Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have 16 games under their belt entering the month of December. The piglets kicked off November with a pair of wins in Manitoba. The IceHogs are hoping to do the same this weekend with games Friday and Sunday up in Winnipeg.

Rockford (9-5-2-0, 20 points) sits in second place in the Central Division standings. The IceHogs are right in the hunt for the division lead with Texas (23 points) and Milwaukee (19 points). Rockford, along with the Stars and Admirals, have created a bit of separation at the top of the Central. The Hogs aim to stay in the upper echelon; the first step towards that goal is waiting for them up in Manitoba.

The IceHogs own a 3-0 mark over Manitoba this season. Most recently, Rockford defeated the Moose 6-2 at the BMO Center on November 22. The Hogs welcomed former goalie Collin Delia back to town, then dropped a six-pack in his net in the first 40 minutes of action.

Following a November 12 clunker in Rosemont in which the last-place Chicago Wolves dealt Rockford a 5-0 defeat, the IceHogs finished the month strong. They enter this weekend’s action on a six-game point streak. Rockford has gone 4-0-2 over the past two weeks to finish November with a 6-3-2 mark.

Solid Opening For Rockford

How has the season been so far? Rockford has been good, if not dominant. They’ve had moments where they’ve defended very well but have struggled for consistency in this area. Even more so than last year, Rockford is dependent on their veteran scoring. This could be problematic with Joey Anderson (7 G, 9 A) and Cole Guttman (3 G, 6 A), two of the Hogs top scorers being recalled to Chicago last week.

David Gust (6 G, 10 A) and Brett Seney (6 G, 7 A) currently pace Rockford on the offensive end. Anders Bjork (4 G, 9 A) has been a welcome addition, as has rookie forward Colton Dach (5 G, 5 A), who joined the team after recovering from a preseason injury. On November 24 in Rockford, Dach factored in both IceHogs goals in a 2-1 overtime win over the Admirals.

On the blueline, Ethan Del Mastro (1 G, 8 A) has been a bright spot on what has been a very young group in recent weeks due to call-ups and injuries.

Rockford will likely start rookie Drew Commesso in net on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. CDT in Winnipeg. Commesso stopped 26 shots in a 4-1 IceHogs victory in Manitoba November 5.

Commesso and Jaxson Stauber have split the starts for Rockford. Commesso is 5-2-1 with a 2.24 GAA and a .917 save percentage. That goals against average is tenth in the AHL and fourth among rookies this season. Stauber (3.59, .891) struggled early but has put together some solid games over the past two weeks, going 2-0-1 in his last three starts.

Special Teams

Despite the six-game point streak, the IceHogs power play has stalled over the past couple of weeks. In 25 opportunities in that span, Rockford has just three goals on the man advantage. Overall, the IceHogs are still fifth in the AHL with a 22.6 percent success rate, due to a potent October.

The recall of Anderson, who had four goals and five assists on the power play, doesn’t help moving into December. Seney also has four goals and five helpers on the power play this season. Gust (1 G, 6 A) and Bjork (2 G, 4 A) have also been top performers for the IceHogs man-advantage unit.

The penalty killing has been nothing to write home about; at 80.4 percent efficiency, Rockford is 21st in the league in this category.

Banged Up

Rockford has several players nursing injuries at the moment.

Kale Howarth has been in the AHL’s concussion protocol since opening night. Jalen Luypen was placed in the concussion protocol on November 20.

Mike Hardman has been out with a shoulder injury he suffered on the first shift of the game November 17 against Milwaukee. Rookie Antti Saarela will miss the Manitoba trip with a wrist injury. Defenseman Josh Healey last played November 12 in Chicago.

Thoughts

  • Rockford got blown out at the BMO by the Stars in the only meeting between the teams this season. The piglets don’t draw with Texas until January 5 and 6 in Cedar Park. The Hogs December schedule includes four games with a terrible San Diego team and lots of winnable games before a home-and-home with the Admirals December 30 and 31.
  • The Hogs are 1-0-2 against Milwaukee and have struggled with the tight defense of the Ads. They are 7-1 combined against Manitoba, Iowa, and Grand Rapids; Rockford has six games in December against these teams. Picking up eight or nine wins in December is certainly attainable.
  • Head coach Anders Sorensen has not named a captain this season. He may not. Bjork, on an AHL contract and likely in Rockford for the duration, would be a good bet should Sorensen decide to name a captain.
  • Things could go south real fast for the Hogs if veterans like Gust and Seney are recalled to Chicago. There just isn’t enough scoring in the lineup to pick up the slack in such a situation. Luke Philp may return next month, which would help.
  • Until then, who steps up? Michal Teply is in a ten-game goal drought. December would be a great time for him to go on a tear. Ryder Rolston (4 G, 1 A) has brought some energy to the lower lines, especially on the forecheck. He’s another rookie who could chip in this month. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs kicked off the 2023-24 season in San Jose this past weekend. The good news is that they won a game by a score of 7-2. The bad news is that they lost a game by a score of 7-2.

I am back for another season of thoughts and recaps as the Mighty Piglets of Flight patrol Winnebago County in their quest for Calder Cup glory. Rockford’s championship aspirations have not survived past the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Can this year’s crop yield a longer run?

Maybe. As will ever be the case for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, it will all hinge on the development of the prospects. The makeup of the Hogs roster is very similar to that of last season.

The IceHogs are coached by Anders Sorensen, who returns for his third full season at the helm in Rockford. Assistants Jared Nightengale and Rob Klinkhammer also are back for the IceHogs. Matt Smith is the new face on Sorensen’s staff; Smith will oversee the goalies this season.

The veteran presence is similar to the 2022-23 edition of the IceHogs, with a lot of familiar scorers coming back. Let’s start with the forward skaters.

Forward

Garrett Mitchell, Rockford’s captain for the past three seasons, retired this summer. However, there are several veterans who will be on hand to provide leadership. This includes two of last season’s top scorers, David Gust (26 G, 33 A last season) and Brett Seney (23 G, 31 A). Both players should see plenty of time on Rockford’s top line.

Luke Philp (29 G, 24 A) is going to be a tough player to replace; the IceHogs leading goal-scorer is out with an Achilles tendon injury for the next several months. Anders Bjork, signed to an AHL contract by Rockford in the offseason, has 225 NHL appearances. Bjork will attempt to pick up the slack in terms of veteran scoring until Philp is back in action.

Another veteran who can help the IceHogs on the scoreboard is Joey Anderson, who split time between the AHL and the NHL both with Toronto and Chicago in 2022-23. Anderson was assigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks and provides Sorensen with another top-six option.

Among its many returning players, Rockford also has several returning prospects with something to prove this season. Both Mike Hardman (5 G, 13 A) and Michal Teply (9 G, 16 A) saw their scoring numbers drop despite steady playing time last season. As impending RFAs, Hardman and Teply are eyeing a return to form.

The forward group also includes several intriguing prospects. The fresh faces include Ryder Rolston, who makes the jump from college hockey. Colton Dach (currently nursing an ankle injury) and Jalen Luypen are fresh out of juniors. In addition, European rookies Antti Saarela and Marcel Marcel are also looking to crack the IceHogs lineup.

Defense

On the blue line, Issak Phillips (6 G, 17 A) will begin the season in Rockford, along with fellow prospect Filip Roos (3 G, 8 A). They are joined by Louis Crevier (0 G, 5 A) and two 2021 Blackhawks draft picks, Nolan Allen (1st round) and Ethan Del Mastro (4th round).

Rockford secured veteran defenseman Josh Healey to mentor the prospect-laden defensive corps. Healey, 29, enters his seventh professional season. Most of that time has been in the AHL with stops in Stockton, Milwaukee, Chicago, and San Diego.

Goalie

The IceHogs will begin the season with a goalie tandem of Drew Commesso and Jaxson Stauber. Commesso, a second-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, carries high expectations in the Hawks organization after three seasons at Boston University. Stauber split his time between Chicago and Rockford in his rookie season. Commesso and Stauber split the starts against the Barracuda this past weekend.

Any Questions?

A few. Such as…

With Lukas Reichel now in Chicago, what prospects step up to help carry the scoring load?

Rolston picked up a hustle goal in Friday’s victory. However, the remaining eight Rockford goals came from the sticks of the veterans. This club will depend on Gust, Seney, Bjork, and Anderson to get pucks in the net. Teply and Hardman got off to promising starts in San Jose. Both are in prime position to take advantage of being on potent lines that should provide plenty of opportunity. Saarela has some upside in the offensive zone, but he was invisible in the opening two games.

Can Gust match last season’s career numbers?

Even if he simply logs a 30-40 point season, Gust is a key part of an AHL roster. There may not be a better finisher in the Central Division. Gust competes and he converts. If the first weekend is any indication, he will generate his share of scoring chances. He already leads the Hogs with two goals heading into the home opener at the BMO on Saturday.

Can a young defense figure things out?

Rockford surrendered 85 shots in the first two games. Stauber faced 49 in Saturday’s loss. If Phillips winds up in Chicago for long stretches, things could get problematic on the blue line. Picking up some help on the back end may be necessary unless Allen and Del Mastro mature quickly.

Does Anders Sorensen name a captain? If so, who will it be?

Mitchell came to Rockford in February of 2020 and won over the locker room shortly thereafter. He was a no-brainer for Hogs captain for the last three seasons. He had a longtime pedigree with the Hershey Bears captaincy; his retirement leaves a hole for sure.

I think that Sorensen names a captain by the end of the month, and that it will likely be one of his AHL contracts. That would mean Bjork or Healey, who look to be here for the entire season. If not one of those two, I would guess Gust would be the selection, though him or Seney could see time in Chicago throughout the season.

Will not obtaining of a veteran goalie bite the Hogs as badly as it did last year?

Not unless one of Chicago’s goalies gets hurt. Then yeah, probably. It’s not like there’s any chance of…oh…now I remember what happened last season.

Mitchell Weeks will be up with Rockford in the event of Commesso or Stauber being needed with the Hawks. He was pretty solid for the IceHogs in spot duty last season, but it still would have been nice if a AHL veteran-type goalie had also been acquired over the summer so that the organization wouldn’t have to scramble to pick up such a player mid-season. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

How will Rockford handle the Chicago Wolves factor?

The IceHogs play the Wolves a dozen times this year, per usual. This year’s Rosemont entry into the AHL is an independent entity, something they’ve longed to be since they entered the league. Now they get their chance.

The Wolves went out and picked up some high-end AHL talent like Chris Terry and Cole Schneider. I think they will have some problems in terms of depth. On the other hand, no callups. I’ll go more in depth on the Rockford-Chicago matchup throughout the season, but everyone’s looking at the Wolves to see how this works out.

No matter what happens, remember this; the Wolves wanted this. They’ve always wanted this. Now they have it. Get your popcorn ready.

Is this IceHogs team a playoff team?

They certainly can be. They’re no worse than the two teams that made the playoffs the past two seasons. Right now, I don’t know how much better they are than those teams that won play-ins but were swept in the first round. It’s the AHL, so a lot will hinge on how the roster morphs over the next six months and how the prospects develop. We’ll just have to hang on for all the ups and downs, of which there will be many. Buckle up.

And Now…Recaps

Friday, October 13-Rockford 7, San Jose 2

Drew Commesso picked up the win for the Hogs in his AHL debut in net. Last year’s big guns were on full display as Rockford began the season with a nice road win.

After getting their bearings in the opening minutes of action, Rockford got on the board via the power play midway through the first. After Brett Seney’s faceoff win, the Hogs never lost possession of the biscuit. David Gust found Joey Anderson at the goal line; Anderson threaded a pass across the front of the net to Anders Bjork at the right post. The backdoor was unlocked and Rockford led 1-0 at 10:47 of the first period.

The piglets got an even-strength goal a few minutes later, when rookie defenseman Ethan Del Mastro forced a turnover in the neutral zone. Bjork collected the loose puck and skated into Barracuda territory. Andersen took in his pass at the top of the right circle and sent another sweet feed across the ice to Mike Hardman skating to the left post. San Jose goalie Magnus Chrona never had a chance and Rockford went up 2-0 at the 14:05 mark.

The Barracuda answered with a Brandon Cole tally after he snuck into the slot in front of Commesso. The shot went past Commesso on the glove side at 15:58 of the first. The Rockford lead was 2-1 entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period, Ozzy Wiesblatt lowered a shoulder into Hogs forward Kale Howarth, who was not in possession of the puck as Rockford was attempting a defensive zone breakout. Howarth was taken to the locker room and did not return to action. Wiesblatt (who was later suspended three games by the AHL for the hit) was handed a five-minute major penalty for a check to the head and was also finished for the evening.

Rockford took full advantage of the unfortunate hit, scoring twice on the lengthy power play. Michal Teply knocked in a long rebound of an Issak Phillips shot at 5:16 of the middle frame. Teply’s goal was quickly followed by a successful drive to the net by David Gust, who five-holed Chrona to give the IceHogs a 4-1 advantage through forty minutes.

Gust tacked on his second goal of the night 12:05 into the final period, capping a 2-on-1 rush led by Brett Seney. Two minutes later, the rookies got in on the fun. Jalen Luypen was able to force a turnover behind the San Jose net, leading to his pass to Ryder Rolston at the left post for a 6-1 IceHogs lead. Bryce Kindopp added an empty net goal late in the game before the Barracuda picked up a goal of their own from Shakir Mukhamadullin in the closing minutes to finish the scoring.

Commesso picked up the win in his pro debut with 34 saves. He also was given an assist on Gust’s tally.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Michal Teply-Brett Seney-David Gust

Mike Hardman-Anders Bjork-Joey Anderson

Antti Saarela-Jalen Luypen-Ryder Rolston

Logan Niijoff-Kale Howarth-Bryce Kindopp

Filip Roos-Issak Phillips

Ethan Del Mastro-Nolan Allen

Josh Healey-Louis Crevier

Drew Commesso

Jaxson Stauber

 

Saturday, October 14-San Jose 7, Rockford 2

The piglets seemed a bit sleepy in the return matchup with San Jose. Rockford let the game slip away early in the middle frame and had to settle for a weekend split.

The Barracuda broke a scoreless tie late in the opening frame, when Ethan Cardwell slipped a second-chance effort through the five-hole of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber. The goal came 17:42 into the first and San Jose took that 1-0 lead into the intermission.

Some Joey Anderson hustle behind the Barracuda net got the Hogs even at one just 1:48 into the middle stanza. Beating Matthew Sredl to the puck, Anderson completed the wraparound attempt through San Jose goalie Georgi Romanov. Rockford took a brief 2-1 advantage on a Brett Seney power play goal at the three minute mark, set up by a David Gust pass.

Justin Bailey tied the game for the Barracuda just 1:17 later. San Jose took a 3-2 lead on a Tanner Kaspick goal in front of the Hogs net.

Despite being outshot 24-5 in the second period, it appeared that Rockford would escape with just a one-goal deficit. Unfortunately, Ryan Carpenter put a rebound past Stauber with two ticks remaining in the frame to make it 4-2 San Jose.

The Barracuda lead widened early in the third, at the conclusion of an unsuccessful Hogs power play. Leon Gawanke sent a long pass to Cole Cassels, who had a clear path to the Rockford net. Stauber came out to challenge but was unable to separate Cassels from the puck. The San Jose forward had no problem finding the back of the vacated net 2:33 into the final frame.

From there, it was just a matter of San Jose skating out the clock and adding goals from Oskar Lindblom and Carpenter. Stauber was deluged by vulcanized rubber throughout; Rockford was outshot 49-28 on the afternoon.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Mike Hardman-Anders Bjork-Joey Anderson

Michal Teply-Brett Seney-David Gust

Antti Saarela-Jalen Luypen-Ryder Rolston

Logan Niijoff-Kale Howarth-Bryce Kindopp

Ethan Del Mastro-Nolan Allen

Filip Roos-Issak Phillips

Josh Healey-Louis Crevier

Jaxson Stauber

Drew Commesso

Here Come The (Lone) Wolves

Round One with Chicago gets underway at the Hogs home opener at the BMO Center Saturday night. The action begins at 7:00 p.m. CDT.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for musings on the IceHogs on a regular basis.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have advanced to the Central Division Semifinals for the second year in a row. It’s a familiar tale-the piglets sweep their play-in opponents and are rewarded with the division’s top club in a best-of-five series.

Last season, the Hogs swept Texas before being swept themselves by the Chicago Wolves. This season, Rockford won two straight overtime decisions against Iowa in the play-in series. The team awaiting them? The Stars, who finished the regular season by winning five of their last seven games for the Central Division title.

How did the IceHogs get into this position? To recap:

  • In Game One Wednesday, a pretty healthy (for a weeknight) crowd was on hand at the BMO Center to watch a back-and-forth affair that came to a halt when Rocco Grimaldi forced a turnover in the Wild zone. After knocking down Nic Petan’s attempt to clear the puck, Grimaldi streaked to the right dot and sent the game-winner past Iowa goalie Jesper Wallstedt 3:59 into overtime.
  • The Hogs lost a 2-1 lead early in the third period of Friday’s Game Two in DesMoines. Rockford fell behind 3-2 but tied the game on a Michal Teply put-back midway through the final frame. Arvid Soderblom made a key stop on Steven Fogarty’s point-blank shot from the left post 30 seconds into overtime. A minute later, Grimaldi skated a puck behind the net and tried to find Lukas Reichel out front. The pass did not connect, but Alex Vlasic hauled it in at the top of the left circle, skated to the half boards, and threw a shot on goal that Buddy Robinson was able to redirect past Wallstedt. Rockford knocked Iowa out of the series with the 4-3 triumph.
  • The following day, the Wild announced that they were moving on from a good portion of their AHL coaching staff, including head coach Tim Army. (I’m not sure that is a direct consequence of the IceHogs sweep, but I’m mentioning it all the same.)

Rockford’s additional depth certainly helped get over the hump against the Wild, especially in Game Two. The bottom six were active at both ends of the ice, something that will have to happen consistently against Texas when the division semis begin. That will be on Friday at the BMO, where the IceHogs play host for the opening game of the series.

Last spring, I believed that the piglets matched up well with the Wolves and might have a chance to surprise them. Wrong; Chicago shifted into another gear and completely overwhelmed a young Rockford team on the way to the Calder Cup. Sure, Texas was the class of the division this season. However, I again believe that the Hogs can present a stiff challenge for the Stars.

At the BMO Center back on January 3, Rockford beat Texas (who was also in first place at the time) 4-3 in overtime. The IceHogs roster was still as it was for much of the season’s first three months. In eight meetings with the Stars in the regular season, Rockford was 5-3. It’s safe to say that Texas is more than capable of ramping up its game for the playoffs. As opposed to last spring, I feel like the IceHogs are equally capable of raising their game a level.

Rockford carries more experience into this series than it did against the Wolves. Several prospects like Soderblom, Teply, Lukas Reichel, Issak Phillips, Jakub Galvas, and Mike Hardman were part of last season’s playoff team. Add in high-scoring playoff veterans like David Gust, Rocco Grimaldi, and Luke Philp, and there is plenty of postseason experience on hand.

This is not to say that the Stars don’t know their way around a playoff game. Long-time Texas captain Curtis McKenzie has several long postseason runs, including a Calder Cup with the Stars back in 2014. McKenzie has been around the AHL for a dozen years, but is still a dangerous scorer who had 22 goals and 32 helpers this season.

Veteran Riley Barber (32 G, 32 A) led Texas in scoring and had eight game-winning goals for the Stars. The Hogs will also have to contend with former Rockford forward Tanner Kero (17 G, 33 A), Marian Studenic (21 G, 27 A), and rookies Mavrik Bourque (20 G, 27 A) and Matej Blumel (19 G, 25 A).

Anchoring Texas in net is Matthew Murray, who finishes up his first full AHL season with a record of 18-10-5 to go with a 2.37 GAA and a .911 save percentage. One of the leagues best goalies, Murray has not been good in three prior matchups with the Hogs this season. In those games, he is 0-2-1 with a 5.09 GAA and an .849 save percentage. He was a tough man to get a puck past in last spring’s playoff sweep of Texas, in which he played both games.

As poorly as Murray was against Rockford this season, Soderblom was even worse against the Stars. He gave up four goals in a loss to Texas on February 22. In the other start, Soderblom’s first after a couple of months with the Blackhawks, ended midway through the second period after he surrendered five goals on 12 shots.

Murray’s play earns Texas the edge in goal heading into the series. However, Soderblom turned in solid performances against the Wild and is carrying a 2.13 GAA and a .925 save percentage over his last eight games dating back to March 31. Soderblom was a couple of saves better than Jesper Wallstedt last week. If he can match Murray this weekend, Rockford has a chance to pick up one or both of the first two games.

The Hogs are smack dab in the middle of exactly what the organization wanted from it’s AHL affiliate; meaningful spring hockey games. How many additional games Rockford gets factors on if it can hold its own in the crease and control what promises to be a track meet in terms of pace.

The AHL’s travel policy affords the IceHogs a chance to get the most out of their two home dates. Grabbing a Game One win on Friday is the obvious course of action; it would be nice to see Rockford extend the Stars at the very least.

Follow me @JonFromi for the occasional thought and game update throughout the playoffs.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs extended its point-streak to six games this weekend despite falling short in two games with Milwaukee. The piglets dropped shootout decisions on Friday and Saturday, including a 15-round marathon of penalty shots at the BMO Center on Saturday night.

The IceHogs exited the weekend in third place in the Central Division. However, fourth-place Manitoba is a point behind with three games in hand. Some regulation victories would be nice for Rockford to attempt to catch up with the second-place Admirals, who have beaten the Hogs in five of their seven meetings.

Saturday’s loss was Rockford’s sixth consecutive tilt that broke the chains of regulation skating. In fact, no team in the AHL can match the IceHogs propensity for giving fans extra hockey this season. In eighteen of Rockford’s 47 games, the Hogs have needed overtime or a shootout to decide a winner. They are 10-8 in those contests; Rockford is 6-4 in overtime decisions and 4-4 in the shootout.

Arvid Soderblom found himself on the short end of two showdowns with Milwaukee rookie Yaroslav Askarov. Askarov blanked Rockford in Friday’s shootout; the Ads prevailed on successful attempts by Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino. Soderblom stopped 31 shots but lost 2-1 as his counterpart made 44 saves in regulation and overtime.

On Saturday, Soderblom turned in another decent performance but found himself outplayed by Askarov. Rockford finished overtime with a 4-on-3 power play and peppered the Admirals goalie with seven shots in the extra session. Askarov held firm.

Michal Teply gave the Hogs a goal in round one of the shootout. Tomasino evened it up in the second round. In round five, Cole Guttman, who had a first-period goal to go with the lone Rockford goal on Friday, slipped a puck past Askarov. Kiefer Sherwood responded to keep things even. Each goalie would deny the next 18 shooters as the BMO faithful saw their chance to pick up Arby’s on the way home dwindle and die.

(Note: the “BMO faithful” in question was me. Arby’s closes at ten, even on Saturday nights.)

The end came when Alex Vlasic missed his attempt, followed by Soderblom surrendering the twine to Keaton Thompson. Rockford led three times in regulation on goals by Issak Phillips, Guttman, and Mike Hardman. The best the piglets could do, alas, was collect a standings point in a 4-3 loss.

 

Geez…How Do You Beat These Admirals?

For the IceHogs, it would include the following:

  • Keep Milwaukee from planting their big forwards in front of the Rockford crease.
  • Take advantage of penalties. Rockford was 1-12 on the power play this weekend. The Hogs had two full minutes of power play time to start Friday’s overtime and finished the last 1:51 of Saturday’s overtime up a man. No excuse for failing to win at least one of those games.
  • Hope the Ads start Devin Cooley in net. Askarov is 5-0-1 against Rockford this season.

 

Roster Moves

On Monday, D Cliff Watson was recalled to the Hogs from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Watson did not skate in either game this weekend.

 

On The Horizon

The piglets do not have consecutive games at home or on the road for the rest of February. This week, Rockford travels to Grand Rapids Wednesday, comes back to the BMO Friday night for a showdown with Texas, then hoof it over to DesMoines for a Sunday matinee with Iowa.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs turned things around this past week. It took nearly the maximum of extra time, but the piglets got it done.

As the AHL goes on a short All-Star break, the Hogs snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout besting of Manitoba. Rockford then started what is now a three-game winning streak after a sweep of Iowa at the BMO this weekend.

Both games against the Wild took a similar path. The IceHogs fell behind early, trailed by a goal after two periods, found an equalizer to force Gus Macker Time, and rode marvelous play in net by Arvid Soderblom in the extra sessions to prevail by identical 3-2 scores.

Soderblom claimed the win in all three games this week, posting a 1.86 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. He faced and stopped six shootout attempts Tuesday and Friday; Soderblom’s encore was a sprawling glove save in the opening seconds of overtime, robbing Iowa’s Marco Rossi of a game-winning goal.

The Rockford offense has fallen off from the first three months of the season. The Hogs are still tenth in the league at 3.24 goals per game, but they have been in a number of tight games for the last couple of weeks. Five of Rockford’s last six games have gone past regulation. Soderblom has been the starter in goal for each of them.

For the first time this year, the IceHogs have been able to give Soderblom the workload I expected he’d get when the season began. He’s either been up in Chicago or injured; once Soderblom returned from a groin injury on January 20, he started seven of Rockford’s next eight games.

The organization allowed him some clinkers. This included giving up seven goals to Springfield in that first game back and five more before being pulled after two periods in Milwaukee on January 27. Sticking with Soderblom has paid off for sure.

The Blackhawks recalled Jaxson Stauber on Sunday ahead of Chicago next game on Tuesday. Stauber was impressive in his two prior starts in the NHL, though Soderblom would seem to be in the Hawks most immediate plans for the future. For now, it appears that they will leave him in Rockford to build on this past week’s performance.

 

Thoughts While The Goulash Simmers

  • The Hogs power play was 0-12 for the week before Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A) tipped in an Adam Clendening (3 G, 19 A) point blast midway through the third period Saturday night. All that did was tie the game. Rockford is currently at 18.1 percent efficiency when on the man advantage.
  • Rockford is near the bottom of the AHL in shorthanded goals, while giving up a league-leading ten. However, Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) came up with the Hogs third shorty of the year, keeping them in Saturday’s game with Iowa.
  • The IceHogs have two point-per-game players on the roster, Seney (44 points in 43 games), and David Gust (45 points in 45 games). Lukas Reichel (15 G, 26 A), who tied Friday’s game with an impressive drive to the net in the third period, and Luke Philp (14 G, 17 A) are right there as well.
  • Reichel’s equalizer on Friday was impressive in that he had options to pass but chose to take the shot. Reichel had Dylan Sikura with him on the rush and Filip Roos trailing the play. However, Reichel was locked and loaded, going far-side on Wild goalie Drew McIntyre.
  • Forward Bobby Lynch made a rare 3-on-3 appearance and wound up potting the game-winner with just 15 seconds left in overtime. Lynch (4 G, 5 A in 39 games) has been a hard worker for Rockford and it was fun to see him get rewarded when Cole Guttman found him in the slot.
  • Hogs coach Anders Sorensen singled out his bottom six after Friday’s win. With captain Garret Mitchell out for the season, players like Lynch, Josiah Slavin, Mike Hardman, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, and Kale Howarth should continue to add a touch of grit to the mix.
  • Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) did not play in any of the three games this week. Since recording a goal and a helper against Hartford on December 17, Teply is sans points in his last 11 games.

 

Working For The Weekend

Rockford is back to the grind on Friday, with a home-and-home series with Milwaukee begins at UW-Panther Arena. The series comes to the BMO Center on Saturday.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are in a tie for third place entering the last two weeks of December. The 14-8-1-2 piglets won two of three games this past week and have the opportunity to climb up the Central Division ladder to close out the calendar year.

To do that, however, they’ll have to tame the hottest team in the AHL. That would be the Texas Stars, who have won nine of its last ten contests.

Texas has yet to be defeated in December. The Stars have won their last seven games to rocket to the top of the Central wit 36 points. Milwaukee (32 points), Manitoba (31 points), and Rockford (31 points) are all bunched up and chasing their Lone Star rivals.

The IceHogs visit Cedar Park Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Rockford has two wins in three previous games with the Stars this season, the last being a 7-2 shellacking of Texas at the BMO Center on November 23. The Stars have gone 9-1 since that loss.

Texas has performed well. However, in its last five wins, three were against Chicago, who inhabits the division basement. The Stars then swept a weekend series in Iowa, where Rockford defeated the Wild 7-4 on Tuesday night.

The formula for Texas has been to get control of games early. The Stars are 11-0 when leading after the first period. Rockford has been able to overcome first-period deficits, having gone 7-4 in such situations this season. Games in this rivalry are usually fast paced and usually hinge on who has control of the puck.

Sweeping the Stars would put the IceHogs right behind Texas in the standings. Rockford finishes December with three games against the Wolves along with one verses Grand Rapids. The schedule is favorable for a contending club to finish the month strong. It will be up to the IceHogs to take advantage.

 

Roster Moves

Sunday, the IceHogs recalled D Cliff Watson, along with F Kale Howarth. Watson has been shuttled between Rockford and the Indy Fuel several times this season. For Howarth, this is his first recall after scoring six goals in 14 games with Indy. Last year, he took part in 12 games for the Hogs, with two goals and an assist.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell returned to the lineup on Saturday night, which saw the IceHogs beat Hartford 3-2 at the BMO. Mitchell had been out since November 16, when he injured his left shoulder against the end boards of Allstate Arena in a game against the Wolves.

Filip Roos, sent to Rockford by the Blackhawks a week ago, has made an immediate impact on the ice. He picked up his first AHL goal in the win over Iowa on Tuesday, then potted the game-winner Saturday against Hartford.

 

The Week That Was (Readers Digest Version)

David Gust (13 G, 16 A) led the way in Tuesday’s 7-4 win with a hat trick against the Wild. Cole Guttman (9 G, 7 A) added a pair of goals in the victory.

Friday, the Toronto Marlies broke open a 2-2 game with two goals 31 seconds apart in the middle of the third period. The Hogs battled back and got a Brett Seney goal late, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over the Wolf Pack saw D.J. Busdeker secure his first goal of the season as part of a three-goal second period. Michal Teply got his fifth of the season less than a minute later. After Hartford tied the game, Roos drove to the net and shelfed his attempt. That was enough for the Hogs to hold on, aided by 38 saves from Dylan Wells.

 

Coming Up

After the trip to Texas Tuesday and Wednesday, Rockford will journey to Rosemont for a Friday renewal of the I-90 rivalry with the Wolves.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have played host to Iowa three times this season. They have led Iowa late in both games. They have allowed the Wild to tie each game in regulation and steal standings points from them.

Rockford was 1-1-1 this week, picking up some ground in the Central Division standings. Each game needed extra skating to decide the piglet’s fate. After prevailing 2-1 in a shootout Wednesday against Milwaukee, the IceHogs dropped a 3-2 shootout to the Wild Friday before losing 3-2 in overtime to Iowa Saturday night.

The two weekend games were near carbon copies. Rockford outshot the Wild, squandered lots of chances both at even strength and on the power play, and let Iowa hang around until they could finally figure out Mitchell Weeks on Friday and Dylan Wells on Saturday.

Both Rockford goalies played very well, particularly Weeks. The rookie stopped 32 shots and a pair of shootout attempts as his AHL record fell to 3-1-2. Weeks has a 2.75 GAA and a .915 save percentage in six appearances with the IceHogs. He’s also gone 8-2-1 for the Indy Fuel (3.00 GAA, .901 save percentage).

Back on November 6, Rockford led the Wild 4-2 with less than two minutes to play, only to let Iowa off the mat and win 5-4 in a shootout (Weeks was also in net for that loss). In all, the Hogs have given away three standings points in the three losses to the Wild, while handing Iowa six points.

Rockford (12-7-1-2) is in third place in the Central Division, with 27 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 31 points. Texas is second, with…wait for it…30 points.

Who is right behind the Hogs with 26 points? Iowa, who would be near the conference basement if not for the charitable piglets.

Rockford is back in action against…guess who? It sure would be great if the Hogs could get to DesMoines, convert on opportunities, and pick up a regulation win.

 

Games Aren’t All The Hogs Gave Away This Weekend

Saturday featured a hat giveaway as well as being the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. The hat was designed by Hogs forward Josiah Slavin, who picked up his first goal of the season on Friday. Fittingly, it came shorthanded, with Slavin pouncing on a rebound of Cole Guttman’s breakaway attempt.

 

Roster News

Lukas Reichel made a quick jump to Chicago Tuesday, playing for a short-handed Blackhawks club in New Jersey. The following day, Reichel returned to Rockford.

Reichel had a six-game point streak snapped this weekend, as he went scoreless in both games (though he did convert a shootout attempt Friday). In that six-game stretch, Reichel had five goals and five helpers. The Hawks prospect is now second on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists.

Sunday, Rockford recalled defenseman Cooper Zech from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Zech, who was little used by the Hogs after being swapped for Evan Barratt earlier this season, has played well for the Fuel. In eight games, Zech had five goals and five assists in Indy.

 

Hmmmm…

  • Perhaps Zech is in Rockford because the Blackhawks want to recall one of the Hogs D-men. Issak Phillips, maybe? He’s easily been Rockford’s best and most consistent blueliner.
  • Garrett Mitchell has not been in the lineup since his November 19 injury in Rosemont. No word from the team on the nature of his injury (looked to be a separated left shoulder) or any possible return date.
  • Still no word as to a permanent on-air replacement for Joseph Zakrzewski, who is no longer working for the organization as of early November. A rotating crew of fill-ins have handled the broadcasts, while on-ice reporter Katie Florio has handled the media sessions.
  • Friday night, the IceHogs played as the “Screw City” IceHogs, a shout out to Rockford’s manufacturing history. The sweaters employed for this special night would make a great alternate look for Rockford in the future. Guttman’s wearing the uniform in the photo above.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan, who had played in just two games and whose last appearance was November 16, was on the fourth line in both games against Iowa. If he was in the lineup to bang the Wild around and/or pick up a fighting major, he never really got the chance to do either of those things this weekend.
  • Reichel was sent to the ice after Wild forward Brandon Baddock caught him with a knee-on-knee hit near the end of the second period Saturday. Reichel was quick to get back on his skates and was not injured, but Baddock had to deal with the wrath of…Adam Clendening and Brett Seney, far from the typical enforcer types.
  • The 6’3″ Baddock was swiftly admonished by Clendening; the pair received matching roughing minors. Baddock was also called for kneeing, setting up a power play for the Hogs. Reichel could have put an exclamation point on the incident, but missed a wide open net from the right post a minute later.
  • Seney, who had a goal on Friday and an assist on Saturday, leads the Hogs in scoring with 28 points (11 G, 17 A). He’s on pace to eclipse last year’s career highs (17 G, 42 A) set with Toronto.
  • The 3,772 fans at the BMO Center tossed 4,839 stuffed animals onto the ice following Michal Teply’s put-back goal 5:11 into Saturday’s game. For a game with two promotions, the house was a little light. A good, not a great crowd for a Saturday night, but still above the team’s 3,379 average attendance this season.

This Week

After the aforementioned trip to Iowa Tuesday night, the IceHogs play host to a couple of Eastern Conference teams. The Toronto Marlies, who currently sit atop the Northern Division, come to the BMO Center Friday night. Hartford, who Rockford defeated back on December 3, is the opponent Saturday night.

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

 

Hockey

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

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

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

 

The Numbers So Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Are Those Veteran Pickups Doing?

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

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

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

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

 

What About The Kids?

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

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

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

 

Roster Happenings

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 23-Rockford 7, Texas 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, November 25-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, November 26, Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Head East

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

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs took two out of three games this past week. The piglets spoiled Wednesday morning for hundreds of Grand Rapids children with a morning stomp of the Griffins, then split a home-and home with the Chicago Wolves over the weekend.

Rockford is now 7-6-0-1 on the season. With 15 points, the IceHogs sit in fifth place in the AHL’s Central Division. Faced with the prospect of treading water in the face of some depth issues in net, Rockford has managed to hover around the .500 mark. With the pace that is expected of the Hogs, the goaltending will be paramount to the team’s playoff aspirations.

 

Scoreboard!

What is keeping Rockford afloat the first month is offense. The Hogs are soaring at 3.79 goals per game, tied for fourth in the league.

Rockford has three skaters in the top 20 of AHL scorers. By way of comparison, the IceHogs seldom have anyone in the top 100 scorers. David Gust (8 G, 10 A) sits in eighth place, with Luke Philp (10 G, 6 A) and Brett Seney (7 G, 9 A) are among several skaters tied for 14th. Philp leads the Hogs in goals with ten and is tied for second in the league in that category.

Several Blackhawks prospects are also filling the net on a regular basis. After a torrid start, Lukas Reichel (6 G, 8 A), has tapered off after a lackluster performance on November 2 against Milwaukee. Reichel has two goals and two assists in eight November games.

Michal Teply, on the other hand, started the season with four scoreless outings before getting on track. In his last seven games, Teply has three goals and five helpers. That includes the game-winning goal in Rosemont on Saturday night.

 

Roster News

After returning from an injury last week, Jaxson Stauber was a scratch for both weekend games against the Wolves. Mitchell Weeks was recalled from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Thursday and dressed for both games. He stopped 24 shots at Allstate Arena in Rockford’s overtime win over Chicago.

On Wednesday, D Alec Regula was reassigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks. The next day, Ian Mitchell was called up to Chicago. On Friday, D Cliff Watson was sent to Indy by the IceHogs.

Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell suffered an injury midway through Saturday’s win in Rosemont. Mitchell was sent hard into the end boards in the Wolves zone by Chicago defenseman Max Lajoie. Mitchell quickly got up, but skated directly to the locker room with appeared to be a separated left shoulder.

Mitchell has been an unquestioned leader of this IceHogs team nearly from the moment he arrived in the middle of the 2019-20 season. There are several veterans who can pick up the slack on the ice in terms of leadership should Mitchell be out for a stretch, as may well be the case by the way he looked exiting the rink Saturday.

 

Who’s Got The Call?

Over the last couple of weeks, a voice has been missing from the IceHogs broadcast booth. Joseph Zakrzewski, who manned the microphone for nearly five seasons, broadcast what turned out to be his final game at the BMO on October 23 vs Manitoba.

Zakrzewski has been absent from the airwaves ever since. His tweet on November 8 announced that his time with the team was at an end. Like his arrival in 2017, Zakrzewski departs in the middle of the season. No announcement was made by the organization.

If the Blackhawks, who own the Rockford franchise, has a plan for the broadcast booth, it is unclear at this time. It does not appear that a permanent replacement for his position has been hired.

Several hired guns have filled the void on the air over the last few weeks. These include Chicago Steel broadcaster Mark Citron, Kane County Cougars announcer Connor Clingen, Wisconsin Women’s hockey broadcaster Reid Mangum, Tyler Kuel, and WGN’s Joe Brand, who called this weekend’s games.

Where will the carousel stop? Who knows at this point?

Zakrzewski was a well-liked broadcaster at the BMO Center who knew his game and was a fun listen. The powers that be have some big shoes to fill.

 

Who’s Got The Cup?

Rockford has hosted the Wolves on three occasions this season. I’ve been searching the BMO Center during each matchup searching for the grail-like token of glory that is the Illinois Lottery Cup.

My search, alas, has been fruitless. The ILC debuted back in 2011, where the Hogs and Wolves, along with the Peoria Rivermen (then of the AHL), waged battle for the magical chalice. When the 2019-20 season was halted early, Rockford stood poised to claim the cup with a 6-3-1 record against Chicago. Last season, the cup was earned via the Hogs 8-3-0-1 record against the Calder Cup-winning Wolves.

So, I inquire again…where is the Illinois Lottery Cup?

All signs point to money. No sponsor, no Illinois Lottery Cup. However, does it really have to be that way? Couldn’t the Lottery folks just donate this talisman to the rivalry? Could an enterprising fan purchase the cup for, say, ten bucks?

That’s the price the Blackhawks are selling the Stars Of Tomorrow placards that used to hang proudly on the wall heralding the former IceHogs that reached the NHL. Could the Blackhawks earmark some of the money they saved on the new Hammy Hog mask to obtain the trophy of Wolves domination?

All right. Way too fired up right now. Time for those recaps.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 16-Rockford 5, Grand Rapids 1

The piglets spotted Grand Rapids a 5-1 lead at Van Andel Arena before the Rockford offense snowed under the Griffins.

Joel L’Esperance had the only goal of the morning with his lamp-lighter 13:38 into the opening period. From that point, it was all Rockford.

The Hogs tied the game 1:18 into the second stanza with a goal by Luke Philp. The eventual game-winner came from the stick of Ian Mitchell, who scored the first of his two goals at the 3:02 mark. Lukas Reichel and Buddy Robinson also sent rubber to twine in the second period, which ended with Rockford up 4-1.

Like his first goal, Mitchell’s second tally was on the power play. It came at 4:57 of the third period and closed out the scoring for both teams.

Dylan Wells posted 29 saves to pick up his second win of the season. Mitchell, Reichel, and Robinson were voted the game’s Three Stars.

 

Friday, November 18-Chicago 4, Rockford 3

In a game where special teams played a big factor, the Wolves Nathan Sucese potted a short-handed game-winner midway through the third period.

Rockford was the aggressor for several stretches of action on Friday. That included the opening minutes, which saw the Hogs take a 1-0 lead on a Buddy Robinson goal. Robinson’s fourth goal of the season was a tip-in of an Adam Clendening shot at the 2:09 mark of the first period.

Chicago didn’t get much going until the latter stages of the period. However, they capitalized twice in the last five minutes on goals by Griffin Mendel and Vasily Ponomarev to take a 2-1 advantage into the locker room.

Luke Philp got the first of two goals on the night to tie the game midway through the second period. The goal was a short-handed set up by a fantastic effort by Rockford forward Josiah Slavin, who skated a loose puck from coast to coast before centering to Philp in the high slot.

The score stayed at 2-2 until the start of the final frame, when Malte Stromwell sent a shot past Hogs goalie Dylan Wells at the 1:51 mark for a power-play goal. Philp tied the game again with his second goal. This one also came on the man-advantage, a shot from the left circle that beat Chicago goalie Zachary Sawchenko 9:22 into the third.

The game-winner came less than two minutes later. The Wolves had exploited Wells losing his net several times throughout the evening. This time, a rebound came off the pads of Wells, rolling just out of his reach. Sucese beat several Hogs to the loose puck and deposited it into the cage at 11:20 of the third period.

Down 4-3, Rockford mounted a big push for the equalizer, pulling Wells with just under three minutes to play. A Wolves penalty gave the IceHogs a six-on-four advantage for most of the last two minutes of the game. Several shots were taken, but Sawchenko held firm to give Chicago the win.

 

Saturday, November 19, Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (OT)  

Rockford gained redemption in the rematch at Allstate Arena, though it took some extra skating to do so.

Jamison Rees put the Wolves up 1-0 4:33 into the game with his third goal of the season. The IceHogs generated plenty of chances, though they were turned away by former Rockford goalie Cale Morris.

The action picked up in the middle of the second stanza. David Gust got his stick on a loose puck at the left post, sliding it past Morris at the 7:16 mark. Shortly after Gust’s tally, Michal Teply sent an Issak Phllips feed from the left circle to the back of the Wolves net at 8:10 of the second.

Rees quickly responded for Chicago. Mitchell Weeks stopped the initial attempt, but Rees gathered the rebound and tied the game at 8:42.

Rockford took a 3-2 advantage 14:06 into the period when a shot by Alex Vlasic snuck past Morris from to top of the right circle. The Wolves got back to even ground with a shorthanded goal by Nathan Sucese at the 1:58 mark. Rockford nearly got the lead back in the final minute, but Phillips’ shot from the left circle came to a stop on the goal line, just not across it. The teams went into the intermission all even.

Neither Weeks or Morris wavered in the final 20 minutes of regulation, despite each team getting ample time on the power play. Rockford was stymied by the Wolves penalty kill four times, while the Hogs denied Chicago twice on man-advantages.

The IceHogs started Gus Macker Time with four skaters thanks to an unfinished power play from regulation. However, it took the bulk of the extra session to declare a winner. That declaration was made by Teply, who skated into the slot as the clock began to run out. His shot beat Morris, clanged off the crossbar, and tumbled into Twinesville to end the game with 11 seconds remaining in overtime.

 

This Week

The piglets have a Wednesday night showdown with Texas at the BMO, then start a home-and-home with Milwaukee in Rockford on Friday. Saturday, the Hogs travel to Milwaukee for another tilt with the Admirals.

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