Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs take to the ice at the HEB Center against the Texas Stars Monday night in Game 6 of the AHL’s Western Conference Final. The piglets stayed alive Friday with a 3-1 victory over Texas in Rockford to necessitate a trip back to the Lone Star State.

To advance to the Calder Cup Final against the waiting Toronto Marlies, the IceHogs require a road sweep of the final two games with the Stars. Game 7, if needed, will take place Tuesday night.

Rockford turned in a gritty effort to extend the series in Game 5. It was the first game that neither club’s power play was able to score. The Hogs had to get it done at even strength, which they did after a marvelous opening period.

As they had in Game 4, the Hogs came out of the gate in attack mode. Friday night, it resulted in two goals in the first 8:15 of action. The first came on a clap shot by Cody Franson from the left point 3:01 into the game. Five minutes later, Rockford was able to double its advantage.

The scoring play took shape quickly, with Victor Ejdsell finding Luke Johnson unchecked just outside the Stars zone. Johnson bore in on Texas goalie Mike McKenna and united rubber and twine in matrimony at the 8:15 mark.

David Kampf got off a nice shot from the left dot that rang off the far post but stayed out of the net a few minutes later. Even so, it was a dominant first-period for the IceHogs.

Texas didn’t get this far in the tournament by laying down their sticks when behind. The push back came in the second period, where they began winning races to the puck. Midway through the period, Roope Hintz gathered in a rebound in front of Jeff Glass’s net and deposited it to cut the Hogs lead to 2-1.

The IceHogs were getting time in the Texas zone in the third period, but weren’t getting the type of looks that could result in the insurance goal they sorely needed. McKenna, who has been outstanding in the Stars playoff run, coughed up a softie at a most opportune time for Rockford.

Kampf crossed the blueline and tossed a shot on the Stars net. It was not much more than a dump-in, really. McKenna swatted it away with his blocker. However, the puck tumbled high over the head of McKenna and landed in the crease behind him, toddling across the goal line to put the Hogs up 3-1 at the 11:13 mark.

Glass and the IceHogs, buoyed by McKenna’s gift, kept Texas at bay for the rest of the contest. In his second-straight start, the veteran made 40 saves on 41 shots. Rockford was out shot 26-8 in the final 40 minutes but triumphed nonetheless.

Despite the Stars nearly doubling Rockford up on shots (41-21), the Hogs closed the Texas series lead to three games to two in a very heartening way. Here’s why:

  • Rockford was able to come out smoking and took charge of the game early.
  • The IceHogs were physical without spending a lot of needless time in the penalty box. The Stars had just two power play chances on the night.
  • If the Stars didn’t know much about Ejdsell before, they do now. Rockford’s x-factor in these playoffs, Ejdsell leads all AHL skaters with seven postseason goals. He has four game-winners in the playoffs, tied with Curtis McKenzie of Texas for the top spot in that category. Ejdsell followed up his two-goal, three point night in Game 4 with a key assist to Johnson in Game 5.
  • Glass had himself another good game, grabbing First Star honors. He stopped a couple of key breakaway chances to preserve the Rockford lead. He also stood pretty tall in the closing moments, when Texas pulled McKenna for a 6-on-4 power play.

Collin Delia earned his spot as the postseason goalie with some great play in the first two rounds. In turn, Glass has earned the right to man the pipes for the remainder of this series, in my opinion.

Could Texas be feeling a bit tight around the collar after the Hogs kicked out of two elimination games? Possibly, though they still need just one win in their barn and will get two shots to do that. McKenna is still going to be a tough man to score on.

Curtis McKenzie squared off with Franson late in the first period Friday in an attempt to fire up his club. The Stars looked a bit frustrated at the physical nature of the Hogs effort, but Texas is more than able to give as well as they get in that department.

Three of the games in this series have been decided by overtime. It won’t come as a surprise if Game 6 is a hard-fought affair that may require some extra effort. Can the IceHogs force a seventh game in Texas? We’ll find out soon enough.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs were able to extend their season a bit longer into the spring Thursday with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Texas Stars. The asterisk can be removed from Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. It is indeed necessary and will be at the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday night.

Safe to say that this will be brief. The season could end at any time for the piglets. Maybe I’m here Monday morning  crowing about a possible comeback to be completed in Texas. Maybe I’m starting to dig a hole to plant the 2017-18 campaign before beginning a season-in-review post. The way the last three games have gone, it could be either angle.

Game 4, like the previous two games in this series with the Stars, came down to extra hockey. Unlike Game 3’s scoreboard orgasm, goals were hard to come by Thursday. Rockford had to rally from a goal down in the third period and needed a good portion of the frame to come up with the equalizer. For the first time in this series, the Hogs were able to manufacture some scoring when it really counted.

Victor Ejdsell gave Rockford the lead 6:24 into the game when his attempt from the slot slipped through the pads of Stars goalie Mike McKenna. Texas tied the game via a two-man advantage in the 16th minute on a bad angle shot by Travis Morin. A late power play tally by Matt Mangene put the IceHogs down 2-1 with 25 seconds left in the second period.

Things looked a bit bleak for Rockford until Luke Johnson was able to re-direct a Cody Franson shot past McKenna with just under seven minutes to go in regulation. In overtime, Ejdsell scored from the right circle after Matthew Highmore gathered in a rebound of his own shot and found the open Swede.

IceHogs win. Cue “Chelsea Dagger”, raise the sticks and get set to try this winning thing again. Here are some additional thoughts on Game 4:

  •  First off, the biggest change in the Hogs lineup came in net, where Collin Delia had a seat and Jeff Glass, who hadn’t had a start in over a month, manned the pipes. Glass limited rebounds and stopped 28 of 30 shots.
  • If Glass had given up six goals in any game down the stretch and Delia followed it up with a solid win, you can darn well bet that Delia would be getting the next start. That’s why I can’t imagine that Jeremy Colliton changes his goalie for Game 5.
  • If Rockford continues to be overly aggressive for the sake of drawing oohs and ahs from the BMO faithful, the Texas power play is plenty good enough to end this series Friday.
  • The IceHogs had a plethora of opportunities in the first ten minutes of action Thursday. It resulted in just one goal on the scoreboard. Texas turned the tables late in the period and went in even despite being outplayed for a large stretch of the opening 20. Credit Rockford for staying on task after the air got taken out of a nice first period effort.
  • I might be the only one thinking this, but I don’t feel like Gustav Forsling is defending very well in this series.
  • 3291 showed up to watch Game 4; the Hogs were well-supported in two weeknight contests. How many folks attend a Friday night elimination game at the BMO? How about you?
  • In the third period, Stars D Andrew Bondarchuk took a puck in the mouth and left the game for stitches. A few moments after Bondarchuk was taken to the locker room and before action resumed, the referee reached down and picked up what I assume was Bondarchuk’s tooth. My quandary; how much extra effort would it have taken for the official to skate over and hand off that tooth to the Stars so they could try and reunite it with Bondarchuk?

The puck drops on Game 5 at seven bells. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to see what the tone of Monday’s post will be.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are still alive in their Western Conference Final with Texas. Barely.

The Stars found a way to win yet again over a Rockford team that dominated large stretches of the contest. The IceHogs rallied with a late goal to send Game 3 to overtime Tuesday night. However, Rockford fell victim to another Curtis McKenzie game-winner five minutes into the extra session, losing 6-5.

The piglets find themselves down 3-0 in the series and have a day to regroup before Game 4 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Thursday. Is it time to pack it in? Rockford has shown its characteristic stick-to-it-ive-ness throughout the series. Trouble is, the Stars have possessed just a bit more of whatever you want to call postseason resiliency.

(Maybe just call it postseason resiliency? Oh, that’s no fun.)

IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton elected to make a couple of changes in what has been a very consistent lineup Tuesday. Henrik Samuelsson took the place of Anthony Louis on a forward line. Joni Tuulola drew in for Darren Raddysh on defense.

Bringing in a big body like Samuelsson didn’t hurt the Hogs, though it didn’t show up on the scoreboard. Tuulola seemed an odd choice, seeing as how he had two regular season games under his belt coming into Game 3. I would have figured Robin Norell, who was lauded for his defensive skills by the team whether he was on defense or skating on a forward line, would have been a candidate to get a start. However, Colliton likely wanted the big body Tuulola brought to the table.

If you told me before the game that Rockford would put up five goals, I would have felt pretty good about the IceHogs chances. Things didn’t work out to plan, though.

Tyler Sikura got the scoring started 4:43 into period one with an incredible individual effort. After receiving a pass from Chris DiDomenico in neutral ice, Sikura skated into the Texas zone. He fought through Matt Mangene and Dillon Heatherington before firing past a stunned Mike McKenna to give Rockford a 1-0 lead.

Texas got back to even ground by converting a 5-on-3 advantage, with McKenzie knocking in a rebound of Justin Dowling’s shot at the 7:13 mark. It would prove to be the only power play goal of the game, though the Hogs would score for the first of two times when up a man in Game 3.

The first came on a delayed penalty, with John Hayden lining up a shot from the slot that McKenna couldn’t handle. Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling assisted as the Hogs took a 2-1 advantage at 12:10 of the first period.

The Stars came back with two quick goals by Dowling and Sheldon Dries and led 3-2 at the intermission. Rockford was in need of a response and did so, dominating the second period.

Forsling sent a laser into the ropes just after a power play expired 6:17 into the second to tie the game at three. At the 12:21 mark, the Hogs had just completed killing a interference call on DiDomenico. Rockford’s playoff spark plug scooped up a loose puck in the corner of the Texas zone and skated behind the net to the right circle. DiDomenico found Matthew Highmore open at the left dot. Luke Johnson was knocking at McKenna’s back door and got a stick on the centering pass to put the IceHogs up 4-3.

The IceHogs were in need of some insurance to begin the third period. For the first ten minutes of action, it appeared that they were going to get it. Rockford camped out in the offensive zone and slammed away at McKenna. Despite a host of opportunities, the Hogs failed to build on their lead. It proved costly.

Dries would get his second goal of the night midway through the period. The rookie forward found a huge pocket at the left dot. Taking a feed from Reece Scarlett, Dries had the time and space to outmaneuver Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the left post to tie the game at the 10:54 mark.

With 5:30 left in the contest, McKenzie was walled up along the right half boards by Tuulola and Hayden. His pass attempt was blocked by Hayden’s stick and up in the air. Austin Fyten, playing in his first game in the AHL, grabbed the puck, settled it and powered it past Delia to give Texas a 5-4 lead.

Credit the resolve of the IceHogs, who pulled Delia from the crease with just under three minutes to go and tied the game with 50 seconds to play. DiDomenico and Johnson were able to cycle the puck out of the corner, sending it out to the point.

The pass was off the ice, but Cody Franson was able to catch the puck, set it down and send a low shot toward net. McKenna had a lot of traffic in front of him, allowing the shot to slide into the net and give Rockford new life.

The IceHogs would see their overtime fortunes turn sour for the second straight game via the stick of the Stars captain. McKenzie won control of a loose puck inside the blue line and skated to the top of the right circle. His centering pass to Dries caught the stick of a back checking Adam Clendening and over Delia’s blocker to close out Game 3.

A bit of controversy surrounded the game-winner. Hogs players argued that Texas had too many men on the ice for the goal. Lance Bouma looked like he thought he had cleared the zone and that McKenzie was offside. Regardless, the fate of Rockford was sealed. Colliton and Company are now in must-win mode…big time.

The audience at the BMO was once again impressive for a weeknight game. Nearly 3,000 showed up to wave red rally towels and boo the officials off of the ice following the finish of Game 3. A lot of those fans probably went home thinking that bad calls cost Rockford the game. I’m not sure I agree.

Texas has been a very difficult team to put away in the playoffs. The IceHogs had ample opportunity to do so in the third period and have had their chances in the other games as well. The Stars, as they have done all series, found a way to win, be it catching a airborne puck, cashing in on a fortunate rebound, or converting an odd-man rush off a defender’s blade.

Rockford was the better team for huge stretches of Game 3. But for a bounce here or there, they could be up 2-1 in the Western Conference Final. They are not, though. To win Game 4 on Thursday and prolong the series, the Hogs need to find a way to finish off the Stars.


Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are in rarefied air this spring. The Flying Piglets of Winnebago County are riding a hot group of veterans, freshman goalie Collin Delia and a lethal power play into the Western Conference Final with the Texas Stars.

The Hogs are the winners of seven straight games in the postseason, sweeping both the Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose to reach the third round. This is the farthest a Rockford AHL squad has advanced in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Fans have flocked to the BMO Harris Bank Center to watch this exciting mix of youngsters and veterans who have put it together at the most opportune of times.

Rockford will begin the series in Cedar Park for Games 1 and 2 on Friday, May 18 and Sunday, May 20. The action returns to the BMO next Tuesday, Thursday and, if necessary, Friday.

Will that Game 5 be required, or will the IceHogs be able to dispense of their opponent as they did their Central Division adversaries? I’m holding off on the sweep talk, because the Stars present a formidable challenge.

The IceHogs are 3-1 in head-to-head action with Texas (who join the Central Division starting next season) in 2017-18. However, it’s best to look at the two April contests in Cedar Park that were split between the two teams.

Rockford took the April 6 contest in a shootout, winning 3-2 on the strength of two power-play goals and a fifth-round shootout winner from Viktor Svedberg. Two days later, the Stars put up a trio of goals in the third period, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Hogs 4-3.

Finishing second in the Pacific Division, Texas eliminated Ontario in four games before knocking off Tuscon in five. The Stars beat the Roadrunners in overtime Saturday night to win their division final.

Texas is a veteran-laden team that likes to push the pace of the game and has a red-hot goalie in net. In other words, the Stars are a lot like Rockford in make up heading into the Western Conference Final.

Since the play in net could well dictate which team moves on to the Calder Cup Final, we’ll start with a look in the respective cages to begin this look at the two teams.

Anchoring the Texas run and playing out of his mind of late is 35-year-old Mike McKenna. The Stars brought him in to be the starter this season after helping take Syracuse to the Calder Cup Final the previous spring. McKenna lost that job to Landon Bow with some spotty play in the regular season but has been stellar for Texas in the playoffs.

McKenna has a pair of shutouts in the postseason. He also relieved Bow in the second period of Game 3 of the Stars first-round series with Ontario and held the Reign scoreless for 68:19 as Texas prevailed 5-4 in double overtime.

The veteran of 13 AHL seasons (and 24 NHL games in that span) is sporting a 1.65 GAA and a .952 save percentage on nearly 35 shots per contest.

For Rockford, Delia has been equally impressive, with a 1.64 GAA and a .948 save percentage. He’s faced a couple of fewer shots per game (just under 32 shots), but he has been first star in four of the IceHogs seven playoff wins.

This Western Conference Final could very well wind up a case of which goalie is better on a given night. Delia has been as cool as a Rancho Cucamonga cucumber for the Hogs. The edge in experience obviously goes to McKenna, who has 54 AHL playoff games under his belt. What matters now is the games that loom ahead of these two net-minders.



Experience is all over the Texas lineup. The Stars top line, Travis Morin (10 G, 51 A), Justin Dowling (13 G, 28 A) and Curtis McKenzie (25 G, 23 A) are all holdovers from the 2014 Calder Cup Champs. Defensemen Dillon Heatherington (Lake Erie in 2016) and Andrew Bodnerchuk (Manchester in 2015) have also hoisted Calder Cups in their long AHL careers.

Nine-year vet Brent Regner, who Hogs fans may remember from his time with the Wolves and the Peoria Rivermen, had himself a career year with 10 goals and 21 assists in the regular season. Another veteran, Mark Mangene (7 G, 19 A) has spent time as a forward and a defensemen in the playoffs.

Former Sabres and Canadiens forward Brian Flynn spent 2017-18 with Texas and was quite productive (18 G, 29 A). He leads the Stars with six playoff goals.

Add in solid rookies like Roope Hintz (20 G, 15 A) and Sheldon Dries (19 G, 11 A) to a potent offensive group. First-year defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (7 G, 25 A) is picking up his game in the playoffs.

On the IceHogs side of the ledger, the move that brought Chris DiDomenico to Rockford keeps looking better and better. The veteran forward brings an edge to the Hogs that is evident in the playoffs. With four goals and seven helpers in the postseason, DiDomenico leads the team in scoring and is a catalyst on the power play along with Cody Franson (4 G, 4 A) and Adam Clendening (1 G, 8 A).

A real x-factor in the playoffs for Rockford has been Victor Ejdsell, who brings extra offensive skill to the table. Ejdsell had four points against Manitoba in the Central Division Final and leads the IceHogs with five goals.

Carl Dahlstrom and Viktor Svedberg have paired with Clendening and Franson, respectively, to form two tough defensive pairings. Gustav Forsling, who skated in 41 games for the Blackhawks this season, is on the third pairing with Darren Raddysh. This should give you an idea of the depth the Hogs boast on the blueline.

What has served as Rockford’s fourth forward line has also been led by a player with NHL experience. Tanner Kero has lent his defensive prowess with fast-skating William Pelletier and Anthony Louis. Again, to have players like Kero and Louis, who led the IceHogs in points in the regular season, skating in a fourth-line role speaks volumes about Rockford’s playoff depth.

Andreas Martinsen (2 G, 2 A in the playoffs), John Hayden and Lance Bouma have provided muscle for Rockford. The latter two have not made a big impact on the scoreboard in the postseason. Like players such as Kero and Luke Johnson, however, Hayden and Bouma could be players that step up against the Stars in the box score.


Special Teams

Rockford’s power play has been nothing short of awesome in the postseason, converting on 37.5 percent of its chances. The first unit of Franson, Clendening, DiDomenico, Johnson and Tyler Sikura have scored 10 of the Hogs 15 goals with opponents in the box.

The three veterans move the puck around the offensive zone until Franson gets open at the left dot for the one-timer. If the shot doesn’t find twine, Johnson and Sikura are there to clean up. If that look doesn’t pan out, it’s Clendening from the point or DiDomenico skating into the slot. That formula has been hard to stop.

Texas, however, held a pretty good Tuscon man advantage to just two goals in 17 opportunities in their Pacific Division Final. The penalty kill unit, which was less than average in the regular season, has stiffened up a bit. The Stars figure to be a more disciplined team than the Moose were; keeping the Hogs top power play unit off the ice will be a prime directive for Texas.

The IceHogs have been shorthanded 28 times in the playoffs and have surrendered just two goals. Neither of those were by Manitoba. Special teams have been a huge difference-maker. At some point, the Hogs may have to pick up the scoring at even strength. It will be fun to see how long this bunch can keep up the power play dominance, though.

For Rockford, the key will be the opening weekend of action and taking advantage of the 2-3-2 AHL playoff format. Getting one game in Cedar Park will give the IceHogs the chance to close out the series at home.

To say the Hogs are rolling at this point of the Calder Cup Playoffs would be an understatement. This group has the kind of chemistry that wins championships. Rockford is deep on both ends of the ice. They have dictated the style of play against two solid division opponents. It is safe to say that they have worn the opposition down with superior depth.

Texas is a veteran team that, on paper, has the horses to keep pace with the IceHogs. Like Rockford, the Stars seem to be hitting their peak right now. It should result in an exciting series.

Follow me on twitter @JonFromi for thoughts and updates on the IceHogs all through the playoffs.













Everything Else

For fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, the only postseason game in town is out of town. West on I-90, to be exact.

The Rockford IceHogs are a single victory from advancing to the next round of the Calder Cup Playoffs following a 4-1 win over the Manitoba Moose in Game 3 of their Central Division Final. The piglets are flying and Hogs Nation is starting to get excited about treading into unknown territory.

For a franchise that has not made it out of the second round in the eleven years Rockford has been the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, these are heady times. There’s a good chance the Hogs secure a spot in the Western Conference Final Friday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center. If Wednesday’s tilt was any indication, there could be a lot of folks watching Rockford go for the series sweep.

I said that I would be stunned if the Hogs got more than 3,000 fans for Wednesday’s Game 3. Summarily, 3,184 watched Rockford fall behind for the third straight game before scoring the next four goals. Among those fans were Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, president John McDonough and a bus load of team personnel. They had to have enjoyed what they saw. I know I did.

The blueprint for Wednesday’s rally was similar to the first two games of the series. Rockford tied the game with a power play goal, kept up the pressure on the fore check and wore down the Moose the last two periods.

For a team buoyed by veteran presence, it was the rookies that came up big in Game 3. Tyler Sikura notched his third goal of the series after gaining possession of a rebound of an Adam Clendening shot. The power play goal tied the game at 1-1 6:26 into the second period.

Just over a minute later, Victor Ejdsell found himself in the slot with an open look and fired past Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie for what would be the game-winner. Collin Delia kept the puck out of his net the rest of the way, stopping 36 shots on the evening. His skaters did an excellent job preventing prime scoring opportunities and clearing away pucks around the net.

Rockford picked up an insurance goal 13:52 into the third period. Anthony Louis found himself with the puck behind the Manitoba net and made a nifty pass to William Pelletier. Pelletier knocked the offering into the cage from the left post. Matthew Highmore added an empty-netter to complete the all-rookie goal parade.

The Hogs have had an answer for everything Manitoba has thrown at them this series. At the mid-point of Game 3, a Tanner Kero high stick had Manitoba up a man and with a faceoff in the Rockford zone. Lance Bouma spent the time before the draw chirping with Moose defenseman Mike Sgarbossa.

Once the puck dropped, Bouma skated over to Sgarbossa, a veteran AHL player,  and immediately drew a slashing penalty, ending the power play. Safe to say that Rockford is firmly ensconced in the heads of its opposition.

It appears that fans are beginning to recognize what I’ve been preaching all season; the IceHogs are an exciting young team that play fast paced hockey for 60 minutes a night. Bolstered by some key veterans and anchored by a hot goalie, Rockford’s journey in the playoffs may just be getting started.

Could I be back on Monday with a look at this weekend’s action? All signs point to yes.



Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks, are halfway to a Central Division Final victory over Manitoba. The Hogs have surged to a 2-0 series advantage of the strength of two wins on the road this past weekend.

Rockford took Game 1 Friday by a score of 4-2, then came back the next afternoon and beat the Moose 4-1. The IceHogs are 5-0 so far in the postseason. They can build upon that streak in the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center with Wednesday night’s Game 3.

The Hogs special teams continued to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. Rockford was 3-10 in power play opportunities, while holding the Moose scoreless in five chances. The IceHogs controlled large stretches of action in Manitoba and were more effective physically to boot.

Here are a few thoughts to chew on as the action returns to Winnebago County in a couple of days.


A Team Transformed On The Fly

A lot has been made about the six players the Blackhawks sent to Rockford following the conclusion of their season. The broadcasters in Manitoba brought it up several times this weekend, as did the Chicago Wolves crew in the first round.

To suggest the Hogs are being led by mercenaries who arrived just to buoy a Rockford playoff run is not giving enough credit to the players who were around for the late-season push to the postseason. Yes, Victor Ejdsell has certainly been an x-factor so far. John Hayden and David Kampf have deepened the lineup for sure.

However, Andreas Martinsen spent most of his season toiling in Rockford. Jeff Glass, due to the strong play of Collin Delia, hasn’t seen the ice in the playoffs. The other goalie that came down, J.F. Berube, didn’t even report to Rockford after being re-assigned.

When the 2017-18 season began, the IceHogs were well-stocked with prospects but lacking in veteran leadership and physical know-how. At some point in the schedule, this glaring need was recognized and addressed in a host of moves.

This includes Cody Franson’s January assignment to Rockford, the acquiring of Chris DiDomenico in mid-February and Lance Bouma being assigned to the Hogs  to Rockford late in that month. Over the last half of the AHL season, the piglets got a year of experience under their belts. They also were reinforced in a way that added a physical, veteran element that is tailor-made for postseason staying power.


Short Handed Moose

Manitoba went into this series without its leading scorer. Mason Appleton, the league’s top rookie, has been out with an injury suffered in the previous round of playoff action.

Saturday, Bouma crunched AHL Defenseman Of The Year Sami Niku against the boards in the corner of the Manitoba zone in the second period. Niku was able to finish his shift but left the game. He did not return. Appleton and Niku were arguably the two best rookies in the league this season. Having them both out against Rockford is going to leave a lot of scoring slack for the Moose to pick up.


Hogs Of Note

Tyler Sikura potted goals in both games and played strong hockey in his own end as well. The IceHogs MVP of the regular season has continued to do the dirty work needed to get pucks in the net. For the postseason, he’s tied for the team lead (with DiDomenico and Ejdsell) with three goals.

Rockford’s rookie goalie has been Deliariffic, stopping 57 of the 60 pucks sent to his net. He was instrumental in the Game 1 win, negating several Rockford turnovers that could have had the Hogs in a hole over the first 40 minutes. Delia owns a 1.52 GAA and a .949 save percentage in addition to a 5-0 postseason mark.


Packing The BMO…Or Not?

I am definitely interested in how the piglets will draw as the games take on more importance. The Moose, on a weekend, drew 3,816 and 3,955 fans to the Bell MTS Place for the opening pair of contests. That is more than a bit off their season average of 5,277; to be fair, Winnipeg does have an NHL team in the same building in action this spring.

In 2017-18, Rockford saw an average of 3,915 enter the BMO Harris Bank Center each game. This is the lowest season attendance for the IceHogs since the 2008-09 campaign and an 1,100-fan per game drop-off from two seasons ago, when Rockford drew over 5,000 a night.

Game 3 is Wednesday, which isn’t typically a big attendance night at the BMO. Back in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, Rockford hosted three games against Grand Rapids in the second round. The IceHogs averaged 4,834 that season but had the following gates attend the playoff match-up:

Wednesday, May 13-1,780

Thursday, May 14-1,620

Sunday, May 17-1,624

Over 5,400 fans turned out for the Hogs win over Chicago in Game 2 of the first round. I believe that that is a franchise high for playoff attendance by a couple of thousand people. The previous high was May 11, 2008, when 3,306 showed up for Game 6 of Rockford’s second-round series with the Wolves.

Is the playoff buzz sufficient around this part of Northern Illinois to pull people away from local high school sports action? The IceHogs have an enthusiastic fan base who will be making the trek to the BMO Wednesday night. If that total tops 2,500 fans, I will be pleasantly surprised. If the game draws over 3,000 fans, I’ll be stunned (but in a good way).

It would be great if the IceHogs playoff run could pick up fan momentum; a telling indicator may well come on Friday, when Rockford hosts Game 4.


Central Division Final-Game 1

Friday, May 4-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

The IceHogs opened the Central Division Final in impressive fashion, taking Game 1 at the Bell MTS Place.

The Moose opened the scoring late in the opening period after Julian Melchiori lobbed the puck out of his zone and into Hogs territory. Viktor Svedberg and Cody Franson were both safely back, but Svedberg was unable to get control of the bouncing biscuit. Buddy Robinson got the handle on the loose puck and beat Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the right post for a 1-0 Manitoba advantage at the 16:56 mark.

Rockford got an equalizer midway through the game on a slick transition play that started with Carl Dahlstrom getting possession of the puck in the corner of his own zone. In short order, the puck made its way to Matthew Highmore in neutral ice. Highmore sent it across the ice to Victor Ejdsell entering the Moose zone. The big forward zipped around Melchiori to gain a path to the right post, where his backhanded attempt got by Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie at 11:53 of the second.

The IceHogs used the power play to take the lead 3:29 into the final frame after a delay of game penalty on Manitoba. Tyler Sikura got a stick on a Chris DiDomenico offering to redirect the puck past Comrie for a 2-1 Rockford advantage.

Just 45 seconds later, John Hayden one-timed a pass from Andreas Martinsen. The shot from the slot kissed cord and put Rockford ahead 3-1.

The Hogs added an empty net goal from Cody Franson when a shorthanded Moose club yanked Comrie from the crease with less than a minute to go. Manitoba got a tip-in from Jan Kostelek, but the clock ran out with Rockford on top.

Delia, who kept his team close in the first two periods on several point-blank chances off of Rockford turnovers, made 24 saves to pick up the win along with first star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-6)



Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-2)





Central Division Final-Game 2

Saturday, May 5-Rockford 4, Manitoba 1 

Game 2 was another strong effort, as the IceHogs controlled the pace of the game on the way to a weekend sweep of Manitoba.

For the second straight game, the Moose scored first, getting the best of Hogs goalie Collin Delia when Brenden Lemiuex redirected a shot by Nic Petan 16:03 into the game. As was the case Friday night, Rockford responded with the next three goals.

The Hogs answered Lemiuex’s goal 2:35 later when Viktor Svedberg intercepted Petan’s clearing attempt in the high slot. Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie made the stop but left a juicy rebound in the front of the net. Tyler Sikura was on hand to knock it into the cage to tie the score.

The Hogs man advantage unit gave Rockford a 2-1 lead 4:45 into the second. Chris DiDomenico gained possession of a puck along the left half boards, skated across the ice into the slot and fired past Comrie’s stick side for the lamp-lighter.

Assists on the goal came from Sikura and Luke Johnson. However, a big part of the scoring play came when Cody Franson lifted the stick of Buddy Robinson of the Moose, allowing Sikura’s ring-around pass to get to DiDomenico.

The IceHogs moved out to a two-goal lead late in the middle frame. Some nice puck work in the corner of the Manitoba zone by Ejdsell and Tanner Kero resulted in Gustav Forsling sliding a cross-ice pass to a waiting Carl Dahlstrom. The one-timer sailed past Comrie for a 3-1 Rockford advantage 16:03 into the second period.

From there, Rockford kept its collective thumb on the Moose offense, killing a couple of Manitoba power plays and limiting scoring opportunities. Andreas Martinsen added an empty net goal in the closing seconds after the Moose went with six skaters most of the last three minutes.

Delia’s effort nabbed him First Star honors for the second consecutive night. Lemieux and Sikura were voted second and third stars. Luke Johnson left after a rough collision with the end boards in the second period, but returned for the start of the third.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Gustav Forsling-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)



Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-3)





Coming Up

Following Game 3 Wednesday, Rockford hosts the Moose for Game 4 Friday night. Game 5 will happen on Sunday afternoon, should it be deemed necessary.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for tidbits of lucid thought throughout the AHL playoffs.


Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs get the Central Division Final underway tonight when they take on the Manitoba Moose at Bell MTS Place. Game 2 follows in short order on Saturday. From there, the action comes to the BMO Harris Bank Center for the next three games in the series.

The piglets are well-rested, having played last in Chicago eight days ago. Manitoba finished off Grand Rapids back on Monday in Game 5 of their first-round tilt.

As mentioned earlier this week, Rockford has never advanced to the third-round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. This is a series the IceHogs is quite capable of winning, though. Here are some thoughts on the Moose and how this match-up figures to play out.

Manitoba was the juggernaut of the AHL in the 2017 portion of the schedule. The Moose were 24-6-1-2 in the first three months of the season, building a double-digit point lead in the Central Division. That cushion would evaporate in the final three months. Chicago and Grand Rapids caught Manitoba in the final two weeks as the Moose staggered home.

I was pretty bold in my belief that Grand Rapids would come out of the first-round clash. However, Manitoba was able to take advantage of some missing pieces to the Griffins lineup and played well on the road. They won two of three games at Van Andel Arena, including a 5-1 Game 5 triumph.

Manitoba can boast the AHL Coach Of The Year (Pascal Vincent), the AHL Defenseman Of The Year (Sami Niku) and the AHL Rookie Of The Year (Mason Appleton). The Moose proved their playoff mettle; this is physical team that can fill the net.

The Manitoba roster is also dotted with AHL veteran talent enjoying career years. Specifically, captain Patrice Cormier (22 G, 21 A), 6’6″ wing Buddy Robinson (25 G, 28 A) and former Hogs defenseman Cameron Schilling (6 G, 26 A). Forward J.C. Lipon is a familiar face who had a hat trick in Rockford November 28 on the way to a career-high of 17 goals.

Niku, who totaled 54 points (16 G, 38 A) on the season, would have likely taken home rookie of the year hardware if not for Appleton, who led the Moose with 66 points (22 G, 44 A). Manitoba is a talented squad despite the fact that their best hockey was played in the first three months.

The Moose visited Rockford November 28. at the peak of their tear through the league, blowing out the Hogs 8-1. In a return visit February 2, Rockford took Manitoba to overtime before losing 4-3.

Late in the season, the IceHogs traveled north for a pair of games in Winnipeg, besting the Moose 4-2 and 4-3 in the span of three days.

Anchoring the Manitoba attack in the first half was goalie Michael Hutchinson, who finished season with a 17-5-4 record to go with a 2.08 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Hutchinson spent most of the second half of the season with Winnipeg, though he was in net March 28 when the Hogs dropped four goals on Manitoba.

The man Rockford will be facing in net in this series is Eric Comrie. While he is a bit of a drop-off from Hutchinson, Comrie still enjoyed his best full season in the AHL with a 2.58 GAA and a .916 save percentage. He was in the cage in Rockford February 2 for the 4-3 overtime win.

Adam Clendening (1 G, 5 A) and Chris DiDomenico (1 G, 5 A) each had six points against Manitoba this season, though two of DiDomenico’s helpers came while he was with Belleville. Tyler Sikura had three goals against the Moose and had two-point efforts in both of Rockford’s victories.

Brenden Lemieux paced Manitoba in head-to-head competition with the IceHogs; in three games, Lemieux wound up with six points (2 G, 4 A). Along with Lipon, Cormier, Appleton, C Nic Petan and D Jan Kostelnek were all mutli-goal scorers against Rockford.

Any special teams comparisons from the regular season can be thrown out the window. Here’s all you need to know in regards to the Hogs; their first-round power play was the best of the 16 playoff teams at 38.9 percent efficiency. The penalty kill (85.7) was fifth.

When it comes to the man advantage (and even strengh, to be honest), the Rockford offense is going to be facilitated by the passing and shooting of defensemen Clendening (16 shots in the three-game set with Chicago) and Cody Franson (12 shots).

Can the depth boasted by the Hogs NHL-enhanced roster wear down Manitoba over 60 minutes? Will Collin Delia, who was rock-solid in round one, continue to stand tall in net? If the Moose shut down Rockford’s veterans, can the kids pick up the slack?

The answers will begin to take shape this weekend. Follow me @JonFromi for thoughts and updates of Games 1 and 2.





Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, are playing a waiting game until later this evening. Monday night, Rockford’s Central Division Final opponent will be decided when Manitoba or Grand Rapids wrap up their Game 5 tilt.

The IceHogs have been to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs on two previous occasions since the Hawks affiliate arrived in the Forest City. They have never advanced past this round.

Back in 2008, Rockford’s inaugural campaign, the Hogs were eliminated by the Chicago Wolves. The piglets swept Chicago last week to advance to their current position.

In 2014-15, the IceHogs finished a single point behind Grand Rapids for the top spot in the Midwest Division with a franchise-high 46-23-0-5 mark. They swept Texas to meet the Griffins in round two. Grand Rapids then dispensed the Hogs in five games.

Will the third appearance in the second round be the charm for Rockford? The ingredients for a successful postseason run have been stewing over the course of the past six weeks.


How’s That, You Say? Here’s Why The Arrow Is Pointing North:

The IceHogs are playing their best hockey of the season.

Rockford finished the regular season 14-5-1-1 before winning three straight against the division champions in the opening round of postseason action.

They’re getting loads of veteran leadership at both ends of the ice.

Veteran players like Chris DiDomenico (arguably the Hogs best forward the past few weeks), Lance Bouma and Andreas Martinsen have added a layer of ruggedness that has served Rockford well as the physical nature of playoff hockey becomes more of a factor. Cody Franson and Adam Clendening deepened the back end dramatically.

Their special teams, particularly the power play, has kicked it up a couple of notches.

Heading into the Wolves series, I pointed out that just looking at Rockford’s pathetic man-advantage numbers would be misleading. I’m guessing Chicago knew that going in. I’m darn sure the Wolves knew that when they skated off the Allstate Arena ice following their 4-3 loss to Rockford.

The IceHogs converted their power-play chances at a rate of 39 percent (7-18) against Chicago. ‘Nuff said.

The goal-tending has been very good.

Rookie Collin Delia has earned the right to anchor the Hogs in net regardless of the opposition in the division final. He was by far the hottest goalie in town heading into the postseason, going 10-1-2 in his final 13 starts of the regular season.

In three playoff games (nearly four, with the extra sessions Thursday night), Delia posted three wins with a 1.62 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Since the IceHogs punched their ticket to the second round, speculation on who Rockford would be better off facing has run rampant. Personally, I’d rather face the team that lost their best-of-five series. That’s not the way it works, though.

I figured that the Griffins would make quick work of a slumping Manitoba club, but the Moose have played well. Grand Rapids had to win Thursday to force a Game 5. Either of these teams are going to be a formidable opponent.

Eric Tangradi, the Griffins leading goal-scorer and a veteran of AHL playoff battles, is out for Game 5 via suspension. Both teams have won in the other’s barn this series, with Game 5 being in Grand Rapids. It could go either way, to be honest.

Later this week, when the IceHogs have an opponent, I will return with a in-depth look at what could be a historic playoff series for the folks here in Winnebago County.



Everything Else

The ‘Bago County Flying Piglets earned themselves a spot in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs early this morning. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford put in the extra effort at Allstate Arena to sweep the Chicago Wolves.

How much extra effort? Try 57:22 on the old time card.

The IceHogs brought the few fans who stuck it out a 4-3 triple overtime triumph, ending their best-of-five series with Chicago in three games. Rockford will have some time to recharge, as their opponent won’t be decided until Monday night.

I’ll be here with my regular spot on Monday with a look at both potential opponents, but here’s how things played out in Game 3:

Chicago came out as hard as you would expect a team facing elimination would, taking a 2-0 lead by the midpoint of regulation. Most of the tomfoolery of the previous two games was kept in check; neither team seemed to want to spend time killing macho penalties.

It was, however, on the power play where Rockford sparked a run that put it up 3-2 by the second intermission. It all happened in a 4:04 span shortly after Keegan Kolesar gave the Wolves a 2-0 advantage.

Cody Franson one-timed a Chris DiDomenico pass into an opening left by Chicago goalie Max Lagace at 9:50 of the second period. A little over three minutes later, DiDomenico took a drop pass from Andreas Martinsen at the top of the right circle and tied the contest.

The veteran forward was also the catalyst for the third Rockford goal, nabbing the puck in neutral ice and starting a rush into Wolves territory. From DiDomenico to Anthony Louis at the right circle, the puck then was sent to Victor Ejdsell coming across the goal mouth. A backhander past Lagace gave the Hogs a one-goal lead into the second intermission.

Chicago got back to even ground early in the third period when Wade Megan made a terrific second effort to regain possession of his missed shot, come around the net and stuff a wraparound attempt just over the goal line. At that point, both Lagace and Hogs starter Collin Delia put the back of their respective nets on lockdown.

Delia stopped 30 shots in the extra sessions; Lagace withstood 34 on the way to 72 saves for the evening/morning. Chicago looked to have won the contest early in the first overtime on a delayed penalty. A quick whistle (which did not seem warranted as the Hogs did not seem to gain control of the puck) negated that goal and the teams played on…and on…and on…

The game-winner came on the man advantage; Ejdsell took a pass from Louis and fired past Lagace to end the proceedings at 17:22 of the third overtime. Fittingly, Ejdsell’s two-goal performance earned him the game’s first star honors. Lagace had to settle for second star, while DiDomenico (1 G, 2 A) was third star.

Rockford now sits in anticipation of Monday night’s Game 5 between Grand Rapids and Manitoba. This is the third time in the Hogs AHL history that the team has made it out of the opening round. The power play went 7-18 against Chicago and Delia proved to be quite hardy in net. How far can that combination go in the tournament? We’ll see, starting with a preview of the second-round series on Monday.


Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs got their Calder Cup quest off to a flying start over the weekend. Coming into the postseason as the fourth seed in the Central Division, the piglets sent quite the opening salvo against the Chicago Wolves.

Silencing most of Chicago’s big offensive guns, the IceHogs raced out to a 2-0 series lead, taking Game 1 in Rosemont as well as Game 2 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Hogs gave as good as they got on the physical side and bested the Wolves special teams in both outings.

Rockford can close out the Wolves Thursday night at Allstate Arena. I’d imagine we’ll see a desperate Chicago club defending their home turf in Game 3. However, the IceHogs showed that they are capable of turning away the Wolves offensive attack when needed.

Yes, Teemu Pulkkinen got a puck past Collin Delia this weekend. However, he had to knock a puck out of mid-air to do so. Brandon Pirri was held without a point in the two games, as was Wolves captain Paul Thompson. Beau Bennett, another top point producer who was held off the score sheet, left Saturday’s 2-1 win by Rockford with an apparent hand injury. He didn’t play in Game 2.

Delia, starting his first two postseason games in the AHL, made key stops when the Wolves did manage to create legit scoring chances. Defensively, Rockford was adept at breaking up potential rushes in neutral ice.

The IceHogs got seven goals from seven different skaters in Games 1 and 2. Leading the way was the trio of veterans who put a charge into the Rockford lineup in the final months of the season.

Defenseman Adam Clendening scored the game-winner in Chicago and totaled four points (1 G, 3 A) for the weekend. Chris DiDomenico (1 G, 2 A) and Cody Franson (3 A) also figured heavily into the wins.

Excepting the first seven or eight minutes of the opening game Saturday, Rockford has been in control of the action on the whole. As expected, the IceHogs have become a difficult opponent to play at just the right time of the spring.

In a series where the penalty minutes are up a bit, Rockford has taken advantage. The Hogs found cord on five of twelve power play chances. The first unit, featuring Clendening and Franson, has four of those goals.


Weekend Observations

  • In true playoff fashion, some big hits were delivered on both sides. As you might expect, players like Andreas Martinsen and John Hayden were making their presence felt. In addition, William Pelletier, who at 5’7″ was a frequent target in the regular season, finished some checks with a little snarl.
  • Chicago’s Brett Sterling attempted to sell a high-sticking infraction by Matthew Highmore in the first period Saturday night. The Wolves broadcast team bemoaned the lack of a call, but the replays showed that Highmore’s stick was never in the same zip-code as the veteran winger’s chin.
  • Bennett is a big loss for Chicago if he continues to miss action Thursday. Meanwhile, Tanner Kero returned from an injury and played Sunday for the IceHogs. A deep Rockford team gets a little deeper.
  • The 5,000-plus at the BMO got to their feet when the IceHogs killed the Chicago 5-on-3 to remain up a goal early in the second period on Sunday. It was the turning point of the game, no question.



Saturday, April 21-Rockford 2, Chicago 1 

Special teams decided the opening game of the series. The Hogs got two power play goals and made that stand up to take Game 1 on the road.

The Wolves were all over the Rockford zone in the first period, creating chance after chance that either missed the net or was turned away by Hogs goalie Collin Delia. The Wolves were denied on 16 attempts in the opening period.

Rockford gained a 1-0 advantage on the game’s first power play. As he has done with regularity, Cody Franson waited at the left dot for Adam Clendening’s pass. The shot was deflected by Tyler Sikura, off Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk’s glove and into the Wolves cage at 9:44 of the first.

A slashing call against Beau Bennett put the Hogs on the man advantage early in the second period. Rockford converted on the chance when Clendening sent a wrist shot through traffic and past Dansk for a 2-0 IceHogs lead at the 2:05 mark.

The home team was able to get on the scoreboard five minutes into the final frame. Teemu Pulkkinen, with the Wolves on the power play, was in front of the net when a Zac Leslie shot came off of Delia’s pads. The talented forward batted the puck into the net from just under crossbar height to cut the Rockford lead to 2-1 with 14:29 remaining in the contest.

On a night where neither club could find twine at even strength, the Hogs made their pair of goals stand up. The Wolves put on a frantic effort in the final minutes with Dansk on the bench to no avail.

Delia wound up with 31 saves on 32 shots. Clendening, with a goal and an assist on the evening, was named the game’s first star, followed by Franson and Leslie.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Lance Bouma-David Kampf-Matthew Highmore

Victor Edjsell-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andrea Martinsen

Alexandre Fortin-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Cody Franson (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-6)



Penalty Kill (Wolves were 1-5)





Sunday, April 22-Rockford 5, Chicago 2

Rockford broke open a close game in the second period. Once again, most of the damage was done while up a man.

The Wolves took a 1-0 lead midway through the first when Wade Megan put back a rebound left by Hogs goalie Collin Delia off a Zac Leslie shot. At the 13:24 mark, William Pelletier returned the favor, scoring his first goal of the postseason to tie the score.

There was much action in the final minute of the opening frame. The Hogs power play notched a goal when Luke Johnson pounced on a Cody Franson shot that rebounded off the pads of Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk. Rockford led 2-1 at 19:08 of the first, but that lead proved to be short-lived.

As the final seconds were ticking away in period one, Dansk got an outlet pass to T.J. Tynan coming into the Hogs zone. Delia stopped the resulting shot, but Leslie followed up by knocking the rebound into the Rockford net just before the clock ran out.

The 2-2 contest was decided in the middle 20; Rockford got the eventual game-winner from Matthew Highmore 3:47 into the second. The rookie received a pass from Victor Ejdsell at the left circle and sent a shot off of the arm of Dansk and into the net.

From there, the key stretch involved special teams. The Hogs killed off a two-man Wolves advantage, then found themselves on a 5-on-3 of their own ten minutes later. At the 16:04 mark, Chris DiDomenico got open in the slot, took a feed from Ejdsell, and cued the horn for Rockford’s third power play tally of the game. The IceHogs led 4-2.

The third period was controlled by Rockford, who held the desperate Wolves to just three shots on goal. Lance Bouma added an empty net goal with 39 seconds to go, slamming the door on Chicago.

Delia earned first star honors with his 28-save performance. DiDomenico and Clendening rounded out the three stars.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Lance Bouma-David Kampf-Matthew Highmore

Victor Edjsell-Chris DiDomenico-Anthony Louis

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andrea Martinsen (A)

Tanner Kero-Luke Johnson-William Pelletier

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Cody Franson (A)

Carl Dahlstrom-Adam Clendening

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (3-6)



Penalty Kill (Wolves were 1-5)





Rockford can advance to the second round with a win Thursday night at Allstate Arena. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the action in Game 3.