Hockey

It was another disappointing weekend for the Rockford IceHogs. Rockford’s current losing streak reached six games with home losses to Manitoba and Milwaukee.

The Hogs managed a point against the Moose before falling 4-3 in a shootout Friday. The following evening, the Admirals cleaned Rockford’s clock, scoring the game’s first three goals before cruising to a 7-1 rout of the IceHogs.

Rockford, now 20-24-1-2, is in the midst of a stone-like decent into the depths of the AHL’s Central Division. The IceHogs sit in seventh place, just a point above Manitoba with a game in hand on the Moose.

As I prepared to dig into the week that was for Rockford, I took a quick scan of the Facebook group of IceHogs season ticket holders. It isn’t surprising to see a lot of angst in the tone of the comments; not with Rockford owning a 3-15-1-1 record over the last six weeks of play.

Several theories were being tossed out over the weekend. Most involved leveling blame at Hogs coach Derek King. To paraphrase the sentiments, King doesn’t coach the players during the game. King isn’t utilizing the wealth of talent in Rockford. King isn’t developing the players. King should be fired.

Usually, when I run across comments I don’t necessarily agree with, I just move on with my life. On rare occasions, when I disagree strongly enough, I will post my thoughts. Yesterday was one of those occasions.

What follows is the post I created in response to the torch and pitchfork set that seem to be ignoring the makeup of the current roster and calling for the head of King on a platter. As the topic of the IceHogs woes was basically what I had planned to discuss here this week, I’ve elaborated on the original post via italics.

 

My Facebook Post-Sunday, February 2, 10:45 a.m.

Don’t often post on here, but here goes…

I’m as frustrated at the current state of the IceHogs as the next fan. That said, a lot of that frustration is being channeled away from the main issues with this team.

Rockford was set up this fall with very inexperienced skaters. Ones with potential, but nearly completely untested in the professional ranks. This group was not supplemented with veteran talent to speak of. A healthy Versteeg wasn’t going to be enough.

This was an issue of concern throughout the summer when the Hawks organization left the cupboard bare in terms of stocking the Hogs with a few solid veterans.

The Hogs showed decent chemistry early and were winning at a pretty impressive rate. Then several top scorers were recalled. Other top scorers were injured. Add more injuries and a slew of games with the league studs and this is the result.

Rockford has been defeated by Milwaukee six times in the last three weeks. 

How would the roster of mid-November have fared with the Ads? Would have been fun to watch, but that hasn’t been possible. The depleted roster currently on hand has been fairly whipped.

That Milwaukee roster, btw, is the polar opposite of Rockford’s. Lots of experienced players with 4-5 years of AHL experience sprinkled in with some impressive youngsters. Stick tap for what that group has done so far this season. I think I gushed enough about the Admirals in last week’s post

The only remedy for the Hogs even hoping to reach a level we saw earlier this year is:

A. Getting completely healthy (Wedin, Nilsson, Kurashev, etc.) Nilsson was injured Friday night, along with Nick Moutrey, continuing the theme of players missing in action this season. Also missing for a lengthy stretch are Mikael Hakkarainen and AHL signing Matthew Thompson.

B. The Blackhawks obtaining 2-3 AHL veterans to bolster this lineup in trades (don’t hold your breath).

C. Derek King breaking multiple clipboards and screaming incessantly at the rookies and ECHL call-ups.

Hold up. “C” isn’t going to do a darn thing. Neither will firing King. Or any of the other coaches/team staff. Or imploring the piglets to try harder.

This isn’t Derek King’s fault. It’s his mess with which to deal, but he certainly did not create said mess. The Hogs organization has been scrambling to bring in pieces, but it’s hard for the AHL contracts to collectively raise Rockford’s fortunes.

The talent the fire-King contingent point to has been hurt or called up. Guys like Tyler Sikura and Brandon Hagel have been playing well, but all the emergency call-ups have left the Hogs coach with a slew of new faces that have been thrown into the mix. It stands to reason that such a group would have trouble meshing on the ice.

All we can do as fans is hope things get straightened out in terms of team health and that the Hogs can start winning games again. I know most of you follow the roster movements. This is extreme, but typical of an AHL season as far as players going in and out of the lineup.

Again, frustrating as all get out; unfortunately, that where the IceHogs are heading into the last three months of the season.

 

Looking Back At A Couple Of Trades

Earlier this season, the Blackhawks sent forward Aleksi Saarela to the Florida Panthers in exchange for defensemen Ian McCoshen. At the time, Rockford was bursting with forwards and needed some help stabilizing the back end.

Since the deal occurred October 23, Saarela has logged 38 games with Springfield, with 26 points (11 G, 15 A).  Those numbers would be good enough for second among IceHogs scorers this season. Tyler Sikura leads the club with 28 points (12 G, 16 A).

McCoshen has been a constant on the Rockford blueline, but hasn’t been particularly impressive in his 40 games with the IceHogs. He has six assists for Rockford this season.

Another player obtained by trade for the IceHogs was F Joseph Cramarossa, who arrived in exchange for Graham Knott back on November 20 in a trade between Chicago and Pittsburg. Cramarossa isn’t a prolific scorer by any means, but has chipped in with three goals and six helpers in his 32 games for Rockford.

Knott is scoreless in three games with Pittsburg’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He has played 13 games for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers with two goals and five assists.

 

Roster Moves

Dennis Gilbert was recalled by Chicago on Wednesday last week. In the corresponding move, Rockford brought up D Jack Ramsey from the Indy Fuel. Ramsey did not play in either game for the Hogs this weekend.

On Saturday, the IceHogs recalled F Dylan Coughlin from the Fuel after Jacob Nilsson and Nick Moutrey left Friday’s game with injuries.

 

This Week

Rockford holds court at the BMO Harris Bank Center this week, hosting the Texas Stars on Tuesday night. Texas has won seven of its last ten and beat the IceHogs 1-0 in the last meeting between the two teams on January 22. The piglets will wrap up the home stand this weekend, with games with San Antonio on Friday and Saturday.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs took some lumps over the weekend. The piglets are currently mired in a three-game losing streak after a 6-2 loss at the BMO to Iowa Friday night and a 3-2 loss in Manitoba Sunday afternoon.

The group that finished the matinee with the Moose was a wee bit thin up front. To put a finer point on it, the Hogs were skating with ten forwards for the bulk of that game.

Why so shorthanded? Here’s a quick look at how things shook out over the weekend.

The IceHogs entered Friday with 13 forwards. In the third period of what was a very chippy game with the Wild, Nathan Noel was called for a slew foot of Iowa’s Brennen Menell. Noel was given a match penalty for the play and suspended for one game by the AHL.

Despite protests by the BMO faithful, this was absolutely the correct call.

From the waist up, Noel delivers a perfectly legal hit as the players are going up against the end boards. That misdirection kept a lot of folks from seeing Noel’s left leg, which swept the Wild defenseman’s skates out from under him. Hard to determine intent, but it was an obvious slew foot.

As you would expect, Hogs announcer Joey Zakrzewski was drawn in by the legal part of the hit. Iowa broadcaster Joe O’Donnell called the slew foot right away. It just depends on where you were looking on the play. However, Noel was guilty, the officials got it right, and the third-year forward was unavailable for Sunday’s game.

On Sunday, forward Anton Wedin was ill, forcing Rockford coach Derek King to send 11 forwards and seven defensemen onto the ice. In the eighth minute, Phillipp was attempting to get his stick on a loose puck in the defensive zone when Manitoba’s Ryan White skated by and caught the Hogs rookie in the face with an elbow.

Kurashev skated off under his own power but did not return to the contest. As usual, the IceHogs skated hard despite being down to ten forwards but lost the game.

A suspension will likely be announced today for White, who was tagged for a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the play. It appeared that White was trying to avoid contact with Kurashev, though that resulted in undeniable contact to the head.

Following Sunday’s game, King had this to say about Kurashev:

“I think he’s feeling all right. I’ll have to see how he is tomorrow morning, if he feels any better. I think he’s just got a little bit of a headache, or what have you. We’ll try him out, see if he wants to skate, and if he feels good, we’ll see where we go from there.”

I would assume that the organization is going to evaluate their 20-year old prospect’s “headache” before sending him back out for another tilt with the Moose on Tuesday. Rockford may try and finish the Manitoba trip with Noel and possibly Wedin returning. We could see a call up from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, or King could go with seven defensemen again.

 

Tomkins Shines At Spengler Cup

Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins is with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup. He got his first action on Saturday, stopping 22 of 23 shots in a 5-1 victory over the host team, HC Davos.

 

This Week

The IceHogs travel to DesMoines Friday for another go at the Wild, returning to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday afternoon. There, they tangle with the Chicago Wolves.

I’ll be back on Friday to recap Tuesday’s game in Manitoba and also continue my look at the Hawks difficulties in developing defensive talent. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split this past weekend’s action, defeating a hot Texas Stars club Friday night before falling to Cleveland the following evening. Rockford (17-11-0-1) trails Iowa by a standings point for second place in the AHL’s Central Division but can leapfrog the Wild when the two teams hook up in Rockford this coming weekend.

The piglets have continued to play well in the face of recent call-ups by the Blackhawks. The roster thins a bit more heading into the holiday break, but the Hogs have still won seven of their last ten games.

 

By The Numbers

Here are a few statistics of note for Rockford through 29 games this season:

  • The Hogs are 11-5 at home and 6-6-0-1 on the road so far in 2019-20.
  • Rockford is scoring 2.93 goals per game…and allowing 2.93 goals per game.
  • Rockford averages 28.59 shots and surrenders 31.76 shots per contest. Only six teams in the league give up more shots on goal than the IceHogs. Strong play in net has been important to the team’s success so far.
  • The power play is 30th out of 31 teams, converting just 10.8 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • While the penalty kill has been better, the Hogs are still working at an 80 percent kill rate. That is good for a tie with Chicago at 23rd in the AHL.
  • The IceHogs have posted seven shorthanded goals this season. That’s tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
  • Kevin Lankinen’s 55 saves on December 10 is the second-highest total in the league this season. On December 4, Phillipe Desrosiers saved 62 shots for Springfield in a win over Lehigh Valley.
  • Brandon Hagel (8 G, 7 A) and Phillipp Kurashev (5 G, 10 A) are tied for 16th among rookies in scoring with 15 points.
  • Team captain Tyler Sikura (8 G, 9 A) leads Rockford in scoring with 17 points. Dylan Sikura, currently in Rockford, has 16 points (9 G, 7 A) for the Hogs. Hagel and Kurashev are right behind the Sikuras. Defenseman Philip Holm has 14 points (3 G, 11 A).
  • Joseph Cramarossa, who had both goals in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland, is tied for the AHL lead with five fighting majors. He has scrapped three times for Rockford since coming aboard last month. That leads the IceHogs. Reese Johnson has dropped the gloves twice for Rockford. In all, the team has nine fighting majors this season.

Tomkins Playing For Spengler Cup

The goalie situation becomes a bit less crowded over the holidays. Rockford has loaned Matt Tomkins to Team Canada for the upcoming Spengler Cup. The former Ohio State net minder gets an opportunity to impress on the international tournament after some solid play for the piglets.

Tomkins has started six games for the IceHogs this season. He’s 4-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 save percentage. This leaves Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia as Rockford’s goalie tandem for the first time this season.

 

Quenneville Recalled

The IceHogs lost another productive skater when Chicago recalled forward John Quenneville on Sunday. Quenneville is coming off a stretch in Rockford where he had four goals and four helpers over his last five contests. His plus-nine skater rating was the highest on the team at the time of the call-up.

This leaves the Hogs roster at 23 players; 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. Alexandre Fortin has yet to return from an injury suffered November 29 against the Wolves. Anton Wedin sat out both games this weekend. Nathan Noel, fresh off his recall from the Indy Fuel, was injured Friday and did not play in Saturday’s game with Cleveland.

Mikael Hakkarainen skated in a game at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the first time. Returning from an injury in Iowa on October 4, Hakkarainen played in both weekend contests.

Barring I would expect at least a couple of forwards to be brought up from Indy sometime before Rockford’s next game. That comes on Friday when the Wild come to town.

 

Weekend Recaps

Friday, December 20-Rockford 4, Texas 2

The Stars were 8-1-1 in their last ten games before coming into the BMO Friday. Rockford put together a terrific 60-minute effort to knock off Texas.

Brandon Hagel was the catalyst for the first IceHogs goal of the evening, forcing a turnover in the Stars zone, then gathering in a long rebound off the pads of Texas goalie Landon Bow. Hagel skated out to the top of the zone and dropped a pass to John Quenneville at the left point. Quenneville’s long-distance offering slipped by Bow and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead 4:23 into the opening period.

Josh Melnick tied the game for Texas in the 13th minute, but Rockford took a 2-1 intermission lead thanks to some nifty passing on a late power play. Phillip Kurashev, assisted by Quenneville and Lucas Carlsson, sent a wrist shot by Bow with 2:53 remaining in the first period.

Carlsson made it 3-1 Hogs after one-timing a cross-ice feed off the boards from MacKenzie Entwistle 5:09 into the second period. That was plenty for Collin Delia, who stopped 33 of the 35 shots he saw on the night. The Stars pulled Bow and scored with six skaters at the 17:05 mark of the third, but Hagel’s empty-netter in the final minute of play sealed the victory.

 

Saturday, December 21-Cleveland 3, Rockford 2

Joseph Cramarossa was the offense for the IceHogs; his pair of lamp-lighters wasn’t enough to beat the visiting Monsters.

Cramarossa gave Rockford an early 1-0 lead, taking a drop pass from Phillipp Kurashev  and sending shot from the right circle that got though Cleveland goalie Veini Vehvilainen just 29 seconds into the game.

The Monsters took control of the game in the second period with three unanswered goals. Brett Gallant redirected an Adam Clendening blast by Hogs starter Kevin Lankinen 4:03 into the period. The Cleveland power play gave the Monsters a 2-1 lead on Nathan Gerbe’s snipe from the left circle 13:15 into the second. Two minutes later, Stefan Matteau potted an unassisted shorthanded goal to increase the Cleveland advantage to 3-1.

The IceHogs, as is their custom, played hard in the final twenty, closing the gap to 3-2 on the man advantage. Cramarossa’s first attempt from the left post was stopped, but the second effort elevated over Mehvilainen’s pad at the 7:57 mark. Lankinen spent most of the last three minutes on the Rockford bench in favor of the extra skater, to no avail.

 

Coming Up

The IceHogs host the Wild Friday, then head to Manitoba for games on Sunday and Tuesday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates this weekend as well as thoughts on the team all season long.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks affiliate in the American Hockey League, hope to continue their strong play into the month of December. The piglets got the month started right with a 4-2 win over Manitoba Tuesday. Another big Central Division weekend looms for the IceHogs. Friday sees Rockford in Grand Rapids. The first meeting of the season with Western Conference-leading Milwaukee is Saturday.

 

Roster Activity

On Tuesday, D Dennis Gilbert was recalled to the Blackhawks. Rockford has seven defenseman on its current roster. However, Philip Holm has been out the last couple of games and Lucas Carlsson took a puck in the face late in Tuesday’s game with the Moose. No one has been brought up from Indy this week, so I’d guess one or both players should be ready to play.

 

Weekday Recap

Tuesday, December 3-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

Rockford won its third straight game behind a strong performance from goalie Collin Delia, who posted a 37-save performance in his first action since November 3.

The Hogs drew cord on the power play 4:15 into the contest. The play was set up with a long pass by Delia to Dylan Sikura. Sikura maneuvered to the high slot and drew three defenders before sliding the puck to MacKenzie Entwistle. The rookie forward went forehand-backhand on Manitoba goalie Mikhail Berdin, striking through the five-hole to put Rockford up 1-0.

The Moose quickly responded with a Seth Griffith goal. However, the piglets regained the lead on a point blast by Joni Tuulola. Tyler Sikura picked up the apple with some deft stick work along the half boards and the IceHogs held a 2-1 advantage at the 8:53 mark.

Manitoba came back with a power play goal by Skylar McKenzie 14:48 into the first. Delia, who was having trouble securing the puck at times, made a nice pair of saves late in the period to send the teams to intermission even at two goals.

Both teams had a couple of power play chances in the second period. Brandon Hagel had recently come out of the penalty box for hooking when Matthew Highmore slid a pass his way in front of the Rockford net. Hagel did the rest, streaking past the Moose defense to buzz the goal mouth and backhand the puck into the Manitoba cage. The IceHogs led 3-2 at the 16:48 mark and held that advantage as the teams skated to the second intermission.

Delia held off the charging Moose in the third period. The Hogs goalie stopped twelve shots, including an outstanding pad save on a back door attempt midway through the period. Nick Moutrey added an empty net goal with 32 seconds remaining in regulation to put a topper on the win.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Tyler Sikura (C)-Matthew Highmore

Dylan Sikura-Phillipp Kurashev-Tim Soderlund

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Joni Tuulola-Adam Boqvist

Lucas Carlsson-Dennis Gilbert (A)

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian McCoshen

Collin Delia

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-4)

Boqvist-Quenneville-Hagel-Nilsson-Kurashev

Carlsson-Beaudin-Sikura-Entwistle-Soderlund

Penalty Kill (Moose were 1-5)

Forwards-T. Sikura-Soderlund-Nilsson-Entwistle-Moutrey-Cramarossa

Defense-Gilbert-McCoshen-Tuulola-Beaudin

 

Previewing The Weekend

Friday night, Rockford is in Grand Rapids. The Griffins have lost six straight, including a 3-1 loss to the Hogs at the BMO last Saturday.

Saturday night is the IceHogs first look at the Milwaukee Admirals. It’s also the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss Night. The Ads had a 13-game win streak snapped by Texas on Monday night but still lead the Central Division with a 17-4-1-2 mark.

Admirals center Yakov Trenin is second in the AHL with 14 goals this season. Daniel Carr (11 G, 10 A) was a 30-goal scorer with the Wolves last year but has been out of the Milwaukee lineup for a couple of weeks. The Admirals are bolstered by the scoring of Cole Schneider (6 G, 14 A), Colin Blackwell (6 G, 13 A) as well as defensemen Alexandre Carrier (3 G, 13 A) and Matt Donovan (1 G, 13 A). Former IceHogs forward Laurent Dauphin (5 G, 5 A) will also be facing off against Rockford.

It’s been a true tandem in goal for Milwaukee. Veterans Connor Ingram and Troy Grosenick have split the workload and together boast a 2.36 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. The Admirals are the stingiest defensive team in the AHL despite giving up over 31 shots a game, so the goalies are getting it done big time.

I would speculate that the Hogs will be facing Grosenick Saturday, as Ingram will likely play Friday when Milwaukee hosts Iowa. Regardless, getting pucks in the Ads net could prove challenging.

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