Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have an attendance problem. This, despite having a young, exciting group of prospects that sit in second place in the league’s Central Division through 33 games.

Through this point in the calendar a year ago, Rockford was averaging 3905 fans a night for 17 home games. In 20 home dates this season, the Hogs are averaging 3515. For the second straight season, the franchise is facing a big drop in attendance.

Why are fewer people congregating at the BMO Harris Bank Center to cheer on the ‘Bago County Flying Piglets? Apparently because they’re not the ‘Bago County Fighting Piglets.

Some of you might find that statement ridiculous. Others may be nodding pensively. How would the absence of fisticuffs be keeping hockey fans from checking out the quality product showcased in the Forest City? Something else has to be the culprit.

The IceHogs are a much better team this season, both in terms of quality of play and win-loss record. They play a fast-paced style for 60 minutes a night. What’s not to like?

Still, let’s speculate. What could be vastly different about this season that the attendance has dropped the way it has?

Is it the power play? Its still abysmal, though Rockford managed a pair of goals on the man advantage this week. Their success rate of 13.3 percent in the last three games actually raised the Hogs overall total for the season. Regardless, that doesn’t seem to be a factor in attendance.

Could it be bad public relations? This is a young, talented and pretty likable team. No scandalous happenings to the best of my knowledge.

How about turnover in the broadcast booth? Rockford is on its third play-by-play man in the last three months. Bob Mills resigned back in October; Mike Peck handled the mic on an interim basis before the club hired Joe Zakzewski. I’ve enjoyed listening to Joey Z and feel like his open style on social media is a big plus to drawing in fans.

Underwhelming giveaway promotions? 4,296 fans showed up to nab free blankets Friday night, down about 1,200 for a similar promotion last December. Seems like the swag is of similar quality as other years.

Sunspots? I guess that’s for the scientists to decide.

Lack of fighting? Hmmmm…could be…

I would guess that its not just the lack of fighting, but the substantial drop in this category over the past three months of action. Here’s how that three-month total has looked over the past few seasons:

2013-14: 15 FM

2014-15: 30 FM

2015-16: 20 FM

2016-17: 17 FM

2017-18: 5 FM

Through 33 games this season, Rockford has been assessed five fighting majors.

Five.

Not fifteen, five. You can literally count them on one hand.

Last year, the IceHogs set a franchise-low in the category with just 39 fighting majors assessed. Keep in mind, that figure was still good for eighth-highest in the AHL. Rockford is last in the league in fights, which is unprecedented.

It’s simple to explain this prodigious drop in glove dropping. Rockford doesn’t have anyone remotely counting as a fighter on its roster (though Matt Tomkins was in a goalie fight last week before being promoted from Indy). Its probably fortunate that more Hogs aren’t getting into scraps…because they’re not good at it.

The lone December fracas saw Laurent Dauphin square off with Duncan Siemens of the Rampage on the 15th. The Hogs center has been wearing a full face shield ever since; a bit ironic as his bout was the least one-sided of any Rockford has been a part of this season…by far.

If Rockford players are going to get into fights and continue to take damage that could lead to missed time, I’d rather they keep their gloves on. The team does not appear to be bringing in someone with pugilistic tendencies anytime soon, so I would expect more of the status quo.

As I have said repeatedly here, the lack of fighting has not diminished my enjoyment of the games or kept me from showing up. I suspect that I am in the minority when it comes to this issue, though.

Maybe that’s assuming too much. However, it wouldn’t shock me if that drop of 400 fans a night consists in some part of folks who want blood every night and don’t feel its worth the drive downtown if they aren’t going to see it.

Based on the advertising I’ve seen this fall, the emphasis on fighting is as non-existent as it is on the ice. Again, that doesn’t bother me a bit.

I could understand a drop in attendance last season. The team was terrible and going nowhere in an awful hurry. This season, I can’t figure it out. The team has been fun to watch even when they don’t win, and they are in great position in terms of the standings right now.

The Rockford fan base has always supported this team going back to the UHL days, good or bad. Why not now? Hopefully the new year brings in some bigger gates as the season rolls on.

Piglets In Net

Rockford completed a three-games-in-three-nights stretch Saturday, showcasing the style of play that we’ve come to expect from this group. The difference lay in the crease, where the Hogs have two very green goalies to choose from for the foreseeable future.

Due to injuries in Chicago (Corey Crawford) and Rockford (J.F. Berube), both of the organization’s veteran net minders are up with the Blackhawks. This leaves the less than seasoned tandem of Colin Delia and Matt Tomkins to backstop the IceHogs.

Delia, signed to an entry deal by the Blackhawks this summer, made his second and third AHL starts against Iowa this week, having just ten ECHL games under his belt with the Indy Fuel. Tomkins, who made his AHL debut Saturday night, had just eight games played with the Fuel. An AHL contract signing by Rockford, the former Chicago draft pick is now in his first stint in Rockford.

Neither rookie is making anyone forget Berube or Jeff Glass, who were adept at keeping some of Rockford’s more aggressive mistakes from showing up on the scoreboard. Delia seemed to spend quite a bit of time off his skates; there may have been reason that he sat in favor of Glass until their was no other recourse but to give him a start this week.

Tomkins showed some smart rebound control but was still torched for six goals in his start against the Wolves. He let a puck drop and roll into his net on Chicago’s first power play goal Saturday, then failed to cover a loose puck in front of him that resulted in a shorthanded tally for the Wolves.

With Berube not available for possibly a couple more weeks, Rockford will have to stay afloat with Delia and Tomkins for the immediate future. The IceHogs have four games this week against division foes. Limiting shots on goal and staying out of the penalty box are going to be keys in each of those contests.

I think Rockford can tread water with the current goalie situation for another week or so. Any further and they may have to find an experienced AHL veteran and sign him to a PTO to sure things up.

 

Hot Line

The grouping of Alexandre Fortin, Tyler Sikura and Andreas Martinsen has been a very effective line for Rockford. This week, that line accounted for four goals.

Sikura, in particular, was excellent. He found the net in all three games and had four points this past week. Fortin put up a goal and two helpers while Martinsen chipped in with an assist and freed up some pucks with his physical presence.

With the Hogs power play as bad as it is, Sikura and his knack for getting to the front of the net sure wouldn’t do any harm. He continues to be a quality signing for Rockford. Sikura has six goals and four assists on the season and carries the second highest skater rating on the club (plus-11).

Rookie Matthew Highmore continues to lead the IceHogs in goals; his hat trick Thursday night puts him at 14 for the season. His 22 points is tied with Tomas Jurco (10 G, 12 A) for the team lead among the active roster.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson made his return from an upper body injury this week. He had an assist in both Thursday and Friday’s games with Iowa. Luke Johnson broke a six-game pointless streak with a goal and two helpers this week.

 

Recaps

Thursday, December 27-Rockford 6, Iowa 3

Rockford picked up a third straight win, paced by a Matthew Highmore hat trick, some solid defensive play and a bit of puck luck.

The IceHogs got on the board 3:02 into the contest. The opening goal was set up by Andreas Martinsen, who separated a Wild skater from the puck in the corner of the Iowa zone. Tyler Sikura grabbed the turnover, skated toward the right post and hit Alexandre Fortin in the slot for the lamp-lighter.

That 1-0 lead was short-lived, as the Wild returned fire just 12 seconds later. Cal O’Reilly got a pass through Anthony Louis and Erik Gustafsson to Zach Parise. The rehabbing Parise easily found Luke Kunin in the high slot. Kunin’s shot got over the blocker of Hogs goalie Colin Delia to tie the score at a goal apiece.

Rockford took a 2-1 advantage thanks to some hard work by Luke Johnson and Matthew Highmore. Johnson fought for and won a puck battle along the left half boards of the Wild zone. Highmore took a pass from Johnson and wove his way to the left post. The initial shot was stopped by the pad of Steve Michalek. Highmore, however, collected the rebound and flung it home at the 8:47 mark.

Iowa drew even again on a Justin Kloos power play goal 11:30 into the first, then went up 3-2 a couple of minutes later when Johnson whiffed on a pass attempt in the neutral zone. AHL veteran Pat Cannone maneuvered around Viktor Svedberg to the right dot, where he beat Delia’s glove with a wrister at the 14:10 mark. The Wild held that advantage into the first intermission.

The Hogs outshot Iowa 11-3 in the second period. Delia wasn’t real busy in that time, but did make a couple of big stops. It was soon after a point-blank stop on a Kunin attempt from the slot that Rockford evened the score.

Fortin got to a loose puck in the neutral zone and hit Tyler Sikura just short of the red line. Sikura skated hard into Wild territory and fired from the top of the left circle. The shot befuddled Michalek and settled into the basket at 16:59 of the period.

A Nick Seeler holding infraction gave Rockford a man advantage late in the middle frame. For the first time in several games, the IceHogs took advantage. Erik Gustafsson, returning to the lineup for the first time since November 25, hit Tomas Jurco at the top of the left circle. Jurco’s shot ricocheted off of the shin pads of Highmore and into the cage at the 19:29 mark. The Hogs led 4-3 after 40 minutes.

A clearing attempt by Svedberg early in the third period resulted in some insurance for the IceHogs. William Pelletier chased down the puck ahead of his Iowa counterparts to negate icing, then took advantage of a odd bounce off of the end boards to snipe one past Michalek’s stick side. That made the score 5-3 just 2:08 into the third.

Twice in the final frame, Iowa skaters were taken down on the way to breakaway attempts. Both Mario Lucia and Sam Anas were awarded penalty shots and had Delia beaten with an open net in front of them. Lucia’s backhand attempt sailed wide of the cage. Anas had his offering denied by the left post.

The pressure was on for most of the last three minutes, as Iowa pulled Michalek and camped out in the Rockford zone. Ville Pokka was finally able to clear the defensive zone with 48 seconds remaining. Pelletier slid the puck into the Wild zone and Highmore helpfully guided it into the empty net with 43 seconds left.

Delia stopped 15 of the 18 shots he faced to pick up his first AHL victory. Highmore and Sikura were awarded the game’s first and second stars, respectively.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Erik Gustafsson-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 1-4)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Friday, December 29-Iowa 5, Rockford 3

Some third-period fireworks created a bit of excitement, but the Hogs couldn’t complete a three-goal comeback despite out shooting the Wild 48-30.

Rockford got on the board quickly. Iowa goalie Steve Michalek fought off a Laurent Dauphin put-back attempt after Erik Gustafsson put a shot on net. The puck made its way out to the waiting stick of Matheson Iacopelli. With a wide-open net to aim for, Iacopelli drove home his sixth of the season at 2:51 of the first period.

Iowa scored the next four goals of the contest, starting late in the first when Mario Lucia stuck in a rebound past Hogs goalie Colin Delia to tie the game on the power play. Iowa’s man advantage struck again when Luke Kunin one-timed a Ryan Murphy pass into Delia’s net 1:34 into the second.

At the 8:31 mark, Delia was left to defend a three-on-one rush that ended with an easy tap-in for Lucia. A little over two minutes later, a turnover by Rockford’s Darren Raddysh wound up in the back of the Hogs cage, courtesy of Landon Ferraro.

Down 4-1, it appeared that 4,296 folks who braved the elements to catch the action at the BMO would be able to get a head start home. That’s certainly how it looked for the first ten minutes of the final frame. However, in a span of 25 seconds, the IceHogs suddenly made it a hockey game.

It started off an offensive zone draw midway through the period. Tanner Kero flipped a backhand past Michalek, set up by Anthony Louis, for his first goal this season with Rockford at 10:41. On the subsequent shift, Tyler Sikura deftly redirected a Ville Pokka blast from the point. The puck eluded the Iowa net-minder and the Hogs had cut the lead to 4-3 at 11:06.

Rockford gained a power play with 2:25 remaining for a last shot at the equalizer. Once they established control in the Wild zone, Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton brought Delia to the bench for the extra skater. Soon after, Pokka had his shot attempt blocked by Kyle Rau. The two skaters raced to the loose puck. Rau got enough stick on it to get it into the empty net to close out the scoring at 18:58.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Erik Gustafsson-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (0-6)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 2-7)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

Saturday, December 30-Chicago 6, Rockford 2 

The Wolves took a 1-0 lead at the 7:29 mark. Brandon Pirri’s power play tally came right off of a Wade Megan faceoff win. Pirri sent a screamer to goal from the high slot that rookie Matt Tomkins appeared to absorb. However, the puck got away from the Hogs goalie, struck his left leg, and rolled across the goal line to give Chicago an advantage they would hold into the first intermission.

Rockford had an early power play opportunity in the sandwich stanza. However, it was the Wolves who wound up taking advantage. Mackenzie Meachern was stopped by Tomkins, who failed to get his glove over the puck in front of him to gain a stoppage. Before he could make a second attempt at covering, Anthony Louis tried to clear the puck into the corner. The attempt banked off the skate of T.J. Tynan and slid past Tomkins for a 2-0 Chicago lead at the 3:24 mark.

Back came the IceHogs. Capitalizing on a sloppy line change by the Wolves, Tyler Sikua scooped up a loose puck between the benches and struck out for the Chicago zone with Alexandre Fortin on his left side. Wolves goalie Kazimir Kaskisuo was forced to hold his ground; Sikura zipped his shot to the far side to cut the lead to 2-1 4:25 into the second.

The Wolves got another power play goal midway through the period when Tomas Hyka was left open at the doorstep. However, late in the period, Rockford responded with a power play strike of its own.

Luke Johnson started and finished the play, gaining possesion in the neutral zone and hitting Darren Raddysh crossing the Wolves blueline along the right side. Johnson made a beeline for the slot, completing the give-and-go at 18:26 to get Rockford back to within a goal entering the final period.

Unfortunately, things got kind of ugly in the final 20 minutes of the contest. Chris Casto and Hyka scored within 71 seconds of each other in the early part of the third to go up 5-2. Rockford continued to skate hard, but the game was effectively over at that point. Wade Megan closed out the scoring for Chicago late in the game on a 3-on-2 rush.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-William Pelletier

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-Tomas Jurco

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-Matheson Iacopelli

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Erik Gustafsson-Darren Raddysh

Matt Tomkins

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-5)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Louis-Gustafsson

Fortin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 2-5)

Highmore-Kero-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Johnson-Jurco-Gustafsson-Norell

Sikura-Martinsen-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

 

A Little Four-Play: Previewing This Week

Rockford hits 2018 running, with four games this week. It gets started Tuesday when Cleveland comes to the BMO. Friday, the Hogs visit Grand Rapids, who has yet to defeat Rockford in six tries this season. Rockford hosts Cleveland again Saturday night, then takes on Milwaukee at the BMO Sunday afternoon.

Currently, the Monsters are a good team to be facing twice in a five-day span. Cleveland is scuffling right now, having won just twice in its last ten games. They’ve lost four straight going into Tuesday’s game.

The Monsters are limping along offensively, scoring just 2.24 goals per contest (that’s last in the AHL). Their power play is keeping Rockford’s unit out of last place in efficiency, though not by much.

With just two road wins this season, Cleveland is a optimal club to come to your building while you’re nursing a pair of young goalies. Center Carter Campner leads the club in goals and scoring (7 G, 13 A); rookies Mike Koules (7 G, 6 A) and Sam Vignault (6 G, 6 A) are the only other current Monsters with double digit points.

Cleveland also is using a rookie duo in net.  Matiss Kivlenicks (3.38 GAA, .874 save percentage) and Ivan Kulbakov (4.17 GAA, .869 save percentage) have been the Monsters tandem for the past month.

The IceHogs are 12-1-1 at the BMO against the Monsters over the last five seasons. This Cleveland team is ripe for the picking right now. Rockford needs to take advantage and get all four points.

Rockford hasn’t seen the Admirals since November 11, when they won 5-2 in Milwaukee. The Ads hold a 3-2 edge in head-to-head match ups this season, including both games played at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Leading the way offensively for the Ads is Bobby Butler (13 G, 12 A). Emil Petterssen (8 G, 16 A) has two goals and four apples against the Hogs this season. Anders Lindback has been very good for Milwaukee this season and will likely be the man in the cage Sunday.

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs have a few days off to savor a weekend sweep at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Bago County Flying Piglets are hovering in the second spot in the AHL’s Central Division standings behind Manitoba.

Rockford put the BMO faithful through two nail-biters against Chicago and Grand Rapids, winning both contests behind Jeff Glass in net. Having sneaked down to my basement to prepare this post while my wife peels potatoes (everyone else being asleep), I am short on time before she notices that I am missing. Therefore, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of this post, along with the recaps:

  • Glass is starting virtually all of the games in net for the IceHogs. He did a great job keeping the Hogs in both games despite limited offensive support this weekend.
  • I don’t think they have much confidence in Colin Delia right now. Between Rockford and Indy, Delia has played exactly one game over the last month and a half. Rockford has three games back-to-back this weekend. You’d think Delia would get one of those starts in the interest of letting Glass come up for air.
  • The offense came mostly from the line of Anthony Louis, David Kampf and Tomas Jurco, who are creating a lot of chances.
  • Power play threw up a doughnut hole for the weekend. Coach Jeremy Colliton threw out five forwards on his first unit and three defensemen on his second in an attempt to shake things up. Didn’t work.
  • Erik Gustafsson might be back in action, along with Luc Snuggerud, this coming weekend…but who knows.
  • Hogs have a home-and-home with Iowa Thursday (Des Moines) and Friday (BMO) before visiting Chicago Saturday night.

Uh-oh…creatures are stirring all through our house…Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22-Rockford 3, Chicago 2 (OT)

It took nearly five extra minutes of Gus Macker Time, but the Hogs were able to break a three-game losing streak.

Rockford opened the scoring thanks to an incredible effort by Alexandre Fotin on the first shift of the game. Ville Pokka provided the genesis of the goal by corralling the puck in the corner of the IceHogs zone and sending a clearing pass to Andreas Martinsen.

Fortin received Martinsen’s quick feed coming across his own blueline. He then skated into Chicago territory and split Wolves defenders Chris Castro and Jake Walman. Fighting the two defensemen off as he made his way toward the net, Fortin manuvered around Chicago goalie Max Legace, who had come out to meet the three skaters. From there, Fortin slid the backhand into the unguarded cage to cue the horn and put Rockford ahead 1-0 just 41 seconds in.

The Wolves drew even late in the period while on a delayed penalty with a Brandon Pirri tally. Midway through the second, Chicago took a 2-1 lead after a quick transition burned the Hogs.

A long rebound of a Viktor Svedberg shot attempt came out to Connor Bleakley, who quickly hit teammate Tobias Lindberg coming into neutral ice. Lindberg came down the right side and fired over the glove of Rockford goalie Jeff Glass at 10:45 to put the Wolves on top.

Rockford would capitalize on a couple of rebounds early in the third for the equalizer. Lagace left a puck in front of his crease off a Tomas Jurco shot from the top of the right circle. Anthony Louis was there for the putback, but Lagace was there with the pad save. The third time proved to be the charm, as David Kampf pounced on the rebound at the left post, uniting rubber and twine 39 seconds into the period.

That closed out the scoring in regulation. The game-winner came 4:35 into the extra session. Matthew Highmore was wide on a shot attempt. Darren Raddysh gathered in the puck off of the end boards. He got it back to Highmore, who skated to the goal line below the left circle.

Raddysh, meanwhile, had looped around the offensive zone and streaked to the right post. He got his blade on the centering feed and knocked it just inside the post to end the contest on a winning note.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-William Pelletier

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Brandon Anselmini-Darren Raddysh

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Matheson Iacopelli, Jordin Tootoo

Power Play (0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Kampf-Louis

Dauphin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dalstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 0-4)

Sikura-Martinsen-Norell-Pokka

Kampf-Johnson-Svedberg-Dahlstrom

Dauphin-Highmore-Anselmini-Raddsyh

 

Saturday, December 23-Rockford 3, Grand Rapids 2 (SO)

Rockford allowed the Griffins a point with a very late goal in regulation. However, the Hogs prevailed in the shootout to go on holiday with a two-game winning streak.

Neither IceHogs goalie Jeff Glass or Grand Rapids counterpart Jared Coreau surrendered a goal in the first half of this game. The dam broke midway through the second period.

Tomas Jurco and Anthony Louis worked a little give and go once Rockford had gained entry into the Griffins zone. Louis got off a shot from the high slot that trickled under the pads of Coreau. David Kampf was the man on the scene at the right post; he reached behind Coreau and nudged the puck to its resting place in the back of the net. The IceHogs led 1-0 at the 8:01 mark.

The lead proved to be short-lived, as Grand Rapids came down to tie the game on the subsequent shift. Matt Lorito put in a long rebound of Dan Renouf’s point shot at 9:23 of the middle frame.

Jurco broke the tie 5:35 into the third. Making his way to the goal mouth with some deft stick handling, he got the puck into a scrum of players. Louis and Kampf helped things along until the biscuit came out to Jurco. His initial attempt was stopped by Coreau, but Jurco’s second effort drew cord.

That 2-1 lead held up for most, but not all of the final 15 minutes of regulation. Carl Dahlstrom was called for interference after Coreau had been called to the Griffins bench with just 50 seconds left. With a 6-on-4 advantage in the closing seconds, Grand Rapids made a desperate push into the Hogs zone.

The Griffins Ben Street sent a shot toward net the glanced off of Lorito and high into the air. Matthew Ford batted the offering over Glass and into the net with less than two seconds remaining.

Rockford had several breakaway opportunities in Gus Macker Time, but Highmore and Louis were both denied by Coreau. Glass came way out of his net to knock away a potential breakaway attempt, then made a highlight-reel stop on Ford’s open look late in the session…and on to the shootout it went.

Both goalies stonewalled their shooters in the first three rounds. Viktor Svedberg came out in round four and kept it simple, skating to the slot and banging home a slap shot past Coreau’s glove. Glass then snuffed out the attempt of Vili Saarijarvi with his left pad to seal the victory.

Jurco was rightly named the game’s first star, followed by Lorito and Glass, who stopped 31 of 33 shots in addition to the four shootout attempts.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-William Pelletier

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Darren Raddysh

Viktor Svedberg-Robin Press

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Erik Gustafsson, Matheson Iacopelli, Brandon Anselmini, Jordin Tootoo

Power Play (0-3)

Highmore-Kero-Jurco-Kampf-Louis

Dauphin-Johnson-Raddysh-Dalstrom-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 0-4)

Sikura-Martinsen-Norell-Pokka

Kampf-Johnson-Svedberg-Dahlstrom

Dauphin-Highmore-Press-Raddsyh

 

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have been struggling on the power play. No…perhaps that doesn’t do this unit justice.

Toothless? Impotent? These are probably better ways to describe the period of time when the Hogs have an opponent in the sin bin.

Rockford’s success rate on the power play is dead last in the AHL though 28 games. The IceHogs are drawing cord just 11.8 percent of the time. This was capped off by an 0-13 stretch in this past week of action.

The piglets managed to pick up a point but dropped all three contests. A power play goal could well have turned two of those losses into wins. Alas, power play scoring has been problematic over the past two months.

Rockford began the season with quite the efficient group, posting a power play goal in seven of its first nine games. This culminated in a four-goal effort in a win over Grand Rapids October 28 that pushed the success rate to 22 percent.

Since that evening, the Hogs are 4-83 when up a man. That’s 4.8 percent. Which sucks.

Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton has remained pretty calm when talking about the power play, though he has tried to remedy the problem with some different looks. This weekend in San Antonio, for example, Colliton sent out five forwards as his first unit. The experiment did not bear fruit. In fact, that group gave up a shorthanded goal Sunday afternoon that wound up being the game-winner for the Rampage.

Sometimes the puck movement is there; other times the Hogs look fearful to leave the perimeter. All Colliton can do is continue to tinker with combos until something clicks.

 

Roster Activity

Rockford has been fortunate in terms of health this season. The last few weeks, however, have seen some IceHogs out of the lineup for extended turns. Scott Powers of theathletic.com got Colliton to dish on the status of several players who have missed time of late.

First off, Jordin Tootoo shouldn’t be expected back for a while despite being sent down to Rockford last month. Apparently, Tootoo has aggravated the injury that saw him on the IR list to begin the season in Chicago.

Goalie J.F. Berube, who suffered a left leg injury December 9, looks to be out for about a month. Jeff Glass started all three games for the IceHogs this past week. Will Colin Delia get a start? Rockford has back-to-back games this weekend, then three in a row to close out December. If Delia isn’t in net for one of those games, I would have to assume that the organization lacks confidence in him right now.

Erik Gustafsson, who has missed Rockford’s last nine games, is nearing a return. Colliton was non-committal on a target date for the defenseman, though it sounds like it will be before the end of the calendar year.

Defenseman Luc Snuggerud has missed the last four games. This, plus Ville Pokka being recalled to Chicago last week, leaves the IceHogs a bit thin on the blue line.

Brandon Anselmini was recalled on December 10 and saw his first action against the Wolves last Tuesday. He left the game in the third period after taking a hard run into the boards but was on the ice for both games in San Antonio this weekend.

 

Recaps

Rockford dropped three games this week, scoring just three goals in three games. The point they collected Friday in San Antonio has them tied for second with Iowa in the Central Division standings. Overall, the IceHogs are 15-11-1-1 in 2017-18.

Tuesday, December 12-Chicago 2, Rockford 1 

A very late Wolves goal brought Rockford’s four-game winning streak to a unsatisfying halt.

The Wolves got on the board 5:03 into the game. Teemu Pulkkinen fired on Hogs goalie Jeff Glass. The shot was stopped, but the rebound came out to Brandon Pirri in the slot. Firing into a wide open net, the ex-IceHogs forward put Chicago up 1-0.

That lead survived until Rockford won an offensive draw midway through the final frame. Carl Dalhstrom fired from the point; Anthony Louis provided the redirect past Wolves goalie Maxime Lagace at 732 of the third.

It appeared that this game was headed for overtime. The Hogs made a final rush that got broken up and became a Chicago rush the other way. Paul Thompson got off a backhand shot from the slot that got over Glass with less than a second remaining to give the Wolves the win.

Lines (Starters In Italics)

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Alexandre Fortin

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-William Pelletier

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Brandon Anselmini-Ville Pokka (A)

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Tomas Jurco, Jordin Tootoo, Jean-Francois Berube

Power Play (0-3)

Kampf-Kero-Louis-Highmore-Dahlstrom

Dauphin-Knott-Johnson-Raddysh-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 0-3)

Dauphin-Kampf-Pokka-Norell

Kero-Highmore-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Sikura-Martinsen-Pokka-Norell

 

Friday, December 15-San Antonio 2, Rockford 1 (SO)

Jeff Glass was a hard luck loser for the second straight game, stopping all but one of the 36 shots he saw in regulation and overtime. It wasn’t enough as his counterpart, Ville Husso, made 43 saves to beat the Hogs.

The Rampage got the games first tally 8:27 into the second period. Julien Nantel took a pass from Adam Musil, skated around Glass’s net, and banked home a shot off of the Rockford goalie’s back.

The IceHogs would even the score late in that period on a quirky play. Faced with too many skaters on the ice in the eighteenth minute, San Antonio attempted to right the problem. In the confusion, Andreas Martinsen was able to gain possession of the puck between the benches.

The Rampage’s Duncan Siemens collided with an official, giving Martinsen a clear path to the San Antonio zone. Martinsen skated to the top of the right circle before attempting to snap a shot off toward Husso. Whiffing on this try, Martinsen collected the gaffe and fired for real. The shot beat Husso to the far post at 17:53 of the second to knot the game at a goal apiece.

Siemens, possibly enraged at the turn of events, took a run at William Pelletier shortly after the resulting center ice draw. Coming to Pelletier’s defense was Laurent Dauphin, who dropped gloves with the big defensemen and received a cut for his effort. Dauphin returned for the third period with a full cage.

Glass and Husso kept the score where it was through the remainder of the contest. In the shootout, the lone put to draw cord came off the stick of San Antonio’s David Warsofsky in the final round. Rockford shooters David Kampf, Anthony Louis and Luke Johnson all came up empty as the Rampage picked up the point of contention.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin-William Pelletier

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Robin Norell-Darren Reddysh

Brandon Anselmini-Robin Press

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Erik Gustafsson, Matheson Iacopelli, Jordin Tootoo, Jean-Francois Berube

Power Play (0-6)

Jurco-Kampf-Louis-Highmore-Kero

Dauphin-Johnson-Knott-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Rampage were 0-4)

Jurco-Kampf-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Dauphin-Knott-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Sikura-Martinsen-Anselmini-Norell

 

Sunday, December 17-San Antonio 4, Rockford 1

Special teams figured heavily into what went down as the IceHogs third straight loss.

San Antonio grabbed a 1-0 lead 8:19 into the game on a Kenny Agozzino power play goal. The IceHogs evened the score 8:55 into the second period. As was the case in the previous game, the goal was scored by Andreas Martinsen on a bit of a fluky play.

Martinsen took advantage of Rampage defenseman Chris Bigras losing an edge as he was about to corral a pass from Tage Thompson in the San Antonio zone. Martinsen collected the turnover at the right dot and got a wrister past goalie Spencer Martin for the equalizer.

The Hogs had an opportunity to take the lead on the man advantage with San Antonio’s Alex Belzile in the box for tripping. Rockford’s fourth power play of the game yielded a goal; just not for the IceHogs.

Trent Volgelhuber took control of a long rebound in the Rampage zone and led a shorthanded rush. With five forwards on the ice, Rockford was slow to get back. The resulting two-on-one ended with Chris Butler beating Hogs goalie Jeff Glass high on the stick side. San Antonio took a 2-1 lead at 7:28 of the third.

Rocco Grimmaldi separated Robin Norell from the puck behind the Rockford net and slipped it past Glass at the 15:12 mark for an insurance goal. He added an empty-netter to close out the scoring.

Glass stopped 37 of 40 shots but took another hard-luck loss.

No lines for this one; I went to the movies. The Hogs went 0-4 on the power play, including 1:42 of five-on-three time, and gave up a game-winning shorty. I believe I made the correct choice.

 

Weekend Preview

The IceHogs will be at home this coming weekend. Next on the schedule is a pair of division matchups with familiar opponents.

Friday night, the surging Chicago Wolves pay yet another visit to the BMO Harris Bank Center. Rockford has split the first four games of the season series. Both of Chicago’s victories have come in regulation, including the last-second win Tuesday.

It’s Teemu Pulkkinen (9 G, 15 A) and Brandon Pirri (8 G, 13 A) at the forefront of the Wolves offense. Paul Thompson has five points (2 G, 3 A) against the Hogs this season. As of this weekend, Chicago has won five straight.

On Saturday night, Rockford hosts Grand Rapids, who are currently last in the Central Division. The Hogs have won all five contests between the two teams this season.

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

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, used an offensive explosion to sweep Grand Rapids this weekend. The ‘Bago County Piglets have been filling the net, with and without Vinnie Hinostroza.

The IceHogs currently sit behind Manitoba in the division standings with a 15-9-1 record. Rockford has won its last four games heading into this week’s action. If the season would happen to end today, the Hogs are a playoff team. Not that the season shows any signs of stopping, but winning is definitely better than the alternative.

 

Berube Injured

Much of the credit for Rockford’s lofty position in the Central Division standings has to be directed at the goal tending.It’s been a two-man effort in goal so far this year, with J.F. Berube and Jeff Glass both providing solid play. Of late, Glass has been the man for Rockford with Berube up in Chicago before being reassigned this past Friday.

Glass had backstopped the IceHogs last four games before Berube took the BMO Harris Bank Center ice for his first action since coming back down to Rockford. He made it though half the game before some unfortunate luck.

With the Hogs on a second-period power play, Rockford’s Carl Dahlstrom and the Griffins Colin Campbell were chasing down a loose puck that was headed the way of Berube. The IceHogs goalie had just knocked the puck into the corner when the two players passed.

As they came by, Dahlstrom’s left leg swept Berube’s right leg out from under him. Berube’s left leg then buckled beneath him. The Rockford net-minder was attended to by the medical staff and was taken to the locker room. All the while, no weight was put on the injured left leg.

If Berube is to miss any significant time, the pair in Rockford will be what is has been since December 1; Glass and Colin Delia, who has not played in his most recent stint with the team. Its unfortunate that Berube may have gone down with a leg injury. However, the veteran Glass has shown that he is more than capable of shouldering the load in net.

Rockford does have three games this week. None are back-to-back, though. Glass could easily get all three starts for the Hogs. Delia has not played since November 25 with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Possibly he gets a start down in Texas to get him some action.

Glass’s numbers have inflated to a 2.89 GAA and a .907 save percentage, but that includes the eight goals Glass gave up November 28 to Manitoba (who have been running roughshod through everyone recently). His last three starts, all IceHogs wins, have been excellent. Excluding that blip when the Moose ran loose at the BMO, Glass is 8-0-1 with a 2.17 GAA and a .929 save percentage in his last nine starts.

The piglets tend to leave their goalies some messes to deal with while pushing the tempo the way they do. Berube and Glass have done a fine job keeping the bulk of Rockford’s mistakes out of its net. Glass may have to go it alone until Berube returns, whenever that may be. Based on his play the last few months, he’s up to the task.

By the way…Matt Tomkins, who is on an AHL deal with Rockford, might be worth keeping an eye on. Tomkins was playing well when he was injured early in his second start for Indy back on October 25. He returned this past weekend and stopped 88 of 91 shots in two starts (both wins) for the Fuel.

 

Roster Moves

The big news out here in Rockford, of course, was Vinnie Hinostroza’s recall to the Blackhawks on Friday. Tanner Kero, having passed safely through waivers, was assigned to the IceHogs on the same day. Kero got his first action with Rockford this season on Saturday, picking up an assist on the Hogs power play goal in a 7-2 victory.

On Sunday, Rockford recalled AHL defenseman Brandon Anselmini, who has a goal and five assists in 11 games with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. This is only my speculation, but it would appear that another Hogs defeseman is banged up. It could possibly be Luc Snuggerud, who sat out Saturday’s game.

 

Picking Up The Scoring Slack

Hinostroza’s departure leaves a potential void in the Rockford offense. This weekend was a chance for the Hogs to respond to concerns for replacing Hinostroza’s scoring punch. They did so with 11 goals in the two games with Grand Rapids.

Of course, Kero is likely to pick up some of the workload for Rockford. He has shown a goal-scoring knack in both his previous seasons with the Hogs. He had an apple in his first game back with Rockford Saturday.

Tomas Jurco (9 G, 9 A) had two goals and an assist this weekend and is currently riding a four-game goal streak. Jurco’s 85 shots on goal lead the club; he definitely has the puck skills to carry Rockford for a stretch.

Hinostroza is an excellent distributor of the puck and that will be sorely missed. The player I see filling that role is David Kampf. The rookie from the Czech Republic broke an eight-game scoreless streak in a big way this weekend, with a helper Friday and a goal and two assists Saturday.

Even through the eight-game drought, Kampf has been active both with and without the puck. He is centering Anthony Louis and Jurco at the moment. This would be an opportune stretch for him to start impacting the game on the scoreboard.

Also posting a three-point weekend was Matheson Iacopelli, whose strong shot is starting to see some time on the IceHogs power play. Louis, who has earned time in the top six, has a three game point streak going.

Andreas Martinsen had goals in each of the weekend wins and has three in his last four games. Martinsen has four goals and five assists on the season; as I’ve mentioned before in my posts, he is one of a few IceHogs skaters who can bring the physical element on a nightly basis.

Martinsen forced a turnover in the corner Saturday that resulted in an IceHogs goal. The big Norwegian has been getting to the net and showed some skill in a key goal against Grand Rapids Friday night.

Stepping up on the defensive side is Carl Dahlstrom, who has eight points in his last four games. Dahlstrom was especially effective Saturday, pinching in for his first goal since Halloween and adding a pair of assists.

 

Where’s TooToo?

Veteran forward Jordin Tootoo was assigned to Rockford back on November 30. He hasn’t appeared in a game for Rockford. The way things sound, it doesn’t look that that will happen for a while.

After Saturday’s game, Chris Block of thethirdmanin.com asked IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton about Tootoo. Here was the coach’s response, per the team website:

Right now, he hasn’t played in a long time. He hasn’t skated in a long time. (We’re) trying to get him back up to speed. We’ll see…I don’t know. We don’t have a timeline.

 

Pushing A Broom: Four Points From The Griffins

Friday, December 8-Rockford 4, Grand Rapids 1

The IceHogs won their third straight game and remained undefeated against Grand Rapids this season thanks to timely scoring and great play in net by Jeff Glass.

The Griffins went up 1-0 at the 12:45 mark on a power play goal by Matt Puempel. Rockford evened the game just over three minutes later.

Carl Dahlstrom got the scoring play started from his own end, sending a pass to David Kampf along the left boards on the Grand Rapids side of the red line. Kampf hit Tomas Jurco coming into the Griffins zone. Splitting the defense, Jurco skated to the top of the left circle and fired to the short side. The puck beat Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau at 15:38 for the equalizer.

Rockford picked up its second goal of the contest near the end of the middle frame. It came via the nimble stick of Andreas Martinsen, who picked up a loose puck along the left half boards and skated into the Grand Rapids zone.

Flipping the biscuit past Griffins defenseman Robbie Russo, Martinsen regained possession, skated to the bottom of the left circle and sent a shot high over Coreau’s right shoulder and into cage at 17:20. The IceHogs went into the second intermission up 2-1.

Jeff Glass proved to be the difference for Rockford, making 33 stops on the night, including a spectacular denial of a 2-on-1 Griffins rush late in the second. His play in the third period kept a desperate Grand Rapids squad at bay until some insurance could be had.

That insurance came from Robin Norell, who took a feed from Anthony Louis at the top of the left circle and slapped one toward the Griffins net. The shot glanced off the stick of Colin Campbell and got by Coreau for a 3-1 Hogs advantage with just 1:39 left in the game. Luke Johnson added an empty netter in the final minute to complete the scoring.

Glass was rightfully tabbed the game’s first star, followed by Martinsen and Puempel.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Alexandrea Fortin-Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin-William Pelletier

Carl Dahlstrom-Viktor Svedberg

Luc Snuggerud-Ville Pokka

Darren Raddysh-Robin Norell

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Tanner Kero, Robin Press, Erik Gustafsson, Jordin Tootoo

Power Play (0-1)

Highmore-Louis-Johnson-Raddysh-Pokka

Kampf-Jurco-Fortin-Iacopelli-Snuggerud

Pentalty Kill (Griffins were 1-4)

Knott-Dauphin-Svedberg-Dahlstrom

Sikura-Martinsen-Smuggerud-Pokka

Highmore-Johnson-Raddysh-Norell

 

Saturday, December 9-Rockford 7, Grand Rapids 2

The Hogs returned to the BMO and delivered a whipping to Grand Rapids, winning for the fourth straight game.

Rockford struck first at 6:41 of the opening frame. Carl Dahlstrom took a cross-ice pass from Matheson Iacopelli and skated to the bottom of the left circle. His centering pass caught the skate of Andreas Martinsen and banked into the Griffins net.

The IceHogs took full control of the contest in the second period with a pair of goals. The first occurred shortly after Rockford had shut down a Grand Rapids four-on-three power play. Laurent Dauphin received a pass from Ville Pokka as he entered the Griffins zone.

Tomas Jurco skated into the slot to take Dauphin’s offering to the crease. Deking goalie Tom McCollom, Jurco backhanded the puck into happy land at the 6:01 mark for a 2-0 Rockford lead.

About four minutes later, Viktor Svedberg hit Graham Knott with an entry pass. Knott skated into the high slot before finding Darren Raddysh with all kinds of room coming down the right side of the slot. A quick pass afforded Raddysh the scoring chance and he buried it at 9:58 to put the Hogs up 3-0.

Midway through the period, J.F. Berube got tangled up with Dahlstrom and the Griffins Colin Campbell and went down favoring his left knee. The medical staff was brought out and the injured goalie was helped from the ice. Jeff Glass took over for the remainder of the game.

Rockford was able to double its three-goal advantage in the first 3:18 of the final period. Matthew Highmore carried David Kampf’s feed to the bottom of the left circle and burned McCollom 1:19 into the third. Dahlstrom banged home a power play slapper from the point at 2:03.

Shortly thereafter, Martinsen forced a turnover in the corner of the Grand Rapids zone. Tyler Sikura gained control of the puck and centered to Matheson Iacopelli in front of the cage. The shot was high to McCollom’s stick side; he never had a chance.

Up 6-0, Rockford surrendered a pair of Griffins goals before closing out the scoring via a David Kampf backhander from the slot. The primary assist on the play came from the stick of Anthony Louis.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson (A)

Anthony Louis-David Kampf-Tomas Jurco

Matheson Iacopelli-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Graham Knott-Laurent Dauphin (A)-William Pelletier

Robin Norell-Ville Pokka (A)

Viktor Svedberg-Darren Raddysh

Carl Dahlstrom-Robin Press

Jean Francois Berube

Jeff Glass

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Erik Gustafsson, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin

Power Play (1-5)

Iacopelli-Kampf-Jurco-Kero-Dahlstrom

Louis-Highmore-Johnson-Raddysh-Pokka

Penalty Kill (Grand Rapids was 0-6)

Dauphin-Highmore-Dahlstrom-Norell

Knott-Johnson-Svedberg-Pokka

Sikura-Martinsen-Press-Raddysh

 

What Lies Ahead-A Look At The San Antonio Rampage

Rockford hosts Chicago Tuesday night. The IceHogs hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series; both those wins came at the BMO. The Wolves are coming off a Micheal Leighton shutout of Cleveland Saturday night but still are in the Central Division basement with a 7-12-4-1 mark.

Following that game, the IceHogs travel to the Lone Star State for a pair of games with the San Antonio Rampage. Rockford has Friday and Sunday dates with Colorado’s AHL affiliate.

San Antonio spanked the piglets 6-0 at the BMO November 10. The Rampage drew cord on their first three power play opportunities and wound up with four tallies with the man advantage.

A parade to the Rockford penalty box was a big part of that loss. On the other hand, goalie Spencer Martin stopped 39 shots to blank the Hogs. Ville Husso faced the Hogs three times last season when he was with the Wolves. Husso won two of those matchups, but is currently up with St. Louis, who has been loaning him to the Rampage.

Another pair of former Wolves lead the Rampage (13-10-2, fourth in the AHL’s Pacific Division) in scoring. Forward Andrew Agozzino is a familiar face to Hogs fans, having played in Lake Erie as well as Chicago. In his second stint with San Antonio, Agozzino has 19 points (7 G, 12 A). He is currently on a nine-game goal drought. Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, another former Wolves skater, also has 19 points (5 G, 14 A) and is a plus-ten on the campaign.

Rocco Grimaldi is smallish forward who can really light it up; he had 31 goals for the Rampage a year ago. He started slow this fall but recorded a hat trick this weekend against Bakersfield. Rookie center Tage Thompson has seven goals and seven assists for San Antonio, but just one assist in his last five games.

Another offensive force is former Milwaukee Admiral Vladislav Kamenev, who had three apples in the Rampage win over Rockford November 10. He hasn’t been in the San Antonio lineup since mid-November, however. He was recalled by the Avs and injured in his first game with Colorado.

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