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 dug themselves a mighty big hole at the BMO Center this weekend. With two chances to grab some momentum in their Central Division Semifinal series with Texas, the Hogs  whiffed against the division’s top club. Texas returns home with a 2-0 series advantage on the strength of a superior transition game and a knack for capitalizing on IceHogs mistakes.

Game 3 is Wednesday night in Cedar Park. Rockford must win three in a row on the road to stay in the playoffs. To do that, the Hogs will need to start making passes with purpose, as opposed to sending pucks into the ether.

Friday’s 5-3 loss was pivotal, as it was a game well within reach of the piglets. Rockford let two leads slip away through sloppy passing and overzealousness.

The Stars took a 1-0 lead on a Rhett Gardner tally 12:34 into the contest. Lukas Reichel dropped a pass to no one in the neutral zone, leading to a Texas rush to the net. Rockford then built a 2-1 advantage on a power-play goal by Joey Anderson in the final seconds of the first period, followed by a D.J. Busdeker goal 1:16 into the second.

Texas was able to use a misplay by Rockford goalie Arvid Soderblom behind his own net in the second period to erase the deficit. Marian Studenic did the honors 14:33 into the middle frame. After the IceHogs took a 3-2 advantage early in the third on Bobby Lynch’s put-back, the Stars got the equalizer from Scott Reedy on the power play after a Mike Hardman elbowing penalty.

The game-winner was a direct result of a blind spinning pass from the stick of Reichel, who is still looking for his first point of the playoffs. Stars defenseman Alex Petrovic hauled in the puck in the high slot to start the rush the other way. Mavrik Bourque skated the puck to the left circle before finding Nicholas Caamano, who had snuck behind Issak Phillips, for a tap-in with less than four minutes remaining in the third period. Studenic found the empty net late for his second goal of the night.

On Sunday, the big guns came out to play for the Stars. Curtis McKenzie and Riley Barber gave Texas a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. Anderson got the Hogs on the board early in the third, but that’s as close as things got. Barber got his second of the evening 16:32 into the third, with Tanner Kero adding an empty-netter in the final minute.

Thoughts

  • There was no need for Hartman to finish a check as far behind the play as he was. Same for Reichel just forcing pucks into areas with nary a teammate in sight.  Rockford can not afford to make mistakes like these against the best offensive team in the league. Texas can and did make the Hogs pay for those mistakes Friday night.
  • Soderblom played pretty well for most of the first two games. Before coughing up the puck in the second period Friday, he prevented at least two pucks from finding the net. Sunday was another good, but not great, type of performance. Matthew Murray was the better goalie in both games.
  • Several times during Friday’s game, fans were warned not to throw objects onto the ice. Midway through the third period, a puck was tossed over the glass, initially resulting in a delay of game call against Rockford. It turned out that a Texas fan had committed the transgression, so the penalty was rescinded and the fan was removed from the game.
  • The IceHogs played a smarter game on Sunday, but just couldn’t get a puck past Murray at several key moments. This included hitting a post on a second-period power-play chance.
  • Jalen Luypen, who was signed to an entry contract by the Hawks last fall, made his AHL debut on Friday and also played in Sunday’s tilt. Centering the fourth line, he certainly did not look out of place for Rockford.

Wednesday’s Game 3 is set to start at Cedar Park’s H.E.B. Center at 7:00 p.m. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates.

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 squeaked into the Calder Cup Playoffs by winning three of their last four games in the last week of the regular season. After an epic 6-3 victory over the surging Chicago Wolves Wednesday night, Rockford edged the Griffins in Grand Rapids Friday before coming up short in the home finale to Manitoba Saturday night. Needing a win to keep the Wolves at bay in sixth place, the piglets used a strong opening period to defeat Milwaukee 4-1 on the road Sunday.

Rockford opens the Central Division play-in series Wednesday night at the BMO Center against the Iowa Wild, a team with whom the Hogs have been involved in a lot of close contests in the season series. The play-in is a best-of-three affair; the action will move to DesMoines for games on Friday and, if necessary, Sunday.

The Wild won the regulation wins tiebreaker with Rockford. Both teams finished with 79 points. In twelve matchups this season, the Wild hold a 7-3-1-1 advantage against Rockford. Iowa is 4-0-1-1 in Rockford, while the teams split six games in DesMoines. The IceHogs won four of the last five meetings, with the Wild shutting out Rockford 2-0 at the BMO Center in the last tilt between the teams on February 25. Seven of the twelve games required overtime or a shootout to decide the winner, so buckle up.

This promises to be a series that hinges on just a few bounces of the puck. How’s it gonna go? This is playoff hockey between two evenly matched teams. Here’s how things look entering Wednesday’s puck drop.

 

Those Flyin’ Piglets

The IceHogs came out firing this season and challenged for the division lead for most of the first three months of the season. The offensive firepower took a hit with roster call-ups in January, when Rockford lost seven straight games. The Hogs struggled to play .500 hockey from there, having to adjust to a trade-deadline roster shake-up. They do come in with a deep a roster as they’ve had all season.

Rocco Grimaldi (33 G, 40 A) came aboard at the trade deadline from San Diego and has contributed six goals and 11 helpers in 16 games with Rockford. David Gust (26 G, 33 A), Brett Seney (23 G, 31 A) and Luke Philp (29 G, 24 A) have been the heart of the Hogs offense all season.

Recently back with the Hogs is Lukas Reichel (20 G, 31 A), who was an AHL All-Star along with Seney and Gust. The x-factor may be in the form of Joey Anderson, who was assigned to Rockford this past weekend by the Blackhawks. Anderson had 27 points (14 G, 13 A) in 30 games with the Toronto Marlies earlier this season and was paired with Grimaldi and Reichel to much success in Rockford’s final three games.

With the addition of Reichel and Anderson, the Hogs can send out two very potent scoring lines, along with a pair of lines that can bang with the Wild at both ends. This group includes Bobby Lynch (11 G, 8 A), Buddy Robinson (9 G, 11 A), Mike Hardman (5 G, 13 A), and D.J. Busdeker (4 G, 9 A). Defensively, Rockford’s pairings are chock full of developing prospects like Issak Phillips (6 G, 17 A), Jakub Galvas (3 G, 26 A), Alec Regula (5 G, 16 A), and Alex Vlasic (2 G, 17 A).

IceHogs goalie Arvid Soderblom (15-12-5, 2.92 GAA, .905 save percentage) has been up and down this season, but has raised his game against Iowa. In five starts, Soderblom is 4-0-1 with a 1.93 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. His best outing came on February 24, a 29-save performance in Rockford’s 3-1 win.

It’s good that Soderblom has been sharp against the Wild, because it solidifies the need for Rockford to send the second-year prospect out to the crease for as long as the IceHogs remain in the playoffs. It was the organization’s plan to make Soderblom the workhorse this season before his services were needed in Chicago early in the season. Upon returning from an injury on January 20, he’s started 28 of the IceHogs 35 games. Soderblom started the last seven games of the regular season and eleven of the last twelve.

Dylan Wells, the primary starter early in the season for Rockford, was traded to Dallas at the deadline. The only other goalie who has seen the ice for the Hogs since is Jaxson Stauber. In five appearances since coming back from his own stint with the Blackhawks, Stauber is 0-4 with a 3.88 GAA and an .890 save percentage. He also hasn’t played in almost three weeks.

Anton Khudobin is on the roster, though he hasn’t made an appearance for Rockford since coming over for Wells in February. Drew Commesso is also signed to a PTO, but he’s likely just along for the ride. It’s Soderblom or bust for the piglets. Rockford goes as far as he can take them.

 

A Look At The Wild

Iowa put together a league-high 14-point streak in January and February. From December 28 to February 4, the Wild went 11-1-3-2, then proceeded to lose seven straight. Iowa recovered to finish 12-6-1-1 in its last 20 games. Like Rockford, Iowa posted a win on Sunday, beating Texas 5-2 to punch its playoff ticket.

The Wild are paced by veteran center Nic Petan, who set career-highs in goals (23) and points (62) in 53 games for Iowa. Rookie Sammy Walker (27 G, 21 A) led Iowa in goals, while Adam Beckman added 24 goals in 53 games. Marco Rossi (16 G, 35 A) and Steven Fogarty (19 G, 30 A) are also big point producers for the Wild.

Rossi leads Iowa with 14 points (3 G, 11 A) in eleven games against Rockford this season. Fogarty paces the Wild with seven goals and also has five helpers in his ten games against the IceHogs. Petan (3 G, 7 A) has a pair of game-winners over Rockford.

Joe Hicketts (6 G, 42 A) is a seven-year veteran defenseman who provides the spark on the Wild power play. He has three goals and 24 helpers on the man advantage. The Iowa blueline also sports Dakota Mermis (5 G, 21 A) and tough defender Turner Ottenbreit (4 G, 8 A).

In net, rookie Jesper Wallstedt (18-15-5-1, 2.68 GAA, .908 save percentage) and veteran Zane McIntyre (16-12-5-3, 2.87 GAA, .899 save percentage) have alternated starts all season, appearing in all but one game for the Wild this season. It’s been one, then the other, for the last 20 games of Iowa’s schedule. Each have been solid against the Hogs. Wallstedt is 4-2-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .922 save percentage. McIntyre is 3-1-0-1 with a 2.60 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

 

What’s The Bottom Line?

Whether Iowa coach Tim Army elects to keep the tandem going or go with just one goalie, the Wild has a slight edge in the crease, at least on paper. Fortunately, this series will be played on ice, both at the BMO Center and at Wells Fargo Arena.

If Rockford can set an up-tempo pace and maintain order in both zones, while getting Soderblom’s best hockey, there is a good chance that the IceHogs can advance to the next round against Texas. It might well take extra skating on a Sunday afternoon to do so, but it projects to be that close.

Will the additions to roster put Rockford over the top in this series? We find out soon.

 

Series Schedule

Game One-BMO Center, Rockford, Illinois, Wednesday, April 19, 7:00 p.m. CDT

Game Two-Wells Fargo Arena, DesMoines, Iowa, Friday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. CDT

Game Three-Wells Fargo Arena, DesMoines Iowa, Sunday, April 23, 3:00 p.m. CDT (If necessary)

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and reflections on this play-in series.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue to struggle in their quest for the AHL postseason. This past weekend, Rockford allowed their interstate rivals to inch ever closer to the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.

The Chicago Wolves closed the gap between them and the piglets to four points as the Hogs dropped two out of three games this weekend. It wasn’t pretty; Rockford was shut out by Laval on Friday and in Rosemont Saturday. In fact, the IceHogs took 22 minutes to register as much as a shot on Chicago.

Rockford stopped the bleeding by defeating Grand Rapids 5-1 Sunday afternoon. With six games left for the IceHogs, what looked to be a wrapped-up spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs is very much in doubt.

The regulation win over the Griffins was the first such victory at the BMO since December 31. It’s just the second regulation win for Rockford in its last 15 games, dating back to February 24. Brett Seney led the way with a pair of goals, setting a career-high for him with goals 21 and 22.

The IceHogs also got goals from Andrew Perrott, Jakub Galvas, and Luke Philp, who has been a consistent point producer for Rockford. His 24 goals and 46 points in 54 games are career-highs for Philp.

The Wolves, who have a game in hand on the IceHogs, are currently on a five-game point streak. They need only to tie for fifth; Chicago has 27 regulation wins to just 16 for Rockford. The Hogs need to finish the season with a flourish, but it won’t be an easy task.

This weekend, the piglets have a home-and-home with Milwaukee, who has won five of seven meetings with Rockford this season. The Wolves play Milwaukee, who they beat 5-2 on Sunday, again on Wednesday, then have a home-and-home with Iowa this weekend. Chicago has won its last four games against the Wild.

It isn’t difficult to forecast a scenario that sees the Hogs and Wolves in a dead heat by this time next week. If Chicago stays hot and Rockford continues to struggle, the IceHogs could be the team on the outside of the playoff picture.

What is the organization, who pledged that getting playoff games under the belt of its prospects was a priority, doing to reinforce the IceHogs? Surprisingly little.

This is the time of year where college and junior players are signed. The IceHogs signed Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston to a PTO March 14 and Paul Ludwinski, the Hawks second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, to an ATO on March 29. However, neither player has suited up for Rockford. The team announced that Ludwinski is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain sustained in his junior season with Kingston of the OHL.

Mike Hardman was reassigned to the IceHogs on Wednesday. Joey Anderson cleared waivers Sunday; it appears that he and Lukas Reichel will be assigned to Rockford at the conclusion of the NHL season. Three games will remain for the IceHogs at that point; will it be enough?

There seems to be enough talent on the roster to make the necessary push. However, even with the goal explosion on Sunday, Rockford has averaged 1.93 goals per contest in its last 15 games. That has to change, starting this weekend against the Admirals.

The Hogs are in Milwaukee on Friday night, then come back to the BMO Saturday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the Hogs hunt for the playoffs.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are inching closer to the end of their regular season. Will that season continue following the April 16 finale in Milwaukee? Maybe. Probably. The piglets playoff picture continues to develop with just nine games remaining. Here we go…

The IceHogs entered this week seven points behind Manitoba for the third-seed in the Central Division. Following two games at Canada Life Centre, Rockford is eight points behind. The Hogs defeated the Moose 4-3 in a shootout Wednesday on the only attempt that reached twine, that of Rocco Grimaldi’s shot in round two.

This came after Manitoba tied the game with ten seconds remaining in regulation. Picking up two points was key to catching the Moose in the Central Division standings; letting Manitoba slip away with a point was considerably poor form. Two of Manitoba’s three goals came via two-man advantages. Arvid Soderblom stopped 43 shots and denied three shootout attempts for a hard-earn victory.

Friday, Manitoba cruised to a 5-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of action. Soderblom was pulled in favor of Jaxson Stauber after four first-period goals by the Moose. Manitoba claimed a 6-2 win that pretty much ended hopes of Rockford vaulting into a top-three finish in the division.

 

Where Does This Leave The Hogs?

Rockford (30-24-5-4) currently sits in fifth place in the Central with nine games remaining on its regular-season slate. With 69 points, the Hogs trail fourth-place Iowa (72 points) and have two games in hand on the Wild.

Grand Rapids (eight games left) and Chicago (ten games left) sit in the division basement with 61 points entering play this week. The Griffins and Wolves play each other twice the rest of the way. Each also has two games remaining with Rockford. After the Hogs host Laval this Friday, they will finish a three-in-three weekend in Rosemont on Saturday and at the BMO Sunday when Grand Rapids visits.

The IceHogs won’t be winning any tie-breaking scenarios, as Rockford has just 15 regulation wins this season. Twelve points in the final nine games would force Chicago to run the table to tie Rockford. 81 points sounds like a relatively safe finish for the piglets; it may or may not overtake the Wild, but Rockford is looking at a best-of-three play-in series with Iowa whether it finishes fourth or fifth in the Central.

Could the IceHogs catch fire and reel off 6-7 wins to close out the regular season? Perhaps. Let’s go back and find the last nine-game stretch where RFD won six games.

That would be Dec. 21-Jan. 13, where the piglets went 6-2-1. Immediately after that nine-game run, RFD lost seven straight. The best the IceHogs have managed since was a 5-2-0-2 mark from Jan. 31-Feb. 22.

To summarize, Rockford could play its best hockey of the last three months to lock up a spot in the post season. Just winning the remaining four games with Grand Rapids and Chicago in regulation probably does it as well. Finishing with 79 points, or ten points in these last nine games, is likely good enough to qualify. The IceHogs certainly have control of their playoff destiny at the moment.

 

How’s The Roster?

Rockford is slowly re-gaining some depth up front. The Blackhawks reassigned F Buddy Robinson to the Hogs on Sunday. Another player or two could possibly follow to help Rockford before hitting the BMO ice against Laval Friday. At the moment, the IceHogs have been competitive largely on the strength of Grimaldi, Luke Philp, and David Gust, who accounted for four of Rockford’s five goals this past weekend (The fifth belonged to D Issak Phillips).

Getting Robinson back is another step towards what could be a deep, formidable playoff roster. Lukas Reichel, Joey Anderson, and Mike Hardman are playoff-eligible and would provide a boost to close out the regular season. The IceHogs could also pick up a PTO or an ATO that could chip in as the regular season winds down.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my musings as Rockford finishes the stretch run over the next couple of weeks.

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.