Everything Else

Oh, Jonathan Toews, what are we to believe? Is it all downhill from here? Is the slow, sad decline inevitable? Should we abandon all hope and just accept that the glory days are over and become accustomed to the wilderness stretched interminably before us? Alright, alright, that’s a bit dramatic—and particularly because it’s not actually that bad. Toews is not that bad. And with the right amount of weird hockey luck, he may be due for a renaissance. Let’s take a look:

2017-18 Stats

74 GP – 20 G – 32 A

56.8 CF% – 57.3 oZS% – 42.7 dZS%

19:41 Avg. TOI

A Brief History. We pored over Toews’ performance a few times last year, and the Cliffs Notes version is he had shitty luck, and a linemate with even shittier luck. All this led to a lower point total than usual, which wouldn’t be concerning in and of itself, except that it was the continuation of a trend of decline that started in 2016. Also you just expect your top-line center to be closer to 60+ points, not barely breaking 50, and we’ve (rightly) come to expect the most elite level of play from Toews.

But as we pointed out, Toews’ underlying numbers were good: for example, his xGF% was 52.1 at evens, his possession numbers were solid (56.8 CF% at evens, 58.4 all situations), and his CF% Rel at 4.4 was fourth best on the team. And two of the three guys in front of him on that list were linemates Brandon Saad and Weiner Anxiety (no skypoint). So he clearly had the puck and had a better chance of keeping the puck than not, but his shots weren’t converting to as many goals. Saad’s off year also meant Toews had fewer assists than he normally would. So it seems that much of his struggles last year were due to things like rolling pucks, weird bounces, a goalie standing on his head…I mean, if you’re doing the right things and not scoring, there has to be some fluky shit at play that you can’t control. The problem is, how long can that fluky shit go on, and when does it stop being fluky?

It Was the Best of Times. We all know what the best-case scenario is: Toews pulls an Anze Kopitar and has a bounce-back year, scoring around 70 points, bringing Top Cat into the ranks of elite top-liners with him, and leading a not-pitiful power play (which alone would increase his point total over last year). I keep harping on having Brandon Saad on the top line with Toews and DeBrincat, but after watching him, Schmaltz, and Kane in admittedly brief preseason action, I think we need to find a worthwhile winger (i.e., not Chris Kunitz) to skate with Toews and Top Cat. Who that could be is anyone’s guess—Eggshell? Kahun? Sikura? Who the hell knows, particularly with Q shaking up the lines in camp recently. Like Pullega explained yesterday, there is a decent case to be made for Ejdsell on right wing, with his big shot and playmaker potential. However it shakes out, in this fantasy world we have an aging experienced, resurgent Jonathan Toews flanked by gifted youngsters and the result is a dominating top line.

It Was the BLURST of Times. We also know what the worst-case scenario is: Toews doesn’t rebound but rather gets slower, continues struggling to score, and has at best one winger to pass to. Stuck with useless-clod Kunitz, who couldn’t corral a pass to save his life in the preseason game the other night, Toews’ point total declines and, with fewer quality chances, that shooting percentage continues to tank. The power play remains total clown shoes, and even though he’s not really playing like a 1C, there isn’t a way to gracefully ease him to another line.

Prediction. I’m cautiously optimistic about this one—I think Toews has a better year, if not an amazing year. There will be linemate shenanigans as Q pulls his usual bullshit, but at some point they’ll settle on someone who doesn’t make you cringe, and when that combination does get worked out he’ll rack up just over 60 points on the season. The power play will be not as wretched as last year and that will help the increased point total as well. Please note I didn’t say the power play would be good, only that it will be less horrific. Toews’ possession numbers will stay strong, but his speed won’t markedly improve (maybe it’ll improve a little; he’s certainly a health nut and can probably gain a step back but it won’t be earth-shattering). And if Quenneville loses his job, Toews will be leaned upon and lionized even more by the media for his LEADERSHIP and all that jazz. The Hawks made him the face of the organization…we’re going to keep looking at it.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Brandon Manning

Jan Rutta

Erik Gustafsson

Henri Jokiharju

Nick Schmaltz

Alex DeBrincat

Chris Kunitz

Artem Anisimov

Marcus Kruger

Victor Ejdsell

Everything Else

With only the second line having any kind of predictability, there looks to be a lot of open space for the younger crop of players in the bottom six. One of the more intriguing options is the massive Victor Ejdsell, who came over in the Hartman trade last year. Though he’s not likely to serve as a savior for anyone, he’s young, large, and has a big shot, so at least he’s something to look forward to.

2017–18 Stats

6 GP – 0 G, 1 A

43.3 CF%, 60.0 oZS%

Avg. TOI 13:19

A Brief History: Ejdsell is a curious combination of size and skill rarely seen around these parts. When Nashville shipped him over, his 6’5”, 214 lb. frame screamed, “Annette Frontpresence!” But Ejdsell, for all his largeness, has never been a plop-in-front-of-the-net guy. He came up at the end of the year for a cup of coffee, and outside of a surprisingly strong first game, which found him centering Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, he looked lost and timid playing primarily between Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Sikura in his final five games with the big club.

Last year’s AHL playoffs is where Ejdsell shined, though. In 13 games, he scored 12 points (seven goals, five assists), including two series-clinching goals against the Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose. The biggest question mark on Ejdsell’s ledger was whether he could skate in stride, both based on his size and adjustment from the larger European ice. According to Jon Fromi, he never looked lost on the ice in terms of skating while with the IceHogs. Coupled with his booming shot and strong on-ice vision, Ejdsell has potential to come into his own this year.

The question will be where can Ejdsell play? He came over as a center, but there’s a bit of a logjam for the Hawks at center, and that’s not necessarily because of depth. With Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov, and Marcus Kruger all pretty much chiseled in as your centers, there’s not much Ejdsell can provide there (read: he won’t have an opportunity to provide there).

Fortunately, between the AHL playoffs, training camp, and preseason, Ejdsell has found himself on the wing more often, which likely will suit a man of his significant carriage more fittingly. Whereas the scouting report has often said that Ejdsell projects as a playmaker, given the heat on his wrist shot, he might find additional success pounding shots off of passes rather than making passes himself. Moving Ejdsell to the wing can also cover a bit for any holes in his skating and defense, which he projects to have based solely on his size and inexperience.

It Was the Best of Times: Best-case scenario sees Ejdsell blossom not as simply a winger but as a winger on his off-wing. A workable combination of DeBrincat–Toews–Ejdsell brings a ton of scoring potential to the de facto top line. For this to happen is to expect probably too much from Ejdsell. Because he’s not a crash-the-net type, Ejdsell would be responsible for making plays while Toews went to get the puck below the goal line. You’d also need to expect Ejdsell to improve on his backchecking skills, which might also be asking too much based on the fact that he’s probably never going to be anything more than an average skater.

But if everything went perfectly, a combination of Ejdsell’s instinctive playmaking abilities, big shot, and talented linemates could make Ejdsell a dangerous wild card on the top line. It would also solve the “Toews needs to score more” problem, since that onus would fall mostly on DeBrincat as a sniper and Ejdsell as a playmaker/shot pounder, leaving Toews to take the Marian Hossa two-way player responsibilities.

Finally, Ejdsell steps up as a key contributor on the power play. He found time on the PP in the AHL and did decently, and he parlays that potential into success on the second unit with Erik Gustafsson.

It Was the BLURST of Times: Ejdsell doesn’t make the team at all because his skating simply isn’t up to snuff. This would mean he would have to be a worse skater than Anisimov, which is almost inconceivable. He toils in the AHL all year and can never put it together. This opens the door for a third line of Kunitz–Anisimov–Andreas Martinsen, which is not a line that teams that make the playoffs have.

Prediction: Ejdsell breaks camp as a third-line winger next to Anisimov and Sikura. When Quenneville finally comes to terms with the fact that Chris Kunitz is not a first liner, Ejdsell gets a shot next to Toews and DeBrincat. He becomes a 15-goal scorer, three of which come on the power play with Gustafsson and Kane, and works well as a setup man for DeBrincat, racking up 40–45 points on the year. His defense is never outstanding, but it gradually improves as he learns his angles and how to use his length as a weapon when he feet aren’t up to the task.

I’m bullish on Ejdsell’s ability to take the leap forward this year. But I think that unlocking Ejdsell’s potential is tied to playing him on the RW with DeBrincat on LW, because as teams realize that they have to focus on DeBrincat’s ability to snipe, it will leave Ejdsell with more space to capitalize on his hard shot, especially his wrister. Playing Ejdsell on the right side will open up those shot opportunities nicely.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Brandon Manning

Jan Rutta

Erik Gustafsson

Henri Jokiharju

Nick Schmaltz

Alex DeBrincat

Chris Kunitz

Artem Anisimov

Marcus Kruger

Everything Else

There were many new faces at forward for the Rockford IceHogs in the 2017-18 season. On a roster that went through some changes in the latter half of the campaign, there was a lot to cover in this area.

I’ve previously cast a magnifying glass on the goalies and defensemen in recent posts. For now, let’s move forward with the forwards from Rockford’s big season.

Rookies

Matthew Highmore-64 games, 24 G, 19 A, minus-six

Rockford’s rookie of the year was the big story throughout the first half of the season. Highmore epitomized the fast-paced style Colliton emphasized, with 15 points (9 G, 6 A) in his first 21 games. His nose for the net resulted in Highmore pacing the team in goals.

An appearance at the AHL All-Star Classic, coupled with a spring call-up to the Hawks made for a memorable first-year of pro hockey for the free-agent signing. Highmore is definitely in the mix of prospects who could find themselves in Chicago in the coming years.

Like a lot of the prospects, Highmore’s numbers dipped just a bit with the veteran influx in February. By the playoffs, he was skating on one of the lower lines while still playing solid hockey. In 13 postseason games, he was a plus-eight to go with a pair of goals and seven helpers.

 

Anthony Louis-70 games, 14 G, 30 A, plus-six

Louis was Rockford’s point leader (44) in the regular season, though the addition of the veterans had a big effect on his game down the stretch. To say his role was diminished is probably an understatement.

Skating a little lower in the Hogs lineup, Louis still managed 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in the last two months of action. However, the physical nature of the playoffs seemed to take a toll on his effectiveness. After five assists in 9 games, Colliton sat Louis in favor of Samuelsson three games into the conference final.

Louis is a strong passer and can flourish with linemates who can finish the chances he creates. I think he’ll be a player to watch as he makes the adjustments to raise his game in his sophomore campaign.

 

Alexandre Fortin-53 games, 4 G, 17 A, minus-one

Based on the expectations of a player who had such a strong training camp in 2016 before being sent back to juniors, Fortin was an under-performer in his first season with the IceHogs.

To be fair, he missed a couple weeks in January and three more in March due to injury. His speed was often on display, though there were many instances of Fortin streaking out of control and committing turnovers. A shooting percentage of 4.3 did him no favors; finishing scoring plays and playing under control should be at the top of Fortin’s list of improvements heading into next season.

 

Matheson Iacopelli-50 games, 11 G, 7 A, plus-seven

The real head-scratcher among the piglets. Iacopelli brought offense, scoring 20 goals between Rockford and Indy, where he had nine in ten games for the Fuel. He is arguably the best sniper the IceHogs had this season. So…why couldn’t he find a place in the lineup?

With someone to get him the puck, coupled with a net hound who can convert on rebound opportunities, Iacopelli could be a dangerous AHL forward. He is going to have to improve on his skating as well as find a way to create space for his shot. The question will be if he can do that at age 24.

Iacopelli often found himself on the bottom line with players more suited for checking roles. He’s not that type of player right now. Hopefully he got a list of things to work on this summer. If he can carve out a steady spot on a scoring line, we could see big numbers out of Iacopelli.

 

Graham Knott-70 games, 4 G, 5 A, minus-one

There isn’t much offense to Knott’s game. He had three separate 11-game pointless streaks while skating fourth line minutes and killing penalties. In his final 38 games this past season, he had three goals and no apples.

Knott held down the fourth line through the regular season; he did not appear in the playoffs for Rockford. On the other hand, he was a frequent winner of the Schnucks Grand Prix over speedier teammates Alexandre Fortin and William Pelletier.

Knott is still just 21 and has two more years on his entry deal to develop at both ends of the ice. With most of the new faces coming in on defense, he may still have the spot in the lineup to do so next fall.

Nathan Noel-17 games, 1 G, minus two

Noel really deserves a redo button; his season never really got on track after being injured in training camp.

By the time he was set to return, there was no spot in Rockford to be had. Noel went to Indy, where he played 17 games before getting hurt and missing a couple of months. He was brought up to Rockford in mid-February and had limited chances to develop into the IceHogs agitator.

Until Chris DiDomenico arrived, that job was up for grabs. A healthy Noel might have run with that role. My interest was peaked in the short stint Noel was with the IceHogs.

Finishing the regular season with the Fuel, Noel played well in Indy’s short playoff appearance. If Noel is in game shape to start 2018-19, he may be able to find his niche.

 

Call Ups

Vinnie Hinostroza-23 games, 9 G, 13 A, plus-seven

Tomas Jurco-36 games, 13 G, 12 A, plus-four

David Kampf-33 games, 7 G, 11 A, plus-one

Laurent Dauphin-33 games, 4 G, 10 A, minus-six

These players, Hinostroza in particular, carried Rockford in the first couple of months. Hinostroza was recalled by the Hawks December 8, Kampf on December 27 and Jurco on January 8.

Kampf returned in April to finish up the season and playoffs for the Hogs. In 16 games, he managed just a goal (Game Five vs Texas) and two assists (in Chicago in the last game of the regular season).

Dauphin, who played with a full face shield following a altercation in San Antonio December 15, was traded back to Arizona in the Anthony Duclair deal. Adam Clendening came to Rockford was a key part of the spring resurgence; Dauphin played 17 games for Tuscon (5 G, 10 A) before being recalled to the Coyotes. He was injured blocking a shot March 11 and missed the rest of the season.

 

Reinforcements

Chris DiDomenico-22 games, 8 G, 15 A, plus-three

All this guy did was spark Rockford into its late-season push to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Once there, he was the league’s top point producer (7 G, 11 A in 13 games) until the final games of the Calder Cup Final. If anybody saw this coming, step forward and be called Fibber McGee.

Returning to AHL rinks after several seasons abroad, DiDomenico was obtained for Ville Pokka in a trade with Ottawa in mid-February. Along with a heavy dose of veteran leadership that was injected into the piglets, DiDomenico brought a chippy element to a club that had practically none before he arrived.

By the time the playoffs started, you had skaters of all shapes and sizes finishing checks all over the ice. The motor was still firing, but the Hogs picked up a definite snarl that was a major part of the playoff success.

DiDomenico rides off into the sunset, having signed to play in the Swiss League for two seasons soon after cleaning out his locker at the BMO. One richly deserved stick tap, coming right up.

 

Lance Bouma-20 games, 7 G, 7 A, plus-seven

Chicago sending the physical forward to Rockford in February proved to be good for the IceHogs. Like DiDomenico, Bouma added veteran grit that was in short supply at that point of the campaign. Like DiDomenico, I would not expect to see Bouma in a Hogs sweater next season.

 

Tanner Kero-36 games, 8 G, 12 A, minus-ten

I’m finding out about the Hawks trade with Vancouver just as I was set to ponder Kero’s season for this post. Basically, Kero’s 2017-18 season has produced Michael Chaput.

Kero came to Rockford in December. He was out for about a month after an injury against San Antonio on February 18 and also missed a few games at the close of the regular season.

 

John Hayden-24 games, 5 G, 12 A, even

Arrived January 10 when he was assigned to the Hogs by Chicago, playing through the beginning of March before being recalled. Hayden was also with Rockford once the Blackhawks season ended.

Hayden was physical for sure…but he just didn’t seem to make the impact I imagined when he was sent to Rockford. That goes double in the playoffs; he delivered his share of hits but accounted for just three goals in 13 postseason games.

 

Henrik Samuelsson-25 games, 9 G, 3 A, minus-one

The former first-round selection of the Coyotes was skating in the ECHL for Idaho when Rockford inked him to a PTO in February. The move became a permanent arrangement when the IceHogs signed him through the 2018-19 season.

Samuelsson found the net in each of his first three games with Rockford, including a game-winner against San Antonio February 18. He worked his way onto a power play unit and was a steady presence through the rest of the regular season.

Samuelsson showcased some offensive know-how to go with a strong presence in the corners in his stint with the Hogs. After sitting out the first two rounds of the postseason, he was inserted for the last four games of the conference final with Texas.

 

Viktor Ejdsell-five games, 1 A, minus-three

Ejdsell, of course, made his mark in the postseason, where he totaled 12 points (7 G, 5 A) in 13 games. The lanky forward displayed a nice shot and enough skating ability to keep up with his linemates. He certainly didn’t look out of place in the smaller North American rinks.

The 23-year old Swede had a good sense of timing. Four of his postseason goals were game-winners, the most notable being the one that ended the Game 3 triple-overtime affair with the Wolves. Another came in an elimination game with Texas, where he had a three-point Game 4.

A full season in Rockford could prove to be very interesting, as Ejdsell could probably use a year to hone his skating before hitting NHL ice. Depending on the makeup of the Hawks roster, he could see himself riding the I-90 shuttle for parts of next season.

 

The Vet

Andreas Martinsen-64 games, 12 G, 16 A, plus-seven

So far as early season veteran presence, Martinsen was about it through the first months, save for Jurco and Dauphin. The big Norwegian was key to any physical element to the piglet’s game until the latter part of February when guys like DiDomenico and Bouma showed up.

Obtained for Kyle Baun just before the start of the season, this trade was a definite win for the Blackhawks. Baun wasn’t terrible this season, with 22 points (5 G, 17 A) in Laval and the Toronto Marlies (with whom he won a Calder Cup despite not playing in the playoffs). For the IceHogs, however, Martinsen brought more to the table and was a good fit.

Aside from a spell in Chicago this spring, Martinsen was a mainstay in the lineup, often teaming with Sikura and Alexandre Fortin on what proved to be a very effective group. The 6’4″, 230-pounder re-upped with the Blackhawks for 2018-19. He should be able to skate fourth-line minutes in Chicago if needed and is a nice piece for Colliton to have in Rockford.

 

AHL Standouts

Tyler Sikura-74 games, 23 G, 16 A, plus-24

Sikura failed to stick in three AHL cities following his college career at Dartmouth. Before signing with Rockford, he was still looking for his first AHL point. This season, he earned the team MVP award and an NHL entry contract to boot.

Sikura was a hard worker in the first two months of the season, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard. Through November, he had three goals in 19 contests. In fact, it wasn’t until the post-Christmas part of the schedule that Sikura started seeing the fruits of his efforts.

Starting on December 28 until signing his NHL contract for next season March 6, Sikura put up 13 goals and six helpers in 29 games. To celebrate his new ink, he had 14 points (7 G, 7 A) to close out the last 17 games of the regular season.

Sikura proved to be quite the redirection artist throughout the season. By the spring, not only was he killing penalties but was on the red-hot first power play unit. Sikura also showed that he can create scoring chances on occasion when away from the net.

This was by far the most productive season by a Hogs AHL-signing in the history of the franchise, eclipsing P.C. Labrie’s 2015-16 34-point explosion. Labrie, however, was between NHL deals at the time. Sikura truly announced his presence with authority in his rookie season.

What lies ahead for the elder Sikura brother? I don’t know if he can match last season’s 18.3 shooting percentage, but he’s welcome to try. It will be interesting to see how he follows up such a remarkable performance.

 

William Pelletier-69 games, 14 G, 15 A, plus-13

Another AHL rookie that kept several Hawks prospects out of the lineup was Pelletier, who came out of Division III Norwich looking to prove he could skate at this level. He did.

Pelletier’s wheels allowed the Hogs to send pucks way down the ice, knowing the 5’7″ forward could negate icing and chase down the biscuit. His fore check was tenacious all season and as the playoffs got underway, he started bringing the action to his opponents along the boards.

This was good to see, because Pelletier was a guy opposing teams loved to target on the ice with big hits. Dishing back a little physical business didn’t hurt his effectiveness. Pelletier earned an extension of his AHL deal with Rockford for his efforts and should yet again be a fun player to watch zooming up and down the ice.

 

Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson-73 games, 13 G, 17 A, minus-four

I’m giving Johnson his own category in this review. On a roster of first-year prospects and veteran additions, Johnson perhaps had the most to prove out of any of the returning players.

In last year’s season recap, I suggested that Johnson needed to step up his game from a 17-point rookie campaign in 2016-17 to avoid being pushed to the bench by all the new faces in Rockford. I’d say that Johnson took that step and then some.

Johnson was a steady producer at both ends of the ice for Rockford. He also was a player who took on some big dance partners when circumstances dictated. Four of the IceHogs league-low 11 fighting majors were attributed to Johnson.

In a very quiet manner, Johnson raised his position within the organization. He drew praise from NHL veteran Cody Franson as well as with coach Jeremy Colliton. John Dietz of the Daily Herald got both men to open up about Johnson’s game during the playoffs.

If Colliton names a captain for the 2018-19 IceHogs (after not doing so this past season), don’t be surprised if the C is slapped on Johnson’s sweater.

 

Coffee Cups

Alex Wideman

Tommy Olczyk

Kyle Maksimovich

These three players produced a grand total of zero points for the IceHogs this season. Wideman (13 games in Rockford) did have another good season with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, with 16 goals and 32 assists. Most of his time in town came in January and February.

Olczyk saw action once for the Hogs, skating in Grand Rapids January 20. Maksimovich was signed to an ATO in March after scoring 31 goals in the OHL for Erie. He got into four games late in the season and was inactive once the playoffs got underway.

 

Unlike a year ago, there should be lots of returning faces up front for the Hogs. Depending on what kind of veteran skaters Rockford is afforded, there could be several players who could make big strides in their games. Like last season, it should be exciting to watch.

I’m sure there will be some activity worth shouting about in the coming weeks. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter just in case I think of something. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to sort through the summer.

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs take to the ice at the HEB Center against the Texas Stars Monday night in Game 6 of the AHL’s Western Conference Final. The piglets stayed alive Friday with a 3-1 victory over Texas in Rockford to necessitate a trip back to the Lone Star State.

To advance to the Calder Cup Final against the waiting Toronto Marlies, the IceHogs require a road sweep of the final two games with the Stars. Game 7, if needed, will take place Tuesday night.

Rockford turned in a gritty effort to extend the series in Game 5. It was the first game that neither club’s power play was able to score. The Hogs had to get it done at even strength, which they did after a marvelous opening period.

As they had in Game 4, the Hogs came out of the gate in attack mode. Friday night, it resulted in two goals in the first 8:15 of action. The first came on a clap shot by Cody Franson from the left point 3:01 into the game. Five minutes later, Rockford was able to double its advantage.

The scoring play took shape quickly, with Victor Ejdsell finding Luke Johnson unchecked just outside the Stars zone. Johnson bore in on Texas goalie Mike McKenna and united rubber and twine in matrimony at the 8:15 mark.

David Kampf got off a nice shot from the left dot that rang off the far post but stayed out of the net a few minutes later. Even so, it was a dominant first-period for the IceHogs.

Texas didn’t get this far in the tournament by laying down their sticks when behind. The push back came in the second period, where they began winning races to the puck. Midway through the period, Roope Hintz gathered in a rebound in front of Jeff Glass’s net and deposited it to cut the Hogs lead to 2-1.

The IceHogs were getting time in the Texas zone in the third period, but weren’t getting the type of looks that could result in the insurance goal they sorely needed. McKenna, who has been outstanding in the Stars playoff run, coughed up a softie at a most opportune time for Rockford.

Kampf crossed the blueline and tossed a shot on the Stars net. It was not much more than a dump-in, really. McKenna swatted it away with his blocker. However, the puck tumbled high over the head of McKenna and landed in the crease behind him, toddling across the goal line to put the Hogs up 3-1 at the 11:13 mark.

Glass and the IceHogs, buoyed by McKenna’s gift, kept Texas at bay for the rest of the contest. In his second-straight start, the veteran made 40 saves on 41 shots. Rockford was out shot 26-8 in the final 40 minutes but triumphed nonetheless.

Despite the Stars nearly doubling Rockford up on shots (41-21), the Hogs closed the Texas series lead to three games to two in a very heartening way. Here’s why:

  • Rockford was able to come out smoking and took charge of the game early.
  • The IceHogs were physical without spending a lot of needless time in the penalty box. The Stars had just two power play chances on the night.
  • If the Stars didn’t know much about Ejdsell before, they do now. Rockford’s x-factor in these playoffs, Ejdsell leads all AHL skaters with seven postseason goals. He has four game-winners in the playoffs, tied with Curtis McKenzie of Texas for the top spot in that category. Ejdsell followed up his two-goal, three point night in Game 4 with a key assist to Johnson in Game 5.
  • Glass had himself another good game, grabbing First Star honors. He stopped a couple of key breakaway chances to preserve the Rockford lead. He also stood pretty tall in the closing moments, when Texas pulled McKenna for a 6-on-4 power play.

Collin Delia earned his spot as the postseason goalie with some great play in the first two rounds. In turn, Glass has earned the right to man the pipes for the remainder of this series, in my opinion.

Could Texas be feeling a bit tight around the collar after the Hogs kicked out of two elimination games? Possibly, though they still need just one win in their barn and will get two shots to do that. McKenna is still going to be a tough man to score on.

Curtis McKenzie squared off with Franson late in the first period Friday in an attempt to fire up his club. The Stars looked a bit frustrated at the physical nature of the Hogs effort, but Texas is more than able to give as well as they get in that department.

Three of the games in this series have been decided by overtime. It won’t come as a surprise if Game 6 is a hard-fought affair that may require some extra effort. Can the IceHogs force a seventh game in Texas? We’ll find out soon enough.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs were able to extend their season a bit longer into the spring Thursday with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Texas Stars. The asterisk can be removed from Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. It is indeed necessary and will be at the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday night.

Safe to say that this will be brief. The season could end at any time for the piglets. Maybe I’m here Monday morning  crowing about a possible comeback to be completed in Texas. Maybe I’m starting to dig a hole to plant the 2017-18 campaign before beginning a season-in-review post. The way the last three games have gone, it could be either angle.

Game 4, like the previous two games in this series with the Stars, came down to extra hockey. Unlike Game 3’s scoreboard orgasm, goals were hard to come by Thursday. Rockford had to rally from a goal down in the third period and needed a good portion of the frame to come up with the equalizer. For the first time in this series, the Hogs were able to manufacture some scoring when it really counted.

Victor Ejdsell gave Rockford the lead 6:24 into the game when his attempt from the slot slipped through the pads of Stars goalie Mike McKenna. Texas tied the game via a two-man advantage in the 16th minute on a bad angle shot by Travis Morin. A late power play tally by Matt Mangene put the IceHogs down 2-1 with 25 seconds left in the second period.

Things looked a bit bleak for Rockford until Luke Johnson was able to re-direct a Cody Franson shot past McKenna with just under seven minutes to go in regulation. In overtime, Ejdsell scored from the right circle after Matthew Highmore gathered in a rebound of his own shot and found the open Swede.

IceHogs win. Cue “Chelsea Dagger”, raise the sticks and get set to try this winning thing again. Here are some additional thoughts on Game 4:

  •  First off, the biggest change in the Hogs lineup came in net, where Collin Delia had a seat and Jeff Glass, who hadn’t had a start in over a month, manned the pipes. Glass limited rebounds and stopped 28 of 30 shots.
  • If Glass had given up six goals in any game down the stretch and Delia followed it up with a solid win, you can darn well bet that Delia would be getting the next start. That’s why I can’t imagine that Jeremy Colliton changes his goalie for Game 5.
  • If Rockford continues to be overly aggressive for the sake of drawing oohs and ahs from the BMO faithful, the Texas power play is plenty good enough to end this series Friday.
  • The IceHogs had a plethora of opportunities in the first ten minutes of action Thursday. It resulted in just one goal on the scoreboard. Texas turned the tables late in the period and went in even despite being outplayed for a large stretch of the opening 20. Credit Rockford for staying on task after the air got taken out of a nice first period effort.
  • I might be the only one thinking this, but I don’t feel like Gustav Forsling is defending very well in this series.
  • 3291 showed up to watch Game 4; the Hogs were well-supported in two weeknight contests. How many folks attend a Friday night elimination game at the BMO? How about you?
  • In the third period, Stars D Andrew Bondarchuk took a puck in the mouth and left the game for stitches. A few moments after Bondarchuk was taken to the locker room and before action resumed, the referee reached down and picked up what I assume was Bondarchuk’s tooth. My quandary; how much extra effort would it have taken for the official to skate over and hand off that tooth to the Stars so they could try and reunite it with Bondarchuk?

The puck drops on Game 5 at seven bells. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to see what the tone of Monday’s post will be.

Everything Else

For fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, the only postseason game in town is out of town. West on I-90, to be exact.

The Rockford IceHogs are a single victory from advancing to the next round of the Calder Cup Playoffs following a 4-1 win over the Manitoba Moose in Game 3 of their Central Division Final. The piglets are flying and Hogs Nation is starting to get excited about treading into unknown territory.

For a franchise that has not made it out of the second round in the eleven years Rockford has been the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, these are heady times. There’s a good chance the Hogs secure a spot in the Western Conference Final Friday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center. If Wednesday’s tilt was any indication, there could be a lot of folks watching Rockford go for the series sweep.

I said that I would be stunned if the Hogs got more than 3,000 fans for Wednesday’s Game 3. Summarily, 3,184 watched Rockford fall behind for the third straight game before scoring the next four goals. Among those fans were Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, president John McDonough and a bus load of team personnel. They had to have enjoyed what they saw. I know I did.

The blueprint for Wednesday’s rally was similar to the first two games of the series. Rockford tied the game with a power play goal, kept up the pressure on the fore check and wore down the Moose the last two periods.

For a team buoyed by veteran presence, it was the rookies that came up big in Game 3. Tyler Sikura notched his third goal of the series after gaining possession of a rebound of an Adam Clendening shot. The power play goal tied the game at 1-1 6:26 into the second period.

Just over a minute later, Victor Ejdsell found himself in the slot with an open look and fired past Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie for what would be the game-winner. Collin Delia kept the puck out of his net the rest of the way, stopping 36 shots on the evening. His skaters did an excellent job preventing prime scoring opportunities and clearing away pucks around the net.

Rockford picked up an insurance goal 13:52 into the third period. Anthony Louis found himself with the puck behind the Manitoba net and made a nifty pass to William Pelletier. Pelletier knocked the offering into the cage from the left post. Matthew Highmore added an empty-netter to complete the all-rookie goal parade.

The Hogs have had an answer for everything Manitoba has thrown at them this series. At the mid-point of Game 3, a Tanner Kero high stick had Manitoba up a man and with a faceoff in the Rockford zone. Lance Bouma spent the time before the draw chirping with Moose defenseman Mike Sgarbossa.

Once the puck dropped, Bouma skated over to Sgarbossa, a veteran AHL player,  and immediately drew a slashing penalty, ending the power play. Safe to say that Rockford is firmly ensconced in the heads of its opposition.

It appears that fans are beginning to recognize what I’ve been preaching all season; the IceHogs are an exciting young team that play fast paced hockey for 60 minutes a night. Bolstered by some key veterans and anchored by a hot goalie, Rockford’s journey in the playoffs may just be getting started.

Could I be back on Monday with a look at this weekend’s action? All signs point to yes.

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks, are halfway to a Central Division Final victory over Manitoba. The Hogs have surged to a 2-0 series advantage of the strength of two wins on the road this past weekend.

Rockford took Game 1 Friday by a score of 4-2, then came back the next afternoon and beat the Moose 4-1. The IceHogs are 5-0 so far in the postseason. They can build upon that streak in the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center with Wednesday night’s Game 3.

The Hogs special teams continued to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. Rockford was 3-10 in power play opportunities, while holding the Moose scoreless in five chances. The IceHogs controlled large stretches of action in Manitoba and were more effective physically to boot.

Here are a few thoughts to chew on as the action returns to Winnebago County in a couple of days.

 

A Team Transformed On The Fly

A lot has been made about the six players the Blackhawks sent to Rockford following the conclusion of their season. The broadcasters in Manitoba brought it up several times this weekend, as did the Chicago Wolves crew in the first round.

To suggest the Hogs are being led by mercenaries who arrived just to buoy a Rockford playoff run is not giving enough credit to the players who were around for the late-season push to the postseason. Yes, Victor Ejdsell has certainly been an x-factor so far. John Hayden and David Kampf have deepened the lineup for sure.

However, Andreas Martinsen spent most of his season toiling in Rockford. Jeff Glass, due to the strong play of Collin Delia, hasn’t seen the ice in the playoffs. The other goalie that came down, J.F. Berube, didn’t even report to Rockford after being re-assigned.

When the 2017-18 season began, the IceHogs were well-stocked with prospects but lacking in veteran leadership and physical know-how. At some point in the schedule, this glaring need was recognized and addressed in a host of moves.

This includes Cody Franson’s January assignment to Rockford, the acquiring of Chris DiDomenico in mid-February and Lance Bouma being assigned to the Hogs  to Rockford late in that month. Over the last half of the AHL season, the piglets got a year of experience under their belts. They also were reinforced in a way that added a physical, veteran element that is tailor-made for postseason staying power.

 

Short Handed Moose

Manitoba went into this series without its leading scorer. Mason Appleton, the league’s top rookie, has been out with an injury suffered in the previous round of playoff action.

Saturday, Bouma crunched AHL Defenseman Of The Year Sami Niku against the boards in the corner of the Manitoba zone in the second period. Niku was able to finish his shift but left the game. He did not return. Appleton and Niku were arguably the two best rookies in the league this season. Having them both out against Rockford is going to leave a lot of scoring slack for the Moose to pick up.

 

Hogs Of Note

Tyler Sikura potted goals in both games and played strong hockey in his own end as well. The IceHogs MVP of the regular season has continued to do the dirty work needed to get pucks in the net. For the postseason, he’s tied for the team lead (with DiDomenico and Ejdsell) with three goals.

Rockford’s rookie goalie has been Deliariffic, stopping 57 of the 60 pucks sent to his net. He was instrumental in the Game 1 win, negating several Rockford turnovers that could have had the Hogs in a hole over the first 40 minutes. Delia owns a 1.52 GAA and a .949 save percentage in addition to a 5-0 postseason mark.

 

Packing The BMO…Or Not?

I am definitely interested in how the piglets will draw as the games take on more importance. The Moose, on a weekend, drew 3,816 and 3,955 fans to the Bell MTS Place for the opening pair of contests. That is more than a bit off their season average of 5,277; to be fair, Winnipeg does have an NHL team in the same building in action this spring.

In 2017-18, Rockford saw an average of 3,915 enter the BMO Harris Bank Center each game. This is the lowest season attendance for the IceHogs since the 2008-09 campaign and an 1,100-fan per game drop-off from two seasons ago, when Rockford drew over 5,000 a night.

Game 3 is Wednesday, which isn’t typically a big attendance night at the BMO. Back in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, Rockford hosted three games against Grand Rapids in the second round. The IceHogs averaged 4,834 that season but had the following gates attend the playoff match-up:

Wednesday, May 13-1,780

Thursday, May 14-1,620

Sunday, May 17-1,624

Over 5,400 fans turned out for the Hogs win over Chicago in Game 2 of the first round. I believe that that is a franchise high for playoff attendance by a couple of thousand people. The previous high was May 11, 2008, when 3,306 showed up for Game 6 of Rockford’s second-round series with the Wolves.

Is the playoff buzz sufficient around this part of Northern Illinois to pull people away from local high school sports action? The IceHogs have an enthusiastic fan base who will be making the trek to the BMO Wednesday night. If that total tops 2,500 fans, I will be pleasantly surprised. If the game draws over 3,000 fans, I’ll be stunned (but in a good way).

It would be great if the IceHogs playoff run could pick up fan momentum; a telling indicator may well come on Friday, when Rockford hosts Game 4.

 

Central Division Final-Game 1

Friday, May 4-Rockford 4, Manitoba 2

The IceHogs opened the Central Division Final in impressive fashion, taking Game 1 at the Bell MTS Place.

The Moose opened the scoring late in the opening period after Julian Melchiori lobbed the puck out of his zone and into Hogs territory. Viktor Svedberg and Cody Franson were both safely back, but Svedberg was unable to get control of the bouncing biscuit. Buddy Robinson got the handle on the loose puck and beat Hogs goalie Collin Delia at the right post for a 1-0 Manitoba advantage at the 16:56 mark.

Rockford got an equalizer midway through the game on a slick transition play that started with Carl Dahlstrom getting possession of the puck in the corner of his own zone. In short order, the puck made its way to Matthew Highmore in neutral ice. Highmore sent it across the ice to Victor Ejdsell entering the Moose zone. The big forward zipped around Melchiori to gain a path to the right post, where his backhanded attempt got by Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie at 11:53 of the second.

The IceHogs used the power play to take the lead 3:29 into the final frame after a delay of game penalty on Manitoba. Tyler Sikura got a stick on a Chris DiDomenico offering to redirect the puck past Comrie for a 2-1 Rockford advantage.

Just 45 seconds later, John Hayden one-timed a pass from Andreas Martinsen. The shot from the slot kissed cord and put Rockford ahead 3-1.

The Hogs added an empty net goal from Cody Franson when a shorthanded Moose club yanked Comrie from the crease with less than a minute to go. Manitoba got a tip-in from Jan Kostelek, but the clock ran out with Rockford on top.

Delia, who kept his team close in the first two periods on several point-blank chances off of Rockford turnovers, made 24 saves to pick up the win along with first star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (2-6)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-2)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Central Division Final-Game 2

Saturday, May 5-Rockford 4, Manitoba 1 

Game 2 was another strong effort, as the IceHogs controlled the pace of the game on the way to a weekend sweep of Manitoba.

For the second straight game, the Moose scored first, getting the best of Hogs goalie Collin Delia when Brenden Lemiuex redirected a shot by Nic Petan 16:03 into the game. As was the case Friday night, Rockford responded with the next three goals.

The Hogs answered Lemiuex’s goal 2:35 later when Viktor Svedberg intercepted Petan’s clearing attempt in the high slot. Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie made the stop but left a juicy rebound in the front of the net. Tyler Sikura was on hand to knock it into the cage to tie the score.

The Hogs man advantage unit gave Rockford a 2-1 lead 4:45 into the second. Chris DiDomenico gained possession of a puck along the left half boards, skated across the ice into the slot and fired past Comrie’s stick side for the lamp-lighter.

Assists on the goal came from Sikura and Luke Johnson. However, a big part of the scoring play came when Cody Franson lifted the stick of Buddy Robinson of the Moose, allowing Sikura’s ring-around pass to get to DiDomenico.

The IceHogs moved out to a two-goal lead late in the middle frame. Some nice puck work in the corner of the Manitoba zone by Ejdsell and Tanner Kero resulted in Gustav Forsling sliding a cross-ice pass to a waiting Carl Dahlstrom. The one-timer sailed past Comrie for a 3-1 Rockford advantage 16:03 into the second period.

From there, Rockford kept its collective thumb on the Moose offense, killing a couple of Manitoba power plays and limiting scoring opportunities. Andreas Martinsen added an empty net goal in the closing seconds after the Moose went with six skaters most of the last three minutes.

Delia’s effort nabbed him First Star honors for the second consecutive night. Lemieux and Sikura were voted second and third stars. Luke Johnson left after a rough collision with the end boards in the second period, but returned for the start of the third.

Lines (Starters in italics)

John Hayden-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Chris DiDomenico-David Kampf-Lance Bouma

William Pelletier-Tanner Kero-Anthony Louis

Matthew Highmore-Victor Ejdsell-Luke Johnson

Gustav Forsling-Carl Dahlstrom

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Adam Clendening-Darren Raddysh

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

DiDomenico-Johnson-Sikura-Franson-Clendening

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Bouma-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 0-3)

Kampf-Bouma-Franson-Svedberg

Kero-Pelletier-Raddysh-Forsling

Johnson-Martinsen-Clendening-Dahlstrom

 

Coming Up

Following Game 3 Wednesday, Rockford hosts the Moose for Game 4 Friday night. Game 5 will happen on Sunday afternoon, should it be deemed necessary.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for tidbits of lucid thought throughout the AHL playoffs.

 

Everything Else

In running himself out of town by means of his performance and (allegedly) his mouth, Ryan Hartman turned into a late first-round pick and the towering Victor Ejdsell. Ejdsell impressed in his NHL debut, lining up between Saad and Kane to the tune of a 51+ CF% and three shots on goal. Then he sort of disappeared in his last five, primarily between DeBrincat and Sikura. Let’s see what we can pick out in a mere six games from our newest Éric Dazé–sized center.

Victor Ejdsell

6 GP, 0 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 Point, -1, 0 PIM

43.3 CF% (Evens), -2.7 CF% Rel (Evens), 37.88 SCF% (5v5), 35.96 xGF% (5v5), -8.66 xGF% Rel (5v5)

 60% oZ Start (Evens)

What We Said: Ejdsell comes with plus-hands . . . The big concern is whether or not he can skate enough to make any of it matter . . . The Hawks were after Ejdsell when he chose the Predators, and generally the European players they’ve been hot on tend to work out at least ok . . .

What We Got: Overall, we got a small feel for what Ejdsell might be able to provide in a sheltered role. His first two games were his best, as he managed four shots and his lone assist. After that, he disappeared completely for his next three, losing 66% of his faceoffs or more, and managing zero shots on goal. He took three shots in the very last game, then got sent down to Rockford for their playoff run.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Ejdsell’s cup of coffee was that he didn’t spend too much time playing the role of Annette Frontpresence. He’s got soft hands and good vision according to most scouting reports, and in his debut, he spent much more time in the high slot than in front of the goaltender. That’s a good thing, because by all accounts, Ejdsell’s play style is much smaller and more skilled than his frame suggests. There’s still plenty of time for Quenneville et al. to fuck that up and neuter him by cementing him in the crease because he happens to be large, but in his mini-audition, they seemed willing to let Ejdsell be Ejdsell and not Artem Anisimov.

There isn’t a ton more we can glean from his six games in terms of performance. While all of his advanced stats are downright awful, it’s over six mostly meaningless games, during which he played most of his time with DeBrincat and Sikura. More encouraging is how he’s playing in Rockford. He’s got two goals and two assists in three games, including a triple-overtime, series-sweep-clinching goal against the Wolves. Jon Fromi had some positive things to say about him:

Wasn’t bad in his own end and showed he can finish a scoring play in Game 3 [against the Wolves] . . . I haven’t seen any problems as far as him keeping up with the pace the Hogs like to play. He hasn’t looked out of place at all coming from the larger ice.

Fromi also said that the Ice Hogs are letting him play in transition, as he’s been at the front of some of the rushes. He’s also played a bit on the point during the power play with Dahlstrom, which might be encouraging.

Where We Go From Here: Given the Hawks’s makeup at center—with Toews and Schmaltz in the top two, Tommy Wingels all but guaranteed to come back, Artem Anisimov not yet traded, and our David Kampf in the background—it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of wiggle room for Ejdsell next year. But with his size and the supposed skill he’s got in his hands, there could be a spot for him somewhere in the bottom six—maybe next to Duclair and Sikura—assuming Saad, Kane, DeBrincat, and Vinnie round out the top six, as they should.

Realistically, he’ll find a home in the bottom six, making us wonder whether he’s actually two smaller hockey players underneath a trench coat sneaking into a movie they shouldn’t be at.

But you didn’t come to the Victor Ejdsell review for rational, stats-based analysis, and neither did I.

What you came for is a complete skullfuck of unbelievable and nearly impossible trades involving Ejdsell, and I’m here to give it to you.

Because the Blackhawks are running out of time with this core’s window, they’re going to make two moves to pry it back open, and they involve a ton of risk. But with the core aging and three consecutive disappointing years behind them, it’s time for Bowman to ride the snake.

The first move can come in one of three flavors, each one requiring more GENIOUS BRAIN neurons than the last to comprehend, to fill the big hole in the blue line. The second, of course, is a no-brainer. Everything that follows assumes the cap goes up to at least $80 million and that the Hawks either trade or LTIR Hossa before the draft.

1a. Package both first-round picks, Ejdsell, and Schmaltz for Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton. Throw in Rutta, and Anisimov and his 11 power play goals if you can get him to waive his NMC. According to Kent Wilson over at The Athletic, “The Flames will be looking to recoup some draft picks and find an impact right winger to solidify the attack up front. The team may be tempted to put Hamilton on the auction block to fill one or both of those needs, but that would likely turn out to be a mistake.”

Schmaltz’s 52 points and 21 goals last year might not be the high-level scoring Calgary would need to justify the trade, especially since Giordano–Hamilton is one of the best pairings in the league. Then again, Wilson pointed out that the Flames seemed to have trust issues with Dougie, using him both less than T.J. Brodie on average and rarely in higher-leverage defensive situations (penalty kill, overtime, as the sole defender on the power play). And this is a team that signed Jaromir Jagr as an offensive solution then acted surprised when he stopped giving a shit, and thought signing Michael Stone was a solution for defensive depth, so Flames GM Brad Treliving might be a moron.

2a. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. Our fearless leader, King of All Media, and overall maven already laid it out for you. If that went through, you’d have

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Hinostroza

Duclair–Kampf–Sikura

Highmore/Jurco–Anisimov/Wingels–Hayden

Keith–Hamilton

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

1b. Package both first-round picks, Ejdsell, Hinostroza, and Schmaltz for Erik Karlsson, and even that might not be enough for what Ottawa would need for the best D-man in the game (Bobby Ryan would probably be involved, making this impossible for the cap). But let’s assume Pierre Dorion is a special kind of moron, and Ryan isn’t involved.

2b. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. That leaves you

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Duclair

Jurco–Kampf–Sikura

Highmore–Anisimov–Hayden

Keith–Karlsson

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

1c. Package their #8 pick, Artem Anisimov, Victor Ejdsell, and Vinnie Hinostroza for Justin Faulk. The scuttlebutt is that Carolina is losing patience with with Faulk, and given Canes owner Tom Dundon’s questionable ability to properly value and compensate the people who work for him, he might be griftable. Dundon, a man with next to no professional experience in hockey, wants to play Mark Cuban, so maybe you sell him on Anisimov’s VETERAN PRESENCE and 20-goal season as a center, Vinnie’s offensive potential, and Ejdsell’s size and skillset. The problem here is Anisimov’s no-move clause doesn’t turn into a limited no-trade clause until after the draft. Maybe you get him to waive it by selling him on playing with Andrei Svechnikov, I don’t know.

2c. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. That gives you

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Duclair

Jurco–Schmaltz–Sikura

Highmore–Kampf–Hayden

Keith–Faulk

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

Ejdsell may not be a gun, but maybe he can be one of the bullets that get the Hawks the top-pairing D-man they need, based on his size alone and the coinflip that is NHL GM dipshittery. Though it’s 99.9% certain none of this will happen, especially since DeBrincat would probably need to go for most of these trades to even be plausible, a boy can dream.

Everything Else

The ‘Bago County Flying Piglets earned themselves a spot in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs early this morning. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford put in the extra effort at Allstate Arena to sweep the Chicago Wolves.

How much extra effort? Try 57:22 on the old time card.

The IceHogs brought the few fans who stuck it out a 4-3 triple overtime triumph, ending their best-of-five series with Chicago in three games. Rockford will have some time to recharge, as their opponent won’t be decided until Monday night.

I’ll be here with my regular spot on Monday with a look at both potential opponents, but here’s how things played out in Game 3:

Chicago came out as hard as you would expect a team facing elimination would, taking a 2-0 lead by the midpoint of regulation. Most of the tomfoolery of the previous two games was kept in check; neither team seemed to want to spend time killing macho penalties.

It was, however, on the power play where Rockford sparked a run that put it up 3-2 by the second intermission. It all happened in a 4:04 span shortly after Keegan Kolesar gave the Wolves a 2-0 advantage.

Cody Franson one-timed a Chris DiDomenico pass into an opening left by Chicago goalie Max Lagace at 9:50 of the second period. A little over three minutes later, DiDomenico took a drop pass from Andreas Martinsen at the top of the right circle and tied the contest.

The veteran forward was also the catalyst for the third Rockford goal, nabbing the puck in neutral ice and starting a rush into Wolves territory. From DiDomenico to Anthony Louis at the right circle, the puck then was sent to Victor Ejdsell coming across the goal mouth. A backhander past Lagace gave the Hogs a one-goal lead into the second intermission.

Chicago got back to even ground early in the third period when Wade Megan made a terrific second effort to regain possession of his missed shot, come around the net and stuff a wraparound attempt just over the goal line. At that point, both Lagace and Hogs starter Collin Delia put the back of their respective nets on lockdown.

Delia stopped 30 shots in the extra sessions; Lagace withstood 34 on the way to 72 saves for the evening/morning. Chicago looked to have won the contest early in the first overtime on a delayed penalty. A quick whistle (which did not seem warranted as the Hogs did not seem to gain control of the puck) negated that goal and the teams played on…and on…and on…

The game-winner came on the man advantage; Ejdsell took a pass from Louis and fired past Lagace to end the proceedings at 17:22 of the third overtime. Fittingly, Ejdsell’s two-goal performance earned him the game’s first star honors. Lagace had to settle for second star, while DiDomenico (1 G, 2 A) was third star.

Rockford now sits in anticipation of Monday night’s Game 5 between Grand Rapids and Manitoba. This is the third time in the Hogs AHL history that the team has made it out of the opening round. The power play went 7-18 against Chicago and Delia proved to be quite hardy in net. How far can that combination go in the tournament? We’ll see, starting with a preview of the second-round series on Monday.