The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s AHL affiliate, certainly have question marks heading into their next season of action. With the current NHL season about to go into playoff-mode, it’s going to be difficult to pinpoint a starting date for a 2020-21 campaign, let alone what players may be on the roster.
It may not be business as usual, but the IceHogs are making offseason moves.
As is the case throughout the American Hockey League, Rockford is charged with developing Chicago’s NHL prospects. The Hogs also sign players to AHL contracts to fill out the roster. These players see action both in Rockford as well as in the ECHL for the Indy Fuel.
Rockford used 14 players this past season that were either on AHL standard or tryout contracts. Goalie Matt Tomkins earned himself an NHL deal with Chicago over the course of the season.
Tomkins, who had just eight appearances in two prior AHL seasons, earned time in the Hogs net with solid play while Kevin Lankinen was injured and Collin Delia slumped in the first few months. Tomkins represented Team Canada in the Spengler Cup and signed a two-year deal with the Blackhawks at the end of January.
Forwards Gabriel Gagne and Garrett Mitchell came in on tryout deals when the IceHogs were besieged by injuries over the winter. Both were signed to standard AHL contracts for the upcoming season.
Gagne, a second-round pick by Ottawa in 2015, put up six goals and six helpers in 21 games to secure his contract. Mitchell, a long-time AHL veteran with the Hershey Bears, quickly became a team leader after his PTO signing in February.
As of June 29, Rockford has nine players under AHL contracts. Along with Gagne and Mitchell, forward Dylan McLaughlin (2 G, 5 A in 28 games) is returning for the second year of his contract. Defensemen Dmitri Osipov and Jack Ramsey were both re-signed this spring.
The IceHogs also signed several new faces to AHL contracts. Mitchell Fossier, who spent four years at Maine and served as captain last season, was signed by Rockford on June 26. Earlier in the spring, the Hogs inked forward Riley McKay, forward/defensman D.J. Buskeker, and goalie Tom Aubrun.
It would appear that Rockford is approaching its limit as far as signing players is concerned. This may mean that some familiar names will be moving on in their hockey careers. Here’s a list of Rockford skaters whose AHL contract expire this summer.
The two names that stand out on that list are Sikura, Rockford’s captain this season as well as the Hog’s leading scorer (34 points), and Moutrey. Both were mainstays in the IceHogs lineup.
Sikura will be missed at the BMO after three seasons. He spent the 2018-19 season under an NHL contract but was hampered by a thumb injury. After returning to form last season for Rockford, he is likely to be in pursuit of an NHL opportunity that may not be available with the Hawks.
McArdle, who hails from Roscoe, Illinois, appeared in just four games for Rockford after skating in 19 games the season before. McArdle, Marchand, Coughlin, Ryczek and Thompson spent the bulk of their time with the Fuel.
I guess you can’t completely close the book on any of these players returning to the fold this summer. After all, there are a lot of unknowns in the NHL right now that will dictate how Rockford approaches the rest of the offseason.
As the snow globe that is the NHL prospect picture begins to settle, I’ll begin to sort through the players we may see filling out the IceHogs roster next fall. See you in a couple of weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts and updates on the IceHogs throughout the season.
The Rockford IceHogs split this past weekend’s action, defeating a hot Texas Stars club Friday night before falling to Cleveland the following evening. Rockford (17-11-0-1) trails Iowa by a standings point for second place in the AHL’s Central Division but can leapfrog the Wild when the two teams hook up in Rockford this coming weekend.
The piglets have continued to play well in the face of recent call-ups by the Blackhawks. The roster thins a bit more heading into the holiday break, but the Hogs have still won seven of their last ten games.
By The Numbers
Here are a few statistics of note for Rockford through 29 games this season:
The Hogs are 11-5 at home and 6-6-0-1 on the road so far in 2019-20.
Rockford is scoring 2.93 goals per game…and allowing 2.93 goals per game.
Rockford averages 28.59 shots and surrenders 31.76 shots per contest. Only six teams in the league give up more shots on goal than the IceHogs. Strong play in net has been important to the team’s success so far.
The power play is 30th out of 31 teams, converting just 10.8 percent of Rockford’s opportunities.
While the penalty kill has been better, the Hogs are still working at an 80 percent kill rate. That is good for a tie with Chicago at 23rd in the AHL.
The IceHogs have posted seven shorthanded goals this season. That’s tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.
Kevin Lankinen’s 55 saves on December 10 is the second-highest total in the league this season. On December 4, Phillipe Desrosiers saved 62 shots for Springfield in a win over Lehigh Valley.
Brandon Hagel (8 G, 7 A) and Phillipp Kurashev (5 G, 10 A) are tied for 16th among rookies in scoring with 15 points.
Team captain Tyler Sikura (8 G, 9 A) leads Rockford in scoring with 17 points. Dylan Sikura, currently in Rockford, has 16 points (9 G, 7 A) for the Hogs. Hagel and Kurashev are right behind the Sikuras. Defenseman Philip Holm has 14 points (3 G, 11 A).
Joseph Cramarossa, who had both goals in Saturday’s loss to Cleveland, is tied for the AHL lead with five fighting majors. He has scrapped three times for Rockford since coming aboard last month. That leads the IceHogs. Reese Johnson has dropped the gloves twice for Rockford. In all, the team has nine fighting majors this season.
Tomkins Playing For Spengler Cup
The goalie situation becomes a bit less crowded over the holidays. Rockford has loaned Matt Tomkins to Team Canada for the upcoming Spengler Cup. The former Ohio State net minder gets an opportunity to impress on the international tournament after some solid play for the piglets.
Tomkins has started six games for the IceHogs this season. He’s 4-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 save percentage. This leaves Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia as Rockford’s goalie tandem for the first time this season.
The IceHogs lost another productive skater when Chicago recalled forward John Quenneville on Sunday. Quenneville is coming off a stretch in Rockford where he had four goals and four helpers over his last five contests. His plus-nine skater rating was the highest on the team at the time of the call-up.
This leaves the Hogs roster at 23 players; 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. Alexandre Fortin has yet to return from an injury suffered November 29 against the Wolves. Anton Wedin sat out both games this weekend. Nathan Noel, fresh off his recall from the Indy Fuel, was injured Friday and did not play in Saturday’s game with Cleveland.
Mikael Hakkarainen skated in a game at the BMO Harris Bank Center for the first time. Returning from an injury in Iowa on October 4, Hakkarainen played in both weekend contests.
Barring I would expect at least a couple of forwards to be brought up from Indy sometime before Rockford’s next game. That comes on Friday when the Wild come to town.
Friday, December 20-Rockford 4, Texas 2
The Stars were 8-1-1 in their last ten games before coming into the BMO Friday. Rockford put together a terrific 60-minute effort to knock off Texas.
Brandon Hagel was the catalyst for the first IceHogs goal of the evening, forcing a turnover in the Stars zone, then gathering in a long rebound off the pads of Texas goalie Landon Bow. Hagel skated out to the top of the zone and dropped a pass to John Quenneville at the left point. Quenneville’s long-distance offering slipped by Bow and gave Rockford a 1-0 lead 4:23 into the opening period.
Josh Melnick tied the game for Texas in the 13th minute, but Rockford took a 2-1 intermission lead thanks to some nifty passing on a late power play. Phillip Kurashev, assisted by Quenneville and Lucas Carlsson, sent a wrist shot by Bow with 2:53 remaining in the first period.
Carlsson made it 3-1 Hogs after one-timing a cross-ice feed off the boards from MacKenzie Entwistle 5:09 into the second period. That was plenty for Collin Delia, who stopped 33 of the 35 shots he saw on the night. The Stars pulled Bow and scored with six skaters at the 17:05 mark of the third, but Hagel’s empty-netter in the final minute of play sealed the victory.
Saturday, December 21-Cleveland 3, Rockford 2
Joseph Cramarossa was the offense for the IceHogs; his pair of lamp-lighters wasn’t enough to beat the visiting Monsters.
Cramarossa gave Rockford an early 1-0 lead, taking a drop pass from Phillipp Kurashev and sending shot from the right circle that got though Cleveland goalie Veini Vehvilainen just 29 seconds into the game.
The Monsters took control of the game in the second period with three unanswered goals. Brett Gallant redirected an Adam Clendening blast by Hogs starter Kevin Lankinen 4:03 into the period. The Cleveland power play gave the Monsters a 2-1 lead on Nathan Gerbe’s snipe from the left circle 13:15 into the second. Two minutes later, Stefan Matteau potted an unassisted shorthanded goal to increase the Cleveland advantage to 3-1.
The IceHogs, as is their custom, played hard in the final twenty, closing the gap to 3-2 on the man advantage. Cramarossa’s first attempt from the left post was stopped, but the second effort elevated over Mehvilainen’s pad at the 7:57 mark. Lankinen spent most of the last three minutes on the Rockford bench in favor of the extra skater, to no avail.
The IceHogs host the Wild Friday, then head to Manitoba for games on Sunday and Tuesday. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for game updates this weekend as well as thoughts on the team all season long.