

Delia held the Griffins at bay, waiting for the piglets to provide some insurance. That came about seven minutes into the third period, when the Hogs gained another power play. Dylan McLaughlin won the faceoff from the left dot; Jakub Galvas gathered in the puck and slid it across the ice to Philipp Kurashev at the top of the right circle. The one-timer found the net behind Griffins goalie Calvin Pickard at the 7:24 mark for a 3-1 IceHogs advantage.

From there, it was Delia and the Hogs defense holding firm as Grand Rapids came up empty in the final minutes despite pulling Pickard and gaining a two-man advantage for the last 1:35 of play. Kurashev finished off the Griffins with an empty-net goal with 13 seconds left.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Andrei Altybarmakian-Philipp Kurashev-Alexander Nylander

D.J. Buskdeker-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-Michal Teply

Cameron Morrison-Evan Barratt-Carson Gicewicz

Jakub Pour-Garrett Mitchell (A)-Dimitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Ryan Stanton (A)-Alec Regula

Issak Phillips-Ian Mitchell

Collin Delia

Cale Morris

 

Saturday, December 4-Grand Rapids 6, Rockford 2

The Hogs were buried by a tsunami of Griffins offense in the first period and could not overcome the 5-0 deficit. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak.

Grand Rapids wasted no time building a two-goal advantage. Kyle Criscuola opened the scoring on a Griffins power play. Grabbing a rebound off the endboards and tucking the puck past Hogs goalie Collin Delia, Criscuola made it 1-0 Grand Rapids 3:30 into the contest.

Brian Lashoff sent a long slapshot past Delia 26 seconds later to give the Griffins a 2-0 lead. At 7:08, Turner Elson forced a turnover in the neutral zone and lead an odd-man rush toward the Rockford net. Delia stopped the initial shot, but Dennis Yan was there for the follow up to put the Hogs in a 3-0 hole.

Things got exponentially worse a couple of minutes later. Dominick Shine wove through the Hogs defense, got Delia to the ice, and tucked in a goal at the right post for a 4-0 lead. At this point, Rockford coach Anders Sorensen decided to make a goalie change, sending Cale Morris into action for the first time this season.

The Griffins went up 5-0 when Ryan Murphy came out of the penalty box, skated to a long rebound of the puck in neutral ice, then juked Morris with 1:09 left in the opening period. The IceHogs limped into the locker room in a bad way.

Rockford got on the board 5:32 into the middle frame. Issak Phillips got the play started with a stretch pass to the Grand Rapids blue line. Philipp Kurashev knocked the loose puck to Carson Gicewicz, who skated to the crease and beat Griffins goalie Calvin Pickard.

The Hogs cut the lead to 5-2 with 1:40 remaining in the period on an Alex Nylander one-timer set up by Andrei Altybarmakian and Chad Krys. However, Jonathan Berggren made it 6-2 Giffins on a transition goal with 34 seconds left. Neither team added to their total in the final 20 minutes.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Andrei Altybarmakian-Philipp Kurashev-Alexander Nylander

D.J. Buskdeker-Chad Yetman-Michal Teply

Cameron Morrison-Evan Barratt-Carson Gicewicz

Jakub Pour-Garrett Mitchell (A)-Dimitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Ryan Stanton (A)-Chad Krys

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Collin Delia

Cale Morris

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs entered this weekend with three games in three days on the schedule. The piglets picked up three standings points, splitting two games with a physical Milwaukee Admirals squad and dropping a shootout in Rosemont.

The IceHogs didn’t fare as well in terms of health.

It’s possible that Rockford will be on a three-game road trip without its two leading scorers. Brett Connolly (5 G, 6 A) was injured in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Wolves. Interim head coach Anders Sorensen listed the veteran forward as “day-to-day” in his postgame interview Sunday night after the IceHogs beat Milwaukee 2-1.

In the third period of that contest, Lukas Reichel (7 G, 5 A), took a spill into the half boards and was down for several minutes. He was helped from the ice and did not return to action.

The IceHogs are currently scoring 2.67 goals a game even with Reichel and Connolly. Losing either player crimps Rockford’s offense. Losing both would be a severe blow as the Hogs begin play in December.

Rockford is now 6-7-1-1 on the season and in fifth place in the Central Division. They visit Milwaukee on Wednesday night, then spend the upcoming weekend in Grand Rapids, where the IceHogs will face the Griffins on Friday and Saturday.

 

Weekend Musings

  • Collin Delia followed up a big start in Chicago November 20 with another impressive start despite taking the loss Saturday. He stopped 26 of 28 shots in regulation and overtime. Starts are going to be infrequent for Delia, as well as for Malcom Subban. Both goalies are going to have to make the most of the time they get in the Hogs net.
  • If Connolly and Reichel are out of the lineup this week, Dylan McLaughlin may be able to pick up some of the scoring slack. McLaughlin is currently on a five-game point streak. Alex Nylander had the game-winner off a rebound of McLaughlin’s shot; both players are going to be counted on heavily in the next few games.
  • Rockford fell behind in each game this weekend. The piglets fell behind 2-0 in what was a listless 5-2 loss to the Admirals Friday, then allowed the game’s first goals to Chicago and Milwaukee on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Kale Howarth picked up his first AHL goal in his third game with the Hogs. He also got into a scrap with Milwaukee’s Ben Harpur after Howarth hip-checked an Admiral into the end boards. Howarth could be an interesting player to watch. I don’t believe him to be a fighter, but he plays rugged and Rockford could use another player who can hang around the net.
  • In 15 games, the IceHogs have scored the first goal three times. They’re 2-1 in those games.
  • Rockford has not out shot an opponent this season.
  • It should come as no surprise that attendance is down at the BMO. Rockford averaged 2447 fans in their seven home dates in November. On Friday night matchups with traditional rivals Chicago and Milwaukee, the best the Hogs could do was to fill the barn to half-capacity. Of course, the current landscape explains why some fans may be staying home for the time being. Attendance may be a moot point with the Blackhawks committing the next 15 seasons to Rockford. Still, the atmosphere on Sunday and weeknight games is non-existent.

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

 

 

Hockey

Rockford IceHogs goalie Collin Delia may have won the most important game of his career Saturday night. Too much hyperbole for a mid-November tilt with the Chicago Wolves? Not for a 27-year old goaltender that’s being used as infrequently as Delia.

Saturday night, the Rancho Cucamonga, California native was between the pipes for the Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate for the first time in nearly a month. Delia’s 31-save performance in Rockford’s 3-2 shootout win over the Wolves in Rosemont comes at a most crucial time for the fifth-year pro.

Before Saturday, Delia had played eleven games over the previous 20 months. Thanks to last year’s NHL taxi squad and some poor planning by the Blackhawks organization, time in the crease has been at a high premium for Delia.

“When you have three,” explained Hogs interim head coach Anders Sorensen last week, “you’ve got to make sure you’re getting the right development times, they’re getting the right game times. Sometimes it’s hard, but we’re working through it.”

Coming into the stoppage that ultimately ended the 2019-20 campaign, Delia was being handled like a future NHL backup for the Blackhawks. Having played in 16 games for Chicago the season before, Delia was getting his work in with the IceHogs as the spring of 2020 began.

Beginning in February, Delia started 12 of Rockford’s final 17 games before play was halted in mid-March. Since then, Delia has felt the crunch in net more than any other goalie in the organization over the past two seasons.

Malcom Subban was obtained in the summer of 2020. With the NHL requiring three goalies on the 2020-21 rosters, the Blackhawks grouped Delia with Subban and Kevin Lankinen. Delia had shaky performances in his first two starts of the season and quickly became the odd man out in Chicago’s goalie mix.

He sat, inactive, for six weeks before requesting and receiving a conditioning assignment to Rockford, where he played four games in two weeks. After shaking off some understandable rust, Delia beat the Iowa Wild in back-to-back starts March 6 and 7 with solid performances.

Two months later, Delia got into his next game, a 5-2 loss to Carolina. Relieving Subban, Delia stopped all 19 shots he faced. He was 1-1-1 in three starts following that contest.

This past summer, Marc-Andre Fleury’s acquisition crowed the goalie room further. The Blackhawks passed Delia and Subban through waivers, perhaps hoping one would be claimed. They were not.

Based on then-coach Derek King’s comments earlier this month, Chicago’s plan was to give rookie Arvid Soderblom half of the starts in Rockford this season, dividing the other half to the tandem of Subban and Delia.

“Right now, when those guys (Delia and Subban) came down, Soderblom was obviously going to play a lot of the games,” explained King back on November 2. “So, it’s always been Soderblom, plus one of those guys. Then, the next weekend, it’s been Soderblom plus Delia or Soderblom plus Subi. Those guys (Delia and Subban) haven’t gotten in rhythm at all. They’re kind of playing once every two weeks, which is hard to be fresh and be sharp.”

Subban’s weekend was first up. Delia gave up five goals to the Wild in his season debut on October 23. He dressed in Texas on October 28 as Subban’s back up. Subban was used the last two weeks in tandem with Soderblom. Where was Delia? The answer arrived on November 16 from Sorensen.

“Collin was on COVID protocol the last ten days here. He just got back this week,” Sorensen explained when discussing his goalie situation.

Delia practiced this past week and backed up Soderblom in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Saturday, the crease was finally his.

After the Wolves put a shorthanded chance and a power play goal past him early, Delia settled down and denied Chicago’s last 28 shots in regulation and overtime. He then stopped four shootout attempts from the Wolves to allow Rockford to prevail.

It can’t be overstated how important this result was for Delia. Meanwhile, the issue remains; Rockford has three goalies who are capable of carrying the work load. There just aren’t enough minutes to go around.

“If you look at Arvid,” Sorensen points out, “he’s had a really good start to his North American career. He’s been really poised. He’s a big kid. He reads the play well, he comes ready to practice, he comes ready to play every day. Malcom has been fantastic. He’s been really good in the locker room, but also his last couple of outings in net have been really good. (Delia) needs some practice time here, but obviously we know him from the past and we know what he can do.”

In the current state of affairs, the best Delia can hope for is a start every other week. It is poor asset management by the Blackhawks, who signed Delia to a three-year, three million dollar contract back in February of 2019.

A goalie needs to be traded or loaned out. The organization either can’t or won’t make that move happen. Delia, who, like Subban is an unrestricted free agent this summer, isn’t going to have many chances to make his case for being an NHL goalie. Saturday night was a pivotal game for his future.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs recalled forward Kale Howarth from Indy on Thursday. Howarth missed the start of the season with a lower body injury before being loaned to the Fuel November 9. The former UCONN skater had two goals and an assist for Indy in five games in his stint in the ECHL. Howarth played in both games for the IceHogs this weekend.

Issak Phillips also made his return to the lineup after the Blackhawks removed him from COVID protocols and assigned him to Rockford last week.

 

Weekend Recaps

The piglets won two in a row over Chicago, grinding out wins in both ends of the home-and-home series.

Friday, November 19-Rockford 6, Chicago 3 

The Hogs trailed by a pair early, picked themselves up off the deck, rallied behind their special teams, and wound up topping the Wolves. Rockford improves to 4-6-1 and claimed the first of a home-and-home series with Chicago.

The Wolves (8-4-1) dug into the Rockford zone throughout the first fifteen minutes of action. Dominick Bokk finished off a barrage of pucks in front of Hogs goalie Arvid Soderblom for a 1-0 Chicago advantage 2:48 into the contest. Josh Jacobs capped a slick faceoff sequence with a scoring strike from the outside of the right circle at the 7:31 mark to make it 2-0 Wolves.

At this point, Rockford was being dominated at even strength. The turning point in the game came when a Joey Keane hooking infraction gave the IceHogs their only man advantage of the evening. Brett Connolly capitalized on the opportunity, one-timing a Lukas Reichel feed into the back door of Eetu Makiniemi‘s crease. The goal signaled a significant change of momentum at 13:57 of the first period.

Down 2-1, the Hogs got back to even ground on the penalty kill. After being tagged with too many skaters on the ice, Rockford’s Ian Mitchell and Josiah Slavin dug a puck out the boards in front of the IceHogs bench. Slavin found Carson Gicewicz leaving the defensive zone to start an odd-man rush toward the Chicago net. Gicewicz returned the puck to Slavin at the left post; the resulting tap-in tied the game at two goals at 15:07 of the first.

Rockford came out in the second period with a bit more jump, matching the Wolves intensity and grabbing its first lead of the night midway through the frame. Alexander Nylander put back a rebound off of a Dylan McLaughlin offering 10:55 into the period to make it 3-2 Rockford.

Back came the Wolves, who tied the game on David Gust‘s fourth goal of the season. Gust finished off a quick-developing Chicago rush into the Hogs zone, sending a pass from Maxim Letunov from the right dot past Soderblom at the 12:21 mark.

The score remained 3-3 until the second minute of the third period. Issak Phillips got the game-winner started, tipping a pass into the Wolves zone before finishing his shift. Reichel chased the puck down behind the net before Wyatt Kalynuk won possession coming around the endboards. Kalynuk circled the Chicago net before threading a pass to Reichel, who guided the biscuit past Makiniemi 1:04 into the final frame to give the Hogs a 4-3 lead.

The Wolves pushed hard for the equalizer, but it was not in the cards. Rockford added empty-net goals from Evan Barratt and Garrett Mitchell in the final minutes to secure the victory.

Soderblom wound up stopping 31 of 34 shots on the night. It was all Rockford for the Three Stars, with Nylander (First), Reichel (Second) and Slavin (Third) earning the honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz

Alexander Nylander-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Jakub Pour-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-Michael Teply

Kale Howarth-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Wyatt Kalynuk-Ian Mitchell

Arvid Soderblom

Collin Delia

 

Saturday, November 20-Rockford 3, Chicago 2 (SO)

Collin Delia got his first start in almost a month Saturday. He saved 31 shots to lead the Hogs (5-6-1) to a second straight victory over Chicago.

Rockford had an early power play opportunity that led to the first goal of the night. Unfortunately, it was a shorthanded tally by the Wolves. Andrew Poturalski picked the pocket of Nicolas Beaudin just across the Hogs blue line. He passed to Stefan Noesen, who smartly maneuvered through D.J. Busdeker and sent a shot past the stick side of Hogs goalie Collin Delia. The Wolves led 1-0 2:26 into the contest.

The Wolves burned the Rockford defense in transition later in the opening frame. David Gust sped through the middle of the ice, leaving several Hogs in his wake. Gust beat Delia at the left at the 8:06 mark to make it 2-0 Chicago.

The Hogs patiently tried to cut into the Wolves advantage in the second stanza. It took most of the period, but Rockford finally figured out Chicago goalie Alex Lyon in the closing minutes. Jakub Galvas sent a shot on goal from the point that was redirected by Busdeker. Lyon stopped the attempt, but Dylan McLaughlin was on hand to clean up, flipping the rebound into the cage with 1:01 remaining in the second.

Down 2-1 entering the third, Rockford got back to even footing in the opening minutes. The equalizer came on the power play; McLaughlin brought the puck to the Chicago blue line and hit Andrei Altybarmakian coming down the middle of the ice. Altybarmakian sent a shot wide of the Wolves net that rebounded out to Evan Barratt at the bottom of the left circle. His shot banked off of Lyon and tumbled into the cage 1:44 into the period.

From there, the Hogs concentrated on keeping Chicago from prime scoring chances. Delia stopped 12 Wolves shots in the final 20 minutes and another two in Gus Macker Time, forcing Rockford’s first shootout of the season.

Lyon stopped Alexander Nylander, Lukas Reichel and Brett Connolly. Delia responded by denying Noesen, Dominick Bokk and Andrew Poturalski. In round four, McLaughlin sent a shot under Lyon’s blocker and into the net. Delia snuffed out Gust’s attempt to claim First Star honors and pick up his first win of the campaign.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexander Nylander-Lukas Reichel-Brett Connolly (A)

Evan Barratt-Josiah Slavin-Carson Gicewicz

Andrei Altybarmakian-Dylan McLaughlin (A)-D.J. Busdeker

Kale Howarth-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Dmitri Osipov

Jakub Galvas-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Alec Regula

Wyatt Kalynuk-Ian Mitchell

Collin Delia

Arvid Soderblom

 

Next

The IceHogs have their first three-game weekend to close the book on November. Rockford hosts a struggling Milwaukee team on Friday and Sunday, bookending a Saturday night trip to Rosemont and the Wolves.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.