Hockey

With goalie injuries continuing to plague the Chicago Blackhawks, it appears likely that their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, will feel the pinch on their roster for another couple of weeks. The organization is stretched thin and has been for a good portion of the 2022-23 campaign.

Fortunately, the goalies stepped up for the Hogs this weekend.

Rockford beat Springfield and Hartford to sweep a two-game eastern jaunt, getting solid play out of Dylan Wells Friday in Springfield and an outstanding performance from Jaxson Stauber against the Wolf Pack Saturday. Each gave up two goals in their starts, which is certainly good enough to make the IceHogs a very competitive team.

Stauber’s performance against a struggling Hartford team doesn’t scream “goalie win” upon a look at the box score. The Wolf Pack is the worst offensive team in the AHL even before their leading scorer, Jonny Brodzinski, was recalled by the Rangers on Saturday morning.

But it was. You had to have been there for full appreciation. In this case, it was from BMO South, watching from my basement.

Stauber was solid in the first two periods, stopping all 15 shots he faced as Rockford built a two-goal lead. Once the Hogs went up 3-0, they stopped defending and allowed Hartford full access to the crease. Stauber had another 15 shots to face, most of them of the high-danger variety and right on his doorstep.

When the smoke cleared, the Hogs rookie had surrendered two goals. The first was a three-man unencumbered rush down the ice by the Wolf Pack, just after Stauber had denied a two-man rush. The second came on a Brandon Scanlin blast in the final seconds after Rockford just left a loose puck dangling in front of their goalie.

Stauber’s 28-save night was the best performance by an IceHogs goalie this season, in terms of allowing his team to win a game that could easily have slipped away. Wells also was an asset Friday; his workload was not as heavy, but he made the key stops.

If Rockford is going to allow opponents to close the gap on its net, the goalies have to limit the damage, much like Arvid Soderblom was able to do last season in similar circumstances. Of course, Soderblom is now with the Blackhawks, as is Stauber, who was recalled on Sunday. Rockford’s opening-day goalie tandem is now Chicago’s goalie tandem for the moment.

Even average goaltending would be a boon to the IceHogs over the next couple of months. This weekend was a good example of solid play in net making Rockford a tough opponent for the other teams in the Central Division.

 

Finding The Mark

Cole Guttman continues to impress since returning from an October 15 concussion that kept him out of action for nearly a month. Guttman (5 G, 5 A) had goals in both games on the way to a three-point weekend. In five games over the last two weeks, he has four goals and three helpers.

Dylan Sikura (7 G, 7 A) has also begun to put up points. He’s currently on a five-game point streak, with five goals and four assists in that span. Also on a five-game point streak is Lukas Reichel (10 G, 13 A), who has put up four goals and five assists in those games.

 

Around The Net, Just Not In It

Mike Hardman (1 G, 8 A)has had his share of opportunities, but his last lighting of the lamp occurred on October 29 against Belleville. His goal drought hit ten games this weekend.

Josiah Slavin has played in all 19 of Rockford’s games this season, but is still looking for his first goal of the season. Slavin has been in a fourth-line checking role for much of the campaign. He did not register a shot this weekend; his opportunities have not been few and far between on the offensive end.

Another player looking to find the twine for the first time is rookie Louis Crevier, who has been been a steady third-pairing defenseman in the Hogs lineup. Crevier is sans points in his last nine games.

D. J. Busdeker missed the entire month of November and made his return this weekend. He skated in both games for the IceHogs without registering a point. Like Slavin, Busdeker has been cast in a more defensive role so far.

 

Recaps

Friday, December 2-Rockford 4, Springfield 2

Lukas Reichel put the Hogs ahead 1-0 with his ninth goal of the season. The power-play goal came late on a Matthew Kessel interference call and was set up by Dylan Sikura and Brett Seney. Reichel took a one-timer from the top of the right circle to beat Thunderbirds goalie Joel Hofer at 10:51 of the opening frame.

Early in the second, Cole Guttman won control of the puck behind the Springfield net. He managed to thread a pass to a waiting Buddy Robinson in the slot for a 2-0 Rockford advantage at the 4:54 mark.

Springfield closed the gap to 2-1 on a Greg Printz goal with 4:58 remaining in the second period. A couple of minutes later, however, the IceHogs struck power-play gold once again. Guttman took a pass from Reichel across the goal mouth and snuck it past Hofel with 2:17 to play in the period.

Springfield rallied for a goal with 1:17 left when Hogs goalie Dylan Wells left a rebound in front of the net. Nikita Alexandrov nudged the puck across the goal line, cutting Rockford’s lead to 3-2 at the second intermission.

Just 39 seconds into the third, David Gust took a pass from Brett Seney and skated to the right post. He centered to Luke Philp, who beat Hofel from the front of the net to make it 4-2 Hogs.

A Thunderbirds goal midway through the final frame was waved off on an offside call. Springfield had ample opportunity to get back into the game, but the IceHogs stopped them seven times on seven tries on the man advantage. Wells made a number of big stops among his 23 saves to pick up the win.

 

Saturday, December 3-Rockford 3, Hartford 2

Dylan Sikura made Hartford goalie Louis Domingue pay dearly for misplaying a Lukas Reichel dump-in behind his own net. The puck slid in front of the Wolf Pack net, where Sikura poked it into the cage 14:03 into the contest for a 1-0 Hogs advantage.

Rockford doubled that lead 6:14 into the second period. The scoring play started with Sikura skating behind the Hartford net and sending a pass to Adam Clendening along the boards, just inside the blue line. Clendening sent a long, cross-ice pass toward the right dot, where Cole Guttman sent a one-timer into the top corner of the net.

Early in the third, Lukas Reichel drove to the left post with the puck. He was denied by Domingue, but stayed with the play, taking the rebound around the Wolf Pack net and banking home the goal off of Domingue’s pads. Rockford went up 3-0 1:58 into the third period.

The Hogs soon had a power play to potentially go up four goals, but Hartford had other plans. Rockford turned over the puck with seconds remaining on the man advantage, leading to a Bobby Trevigno goal at 6:06 of the third.

The last ten minutes were an adventure, as Hartford pushed hard and threw 15 shots to the net. Stauber stopped 13 of those shots, many of which were open looks on Rockford turnovers. Brandon Scanlin got the Wolf Pack to within a goal with five seconds left with a blast from the slot, but the Hogs survived to post their second-strait win.

 

Back To The Central Division

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night with Milwaukee. The piglets host Iowa for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are just short of the quarter pole in the 2022-23 season. So far, the team has had little problem putting the puck in the net. Rockford is competing, though this is a team that should be able to find another gear in regards to challenging for a Central Division title.

With injuries forcing the IceHogs to use the latter half of their depth chart at goalie, Rockford has had to put up huge offensive numbers in order to win. Through 17 games, they have been able to supply the necessary goals to compete on a nightly basis.

I’ve been a broken record in my concerns for the goal-keeping. If Arvid Soderblom returns to the Hogs for a stretch and plays to form, it could push the piglets into that aforementioned gear. Here’s a closer look at the season through the first two months.

 

The Numbers So Far

This is how the 9-7-0-1 piglets are faring 17 games into their 72-game schedule:

The IceHogs sit right in the middle of the Central Division standings. That would be fourth place, with 19 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 24 points, followed by Texas (22) and Manitoba (20).

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee atop the AHL in scoring with a 4.06 per game average. Defensively, the Hogs give up 3.59 goals per game, 26th in the league. They’re fourth in the league in shots (33.53) per game, and 26th (32.35) in shots allowed. The latter number is consistent with last year’s team.

The IceHogs are converting 23.2 percent of their power play opportunities, while snuffing out 77.3 percent of their opponent’s chances. Rockford has given up five shorthanded goals, tied for the worst in the league, while potting just one shorty themselves.

The Hogs have four players in the top 20 scorers in the AHL. Brett Seney (10 G, 13 A) is tied for third. David Gust (10 G, 12 A) is tied for fifth. Lukas Reichel (8 G, 11 A) is tied for tenth, while Luke Philp (11 G, 7 A) is tied for 13th. Philp leads the team with his eleven goals and is fourth in the AHL in that category.

Issak Phillips (2 G, 12 A) leads the league in skater rating (plus-16) and is tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. Jakub Galvas (1 G, 11 A) is tied for 12th. Alex Vlasic (1 G, 5 A) leads AHL rookies with a plus-11 rating.

 

How Are Those Veteran Pickups Doing?

Go back a couple of paragraphs. They’re spanking fantastic.

The firm of Gust, Seney, and Philp have accounted for 31 goals and 36 assists in 17 games. That’s 45 percent of the IceHogs team goal total of 69. Can this be sustained? Probably not, but several players are starting to find the range.

Dylan Sikura (6 G, 5 A) had back-to-back two-goal games this weekend and could be poised for a December to remember. Buddy Robinson (4 G, 3 A) is chipping in and has been a threat around the net for most of the season so far.

Defenseman Adam Clendening has been a bit underwhelming, though he does have a goal and eight assists. Five of those apples have come on the power play. Clendening is a player who can be attacked in the defensive zone. Hence, his minus-14 rating, which is the lowest in the AHL at the moment. The Hogs didn’t sign Clendening to be a defensive stopper, but there is room for improvement.

 

What About The Kids?

Cole Guttman is starting to pick up some steam in his rookie season. Guttman missed almost a month of action after suffering a concussion on October 15. In eight games since returning to the lineup, he has three goals and four assists.

Phillips, Galvas, and Vlasic have been the backbone of the Hogs blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 2 A) has played 16 games and been a solid third-pairing defender. At 6’8″, Crevier moves pretty well and is adjusting to the pro game.

Michal Teply (3 G, 6 A) started the season slowly but is getting to the net a lot more. Like some other young prospects, Teply is having to compete for ice time. Hogs coach Anders Sorensen recently placed him on a line with Reichel, so his offensive production could soon take off.

 

Roster Happenings

Captain Garrett Mitchell was missing from the lineup for the past three games after injuring his shoulder in Rosemont on November 19. No announcement from the team; until that happens, I’d assume that Mitchell will be out for at least three or four weeks.

Buddy Robinson had a scare on Wednesday night, taking a hit from the Stars Rhett Gardner along the boards by the Rockford bench in the first period of action. Robinson was helped from the ice, unable to put weight on his right leg. He did not return to the game, but was in the lineup for both games against Milwaukee.

After a strong performance in net in Wednesday’s victory, Mitchell Weeks was returned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Despite being Rockford’s top-performing goalie so far this season (3-1-1, 2.95 GAA, .909 save percentage), Weeks is the current odd man out because both Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells are on NHL contracts.

On Thursday, Ian Mitchell returned to the IceHogs from Chicago. He played in both games with the Admirals this weekend, picking up an assist on Friday night.

Friday saw D Cooper Zech being assigned to the Fuel. Since being swapped for Evan Barratt a month ago, Zech has been a healthy scratch in all but two games on October 29 and November 2. Zech was scoreless in both contests. Incidentally, since the trade, Barratt has played just two games in Lehigh Valley, with one assist.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 23-Rockford 7, Texas 2

Rockford chased Matthew Murray from the crease with three goals in the first 10:30 of action, cruising to a win over the visiting Stars.

The IceHogs wasted little time carrying the attack to Texas, converting on a turnover to take a lead they would never relinquish. Cole Guttman picked off a pass along the halfboards of the Stars zone, skated to the right dot, and sent an offering that beat Murray to the far side at 1:24 of the first period.

Guttman’s tally was quickly followed by a goal by Brett Seney at the 3:26 mark. Issak Phillips‘ strike from the right circle at 10:30 of the first ended Murray’s evening with three goals allowed on seven Rockford shots. The Texas net was filled by Anton Khudobin for the remainder of the game.

Down 3-0 entering the second stanza, Texas got on the board when Stars captain Curtis McKenzie redirected a Ben Gleason shot past Hogs goalie Mitchell Weeks at the 3:24 mark. Rockford quickly re-established the three-goal advantage at 4:56 when David Gust guided a loose puck into the Stars net for his ninth goal of the season.

Rockford limited Texas in the Hogs zone, breaking up centering attempts and effectively preventing a lot of traffic in front of Weeks. The Stars put on some pressure in the final twenty minutes, but Weeks stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period. Only Alex Petrovic‘s shorthanded goal got past the Rockford rookie, while the Hogs lit the lamp three more times.

Seney’s second goal of the night midway through the third gave Rockford a 5-1 lead. After Petrovic cut the lead to 5-2, Luke Philp and Lukas Reichel got in on the scoring in the final minutes of action.

 

Friday, November 25-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

When the smoke cleared, the IceHogs stood tall in this Central Division track meet. Rockford broke the Admirals’ four-game winning streak with a come-from-behind victory.

Milwaukee took an early 2-1 lead on a pair of goals by Tommy Novak, sandwiched around a power-play tip-in by Rockford’s Cole Guttman. Bobby Lynch tied the game midway through the first period with a put-back of Carson Gicewicz‘s initial shot. However, Cole Schneider converted a power-play chance for the Admirals, who led 3-2 after 20 minutes.

There was no scoring in the second period, though the pace did not slow. Both teams dismantled rushes up and down the ice, contesting passes and checking hard at both ends. Milwaukee goalie Devin Cooley made 15 saves in the middle frame to keep his club in the lead.

At the other end, Hogs netminder Dylan Wells wasn’t as busy, stopping eight Milwaukee attempts. However, he might have made the two biggest saves of the night midway through the second.

Wells stood his tallest when Brett Seney was stripped of the puck at the Milwaukee blue line by Luke Evangelista. The Admirals forward streaked toward the Hogs’ net completely unchallenged. Wells denied the shot attempt, as well as Zach Sanford‘s follow-up shot to snuff out the scoring threat.

The IceHogs got power-play goals from Lukas Reichel and Dylan Sikura early in the third period, surging to a 4-3 lead. Schneider’s second goal on the man advantage pulled Milwaukee even at four 9:32 into the period before Rockford took over the game.

Seney, whose slashing infraction had led to the Admirals’ equalizer minutes before, skated to the high slot in time to take in a backhanded pass from behind the net by Alex Vlasic. Seney’s aim was true, and the Hogs led 5-4 on his tenth goal of the season at the 12:18 mark.

Wells sent a couple of Milwaukee shots away over the next few minutes, allowing Sikura the chance to put the game away with 3:04 remaining. Sikura maneuvered into the slot and sent a shot through some well-placed traffic to get it past Cooley and into Twinesville to close out a busy night of scoring.

Sikura’s two goals earned him First-Star honors. Reichel and Seney, each of whom had a goal and two helpers, were Second and Third Stars, respectively. Guttman (1 G, 1 A) could also claim a multi-point evening.

Wells recovered from a frustrating opening frame to stop 15 of Milwaukee’s last 16 shots on goal. He picked up his third win of the season with 24 saves on the night.

 

Saturday, November 26, Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

The Admirals gained a measure of revenge on visiting Rockford at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena Saturday night, using a big third period to split the weekend home-and-home with the IceHogs.

Milwaukee wasted little time in building a lead. Egor Afanasyev pounced on a rebound in front of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber and flipped it into the basket 2:19 into the contest. The Admirals added tallies from Cole Schneider and Roland McKeown. Schneider attempted a centering pass to Tommy Novak in front of the Rockford net. Defenseman Adam Clendening denied the pass, but the puck came off his stick and into the goal at the 7:36 mark.

McKeown made it a 3-0 game at 10:22 of the first. Taking a pass from Kevin Gravel, McKeown launched it from the right point past Stauber, who was screened by Zach Sanford and Tommy Apap.

Midway into the opening period, the IceHogs were in a hole. Dylan Sikura started the digging for Rockford, jumping on loose pucks for a pair of goals in the last 3:53 of the first. Both were set up by defenseman Issak Phillips, who had three helpers on the night. The IceHogs were able to draw even with Milwaukee 7:04 into the second stanza when David Gust streaked to the right dot and went to the far post with his shot past Admirals goalie Yaroslav Askarov.

Milwaukee regained the lead 3:18 into the third period. With Stauber way out of his net, Afanasyev skated around the Rockford cage and completed the wraparound attempt just ahead of the stick of Hogs defenseman Louis Crevier.

The Admirals lead became 5-3 after the IceHogs first penalty of the evening. Alec Regula was called for slashing 7:08 into the third period. At 8:47, Markus Nurmi , set up by Afanasyev, sent a shot over Stauber’s glove from the left circle. Rockford attempted to load up for another comeback, pulling Stauber in the final minutes for an extra skater, but Askarov kept the puck out of harm’s way for the remainder of the game.

Askarov finished with 23 saves for Milwaukee. The Admirals rookie is now 7-3 on the season with Saturday’s win. Stauber stopped 23 of 28 shots in a losing effort.

 

Head East

Rockford travels to Springfield (Friday) and Hartford (Saturday) this weekend.

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