Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs last took the ice March 8, when they dropped an overtime game to the Chicago Wolves. The piglets had 13 games remaining in the 2019-20 season before the AHL suspended operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way things are beginning to look, the IceHogs and the AHL may be finished for the current season.

I don’t have the time to banter about the Blackhawks affiliate’s chances of returning to action in the immediate future. Maybe the season continues in some form. Maybe it doesn’t.

As I’ve been a hermit for the past six weeks or so, the Hogs have made some moves. Veteran forward Garrett Mitchell, who joined the team on a PTO February 6 and signed an AHL deal just before play was halted, will be back next season on a one-year deal.

The IceHogs also signed some youngsters to AHL ink, including goalie Tom Aubrun and forwards Riley McKay and D.J. Busdeker. Defenseman Jack Ramsey was re-upped by Rockford as well. There’s plenty of time to look forward. Let me take a quick look at my shoulder at the season that was…mostly was.

The IceHogs were 29-30-2-2 in 63 games. A more that solid opening two months gave way to struggles with injury and call ups. Additions like Mitchell, Gabriel Gagne and Ben Youds filled in some gaps and made for some interesting action this winter, if not entirely successful in terms of wins and losses.

Since the season has not officially been cancelled, there hasn’t been any mention by the team as to the season-ending awards typically given at the last home game of the season. Here’s how I saw those team awards as the regular season wound down.

 

Defensive Player Of The Year-Lucas Carlsson

Carlsson, unlike several of Rockford’s candidates in this category, was around for the bulk of the season. Philip Holm, the class of the first couple of months, asked for his release to ply his trade in Europe. Dennis Gilbert was up and down between Rockford and Chicago.

Ian McCoshen was hard-nosed and a regular face in the lineup. He took a lot of dumb penalties, though,  and was a minus-13 for the Hogs in 56 games.

Carlsson, on the other hand, made some strides from a defensive standpoint and led the Rockford blueline with 26 points (5 G, 21 A) in 48 games. He has outshone more regarded Blackhawks defensive prospects at the AHL level for the past two seasons.

The organization rewarded Carlsson with a call up; he appeared in six games with Chicago before the NHL suspended play.

 

Most Improved Player-Alexandre Fortin

I guess you could make a case for several players. However, if your looking for an example of a guy making a bigger impact based on his play from the season before, Fortin’s your man.

I’ve called out his finishing ability for much of the last three years. This season, Fortin put up a career-high eight goals in just 44 games. Despite spending a couple of stretches on the injured list, Fortin’s game added some sort of offensive element.

In the latter stages of the 2019-20 campaign, Fortin started to become a scoring threat after his feet generated opportunities. His shooting percentage, which was a paltry 4.3 percent in his rookie season two years ago, rose to 9.1 percent this season.

Not getting to finish the regular season was unfortunate for Fortin, who likely would have topped 100 shots (he had 88 when play ended) and career-high point production. Not sure if the Blackhawks re-sign him, but Fortin showed much-needed signs of life on the offensive end.

 

Rookie Of The Year-Brandon Hagel

This one isn’t even close. Hagel, who earned a call-up to Chicago in March, led Rockford with 19 goals. He was second in team scoring with 31 points. His four game-winning goals also paced the IceHogs.

Hagel being a no-brainer for this award doesn’t take away from the rookie season MacKenzie Entwistle had. Entwistle led Rockford newcomers with 15 assists and was tied with Carlsson for fourth in overall scoring with 26 points. Three of his 11 goals were of the game-winning variety. Entwistle showed up at both ends of the ice, accounting well for himself in 56 games.

Phillipp Kurashev’s freshman campaign was halted for a couple of months with a concussion suffered on December 29. Up until that point, Kurashev was starting to look very comfortable in the AHL game, with 16 points (5 G, 11 A) in his first 29 games. He returned at the end of February and wound up with seven goals and 12 helpers in 36 contests.

 

Unsung Hero-Nick Moutrey

One of Rockford’s AHL contracts, Moutrey was a regular in coach Derek King’s bottom six. He played physical, smart hockey in an energy role. His five-goal, six assist effort in 52 games was his best point production in the AHL since the 2016-17 season.

Moutrey wasn’t anything fancy. He just came out and did his job every night.

 

Heavy Hitter-Joseph Cramarossa

In a less-enlightened era, Cramarossa would likely have earned a moniker reflecting his willingness to tangle with a much bigger opponent. In this day and age, we’ll go with “Moxie Joe”. As in, “Jeez, Michael McCarron’s knocking our kids around the crease, but at 6’6″, 240, who’s gonna stop…look, there goes Moxie Joe!”

Mad respect to Cramarossa, who had no problem dropping gloves with several heavyweights for the IceHogs after coming aboard in late November. He also added a level of veteran presence following the retirement of Kris Versteeg.

Cramarossa chipped in with 12 points (5 G, 7 A) in 42 games, with a couple of shootout tallies (both of which won games against Grand Rapids). His eight fighting majors was second in the AHL; six of those came while rocking a Hogs sweater.

 

Man Of The Year-Collin Delia

The IceHogs announced earlier this month that Delia had been named the team’s representative for IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award. Delia was a ultra-visible presence in the Rockford community when he wasn’t anchoring the Hogs in net.

This is the second such award for Delia, who earned the award back in 2017-18.

Like that rookie season, it was an up and down affair for Delia. He struggled mightily out of the gate and was benched for the better part of three weeks. He was the Hogs main man in net for most of the last month of the season. Delia finished 2019-20 with a 2.66 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.

 

Team MVP-Tyler Sikura

Sikura The Elder narrowly edges out Sikura The Younger for M-V-P of R-F-D.

After an injury slowed his roll in 2018-19, Sikura led the IceHogs with 34 points (14 G, 20 A). His skater rating (plus-ten) was second to brother Dylan (plus-11) this season. He took over the captaincy after Versteeg left the team. He was Rockford’s best penalty killer and also had three power play goals.

Plus, he was instrumental in getting teammates Matthew Highmore and Dennis Gilbert to the BMO Harris Bank Center for Rockford’s Lego night. In his dreams, that is.

(FYI, all I had to do to find that video is go to YouTube and type in “Tyler Sikura’s LEGO Dream”. God bless the internet.

Dylan was one helper shy of Tyler’s point total, though he was only in Rockford for 45 games. When he wasn’t with the Blackhawks, Sikura The Younger was the offensive catalyst for a team that struggled to score at times this season.

 

Questions Answered?

Back in October, I posed several questions concerning the 2019-20 season. Hindsight being what it is, here are the questions I asked, plus the answers I received.

 

Who carries the scoring load?

What I said: “(Aleksi) Saarela, (Matthew) Highmore, Sikura the Younger, (Adam) Boqvist and (Chad) Krys.”

What actually happened: Saarela had 12 goals and 19 assists-after the Hawks traded him to Florida. Boqvist totaled six points (G, 5 A) in the 15 games he spent in Rockford. Highmore (4 G, 8 A in 21 games) spent most of the season in Chicago.

Krys never really got his offensive game on track; he didn’t put his first puck in a net until January 15. Krys finished the season with two goals and four assists in 24 games. This was a bit underwhelming, in my opinion, as I thought Krys would do a little more on the offensive side.

Carlsson was the only defender with offensive punch once Holm departed. Up front, it was Hagel, the Sikuras, John Quenneville (13 G, 9 A) and Entwistle that led the way. When all was said and done, however, Rockford lacked big-time point producers.

At 2.48 goals per game, the Hogs were the lowest scoring team in the Western Conference. Only Bridgeport (2.41) scored at a worse clip than Rockford.

 

Which rookies are going to impress early?

What I said: “Kurashev, Boqvist…and Hagel.”

What actually happened: Well, Boqvist impressed the Hawks enough for them to recall him after those aforementioned 15 games. Hagel started slowly in the first month, then had 11 goals and four assists in November and December.

Kurashev? Like Hagel, he was hitting his stride after getting a few games under his belt. He had five goals and nine helpers in the 21 games from November 6 until he was injured in Manitoba December 29.

 

Can Alexandre Fortin find an offensive game?

What I said: “I really, really hope so.”

What actually happened: I’ve documented the improvement in Fortin in terms of uniting rubber and twine earlier in this post. Whether he has enough scoring ability to make an NHL roster is still up for debate, but he certainly showed an increased offensive presence for the IceHogs.

 

How many games will Versteeg play?

What I said: He’ll play 60, with 16 goals and 16 assists. Anything above this is gravy. Heck, if he hits those numbers, its still gravy.

What actually happened: There was no gravy. There was barely any Versteeg.

The veteran picked up an assist in four games, then missed about a month with an injured hip. Versteeg gave it one more go for a pair of games in November before citing an inability to handle the AHL banging and getting out of Dodge.

The question regarding Versteeg entering the season was whether there was anything left in the tank. The spirit was willing, at least; Versteeg looked to have a great attitude in his second stint in Rockford. Unfortunately, his body couldn’t hold up it’s end of the bargain.

 

Can this team make the playoffs?

What I said: Well…first, the Hogs will need to find a way to get the best of the veteran-laden teams in their division like Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. It really depends on how quickly a team with 12 rookies can get up to speed in the AHL.

Can the piglets make the postseason? Sure. Will they? That’s for them to know and all of us to find out.

What actually happened: Well…you kind of know how this ended up.

Rockford was in fifth place in the Central Division, tied with the Wolves with 62 points. Chicago had a pair of games in hand on the Hogs, as did the bulk of the teams battling for that fourth playoff spot.

The IceHogs were 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Hagel and Carlsson were up with the Blackhawks, as were Highmore and defenseman Nicolas Beaudin. They were going to have to win nine or ten of their final 13 games to have a legit shot at a postseason spot.

Seven of those games were against Iowa and Milwaukee, who absolutely owned the Hogs this season. Rockford was 2-11 against those teams. Could the piglets have put together a run and made the Calder Cup Playoffs? Maybe, but I don’t know that they had it in them to reel off the required stretch. With the AHL season looking like it is kaput, that point is moot.

I’ll be back in a week or two to put a finer point on the IceHogs abbreviated season. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter and I’ll see if I can’t whip up some thoughts on the IceHogs while in captivity.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have had a three-goalie approach through the bulk of the 2019-20 campaign. With Kevin Lankinen undergoing shoulder surgery last week, it looked as if the Hogs would employ a more traditional two-man approach to the net.

Apparently, that’s not Rockford’s style this season.

The IceHogs inked Russian goalie Ivan Nalimov to a PTO Saturday. Nalimov, 25, has six seasons of experience in the KHL for a host of teams. He’s Chicago’s sixth-round selection from the 2014 NHL Draft.

Nalimov was released from his contract with HK Sochi when their season ended. In 24 games, he posted a 2.50 GAA and a .922 save percentage. With Lankinen on the shelf and Nalimov’s season over, this appears to be an opportune time to kick his tires.

I doubt that Nalimov has come all the way to Rockford to just sit around twiddling his thumbs. Look for him to get some action for the IceHogs. The question is…when?

Rockford has just come off a three-game weekend. They have this week off until Saturday, when they play Chicago at Allstate Arena. After hosting Milwaukee March 18, Rockford has a stretch of nine days in which they play six times.

Hogs coach Derek King has been riding Collin Delia the last couple of weeks. The Cucamonga Kid has played well and is more than capable of handling the workload. You have to wonder, though, just what Matt Tomkins is thinking right now.

Tomkins has performed well in Rockford, earning an NHL contract from the Hawks that runs until the end of next season. Since signing on January 24, he’s played in four of the Hogs next 20 games. He was solid in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Wolves. Now he’ll have Nalimov to share the few nights that Delia isn’t occupying the Rockford crease.

 

Snippets

  • Rockford earned three points in the standings this weekend. After scoring an impressive 4-0 win over Grand Rapids at the BMO Friday night, the piglets were shut out 3-0 by the Griffins at Van Andel Arena on Saturday. Sunday, Rockford dropped a 3-2 decision to Chicago, with the game-winner coming on a Wolves power play.
  • Delia’s 34-save shutout earned him First Star on Friday, but I left the BMO more impressed with the team effort against the Griffins. That might have been the best this group has played this season. It certainly was Rockford’s finest effort in a couple of months.
  • He wasn’t one of Friday’s Three Stars, but Alexandre Fortin was a big reason for the Hogs victory. His breakaway goal early in the second period gave Rockford a 2-0 advantage and the boys didn’t look back. Fortin was set up by a nice pass by Joni Tuulola, but the finish was outstanding. Waiting out Griffins goalie Pat Nagle, Fortin deked with the backhand before pulling the puck to the forehand and into Twine Town. It’s a play he hasn’t been able to make in previous seasons.
  • Fortin has been a honest-to-goodness threat to score the last month. In his last nine games, he has three goals. That pushes his season total to a career-high of eight. Not only is he getting pucks to the net, but the shots are challenging opposing goalies and have been creating frequent rebound opportunities.
  • T. J. Brennan has yet to post a goal for Rockford, though he has three assists in his six games with the IceHogs. At times, you can see the rust from a season in which he hadn’t played much for Lehigh Valley. However, it looks as if Brennan is going to get the chance to play his way into shape with the Hogs.
  • Gabriel Gagne put his sixth goal in his 19th game with Rockford. With Gagne nearing the end of his 25-game PTO, the Hogs signed him to an AHL contract for the remainder of the season, as well as the 2020-21 season. Smart move; Gagne now has 12 points in 21 games since coming aboard in January.
  • Dmitri Osipov earned an extension to his current AHL contract for the 2020-21 campaign. Osipov hasn’t played since February 21.
  • Tuulola has been a constant in the lineup in his second season. He is currently mired in a 36-game scoreless drought after finding the net in consecutive games November 30 and December 3. Tuulola may not hit last year’s point totals (4 G, 10 A), but he has been a pretty steady defender most of his sophomore campaign. His plus-five skater rating is the highest on Rockford’s blueline.
  • Rockford is tied with the Wolves with 62 standings points. At this stage of the season, however, the IceHogs chances for the postseason hinge on point percentage until the teams of the Central Division have played an even number of games. With a .492 percentage, Rockford is tied for sixth with Texas. Playoff position is going to have to be earned, as opposed to maintained.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are about to begin a three-game weekend with big-time playoff implications. Chicago’s AHL affiliate kicks things off with a home-and-home with Grand Rapids before paying a visit to Rosemont and the Chicago Wolves.

Here’s a quick look at what’s waiting for the IceHogs this weekend.

Both the Griffins and Wolves are ahead of Rockford in the Central Division standings. The Hogs have split the season series with Grand Rapids. Their rivals from Michigan have taken ten points out of the first eight games between the teams, compared to Rockford’s eight.

Both teams have won twice on the road in the season series, though in recent years the trend has favored the home team in the rivalry. Over the last five seasons, Rockford is 15-8 against the Griffins at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Grand Rapids owns a 15-4-2-2 mark against the Hogs at Van Andel Arena.

Things get started in Rockford Friday night. A split just isn’t going to be good enough with the Griffins. The piglets need points in regulation, especially against a team battling with them for the postseason.

Back on February 18, Grand Rapids beat the Hogs 2-1 in Rockford. Three of this season’s tilts have been decided by that score. The next two games should also be hotly contested.

Veteran Chris Terry is pacing the Griffins in scoring, with 20 goals and 30 assists on the season. Grand Rapids also gets offense from familiar faces like Matthew Ford (10 G, 16 A) and Matt Puempel (15 G, 22 A). Goalies Calvin Pickard and Pat Nagle have been excellent against Rockford, giving up just seven goals in five games between them.

Rockford enters the weekend with John Quenneville (13 G, 9 A) still out with a strained neck. Joseph Cramarossa’s phyiscal game would be a welcome addition to the Hogs lineup. However, he also may not be ready to play this weekend.

The big injury news comes with Rockford’s announcement Thursday that goalie Kevin Lankinen is finished for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Things may not have ended like Lankinen had hoped this year, but the net is still in the capable hands of Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins.

Could Delia play in three straight games this weekend? He’s been the primary man in goal since Lankinen left a February 13 game after the first period. It would probably make sense to use Tomkins on Saturday in Grand Rapids and give the net to Delia Friday and Sunday, when Rockford visits the Wolves.

Chicago has lost four straight, including Thursday’s 4-2 decision to Tucson. The Roadrunners are at Allstate Arena Saturday night before Rockford comes a calling on Sunday.

The Wolves have been a little undermanned of late. They did, however, knock off the Hogs 5-1 in Rosemont on February 23 and made the piglets look pretty bad in doing so. Rockford is 6-2 against Chicago this season. They can wrap up the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup for the first time in three years with a win in any of the last four meetings with the Wolves.

What’s really important, of course, is overtaking Chicago in the standings. That means getting the job done Sunday afternoon.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have 19 games remaining in the 2019-20 season. The piglets had a tough week, earning just two of eight possible points as they attempt to hold on to their playoff aspirations.

At the moment, I am watching the latter stages of the IceHogs 5-1 loss to Chicago in Rosemont. Monday brings the uncertainty of the NHL trade deadline and the turnover that may possibly ensue. How is Rockford equipped to push to the Calder Cup Playoffs over the next few weeks?

Well…it looks like the Hogs will have to get to the postseason largely on the players that have been toiling in Rockford most of the season. Unless they don’t.

The next few hours should tell quite the tale for both the Hawks and IceHogs. If a prospect is obtained in any trades made before the deadline, they will most certainly be sent to Rockford. We may also see a couple of paper transactions over the course of Monday.

Any player on an NHL roster as of the trade deadline is not eligible for the remainder of the AHL season, including the playoffs. That would include Lucas Carlsson, who made his NHL debut yesterday in Dallas.

We may see Carlsson reassigned to Rockford and brought up later Monday evening. Chicago may also choose to yo-yo some other waiver-exempt players down I-90. The short list could include Adam Boqvist, Matthew Highmore and Alexander Nylander. This would allow some young players to get in some extra game experience just in case (sigh) the Blackhawks don’t reach the playoffs.

Of course, if Chicago decides to punt on the season, it could mean a couple of IceHogs may depart to get looks with the Blackhawks or as part of a swap. If a goalie is sent to another club, I’d expect Collin Delia to slide into the backup role. With Kevin Lankinen out with an injury, Rockford may need to call up or sign a backup for Matt Tomkins should the situation dictate.

The bottom line is this; don’t expect the IceHogs roster to improve dramatically in the final two months. Anton Wedin and Phillipp Kurashev both returned to action after lengthy absences. On the other hand, John Quenneville left Sunday’s game with an injury and Hogs coach Derek King hinted that forward Joseph Cramarossa may have injured a shoulder in a fight with Chicago’s Jermaine Loewen.

Sunday’s loss to the Wolves stung, as they occupy the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Back on Tuesday night, Rockford dropped a 2-1 decision to third-place Grand Rapids. The IceHogs rebounded Friday, getting 28 saves from Collin Delia 28-saves to defeat San Antonio 1-0. However, Rockford was on the short end of a 7-2 shellacking in Milwaukee the following evening.

Rockford has now started a crucial stretch of games in which they play all of the teams currently battling for the third and fourth playoff spots in the Central Division. Rockford is in fifth place with 55 points in 57 games.

The Griffins are four points away. Chicago, who has two games in hand on the Hogs, are two points ahead. Just behind Rockford are San Antonio (54 points in 54 games and Texas (51 points in 53 games).

What does thee IceHogs schedule look like for the next three weeks? Rockford begins a road trip with games Wednesday and Friday in Texas. They play the Rampage Sunday afternoon, then return to the BMO March 6 against Grand Rapids. After visiting the Griffins on March 7, Rockford is back in Rosemont the next day against the Wolves. The piglets are then off six days before playing Chicago at Allstate Arena on March 14.

It’s pretty simple, really. To come out ahead of the pack, you need to beat those teams in regulation. The schedule makers have laid out all of the teams Rockford needs to knock off to vault into a playoff spot. It would have been nice to get started on a run Sunday, but it will have to wait until the Hogs get to Texas.

 

Additional Thoughts

  • Garrett Mitchell, signed to a PTO on February 6, has already made an impact in the Rockford locker room. Mitchell, in just his eighth and ninth games with the Hogs, was an alternate captain against the Admirals and Wolves.
  • Dennis Gilbert was involved in a post-game scrap with Grand Rapids defenseman Dylan McIlrath Tuesday. Gilbert wore a full face shield this weekend as a result.
  • The lone goal in Friday’s victory over the Rampage came in the first period came off the stick of Alexandre Fortin. It was a shorthanded triumph eight minutes in, set up by some Tyler Sikura hustle along the boards to gain access to the puck. Fortin took Sikura’s feed in the slot and sent a laser over the glove of Ville Husso.
  • The Hogs produced five goals in their four games this week. They were 0-14 on the power play. The goal scorers for Rockford this week were Carlsson, Fortin, Mitchell, Cramarossa and Brandon Hagel.
  • Kurashev was just beginning to show flashes of offense at the time of his injury in Manitoba. If he can pick up his production from where is was trending in December (3 G, 6 A), good for the Hogs.
  • Tomkins got his first action in net Saturday since being slapped with seven goals against Milwaukee back on February 1. Milwaukee scored six against him before Tomkins night ended in a goalie fight with the Admirals Troy Grosenick. Grosenick, by the way, is 9-0-2 against Rockford over the last two seasons.
  • Like I said a couple of weeks ago, Milwaukee has been feasting on the IceHogs the last two months. If Delia is brought up to Chicago this week, Tomkins may finally see some steady work after signing his NHL contract last month. That would be all right with me. I mean, why sign a guy if you aren’t going to send him out between the pipes on a regular basis?
  • Regardless of how the goalie tandem turns out in the next 24 hours, I think the fact that the Blackhawks now have three NHL contracts in goal should result in one of these goalies serving as an inexpensive backup next season to whomever is tapped to tend goal in Chicago.
  • Who’s to say that Delia can’t come up and be very effective? Does anybody remember when Corey Crawford went from long-time AHL starter to NHL success once he got the opportunity? Before Chicago signs five or six more goalies this summer, why don’t we see what one of the current youngsters can do in net?
  • Brandon Pirri, who scored twice for the Wolves Sunday afternoon, has 34 points (15 G, 19 A) in 37 games. That point total would lead the IceHogs through 57 games.
  • Could picking up one forward and one defenseman make a difference for Rockford’s chances? Heck, yeah, if it’s the right couple of players.  However, I would count the Hogs fortunate if their parent club could nab even one skater to provide a boost.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

As the AHL schedule begins to approach the finish line, the Rockford IceHogs were able to begin righting the ship after two months of rough seas. Chicago’s AHL affiliate won three straight games this past week and have now won five of their last six.

Rockford got the job done against basement dwellers, but the points count the same in the standings.  The Hogs will now have to parlay this stretch into the final two months of regular season action.

The recent wins have come against San Antonio, Texas, Manitoba and Cleveland. The former three teams sit below Rockford in the last three spots in the Central Division. The Monsters occupy last place in the North Division. Again, points are points.

All of the IceHogs remaining 23 games will be against division rivals. Four of those are with the Stars and three more with the Rampage. On the other end of the spectrum, Rockford has four games apiece with the top two teams in the Central, Milwaukee and Iowa. The Hogs are 1-6-1 against the Admirals and 1-3 against the Wild this season.

Rockford hosts Grand Rapids on Tuesday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center in the first of three games remaining in the season series. The Griffins are just above the IceHogs in the division standings, sitting in fourth place with 55 points. Rockford is 4-3 versus Grand Rapids this season, though both teams have earned eight points against the other.

With 75 and 70 points respectively, it is unlikely that the rest of the division will overtake Milwaukee and Iowa. The third place team in the Central right now? The Chicago Wolves, who have 55 points and a game in hand on the Griffins.

Rockford still has five tilts remaining with the Wolves. They have a 6-1 record against Chicago so far this season. Remaining dominant over their interstate rival would sure help the Hogs climb into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Of course, every game is going to be important for the IceHogs from here on in. It appears that two postseason spots are available in the Central Division, with the bottom six teams scrapping for them.

 

Sweeping The Week

Rockford won in Manitoba on back-to-back nights Wednesday and Thursday. They scored a 2-1 win in the first game behind a strong performance by goalie Kevin Lankinen, who made 28 stops. The Hogs went down a goal early but battled back, getting a second-period tally by Alexandre Fortin before John Quenneville potted the game-winner 4:47 into the final frames.

The following evening, Lankinen was back in net, making 16 saves in the opening period as the Hogs took a 2-0 advantage on goals by Joseph Cramarossa and Garrett Mitchell (who would later score and empty netter in the closing minutes). Collin Delia then came out for the last two periods in a 5-2 Rockford victory. Also lighting the lamp in Thursday’s win were Jacob Nilsson and Tyler Sikura.

Delia made the start Saturday against Cleveland, stopping 25 shots as the IceHogs won 4-1. Rockford went out to a 2-0 lead with first-period goals by Dylan Sikura and Brandon Hagel. Ian McCoshen picked up his first goal of the season midway through the third period. His second came with the Monsters net empty net late in the contest.

 

Musings On A Monday Morn

  • Matt Tomkins signed his NHL deal back on January 24. Since that signing, he has been used just once-a 7-1 loss to Milwaukee on February 1. Delia gave up seven goals to the Admirals last month. Of course, it wasn’t Matt Tomkins Bobblehead Night at the BMO Saturday. Hence, it wasn’t a surprise that Delia, who played really well and picked up an assist on the McCoshen empty-netter, got the start after relieving Lankinen in the previous game.
  • That said, it should be interesting how Tomkins is deployed in the immediate future. Lankinen obviously tweaked something Thursday and Rockford has four games this week, included a three-game weekend.
  • Dylan Sikura ran his points streak to ten games over the weekend. During that run, he has four goals and nine assists.
  • John Quenneville is in a stretch of eight games in which he has five goals. Two of those goals came via the power play. Two of the others were game-winners.
  • Brandon Hagel is now sixth among AHL rookies with 18 goals. His 27 points on the season has him 16th in rookie scoring. Hagel has goals in five of the last nine games.
  • Lucas Carlsson owns a six-game points streak heading into Tuesday night’s game with Grand Rapids. He has three assists in six games against the Griffins. Carlsson has really emerged as the team’s go-to defenseman in terms of getting the puck up the ice.
  • The rest of Rockford’s blueline has evolved into a pretty physical bunch. Dennis Gilbert, McCoshen, Joni Tuulola and Dmitri Osipov are all bigger players that have made the Hogs a bit tougher to play against. The level of competition was down a bit from earlier this month, but I thought the IceHogs were better defensively the last couple of weeks in terms of limiting shots.
  • With a week before the NHL trade deadline, there may still be a chance that an impact player will join the Hogs as part of a swap involving the Blackhawks. If not, it may come down to Rockford making its own attempt to bolster the roster.
  • Garrett Mitchell, signed to a PTO February 6, has five games with the IceHogs. He had a pair of goals Thursday night and added an assist on Cramarossa’s goal Saturday. Mitchell is a nice pickup for Rockford. He well-versed in the physical nature of the AHL and skates hard at both ends of the ice.
  • With Nick Moutrey injured at the moment, Mitchell will capably fill Moutrey’s role in the bottom six. PTO Gabriel Gagne has also been a solid contributor for Rockford, with seven points (3 G, 4 A) in 13 games.
  • Defenseman Josh McArdle was up with Rockford this past week. He did not see action before teh IceHogs sent him back down to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel on Saturday. Also returning to Indianapolis was forward Liam Coughlin, who skated in two games for Rockford after being recalled February 1.

 

Busy Week

After facing Grand Rapids at the BMO Tuesday, the IceHogs have three games in three nights over the coming weekend. Rockford will play host to San Antonio Friday night before hitting the road for Milwaukee Saturday. On Sunday, the Hogs have an afternoon date with the Wolves in Rosemont.

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

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs end a six-game home stand this weekend against the San Antonio Rampage. Rockford has been trying to get its arrow pointed up for some time. A nice win over Texas on Tuesday night has the team entering Friday’s action on the positive tip.

The IceHogs posted a 5-2 victory against the Stars, with goals from Dylan Sikura, John Quenneville, Gabriel Gagne, Brandon Hagel and Dennis Gilbert. Collin Delia fended off 35 shots to help get Rockford a much-needed win.

Hagel continues to be the standout rookie on the IceHogs this season. His 17 goals lead the club and places him in a tie for fourth among freshmen goal scorers. With 25 points on the season, Hagel is 15th among rookies.

Sikura the Younger’s tally was his twelfth of the campaign, tying him with brother Tyler for second place in team scoring. Sikura the Elder leads Rockford with 29 points (12 G, 17 A).

 

Roster News

Dylan Sikura did leave Tuesday’s game in the second period. However, Jacob Nilsson was back in action after a kneeing incident last Friday. Nick Moutrey did not skate on Tuesday after being injured last weekend.

The IceHogs released Peter Quenneville from his tryout contract this week, signing veteran skater Garrett Mitchell to a PTO on Thursday. Mitchell was a long-time member of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, though he has been primarily an ECHL player this season. Rockford also sent D Jack Ramsey back to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Thursday.

 

Bringing Brandon Bollig Back To The BMO

Former IceHogs forward Brandon Bollig will be at the puck-dropping ceremony at the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday night. Bollig spent parts of three seasons with the IceHogs. He is second all-time to Jake Dowell on Rockford’s AHL leader board with 44 fighting majors.

Bollig was an undrafted free agent who wound up playing five NHL seasons and winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013. I’ll remember Bollig for the ecstatic grin he wore as he hammered away at an opponent. Which he would do regularly.

This year’s IceHogs team, by the way, is up to 18 fighting majors heading into the weekend. At this pace, this will be the feistiest Rockford teams in several seasons. Joseph Cramarossa leads the Hogs in this category with five scraps, while Dmitri Osipov has dropped the gloves four times.

 

Rampage On The Road (To Vegas)

Visiting San Antonio, in the midst of a ten-game road jaunt, was purchased by the Vegas Golden Knights for the purpose of moving the franchise to Nevada this fall. The Rampage sit right below the Hogs in the seventh spot in the Central Division as they pull into the BMO for games on Friday and Saturday.

Rockford is 2-1 against San Antonio this season. They last saw the Rampage in Texas back in November, when they split the last two games of their Lone Star swing.

San Antonio was shut out by Iowa Wednesday night. Like Rockford, the Rampage have struggled of late, having just three wins in their last ten games. San Antonio leads the league with 33.30 shots per game Though they have had trouble getting those shots into the net, this could be a factor this weekend since the IceHogs have been giving up a lot of shots themselves.

Defenseman Derrick Pouliot paces San Antonio with 32 points (6 G, 26 A). Two of those goals have come against Rockford. The Rampage have two 18-goal scorers in Nathan Walker and Mike Vecchione.

Ville Husso has had the bulk of the workload in the San Antonio net. Husso is 11-13-8 this season with a 2.94 GAA and an .898 save percentage. Rockford may also see Adam Wilcox (5-6-3, 2.92, .881) between the pipes this weekend.

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

 

 

 

 

Hockey

It was another disappointing weekend for the Rockford IceHogs. Rockford’s current losing streak reached six games with home losses to Manitoba and Milwaukee.

The Hogs managed a point against the Moose before falling 4-3 in a shootout Friday. The following evening, the Admirals cleaned Rockford’s clock, scoring the game’s first three goals before cruising to a 7-1 rout of the IceHogs.

Rockford, now 20-24-1-2, is in the midst of a stone-like decent into the depths of the AHL’s Central Division. The IceHogs sit in seventh place, just a point above Manitoba with a game in hand on the Moose.

As I prepared to dig into the week that was for Rockford, I took a quick scan of the Facebook group of IceHogs season ticket holders. It isn’t surprising to see a lot of angst in the tone of the comments; not with Rockford owning a 3-15-1-1 record over the last six weeks of play.

Several theories were being tossed out over the weekend. Most involved leveling blame at Hogs coach Derek King. To paraphrase the sentiments, King doesn’t coach the players during the game. King isn’t utilizing the wealth of talent in Rockford. King isn’t developing the players. King should be fired.

Usually, when I run across comments I don’t necessarily agree with, I just move on with my life. On rare occasions, when I disagree strongly enough, I will post my thoughts. Yesterday was one of those occasions.

What follows is the post I created in response to the torch and pitchfork set that seem to be ignoring the makeup of the current roster and calling for the head of King on a platter. As the topic of the IceHogs woes was basically what I had planned to discuss here this week, I’ve elaborated on the original post via italics.

 

My Facebook Post-Sunday, February 2, 10:45 a.m.

Don’t often post on here, but here goes…

I’m as frustrated at the current state of the IceHogs as the next fan. That said, a lot of that frustration is being channeled away from the main issues with this team.

Rockford was set up this fall with very inexperienced skaters. Ones with potential, but nearly completely untested in the professional ranks. This group was not supplemented with veteran talent to speak of. A healthy Versteeg wasn’t going to be enough.

This was an issue of concern throughout the summer when the Hawks organization left the cupboard bare in terms of stocking the Hogs with a few solid veterans.

The Hogs showed decent chemistry early and were winning at a pretty impressive rate. Then several top scorers were recalled. Other top scorers were injured. Add more injuries and a slew of games with the league studs and this is the result.

Rockford has been defeated by Milwaukee six times in the last three weeks. 

How would the roster of mid-November have fared with the Ads? Would have been fun to watch, but that hasn’t been possible. The depleted roster currently on hand has been fairly whipped.

That Milwaukee roster, btw, is the polar opposite of Rockford’s. Lots of experienced players with 4-5 years of AHL experience sprinkled in with some impressive youngsters. Stick tap for what that group has done so far this season. I think I gushed enough about the Admirals in last week’s post

The only remedy for the Hogs even hoping to reach a level we saw earlier this year is:

A. Getting completely healthy (Wedin, Nilsson, Kurashev, etc.) Nilsson was injured Friday night, along with Nick Moutrey, continuing the theme of players missing in action this season. Also missing for a lengthy stretch are Mikael Hakkarainen and AHL signing Matthew Thompson.

B. The Blackhawks obtaining 2-3 AHL veterans to bolster this lineup in trades (don’t hold your breath).

C. Derek King breaking multiple clipboards and screaming incessantly at the rookies and ECHL call-ups.

Hold up. “C” isn’t going to do a darn thing. Neither will firing King. Or any of the other coaches/team staff. Or imploring the piglets to try harder.

This isn’t Derek King’s fault. It’s his mess with which to deal, but he certainly did not create said mess. The Hogs organization has been scrambling to bring in pieces, but it’s hard for the AHL contracts to collectively raise Rockford’s fortunes.

The talent the fire-King contingent point to has been hurt or called up. Guys like Tyler Sikura and Brandon Hagel have been playing well, but all the emergency call-ups have left the Hogs coach with a slew of new faces that have been thrown into the mix. It stands to reason that such a group would have trouble meshing on the ice.

All we can do as fans is hope things get straightened out in terms of team health and that the Hogs can start winning games again. I know most of you follow the roster movements. This is extreme, but typical of an AHL season as far as players going in and out of the lineup.

Again, frustrating as all get out; unfortunately, that where the IceHogs are heading into the last three months of the season.

 

Looking Back At A Couple Of Trades

Earlier this season, the Blackhawks sent forward Aleksi Saarela to the Florida Panthers in exchange for defensemen Ian McCoshen. At the time, Rockford was bursting with forwards and needed some help stabilizing the back end.

Since the deal occurred October 23, Saarela has logged 38 games with Springfield, with 26 points (11 G, 15 A).  Those numbers would be good enough for second among IceHogs scorers this season. Tyler Sikura leads the club with 28 points (12 G, 16 A).

McCoshen has been a constant on the Rockford blueline, but hasn’t been particularly impressive in his 40 games with the IceHogs. He has six assists for Rockford this season.

Another player obtained by trade for the IceHogs was F Joseph Cramarossa, who arrived in exchange for Graham Knott back on November 20 in a trade between Chicago and Pittsburg. Cramarossa isn’t a prolific scorer by any means, but has chipped in with three goals and six helpers in his 32 games for Rockford.

Knott is scoreless in three games with Pittsburg’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He has played 13 games for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers with two goals and five assists.

 

Roster Moves

Dennis Gilbert was recalled by Chicago on Wednesday last week. In the corresponding move, Rockford brought up D Jack Ramsey from the Indy Fuel. Ramsey did not play in either game for the Hogs this weekend.

On Saturday, the IceHogs recalled F Dylan Coughlin from the Fuel after Jacob Nilsson and Nick Moutrey left Friday’s game with injuries.

 

This Week

Rockford holds court at the BMO Harris Bank Center this week, hosting the Texas Stars on Tuesday night. Texas has won seven of its last ten and beat the IceHogs 1-0 in the last meeting between the two teams on January 22. The piglets will wrap up the home stand this weekend, with games with San Antonio on Friday and Saturday.

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs faced the best team in the AHL twice this weekend. They were soundly defeated in both tilts.

Following Saturday’s game, the league went on its All-Star break. Rockford’s equipment managers should take the impending free time to sew a patch onto the IceHogs sweaters.

One that reads “Property Of The Milwaukee Admirals”.

Milwaukee has been outstanding through 45 games this season. They sport a 31-8-4-2 mark and a .756 points percentage. They now sit atop the AHL with 68 standings points, nine more than any other team in the league.

The Ads boast the best goalie tandem in the league, with Connor Ingram and Troy Grosenick combining for a 2.16 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Combined with the AHL’s top power play (25.7%), the league’s sixth-best offensive output (3.36 goals per game) and a fast-paced, aggressive brand of hockey, Milwaukee is taking it to the opposition on a nightly basis.

Rockford has faced off with the Admirals seven times since the first meeting of the teams this season on December 7. In those games, the IceHogs have gone 1-6 and been outscored 26-12. The lone win came on December 10; all Kevin Lankinen had to do that night was make 55 saves to propel Rockford to a 2-1 overtime victory.

The last three confrontations with Milwaukee have resulted in three-goal losses, including both games this past weekend. Following a physical affair in Milwaukee Friday, Hogs coach Derek King was left without a full set of forwards. Even with rookie Tim Soderlund returning to the lineup, King iced ten healthy forwards, used defenseman Ben Youds as a forward and went with seven defensemen.

The Admirals had no issues using their depth advantage this weekend. Milwaukee camped out in high-danger scoring areas and whaled away at Rockford goalies Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Both saw their goals against average rise thanks to Milwaukee.

I’ll attempt resembling a broken record, but the All-Star break comes at a good time for the Hogs. Somehow, they have to get healthier and in a new mindset following a span in which they have lost 14 of their last 17 games.

Rockford gets back at it with two games at home this coming weekend. The piglets host Manitoba on Friday night, followed by a Saturday contest with…you guessed it…the Admirals Juggernaut.

 

Roster Happenings

On Saturday, Rockford sent goalie Chase Marchand, who they have on an AHL deal, back to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.

Phillipp Kurashev, Mikael Hakkarainen, Anton Wedin and Matthew Thompson continue to be unavailable due to injury. John Quenneville sat out the weekend as well.

Alexandre Fortin, Dylan McLaughlin and Peter Quenneville were all scratches on Saturday.

 

Recaps

Friday, January 24-Milwaukee 7, Rockford 4

Rockford picked up the scoring but couldn’t keep the Ads out of the net, opening the weekend home-and-home series with a loss.

The IceHogs snapped a seven-game scoreless streak early in the game. Dylan Sikura took a shot at goal nine seconds into a Rockford power play. His offering glanced off the stick of Milwaukee’s Jared Tinordi and sailed by Ads goalie Troy Grosenick 3:39 into the game for a 1-0 Hogs lead.

Milwaukee answered on their first man advantage a few minutes later. Alexadre Carrier set up Frederick Gaudreau at the left circle for a one-timer that beat Rockford goalie Collin Delia to the cord. The goal tied the game 1-1 6:15 into the first.

The Ads took a 3-1 advantage after Mathieu Olivier and Mikka Salomakki got pucks past Delia at 10:59 and 14:54, respectively. Rockford would close the gap to 3-2 late in the period on MacKenzie Entwistle’s power play goal. The breakaway attempt was set up by a finely-threaded pass from Nicolas Beaudin. Entwistle skated across the crease and backhanded the puck over Grosenick.

Milwaukee ran out to a 5-2 lead after Gaudreau and Eeli Tolvanen hit on power play markers 20 seconds apart in the opening 67 seconds of the middle frame. The Hogs climbed back into the contest with a pair of their own.

Chad Krys found the back of the net from the blueline at the 4:56 mark to close to within two goals. Three minutes later, the power play came up big for the third time in the game. This time, Brandon Hagel put back a rebound of Gabriel Gagne’s shot 8:34 into the period to cut the Milwaukee lead to 5-4.

The Admirals went up 6-4 following some nifty passing that ended with Rem Pitlick knocked in Tolvanen’s pass at the right post at the 14:50 mark. Milwaukee stretched the lead to 7-4 on Daniel Carr’s goal 4:33 into the third period.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson-MacKenzie Entwistle

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Alexandre Fortin-Peter Quenneville-Dylan McLaughlin

Chad Krys-Dennis Gilbert

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian McCoshen (A)

Collin Delia

Kevin Lankinen

Power Play (3-8)

Carlsson-Hagel-D. Sikura-Gagne-Nilsson

Beaudin-McLaughlin-Entwistle-T. Sikura-Fortin

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 3-7)

Forwards: Nilsson-Johnson-Moutrey-Fortin-T. Sikura

Defense: Tuulola-Gilbert-Krys-McCoshen

 

Saturday, January 25-Milwaukee 5, Rockford 2

The IceHogs dropped the back half of the home-and-home, losing to the Admirals at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Rockford opened the scoring as they had the previous evening, on the power play. MacKenzie Entwistle got inside position on his defender and was on hand to send the rebound of Ben Youds shot attempt past Admirals goalie Connor Ingram. At 10:09, the piglets owned a 1-0 lead.

From that point on, Milwaukee took over. Eeli Tolvanen tied the game at the 11:42 mark with a put back in front of Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen. Michael McCarron’s presence in the crease yielded a pair of goals in the second period to stake the Admirals to a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes.

Milwaukee pressed its advantage in the final frame, with Tanner Jeannot and Daniel Carr finding the back of the net midway through the third. Rockford picked up a late goal at the 18:30 mark when Tyler Sikura redirected a Chad Krys blast from the point.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Rockford employed seven defensemen tonight and skated an eighth (Ben Youds) as a forward.

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson-MacKenzie Entwistle

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Tim Soderlund-Ben Youds

Dennis Gilbert-Ian McCoshen (A)

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Dmitri Osipov-Nicolas Beaudin-Chad Krys

Kevin Lankinen

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-4)

Carlsson-Hagel-D. Sikura-Gagne-Nilsson

Beaudin-Soderlund-Entwistle-T. Sikura-Youds

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 1-4)

Forwards: Nilsson-Johnson-Moutrey-Cramarossa-Soderlund-T. Sikura

Defense: Tuulola-Gilbert-Krys-McCoshen

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The offensive woes of the Rockford IceHogs were on full display this week. Twice the piglets took to the BMO Harris Bank Center ice. Twice they came away with nothing.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate was beaten Monday afternoon by Belleville, then dropped a Wednesday night decision to Texas. The IceHogs were shut out in both contests.

The last time a Rockford squad was held scoreless two games in a row came in March 25 and 28 of 2017, when Grand Rapids and Iowa held the Hogs without a goal. That season, a dismal IceHogs team averaged a league-worst 2.30 goals per game.

Over Rockford’s last 15 games, the team is scoring at a 1.53 goals per game clip. The Hogs have been shut out three times and held to a single goal four times during that span.

Wednesday’s loss to the Stars left the IceHogs with a 20-21-1-1 mark, good for sixth place in the AHL’s Central Division. With 42 points and a .488 points percentage, Rockford is still right there in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Hogs are still within reach of the Stars, Chicago and Grand Rapids with 33 games remaining on the schedule. They’ve just picked a poor time to be spinning their tires.

 

Roster News

Dennis Gilbert and Brandon Hagel have been doing the I-90 shuffle this week, taking part in both games for the Hogs between trips to Chicago. Both should be with Rockford through the weekend’s games with Milwaukee.

On Wednesday, Nathan Noel was sent back to the Indy Fuel. Spencer Watson was released from his PTO and returned to the Fuel as well.

 

Tomkins Signs NHL Contract

Matt Tomkins was a hard luck loser against Texas, stopping 30 shots and coming out on the short end of a 1-0 score. On Thursday, it was announced that the goalie had signed a two-year contract with the Blackhawks.

Tomkins, Chicago’s seventh-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, toiled for the Fuel for most of his first two pro seasons while on an AHL deal with Rockford. He’s been with the IceHogs for the bulk of this season, save for his stint with Team Canada in the Spengler Cup.

Tomkins is currently the team leader in goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.916), though he has just nine starts on the season. Collin Delia has been playing well of late, shutting out the Wolves Sunday afternoon in his latest start. Kevin Lankinen, who was the Hogs best goalie in the early going and is Rockford’s representative in the AHL All Star Classic, has struggled a bit in the last month.

The three-man net takes on a different perspective with this signing. The Blackhawks now have three NHL prospects at the goalie position in Rockford. It’s hard not to imagine one of those goalies being dealt at the trade deadline to create more development time for the other two. For now, Hogs coach Derek King will have to find time for all three players.

 

Recaps

Monday, January 20-Belleville 3, Rockford 0

Belleville broke open the game in the third period to hand the Hogs the loss.

Josh Norris scored on the power play 3:36 into the second period for a 1-0 Senators advantage. Two goals early in the third period spelled doom for Rockford. Alex Formenton lit the lamp 2:49 into the final frame. Three minutes later, Joseph LaBate got his attempt by IceHogs goalie Kevin Lankinen to close out the scoring.

Rockford was 0-4 on the man advantage. The Hogs got 23 shots on goal, all stopped by Belleville goalie Filip Gustavsson. Lankinen stopped 26 of 29 shots on the afternoon.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Quenneville-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Joseph Cramarossa-MacKenzie Entwistle-Alexandre Fortin

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Peter Quenneville

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Nicolas Beaudin-Ian McCoshen (A)

Chad Krys-Dennis Gilbert

Kevin Lankinen

Collin Delia

 

Wednesday, January 22-Texas 1, Rockford 0 

Rockford was shut out for the second game in a row wasting a terrific performance by goalie Matt Tomkins.

After a scoreless opening period, Texas took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Riley Tufte at 4:25 of the middle frame. The Stars prospect took the biscuit away from Rockford’s Jacob Nilsson, skated to the front of the net and sent a backhand past Tomkins.

That would be the only mark in this contest. Tomkins wound up with 30 saves in a losing effort, but the Stars Landon Bow turned away all 29 shots the Hogs threw at him.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Brandon Hagel-Jacob Nilsson (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle

Dylan Sikura-Tyler Sikura (C)-Gabriel Gagne

Alexandre Fortin-Peter Quenneville-Dylan McLaughlin

Nick Moutrey-Reese Johnson-Joseph Cramarossa

Chad Krys-Dennis Gilbert

Joni Tuulola-Lucas Carlsson

Ian McCoshen (A)-Ben Youds

Matt Tomkins

Collin Delia

 

Admirals Weekend

The IceHogs have a big home-and-home with first-place Milwaukee coming up this weekend. Friday’s tilt is in Milwaukee, with the two teams returning to the BMO on Saturday.

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

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have seen the midpoint of the 2019-20 season come and go. It has been an up and down campaign for the piglets. A young bunch of Hawks prospects gelled early in the season and was playing well in the first three months.

Then Hogs began being called up. And injured. And injured some more.

The IceHogs have struggled as the calendar turned, going 3-4-1-1 in January after dropping their final four games in December. In the nine games this month, Rockford has managed just 1.56 goals per contest.

With no fortification from above on the immediate horizon, the IceHogs signed a slew of players to tryout agreements. Three of the ECHL’s top point-producers, Spencer Watson (January 5), Peter Quenneville (January 11) and Gabriel Gagne (January 18), all inked PTOs with Rockford. The Hogs signed Joshua Winquist to a PTO on January 6, releasing him from the deal after three games of action.

Watson skated five games for Rockford before an injury. Gagne made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist in Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Wolves. Quenneville has appeared in four games since coming aboard.

The list of injured players is lengthy. Rockford has had to skate with just 11 forwards on numerous occasions over the last few weeks. With John Quenneville, Dylan Sikura and now Brandon Hagel returning to the Hogs after stints in Chicago, perhaps better times are coming.

Rockford is still in the hunt for a playoff berth 41 games into the season. They are fifth in the Central Division with a .512 points percentage.  After Milwaukee and Iowa, any of the six remaining Central teams could surge into the third and fourth-place positions.

Here’s a look at how things stand in Winnebago County, starting with the infirmary…I mean, the forwards.

 

Forward

Tyler Sikura has been the constant in the IceHogs lineup. The captain is Rockford’s top scorer, with 24 points (11 G, 13 A). He also leads the team with a plus-eight skater rating.

Both John Quenneville (8 G, 7 A) and Dylan Sikura (9 G, 8 A) were a big part of the Hogs early season success. Jacob Nilsson (6 G, 12 A) has also been a steady presence in the lineup. Like Sikura the Elder, Nilsson has been on the ice for all 41 of Rockford’s games.

Brandon Hagel (13 G, 8 A) was easily the club’s top-performing rookie over the first half. He was recalled by the Blackhawks this past week but has been reassigned without taking part in a game. MacKenzie Entwistle (7 G, 10 A) has been one of the Hogs bright spots this month, showing game at both ends of the ice.

Just as Phillipp Kurashev was beginning to heat up in his rookie season, he suffered a concussion in Manitoba on December 29. He hasn’t played since. Rookie Tim Soderlund has been out of the lineup since January 3. Mikael Hakkarainen missed most of the first three months with an injury. He played seven games for Rockford before a January 5 injury shelved him again.

Anton Wedin, another solid two-way player for the IceHogs, last played on December 31. Matthew Thompson, who was recalled from Indy to help fill out the roster, promptly was injured January 3. Alexandre Fortin has been on the shelf a couple of times this season but has been back in the lineup this past week.

Joseph Cramarossa, who has three goals and six helpers in 26 games since arriving via trade in November, has provided experience and stability on the Hogs bottom six. His shootout tally gave Rockford a big win in Grand Rapids on Thursday night. AHL contract Nick Moutrey (4 G, 3 A) has also played well in a fourth-line role.

Defense

Philip Holm, Rockford’s best defenseman of the first three months, opted out of his contract to play in Europe. This has left a void on the back end.

Nicolas Beaudin (2 G, 8 A) hasn’t been spectacular in his first 38 games as a pro. I haven’t been enamored by his hockey sense like others have been. He’s had his share of rookie gaffes and his passing hasn’t been as sharp as you’d like to see. That said, he is showing some improvement and should get lots of opportunity to refine his game in the next few months.

Lucas Carlsson has been the Hogs most noticeable performer aside from Holm. With four goals and a dozen assists, Carlsson has also shown some quality puck-handling skills. His plus-six rating is tops among the defense.

I thought Chad Krys (1 G, 4 A) would have a bit more impact on the scoreboard than he has. Krys did pick up his first AHL goal in Thursday’s win over Grand Rapids. Joni Tuulola (2 G, 3 A) has probably been as steady from a defensive standpoint as anyone the fist half.

Ian McCoshen joined the team after the Hawks traded Alexi Saarela to Florida back in October. He has contributed some snarl to the blueline, along with some dumb penalties and six helpers since his arrival in Rockford.

Ben Youds is in Rockford on a PTO. He’s been a regular in the lineup since signing on December 9, even skating as a forward for coach Derek King when things got too thin up front. Dmitri Osipov was recalled from Indy December 7 and has provided solid minutes.

On Sunday, the Blackhawks reassigned Dennis Gilbert to Rockford. This move gives the Hogs another player who can help their cause. Gilbert played 20 games in Chicago with a goal and two assists. The big defenseman has just 11 games with the IceHogs this season.

Goalie

IceHogs net-minders have a combined goals against average of 2.87 and a .908 save percentage. By and large, this has been the strength of the team. The three goalies have faced a lot of high-percentage shots and kept Rockford in a lot of games.

Matt Tomkins has made a case for an NHL entry deal, posting a 5-3 record with a team-low 2.62 GAA. He also helped Team Canada win the Spengler Cup.

After struggling mightily in the first two months, Collin Delia found himself out of the mix for a couple weeks in November. Since December 3, the Cucamonga Kid has been stellar, going 6-3 with a 1.59 GAA and a .949 save percentage.

Kevin Lankinen is Rockford’s lone All-Star selection, though his has had some struggles over the last few weeks. Currently, Lankinen sports a 3.03 GAA to go with a .908 save percentage.

Collectively, this three-way in goal has been pretty good for Rockford. Again, they have fended off pressure from opponents on a nightly basis and is a big reason the Hogs have been competitive.

 

Tidbits Good And Bad

  • The power play is the worst in the AHL’s Western Conference, connecting on just 10.7 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
  • The penalty kill is 28th in the league, at 78.2 efficiency.
  • The IceHogs are 12-8 at home and 8-11-1-1 away from the BMO this season. Unlike previous seasons, the remaining schedule is pretty balanced between home and road games.
  • Cramarossa’s six fighting majors places him tied for second in the AHL in the catagory. With 15 FMs on the season, Rockford is tied for tenth in the league. The Hogs have been a bit feistier than in recent seasons.
  • The piglets are 4-1 in overtime games and are 3-1 in shootouts.
  • On Sunday, the IceHogs recalled G Chase Marchand from the Indy Fuel. Marchand hasn’t manned the net for the Fuel in over a month. He did make ten starts for Indy this season, most coming in November. He was 4-6 with a 2.56 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

 

First Semester Grade: B

…and a solid one at that. This team is primarily comprised of greenhorns. Healthy or not, the Hogs have played hard. When healthy, Rockford has shown that they can play with the best teams in the Central Division. Even as crushing as the injury situation has been, the 20-19-1-1 record is very respectable and has the IceHogs in playoff contention.

The key, of course, is how the roster evolves in the next couple of months. Getting players like Wedin, Kurashev and Soderlund upgrades the Hogs nearly as much as getting Quenneville and Sikura back.

Maybe some veteran depth is provided for Rockford in a trade down the line. Perhaps not. The IceHogs sure could use some experienced scoring types in the final months of the season. However, a healthy batch of piglets could make things interesting down the stretch.

 

Back To The Grind

The Hogs split four games last week, losing 4-1 to Milwaukee Tuesday night before spitting two games in Grand Rapids Wednesday and Friday. Sunday, Rockford blanked the Wolves in Rosemont.

This week is another busy stretch for the IceHogs. Monday afternoon sees them playing Belleville at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Wednesday, they host Texas. A home-and-home with the division-leading Admirals is on the docket for the weekend. Friday’s tilt is in Milwaukee; the teams are in Rockford Saturday night.

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