Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs were deep on the defensive side in 2018-19. It was in this area where the club had an abundance of experience to start the season. It only got better in the spring as some key pickups further strengthened Rockford on the way to a long playoff run.

Back with a look at the back end of the roster, here are my thoughts on the defense.

The Sparkplugs

Cody Franson (37 games, 9 G, 19 A, plus-nine)

Adam Clendening (38 games, 4 G, 26 A, plus-two)

The addition of these two veteran blueliners completely changed the course of the IceHogs fortunes. The power play went from being a laughing stock to the most dangerous in the AHL.

Franson performed like you would expect a NHL-level talent to upon arriving in Rockford. The 30-year-old Franson immediately became a locker room sage and offensive catalyst, with six power play goals in the regular season, then four more in the playoffs. A point a game player in the postseason (6 G, 7 A), Franson totaled 15 goals and 41 points in 50 games in an IceHogs sweater.

Clendening, who was returning to Rockford after stints in several other organizations, saw his scoring touch return in a big way. After five points in 21 games for Tuscon to begin the season, Clendening went on a tear and wound up leading all Hogs defensemen in scoring despite joining Rockford well into the season.

So far as a return engagement from this exciting duo…

Franson was quite open about his future (or non-future to be more accurate) in the organization past this season. His steamrolling through the AHL might open a few doors as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

On the other hand, Clendening is an RFA and could be re-signed at low cost to the Blackhawks. The question is, will Chicago tender an offer to a player who couldn’t secure an NHL spot in the organization in his first go-round? Clendening would be a nice piece to start building next fall’s Hogs roster; we’ll see what transpires in the next couple weeks.

 

The Big Guy

Viktor Svedberg (73 games, 6 G, 18 A, plus-18)

The 6-9 Swede began his time in the organization as a project; Svedberg is now a UFA following his fifth season, most of which was spent with the IceHogs.

I’ll come right out and say it. Svedberg brought an awful lot to the table in 2017-18. Here’s why:

This was easily his best season from an offensive standpoint. He also potted a couple of big shootout goals when called upon.

Svedberg began the season healthy and stayed that way, playing a career-high 73 games. For a guy who had trouble staying on the ice in past years, it was satisfying to see him showcase his game.

Svedberg still gets a bad rap from some Rockford fans for his defensive liabilities, which were on full display for most of his first three seasons. That’s too bad, because he was arguably the IceHogs best defender this year.

I could count on one hand the number of times that Svedberg was caught out of position in his own zone, leading to an open shot attempt. He is never going to be a player who can use his skating ability to get him out of trouble. However, he has learned to take advantage of his reach and positioning to be effective.

Svedberg was often an alternate captain (coach Jeremy Colliton never named a captain this season) and was one of the few skaters (before DiDomenico and Lance Bouma showed up) willing to stick his nose into a scrum. When Franson arrived, Svedberg completed a very solid (and physically imposing) top pairing.

Svedberg has come a long way in five years and certainly could provide some organizational depth and leadership in Rockford. It will be interesting to see what offers he fields in free agency.

 

The All-Star

Carl Dahlstrom (64 games, 3 G, 28 A, plus-14)

Dahlstrom was a substitute for Erik Gustafsson in the AHL’s All-Star Classic and took his game up a notch in his second full season in Rockford.

Dahlstrom was a steady defender and took a bigger role at the other end of the ice in 2017-18. He looked a lot more confident bringing the puck out of his zone this season and earned a stint in Chicago late in the spring. It seems likely that he is in line to earn a spot on the Hawks roster in training camp the way things look right now.

Franson and Clendening altered the pecking order among the defensemen; Dahlstrom definitely had a reduced role on the power play. His shot attempts at even strength took a hit as well, with a drop in frequency of about 23 percent after he came back from Chicago in March.

Dahlstrom last drew cord for the Hogs on January 13. In his last 26 regular season games with the Hogs, he managed just nine assists. Dahlstrom rebounded in the playoffs with three goals and six helpers.

 

The Passed Over

Gustav Forsling (18 games, 2 G, 3 A, minus-four)

The other player most affected by Franson and Clendening’s presence was Forsling. When he was sent to Rockford in January, he scored in his season debut with the Hogs, then went dormant offensively. Once the vets joined the team the next month, there wasn’t much of an offensive role for the 21-year-old.

Forsling got some time quarterbacking the second power play unit. He had one assist on the man advantage in the regular season and another one in the playoffs. He was a bit more noticeable in the postseason, with a goal and five helpers. However, most of his time was spent on the bottom pairing.

Forsling did not distinguish himself on the scoreboard in his time in Rockford. At the same time, he didn’t defend very well either, at least in my opinion. Had Forsling had a more prominent spot in the lineup, he might have picked up his play in the latter part of the season. That didn’t happen.

 

The Prospects

Darren Raddysh (66 games, 5 G, 17 A, plus-ten)

Luc Snuggerud (40 games, 5 G, 12 A, minus-three)

Robin Norell (63 games, 2 G, 5 A, plus-two)

Raddysh had the biggest impact of these three players, earning himself an NHL entry deal from Chicago last month. He found himself in the lineup over several players with NHL contracts this past season, something that also held true nine times in the playoffs.

Snuggerud’s rookie season was interrupted for two months after suffering an upper body injury December 8. He had a pair of goals and eight assists after returning in February, but did not suit up in the postseason.

Norell’s campaign began with a savage beat-down at the hands of Brett Gallant in Cleveland opening night. It ended in the press box in the postseason.

After a four-game point streak in December, Norell went 43 games without a goal or an assist until getting a goal in the regular season finale in Chicago. This, despite playing as a forward for much of that time with line mates who regularly found the net.

His defensive play at forward was often praised by Colliton, though apparently not enough to get him on the ice at any position in the playoffs.

Norell skates hard, but isn’t a real physical player and isn’t gifted with a great shot. It may be hard for him to find time on the blueline this fall.

 

The Other Guys

Ville Pokka (4 G, 18 A) played 46 games in Rockford before being traded to Ottawa for Chris DiDomenico. Pokka was perfectly serviceable for the Hogs but was spinning his tires in the organization. The return on the exchange was a vital part of Rockford’s late season success.

Gustafsson (3 G, 14 A) was with the Hogs for 25 games before spending the remainder of the season in Chicago. Joni Tuulola was scoreless in two regular season games and four postseason appearances.

Also putting up goose eggs in limited action in 2017-18 were AHL contracts Brandon Anselmini and Robin Press, who each got into seven games.  Former Hog Nolan Valleau was brought in on a PTO for three games and then released.

 

Where Does The D Go From Here?

Chicago has added Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson and Henri Jokiharju to the list of prospects on defense. With Tuulola set to begin his rookie season and five holdovers, the position is crowded even without a veteran signing like Clendening or Svedberg.

As is the case at every position, the next month will surely see some turnover. The blueline will certainly be a lot younger in 2018-19.

This week, I hope to start sifting through the forwards in one additional installment of my year-end look at the IceHogs. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the Hogs throughout the summer.

 

Everything Else

When the Rockford IceHogs contemplate their annual team awards in a few weeks, they can skip right by the most-improved player award. If Collin Delia hasn’t earned that honor from the team at this point, I’m not sure they’re qualified to give out awards.

The rookie goalie, signed to an entry contract by the Blackhawks back in July, has seen his fortunes undergo quite the transformation. For the first three months of this season, it couldn’t have gone worse for the former Merrimack standout.

These past couple of months, things couldn’t be better.

The 23-year-old Delia was flat out terrible for the Indy Fuel to start the 2017-18 campaign. I will admit that I didn’t have good vibes about his chances when he presence was required in Rockford following some injuries across the organization.

Why would I; Delia was 1-7-2 for the Fuel with a 4.12 GAA and a .887 save percentage. He looked like a baby deer in net in his first AHL in Iowa November 9. Oh, and he also hadn’t played at either the AHL or ECHL level in over a month when he got a second start against the Wild December 28.

A funny thing happened, though. Delia won that second start. After a few games, Delia started to settle in. The last few weeks, he’s been pretty solid in the IceHogs net, going 8-2-2 in the 12 games leading up to this week’s schedule.

This past week, he was flat-out brilliant.

Wednesday night, Delia stopped 38 shots, propelling Rockford to a 2-1 win over Texas. Saturday night, Delia shut out the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, stopping 34 shots in a 3-0 Hogs victory (UPDATE-Delia was named the CCM/AHL Player Of The Week Monday). If Rockford is to get on a roll late in this season, it might just be with the California Kid manning the pipes.

Jeff Glass hasn’t been bad since being returned to Rockford last week. On the other hand, Delia has denied 72 of the last 73 shots taken at him and has won his last four starts. Makes sense to ride the hot hand for a while.

It has been fun watching Delia find his groove over the last couple of months. On a team full of young prospects, he’s come the furthest from the humble beginnings to his pro career this past fall. If Delia’s not the most-improved IceHogs player this season, someone upstairs isn’t watching.

 

Press Impresses

Defenseman Robin Press, who is on an AHL contract with the IceHogs, has spent most of this season in the ECHL with Indy. On Friday, he was named the CCM/ECHL Player Of The Month for his play in February.

Press put up 16 points (5G, 11A) in 14 games and had a plus-seven rating during that time. For the season, he has nine goals and 24 apples in 38 games played. Press is the first defenseman to nab this monthly honor in the ECHL since 2003.

The 23-year-old converted forward has had limited appearances in Rockford over the last three seasons. He was scoreless in seven games for the IceHogs this season. In fact, Press has yet to register a point in 18 AHL contests.

Press is 6’3” and 210 pounds but hasn’t shown a real physical game in the time he has spent in Rockford. His defensive positioning has been an issue when I’ve seen him play at the AHL level. The Blackhawks have been intrigued about his potential, though not enough to get his name on an entry contract. However, his play in Indy suggests that Press might be worth consideration for a steady role in Rockford.

 

What’s That On My Screen?

As I am wont to do on a Wednesday night, I was in my basement taking in Rockford’s game with Texas. I called up the game on AHL Live a little late and tried to get into the swing of the game.

“Well, it’s not too bad,” I thought as I saw the score. “No score through the first half of the period.”

The key revelation in that anecdote is that I saw the score. For the first time in forever, the IceHogs had the score, time remaining and the period in the corner of the game broadcast. Rockford had finally provided this vital information for the interested viewer. Huzzah!

Of course, the scoreboard at (kind of) center ice at the BMO is currently on the fritz and doesn’t have that information, but I was in my basement, so who cares?

 

New Looks To The Roster

In last week’s post, I pointed out that Chicago could make a few paper moves to ensure that some of the current Blackhawks could take part in possible playoff action for the Hogs. That came to fruition, with the Blackhawks sending J.F. Berube, Carl Dahlstrom and David Kampf to Rockford until the trade deadline, when all three were duly recalled.

Also earning a call-up was Matthew Highmore, meaning that by NHL rules, the Hawks can only recall one more player this season, barring injury. That likely means that veteran players like Cody Franson, Adam Clendening and Chris DiDomenico will be spending the duration of the campaign in Rockford.

Lance Bouma was assigned to the IceHogs after clearing waivers; he skated in all three games this week and had a pair of helpers in Saturday’s win.

Clendening, by the way, has found his scoring touch in Rockford. In 21 games with AHL Tuscon, he had a goal and four assists. In 21 games with the IceHogs, he has two goals and 16 helpers.

 

Recaps

The IceHogs were a few minutes shy of grabbing points in all three games this week. However, they did win two of those contests. No lines again this week; I solemnly vow that I will have lines for next weekend’s action.

Wednesday, February 28-Rockford 2, Texas 1

Rockford won its second game in a row behind a 38-save performance by Collin Delia, besting the Stars in front of a healthy weeknight crowd at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

The Hogs power play got things started 14:46 into the opening period on what has become a potent strategy. Chris DiDomenico threaded a cross-ice pass to Cody Franson, who was waiting at the left dot. His one-timer got through the open back door of Texas goalie Mike McKenna for a 1-0 Rockford advantage.

The lead doubled early in the second period. The IceHogs wove their way into the Stars zone with some crisp passing. DiDomenico wound up with the puck near the left dot and dropped a backhand pass to Luc Snuggerud in the high slot. He didn’t get all of the biscuit on his one-timer, but the change-up got the best of McKenna and Rockford led 2-0 at the 4:20 mark.

The Stars got back to within a goal in the 13th minute on a Greg Rallo goal after Delia gave up a rebound in front of the crease. However, that was the only rubber the rookie would allow past him on this night. The Hogs couldn’t come up with any insurance; thanks to Delia, they didn’t need it.

 

Friday, March 2-Milwaukee 4, Rockford 1

With points on the table, the IceHogs let the game slip away in the closing minutes. Rockford dropped a key game to a division opponent despite allowing just 12 Admirals shots on goal.

The penalty kill gave up an early goal, with Alexandre Carrier holding in a clearing attempt and finding Emil Petterssen at the right dot. The resulting wrister beat Hogs goalie Jeff Glass to the near side, giving Milwaukee a 1-0 lead just 1:29 into the contest.

Rockford got back to even ground with a power play strike of its own 4:44 into the second period. Cody Franson collected a rebound of a Tyler Sikura shot and flung it past Ads goalie Anders Lindback to knot the game at a goal apiece.

That’s the way the score remained until late in the final frame. The Hogs had limited Milwaukee to just seven shots in the first 40 minutes of action and had several scoring opportunities wind up in Lindback’s glove.

With just over five minutes remaining in regulation, Anthony Louis juggled a clearing attempt from Franson on the neutral side of the Hogs blueline. Not surprisingly, it wound up in the back of Rockford’s net. Frederic Allard did the honors, finishing the 2-on-1 created by the turnover.

Two minutes later, Petterssen’s shot from the slot was blocked by Luc Snuggerud and hopped into the end boards. Mark Zengerle chased it down before hitting a wide open Petterssen in front of the Hogs net. Glass couldn’t make the stop and Milwaukee now led 3-1 at 17:05 of the third.

Former IceHogs forward Mark McNeill put a lid on the proceedings with an empty-net goal with 1:31 left. Rockford had out shot the Admirals 25-12 but came out of this game with nothing but a bus ride back to Illinois.

 

Saturday, March 3-Rockford 3, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 0

Another impressive Delia effort in net provided the backbone of the IceHogs victory. The rookie from Rancho Cucamonga, California recorded his first professional shutout in front of a sell-out audience at the BMO.

All the scoring Delia would need on this night came on a pretty bit of puck movement by Rockford midway through the first period. Chris DiDomenico got the action started from behind his net, backhanding a clearing pass to Lance Bouma along the left half boards.

Bouma skated up the left side, crossed into Penguins territory and sent a pass all the way across the zone to Luc Snuggerud. Snuggerud backhanded a centering pass to Anthony Louis, who was skating hard to the front of the net. Louis redirected the pass past goalie Etienne Marcoux to finish off a nifty lamp-lighter.

The score remained 1-0 Rockford until the puck drop to start the third period. Tyler Sikura won the draw, Bouma sent it back to Cody Franson and Franson hit Andreas Martinsen as he was about to enter the offensive zone. Martinsen took care of the rest.

Maneuvering past two Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenders, Martinsen battled his way toward the right post. With defenseman Kevin Czuczman draped all over him and with only his right hand on his stick, the big Norwegian somehow flipped the puck past Marcoux into the promised land.

At ten seconds, it was the fastest IceHogs goal to begin a period in the AHL history of the franchise. It put Rockford up 2-0 and in the driver’s seat for the rest of the way. Martinsen closed out the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:01 left.

Delia handled all 34 Penguins shots, including anchoring the Hogs penalty kill in six Wilkes-Barre/Scranton attempts. He was named the game’s first star, followed by Martinsen and Louis.

 

This Week

The IceHogs enter the most crucial portion of their schedule, starting Saturday night in Milwaukee. Rockford’s next ten games are against Central Division teams currently ahead of them in the standings.

Following Saturday’s tilt with the Admirals, the Hogs visit Chicago on Sunday. With chances to climb the division ladder enough to secure a playoff spot dwindling, Rockford has to consider each match-up a must-win.

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

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs haven’t fared well in overtime this season. This past weekend was a clear example of that deficiency.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate opened up their return from the All-Star break with a pair of losses. Both came in Gus Macker Time and extended Rockford’s most recent winless streak to seven games.

The IceHogs are currently 0-7 in overtime contests this season. It would be nice to chalk this up to the team’s current offensive woes. Unfortunately, it goes a little further than this year’s schedule.

Rockford has not won an overtime game in the past 13 months.