Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have advanced to the Central Division Semifinal via a sweep of Texas in their play-in series. The piglets capped off an impressive defensive performance against the Stars with a 1-0 overtime triumph after winning Game 1 by a score of 2-1.

Rookie goalie Arvid Soderblom stopped 68 of 69 Texas Stars in the two games, good for a .986 save percentage. To the surprise of no one, he was voted the First Star of Game 2 for his 36-save shutout.

After a couple of days to prepare, Rockford opens a best-of-five series with the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont on Thursday night. The Wolves are the top seed in the Central Division. They won more games in the regular season than any team in the league. Their .724 points percentage was the best in the AHL.

The Wolves roster boasts the leagues top goal scorer (Stefan Noessen, 48 goals) as well at the league’s top point-producer (Andrew Poturalski, 101 points). On paper, the Flying Piglets of ‘Bago County will be lucky to win a single game.

Not only do I think the Hogs could win one game, I figure the belief is there for Rockford to shock everyone and win this series.

These teams met 12 times in the regular season. Rockford won eight times.

The IceHogs are 5-0-0-1 at Allstate Arena this season.

Each of the last five meetings was a one-goal decision. Rockford was 4-1 in those games.

The last meeting between Rockford and the Wolves came in the regular-season finale April 30. Chicago was gunning to out-do Stockton for the AHL’s top record. The IceHogs had nothing to gain, having been locked into fourth in the division.

Rockford rested several starters, including Soderblom. Chicago pinned back its ears and swamped the Hogs in their own zone. The Wolves out-shot Rockford 54-25 on the evening.

And yet, the IceHogs had an offensive draw in the final 30 seconds with a chance to tie the contest before ultimately losing 3-2.

Rockford can win this series. They know it. The Wolves know it.

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Chicago was the division champ. The Wolves were swept by the fourth-seeded Hogs. That history, plus Rockford’s success against this year’s division champs, makes it unlikely that the piglets are going to be taken lightly by Chicago.

What does Rockford have going for it? Confidence and momentum. They have a hot goalie heading into a series against a team that hasn’t had a game in what will be 12 days when the teams collide on Thursday, May 12.

The Hogs calling card for much of the last couple of months is solid play in the defensive zone and timely goals from a host of young prospects. They’ve had a wildly successful season and have nothing to lose as they enter this series.

 

Playoff Musings

  • The goal scorers in Game 1 were Lukas Reichel and Carson Gicewicz. Reichel deftly handled a pass from Michal Teply on a 2-on-1 in the second period and snapped home the first goal of the game. Gicewicz deflected an Issak Phillips shot past Stars goalie Matthew Murray (who played very well in the two games for Texas) for the eventual game-winner.
  • After a scoreless regulation, Dylan McLaughlin got loose in the high slot, hauled in a pass from Phillips, and sniped the Game 2 winner 56 seconds into overtime.
  • The secondary assist on McLaughlin’s goal went to Ian Mitchell, who returned from a wrist injury suffered in practice April 26.
  • IceHogs forwards Kurtis Gabriel, Dimitri Osipov, and Garrett Mitchell played their part in the series sweep. The three were able to regularly administer devastating hits to Texas skaters without so much as a single infraction between them. In all, the IceHogs committed just three penalties in the two games.
  • Forward Andrei Altybarmakian, who came on strong in the last month of the season, did not skate in either game of the series. His last game action was April 30 in Milwaukee.
  • Game 1 vs Chicago will take place at Allstate Arena on Thursday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., with Game 3 coming to the BMO Harris Bank Center Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and thoughts throughout Rockford’s playoff run.

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

The Rockford IceHogs split a pair of games with the Texas Stars this weekend. Rockford lost control of a tight game in the third period Friday, winding up on the short end of a 5-2 decision. The following evening, the piglets played the grinder role to perfection, rallying from a goal down in the final frame of regulation. Rockford outlasted the Stars 3-2, though it took a seven-round shootout to do so.

The IceHogs are 15-14-1-1 this season, good for fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Saturday’s win broke a three-game losing streak. Rockford is 2-3 during this January home stand, which wraps up  Wednesday against Iowa.

 

Teply On A Tear

The offensive game of forward Michal Teply has suddenly roared to life this month. Teply, Chicago’s fourth-rounder in the 2019 NHL Draft, was goalless through his first 34 professional games. In his second season with the Hogs, Teply finally drew cord on January 7 against the Wolves. Since that night, Teply has five goals and three assists spanning the last seven games.

He had both regulation goals for Rockford Saturday and added a successful shootout attempt in the victory. He also had a goal on Friday night. What gives?

Teply has been active on the offensive end most of the season, creating a lot of scoring opportunities that somehow hadn’t found a home. He has 47 shots in 2021-22, which is fourth on the team.

Both interim head coach Anders Sorensen and Teply acknowledge that his play away from the puck is the secret to his recent success. His presence around the net will be vital to Rockford, who were scraping for goals again this weekend.

 

Fight(s)!

The pivotal moment in Saturday’s loss to Texas game came in the third period. The Hogs were down 3-2 with 10:54 remaining when Garrett Mitchell delivered a slash to the hands of Stars defenseman Jared Rosburg. Texas captain Curtis McKenzie responded by cloths-lining Mitchell and engaging in fisticuffs.

Coinciding with that scrap was Dimitri Osipov grabbing Stars center Fredrik Karlstrom and swinging away. Following the melee, the officials removed McKenzie and Osipov from the game. Each received instigation minors, fighting majors, and game misconducts.

Mitchell was tagged with fighting as well as the slash that started the fireworks. Karlstrom, who did not remove his gloves or swing at Osipov, remained in the game. The Stars were handed a seven-minute power play as a result.

I do not recall ever seeing seven consecutive minutes of power-play time go up on a scoreboard. At the time, I was hopeful that it would be the IceHogs with some much-needed man advantage time. However, it quickly became apparent that Karlstrom had not engaged with Osipov and that the time on Rockford’s side of the scoreboard was no mistake.

Three guesses as to which Texas skater gave the Stars a 4-2 lead about two minutes later? Karlstrom’s power-play goal was more than enough insurance, as Rockford spent the next five minutes killing the rest of the penalty.

By the time they got back to even strength, Texas had a two-goal lead and just under four minutes left to play. RFD pulled Collin Delia in desperation but gave up an empty netter, on which Rosburg assisted for good measure.

Texas is one of the more penalized teams in the league; getting physical with the Stars was to Rockford’s detriment Friday. The IceHogs committed just one penalty Saturday, neutralizing the Texas power play in its only chance.

 

Roster News

Several IceHogs are doing the I-90 shuffle between Rockford and Chicago. Mike Hardman and Cale Morris were moved three times this week. Hardman is currently with the Hogs; Morris is on the Blackhawks roster. Wyatt Kalynuk played for Rockford Friday before being recalled to Chicago the following day.

Chad Yetman has played a similar role, oscillating between Rockford and the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. He was in the Hogs lineup for both games this weekend. Saturday, Rockford sent Riley McKay to the Fuel.

The IceHogs released veteran forward Brandon Pirri from his PTO on Wednesday after three goals and an assist in three appearances. Whether Pirri winds up on Canada’s Olympic squad or just decided to pursue other opportunities is not yet apparent.

Forward Kurtis Gabriel came out of COVID protocols on Friday and skated in his first game with Rockford on Saturday, drawing in for Osipov.

On Sunday, goalie Arvid Soderblom, who stopped 20 shots to pick up the win Saturday, was recalled to the Blackhawks.

 

Weekend Notes

  • Andrei Altybarmakian, like Teply, has begun to get onto the scoresheet on a regular basis. He has points in five of his last seven games, including his first two goals of the season.
  • Center Dylan McLaughlin has nine points (3 G, 6 A) in January. He’s second on the team behind Lukas Reichel (12 G, 12 A) with six goals and 13 helpers.
  • The Hogs out shot their opponents both nights. However, many of Rockford’s attempts came on the perimeter as opposed to between the circles. This has been an issue for much of the season; hopefully players like Teply, Altybarmakian, and Kale Howarth, who got to the left post to score the IceHogs second goal Friday, can point the rest of the Hogs toward the front of the net.
  • The 18-year-old (who, as the nine-year-old, only occasionally watched the games when he wasn’t spilling Dippin’ Dots under everyone’s seats) commented that Saturday’s game was perhaps the most exciting result of the season for Rockford. Tall praise, as he’d attended hoping for gloves to drop and was not obliged. I only partially agreed, as he had lamentably chosen to skip Rockford’s 8-0 shellacking of the Wolves earlier this month. I did concur that it was possibly the most dramatic Hogs win so far this season.

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