Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs had weekend plans with the Iowa Wild. They still do…kinda.

The AHL, in response to COVID-related issues in the Wild organization, pushed back what would have been Friday and Saturday games at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Instead, the two games are now scheduled for Sunday, March 21, and Tuesday, March 23.

Rockford’s schedule has been altered several times this season. Each time, the issues have been in the opponent’s camp. Right now, it still appears that the IceHogs, who have won two straight games, will have a chance to extend that streak against a struggling Iowa team that has dropped its last five contests.

 

McLaughlin Strikes Twice

Forward Dylan McLaughin is one of many AHL contracts signed by the Hogs that has capitalized on an increased role on the team this season. McLaughlin split his rookie season between Rockford and Indy; he had two goals and five helpers in 28 games with the IceHogs and 13 goals and 11 assists in 20 games with the Fuel.

McLaughlin spent most of 2019-20 as a fourth-line skater and penalty killer. Lately, he has seen a lot of top-six minutes and also has a spot on a power-play unit. As a result, McLaughlin is having his most noticeable stretch in his short IceHogs career.

Rockford got game-winning overtime goals from McLaughlin in consecutive victories over Grand Rapids on Saturday and Tuesday. He also assisted on the two goals that tied each game for the IceHogs.

McLaughlin, who spent four seasons at Canisius College before starting his pro career, is now second on the team in scoring with seven points (2 G, 5 A) in ten games for Rockford. So far this season, he’s made the most of the chances afforded to him.

 

Roster News

On Tuesday, it was announced that the Blackhawks had signed forward Josiah Slavin to a two-year entry contract that begins this fall. The IceHogs inked Slavin, whose season at Colorado College ended recently, to an amateur tryout, which should run through the rest of the AHL season.

Wednesday, Rockford assigned G Tom Aubrun to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. The Blackhawks sent F Brandon Pirri from the taxi squad to the IceHogs. Pirri had two goals and an assist in two games with Rockford earlier this month.

D Anton Lindholm got into his first game action of the season for Rockford Tuesday after suffering a broken thumb in training camp. Also returning to action Tuesday was forward Michal Teply.

 

Tuesday, March 16-Rockford 2, Grand Rapids 1 (OT)

Rockford won its second-straight game in Grand Rapids, prevailing in nearly the exact manner of Saturday’s overtime victory. This time, Matt Tomkins made 46 saves, allowing Dylan McLaughlin to pot another game-winner for the Hogs.

The Griffins took advantage of an ill-advised pass attempt by Hogs rookie defenseman Alec Regula to take a 1-0 advantage midway through the first period. Regula was in the corner of his own zone and tried to send a no-look backhand pass to Dylan McLaughlin.

The pass did not connect; instead, the puck found the stick of Givani Smith. A quick pass to Chase Pearson at the left post was knocked past Tomkins at the 10:26 mark. The Hogs were out shot 16-9 in the opening twenty and went to the locker room down a goal.

Rockford capitalized on a Griffins turnover to tie the game early in the second stanza. Grand Rapids captain Brian Lashoff was unable to gather in a bouncing puck in the corner of the Griffins zone. McLauglin swooped in to take control and sent the puck out to Cody Franson at the right point.

Franson’s shot was stopped by Grand Rapids goalie Calvin Pickard, but McLaughlin gathered in the rebound and sent it to the blue paint. Gabriel Gagne slid the biscuit across the goal line 1:15 into the second to make it a 1-1 game.

The Griffins kept Rockford on its heels for most of the remainder of the second period. Tomkins, as he had in Saturday’s Hogs victory, kept his team in the game with many point-blank stops. Grand Rapids out shot the piglets 16-3 in the third period. Tomkins sent them away time and again, including two power plays in the final twenty minutes.

The ending was short, sweet, and nearly a carbon copy of Saturday’s triumph. The Griffins won the opening faceoff in Gus Macker Time and got set to bring it up the ice. A long stretch pass knocked the stick out of Tim Soderlund’s hands, effectively making it a 3-on-2 Grand Rapids advantage. No matter.

Issak Phillips retrieved the loose puck and skated into the offensive zone. With all three Griffins defenders surrounding him at the right dot, Phillips dropped a pass to McLaughlin. The resulting shot to the far corner caught twine and earned Rockford the win 19 seconds into the extra session.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Andrei Altybarmakyan-MacKenzie Entwistle-D.J. Busdeker

Matej Chalupa-Evan Barratt-Michal Teply

Tim Soderlund-Dylan McLaughlin-Gabriel Gagne

Riley McKay-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Mitchell Fossier

Alec Regula-Cody Franson (A)

Anton Lindholm-Michael Krutil

Issak Phillips-Dimitry Osipov

Matt Tomkins

Cale Morris

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

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs split the first two games of a four-game set with the Cleveland Monsters Monday and Tuesday. The Hogs picked up their first win of the season on Tuesday, but it came with some measure of concern.

Rockford was blown out in the series opener on Monday. The next night, the IceHogs came out with a different mindset on defense. The normally aggressive piglets sat back and limited shots at close range as best they could, grinding out a 3-2 come from behind victory.

Cale Morris, making his first start after relieving Matt Tomkins the night before, was strong. The rookie make several great stops in his 35-save performance. That said, the IceHogs managed to keep the shots in front of the former Notre Dame goalie, as well as far enough back for him to gauge.

Rockford played the part of counter-puncher Tuesday, hoping that one of their limited chances would find the back of the net. It was a real grind-it-out win; nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, we’ve spent the last few seasons hearing the organization preaching possession and pace. I’m not sure this year’s Hogs are built to play a slow-down type of game night in and night out.

It was nice to see Rockford get one into the win collum. It may not happen often this season.

 

The Return Of Sikura The Elder

Last year’s leading scorer and captain, Tyler Sikura, made his return to the BMO with the Monsters this week. Sikura, the MVP of the 2017-18 IceHogs, skated on the top line with Zac Dalpe and Trey Fix-Wolansky for Cleveland. He was more than noticeable on the ice, posting a goal and two assists in the two games.

On Thursday, Dalpe, who potted two goals Monday, and center Ryan MacInnis were recalled to the Columbus taxi squad. That should make the Monsters top six a bit easier for the piglets to try and stop.

 

Sneaky Soderlund

Tim Soderlund came into Tuesday night’s contest looking for his first point of the season. The second-year forward is more impressive live than on AHLTV, so I was shocked when it hit home that Soderlund had assists on all three Rockford goals.

A fourth-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2017, Soderlund has speed and plays with his ears pinned back. His task right now is to make his game work within the team structure. His three-point night Tuesday equaled his point production in his 34 prior AHL games (1 G, 2 A).

Soderlund’s assists came from hustle as opposed to vision. On each of the three IceHogs tallies, he was able to get to loose pucks and make it possible for teammates to start scoring plays. He dug out a puck in the corner that allowed Andrei Altybarmakyan to power to the night on Tuesday’s equalizer late in the game. On the game-winner, he forced a turnover by charging in behind Evan Barratt’s dump-in to the end boards.

Soderlund nearly got his first goal of the season, just missing on a pass from Chris Wilkie on an odd-man rush minutes before Rockford tied the game in the third. He’s a prospect to watch in this shortened season. If Soderlund can convert on some scoring opportunities and keep creating pressure on the forecheck, he could make a nice bottom-six forward for Chicago in a couple of years.

 

Roster News

The Blackhawks did not make any moves between Chicago and Rockford this week.

The IceHogs announced that Cam Morrison suffered a knee injury in Rockford’s preseason game with the Chicago Wolves on January 27 that ultimately required MCL surgery. With a recovery time of five to six months, it appears his season is over before it started.

Chad Krys left Monday night’s game after the first period and did not return. I am not sure about the injury, but he was a scratch the following night.

 

Recaps

Monday, February 22-Cleveland 7, Rockford 3

By the time the sleepy piglets woke up, the visiting Cleveland Monsters were on their way to a rout. The Hogs quickly fell behind 3-0 on the way to a 7-3 loss to Cleveland, who picked up its first win of the season. Rockford fell to 0-5-1 to begin the 2020-21 campaign.

The Monsters roared out to an early 2-0 lead after Zac Dalpe pulled off two back-door tallies in the first five minutes. Dalpe was set up for the opening goal by former IceHogs captain Tyler Sikura at 4:15 into the first period. Slipping past Rockford defenseman Issak Phillips, Dalpe one-timed the Sikura feed into the basket before Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins could close the door.

On the subsequent faceoff, Sikura got another scoring play started with a pass to Trey Fix-Wolansky. Dalpe was at the left post to double the Cleveland advantage at the 4:26 mark.

Just two minutes later, Monsters defenseman Wyatt Newpower hit Carson Meyer with a stretch pass as Meyer entered the Hogs zone. Meyer split the defense and fired past Tomkins to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead 6:26 into the first.

Rockford got back in the game on the penalty kill. Cleveland goalie Brad Thiessen misplayed a puck behind his net, allowing Mitchell Fossier to gain possession of the biscuit. Fossier found Chris Wilkie crashing the net. His shot banked off the diving Thiessen and into the goal at 8:04 of the first to cut the Monsters lead to 3-1.

Rockford closed to 3-2 after some hard work by MacKenzie Entwistle to chase down a loose puck behind the Cleveland net. Entwistle hit Brad Morrison at the left dot. The shot from Morrison whizzed over Thiessen’s glove for the goal at the 10:53 mark.

The goals just kept coming for the Monsters in the middle frame. Fix-Wolansky used a Sikura screen of Tomkins to fire in a power play strike at 4:37 to make it 4-2 Cleveland. A Meyer shot off a faceoff win slipped under the pads of Tomkins at 5:28.

The IceHogs gained a power play opportunity when Cleveland was nabbed for too many men on the ice. However, Justin Scott swiped the puck from Cody Franson in the first seconds of the man advantage. The shorthanded goal came past the glove side of the beleaguered Tomkins for a 6-2 Monsters advantage at the 10:28 mark.

Cale Morris relieved Tomkins to begin the third period. The Hogs got the final frame off to a promising start when Fossier forced a turnover in front of the Monsters net. Thiessen couldn’t keep the shot out of the cage. Nine seconds into the third, Rockford cut the lead to 6-3.

Morris stopped the first 13 shots he saw as Cleveland kept the Hogs pinned down in their own end most of the third period. The Monsters tacked on a final goal at the 17:07 mark when Nathan Gerbe one-timed the setup by Fix-Wolansky from the right dot.

Three Stars-Meyer, Fix-Wolansky, Dalpe

Lines (Starters in italics)

Hogs went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Mitchell Fossier-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Chris Wilkie

John Quenneville (A)-MacKenzie Entwistle-Gabriel Gagne

Matej Chalupa-Evan Barratt-Andrei Altybarmakyan

Brad Morrison-Mikael Hakkarainen

Chad Krys-Cody Franson (A)

Alec Regula-Michael Krutil

Issak Phillips-Cole Moberg

Dmitry Osipov

Matt Tomkins

Cale Morris

 

Tuesday, February 23-Rockford 3, Cleveland 2

A tenacious IceHogs defense, coupled with 35 saves by rookie Cale Morris, was the difference in a 3-2 triumph over the Monsters Tuesday night.

The Hogs picked up their first win of the season behind Morris, starting his first professional game. Rockford was able to rally from a goal down late in the contest to gain a measure of revenge for the previous night’s defeat.

A more conservative approach by coach Derek King’s club kept Cleveland from the opportunities from close quarters that sunk the Hogs the evening before. Despite being out shot 37-24, Rockford kept the game close all night until the offense could find cord.

The two teams held each other in check in a scoreless first period. Cleveland gained a power play on a slash by Chris Wilkie six minutes into the second. The Monsters capitalized, taking a 1-0 lead on former Hogs forward Tyler Sikura’s first goal of the season. Sikura was attempting a centering pass from the right post that banked off of the leg of Hogs defenseman Cole Moberg and past Morris at the 6:26 mark.

The IceHogs answered late in the second, following an offensive zone faceoff win by Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell. Issak Phillips gathered in the puck and fired from the left point. Cleveland goalie Veini Vehvilainen made the pad save but left a rebound at the skates of Evan Barratt. Barratt slid the biscuit into the Monsters net at 15:52 of the second period to tie the game at a goal apiece.

Morris and the Rockford defense kept up the good fight despite being pinned in their own end for much of the final period. The levee broke at the 12:27 mark when Evan Polei got a stick on a rebound of Justin Scott’s shot. The puck hopped over Morris and into the cage, giving Cleveland a 2-1 advantage.

Rockford clawed back to level ground with 3:23 remaining. Andrei Altybarmakyan won a battle for the puck in the corner of the offensive zone and fought his way to the right post. The initial shot was snuffed out by Vehvilainen. Altybarmakyan stayed in the crease, ending a scrum around the net by knocking the puck into the net for the equalizer.

The game-winner came off the stick of Issak Phillips, who one-timed a pass from Barratt at the left point. Vehvilainen got a piece of the blast. However, the puck had enough juice left to reach pay dirt with 1:33 remaining.

Three Stars-Morris (First), Barratt (Second), Phillips (Third)

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mitchell Fossier-Garrett Mitchell (C)-Chris Wilkie

Dylan McLaughlin-MacKenzie Entwistle-John Quenneville (A)

Andrei Altybarmakyan-Evan Barratt-Tim Soderlund

Brad Morrison-Chad Yetman-Mikael Hakkarainen

Alec Regula-Cody Franson (A)

Michael Krutil-Dmitri Osipov

Issak Phillips-Cole Moberg

Cam Morris

Matt Tomkins

 

More Of The Same, Just In Ohio

Rockford is on its way to Cleveland, where the Hogs will finish the season series with the Monsters. The games will be at 6:00 p.m. Central Time on Saturday night and noon on Sunday.

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