Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs, American Hockey League affiliate of the Blackhawks, are getting underway with training camp for the 2020-21 campaign on Monday. With the season set to kick off on February 5, the ‘Bago County Flyin’ Piglets once again take to the BMO Harris Bank Center to do battle with the other teams of the AHL.

Sort of. The schedule is cut down to 30 games, the opponents are cut down to four, and the roster…well, we shall address that in just a bit.

Derek King is back for his second full season at the helm of the IceHogs. He’s 58-55-3-6 since taking over for Jeremy Colliton early in the 2028-29 season. King will be working with a lot of new faces, as is per usual for Rockford.

How much do the IceHogs have returning from the 2019-20 campaign? Let’s take a look at the stat sheet.

Starting at the top of the list of last season’s top point scorers in Rockford:

  1. Tyler Sikura (14 G, 20 A)-He’ll be at the BMO when the season opens-as a member of the Cleveland Monsters, with whom he signed in October.
  2. Dylan Sikura (14 G, 19 A)-Traded to Vegas and currently set to skate for their AHL team in Henderson.
  3. Brandon Hagel (19 G, 12 A)-Last season’s goals leader for the Hogs is with the Blackhawks.
  4. Mackenzie Entwistle (11 G, 15 A)-Currently on the Hawks taxi squad.
  5. Lucas Carlsson (5 G, 21 A)-Same.

Forward John Quenneville, sixth in team scoring with 13 goals and nine helpers, has been assigned to Rockford. I could continue down this list, but it gets a little too dire for me to have to write. Only the 14th (AHL contract Gabriel Gagne) and 20th (Chad Krys) of the Hogs top scorers join Quenneville in Rockford. In all, the Hogs have just ten skaters who saw action with Rockford last season heading into training camp.

The taxi squad delivers quite the blow to the IceHogs offensive potential. Brandon Pirri, who has cleared waivers, is an AHL scoring machine but may or may not be assigned to Rockford. Entwistle and Carlsson are returning prospects who could both be expected to improve upon previous AHL efforts.

Even with players like Hagel, Phillip Kurashev, and the aforementioned taxi squad skaters, the Hogs would be hard-pressed to qualify as even an average offensive squad. This is a team that struggled to put three goals on the board last season.

Rockford wound up 29th out of 31 teams in goals scored last season. The team right below them, the Chicago Wolves, will be drawing prospects from Carolina, whose affiliate in Charlotte won a Calder Cup in 2019. They will also be sent prospects from Nashville, whose affiliate in Milwaukee was the league juggernaut up until the season was canceled in March.

Rockford should not expect the same influx of top-end prospects. The IceHogs cupboard is bare. In terms of AHL game experience, the piglets are dead last of the 28 teams set to begin the 2020-21 season. (Springfield, Charlotte and Milwaukee opted out of play for 2020-21.)

Doubling down on young prospects is the way the Hawks organization has decided to play this shortened AHL season. A team wanting to compete this year could snap up several impact players even at as the AHL approaches its startup date. Many teams, including Rockford, are passing on the solid AHL talent still out there, probably due to financial reasons.

Like a lot of teams around the league, the IceHogs will begin play in an empty BMO. That may be the case for the bulk of the 30-game schedule. Little or no revenue coming in and no plan for a postseason make this an understandable, if a less than optimal, path moving forward.

On the other hand, a lot of young players who may otherwise have no shot at steady AHL minutes have been afforded a small window of opportunity. A slew of them could be skating for Rockford.

 

The 2020-21 Schedule

As previously stated, Rockford has a 30-game slate. The Hogs are in the six-team Central Division, though they have no games scheduled with the Texas Stars. Rockford’s action this season is comprised of dates with the four remaining Central Division teams.

The Hogs have ten games with the Iowa Wild and eight apiece between the Chicago Wolves and the Grand Rapids Griffins. Rockford also has four match-ups with the Cleveland Monsters, who visit the BMO for a two-game set February 5 and 6 to kick off the season.

Fans will not be allowed into the BMO to begin the season. That could chance later in the spring, though the schedule makers did Rockford no favors in this regard. Ten of RFD’s first 16 games, through the end of March, are at home. Starting in April, the Hogs have just five home dates in their remaining 14 games.

Let’s begin our look at the team that could awaiting the puck drop against the Monsters February 5 with a look at the crease.

 

Goalie

With the NHL required to keep three goalies on the roster/taxi squad, the only net-minder under contract to the Blackhawks currently eligible to skate for the IceHogs is 26-year-old Matt Tomkins. Tomkins is in the last year of a two-year contract he signed in the middle of the 2019-20 campaign.

Despite being signed to NHL ink by Chicago, the organization hasn’t really given Tomkins a lot of playing time. He seemed to have earned a contract with strong play in nine starts in the first half of the season when Collin Delia was struggling mightily and Kevin Lankinen was battling injuries. Following his signing on January 23 of 2020, he made just four appearances before play was halted in March.

The Hawks seventh-round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, Tomkins seemingly has his biggest opportunity with the team since turning pro. He played well when called upon last season; we’ll see if he gets regular work as the Hogs begin action.

Rockford also has a pair of goalies signed to AHL deals. Tom Aubrun, who was signed to a two-year contract after a standout career at NCAA Division III Norwich University, is currently with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, where he has seen limited action. Former Chicago Steel and Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris was signed to a one-year contract by Rockford back in October.

Lankinen is the only Hawks goalie who is waiver exempt. The way he has played early in the season for Chicago, it seems unlikely that he, Delia or Malcom Subban are sent to Rockford. This leaves Tomkins, Morris and Aubrun responsible for the pipes at the BMO.

Not so fast, pilgrim. Sunday night, Tony Androckitis of insideahlhockey.com reported that former Hogs and Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling had signed to play in Rockford this season.

Darling parlayed a strong first half of the 2014-15 season with the IceHogs into success with the Blackhawks and a big contract with Carolina. The Hurricanes later bought out Darling, who has struggled with his game the past three seasons.

At this point, I’m not sure if Darling signed a standard contract with Rockford or just a PTO, which runs for 25 games. As training camp progresses, we should see what role Darling plays for the IceHogs.

 

Coming Up Friday: Season Preview, Part Two

The IceHogs have a preseason game scheduled for the afternoon of Wednesday, January 27 in Hoffman Estates. On Friday, I will take a closer look at the landscape at forward and defense.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the AHL season.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have 19 games remaining in the 2019-20 season. The piglets had a tough week, earning just two of eight possible points as they attempt to hold on to their playoff aspirations.

At the moment, I am watching the latter stages of the IceHogs 5-1 loss to Chicago in Rosemont. Monday brings the uncertainty of the NHL trade deadline and the turnover that may possibly ensue. How is Rockford equipped to push to the Calder Cup Playoffs over the next few weeks?

Well…it looks like the Hogs will have to get to the postseason largely on the players that have been toiling in Rockford most of the season. Unless they don’t.

The next few hours should tell quite the tale for both the Hawks and IceHogs. If a prospect is obtained in any trades made before the deadline, they will most certainly be sent to Rockford. We may also see a couple of paper transactions over the course of Monday.

Any player on an NHL roster as of the trade deadline is not eligible for the remainder of the AHL season, including the playoffs. That would include Lucas Carlsson, who made his NHL debut yesterday in Dallas.

We may see Carlsson reassigned to Rockford and brought up later Monday evening. Chicago may also choose to yo-yo some other waiver-exempt players down I-90. The short list could include Adam Boqvist, Matthew Highmore and Alexander Nylander. This would allow some young players to get in some extra game experience just in case (sigh) the Blackhawks don’t reach the playoffs.

Of course, if Chicago decides to punt on the season, it could mean a couple of IceHogs may depart to get looks with the Blackhawks or as part of a swap. If a goalie is sent to another club, I’d expect Collin Delia to slide into the backup role. With Kevin Lankinen out with an injury, Rockford may need to call up or sign a backup for Matt Tomkins should the situation dictate.

The bottom line is this; don’t expect the IceHogs roster to improve dramatically in the final two months. Anton Wedin and Phillipp Kurashev both returned to action after lengthy absences. On the other hand, John Quenneville left Sunday’s game with an injury and Hogs coach Derek King hinted that forward Joseph Cramarossa may have injured a shoulder in a fight with Chicago’s Jermaine Loewen.

Sunday’s loss to the Wolves stung, as they occupy the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Back on Tuesday night, Rockford dropped a 2-1 decision to third-place Grand Rapids. The IceHogs rebounded Friday, getting 28 saves from Collin Delia 28-saves to defeat San Antonio 1-0. However, Rockford was on the short end of a 7-2 shellacking in Milwaukee the following evening.

Rockford has now started a crucial stretch of games in which they play all of the teams currently battling for the third and fourth playoff spots in the Central Division. Rockford is in fifth place with 55 points in 57 games.

The Griffins are four points away. Chicago, who has two games in hand on the Hogs, are two points ahead. Just behind Rockford are San Antonio (54 points in 54 games and Texas (51 points in 53 games).

What does thee IceHogs schedule look like for the next three weeks? Rockford begins a road trip with games Wednesday and Friday in Texas. They play the Rampage Sunday afternoon, then return to the BMO March 6 against Grand Rapids. After visiting the Griffins on March 7, Rockford is back in Rosemont the next day against the Wolves. The piglets are then off six days before playing Chicago at Allstate Arena on March 14.

It’s pretty simple, really. To come out ahead of the pack, you need to beat those teams in regulation. The schedule makers have laid out all of the teams Rockford needs to knock off to vault into a playoff spot. It would have been nice to get started on a run Sunday, but it will have to wait until the Hogs get to Texas.

 

Additional Thoughts

  • Garrett Mitchell, signed to a PTO on February 6, has already made an impact in the Rockford locker room. Mitchell, in just his eighth and ninth games with the Hogs, was an alternate captain against the Admirals and Wolves.
  • Dennis Gilbert was involved in a post-game scrap with Grand Rapids defenseman Dylan McIlrath Tuesday. Gilbert wore a full face shield this weekend as a result.
  • The lone goal in Friday’s victory over the Rampage came in the first period came off the stick of Alexandre Fortin. It was a shorthanded triumph eight minutes in, set up by some Tyler Sikura hustle along the boards to gain access to the puck. Fortin took Sikura’s feed in the slot and sent a laser over the glove of Ville Husso.
  • The Hogs produced five goals in their four games this week. They were 0-14 on the power play. The goal scorers for Rockford this week were Carlsson, Fortin, Mitchell, Cramarossa and Brandon Hagel.
  • Kurashev was just beginning to show flashes of offense at the time of his injury in Manitoba. If he can pick up his production from where is was trending in December (3 G, 6 A), good for the Hogs.
  • Tomkins got his first action in net Saturday since being slapped with seven goals against Milwaukee back on February 1. Milwaukee scored six against him before Tomkins night ended in a goalie fight with the Admirals Troy Grosenick. Grosenick, by the way, is 9-0-2 against Rockford over the last two seasons.
  • Like I said a couple of weeks ago, Milwaukee has been feasting on the IceHogs the last two months. If Delia is brought up to Chicago this week, Tomkins may finally see some steady work after signing his NHL contract last month. That would be all right with me. I mean, why sign a guy if you aren’t going to send him out between the pipes on a regular basis?
  • Regardless of how the goalie tandem turns out in the next 24 hours, I think the fact that the Blackhawks now have three NHL contracts in goal should result in one of these goalies serving as an inexpensive backup next season to whomever is tapped to tend goal in Chicago.
  • Who’s to say that Delia can’t come up and be very effective? Does anybody remember when Corey Crawford went from long-time AHL starter to NHL success once he got the opportunity? Before Chicago signs five or six more goalies this summer, why don’t we see what one of the current youngsters can do in net?
  • Brandon Pirri, who scored twice for the Wolves Sunday afternoon, has 34 points (15 G, 19 A) in 37 games. That point total would lead the IceHogs through 57 games.
  • Could picking up one forward and one defenseman make a difference for Rockford’s chances? Heck, yeah, if it’s the right couple of players.  However, I would count the Hogs fortunate if their parent club could nab even one skater to provide a boost.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The offensive woes of the Rockford IceHogs were on full display this week. Twice the piglets took to the BMO Harris Bank Center ice. Twice they came away with nothing.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate was beaten Monday afternoon by Belleville, then dropped a Wednesday night decision to Texas. The IceHogs were shut out in both contests.

The last time a Rockford squad was held scoreless two games in a row came in March 25 and 28 of 2017, when Grand Rapids and Iowa held the Hogs without a goal. That season, a dismal IceHogs team averaged a league-worst 2.30 goals per game.

Over Rockford’s last 15 games, the team is scoring at a 1.53 goals per game clip. The Hogs have been shut out three times and held to a single goal four times during that span.

Wednesday’s loss to the Stars left the IceHogs with a 20-21-1-1 mark, good for sixth place in the AHL’s Central Division. With 42 points and a .488 points percentage, Rockford is still right there in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Hogs are still within reach of the Stars, Chicago and Grand Rapids with 33 games remaining on the schedule. They’ve just picked a poor time to be spinning their tires.

 

Roster News

Dennis Gilbert and Brandon Hagel have been doing the I-90 shuffle this week, taking part in both games for the Hogs between trips to Chicago. Both should be with Rockford through the weekend’s games with Milwaukee.

On Wednesday, Nathan Noel was sent back to the Indy Fuel. Spencer Watson was released from his PTO and returned to the Fuel as well.

 

Tomkins Signs NHL Contract

Matt Tomkins was a hard luck loser against Texas, stopping 30 shots and coming out on the short end of a 1-0 score. On Thursday, it was announced that the goalie had signed a two-year contract with the Blackhawks.

Tomkins, Chicago’s seventh-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, toiled for the Fuel for most of his first two pro seasons while on an AHL deal with Rockford. He’s been with the IceHogs for the bulk of this season, save for his stint with Team Canada in the Spengler Cup.

Tomkins is currently the team leader in goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.916), though he has just nine starts on the season. Collin Delia has been playing well of late, shutting out the Wolves Sunday afternoon in his latest start. Kevin Lankinen, who was the Hogs best goalie in the early going and is Rockford’s representative in the AHL All Star Classic, has struggled a bit in the last month.

The three-man net takes on a different perspective with this signing. The Blackhawks now have three NHL prospects at the goalie position in Rockford. It’s hard not to imagine one of those goalies being dealt at the trade deadline to create more development time for the other two. For now, Hogs coach Derek King will have to find time for all three players.

 

Recaps

Monday, January 20-Belleville 3, Rockford 0

Belleville broke open the game in the third period to hand the Hogs the loss.

Josh Norris scored on the power play 3:36 into the second period for a 1-0 Senators advantage. Two goals early in the third period spelled doom for Rockford. Alex Formenton lit the lamp 2:49 into the final frame. Three minutes later, Joseph LaBate got his attempt by IceHogs goalie Kevin Lankinen to close out the scoring.

Rockford was 0-4 on the man advantage. The Hogs got 23 shots on goal, all stopped by Belleville goalie Filip Gustavsson. Lankinen stopped 26 of 29 shots on the afternoon.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Joseph Cramarossa-MacKenzie Entwistle-Alexandre Fortin

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Peter Quenneville

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian McCoshen (A)

Chad Krys-Dennis Gilbert

Kevin Lankinen

Collin Delia

 

Wednesday, January 22-Texas 1, Rockford 0 

Rockford was shut out for the second game in a row wasting a terrific performance by goalie Matt Tomkins.

After a scoreless opening period, Texas took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Riley Tufte at 4:25 of the middle frame. The Stars prospect took the biscuit away from Rockford’s Jacob Nilsson, skated to the front of the net and sent a backhand past Tomkins.

That would be the only mark in this contest. Tomkins wound up with 30 saves in a losing effort, but the Stars Landon Bow turned away all 29 shots the Hogs threw at him.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Alexandre Fortin-Peter Quenneville-Dylan McLaughlin

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Chad Krys-Dennis Gilbert

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Ian McCoshen (A)-Ben Youds

Matt Tomkins

Collin Delia

 

Admirals Weekend

The IceHogs have a big home-and-home with first-place Milwaukee coming up this weekend. Friday’s tilt is in Milwaukee, with the two teams returning to the BMO on Saturday.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have seen the midpoint of the 2019-20 season come and go. It has been an up and down campaign for the piglets. A young bunch of Hawks prospects gelled early in the season and was playing well in the first three months.

Then Hogs began being called up. And injured. And injured some more.

The IceHogs have struggled as the calendar turned, going 3-4-1-1 in January after dropping their final four games in December. In the nine games this month, Rockford has managed just 1.56 goals per contest.

With no fortification from above on the immediate horizon, the IceHogs signed a slew of players to tryout agreements. Three of the ECHL’s top point-producers, Spencer Watson (January 5), Peter Quenneville (January 11) and Gabriel Gagne (January 18), all inked PTOs with Rockford. The Hogs signed Joshua Winquist to a PTO on January 6, releasing him from the deal after three games of action.

Watson skated five games for Rockford before an injury. Gagne made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist in Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Wolves. Quenneville has appeared in four games since coming aboard.

The list of injured players is lengthy. Rockford has had to skate with just 11 forwards on numerous occasions over the last few weeks. With John Quenneville, Dylan Sikura and now Brandon Hagel returning to the Hogs after stints in Chicago, perhaps better times are coming.

Rockford is still in the hunt for a playoff berth 41 games into the season. They are fifth in the Central Division with a .512 points percentage.  After Milwaukee and Iowa, any of the six remaining Central teams could surge into the third and fourth-place positions.

Here’s a look at how things stand in Winnebago County, starting with the infirmary…I mean, the forwards.

 

Forward

Tyler Sikura has been the constant in the IceHogs lineup. The captain is Rockford’s top scorer, with 24 points (11 G, 13 A). He also leads the team with a plus-eight skater rating.

Both John Quenneville (8 G, 7 A) and Dylan Sikura (9 G, 8 A) were a big part of the Hogs early season success. Jacob Nilsson (6 G, 12 A) has also been a steady presence in the lineup. Like Sikura the Elder, Nilsson has been on the ice for all 41 of Rockford’s games.

Brandon Hagel (13 G, 8 A) was easily the club’s top-performing rookie over the first half. He was recalled by the Blackhawks this past week but has been reassigned without taking part in a game. MacKenzie Entwistle (7 G, 10 A) has been one of the Hogs bright spots this month, showing game at both ends of the ice.

Just as Phillipp Kurashev was beginning to heat up in his rookie season, he suffered a concussion in Manitoba on December 29. He hasn’t played since. Rookie Tim Soderlund has been out of the lineup since January 3. Mikael Hakkarainen missed most of the first three months with an injury. He played seven games for Rockford before a January 5 injury shelved him again.

Anton Wedin, another solid two-way player for the IceHogs, last played on December 31. Matthew Thompson, who was recalled from Indy to help fill out the roster, promptly was injured January 3. Alexandre Fortin has been on the shelf a couple of times this season but has been back in the lineup this past week.

Joseph Cramarossa, who has three goals and six helpers in 26 games since arriving via trade in November, has provided experience and stability on the Hogs bottom six. His shootout tally gave Rockford a big win in Grand Rapids on Thursday night. AHL contract Nick Moutrey (4 G, 3 A) has also played well in a fourth-line role.

Defense

Philip Holm, Rockford’s best defenseman of the first three months, opted out of his contract to play in Europe. This has left a void on the back end.

Nicolas Beaudin (2 G, 8 A) hasn’t been spectacular in his first 38 games as a pro. I haven’t been enamored by his hockey sense like others have been. He’s had his share of rookie gaffes and his passing hasn’t been as sharp as you’d like to see. That said, he is showing some improvement and should get lots of opportunity to refine his game in the next few months.

Lucas Carlsson has been the Hogs most noticeable performer aside from Holm. With four goals and a dozen assists, Carlsson has also shown some quality puck-handling skills. His plus-six rating is tops among the defense.

I thought Chad Krys (1 G, 4 A) would have a bit more impact on the scoreboard than he has. Krys did pick up his first AHL goal in Thursday’s win over Grand Rapids. Joni Tuulola (2 G, 3 A) has probably been as steady from a defensive standpoint as anyone the fist half.

Ian McCoshen joined the team after the Hawks traded Alexi Saarela to Florida back in October. He has contributed some snarl to the blueline, along with some dumb penalties and six helpers since his arrival in Rockford.

Ben Youds is in Rockford on a PTO. He’s been a regular in the lineup since signing on December 9, even skating as a forward for coach Derek King when things got too thin up front. Dmitri Osipov was recalled from Indy December 7 and has provided solid minutes.

On Sunday, the Blackhawks reassigned Dennis Gilbert to Rockford. This move gives the Hogs another player who can help their cause. Gilbert played 20 games in Chicago with a goal and two assists. The big defenseman has just 11 games with the IceHogs this season.

Goalie

IceHogs net-minders have a combined goals against average of 2.87 and a .908 save percentage. By and large, this has been the strength of the team. The three goalies have faced a lot of high-percentage shots and kept Rockford in a lot of games.

Matt Tomkins has made a case for an NHL entry deal, posting a 5-3 record with a team-low 2.62 GAA. He also helped Team Canada win the Spengler Cup.

After struggling mightily in the first two months, Collin Delia found himself out of the mix for a couple weeks in November. Since December 3, the Cucamonga Kid has been stellar, going 6-3 with a 1.59 GAA and a .949 save percentage.

Kevin Lankinen is Rockford’s lone All-Star selection, though his has had some struggles over the last few weeks. Currently, Lankinen sports a 3.03 GAA to go with a .908 save percentage.

Collectively, this three-way in goal has been pretty good for Rockford. Again, they have fended off pressure from opponents on a nightly basis and is a big reason the Hogs have been competitive.

 

Tidbits Good And Bad

  • The power play is the worst in the AHL’s Western Conference, connecting on just 10.7 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • The penalty kill is 28th in the league, at 78.2 efficiency.
  • The IceHogs are 12-8 at home and 8-11-1-1 away from the BMO this season. Unlike previous seasons, the remaining schedule is pretty balanced between home and road games.
  • Cramarossa’s six fighting majors places him tied for second in the AHL in the catagory. With 15 FMs on the season, Rockford is tied for tenth in the league. The Hogs have been a bit feistier than in recent seasons.
  • The piglets are 4-1 in overtime games and are 3-1 in shootouts.
  • On Sunday, the IceHogs recalled G Chase Marchand from the Indy Fuel. Marchand hasn’t manned the net for the Fuel in over a month. He did make ten starts for Indy this season, most coming in November. He was 4-6 with a 2.56 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

 

First Semester Grade: B

…and a solid one at that. This team is primarily comprised of greenhorns. Healthy or not, the Hogs have played hard. When healthy, Rockford has shown that they can play with the best teams in the Central Division. Even as crushing as the injury situation has been, the 20-19-1-1 record is very respectable and has the IceHogs in playoff contention.

The key, of course, is how the roster evolves in the next couple of months. Getting players like Wedin, Kurashev and Soderlund upgrades the Hogs nearly as much as getting Quenneville and Sikura back.

Maybe some veteran depth is provided for Rockford in a trade down the line. Perhaps not. The IceHogs sure could use some experienced scoring types in the final months of the season. However, a healthy batch of piglets could make things interesting down the stretch.

 

Back To The Grind

The Hogs split four games last week, losing 4-1 to Milwaukee Tuesday night before spitting two games in Grand Rapids Wednesday and Friday. Sunday, Rockford blanked the Wolves in Rosemont.

This week is another busy stretch for the IceHogs. Monday afternoon sees them playing Belleville at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Wednesday, they host Texas. A home-and-home with the division-leading Admirals is on the docket for the weekend. Friday’s tilt is in Milwaukee; the teams are in Rockford Saturday night.

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

 

 

Hockey

Last week, I laid out the lack of success of the Blackhawks organization in developing defensive talent. Stan Bowman’s draft record is incredibly poor in this regard. However, there are other ways to replenish a blueline.

This week, we’ll recap Bowman’s track record in obtaining defensive prospects via trade or free agency. My criteria is going to be players that Chicago brought in to develop into solid pieces on defense, as opposed to veterans acquisitions.

The player at the top of this list would have to be Nick Leddy, who was obtained with Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker in February of 2010. It’s a stretch to say that Leddy developed in Rockford, but he did play 22 games for the Hogs in 2010-11 and was with the team during the NHL strike in 2012-13 before helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Leddy is currently in his tenth season. He’s a two-time All-Star and has avoided injuries in his NHL career. Chicago was able to hold on to Leddy for all of four seasons before having to move him to the New York Islanders. However, Stan Bowman was able to wrest the next defensive gem from the Isles. Or so it was thought.

Bowman sent Leddy and Kent Simpson to New York in exchange for goalie prospect Anders Nilsson, AHL juggernaut T.J. Brennan…and defensive prospect Ville Pokka.

Nilsson was traded the following summer; Brennan spent five months piling up offense in Rockford before he was traded to Toronto. Pokka was the piece that the Blackhawks hoped to polish into a top-four defender.

They didn’t.

Pokka put up solid numbers with the IceHogs for three and a half seasons but never played a game for Chicago. Bowman’s return for Pokka in February of 2018: three months of Chris DiDomenico for the IceHogs run to the Western Conference Final. Pokka is now skating in the KHL.

Another young defenseman Bowman traded for was Gustav Forsling, who the Hawks picked up from Vancouver. Having given up on Adam Clendening as a long-term solution on defense, Bowman had high hopes for Forsling, who skated for parts of three seasons in Rockford.

Unfortunately, that time was mostly spent following unimpressive stints in Chicago.

Forsling was sent to the Hogs mid-season in both 2016-17 and 2017-18. He was rather pedestrian in his time in Rockford, was moved this past summer in a trade with Carolina and has spent this season in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers.

Bowman has also attempted to bring in defense via signing free agents and developing them in Rockford. This has produced a couple of players who have spent time in the NHL, Erik Gustafsson being perhaps the most prominent.

Gustafsson skated 120 games with the IceHogs, including all of the 2016-17 campaign. Like his tenure with the Hawks, Gustafsson was a one-way player who struggled mightily in his own end. However, he does have nearly 200 games of NHL experience at this point.

Chicago has had limited success with undrafted free agents. Ryan Stanton appeared in a game for the Hawks in 2013 and played two full NHL seasons with Vancouver. Viktor Svedberg, who spent five seasons in Rockford, played in 27 games for Chicago in 2015-16. You would have to credit Svedberg and Stanton’s time with the IceHogs for the two at least reaching the NHL.

Otherwise, the cupboard has been bare. Gustafsson is the only one of these players currently contributing to the Blackhawks defense. Bowman has not been able to replace veteran pieces on his roster effectively. It certainly is a big reason the organization is scuffling right now.

 

Anyway, Back To The IceHogs…

…who are mired in a four-game losing steak as they ready for this weekend’s action. Rockford (17-14-0-1) is in fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. They have upcoming games with the two teams directly above them in the standings.

Friday night, the piglets are in Iowa. The Wild have won two of the three previous meetings in the season series, including a 6-2 pasting of Rockford last Friday. Iowa comes in the winners of four of its last five games.

Sunday, Rockford is back at the BMO Harris Bank Center for another tilt with the Chicago Wolves. The Hogs have won all five games against their closest rival in the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup. It’s been over a month since Rockford saw the Wolves; the IceHogs defeated Chicago 4-2 back on November 29.

Roster Moves

Matt Tomkins returned to the IceHogs on Wednesday following his stint with Team Canada, who won the Spengler Cup. Tomkins won in his only appearance in the tournament, a 5-1 victory over HC Davos.

Rockford also recalled forwards Matthew Thompson and Dylan McLaughlin from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Wednesday.

 

Recap

Tuesday, December 31-Manitoba 4, Rockford 3

The Hogs dropped a fourth-straight contest, buried by four Moose tallies in the opening 7:14 of the second period.

After neither team drew cord in the first twenty minutes, Manitoba quickly converted on two power plays in the middle frame. C.J. Suess and Kristian Vesalainen scored fifty seconds apart, at 2:58 and 3:48, respectively.

Emilie Poirier and Cole Maier struck in quick succession in the seventh and eighth minutes, leading to a goalie change for the IceHogs. Kevin Lankinen gave way to Collin Delia, who faced 20 shots the rest of the way but held firm, allowing Rockford to slowly get back into shouting distance.

Brandon Hagel got the Hogs on the board with a strong move into the Manitoba zone following a pass from Chad Krys. Hagel powered around the net and completed the wraparound successfully to make it 4-1 Moose 12:58 into the second.

Nicolas Beaudin’s ttempt from the high slot late in the period caromed high in the air, glancing off of Moose goalie Mikail Berdin and into the cage at the 18:05 mark.

Down 4-2 to begin the third period, the IceHogs displayed the tenacity that has been their trademark this season. Anton Wedin redirected a long pass from Joseph Cramarossa, who had swiped the puck back in the defensive zone seconds earlier. Wedin’s seventh of the season closed the gap to 4-3 at 9:02 of the third. That was as close as Rockford could get, however.

I will hopefully be sending out live tweets @JonFromi during the Wolves game tonight. Follow me for game updates along with my 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 have a pair of home games this weekend, hosting Texas Friday and Cleveland Saturday. Coach Derek King’s club is 16-10-0-1 as the holidays approach. As promised, here are some musings on the piglets as I clear my head Spongebob-style in preparation for a Star Wars kind of day.

  • Rockford is in second place in the Central with at least a pair of games in hand on the rest of the division. The Hogs have earned 33 points in the standings and can boast a .611 points percentage. On a team with minimal veteran presence, that’s not shabby at all.
  • Let me say the following about Derek King; he’s not NHL head-coaching material at this stage of his career (just in case a position would open up somewhere), but he is doing an outstanding job in his first full season at the helm in Rockford. I hear lots of chirping around the BMO and Hogs fans social media complaining about the guy. I’m really not sure what their problem is with King, except that he’s not Jeremy Colliton, who dazzled them the previous year and change.
  • While I thought Colliton did a decent enough job in his AHL coaching stint, his resume was inflated by a late-season influx of veteran talent from the organization. Take away the host of players that bolstered the roster in the latter months of the 2017-18 season and you would have had a borderline .500 team at best, not the Western Conference finalists.
  • King inherited a fresh-faced roster when he took over on an interim basis last season and has an even less experienced group this year. Colliton could not have this roster in any better position than King has them right now. They play hard every night and have been successful even with several standout players up in Chicago. I could continue to expound on this; instead, I’ll sum up. Give King his due, then get off his back.
  • As well as the IceHogs have performed of late, they still have a long season ahead of them. Matthew Highmore and Dylan Sikura were two steady point-producers. In their absence, Rockford has had to make the most of the goals they score. A lot of shots are being given up, and high-percentage one’s at that. This next two-week stretch could be challenging for the piglets.
  • Rockford still has a three-headed goalie as we close out 2019. Right now, all three are playing well. The 64,000 dollar question looms: why is Matt Tomkins sharing the net with Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia? The latter two are on NHL contracts and at least one will be counted on at that level in the near future. Why is Rockford’s AHL contract taking time away from them?
  • Short answer: Tomkins has earned it by playing great.
  • Long answer: Here’s where I speculate…the only reason Tomkins is up in Rockford and playing is because the organization is taking an extended look at their seventh-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.
  • Both Delia and Lankinen are healthy and could easily handle Rockford’s workload by themselves. There’s no reason to throw Tomkins into the net as many times as the Hogs have unless Chicago is considering adding him to the stable.
  • In roster news, Rockford sent AHL forwards Dylan McLaughlin and Matthew Thompson to the Indy Fuel. The Hogs then called up forward Nathan Noel…just in time for Christmas.
  • Noel had four goals and eight assists in 24 games with the Fuel, for whom he has toiled all season since being assigned to Indy by Chicago. Noel’s entry contract is up following this season; if he has anything to show the organization, this may be his final shot to do so.
  • Could this be the weekend that Mikael Hakkarainen makes his return to the Rockford lineup? Hakkarainen was recalled from Indy on Sunday after a three-game stint in which he posted four points (2 G, 2 A).
  • Saturday is Star Wars Night at the BMO. I’ll be missing Friday’s game for…well…Star Wars.
  • Texas is in the basement of the Central but has been the hottest team in the division over the last couple of weeks. The Stars are 8-1-1 in their last team and are not to be overlooked.
  • Follow me @JonFromi for updates on the IceHogs throughout the season. Don’t expect much tonight; maybe a quick recap tweet or two. No spoilers, I promise.

Recap

Tuesday, December 17-Rockford 3, Laval 2 (SO)

The IceHogs dug themselves out of a hole to post a win in the final game of their Canadian jaunt.

Laval went out to a 2-0 lead, using the special teams to do so. An early power play chance resulted in Charles Hudon’s snipe from the right circle 1:52 into the contest.

The Rocket would be given three shots at the man advantage in the period. Rockford had a short power play stint go bad when the Hogs left Alexandre Alain all alone in the slot when trying to set up in the defensive zone. Josh Brook got him the puck and Alain converted past Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the 13:02 mark.

Rockford spent a good portion of the second period on the power play. However, it was while shorthanded that the Hogs got back in the game. Joseph Cramarossa picked off a pass by Xavier Ouellet, with whom he had scrapped late in the first period. Cramarossa raced down the ice and slipped a backhander through the five-hole of Laval goalie Keith Kinkaid. The deficit was cut to 2-1 at 12:46 of the middle frame.

The IceHogs drew back to even ground midway through the third period. Dmitri Osipov nabbed his first AHL goal, taking a shot pass from Philip Holm and firing from just inside the blueline. The shot got through Kinkaid and into the cage 11:14 into the period; neither team could break the tie in regulation or Gus Macker Time.

Delia, who made 31 saves and kept the Hogs in the game for the bulk of the night, stopped all five shooters he faced until Anton Wedin snapped the game-winner past Kinkaid.

Lines (Starters in italics.)

John Quenneville-Phillip Kurashev-MacKenzie Entwistle

Anton Wedin-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel

Tim Soderlund-Tyler Sikura (C)-Joseph Cramarossa

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Dylan McLaughlin

Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Philip Holm-Dmitri Osipov

Ian McCoshen (A)-Ben Youds

Collin Delia

Matt Tomkins