Hockey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have reached the midpoint of the 2020-21 campaign. It’s been a different type of season for the piglets, to be sure. The Blackhawks opted to go with an extremely inexperienced AHL affiliate. As predicted, they’ve taken some lumps.

The Hogs enter this weekend’s action with a 6-9-1 mark. I was thinking before the season that it would be difficult for Rockford to win even ten of its 33 scheduled games. Rockford has 16 games remaining, plus one postponed date with the Cleveland Monsters that has not yet been rescheduled.

Can the IceHogs build upon some recent success? Rockford has won five of its last seven games. They rode goaltender Matt Tomkins to two wins over Grand Rapids and have won three of their last four games with the Iowa Wild.

Half of Rockford’s wins come against the Wild, the only team below the Hogs in the AHL’s Central Division. The two teams clash five more times this season.

The IceHogs have just three games remaining with the Griffins. Eight of the 16 remaining games on the schedule are against the Chicago Wolves, who pace the Central with a 10-2-0-1 record.

Rockford has not seen the division’s top team since February 16. They face the Wolves in four straight games over the next two weeks. Hogs coach Derek King admitted in this week’s media availability that the Wolves, against whom his team is 0-3, present a still midseason test.

“They’re one of the best hockey teams I think I’ve seen in a while,” King said. “We need to play our game; we can’t stray from it. We’re going to have to compete and be almost flawless to get a couple of points out of this team. It’s a good challenge for us. I like the way we’re going and the direction we’re going. We’ve got some confidence now. We’re gonna get some goaltending. Things are kind of falling into place and it’s gonna be a big test for us.”

Regardless of the opponent, the piglets are showing signs of progress.

“They’re starting to get comfortable with their surroundings,” King pointed out. “A lot of them…maybe it’s a language barrier or they’re from a different country or just the first time really away from home, and they’re young, right? They’re learning a lot of things on how to fend for themselves.”

“It’s showing on the ice that we’re trusting each other. We’re starting to like each other a lot more, let’s put it that way.”

 

Hogs By The Numbers

  • Despite several games being postponed in the first half of the season, Rockford currently has played more games than any other team in the Central Division. The Monsters have only been able to get in ten games; the Wolves have played 13 but have been off with COVID issues of late. Grand Rapids has a dozen games under its belt. Iowa has also lost time to COVID but still has managed 14 games. Texas, who aren’t on Rockford’s schedule, has played 15 games.
  • Rookie forward Chris Wilkie leads the league with three shorthanded goals. Aside from Wilkie, the only other Hogs rookie to break into the rookie leaders is Riley McKay, who is tied among rookies with three fighting majors.
  • Cody Franson is fourth in defenseman scoring with 11 points (3 G, 8 A). Nicolas Beaudin is tied for tenth with nine points (2 G, 7 A) despite playing in just six games for Rockford.
  • Franson leads the team in scoring, followed by Dylan McLaughlin’s ten points (2 G, 8 A). Wilkie is the team leader with six goals. Rookie Matej Chalupa is second with four goals.
  • The IceHogs will spend most of the second half on the road. Four of those road jaunts are with the Wolves in their training facility in Hoffman Estates. Currently, they are 4-7 at the BMO Harris Bank Center and 2-2-1 away from the BMO.
  • There has been some improvement in the offense, though Rockford is still 23rd in the league with an per game average of 2.81 goals. The Hogs surrender 3.69 goals per contest (25th in the AHL), though some strong goalie play has improved those numbers recently.
  • Rockford’s power play has a 16.9 percent success rate, good for 14th in the AHL. The penalty kill is 76.2 percent effective. That’s 26th of the 28 AHL teams competing this season.
  • The IceHogs have been abysmal in terms of creating and preventing offense. They are dead last in the AHL in shots (25.94) and shots allowed (35.50) per game. Ironically, Rockford has lost the only two games in which they have managed to out shoot an opponent.
  • Tuesday’s 6-1 win over Iowa was the only Rockford victory by more than one goal.
  • Evan Barratt (2 G, 5 A) is the only IceHogs skater to have played in all 16 games.

 

Wolves-O-Rama

The IceHogs have a home-and-home with their nearest rival starting this weekend. Saturday, the action is in Hoffman Estates at 7:00 p.m. The teams come to the BMO Sunday afternoon for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop.

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

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs currently have four goalies on the roster. Matt Tomkins was tabbed the primary starter before the start of the 2020-21 season. Fresh off of a stint on the Blackhawks taxi squad, Tomkins has shown why he earned that role.

Tomkins has a tough job as the last line of defense for a Rockford squad that is short on experience and lacks the talent depth of other teams in the AHL. That said, the 26-year-old goalie put together solid performances in his last two starts against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The highlight was a 42-save outing in Rockford’s 2-1 overtime victory Saturday night. The IceHogs were dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard at Van Andel Arena by a Griffins club that had stifled the piglets in three previous meetings.

Tomkins made point-blank stops on several crucial power play opportunities for Grand Rapids and kept the Hogs in contention all evening. All this in just his second game back since being called up to the taxi squad on February 26.

Before starting Thurday’s game with the Griffins, Tomkins had last seen game action February 22. In that game, he was blitzed for six goals by Cleveland, giving way to backup Cale Morris.

Tomkins was recalled in order to provide a conditioning assignment for Collin Delia. He did his best to use the time in Chicago to kick his game up a notch.

“It was a good change of pace, a good experience,  Tomkins said while in a media availability March 9, the day after he was returned to the IceHogs. “It was good to be around those guys, good to be around the group, coaches. Get different feedback, different eyes. It was a positive experience.
I tried to take as much out of it as I could, and it went really well.”

Delia was down with Rockford to get some game action and to build some confidence. Tomkins, in turn, got a chance to work with Jimmy Waite, Chicago’s goal tending coach. The added mentoring fit in quite well with developmental goalie coach Peter Aubry, according to Tomkins.

“There was nothing really glaring, in my opinion, coming in there that I wanted to work on,” Tomkins explained. “It’s good to just kind of see the things that he (Waite) thinks are important. I think there’s a lot of overlap with what Pete teaches here as well. It’s good to see his (Waite’s) perspective on specific scenarios, how he likes his guys to play them.”

“Just a lot of communication,” Tomkins continued, “that was the biggest thing, just talking through scenarios, talking through how to play different situations and, yeah, just a lot of goalie talk, which was good.”

When the 16-day gap between game action was pointed out to Tomkins, he was unfazed. “I’ve gone through this experience a lot before, especially last year. I had long stretches between games. Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

Tomkins was the third goalie behind Delia and Kevin Lankinen last season. With the former playing below expectations and the latter battling injury, Tomkins played well in nine starts throughout the first four months. He earned his first NHL contract January 23, a two-year deal that is up following this season.

After signing, Tomkins was used sparingly. The organization chose to give most of the workload to Delia after Lankinen underwent shoulder surgery. From his signing until the season was halted, Tomkins got just four starts. He was in net for Rockford’s final game last spring, a 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago March 8.

The Blackhawks drafted Tomkins in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft. After a final year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, he spent four seasons at Ohio State. After a 12-5-3 record with the Buckeyes in his senior season to go along with a 2.48 GAA and a .909 save percentage, he signed an AHL contract with Rockford.

Tomkins appeared in eight games with the IceHogs in his rookie season of 2017-18, but spent most of those first two years with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. In 2018-19, he made 54 appearances for the Fuel, nabbing an ECHL Player Of The Week Award on three different occasions.

Tomkins spent all of last season with the IceHogs, save for the time he spent on Team Canada’s winning Spengler Cup squad. He picked up a win for Team Canada against HC Davos, making 22 saves in a 5-1 victory.

For the first time in his four-year professional career, Tomkins is getting starters minutes for the IceHogs. As the only NHL contract in Rockford at the moment, it makes sense to give him the opportunity to show off his game. He has certainly earned it.

Cale Morris had solid night in his first AHL start back on February 23. The Hogs also have Tom Aubrun on the roster. While Tomkins was with Chicago, Rockford signed KHL goaltender Ivan Nalimov to an AHL contract for this season. How does having three goalies behind him looking for playing time affect his mindset?

“I’ve certainly learned something over my career that giving that stuff attention and thinking about these things doesn’t serve you any good,” Tomkins said. “I just try to focus on myself. It certainly is something that’s very much out of my control.”

 

The Talent Gap Is Wide

I’ve been crowing about how much more experience and physical play Grand Rapids brings to these match-ups with the piglets. Maybe I’m overstating the fact.

Then again, maybe I’m not.

Grand Rapids AHL experience on its roster: 3442 games.

Rockford AHL experience on its roster: 1993 games. (Much of those by Garrett Mitchell and Cody Franson)

NHL contracts in the Griffins lineup Saturday: 14

NHL contracts in the IceHogs lineup Saturday: 5

The IceHogs are by far the least experienced team in the Central Division. Every other team Rockford will play the rest of this season will be have these advantages over the Hogs.

 

Saturday, March 13-Rockford 2, Grand Rapids 1 (OT)

Matt Tomkins stood on his head to pick up a big road win for the piglets. Tomkins was the game’s First Star with a 42-save performance.

The Griffins took control of the action from the opening drop of the puck, camping out in the Rockford zone and heaping vulcanized rubber upon Tomkins. Through 40 minutes, he was up to the challenge. Tomkins had 30 saves in the first and second periods. Rockford, on the other hand, found the going rough in the offensive end, getting just ten shots to Griffins goalie Kevin Boyle.

Grand Rapids broke the scoreless tie early in the third. Taro Hirose picked off a clearing attempt along the left half boards and sent a puck toward the crease. Kyle Criscuolo was on hand to redirect past the blocker of Tomkins at 2:27 of the final period.

The Hogs responded with a power play goal by Matej Chalupa at the 7:25 mark. The Hogs capitalized on an abbreviated man advantage when Chalupa converted on a long rebound of an Evan Barratt shot that came all the way out to the right circle.

From there, Tomkins hung on like grim death, ending regulation with 39 stops. He made three more in Gus Macker Time, the last of which set up the game winner.

Tomkins made a shoulder save of a Givani Smith attempt. The rebound went out to Dylan McLaughlin at the top of the Hogs zone. McLaughlin headed up an odd-man rush into Griffins territory, ending the game with a snap shot from the left dot 2:14 into overtime.

McLaughin’s first goal of the season earned him Second Star honors. Criscuolo was named the game’s Third Star.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Dylan McLaughlin-MacKenzie Entwistle-D.J. Busdeker

Matej Chalupa-Evan Barratt-Chris Wilkie

Riley McKay-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Tim Soderlund

Mitchell Fossier-Chad Yetman-Gabriel Gagne

Alec Regula-Cody Franson (A)

Issak Phillips-Michael Krutil

Cliff Watson-Dimitry Osipov

Matt Tomkins

Cale Morris

 

Coming Up

Rockford heads back to Grand Rapids for a Tuesday night affair. The IceHogs then host Iowa Friday and Saturday.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs suffered through a disappointing, abbreviated weekend. Despite an influx of talent from the Blackhawks taxi squad, the piglets dropped the first of two scheduled games in Cleveland Saturday night.

Are you ready for the abbreviated part? ‘Cuz here comes the abbreviated part.

Sunday’s game with the Monsters was postponed less than an hour before puck drop “due to league COVID-19 protocols affecting the Cleveland Monsters”, per an AHL release.

Now, Cleveland had just skated with (and beaten) the Hogs with a depleted lineup the evening before. The Monsters played most of Saturday’s contest with nine forwards and five defensemen, after starting the game with ten forwards and six defensemen.

Columbus sent Zac Dalpe and Ryan MacInnis, the players they recalled on Friday, to Cleveland on Sunday. It was obvious that they were set on playing (and beating) Rockford again…until just before game time.

The Monsters organization enacted a policy before the season that they would provide no specifics pertaining to COVID-related happenings. You will have to read between the lines and assume there was a positive test result Sunday morning. The IceHogs skated with this team Saturday. There could be issues ahead for Rockford in the coming weeks.

 

Roster Moves

The Blackhawks shuffled the taxi squad on Friday. Chicago recalled forwards Mikael Hakkarainen and Brad Morrison and goalie Matt Tomkins. They sent forward Reese Johnson to Rockford, along with defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk and Nicolas Beaudin. Chicago also sent goalie Collin Delia to Rockford for a 14-day conditioning stint.

With Chad Krys out with and injury, the Hogs are a little thin at defense. Kalynuk and Beaudin slotted right into the Rockford lineup, as did Johnson…and Delia.

On paper, this was the most-talent laden group the IceHogs have iced this season. Cleveland was playing down two (and later, four) skaters, including two of their most experienced centers. The Monsters prevailed, in large part due to the performance of the Cucamonga Kid.

 

Delia’s Return

Delia looked like a goalie that hadn’t manned the crease in game conditions for over five weeks. He started slowly, giving up a pair of goals in the first five minutes. He settled down a bit, but still had problems covering loose pucks and was victimized by several shots he appeared to be in position to stop.

Delia has been prone to severe funks throughout his tenure with the organization. His rookie year was looking like a washout before bouncing back to lead the Hogs to the Western Conference Final. Last season, Delia was benched for a month after another poor stretch to open the season. Again, he was able to work out whatever issues that caused the slump.

It would have been great for Delia to get right back on the horse Sunday to begin the process of playing his way out of his current doldrums. For the record, the Hogs should have Delia in net as much as possible on his conditioning assignment.

There are four games scheduled for the remainder of the assignment. Delia should be allowed the chance to pick up some confidence and work out the kinks in his game. If the Blackhawks are serious about player development, Delia should be in net at every opportunity these next couple of weeks.

 

Recap

Saturday, February 27-Cleveland 6, Rockford 3

A short-handed Monsters team was still too much for Rockford at Rocket Mortgage Field House Saturday. Collin Delia did not impress in his first game with the IceHogs while on a conditioning assignment.

Cleveland lit the lamp at 3:04 of the first period on a Nick Lappin strike from the high slot. The score was the culmination of Hogs goalie Collin Delia being on the ice without a stick for nearly ninety seconds. The shot beat Delia to the glove side, giving the Monsters a 1-0 lead.

Lappin would leave the game soon after following a collision with the end boards. The Monsters, who were skating down two forwards already, iced just nine forwards for the bulk of the contest.

Four minutes later, Brett Gallant came off the bench and made a beeline for the slot. Taking a pass from Carson Meyer, who was along the half boards, the veteran forward struck cord for a two-goal Cleveland advantage at the 7:04 mark.

Rockford got on the board 6:25 into the second period. Cody Franson took in a pass along the blueline from Wyatt Kalynuk and tossed the puck toward the net. Monsters goalie Matiss Kivleniecks made the pad save, but the rebound found the stick of MacKenzie Entwistle at the right post. Rubber and twine united, cutting the Cleveland lead to 2-1.

The Hogs got the first man advantage of the evening after Zach Jordan was called for tripping midway through the second period. As the power play expired, Evan Polei hit Jordan with a stretch pass as he came out of the box. The attempt to Delia’s stick side found the back of the Rockford net for a 3-1 Cleveland lead 11:42 into the middle frame.

Late in the second, Delia failed to cover a loose puck at the right post on a Connor McDonald shot. Tyler Sikura was on hand to poke the biscuit across the goal line at the 18:17 mark. Heading into the second intermission, the Hogs trailed 4-1.

Rockford cut the lead to two goals early in the third period. Kalynuk got the scoring play started by hitting Dylan McLaughlin coming across the red line. McLaughlin took the puck hard to the Cleveland net. He lost the handle coming across the crease, but Matej Chalupa was at the right post to finish the play at the 3:20 mark.

Cleveland came right back with a power play goal by Trey Fix-Wolansky at 3:52 of the third. Rockford returned fire moments later when Alec Regula sent a backhand from the bottom of the right circle past Kivleniecks at 5:19 of the period.

That’s as close as things got. Fix-Wolansky got his second power play goal of the night, firing past Delia for a 6-3 Monsters lead with 5:09 remaining.

It wasn’t Delia’s night. He made 24 stops on 30 Cleveland shots and struggled most of the way in his first action in more than a month.

The Hogs power play was fruitless in two chances. The Monsters struck cord on two of their three opportunities.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mitchell Fossier-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Chris Wilkie

John Quenneville (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle-Reese Johnson

Andrai Altybarmakyan-Evan Barratt-Tim Soderlund

Matej Chalupa-Dylan McLaughlin-Gabriel Gagne

Nicolas Beaudin-Cody Franson (A)

Wyatt Kalynuk-Alec Regula

Issak Phillips-Cole Moberg

Collin Delia

Cale Morris

 

This Week

The IceHogs come back to the BMO Harris Bank Center to begin a four-game home stand. Wednesday night, the Grand Rapids Griffins pay the piglets a call.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates, and team news on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks, finally got their season underway Saturday afternoon at the BMO Harris Bank Center. As I expected, the piglets were unable to slow down the talented Chicago Wolves. Rockford lost their season opener 5-4.

What I did not expect to see was the IceHogs competing with their intrastate rivals. Rockford has nowhere near the firepower the Wolves possess, yet they led twice in the contest and had an open look to tie things up late in the game.

The key for the Hogs this year will be how the young prospects will contribute to the scoring sheet. On Saturday, three rookies drew cord-Chat Yetman, Wyatt Kalynuk, and Matej Chalupa. Evan Barratt chipped in with an assist and was active around the net.

Chalupa’s third-period goal was set up with a nice feed from behind the Wolves net by D.J. Busdeker. Andrei Altybarmakyan contributed a secondary assist and, like Barrett, had three shots on goal.

It was nice to see the youth of Rockford get into the offensive mix. That is going to have to continue if the IceHogs expect to stay with teams like Chicago. Especially since the piglets will be seeing a lot of the Wolves.

Chicago, who had beaten Grand Rapids 3-1 the previous evening, was filling in as Rockford’s opponent after the Cleveland Monsters were grounded with COVID-19 issues. It was announced over the weekend that two additional games with the Wolves had been scheduled. The first of which will be in Hoffman Estates on Tuesday, February 9.

Musings

  • Matt Tomkins saw 36 shots and made 31 saves. It appears that Rockford coach Derek King is set on giving the former Ohio State goalie the starters role. Tomkins wasn’t bad, considering the Wolves kept the pressure on for the last 50 minutes of action.
  • The Wolves bore a passing resemblance to the Admirals team of a year ago that just overwhelmed opponents in the offensive zone. Makes sense, since many of those players now skate for Chicago. The Wolves aren’t quite as experienced or adept at passing as that Milwaukee bunch, but the nose for the net is there.
  • Rockford mustered just on even-strength goal in the game. Several players, including Altybarmakyan and Chalupa, created breakaway chances in the opening period only to be denied by Wolves goalie Jeremy Helvig. That turned out to be a key momentum swing, as Chicago stayed in the game long enough to get its offense rolling.
  • Kalynuk, making his pro debut, really appeared to be accustomed to the speed of the game. He made some nice plays at both ends of the ice and his one-timer was spot on.
  • Franson, who set Kalynuk up for his first pro goal, had three helpers and was easily the best defenseman on the ice. Much like his run with the Hogs in 2018, he is strong at both ends and capable of controlling the action on the power play. He’s on an AHL contract and was pretty up front about trying to earn some NHL ink. Franson could draw some interest from a team in need of some depth at defense as the season progresses.
  • In keeping with the “prospect camp” approach the Blackhawks are taking with their AHL affiliate, the piglets were sporting some pretty high numbers on their porcine sweaters. Krys, for example, went from wearing number 4 a season ago to donning number 43. Only four players had numbers lower than 40. Lots of fives, sixes, and sevens out there for Rockford.
  • Rockford’s Dmitry Osipov was involved in a brief scrap with Jeannot midway though the first period. First fight of the year…and with ten more meetings between the IceHogs and Wolves, it won’t be the last.
  • With eleven games between these two teams, there will likely be a clear winner of the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup, presently holding open the locker room door at the BMO Harris Bank Center (or so I like to think).

 

Roster Moves (Just Where Is Jack Ramsey?)

As things got underway at the BMO Saturday, I got a tweet inquiring about defenseman Jack Ramsey, who wasn’t on the ice for the Wolves game. Ramsey also was not on the Hogs opening day roster. Or the training camp roster. Or the Indy Fuel’s roster, because that’s where I looked next.

Ramsey signed a one-year AHL contract with the IceHogs on April 30. The Minnesota defenseman was a seventh-round selection of the Blackhawks in the 2014 NHL Draft. He spent the bulk of last season with the Fuel (2 G, 8 A in 46 games). He was recalled a couple of times by Rockford but never got into a game.

I will try and follow up on Ramsey’s status for this season.

 

Hey! We Got A Recap!

Saturday, February 6-Chicago 5, Rockford 4

The Rockford IceHogs got off to a fast start in their season opener. They just couldn’t keep a talented Chicago Wolves out of the net.

The Hogs raced out to an early 2-0 lead, only to see Chicago rally from behind twice as the Wolves took over to win, 5-4. A pair of goals from Wolves rookie Seth Jarvis proved to be the difference in this high-scoring affair.

The Hogs were 2-2 on the power play in the first half of the opening period. With Lukas Craggs in the box for holding, John Quenneville took a pass from Wyatt Kalynuk into neutral ice. A give and go with Cody Franson allowed Quenneville to streak into the Wolves zone. He beat Chicago goalie Jeremy Helvig from the slot at 4:41 for a 1-0 Rockford advantage.

A few minutes later, Joey Keane was sent to time out for holding the stick. The IceHogs won the resulting offensive zone draw and maneuvered the puck to a pinching Franson. The veteran defensman found Evan Barratt in front of the Chicago crease. Helvig stopped the attempt, but Chad Yetman’s put back gave Rockford a 2-0 lead at the 8:35 mark.

The Wolves rallied in the latter half of the first period. Jarvis potted his second goal of the season, cleaning up a rebound of a Jamieson Rees power move to the Hogs net at 17:22 of the first. Just over a minute later, Cavan Fitzgerald sent a snipe from the top of the left circle. The shot beat Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins, clanged off the left post and settled into the net to tie the contest at two goals with 1:36 remaining in the fist period.

Rockford went up early in the second when Franson set up Kalynuk for a one-timer from the right dot on the man advantage 4:36 into the middle frame. The Wolves responded with three unanswered goals.

Coming off a faceoff win in the Hogs zone, Alexandre Carrier sent a shot wide of the net. However, the carom off the end boards wound up on the stick of Tanner Jeannot, who tied the game 3-3 at the 5:11 mark. Another strong move to the net by Rees got him past the defending Chad Krys. Jarvis was on hand to finish the play and put the Wolves up 4-3 at 8:10 of the second.

Rem Pitlick got in the way of a Quenneville pass attempt to set up a breakaway chance. Pitlick sent a shot over the blocker of Tomkins for a 5-3 Chicago lead at the 14:35 mark. The IceHogs found themselves down a pair at the second intermission.

Rockford cut the Wolves lead to 5-4 on an even-strength goal by Matej Chalupa, who gathered in a nice backhand pass from behind the net by D.J. Busdeker and snuck a shot past Helvig. Dylan McLaughlin was credited with the secondary assist and also helped out with a screen of Helvig on the goal, which came at 9:27 of the final frame.

The equalizer would not materialize before the final horn. Yetman had an open look from the left post on a late Rockford power play. However, his put back attempt of Barratt’s shot was just off the mark. Despite pulling Tomkins for a two-man advantage, Chicago held firm and time ran out on the Hogs.

Tomkins made 31 saves in the loss, in which the Hogs were out shot 36-32. The game’s three stars, in order, were Jarvis, Franson, and Kalynuk.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville (A)-Evan Barratt-Andrei Altybarmakyan

Tim Soderlund-Dylan McLaughlin-D.J. Busdeker

Matej Chalupa-Chad Yetman-Michal Teply

Mikael Hakkarainen-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Wyatt Kalynuk-Cody Franson (A)

Alec Regula-Dimitry Osipov

Chad Krys-Michael Krutil

Matt Tomkins 

Scott Darling

Power Play (3-6)

Barratt-Yetman-Quenneville-Franson-Kalynuk

Chalupa-Altybarmakyan-Teply-Regula-Krys

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 1-5)

Forwards-Mitchell-Hakkarainen-Quenneville-McLaughlin

Defensemen-Krys-Kalynuk-Franson-Krutil-Regula-Osipov

 

Next up for the piglets are these same Chicago Wolves. The two teams will meet at the Triphahn Center in Hoffman Estates on Tuesday in one of those classic 2:00 p.m. starts that everyone can enjoy.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for game recaps, news, and thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.