Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs were deep on the defensive side in 2018-19. It was in this area where the club had an abundance of experience to start the season. It only got better in the spring as some key pickups further strengthened Rockford on the way to a long playoff run.

Back with a look at the back end of the roster, here are my thoughts on the defense.

The Sparkplugs

Cody Franson (37 games, 9 G, 19 A, plus-nine)

Adam Clendening (38 games, 4 G, 26 A, plus-two)

The addition of these two veteran blueliners completely changed the course of the IceHogs fortunes. The power play went from being a laughing stock to the most dangerous in the AHL.

Franson performed like you would expect a NHL-level talent to upon arriving in Rockford. The 30-year-old Franson immediately became a locker room sage and offensive catalyst, with six power play goals in the regular season, then four more in the playoffs. A point a game player in the postseason (6 G, 7 A), Franson totaled 15 goals and 41 points in 50 games in an IceHogs sweater.

Clendening, who was returning to Rockford after stints in several other organizations, saw his scoring touch return in a big way. After five points in 21 games for Tuscon to begin the season, Clendening went on a tear and wound up leading all Hogs defensemen in scoring despite joining Rockford well into the season.

So far as a return engagement from this exciting duo…

Franson was quite open about his future (or non-future to be more accurate) in the organization past this season. His steamrolling through the AHL might open a few doors as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

On the other hand, Clendening is an RFA and could be re-signed at low cost to the Blackhawks. The question is, will Chicago tender an offer to a player who couldn’t secure an NHL spot in the organization in his first go-round? Clendening would be a nice piece to start building next fall’s Hogs roster; we’ll see what transpires in the next couple weeks.

 

The Big Guy

Viktor Svedberg (73 games, 6 G, 18 A, plus-18)

The 6-9 Swede began his time in the organization as a project; Svedberg is now a UFA following his fifth season, most of which was spent with the IceHogs.

I’ll come right out and say it. Svedberg brought an awful lot to the table in 2017-18. Here’s why:

This was easily his best season from an offensive standpoint. He also potted a couple of big shootout goals when called upon.

Svedberg began the season healthy and stayed that way, playing a career-high 73 games. For a guy who had trouble staying on the ice in past years, it was satisfying to see him showcase his game.

Svedberg still gets a bad rap from some Rockford fans for his defensive liabilities, which were on full display for most of his first three seasons. That’s too bad, because he was arguably the IceHogs best defender this year.

I could count on one hand the number of times that Svedberg was caught out of position in his own zone, leading to an open shot attempt. He is never going to be a player who can use his skating ability to get him out of trouble. However, he has learned to take advantage of his reach and positioning to be effective.

Svedberg was often an alternate captain (coach Jeremy Colliton never named a captain this season) and was one of the few skaters (before DiDomenico and Lance Bouma showed up) willing to stick his nose into a scrum. When Franson arrived, Svedberg completed a very solid (and physically imposing) top pairing.

Svedberg has come a long way in five years and certainly could provide some organizational depth and leadership in Rockford. It will be interesting to see what offers he fields in free agency.

 

The All-Star

Carl Dahlstrom (64 games, 3 G, 28 A, plus-14)

Dahlstrom was a substitute for Erik Gustafsson in the AHL’s All-Star Classic and took his game up a notch in his second full season in Rockford.

Dahlstrom was a steady defender and took a bigger role at the other end of the ice in 2017-18. He looked a lot more confident bringing the puck out of his zone this season and earned a stint in Chicago late in the spring. It seems likely that he is in line to earn a spot on the Hawks roster in training camp the way things look right now.

Franson and Clendening altered the pecking order among the defensemen; Dahlstrom definitely had a reduced role on the power play. His shot attempts at even strength took a hit as well, with a drop in frequency of about 23 percent after he came back from Chicago in March.

Dahlstrom last drew cord for the Hogs on January 13. In his last 26 regular season games with the Hogs, he managed just nine assists. Dahlstrom rebounded in the playoffs with three goals and six helpers.

 

The Passed Over

Gustav Forsling (18 games, 2 G, 3 A, minus-four)

The other player most affected by Franson and Clendening’s presence was Forsling. When he was sent to Rockford in January, he scored in his season debut with the Hogs, then went dormant offensively. Once the vets joined the team the next month, there wasn’t much of an offensive role for the 21-year-old.

Forsling got some time quarterbacking the second power play unit. He had one assist on the man advantage in the regular season and another one in the playoffs. He was a bit more noticeable in the postseason, with a goal and five helpers. However, most of his time was spent on the bottom pairing.

Forsling did not distinguish himself on the scoreboard in his time in Rockford. At the same time, he didn’t defend very well either, at least in my opinion. Had Forsling had a more prominent spot in the lineup, he might have picked up his play in the latter part of the season. That didn’t happen.

 

The Prospects

Darren Raddysh (66 games, 5 G, 17 A, plus-ten)

Luc Snuggerud (40 games, 5 G, 12 A, minus-three)

Robin Norell (63 games, 2 G, 5 A, plus-two)

Raddysh had the biggest impact of these three players, earning himself an NHL entry deal from Chicago last month. He found himself in the lineup over several players with NHL contracts this past season, something that also held true nine times in the playoffs.

Snuggerud’s rookie season was interrupted for two months after suffering an upper body injury December 8. He had a pair of goals and eight assists after returning in February, but did not suit up in the postseason.

Norell’s campaign began with a savage beat-down at the hands of Brett Gallant in Cleveland opening night. It ended in the press box in the postseason.

After a four-game point streak in December, Norell went 43 games without a goal or an assist until getting a goal in the regular season finale in Chicago. This, despite playing as a forward for much of that time with line mates who regularly found the net.

His defensive play at forward was often praised by Colliton, though apparently not enough to get him on the ice at any position in the playoffs.

Norell skates hard, but isn’t a real physical player and isn’t gifted with a great shot. It may be hard for him to find time on the blueline this fall.

 

The Other Guys

Ville Pokka (4 G, 18 A) played 46 games in Rockford before being traded to Ottawa for Chris DiDomenico. Pokka was perfectly serviceable for the Hogs but was spinning his tires in the organization. The return on the exchange was a vital part of Rockford’s late season success.

Gustafsson (3 G, 14 A) was with the Hogs for 25 games before spending the remainder of the season in Chicago. Joni Tuulola was scoreless in two regular season games and four postseason appearances.

Also putting up goose eggs in limited action in 2017-18 were AHL contracts Brandon Anselmini and Robin Press, who each got into seven games.  Former Hog Nolan Valleau was brought in on a PTO for three games and then released.

 

Where Does The D Go From Here?

Chicago has added Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson and Henri Jokiharju to the list of prospects on defense. With Tuulola set to begin his rookie season and five holdovers, the position is crowded even without a veteran signing like Clendening or Svedberg.

As is the case at every position, the next month will surely see some turnover. The blueline will certainly be a lot younger in 2018-19.

This week, I hope to start sifting through the forwards in one additional installment of my year-end look at the IceHogs. Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the Hogs throughout the summer.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, much like their NHL parent club in Chicago, have been slumping hard in February. As a result, they’ve created some separation between themselves and the teams looking to secure a playoff spot in the AHL’s Central Division.

It’s the bad type of separation. The ‘Bago County Piglets may be hitting a wall in the AHL schedule. It’s coming at a rather inopportune time.

Rockford managed to snap a four-game losing streak Sunday with a win over San Antonio. The win took some of the stink off of two home losses to a weak Cleveland squad earlier in the week. The Hogs problems with the last-place Monsters goes a long way in part to explain why Rockford has plummeted to sixth-place.

The formula for success in the divisional standings is simple-beat the teams in your division. Unfortunately, this has been much easier to say than for the IceHogs to do this season.

Rockford is in its current position in the Central Division table precisely because of a poor showing among their regular opponents. Here’s how the teams stack up in inter-divisional play after this weekend’s action:

Team                 Record       Point Percentage

Manitoba          17-8-3-2     .650

Grand Rapids  23-13-1-4   .621

Chicago             20-11-3-2   .625

Iowa                   20-11-2-3   .625

Milwaukee        21-16-3-0   .562

Rockford       18-20-2-2 .476

Cleveland          14-23-1-3    .390

The Hogs are 6-3 against the Griffins this season. However, they have dropped the last three meetings with Grand Rapids, who currently are on a 9-0-0-2 run that has them in that second-place spot in the Central.

The IceHogs do not own a winning record against any of the other teams in the division. To make matters worse, the two games they lost at home to Cleveland this week leaves Rockford with a 3-4-0-1 mark in the season series with the Monsters. Not terrible, you say? Here’s how the rest of the loop is faring with the division cellar-dwellers:

Manitoba: 4-1-1

Grand Rapids: 5-1-0-1

Chicago: 4-1

Iowa: 6-0-1

Milwaukee: 4-3

Rockford is 3-6-1 over its last ten contests. All three wins are against teams from the Pacific Division (Ontario, San Antonio). Meanwhile, Grand Rapids is 8-0-0-2, the Wolves are 7-2-1 and Iowa is 7-3 in that same span.

 

Road Hogs

Rockford can certainly work its way out of this tailspin. However, they will have to do most of the heavy lifting on the road.

Of the IceHogs 22 remaining games, just seven will be in the confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center. Rockford has consecutive games just once for the rest of the campaign when they host Milwaukee and Chicago March 23-24.

The Hogs have 14 division games left. Ten of those contests are on the road. For a team that has to rack up regulation wins against the teams above them in the standings, that’s a tall order.

 

The New Guys

There were a number of moves made last week on the roster front. Last Sunday, the IceHogs inked forward Henrik Samuelsson to a PTO. A former first-round pick of Arizona and the son of Hawks assistant Ulf Samuelsson, the big wing paid early dividends for Rockford.

Samuelsson, who had 43 points (16 G, 27 A) with Idaho of the ECHL this season, posted a goal in each of his first three games with the IceHogs. He has already worked his way into the Rockford power play mix and skated with Matthew Highmore and Luke Johnson over the weekend.

Thursday was rife with moves. Goalie Jeff Glass came down to Rockford, with J.F. Berube being recalled to the Blackhawks. Chicago also pulled the trigger on a deal with Ottawa that saw defenseman Ville Pokka depart after nearly four seasons with the Hogs.

The organization reacquired forward Chris DiDomenico from the Senators in exchange for Pokka. DiDomenico skated in Rockford from 2010 to 2012. He’s spent this season between Ottawa 6 G, 4 A in 24 games) and AHL Belleville (5 G, 9 A in 25 games). DiDomenico did not skate in either IceHogs game since the trade.

A player who did get his first on-ice action with Rockford was rookie forward Nathan Noel, who made his debut Tuesday and got his first AHL goal Sunday afternoon. Noel made it clear what style of play we should expect from the fourth-round selection of the Hawks in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Noel stood out in that he is a pesky instigating-type that is in short supply on the Hogs roster. The 5’11”, 175-pound forward didn’t seem to have any problems finishing checks or adding an extra shove around the net.

Noel was injured to start the season. He was sent to Indy when he recovered and is coming off another injured stint while with the Fuel. In 17 games in Indy, Noel had four goals and five assists. It should be interesting to see if he can stay healthy and what Noel can contribute to this team.

 

Recaps (Readers Digest Version)

It wasn’t the best of weeks for Rockford. The Hogs managed to avoid being swept at the BMO, but lost two games to Cleveland before beating San Antonio. Here’s the long and the (mostly) short of it:

Tuesday, February 13-Cleveland 3, Rockford 1

Terry Broadhurst potted a shorthanded goal to open the scoring for Cleveland, taking advantage of a Gustav Forsling turnover. Rockford had five power play chances on the night; the only one that ended up on the scoreboard was the one from Broadhurst’s stick.

The Hogs evened the score with Henrik Samuelsson’s first goal with the team. The new guy was camped out in the slot, took a pass from Matthew Highmore and sent it to Twineville at 16:42.

The Monsters took the lead late in the second on a Carter Camper goal, then held off the Hogs the rest of the way. Alex Broadhurst hit an empty net to lock the game up in the final minute as the brothers continued to pile up offense against their former team.

J.F. Berube was solid in his second game back from injury, stopping 27 of 29 shots thrown his way. I wasn’t enough as the Hogs dropped their third-straight.

 

Saturday, February 17-Cleveland 5, Rockford 2

It was another exercise in futility on the special teams. Rockford went scoreless in five attempts, including a five-minute major. They surrendered another shorthanded goal and gave up a Monsters goal on the man advantage.

After a scoreless first, Cleveland came out and scored three goals in the first 8:29 of the middle frame. The offensive outburst was capped by Zach Dalpe’s shorty past Jeff Glass, who had little in the way of help in the second period.

Back came the Hogs with a pair of goals. Graham Knott’s shot bounced off sliding defenseman Cameron Gaunce and through the wickets of Monsters goalie Matiss Kivlenieks and into the net at 12:50 of the second. Henrik Samuelsson caught Matthew Highmore’s bank shot off the end boards and scored from the goal line at the 18:38 mark.

Rockford entered the third period down 3-2. That’s as close as this one got. Cleveland scored 1:35 into the third and added an empty-netter from Terry Broadhurst with 1:02 remaining.

 

Sunday, February 18-Rockford 4, San Antonio 3

The IceHogs got things turned around on the power play, with a pair of first-period conversions after falling behind 1-0.

Luke Johnson drew cord after putting in a long rebound of an Adam Clendening shot, tying the game 1-1 at the 14:20 mark. Less then two minutes later, Henrik Samuelsson had the space in the slot to sling home a Cody Franson pass for a 2-1 Hogs advantage.

Tanner Kero scored from the right post to give Rockford a 3-1 lead early in the second. Less than a minute later, Alexandre Fortin forced a turnover that wound up in front of the Rampage net. Nathan Noel was on the scene to get his first goal of the season at 2:33 of the second.

That chased San Antonio starter Spencer Martin from the crease. Ville Husso came into the game and held Rockford scoreless the rest of the way.

The Rampage added power play goals midway through the second and early in the final frame. However, Collin Delia made enough stops (25 of 28) to give the IceHogs a much-needed victory.

 

Save My Life, I’m Going Down For The Last Time-The Hogs Head East

Rockford is on the road this weekend, taking on a pair of Eastern Conference clubs.

Friday, the IceHogs tangle with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the first time since ever. The Penguins, who will visit the BMO in a couple of weeks, are 30-15-4-1 heading into this week’s play. They are led by Daniel Sprong, who is third among AHL rookies with 40 points (20 G, 20 A). Behind him is former IceHogs forward Ryan Haggerty, who has 16 goals and 15 helpers in addition to leading the team with a plus-21 skater rating.

In net, the Hogs will likely face Casey DeSmith, who has a 2.74 GAA and a .911 save percentage. DeSmith has lost four of his last five starts, though. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has dropped its last three games heading into the match-up.

Saturday, Rockford plays in Hershey, who are in seventh-place in the eight-team Atlantic Division. The Bears have won three straight games, however.

The IceHogs came out on top in the team’s first-ever meeting at the BMO, a 5-0 win. Three of Rockford’s goal scorers on that night, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Erik Gustafsson, are not on the current roster.

The Bears have a lot of experienced skaters, including forward Joe Whitney (24 points). Hershey is led in scoring by Travis Boyd (14 G 26 A) and Riley Barber (17 G, 16 A). Former Rockford forward Jeremy Langlois is skating for the Bears this season.

Hershey has used a tandem of Vitek Vanacek (2.79, .892) and former Chicago Wolves goalie Phoenix Copley (3.02, .892) in net.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my occasional musings on the Rockford scene.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, may see some players departing via trade in the coming weeks. Whether you consider the Hawks buyers or sellers at this stage of the season, it would seem likely that some deals will be make before the February 26 trade deadline.

I’m thinking that one of those moves will involve defenseman Ville Pokka.

With a host of defensemen currently in Rockford, the young Finnish skater has seen himself in what must be an unfamiliar role in his IceHogs tenure. That would be that of a spectator.

In each of the last two seasons, Pokka has played in all 76 regular season contests. He played in the first 41 heading into a January 23 game with Bakersfield. Pokka was scratched that night before returning to action that weekend, which included a game-tying goal in an eventual win over Ontario.

The 23-year-old Pokka was not in uniform for Rockford this weekend. It is possible that he is injured. It also could be writing on the wall that Pokka’s days in the organization are numbered.

I can’t say that Pokka has been Rockford’s best defenseman this season. That said, he certainly hasn’t been bad. He is on his way to what should be his fourth 30-point season for the IceHogs. In Pokka’s four-year pro career in Rockford, he’s been a steady offensive player.

Though Pokka spent some time on Chicago’s roster this season, he did not see any game action for the Blackhawks. As is the case with other prospects, it may have been decided that the organization doesn’t see him as a fit moving forward.

Keep in mind that this is my speculation only, here. Maybe the kid’s hurt. Perhaps the team just wants to give Pokka a mid-season rest. However, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that there are several Hogs (Cody Franson, Gustav Forsling and Adam Clendening, for instance) who would rate call-ups before Pokka at this point.

Pokka has been one of coach Jeremy Colliton’s alternate captains for the bulk of the season. His game has been solid at the AHL level this season. It just may not be enough to get his foot in the door with Chicago. Pokka will definitely be a name to watch when the trade winds begin to blow.

 

Roster Happenings

On Thursday, the IceHogs recalled F Nathan Noel from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Noel, who has yet to suit up for Rockford, last played for the Fuel December 27.

This may be a case of the Blackhawks, to whom Noel is signed to an entry deal, wanting to have him rehab an injury closer to town. I would assume that if he was healthy Noel would have slotted into the fourth line this weekend. Instead, D Robin Norell continues to get minutes there. We may be waiting a while for Noel to make his Rockford debut.

D Luc Snuggerud made his return to the lineup this weekend after missing nearly two months of action. Goalie J.F. Berube, who has been practicing with the team of late, is still out. Berube has not played since suffering a lower-body injury December 9.

 

Weekend Woes

The IceHogs had themselves a rough weekend. A pair of losses dropped the piglets into a tie for fourth with Grand Rapids in the Central Division standings.

Friday, February 2-Manitoba 4, Rockford 3 (OT)

After a blowout loss to Manitoba in November, the effort was better but not quite enough to get both points from the visiting Moose.

Manitoba took a 1-0 lead on a Patrice Cormier power play goal. The IceHogs drew even late in the first when Anthony Louis slapped in a loose puck from the left circle past Moose goalie Eric Comrie at 17:44.

Rockford took a 2-1 lead 4:04 into the second period when Tyler Sikura put back a rebound of a Andreas Martinsen shot. Manitoba made it a 2-2 contest when Jan Kostalek got one past Hogs goalie Colin Delia at the 15:18 mark.

Midway through the third, some rapid-fire passing by the Manitoba power play resulted in a wide-open net for Brendan Lemieux to find the top shelf from the slot. Rockford now needed another rally. It got one by the skin of its teeth.

As it appeared that the Hogs would yank Delia for an extra skater, Luke Johnson brought the puck into Manitoba territory and got off a shot from the right circle. The puck squirted past Comrie and slid in tortoise-like fashion across the goal line to knot the game 3-3 with 1:58 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero, who had been denied in two breakaway opportunities earlier in the evening, had the game on his stick in Gus Macker Time. Alas, his attempt was snuffed out by Comrie. As so often happens in these affairs, this led to a rush the other way. Nic Petan fired past Delia and the game was over.

Delia faced 50 shots on the night, stopping 46 of them to pick up third star honors.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen (A)

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Viktor Svedberg (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Colin Delia

Power Play (0-2)

Highmore-Johnson-Hayden-Louis-Forsling

Kero-Sikura-Martinesen-Clendening-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Manitoba was 2-3)

Sikura-Pelletier-Dahlstrom-Svedberg

Knott-Kero-Clendening-Forsling

Martinsen-Johnson-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Saturday, February 3-Chicago 7, Rockford 4

Things got ugly in the middle frame as four of eight Wolves shots found the back of the Hogs net, turning a 2-1 Rockford advantage into a blowout.

Chicago scored first, with Kevin Lough finishing an odd-man rush with a puck off the crossbar and into the net 8:02 into the game. Before the sands ran out on the first period, however, the IceHogs had gained the lead.

Paul Thompson was bringing the puck along the right boards in the Rockford zone when Alexandre Fortin made the steal. Fortin hit Tyler Sikura coming across the blueline and Sikura did the rest. Skating into Chicago territory, his shot attempt got under the pads of Wolves goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo. At 16:21, the game was tied at a goal apiece.

Two minutes later, William Pelletier caught up to a loose puck and made a nifty move to the Chicago net. Kaskisuo made the pad save, but Anthony Louis was on hand to shoot over the prone Wolves goalie, giving Rockford a 2-1 lead that they took into the locker room.

A Luke Johnson high-sticking double-minor gave the Wolves the chance to expose the IceHogs penalty kill. Brett Sterling connected with twine at 2:03 of the second period to tie the game 2-2.

From there, things got a little out of hand. Moments later, T.J. Tynan and Bryce Gervais worked a 2-on-1 to perfection, with Gervais besting Delia to put Chicago up 3-2 at the 2:59 mark. Shortly thereafter, a defensive turnover wound up in the back of Delia’s net, courtesy of Tyler Wong.

Late in the second, Jake Bischoff capped another successful Wolves power play, lighting the lamp from the point for a 5-2 Chicago lead. Delia, who allowed five goals on just 12 shots, gave way to Matt Tomkins when the teams came out for the final frame.

Early in the third, Adam Clendening lost the handle on the puck just inside the Wolves blueline. Mackenzie MacEachern took the gift, beating Tomkins on the breakaway to make it 6-2 Chicago. Minutes later, a re-direct by Teemu Pulkkinen gave the Wolves a 7-2 lead.

Rockford did get goals from Cody Franson and Andreas Martinsen in the extended garbage time that followed. The Wolves, however, won their 12th straight game at Allstate Arena with little difficulty.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-Andreas Martinsen

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero (A)-William Pelletier

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Robin Norell

Cody Franson-Carl Dahlstrom

Adam Clendening-Gustav Forsling

Luc Snuggerud-Darren Raddysh

Colin Delia

Matt Tomkins

Power Play (1-2)

Highmore-Johnson-Hayden-Louis-Forsling

Kero-Sikura-Martinesen-Clendening-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Chicago was 2-3)

Sikura-Pelletier-Dahlstrom-Franson

Knott-Kero-Clendening-Forsling

Martinsen-Johnson-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Coming Up…

The Hogs welcome San Antonio to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Wednesday night before spending the weekend with two familiar division opponents.

Rockford has yet to defeat the Rampage. In fact, they have been outscored 12-2 in three contests with San Antonio this season.

Friday, the IceHogs host Milwaukee, against whom they are 2-3-0-1 in 2017-18. The Admirals, who are 3-0 at the BMO this season, recently picked up former Rockford forward Mark McNeill, by the way.

Saturday night, its off to Des Moines and another tilt with the Iowa Wild. Iowa is third in the Central behind Manitoba and the surging Wolves. The Wild are also playing well, having won seven of their last ten games.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter to get the occasional thought on the IceHogs throughout the season.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, have hit the All-Star Break in their 2017-18 schedule. Rockford has the next few days to prepare for action Friday and Saturday. The AHL All-Star Classic is tonight. With two Hogs skaters participating, it’s as good as time as any to weigh in on the campaign thus far.

Surprise, surprise, a team of young prospects has been a little inconsistent in some areas of play through the first 46 games. One thing that has been a constant from this club, however, has been their level of compete.

Simply put, this team has battled hard for first-year coach Jeremy Colliton. Regardless of the score, they don’t pack it in. This has made them a very entertaining squad to watch. This trait also served them well this past week; twice Rockford rallied from third-period deficits to post wins.

The boys from ‘Bago County have a current mark of 24-17-2-3. That places them fourth in the Central Division standings. Rockford has as many regulation/overtime wins (19) as they had all of last season. Aside from first-place Manitoba, who the Hogs host Friday night, the Central is going to be a dog fight these last 30 games. Still, a spot in the postseason is well within reach.

The IceHogs are the least penalized team in the league, earning just 9.78 minutes in the sin bin per contest. The team has been disciplined, though the dearth of penalty minutes can be attributed to committing just six major penalties this season.

Rockford has been a better team at home (15-8-1-1) than on the road (9-9-1-2), but has kept its head above water when away from the BMO Harris Bank Center. After struggling mightily in games that stretched beyond regulation a season ago, the IceHogs are 4-2 in Gus Macker Time and have a 5-3 mark in shootouts.

The Hogs are scoring 3.15 goals per game. That’s tenth in the AHL. This is light years better that last year’s bunch, who depended way too much on greasy goals and were the worst offensive team in Rockford history.

Rookie Matthew Highmore, who is playing for the Central Division All-Star squad Monday, leads the IceHogs with 18 goals and 29 points. Six of those goals have come on the power play, which easily paces the team.

Tyler Sikura has provided surprising offensive punch for Rockford. His 12 goals are second to Highmore among active Hogs. Anthony Louis (7 G, 19 A) has been a steady offensive contributor, as has Andreas Martinsen (8 G, 12 A).

Luke Johnson has brought his game up in his second season, with nine goals and ten helpers. Both John Hayden and Tanner Kero have helped shoulder the offensive load since being sent to Rockford.

AHL All-Star Carl Dahlstrom has three goals and 20 assists to lead the blueline in scoring. Ville Pokka (21 points) and rookie Darren Raddysh (11 points) each have four goals to pace the defense.

Of the active Hogs, four have two game-winning goals-Highmore, Kero, Raddysh and William Pelletier (7 G, 10 A).

Colliton has preached a high-tempo style. His players haven’t disappointed in this department. Rockford is averaging 35.04 shots per game; that leads the AHL by over two shots more than division rivals Grand Rapids and Chicago.

The Hogs are giving up 3.02 goals per game. As you would expect from a team that is pushing hard to get pucks on the net, more than a few of those come back at them for prime scoring chances.

The play in goal has been vital to Rockford’s fortunes. It was very good to start the campaign. However, the IceHogs have been playing with a pair of rookies for almost a month after an injury to J.F. Berube and Jeff Glass being recalled to Chicago.

After some settling in, Colin Delia has played well for Rockford this past slate of games. If the Hogs can reach the playoffs, this last couple of weeks could well be the key stretch.

Delia and Matt Tomkins have been good enough for Rockford to compile a 7-6-1-2 record since Glass was recalled December 27. That’s far from dominating, but after starting 1-4, the rookies have held up and given the IceHogs a chance to win.

 

Special Teams

If Rockford can get a handle on this part of the game, it would be a big help. The power play has shown signs of life the last two weeks. However, the 12.4% conversion rate is still the AHL’s worst. The IceHogs have also surrendered seven shorthanded goals.

The penalty kill is not faring much better. Rockford has stopped just 78.7% of opponents power plays. They are 28th out of 30 teams in this category. Sikura has two of the IceHogs five shorthanded goals.

 

Odds And Ends

Rockford still does not have a captain.

Berube appears to be nearing a return, as is defenseman Luc Snuggerud. Both have been practicing.

Rockford sent F Tommy Olczyk, who skated in Grand Rapids for the Hogs January 20, back to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel.

 

The Bottom Line

This has been a streaky team, which is what I expected to see when previewing Rockford back in the fall. The Hogs have a pair of four-game win streaks this season and two three-game win streaks. They currently have points in nine of their last 11 games.

Rockford also have lost four straight on two occasions this season. Throughout it all, however, the Hogs have continued to play hard right up to the horn. This is a group that could go on a tear in the playoffs…should they make the playoffs.

The piglets have a road-heavy schedule and will have to keep earning points to stay with the pack in the middle of the division. It will likely come down the final week of the season in terms of making the postseason field.

Getting Berube back should be a boost, as will recently acquired D Adam Clendening, who adds AHL experience and offense from the blueline. There will be some roster turnover as the trade deadline looms, for better or worse.

Can this team make the top four in the Central and keep playing hockey this spring? With the motor I’ve seen from this group, I would say yes.

Recaps

Tuesday, January 23-Rockford 4, Bakersfield 1

A big third period was the catalyst for the Hogs win in their return to the BMO Harris Bank Center after a two-week road jaunt.

A Dillon Simpson goal 7:29 into the game was all the scoring through the first 40 minutes. This, despite the IceHogs tossing 30 shots on goal to that point. The cover would come off the Condors net early in the final frame, however.

As a 4-on-4 session was wrapping up, Andreas Martinsen gathered in a Matthew Highmore pass and skated into the Bakersfield zone. Swooping toward the left post, Martinsen got to the bottom of the left circle before flipping a shot high to the short side of the cage. Condors goalie Laurent Brossoit couldn’t keep it from cuing the horn, tying the score at a goal apiece 48 seconds in to period three.

The game-winner came at 7:38 on a pretty piece of work that started with Tanner Kero digging a puck out of the corner of the offensive zone. William Pelletier gathered the biscuit before backhanding a pass to Anthony Louis. Weaving to the top of the crease, Louis hit Kero in front of the net to complete the scoring play.

Up 2-1, Rockford extended the advantage on an unassisted goal by new arrival Gustav Forsling. Picking off Brossoit’s clearing attempt in the neutral zone, Forsling skated across the Condors blue line. Firing from the high slot, his shot zipped under Brossoit’s glove for a 3-1 Hogs lead at 8:27 of the third. Adam Clendening completed the scoring for Rockford, clearing the puck he length of the ice and into an empty net in the final minutes.

Colin Delia got stingy after the early Bakersfield goal, stopping 23 of 24 shots on the night to pick up his fifth win of the season. Forsling and Delia were the first and second stars of the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Darren Raddysh-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, Ville Pokka, J.F. Berube

Power Play (0-5)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Condors were 0-1)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Friday, January 26-Rockford 3, Ontario 2 (OT)

In the pink glow of Rockford’s annual cancer awareness game, the Hogs put on another rally for the BMO faithful. This time, Rockford came back from two goals down, tied the game in the closing seconds, and beat the Reign to sweep the season series between the two squads.

Jonny Brodzinski tipped in a Sean Walker shot to give Ontario a 1-0 lead 6:04 into the game. It stayed that way until the waning portion of the middle frame, when the IceHogs appeared to have blown a golden opportunity to draw even.

Penalties by Jamie Devane and Paul LaDue resulted in Rockford receiving a two-man advantage with 3:29 remaining in the period. Unfortunately, Tyler Sikura was called for interference after winning the resulting offensive zone draw.

Now with a 4-on-3 power play, Rockford lost the draw down at the other end. The Reign promptly doubled their lead when Brett Sutter slid a long-distance shot past Hogs goalie Colin Delia. At 16:37 of the second, Rockford was down a pair. However, Delia tightened his belt and the piglets got to work.

As their 4-on-3 was running out, Cody Franson got a shot on net that rebounded off of the pads of Reign goalie Jack Campbell. John Hayden was on hand in front of the net to poke it across the goal line to get Rockford back within a goal at 18:24 of the second.

The Hogs had several decent chances to pot the equalizer during their third period push. Campbell was up to the task for the first dozen Rockford attempts. Jeremy Colliton brought Delia to the bench with nearly three minutes remaining in the contest. A risky move, for sure, but it would pay off.

Ville Pokka one-timed an offering from Carl Dahlstrom at the top of the left circle. With Luke Johnson coming across the crease to screen the goalie, the puck got under Campbell’s pads and slid into the Ontario cage with 15 seconds remaining to make it a 2-2 game.

Johnson would drive the game-winner home to complete the comeback in Gus Macker Time. Taking a pass from Adam Clendening, Johnson looped up to the right circle as a Justin Auger and Andrew Crescenzi ran into each other while trying to make a defensive switch.

Johnson skated to the right dot unchecked, then fired a shot that caught the far side of Campbell’s net, ending the contest in the IceHogs favor 1:59 into the extra session.

Johnson (first), Pokka (second) and Campbell (third, 39 saves) were the game’s three stars, though Delia deserves a stick tap for another solid effort. He stopped 31 of 33 shots and kept Rockford within striking distance for most of the evening.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Ville Pokka-Carl Dahlstrom

Colin Delia

Scratches-Luc Snuggerud, Tommy Olczyk, Jordin Tootoo, Alexandre Fortin, Darren Raddysh, J.F. Berube

Power Play (1-3, gave up 4-on-3 shorty)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Ontario was 0-2)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Saturday, January 27-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 1

Rockford scored the first goal of the game but that was all the offense the Hogs could muster at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins limited Rockford to just 17 shots, pulling away with three second-period goals.

The IceHogs goal came late in the first period. Williiam Pelletier brought the biscuit across the Griffins blueline and centered to Anthony Louis, who couldn’t initially come up with the puck. It hopped toward the left circle, where Louis collected it before beating Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau at 18:06 for a 1-0 Rockford lead.

That was it as far as IceHogs highlights. Matt Puempel hammered in a power play shot to the far side of Matt Tomkins net to tie the game 1-1 2:56 into the second. Midway though the period, John Hayden surrendered the puck to Brian Lashoff in the corner of the Hogs zone. Lashoff skated below the goal line and banked the eventual game-winner off Tomkins and into the cage at 11:17.

Hayden did some shoving in front of the Grand Rapids net a few minutes later. Turner Elson jumped into the fray and the two engaged in a brief scuffle that saw some jabs from the Griffins forward and a wild right by Hayden. Call it a draw.

At the 15:25 mark, Eric Tangradi set up Evgeny Svechnikov in the high slot. Tomkins couln’t track the one-timer quickly enough, and the Griffins led 3-1 after 40 minutes. Matthew Ford would complete the scoring for Grand Rapids with a put-back goal at 16:57 of the third period.

No lines for this one; I was out of town and didn’t have time. Cody Franson left this game and did not return. Colliton dressed seven defensemen and skated Robin Norrell at forward in what has been a regular gig for him.

 

Weekend Preview

Friday night, Rockford will get a chance to atone for a 8-1 spanking at the hands of Manitoba on November 28 when the Moose visit the BMO for the second time this season.

Manitoba comes bearing the league’s best offense (3.66 goals per game) to go with the second-best defense (2.39 goals allowed per game). They’ve cooled a bit, but the Moose won their last three games going into the All-Star break, outscoring their opponents 13-4.

The Manitoba roster boasts four players who have notched 30-plus points this season. They are led by rookie Mason Appleton (15 G, 26 A). D Cameron Schilling, a former IceHog, is having a career season (5 G, 19 A). He is second among Moose defensemen in scoring behind rookie Sami Niku (8 G, 21 A).

This will be a tough team to hang with, let alone beat. Rockford’s post-break schedule definitely begins with a test.

Saturday, the Hogs head east on I-90 for a friendly bit of Illinois Lottery Cup fun with the Chicago Wolves. Cup aside, Rockford needs a win over the Wolves, who currently sit one spot above the IceHogs in the division standings.

Rockford is 3-3 against Chicago in 2017-18, but has yet to claim a victory at Allstate Arena this season.

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

 

 

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
God Save The Queen: Arctic Ice Hockey, Jets Nation

Fresh off three somewhat palate-cleansing barely-wins against the absolute dregs of the league at home in Buffalo, Arizona, and Florida, the Hawks face a far sterner test tonight in The Peg, where the Jets at least kind of look like they have finally gotten their shit together.

Everything Else

There’s a lot of anxiety about the D-corps this year because for the first time in this era, there seem to be more questions than answers. Nowhere is this more evident than the 3rd pairing. Maybe it’s just that we’ve been spoiled with both a deep and overperforming D-corps throughout most of this Hawks era. But looking at these options is a bit like rummaging through the fridge after a bender. One of these guys is going to pair with Forsling, so let’s see if we can conjure who would be the best fit. (All of this assumes Franson doesn’t make the team. If he does, I’d be shocked if he weren’t the 6th D-man.)

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs got an influx of new talent last week, with some of the new kids making an immediate impact. The Hogs managed three of a possible six points in three contests this past week.

The two newest faces belonged to defenseman Luc Snuggerud and forward Anthony Louis, who both signed amateur tryout contracts following their signing with Chicago. Both players got into action beginning this past weekend.

Everything Else

For the Rockford IceHogs, the All-Star break could not come at a better time. I guess it could come in the middle of a winning streak, but that hasn’t happened much during the 2016-17 campaign.

The Hogs are next in action this Friday and have plenty to ponder this week. Rockford hits the break losers of its last five games. The IceHogs dropped all three games this past week. In doing so, they were out scored 14-5, including 8-0 in the third period.

With a .400 points percentage that is the worst in the league, visions of playoff hockey at the BMO this spring is a delusion of grandeur. What players may be thinking in the coming weeks likely centers on where they will be when the season ends.

It would stun me if the roster remains intact through the NHL and AHL trade deadlines. Who might be on their way out? In my opinion, don’t mark anyone as 100 percent safe. Well…nearly anyone.

Everything Else

For the Rockford IceHogs, the All-Star break could not come at a better time. I guess it could come in the middle of a winning streak, but that hasn’t happened much during the 2016-17 campaign.

The Hogs are next in action this Friday and have plenty to ponder this week. Rockford hits the break losers of its last five games. The IceHogs dropped all three games this past week. In doing so, they were out scored 14-5, including 8-0 in the third period.

With a .400 points percentage that is the worst in the league, visions of playoff hockey at the BMO this spring is a delusion of grandeur. What players may be thinking in the coming weeks likely centers on where they will be when the season ends.

It would stun me if the roster remains intact through the NHL and AHL trade deadlines. Who might be on their way out? In my opinion, don’t mark anyone as 100 percent safe. Well…nearly anyone.

Everything Else

Here’s hoping that 2017 is kinder to the Rockford IceHogs then the previous three months. To put it plainly, the 2016 part of this year’s campaign flat out sucked.

Through 32 games, the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks has been struggling to stay out of the cellar of the Western Conference. Only the Charlotte Checkers have fared worse than the BMO boys heading into this week’s action.

How bad has it been? Hold your nose. I’m throwing out some numbers; they aren’t lemony fresh.