Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have 16 games under their belt entering the month of December. The piglets kicked off November with a pair of wins in Manitoba. The IceHogs are hoping to do the same this weekend with games Friday and Sunday up in Winnipeg.

Rockford (9-5-2-0, 20 points) sits in second place in the Central Division standings. The IceHogs are right in the hunt for the division lead with Texas (23 points) and Milwaukee (19 points). Rockford, along with the Stars and Admirals, have created a bit of separation at the top of the Central. The Hogs aim to stay in the upper echelon; the first step towards that goal is waiting for them up in Manitoba.

The IceHogs own a 3-0 mark over Manitoba this season. Most recently, Rockford defeated the Moose 6-2 at the BMO Center on November 22. The Hogs welcomed former goalie Collin Delia back to town, then dropped a six-pack in his net in the first 40 minutes of action.

Following a November 12 clunker in Rosemont in which the last-place Chicago Wolves dealt Rockford a 5-0 defeat, the IceHogs finished the month strong. They enter this weekend’s action on a six-game point streak. Rockford has gone 4-0-2 over the past two weeks to finish November with a 6-3-2 mark.

Solid Opening For Rockford

How has the season been so far? Rockford has been good, if not dominant. They’ve had moments where they’ve defended very well but have struggled for consistency in this area. Even more so than last year, Rockford is dependent on their veteran scoring. This could be problematic with Joey Anderson (7 G, 9 A) and Cole Guttman (3 G, 6 A), two of the Hogs top scorers being recalled to Chicago last week.

David Gust (6 G, 10 A) and Brett Seney (6 G, 7 A) currently pace Rockford on the offensive end. Anders Bjork (4 G, 9 A) has been a welcome addition, as has rookie forward Colton Dach (5 G, 5 A), who joined the team after recovering from a preseason injury. On November 24 in Rockford, Dach factored in both IceHogs goals in a 2-1 overtime win over the Admirals.

On the blueline, Ethan Del Mastro (1 G, 8 A) has been a bright spot on what has been a very young group in recent weeks due to call-ups and injuries.

Rockford will likely start rookie Drew Commesso in net on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. CDT in Winnipeg. Commesso stopped 26 shots in a 4-1 IceHogs victory in Manitoba November 5.

Commesso and Jaxson Stauber have split the starts for Rockford. Commesso is 5-2-1 with a 2.24 GAA and a .917 save percentage. That goals against average is tenth in the AHL and fourth among rookies this season. Stauber (3.59, .891) struggled early but has put together some solid games over the past two weeks, going 2-0-1 in his last three starts.

Special Teams

Despite the six-game point streak, the IceHogs power play has stalled over the past couple of weeks. In 25 opportunities in that span, Rockford has just three goals on the man advantage. Overall, the IceHogs are still fifth in the AHL with a 22.6 percent success rate, due to a potent October.

The recall of Anderson, who had four goals and five assists on the power play, doesn’t help moving into December. Seney also has four goals and five helpers on the power play this season. Gust (1 G, 6 A) and Bjork (2 G, 4 A) have also been top performers for the IceHogs man-advantage unit.

The penalty killing has been nothing to write home about; at 80.4 percent efficiency, Rockford is 21st in the league in this category.

Banged Up

Rockford has several players nursing injuries at the moment.

Kale Howarth has been in the AHL’s concussion protocol since opening night. Jalen Luypen was placed in the concussion protocol on November 20.

Mike Hardman has been out with a shoulder injury he suffered on the first shift of the game November 17 against Milwaukee. Rookie Antti Saarela will miss the Manitoba trip with a wrist injury. Defenseman Josh Healey last played November 12 in Chicago.

Thoughts

  • Rockford got blown out at the BMO by the Stars in the only meeting between the teams this season. The piglets don’t draw with Texas until January 5 and 6 in Cedar Park. The Hogs December schedule includes four games with a terrible San Diego team and lots of winnable games before a home-and-home with the Admirals December 30 and 31.
  • The Hogs are 1-0-2 against Milwaukee and have struggled with the tight defense of the Ads. They are 7-1 combined against Manitoba, Iowa, and Grand Rapids; Rockford has six games in December against these teams. Picking up eight or nine wins in December is certainly attainable.
  • Head coach Anders Sorensen has not named a captain this season. He may not. Bjork, on an AHL contract and likely in Rockford for the duration, would be a good bet should Sorensen decide to name a captain.
  • Things could go south real fast for the Hogs if veterans like Gust and Seney are recalled to Chicago. There just isn’t enough scoring in the lineup to pick up the slack in such a situation. Luke Philp may return next month, which would help.
  • Until then, who steps up? Michal Teply is in a ten-game goal drought. December would be a great time for him to go on a tear. Ryder Rolston (4 G, 1 A) has brought some energy to the lower lines, especially on the forecheck. He’s another rookie who could chip in this month. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs continue to struggle in their quest for the AHL postseason. This past weekend, Rockford allowed their interstate rivals to inch ever closer to the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.

The Chicago Wolves closed the gap between them and the piglets to four points as the Hogs dropped two out of three games this weekend. It wasn’t pretty; Rockford was shut out by Laval on Friday and in Rosemont Saturday. In fact, the IceHogs took 22 minutes to register as much as a shot on Chicago.

Rockford stopped the bleeding by defeating Grand Rapids 5-1 Sunday afternoon. With six games left for the IceHogs, what looked to be a wrapped-up spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs is very much in doubt.

The regulation win over the Griffins was the first such victory at the BMO since December 31. It’s just the second regulation win for Rockford in its last 15 games, dating back to February 24. Brett Seney led the way with a pair of goals, setting a career-high for him with goals 21 and 22.

The IceHogs also got goals from Andrew Perrott, Jakub Galvas, and Luke Philp, who has been a consistent point producer for Rockford. His 24 goals and 46 points in 54 games are career-highs for Philp.

The Wolves, who have a game in hand on the IceHogs, are currently on a five-game point streak. They need only to tie for fifth; Chicago has 27 regulation wins to just 16 for Rockford. The Hogs need to finish the season with a flourish, but it won’t be an easy task.

This weekend, the piglets have a home-and-home with Milwaukee, who has won five of seven meetings with Rockford this season. The Wolves play Milwaukee, who they beat 5-2 on Sunday, again on Wednesday, then have a home-and-home with Iowa this weekend. Chicago has won its last four games against the Wild.

It isn’t difficult to forecast a scenario that sees the Hogs and Wolves in a dead heat by this time next week. If Chicago stays hot and Rockford continues to struggle, the IceHogs could be the team on the outside of the playoff picture.

What is the organization, who pledged that getting playoff games under the belt of its prospects was a priority, doing to reinforce the IceHogs? Surprisingly little.

This is the time of year where college and junior players are signed. The IceHogs signed Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston to a PTO March 14 and Paul Ludwinski, the Hawks second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, to an ATO on March 29. However, neither player has suited up for Rockford. The team announced that Ludwinski is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain sustained in his junior season with Kingston of the OHL.

Mike Hardman was reassigned to the IceHogs on Wednesday. Joey Anderson cleared waivers Sunday; it appears that he and Lukas Reichel will be assigned to Rockford at the conclusion of the NHL season. Three games will remain for the IceHogs at that point; will it be enough?

There seems to be enough talent on the roster to make the necessary push. However, even with the goal explosion on Sunday, Rockford has averaged 1.93 goals per contest in its last 15 games. That has to change, starting this weekend against the Admirals.

The Hogs are in Milwaukee on Friday night, then come back to the BMO Saturday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the Hogs hunt for the playoffs.

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs helped themselves solidify a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs this past week, winning two of three games at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Fittingly, both wins came in Gus Macker Time and were spearheaded by big goals from their veterans.

The piglets scored a 4-3 win over Manitoba Wednesday night. Luke Philp had a two-goal night to help the Hogs reach overtime, where recently-acquired Rocco Grimaldi swiped a puck and went coast-to-coast for the game-winner.

After suffering a 6-2 loss to visiting Colorado Friday, Rockford responded with a 3-2 overtime triumph. Grimaldi picked up a pair of assists; Zach Jordan notched his first goal since being called up last week in the opening frame. Philp recorded the other Hogs goal in the second period. After a scoreless third, David Gust scored the game-winner off of a pass by Jakub Galvas.

Rockford (29-23-5-4, 67 points) is still tied with Iowa for fourth place in the Central Division. There is a nine-point gap between the Hogs and Wild and the sixth-place Chicago Wolves. The Moose sit in third place with 74 points. The IceHogs have a chance to control their fate in terms of where they finish in the division this week. That’s because Rockford travels north of the border for two huge games in Manitoba.

The Moose have a game in hand on the IceHogs entering Wednesday’s game. Manitoba is coming off a seven-game road trip. Winning the last meeting between the two teams in regulation would have improved Rockford’s chances of catching the Moose in the standings. Nonetheless, picking up two regulation wins in Manitoba is the priority this week.

 

Lynch Steps Up

Former Moose forward Bobby Lynch chipped in with a goal in the win against his former team on Wednesday. Lynch potted his tenth goal of the season in the second period after setting up Philp’s first tally in the first.

Lynch, 24, signed with Rockford after an eight-goal, 13-assist season in 46 games with Manitoba last year. The 6’2″ forward has been a steady presence on the Hogs bottom six most of the season. Lynch has stepped up his game when given the chance, with eight goals and two helpers in his last 20 games. This includes an overtime game-winner on February 4 over Iowa when given a rare spot in the 3-on-3.

He may fall back to a third or fourth line role if expected players come down from Chicago in the final weeks of the season. However, Lynch’s play has helped keep the Hogs playoff chances afloat.

 

Roster News

Back on Monday last week, the Hogs recalled goalie Mitchell Weeks from the Indy Fuel. Weeks was 12-5-1 with a 2.53 GAA and a .912 save percentage in 19 games with Indy.

The next day, Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston was inked to a PTO by Rockford following his signing of an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks starting next season. Rolston, who had been injured for the latter part of the NCAA season, has yet to play for Rockford.

Gust returned to action on Wednesday night after his wife gave birth. Also back on Wednesday from concussion protocol was D.J. Busdeker. Brett Seney was back in the lineup from his concussion on Friday; he celebrated his 300th AHL game with a power-play goal in the second period of the loss to Colorado.

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