The Rockford IceHogs have a couple of new faces in the fold. With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, there could be a couple more before the day is out.
The Blackhawks made two trades this past week. They aren’t likely to have a big impact in Chicago, but they could boost the playoff chances of the Hogs, who beat Grand Rapids in overtime Wednesday before dropping games in Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the weekend.
Rockford (26-22-3-6) are currently fourth in the Central Division with a .537 points percentage. With Chicago, Grand Rapids and Iowa a bit above the rest of the division, the last postseason spot could turn into a dogfight between the IceHogs, Texas and Milwaukee.
On Monday night, the Hawks made a move to bolster the offense, which is still last in the AHL as the month of February nears an end. Chicago sent defenseman Darren Raddysh to the Rangers in exchange for center Peter Holland.
The 28-year-old Holland is a veteran of 266 NHL games with ANaheim, Toronto, Arizona and the Rangers. He is nearly a point-a-game player in his stints in the AHL. In 52 games this season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Holland had 20 goals and 29 assists.
Obtaining one of the AHL’s top scorers was worth the price of losing Raddysh, who has shown steady improvement in two seasons in Rockford. With a young defenseman like Lucas Carlsson showing he can bring a similar game and a number of young defensemen poised to join the club next year, Raddysh was expendable.
Holland made an impact upon joining the Hogs; he had two assists in a 3-2 win over the Griffins Wednesday, then potted his first goal in a Rockford sweater Saturday in Hershey. I’ve frequently said this season that the IceHogs needed some top-end veteran scoring. Stick tap to Hawks GM Stan Bowman for going out and adding a piece for Rockford.
On Sunday, it was announced that a deal had been struck with the Kings to send Matheson Iacopelli to Los Angeles in exchange for forward Spencer Watson. This is not a move that figures heavily in the plans of the Blackhawks…or the IceHogs, for that matter.
Watson turned pro last season and played 11 games for the Kings AHL affiliate in Ontario. He’s amassed great point totals in the ECHL, including 47 points in 47 games with Manchester. So far this season, though, he hasn’t been able to break into an Ontario lineup that is last in the league. Watson has been up for two games with the Reign this season.
Iacopelli, despite possessing a beauty of a shot, couldn’t find steady work with the IceHogs. He has 27 games in Rockford and has been in Indy for most of the last two months. Watson, who was added to the Hogs roster Sunday, could see some action in lieu of AHL forwards Terry Broadhurst and William Pelletier being banged up.
For the time being, Watson gets a chance to win a regular spot and help keep Rockford afloat at forward. Worst case, he moves down to Indy and helps the Fuel in their hunt for the playoffs.
Could any of the current IceHogs be moved today before the deadline? Very possible. Aside from goalie Kevin Lankinen, not much would surprise me over the next few hours.
Henri Jokiharju and Josh McArdle were men on the move this week. Both left and returned to the Hogs in the matter of a couple of days.
Jokiharju was an emergency call-up by the Blackhawks Friday. He was re-assigned to Rockford the next day and arrived in Hershey in time to dress for Saturday’s game. McArdle was sent to the Fuel last Sunday, then was recalled by the Hogs Saturday.
Wednesday, February 20-Rockford 3, Grand Rapids 2 (OT)
Rockford stayed the course after a rough opening period to outlast the Central Divisions top team. They beat the Griffins in Gus Macker Time and at Van Andel Arena to boot.
Grand Rapids got goals from Wade Megan and Matt Peumpel in the first period. That 2-0 lead held until the fourteenth minute of the middle frame. Joni Tuulola sent a Peter Holland pass by Griffins goalie Harri Sateri to foil the shutout bid.
Jordan Schroeder knotted the game on the power play, aided by Holland’s second apple of the evening. The game remained a 2-2 affair through the remainder of regulation.
Both teams had chances in overtime. For most of the extra five minutes, Sateri and Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg made the required stops. In the closing seconds, Rockford was able to get into the Griffins zone.
Graham Knott sent a shot from the right circle that came off of Sateri’s pads and right onto the stick of Luke Johnson. Johnson sent the rebound into the open Grand Rapids net with less than a second remaining in the overtime period.
Forsberg sent away 37 shots on the evening to pick up the win, Rockford’s third in a row.
Saturday, February 23-Hershey 3, Rockford 2 (SO)
The Bears kept their recent win streak going, winning their eleventh straight. Rockford picked up a point to keep their point streak alive at four games.
Newcomer Peter Holland got the Hogs on the board first, via the power play. Holland one-timed a Henri Jokiharju pass into the Hershey net just 1:21 into the contest. The Bears tied the score at the 14:54 mark when Ryan Sproul’s shot from the goal line caught the blocker of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg and tumbled into the cage.
Rockford regained the upper hand a few minutes later after Viktor Ejdsell sent a clearing attempt ringing around the boards and out of the defensive zone. Anthony Louis eventually caught up with the puck coming into Bears territory, skated to the goal line, and dropped a pass to a waiting Jacob Nilsson. The shot beat Hershey goalie Ilya Samsonov to the upper right corner of the net for a 2-1 IceHogs advantage.
After a scoreless middle frame, Hershey tied the game after an early Rockford turnover in the final period. Henri Jokiharju sent a pass that Joni Tuulola couldn’t get under control. The Bears Beck Malenstyn scooped up the puck and dealt it to Garrett Pilon, who beat Forsberg to the cord at 1:28 of the third.
The remainder of regulation and overtime passed with nary a puck in a net. The shootout would decide this contest. With the tally 1-1 going into the third round, Hershey’s Nathan Walker beat Forsberg. Anthony Louis lost control of the puck on his third-round attempt. The biscuit rolled into the net under Samsonov but was ruled a no-goal by the officials, ending the game.
Sunday, February 24-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4, Rockford 1
The Penguins scored first, getting a Ryan Scarfo goal at the 6:48 mark. Rockford evened things up late in the period. The Hogs were established in the offensive zone and benefited from some slick passing from defensemen Dennis Gilbert and Lucas Carlsson.
Gilbert sent the puck out to Luke Johnson at the point, who slid a pass to Carlsson along the blue line before skating to the high slot. Carlsson found Johnson on the return feed; Johnson’s shot beat the glove of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. The light came on at 18:07 of the first and the teams went into the intermission on equal ground.
Former Rockford skater Jimmy Hayes provide the offense in the second stanza, scoring twice to give Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a 3-1 advantage. Hayes banked a centering pass off of Carlsson 5:45 into the second, then beat Lankinen with a one-timer from the right circle at the 11: 21 mark.
The IceHogs pushed to get back in the game to no avail. Rockford put 12 shots on Jarry (the Hogs out shot the Penguins 34-27 on the afternoon) but couldn’t chip into the deficit. Adam Johnson added and empty-net goal for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 3:18 remaining.
Action This Week
Rockford continues its road trip Tuesday in Rosemont and an Illinois Lottery Cup tilt with the first-place Wolves. The Hogs are at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Friday night to host Grand Rapids.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for coverage of the IceHogs throughout the season.