Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continued to play winning hockey this week, earning five of a possible six points against Central Division opponents. Rockford sits in fourth place in the division standings, thanks to several hot players.

At the top of that list is Brett Connolly, who is riding a six-game point streak. Connolly posted four goals and a pair of assists in three games. This included two-goal efforts in consecutive games; Wednesday’s 5-4 win over Manitoba and Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Iowa.

Dylan McLaughlin returned after missing the last month with a concussion, notching four points over the weekend. After helping send Friday’s game into Gus Macker Time with assists on both of Rockford’s third period goals, the forward added a goal and a helper in Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Moose at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

The story of Saturday’s victory was a 38-save performance by goalie Mitch Gillam, signed to a PTO by the IceHogs on Thursday. Gillam, who has spent this season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, blanked Manitoba in his first career AHL start. Cale Morris is nursing a sore hip at the moment. Tom Aubrun was loaned to the Fuel Thursday.

Rookie Lukas Reichel had his five-game point streak snapped on Saturday. With four goals and four assists in that span, Reichel remains on top of Rockford’s goals (20) and points (46) list.

With 16 games left in the regular season, the Blackhawks top prospect is approaching two rookie marks. Namely, Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51 points, set in 2015-16, and Matthew Highmore’s 24 goals, accomplished in the 2017-28 campaign.

 

Roster News

With the Hawks trade of Marc-Andre Fleury on Monday, Collin Delia was recalled by Chicago, along with forward Reese Johnson. Morris was recalled by the IceHogs as well. Defenseman Alex Vlasic was assigned to Rockford long enough for him to be eligible for the AHL playoffs before returning to Chicago.

On Saturday, forwards Riley McKay and Chad Yetman were recalled to Rockford. Yetman skated in that night’s game for the IceHogs.

On the injury front, Michal Teply suffered a shoulder injury Wednesday night after being boarded by Manitoba captain Jimmy Oligny late in the third period. Hogs captain Garrett Mitchell jumped in for a bout with Oligny and is now day-to-day with a lower back injury.

 

Busy Piglets

Rockford will now enter a stretch of five games over the next eight days. This starts with a big home date with Milwaukee Tuesday. The Hogs will then head West for two games each with Tucson and Henderson. Rockford takes on the Roadrunners on Friday and Saturday, then tangles with the Silver Knights on April 4 and 5.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue their October tour this weekend. The action takes place in DesMoines, where the piglets will face the Iowa Wild on Friday and Saturday nights. After splitting the first two games of the season in Grand Rapids and Chicago, the Hogs could see their points percentage climb above the .500 mark for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign.

Roster News

On Monday, the Blackhawks called up forward Mike Hardman, sending defenseman Ian Mitchell to Rockford. The IceHogs assigned goalie Cale Morris to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

Morris joins goalie Tom Aubrun in Indy. In addition to the two netminders, Rockford has several AHL contracts assigned to the Fuel roster. These include forwards Liam Folkes, Riley McKay and Chad Yetman. Indy hosts Cinncinati on October 23 to open its schedule.

 

A Look At The Wild

Iowa has some new faces, though the Hogs should be familiar with some of them. Forward Dominic Turgeon and defenseman Joe Hicketts come over from Grand Rapids. Longtime Iowa forward Kyle Rau is back after spending last season with Minnesota. Center Connor Dewar returns for his third season after posting 23 points (12 G, 11 A) in 32 games for the Wild in 2020-21. He currently leads Iowa in scoring (2 points) following the first weekend.

The Wild split two games with the Texas Stars to open their season. Veteran goalie Andrew Hammond shut out the Stars on October 16. He’s coming off a solid season with Rochester last spring (2.53 GAA, .908 save percentage) and will likely split starts with prospect Dereck Baribeau against the IceHogs. Baribeau was 2-0 against Rockford last season, with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Overall, he was 6-1-2 in ten appearances (2.54 GAA, .914 save percentage).

The IceHogs were 1-4-1 at Wells Fargo Arena last season. Nicolas Beaudin had a lot of success against the Wild; in five games, the defenseman had six points (2 G, 4 A). In ten games with the Wild, Reese Johnson also posted six points (2 G, 4 A). Rockford was 4-5-1 in those games.

The Hogs will be leaving Malcom Subban at home for the weekend. Collin Delia looks to get his first start of the season. Arvid Soderblom, who will likely get the other start this weekend, shut out the Wild when the teams met in the preseason on October 23.

Nothing has been announced as of yet, but Chad Krys may be out for a stretch after suffering a knee injury on October 16 in Chicago. Mitchell will likely draw into the defensive mix regardless.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on this weekend’s games, as well as my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

 

 

Hockey

Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks allowed their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, to be severly undermanned in terms of depth. Nowhere was this more evident than at forward, where the organization went with a few NHL prospects and a slew of AHL signings.

How do things look entering the 2021-22 season? Right now, I’d say there’s some optimism that wasn’t there a year ago. This forward group will still consist of a lot of fresh-faced prospects. However, the piglets should be a lot deeper up front.

Is that going to show up on the scoreboard and the standings? Time’s going to tell on that one.

Rockford has been near the league basement for several seasons in terms of goals per game. Last season, the IceHogs were 25th of 28 teams with a 2.78 per game scoring average. The lack of offensive bite was a big factor in the team’s last-place finish in the Central Division.

AHL signing Dylan McLaughlin paced Rockford with 22 points (8 G, 14 A) in 28 games last season. That point total was good for 55th place in AHL scoring in 2020-21. Chris Wilkie co-led the team with eight goals and finished the season with 13 points in 22 games, while fellow rookie Evan Barratt totaled 14 points (5 G, 9 A).

Other forwards who chipped in on offense included D.J. Busdeker (5 G, 7 A), Andrei Altybarmakian (5 G, 7 A), and MacKenzie Entwistle (4 G, 8 A). All figure to be back in action for Rockford, thought Entwistle may find a spot on the NHL roster to open the season.

Getting consistent offense out of players getting their feet wet in professional hockey is a challenge. Some organizations keep their rosters well-stocked with proven, AHL-level scorers to bolster their prospects. That’s a strategy the Blackhawks have employed sparingly, if at all, over the past few seasons.

In 2020-21, the taxi squad required of NHL teams kept several potential lamp-lighters in a kind of limbo. Chicago had obtained former AHL scoring champ Brandon Pirri with the plan of him anchoring the IceHogs offense. Pirri spent most of his season on the Blackhawks taxi squad.

When Pirri was unleashed on AHL opponents, he filled the net. In just seven games, the veteran forward potted eight goals, tying him for the team lead. He had points in six of those contests, including a hat trick against the Chicago Wolves on April 7. Unfortunately, Pirri spent far more time not playing for Chicago than he spent on the ice for Rockford.

Pirri, along with other experienced scorers, are still free agents waiting to contribute to an AHL club. The Blackhawks, who own the IceHogs as of this season, don’t seem to be inclined to move in the direction of seeking established scorers. However, there may still be some offensive punch on this year’s roster.

NHL veteran Brett Connelly, obtained in a trade with Florida last season, cleared waivers this month and was assigned to Rockford. 2020-21 was a tough year for Connelly, but he’s been a consistent NHL scorer in the past. He put up a 31-goal season with Syracuse in a full season with the Crunch back in 2012-13.

Chicago is getting some cap relief by sending the 29-year-old Connelly to the AHL. If this serves as motivation for him to play his way back to the Hawks or another NHL organization, the IceHogs could have a big offensive weapon to open play in Grand Rapids October 15.

Another potential goal-scorer comes in the form of Alex Nylander, who was assigned to Rockford after he was declared waiver-exempt by the NHL. Nylander, who missed all of last season, could have been claimed otherwise.

It is unclear how long Nylander remains with the Hogs. However, he is certainly skilled enough to post a 40-point season in a full AHL campaign. Skill with the puck was in short supply in the abbreviated 2020-21 season, so any time he spends in Rockford will be a bonus to IceHogs fans.

Center Garrett Mitchell will captain Rockford, as he did last season. Mitchell, who is on an AHL contract, is probably past the days where you could expect 20-30 points from his stick, but the long-time veteran is on board to mentor the prospects.

Reese Johnson is one of the elder statesmen on the IceHogs, even at age 23. Johnson split time between Rockford and Chicago and is back for his third pro season. He was in Rockford for 18 games in 2020-21, putting up eight points (4 G, 4 A).

Other Blackhawks prospects include Matej Chalupa, Josiah Slavin, and Michal Teply. Slavin showed some offensive spark after he was signed midseason, with three goals and three helpers in his first six games.

It appears that 2020 first-round pick Lucas Reichel will begin his North American career with the Hogs. Reichel will be a player to watch in terms of offensive potential. First up for the 19-year-old Reichel will be getting used to maneuvering the rink in the grinding, physical AHL.

Cameron Morrison will also be looking to get his pro career started. In Morrison’s case, it’s a bit of a restart. The former Notre Dame skater was injured in the 2020-21 preseason and was out for the year. The question last year was how Morrison’s game translated to the professional level. Hopefully he gets the chance to answer those questions starting this weekend.

Mike Hardman and Jakub Pour are additional new faces on the IceHogs roster. Hardman turned pro after his second season at Boston College and saw some action with the Blackhawks before the season ended. Pour, who, like Hardman, is 22 years old, has spent the last two seasons playing professionally in the Czech League.

Last year, the taxi squad and a lack of depth signings made it necessary for a lot of Rockford’s AHL contracts to carry the load. Besides Mitchell, McLaughlin, and possibly Busdeker, it may be harder for some returning AHL contracts to find ice time.

Wilkie, Chad Yetman, Riley McKay, and Carson Gicewicz could split time between Rockford and the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel. New faces include Kale Howarth, who was signed following his college career ended at UCONN, and Liam Folkes, who was obtained in an AHL trade with Bakersfield.

Dmitri Osipov is a bit of an outlier. The former defenseman is apparently being converted to forward by the Blackhawks. He may get a chance to play the position with the IceHogs, or head to Indy to continue to learn the new position.

The first month of the season may see the IceHogs struggle for points. A team of young players will need to build chemistry and find the same kind of scoring touch from their college or junior days. If Rockford has aspirations of competing in the Central Division, they will have to find some steady point producers.

How will the Hogs fare in this year’s AHL schedule? Things get started in Grand Rapids on Friday, October 15. Rockford visits Chicago the following evening. I’ll be back in a few days to preview the opening weekend of action with the Griffins and Wolves.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the action in Rockford throughout the season.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are not going to finish with a winning record in 2020-21. However, the piglets have made substantial progress toward respectability.

Rockford opened this season back in February with a woefully stocked roster of players. The talent gap between the Hogs and the rest of the AHL was vast. In previewing this year’s crop on the farm, I noted that this young and inexperienced team was going to take its lumps in the early going. And take them they did.

The IceHogs limped out to a 1-7-1 start, losing six straight games to begin the season. The nadir of the first month was a 9-4 shellacking by Grand Rapids on March 3.

Fortunately, the Hogs got their legs under them. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but coach Derek King has the undermanned roster scrapping to be competitive. Rockford has gone 10-8 dating back on March 6.

The IceHogs are currently coming off of a pair of wins over the Griffins. Last Saturday, Rockford bested Grand Rapids 3-2 at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Monday, the Hogs prevailed 3-2 in a shootout at Van Andel Arena.

What has proven to be the difference in the IceHogs over their last 18 games? Let’s make a list:

  • Rockford has gotten some frequent influxes of talent via the taxi squad. Players like MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson have contributed at both ends of the ice.
  • Dylan McLaughlin has really stepped up his game in his sophomore season with Rockford. Dating back to March 13, McLaughlin has 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in his last 15 games.
  • The piglets have been able to hold their own in physical affairs with Grand Rapids and Iowa in the past few weeks.
  • The goal tending has been better. Ivan Nalimov has looked more comfortable in net. Cale Morris left after two periods in Grand Rapids with an injury April 28, but was keeping Rockford in games. Matt Tomkins had a great game in Monday’s win, stopping 24 shots in regulation and overtime. Since coming down from Chicago’s taxi squad March 11, Tomkins has a 2.71 GAA and a .919 save percentage in his last seven games.
  • Brandon Pirri, when he has been used, has been an offensive force for the IceHogs. The power play has teeth when Pirri is manning the wing. In five games, Pirri is second on the team with six goals. He has points in each of those five games; Rockford is 4-1 when Pirri is in the lineup.
  • As he has done throughout his short tenure at the helm, King has the IceHogs playing hard every night. They have managed to be competitive even when being badly overmatched.

This weekend, Rockford has its last two games of the season with the Iowa Wild. The Hogs are at Iowa on Friday night; the Wild come to the BMO on Sunday afternoon.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have been limited on game action in recent weeks due to some schedule changes. That should change on Wednesday when the Hogs play four times in an eight-day span.

After defeating the Chicago Wolves for the second straight time at the BMO Harris Bank Center, the piglets get the opportunity to knock off the Central Division leaders in Hoffman Estates Wednesday night. A weekend set in Iowa follows on Friday and Saturday, then Rockford heads to Grand Rapids for a rescheduled date with the Griffins on April 28.

 

Rainy-Day Thoughts

  • It was against a Wolves team that was down a few scorers, but Saturday’s shootout win was arguably the most satisfying win of the year for Rockford. The IceHogs had to erase two deficits, including a desperation goal in the final moments of regulation. In a rare display of offensive push, Rockford managed to tip the rink toward an opponent’s zone and generate some real scoring chances.
  • Ivan Nalimov wasn’t razor-sharp, but he did pick up a win in his second start against the Wolves. It was an upgrade over his debut when he got lit up by Chicago to the tune of six goals. Nalimov and Cale Morris are looking at some work over the next two weeks unless Matt Tomkins is sent back to Rockford from the Blackhawks taxi squad.
  • On Sunday, F John Quenneville, who missed the last 40 minutes of action Saturday night, was called up to the taxi squad. I assume it is injury-related. It has been a trying season for Quenneville; he has just two points (1 G, 1 A) in 16 games.
  • Anton Lindholm came back to Rockford Sunday. The defenseman last skated for the IceHogs on April 3. He is pointless in six appearances.
  • There was another Brandon Pirri sighting at the BMO Saturday. The veteran forward logged an assist on the MacKenzie Entwistle goal that tied the game late in regulation and contributed a successful shootout attempt. He also looked to have scored in the third period on a breakaway attempt, but the AHL is not reviewing goals this season. Pirri had to settle for extending his point streak to four games (basically every game he’s played in Rockford this season).
  • IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell had himself a rare two-fight evening Saturday. He dropped the gloves with Josh Healey in the second period and had to head to the locker room for a little maintenance. Midway through the third, he stepped in to tangle with Cavan Fitzgerald. Mitchell was then sent to the locker room, not to heal, but with a game misconduct.
  • After leaving Wednesday’s game in Iowa with a leg injury, Evan Barratt did not skate Saturday. It is possible that we get more details this week from the IceHogs.

 

Saturday, April 17-Rockford 4, Chicago 3 (SO)

Rockford capped off a blue-collar effort at the BMO, rallying in the final minutes and besting the Wolves for the second straight game between the clubs.

The IceHogs took advantage of a Wolves miscue to take a 1-0 lead 5:56 into the contest. Chicago defenseman Frederic Allard whiffed on a one-time attempt at the IceHogs blueline, allowing D.J. Busdeker to lead an odd-man rush the other way. Busdeker found Reese Johnson at the right circle; the resulting shot beat Wolves goalie Connor Ingram high to the glove side.

Chicago scored the next two goals of the game. Cole Smith redirected a Joey Keene blast past Hogs goalie Ivan Nalimov, who had lost his stick trying to handle a dump-in behind the net, to tie things at one goal at the 14:11 mark. The Wolves quickly picked up a power play after a cross-check by MacKenzie Entwistle. At 14:46, David Cotton put Chicago up 2-1 right off the faceoff with his eighth goal of the season.

Rockford was able to draw even late in the middle frame. Busdeker sent a shot to the Wolves net that Ingram appeared to handle. However, the puck came out and the Hogs rookie was able to regain possession. This time Busdeker sent a backhand attempt that glanced off of a Chicago defender and found Andrei Altybarmakian at the right post. Altybarmakian shoveled the puck into the cage, making it a 2-2 affair at 15:47 of the second.

Chicago secured a late goal to regain the lead. Sean Malone brought the puck into the Rockford zone, skating around the net and back up to the left dot. A quick backhand pass to Smith in the slot resulted in a one-timer that beat Nalimov with eleven seconds left in the second period. The IceHogs entered the second intermission down 3-2.

The IceHogs pressed for the equalizer for most of the final period. It would not come until the final minutes, with Nalimov on the Rockford bench in favor of an extra skater.

Brandon Pirri hustled to beat a Wolves defender to a pass attempt by Cody Franson at the right circle before threading a pass of his own to Entwistle in the slot. Entwistle stickhandled to the net, only to see his initial shot stopped. Gathering in the rebound, Entwistle sent a shot off the back of Ingram.

The puck caromed into the air in front of the crease. Smith attempted to knock it down and inadvertently batted it into the Chicago net with 2:11 remaining in regulation. After a scoreless overtime session, it would come down to penalty shots.

Tim Soderlund and Pirri drew cord for the IceHogs, while Nalimov denied Patrick Harper and Cotton to earn Rockford the victory.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Josiah Slavin-MacKenzie Entwistle-Brandon Pirri

John Quenneville (A)-Reese Johnson-D.J. Busdeker

Matej Chalupa-Dylan McLaughlin-Tim Soderlund

Andrei Altybarmakian-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Michal Teply

Issak Phillips-Cody Franson (A)

Cole Moberg-Michael Krutil

Alec Regula-Dimitry Osipov

Ivan Nalimov

Cale Morris

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

Hockey

The entrance to the BMO Harris Bank Center is a revolving door for several of the Rockford IceHogs. I’ve nearly given up on following the transaction wire, which is bringing players up and down on what feels like a daily basis.

As of this morning, here is the status of several players.  With the Hogs idle until Tuesday now that Saturday’s game in Grand Rapids is postponed, there could well be additional movement as the organization navigates the taxi squad minimum.

Brandon Pirri: Taxi Squad. Was sent to Rockford long enough to post a hat trick Wednesday night and single-handedly got the Hogs their first win of the season against the Wolves.

Alec Regula: IceHogs. The Big Regu last took to the ice on March 16. I suspect he’s injured and is being used to fill the taxi squad quota as needed for Chicago. Otherwise, the back and forth makes no sense; why let a highly-touted prospect sit for three weeks?

MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin: Still in Rockford at the moment.

Lucas Carlsson: Taxi Squad. Well, Florida’s taxi squad. Carlsson was part of Thursday’s trade with the Panthers.

At this point in the season, most of these moves exist only on paper, with players “moving” to Rockford for game experience and “returning” to the taxi squad so that Chicago has the required numbers.

 

Meet The New Boss…Same As The Old Boss

On Wednesday, everyone got together at the BMO to announce that the Blackhawks had purchased the IceHogs franchise and will be making improvements to the 40-year-old barn. It was revealed that the arrangement will keep Chicago’s AHL franchise in Rockford for the next fifteen seasons.

What changes? Well, I imagine that the organization upgrades the training facilities and gives the building an overall spit-shine. The Blackhawks already dictate the hockey decisions, so it’s hard to see the on-ice product getting substantially better in terms of wins and losses.

Perhaps I am wrong. It is possible that an organization that has consistently placed development over winning will suddenly change its tune. However, I can recall the IceHogs basically having to tank a chance at a division title a few seasons ago so that the Blackhawks could play a half-dozen fresh acquisitions on the final weekend. Time, as always, will tell.

 

Catching Up On Recaps

Saturday, April 3-Chicago 4, Rockford 2

Rockford kept it close, but lost its sixth straight to the Wolves this season.

The Hogs were active defensively in the first period, breaking up Chicago rushes and limiting traffic in front of rookie goalie Cale Morris. Rockford went up 1-0 after Dylan McLaughlin picked off a pass attempt by the Wolves Max Lajoie in the high slot. McLaughlin went straight to the left circle and zipped home his fourth goal of the season past Chicago goalie Devin Cooley at the 7:33 mark.

The lead held until 13:38 of the first period, when Sean Malone centered to Dominik Bokk in the slot. The resulting one-timer got past Morris and off the crossbar before tying the game at one.

The Wolves took a 2-1 lead 4:27 into the middle frame when David Cotton struck on a shot from between the circles. Rockford came up with a response later in the second period when Chicago got caught changing lines. D.J. Busdeker led the rush, passing to Josiah Slavin at the left circle for the equalizer at the 13:44 mark.

Late in the period, Issak Phillips was called for holding trying to stop a breakaway chance by Malone. Morris was able to make a pad save on a long shot by David Warsofsky in the resulting power play. However, the rebound was scooped up by Tanner Jeannot, who flipped it past Morris for a 3-2 Chicago advantage with 43 seconds remaining in the second.

Rockford was unable to find a way to pull back even with the Wolves in the final twenty minutes. Cole Smith added an empty-net goal in the final minute to finish off the Hogs.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-Garrett Mitchell (C)

Josian Slavin-MacKenzie Entwistle-D.J. Busdeker

Andrei Altybarmakyan-Dylan McLaughlin-John Quenneville (A)

Matej Chalupa-Michal Teply

Lucas Carlsson-Ian Mitchell

Anton Lindholm-Nicolas Beaudin

Issak Phillips-Cole Moberg

Michael Krutil

Cale Morris

Ivan Nalimov

 

Wednesday, April 9-Rockford 4, Chicago 3

Brandon Pirri posted a hat trick, leading the Hogs to their first win in seven tries this season against the Wolves. The IceHogs moved to 7-12-1 despite being outshot 33-17 by Chicago.

Rockford took a 2-0 lead in the first period with a pair of quick strikes. The first came seven minutes in, when Evan Barratt hit MacKenzie Entwistleas he came over the boards. Entwistle finished the breakaway opportunity with a nice deke past Wolves goalie Beck Warm.

Rockford’s public address announcer had scarcely finished the call of the first Hogs goal when Josiah Slavin corralled a high bouncing puck to keep it in the offensive zone. Pirri took a pass from Slavin at the right circle and sent a laser past Warm’s blocker at the 7:40 mark.

The Wolves closed the gap to 2-1 4:07 into the second period on a Phil Tomasino goal. Pirri restored the two-goal advantage minutes later with a one-timer from the right dot. Pirri’s second goal of the evening came at 7:58 with assists from Nicolas Beaudin and Slavin.

The hat trick was completed at the 14:50 mark. Andrei Altybarmakyan set the goal up by winning a board battle and sliding the puck into the high slot. Pirri skated over and slapped the biscuit past Warm for a 4-1 Rockford lead.

Chicago pushed hard in the third period, out-shooting the Hogs 12-3 in the final twenty minutes. Tanner Jeannot converted on a sweet pass by Tomasino at the 3:53 mark. The Wolves power play made it 4-3 at 8:07 on a Dominik Bokk tally. Warm was brought to the bench with two minutes remaining in regulation, but Tomkins (30 saves) and the IceHogs held on for the victory.

Pirri, to the surprise of no one, was voted the game’s First Star. He paced the IceHogs with six shots on the evening. The taxi squad has grounded Pirri for the bulk of the AHL season; Wednesday was just his third appearance for Rockford. In those games, he has posted five goals.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Evan Barratt-Reese Johnson-D.J. Busdeker

Andrei Altybarmakyan-Dylan McLaughlin-John Quenneville (A)

Josiah Slavin-MacKenzie Entwistle-Brandon Pirri

Matej Chalupa-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Chad Yetman

Issak Phillips-Cody Franson (A)

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian Mitchell

Lucas Carlsson-Michael Krutil

Matt Tomkins

Ivan Nalimov

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have two solid goalie prospects under NHL contracts. So why do they have three goalies on the roster?

Beats the heck out of me.

Rockford, 7-6 and in fourth-place in the Central Division with a .538 points percentage, split the weekend slate. They beat Chicago on Sunday following a shutout loss to Manitoba on Friday. In the last three games, the piglets have had a different man between the pipes. So goes the goalie situation in Winnebago County.

Sunday, Matt Tomkins anchored Rockford’s 4-1 win over the Wolves in Rosemont. Friday, Collin Delia was victimized for four goals as his team was blanked by the Moose. Back on Wednesday, Kevin Lankinen picked up the win over Toronto.

Tomkins spent the bulk of last season toiling in Indianapolis. Lankinen also spent a good portion of his season with the Fuel. The IceHogs began the season with Tomkins, Lankinen and Delia with the team. I figured that with the Hawks tandem healthy entering October, Tomkins would return to the ECHL and build on the solid numbers of 2018-19.

Hasn’t happened. Lankinen was injured opening night, so Tomkins stuck around. He’s continued to stick around despite Lankinen returning to action. According to Hogs coach Derek King, Lankinen was set to start Sunday’s matinee but fell ill, necessitating Tomkins in the crease.

Why not just give Delia another start? Well…he hasn’t been real sharp in the first six weeks of action. In six starts, he’s carrying a 4.09 goals against average and an .867 save percentage. Delia has had to contend with a lot of high-percentage scoring opportunities, but he still hasn’t resembled the netminder he was for most of the last two seasons.

Tomkins has served in the capacity of backup most nights but has two very solid performances in a pair of Rockford victories over the Wolves. He stopped 31 shots against Chicago in an overtime win October 19 before a 19-save effort Sunday.

Lankinen? Well, when he isn’t sick or hurt, he’s been great. Sporting a 1.99 GAA and a .930 save percentage, Lankinen is the Hogs top option in net right now.

I keep waiting for Rockford to send Tomkins, who is on an AHL deal with the IceHogs, back to Indy where he’ll get steady work. Delia and Lankinen can then get in a groove as a tandem; maybe the former can work his way out of his current funk.

Perhaps the organization likes having Tomkins, who was a Hawks seventh-round draft selection in 2012, in Rockford to work with the team’s goalie coaches. For whatever reason, Tomkins is part of a three-pronged goalie attack for the IceHogs.

 

Recaps

Friday, November 8-Manitoba 4, Rockford 0

Rockford was the aggressor early but failed to convert scoring chances all evening. The Moose prevailed behind a 41-save Mikhail Berdin shutout. Crisp Manitoba passing resulted in plenty of offense against the Hogs, who saw their four-game winning streak go by the wayside.

Berdin weathered a storm of IceHogs attempts in the opening minutes. Conversely, one of Manitoba’s first chances was driven to the back of Collin Delia’s net. It came at 8:33 of the first period, when Michael Spacek gathered in a loose puck in the slot and sent it through the Rockford goalie’s wickets for a 1-0 Moose advantage.

Manitoba built a three-goal lead in the second stanza via the power play. With Reese Johnson in the bin of sin for high sticking, the Moose scored after former Rockford defenseman Cameron Schilling sent a point shot off Delia’s pads. With Delia on the deck after getting tied up with Philip Holm, Jansen Harkins sent the long rebound to Luke Green, who one-timed the puck into the cage at the 5:51 mark.

Specek set up C.J. Suess at Delia’s backdoor eleven minutes later for a 3-0 Manitoba lead. The Moose were 2-3 on the man advantage. Rockford, with three power plays in the second to try and climb back into the game, came up empty on the way to an 0-5 night. Seth Griffith closed out the scoring for Manitoba with a third-period goal.

Delia didn’t have his best night, falling victim to several real open looks offered by the Hogs defense. He stopped 22 of 26 shots on the evening. Berdin, incidentally, went into Chicago the following night and blanked the Wolves on 26 shots.

 

Sunday, November 10-Rockford 4, Chicago 1

The IceHogs made it four-for-four this season against the Wolves despite giving up the first goal of the contest. Matt Tomkins picked up the win in net for Rockford with 19 saves.

Each team had a turn on the power play in the opening frame. The IceHogs whiffed. Chicago converted, with Dylan Coghlin blasting the puck past Tomkins 18:21 into the game.

Rockford finally managed to get a puck past a goalie late in the second period. The play was set up when Tim Soderlund held a puck in at the top of the offensive zone before passing to Philip Holm. Holm sent a centering pass to Anton Wedin, who redirected the biscuit past Wolves goalie Garret Sparks. The goal tied the contest at a goal apiece at 14:28 of the second period.

The Hogs took a 2-1 lead on a wonderful individual effort by Lucas Carlsson. The scoring play got started when Holm won possession of the puck in the Hogs zone. Sliding the puck along the boards, Holm cleared it to Brandon Hagel. Hagel, in turn, found Carlsson coming across the red line. Carlsson entered the Chicago zone, juked his way past the Wolves Brett Lernout and sent a shot past the blocker of Sparks 8:31 into the third.

Tomkins made Carlsson’s tally the game-winner with some big stops in the last ten minutes, including a big penalty kill after Reese Johnson was sent to the box for roughing. Matthew Highmore and Tyler Sikura tossed in empty-netters in the final two minutes to seal the fate of the Wolves.

 

Weekend Preview

The IceHogs have a home-and-home coming up with the Grand Rapids Griffins, currently right behind Rockford in the Central Division standings. The Griffins are paced by Chris Terry, who leads the AHL in scoring with 21 points (8 G, 13 A). Matt Puempel (7 G, 9 A) is fourth in the league in points entering this week’s action.

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