Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s AHL affiliate, wrapped up the 2018-19 season last night against Milwaukee. The Hogs were beaten by the Admirals 3-2, concluding the IceHogs season with a 35-31-4-6 mark. The 80 points earned by Rockford placed them seventh in the Central Division, out of the playoff picture this season.

As often happens with April snowstorms, I opted for my basement over the BMO Harris Bank Center to watch the curtain fall on this year’s crop of prospects. What follows are my thoughts as the piglets finished this season Sunday evening.

 

Pregame

Looks like a less than full throttle bunch to close out the season. Hogs MIAs include Peter Holland, Matthew Highmore, Jordan Schroeder, Jacob Nilsson, Dennis Gilbert, Lucas Carlsson, Collin Delia and Anton Forsberg. Kevin Lankinen is starting in goal; Matt Tomkins is backing him up. Apparently, with no tomorrow for Rockford, the Hogs have decided to punt.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh; obviously, the brass want to see some of the newer faces take to the ice. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is gunning for the second seed in the Central Division. Back on March 22, the Ads were five points behind Rockford for the fourth playoff spot. Milwaukee has gone 9-0-1 since.

The IceHogs went 4-6 in their past ten games. Rockford beat the Admirals in overtime Tuesday in Milwaukee. They fell 3-0 in Iowa Saturday night; it was the seventh time this season that the piglets have been shut out this season. Right to the end, goals were too scarce for this bunch.

The Lankinen-Tomkins connection could be a preview of the goalie tandem next fall, though it’s very possible a veteran will be obtained to pair up with Lankinen, who was very good in limited opportunities for the IceHogs. He definitely needs 40 starts in Rockford instead of the 18 he got this season.

Highmore, who spent most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, left Tuesday’s game and hasn’t played since. Last year’s top goal-scorer suffered through a disappointing season. Hopefully he’s just being held out to keep him healthy and his summer can be spent getting ready for a more productive campaign.

 

Team Awards

Before the game got underway, the IceHogs handed out their team awards. I tweeted my selections (@JonFromi) earlier Sunday afternoon. Here’s how things shook out:

Defensive Player Of The Year-Lucas Carlsson, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: I had Carlsson, who led Rockford defensemen with 33 points (9 G, 24 A) this season.

Most Improved Player-Dennis Gilbert, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Gilbert, who really added to his physical game throughout the season at both ends of the ice.

Rookie Of The Year-Dylan Sikura

My Pick: Jacob Nilsson, who had a promising rookie season, with 15 goals and 18 helpers in 62 games. Sikura was an outstanding rookie for the IceHogs; my selection of Nilsson was largely because he spent the bulk of the season in Rockford, as opposed to Sikura, who played 49 games.

Unsung Hero(es)-Tyler Sikura, William Pelletier

My Pick: Andrew Campbell, who anchored this young team despite not putting up the points. His three-goal, five assist season was what I expected offensively from Campbell. I also expected a strong veteran presence, which Campbell more than delivered.

Heavy Hitter-Andreas Martinsen, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Gilbert, who put a lot of butts on the ice during the season. He also dropped the gloves seven times to pace the club.

Man Of The Year-Pelletier

My Pick: The team announced this a while back, so we all knew how this would go. I really hope Pelletier, who missed the first couple of months, is back with the IceHogs for a third season. His motor is a definite asset.

Team MVP-Jacob Nilsson, who isn’t playing tonight.

My Pick: Jordan Schroeder, who also isn’t playing tonight after being injured last weekend. All Schroeder did was set a career-high in points with 45 (19 G, 26 A) and score 19 goals for Rockford. With points in 37 of his 62 games, Schroeder’s longest point drought was three games.

He had points in 23 of those games, including the Hogs only hat trick against Iowa January 6. However, Schroeder was a steadier scoring threat for the offensively-challenged Hogs.

On a team that was woefully short on veteran scoring, Schroeder stepped up his game. He was consistently Rockford’s most productive offensive player all season. In my opinion, this was the team’s biggest miss in regards to the awards.

 

First Period

Tanner Jeanneau puts Milwaukee up 1-0 with a tip-in at 6:29. A couple minutes later, Milwaukee scores again on a power play goal by Cole Schneider. Just over eight minutes in and Rockford trails by a pair.

The Hogs get a goal back when Alexandre Fortin knocks in a centering pass by Dylan McLaughlin midway through the frame. Fortin has had difficulty converting on scoring opportunities this season (this was his sixth goal of 2018-19). The speed is there, but the kid needs to learn how to finish plays.

Pelletier gets hooked a moment later and Rockford’s 29th-ranked power play hits the ice. As happens more often than not, the IceHogs come up short. Could a more effective man advantage have helped Rockford this season? Definitely.

The IceHogs are out-shot 12-3 in the first 20 minutes and head to the intermission down a goal.

We already know that Rockford will not be participating in the postseason. That’s because (sorry) the Hogs were not a playoff-level team.

Rockford, as you would expect from a prospect-laden squad, ran very hot and cold this season. The Hogs lost six straight games on two occasions and had several three and four-game skids.

Rockford did put together a six-game winning streak in late January and early February and had the goal-tending to put together a solid campaign. However, there was never enough offense to capitalize on the great play between the pipes.

 

Second Period

Hogs broadcaster Joey Zakrzewski mentions that there are 19 skaters for Rockford who will be free agents this summer. I will forecast which of those we can expect to return to the organization in the next few weeks.

Tyler Sikura is one of those skaters who I would like to see back. He may not be quite the prospect that Sikura the Younger is, but Sikura the Elder can still make a difference for the Hogs next fall. His season wasn’t as productive and he lost a lot of time to injury. However, Sikura still had seven goals and a dozen assists in 50 games.

The Ads go up 3-1 during some four-on-four time on a goal at 6:33 by Adam Halewka, his 21st of the season. Rockford, like last season, hasn’t let a two-goal lead get them down. This team has battled hard under interim coach Derek King. What does that mean to King’s chances of getting the gig moving forward?

I don’t know.

Rockford is on its way to a seventh-place finish. This is about how last year’s team would have fared without the slew of veterans who took over in the spring. Management is going to have to believe that King can get some of these prospects ready for action at the next level. I would think that that decision will come in the next couple of days.

Fortin has a clear path to the net midway through the period; he loses the handle and another scoring chances fritters away. The shots are now 25-9 in favor of Milwaukee, who take the 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

 

Third Period

Rockford has a couple of big rallies this season, including a four-goal third period against San Antonio last week that pulled out a crucial victory at the BMO. They came back from 3-1 in Milwaukee Tuesday, so I am not counting the piglets out of this game yet.

As if on cue, Luke Johnson gets a rebound of a Nick Moutrey shot into the cage at 8:57 of the third. It’s Johnson’s 18th of the season (career high) as well as his 31st point (also a career high), despite only 53 games played for the IceHogs in 2018-19. Johnson is an RFA this summer that has shown steady progress in Rockford.

The Hogs refusal to capitulate has been a big selling point these last two seasons. There is a nice crowd at the BMO tonight. Not sure it’s going to be enough to prevent another drop in the yearly attendance, though.

Right now, Rockford’s average is 3828, down just a tad from 3915 last season. The hockey wave may have crested, but it’s too bad more people aren’t taking an interest in a young team that plays hard and gets up and down the ice with urgency.

Rockford is pressuring the Admirals as the sands begin to run out in the final stanza; they’ve out shot Milwaukee 7-2 in the first 15 minutes of the period. Johnson and Dylan Sikura each have six game-winners this season and have a lot of other clutch goals. Maybe they sneak one past Tom McCullom to knot this game.

Lankinen heads to the bench and the Hogs take their last hacks. Phillipp Kurashev, who I imagine will be in Rockford full-time this fall, has a good look from the bottom of the right circle that is snatched out of the air by the Ads goalie. Time out called by King.

The IceHogs win the faceoff but just can’t put that key third goal in the back of the Milwaukee net. The Admirals vault Iowa and Grand Rapids for the second seed. They’ll start with the Wild in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs; Chicago gets the slumping Griffins. The Hogs skate off the ice to clear out their lockers.

So ends the twentieth season of pro hockey in the Forest City and the twelfth as the Blackhawks AHL affiliate. Was this season a success?

My thoughts on that question (and probably many others) will come in future posts. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, like their parent organization, are currently riding a four-game winning streak. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate put together a pair of victories over the weekend; the current streak is the longest of the 2018-19 campaign for the Hogs.

Following Saturday’s overtime win in Milwaukee, Rockford has six straight games at the BMO Harris Bank Center over the next two weeks. The IceHogs have been much better in their own building this season, with a .568 home points percentage versus a .481 mark on the road. If there is an opportune time to make a push up the Central Division standings, it is now.

At press time, Rockford (21-19-3-5) is in seventh place in the division standings with a .521 points percentage. The Hogs sit right behind San Antonio (.522) and are withing striking distance of Texas and Milwaukee, who occupies the fourth playoff spot in the Central.

 

Roster Activity

On Tuesday, forward Brett Welychka was recalled from the Indy Fuel. Welychka, whose last game in Rockford was November 20, skated for the Hogs in Milwaukee Saturday night.

A bigger move was make on Wednesday, with defenseman Henri Jokiharju coming to Rockford from the Blackhawks. The 19-year-old rookie was very noticable over the weekend. Jokiharju picked up his first goal twelve minutes into his Hogs debut Friday, then led Rockford with nine shots on goal against the Admirals Saturday.

Jokiharju’s arrival comes at a good time. Joni Tuulola has been out of the lineup the last few weeks. Luc Snuggerud hasn’t played for almost three months. Brandon Davidson last played on January 21. Blake Hillman took a nasty fall into the boards Friday night. The team has indicated that Hillman, who did not skate Saturday, wasn’t seriously hurt.

That’s good news, but the fact is that the blueline is still banged up. Rockford can benefit from a talented puck-mover like Jokiharju as they try and pick up points in the coming weeks.

 

Hogs Of Note

William Pelletier had goals in both wins this weekend. In 16 games since returning from offseason surgery, the 5’7” forward has four goals and four assists. He’s also a plus-seven in those games.

Terry Broadhurst has a five-game point streak going and chipped in with a pair of helpers in Friday’s win. He also assisted on Pelletier’s goal on Saturday night.

Rookie Lucas Carlsson was paired with Jokiharju on Friday to form what could be an exciting duo in the coming weeks. Carlsson has points in his last four games. In his last four contests, Luke Johnson has four points (2 G, 2 A).

Until the roster is changed through trade or assignments by the Blackhawks, Rockford needs contributions throughout the lineup. The Hogs have managed to put together some solid team efforts in the course of the four-game winning streak.

Recaps

Friday, February 1-Rockford 5, Chicago 2

The IceHogs matched a season high in picking up their third win in a row. A trio of second-period goals paved the way for the victory in this Illinois Lottery Cup tilt.

Chicago’s Daniel Carr got the Wolves on the board 3:13 into the contest with his 22nd goal of the season. That lead survived until the 12:30 mark, when Henri Jokiharju drew cord for his first North American professional goal.

Jordan Schroeder fed Jokiharju for an initial attempt from the right point. That shot did not get through, striking Jacob Nilsson and coming back out to the rookie defenseman. The second offering got by Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk and into the net.

Rockford took a 2-1 advantage on an Alexandre Fortin goal 2:54 into the second period, then doubled that lead a few minutes later. William Pelletier got open in the slot and punched Terry Broadhurst’s centering pass off the right post and into the cage at the 6:19 mark.

In the 12th minute, Viktor Ejdsell got control of a loose puck in the Wolves zone, skated to the slot and sent an attempt off the pads of Dansk. Ejdsell gathered in his own rebound and sent a successful shot past Dansk to make it 4-1 Rockford. At that point, Dansk gave way to backup Zach Fucale.

Chicago got a power play goal from Gage Quinney late in the period, but that was as close as the game got. Fortin added his second goal of the evening with an empty netter in the final minute.

Rockford defenseman Blake Hillman took a head-first spill behind the boards in the first period and was taken from the ice to the locker room. The Hogs played with five defensemen the rest of the way.

 

Saturday, February 2-Rockford 3, Milwaukee 2 (OT)

For over 40 minutes, the game was a scoreless affair, something that has been typical of the action with Milwaukee this season. The Hogs let a two-goal lead slip away in the third period but regrouped to post a fourth-straight victory.

The first goal of the contest came 2:40 into the third period. Andreas Martinsen hauled in a pass from Darren Raddysh behind the Ads net. Martinsen powered to the front of the net before he lost the handle on the puck. Dylan Sikura was on hand to throw the biscuit past Milwaukee goalie Troy Groesnick for the lead.

Rockford went up 2-0 midway through the final frame on a bit of good fortune. Alexandre Fortin hustled to negate an icing call on the Hogs, then slid the puck behind the Admirals net. Terry Broadhurst sent it to the left circle; Lucas Carlsson got a stick on it before William Pelletier got control. The subsequent backhand centering attempt glanced off of the skate of Milwaukee’s Scott Savage and past Grosenick at 12:18 of the third.

The Ads had plenty of fight left, rallying to tie the game with late goals by Eeli Tolvanen and Yakov Trenin, who redirected a Vince Perdie blast between the pads of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg with 43 seconds left in regulation.

Rockford had the last say in this one. In Gus Macker Time, Jordan Schroeder brought the puck into the Milwaukee zone and was able to wait for his fellow Hogs to get into position. Schroeder hit Raddysh coming into the right slot. Raddysh lifted a shot over Grosenick’s glove to end the contest in favor of the IceHogs.

 

Coming Up

The IceHogs have a couple of non-divisional opponents visiting the BMO this week. First up is Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, who comes a-calling on Wednesday night. Tucson arrives for a two-game weekend set Friday and Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my Hogs-related musings throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs saw a losing streak swell to four games before knocking off the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont Saturday night. The piglets are mired in a pretty rough patch since the holidays.

Rockford is 2-8-1-1 since December 26. This stretch has resulted in the Hogs dropping to last place in the AHL’s Central Division with a .488 points percentage.

The fortunes of AHL teams can change quickly as rosters fluctuate. That said, the gap between the division’s playoff teams and the IceHogs is growing. Fourth-place Texas has a five-game points lead over the Hogs with three games in hand.

Last year’s club was in better position (22-16-5, .534 points percentage) than the 17-18-3-5 IceHogs are after 43 games this season. The key push started in February when the organization picked up veteran reinforcements.

This begs a pair of questions. Will the Blackhawks be able to bolster the AHL roster in the coming weeks? More importantly, will reinforcements make a difference?

 

Mega-Scary Stat

Two seasons ago, the IceHogs suffered through their worst finish in franchise history, finishing dead last in the Central Division and winning just 25 games. The offense, which also marked a franchise nadir, was last in the AHL at 2.30 goals per game.

Through 43 games in 2018-19, Rockford is scoring at a 2.26 goals per game clip. It should come as no surprise that the Hogs are still last in scoring among the 31 AHL clubs. Rockford is the only team in the AHL that has not eclipsed the 100-goal mark.

 

Ejdsell Returns

Viktor Ejdsell was back in action last week after missing almost a month to injury. The big Swede made his return January 11 in Texas. He didn’t get on the scoresheet that night. However, Ejdsell has posted points in each of his last five games.

Ejdsell scored the Hogs only goal Tuesday night. He sent a shot off the pads of Harri Sateri Friday to set up William Pelletier’s goal, then cleaned up a rebound of Lucas Carlsson’s attempt to get Rockford on the board in Saturday’s overtime win.

With Rockford hurting for offense, Ejdsell coming back is a positive. If he can get on a roll, maybe a few other players can find the scoring touch.

 

Roster Moves

Defenseman Neil Manning, who was on an AHL contract with the IceHogs, was released from his contract on Monday. Manning, who had appeared in three games with Rockford, was named to the ECHL’s Western Conference All-Star Team. By mutual agreement, Manning was released so that he could pursue work overseas. He quickly signed with the EC Kassel Huskies in Germany.

Matheson Iacopelli was recalled to Rockford on Thursday. It’s been a tough year for Iacopelli, who has been in an out of the lineup with the IceHogs. He has two goals and two assists in 26 games this season.

Following Friday’s game, Hogs coach Derek King revealed that F Tyler Sikura, last season’s team MVP and second-leading goal scorer, had suffered a broken thumb in practice. Rockford will miss his high compete level for however long he is out of action.

Recaps

Tuesday, January 15-San Antonio 2, Rockford 1

It was yet another one-goal loss for the IceHogs this season. This one was the third straight loss on the Texas road trip.

Rockford got the game’s first goal 14:08 of the opening period. William Pelletier brought the puck from behind the Rampage net and sent a pass out to Blake Hillman just inside the San Antonio blueline. Hillman swiftly sent the biscuit to Viktor Ejdsell at the right circle. The shot beat Rampage goalie Jared Coreau to the stick side and put the IceHogs up 1-0. It would remain that way into the first intermission.

The Rampage tied the game midway through the second period on a goal by Mitch Reinke. The shot got past Rockford goalie Anton Forsberg, who was fighting a lot of traffic in front of his crease.

The game remained even until late in the final frame. A Luke Johnson turnover was snatched up by San Antonio’s Trevor Smith. Smith sent the puck into the slot, where Bobby MacIntyre slapped it past Forsberg and into the back of the net. With 3:19 to play, the Rampage went up 2-1.

The Hogs pulled their goalie with 2:20 left but was unable to secure the equalizer.

 

Friday, January 18-Grand Rapids 3, Rockford 1

Rockford returned to the friendly confines of the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday, dropping its fourth-straight game.

The IceHogs got on the board late in the opening frame. Dennis Gilbert brought the puck into the Griffins zone, came around the net and hit Viktor Ejdsell at the right dot. Ejdsell stickhandled into a shooting position and sent an offering off the right pad of Grand Rapids goalie Harri Sateri. The rebound found the stick of William Pelletier, who buried it into the twine at 17:38 for a 1-0 Hogs lead.

Grand Rapids tied the game two minutes into the second after Wade Megan scored a clean faceoff win. The puck came out to Jake Chelios, who sent the puck high on Lankinen. The shot, which may or may not have glanced off of the stick of Nick Moutrey, fluttered into the Hogs net to knot the contest at a goal apiece.

Midway through the final frame, Megan put Grand Rapids up 2-1, taking a pass from Matt Puempel at the right dot and roofing the shot past Lankinen. That was enough to beat the Hogs, though Megan added an empty-netter to put a bow on this one.

 

Saturday, January 19-Rockford 3, Chicago 2 (OT)

The Wolves erased a two-goal Rockford advantage early in the third period. However, the Hogs persevered to claim the win in Gus Macker Time.

Neither team found the back of a net in the opening twenty. Rockford got the game’s first goal from the stick of Viktor Ejdsell, who followed up on a shot by Lucas Carlsson. Carlsson had gotten the scoring play started after gaining possession in his own zone. Working with Graham Knott, the two made their way to the Chicago net, where Oscar Dansk made the initial stop before Ejdsell took care of the rebound at 2:37.

A few minutes later, Andrew Campbell took a pass from Andreas Martinsen at the top of the left circle and sent a shot above Dansk’s glove. The IceHogs now had a 2-0 lead at the 6:51 mark of the middle frame.

That cushion was gone early in the third period following penalties by Dennis Gilbert and Luke Johnson. Dylan Coughlin scored on the resulting 5-on-3 at 2:32 of the third. While still up a skater, Erik Brannstrom tied the game at the 3:18 mark. The Wolves out shot Rockford 12-3 in the final period of regulation; the IceHogs failed to log a shot on goal until the final minutes.

Anton Forsberg kept the Wolves at bay for the remainder of the third period. In all, the Hogs goalie stopped 36 shots on the evening. Forsberg’s efforts were not in vain. Rockford broke the tie 1:29 into the extra session, when Knott knocked a loose puck in at the right post.

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks, have a real issue with goal scoring this season. As the midway point of the 2018-19 season approaches, it’s beginning to create some separation in the AHL’s Central Division standings. For the Hogs, that’s not in a good way.

As has been the case for a while now, Rockford is in sixth place in the division. However, the gap between the IceHogs and fifth-place Milwaukee is growing. The Hogs (.514 points percentage) are closer to seventh-place San Antonio (.485) than they are the Admirals (.571).

This week, the IceHogs were on the short end of a pair of 2-1 decisions. Kevin Lankinen and Anton Forsberg kept things close. In the end, Rockford was not up to the task offensively.

The defense, surrendering just 2.83 goals per game, is ranked fifth in the league. It’s a crying shame the organization doesn’t put some goal-scorers on this team every year. Right now, the IceHogs are made up of prospects and a couple of decent complimentary scorers.

As of this morning, the Hogs are still dead last in the AHL in scoring. Their figure has dropped over the last five games to 2.22 goals per contest. RFD has scored 0, 2, 1,1 and 1 in those past five. To the surprise of no one, the piglets have lost all five of those games.

If RFD is going to pick it up in the second half, some of the kids need to start finding the net. They also are going to need some help in the form of veteran pickups.

Last year, Stan Bowman filled the scoring needs with some trade deadline acquisitions, as well as assigning some players from the bottom of the Hawks roster. The bolstered Hogs reached the conference final. Two years ago, things went sour in Rockford when the team was not shored up with needed talent.

The organization may not start making moves for a few weeks yet. That means that the IceHogs are going to have to start treading water and hope help arrives.

 

All-Star Selections

The AHL announced the rosters for the leagues All-Star Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts at the end of this month. Andrew Campbell was named a captain of the Western Conference squad back on December 20. Goalie Collin Delia, who is currently playing with the Blackhawks, was also named from the Central Division.

 

Roster Moves

On Thursday, the IceHogs brought up defensemen Josh McArdle and Neil Manning from the Indy Fuel. Though Dennis Gilbert was back in the lineup this week after missing a few games, Lucas Carlsson and Jan Rutta were out for Wednesday’s game with Milwaukee. The IceHogs were forced to go with 13 forwards and just five defensemen against the Admirals.

 

Recaps

Monday, December 31-Grand Rapids 2, Rockford 1

The scoreboard wasn’t used until the midpoint; Carter Camper converted for the Griffins on a two-man advantage at 11:19 of the second period. A goal by Graham Knott was waved off due to a goalie interference call on Luke Johnson a few minutes later.

Rockford tied the game for real after a faceoff win at the left dot by Nathan Noel. Henrik Samuelsson tapped the puck to Matheson Iacopelli, who slid it back to Lucas Carlsson just inside the Grand Rapids blueline. The long-distance shot got the best of Griffins goalie Harri Sateri and nestled into the twine to even the score at a goal apiece at 15:50 of the middle frame.

Grand Rapids took a 2-1 lead with 4:44 remaining in regulation when Chris Terry’s maneuvering created the space for Joe Hicketts to send a slap shot past Hogs goalie Kevin Lankinen. Lankinen was pulled with 2:32 to go for an extra skater, but the IceHogs weren’t able to get a shot past Sateri.

 

Wednesday, January 2, Milwaukee 2, Rockford 1

Rockford dropped its fifth-straight game, falling to the Admirals at the BMO in front of 3330 humans, several dozen canine friends and at least one pet of the porcine variety.

The Hogs dug a 2-0 hole for themselves over the first two periods. The Admirals swarmed Rockford in the opening minutes, taking a 1-0 advantage on a Yakov Trenin goal 1:45 into the contest. Connor Brickley put back a rebound of an Alexandre Carrier shot 4:21 into the second to double the Milwaukee lead.

Rockford’s starter in net, Anton Forsberg, did not allow another Admirals goal to give his club a chance to rally. The IceHogs had the game’s only four power play chances but could not convert. William Pelletier, Rockford’s most active skater all evening, redirected a Tyler Sikura shot for his first goal of the season. This cut the lead to 2-1 4:26 into the final period.

Hogs coach Derek King went with six skaters for the final two-and-a-half minutes, to no avail. Raddysh sent a shot off the left post but that’s as close as Rockford could get to the equalizer.

 

Wild Times With Iowa

The prospect of breaking Rockford’s losing streak is made tougher with a home-and-home series with the Iowa Wild this weekend. The Hogs begin the action in DesMoines Friday. The teams come to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Sunday.

Iowa sits atop the Cental Division. The Wild (19-8-4-3) won their fourth straight Wednesday night, beating Chicago 3-1. Iowa has won three of the four games against Rockford this season, outscoring the piglets 11-5 in those games.

The scoring has been spread throughout the lineup; 13 active Iowa skaters have double digit points, compared to just seven for the IceHogs. Cal O’Reilly, the Wild captain and an All-Star selection, paces his club with 25 points (5 G, 20 A). Iowa is getting goals from Gerry Fitzgerald (12), Colton Beck (10) and Justin Kloos (10).

Rookie goalie Kaapo Kahkonen has three wins over the Hogs this season. In fact, he’s shut them out twice. Rockford has just one goal against Kahkonen, who will also represent the Wild at the All-Star Classic, this season.

Of Rockford’s five goals against the Wild, Anthony Louis has three of them. Two came on November 4 in a 4-2 Hogs victory. Louis (8 G, 13 A) is tied with Darren Raddysh (7 G, 14 A) for the team lead in points with 21.

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

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs have 34 games behind them this season. They currently sit in sixth place in the AHL’s Central Division with a 15-12-3-4 mark, good for a .544 points percentage. Truth be told, this year’s Hogs are faring about as well as they did a season ago.

Yes, before the roster was bolstered with veteran talent in the last three months, it was a young, inexperienced group that was in a similar position at this time of the 2017-18 campaign. Through 34 games, that club was 18-14-1-1 for a .558. That’s about the difference of a standings point for those of you who don’t want to do the math.

The glaring difference in this year’s and last year’s club is the offensive numbers. The IceHogs of a season ago scored at nearly a goal per game better than this year’s crop of piglets. In 2017-18, Rockford had 105 goals scored and 101 goals allowed at this point of the season. This year, the Hogs have drawn cord 78 times while surrendering 98 goals.

Even with the Wolves putting together a 10-0-1 streak this month, the Central Division is pretty closely contested. No one has run away with the division yet. Last season, several teams put together hot stretches of hockey that had them moving up and down the division ladder. It stands to reason that the playoff spots are all up for the taking come spring.

For that to happen, Rockford is going to have to be better in the opposing zone. The IceHogs do not have a player in the top 20 scorers of the league. That’s a huge understatement, actually. Defenseman Darren Raddysh, Rockford’s top point man with 21, is currently tied for 85th in the AHL in that category.

Last season, the IceHogs were shut out just once. So far, Rockford has been already been blanked on four occasions. The lack of scoring punch is being felt all over the lineup

The Hogs potted three goals in three games this week, squeezing a point on Saturday because of a strong performance from goalie Kevin Lankinen. At 2.29 goals per game, they occupy the league basement. Like Saturday’s overtime loss, what’s keeping Rockford in contention this season is the play in the crease.

There is rarely elite scoring on the Hogs roster from year to year. Most seasons, they’ve put up points by committee. This season, Rockford again lacks top-end scoring power…and the committee has been out to lunch.

Matthew Highmore, last year’s high goal scorer, has missed all but seven games with a shoulder injury. Tyler Sikura, who put up 23 goals a season ago, has just six so far. Vikor Ejdsell is currently out with a groin injury and has just four goals in 27 games.

Jordan Schroeder has 18 points (7 G, 11 A) on the season and is putting up numbers that measure up to his past output in the AHL. However, he is a complimentary scorer. Veteran Terry Broadhurst (2 G, 4 A) hasn’t been productive from a scoring standpoint, but, like Schroeder, he isn’t a guy who should be pacing your club.

There are bright spots. Raddysh has stepped up his game in his sophomore campaign, with seven goals and 14 helpers. Rookie Lucas Carlsson (6 G, 10 A) has also come on in the last few weeks in response to increased responsibility on the blue line.

Jacob Nilsson (7 G, 8 A), who was up for one game with the Blackhawks, has five goals this month. Nilsson isn’t going to lead this team to offensive respectability single-handed. Several players need to bring more to the table. Here are but a few:

Graham Knott (2 G, 6 A in 32 games)-If this kid could find the net on the opportunities he’s had, it certainly would help. Knott has had some top-six time at center and has put himself in places to score at times. He just hasn’t shown any knack for getting a puck past a goalie in his season-plus in Rockford.

Alexandre Fortin (2 G, 3 A in 10 games)-Fortin seems to be a bit more under control after a spell in Chicago. He’s now getting top-line minutes and power play time with the Hogs. Now would be a good time for him to go on a points explosion.

William Pelletier (0 G, 2 A in five games)-Recently returned from offseason surgery, Pelletier is a player who can be used throughout the lineup. He’s capable of chipping in on the offensive end; hopefully he’ll start making a dent as he gets more games under his belt.

You can also toss Sikura and Broadhurst onto that heap. Unless the organization swings a trade that brings a blue-chip AHL goal scorer to town (not counting on it), Rockford is going to have to pick it up throughout the lineup.

 

Roster Bits

On Friday, Jacob Nilsson was sent back to Rockford by the Blackhawks. He played in both weekend games against Chicago. Defenseman Dennis Gilbert suffered a lower body injury in Wednesday’s loss in Iowa. He did not suit up for either game this weekend.

Following Sunday’s trade with Edmonton, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a player assigned to Rockford from the current Hawks roster. If Garrison, who had 28 points (8 G, 20 A) in 58 games with the Wolves last season, gets through waivers, his shot would be a welcome pickup for the IceHogs.

 

Recaps

No lines this week.

Wednesday, December 26-Iowa 4, Rockford 0

This Boxing Day effort was nothing to write home about. The Hogs went to DesMoines and got shut out by Kaapo Kahkanen. The rookie goalie stopped 39 Rockford shots to continue his impressive season.

The IceHogs out shot Iowa 15-3 in the opening period, though neither team scored. The Wild took a 1-0 lead 3:11 into the second period on a Matt Bartkowski snipe. A defensive zone turnover led to a Gerry Fitzgerald goal at the 14:41 mark put the Hogs down a pair.

A Will Bitten tip-in made it 3-0 1:25 into the final frame and pretty much sealed the fate of Rockford. Hogs coach Derek King yanked starting goalie Kevin Lankinen for an extra skater with 3:17 remaining to try and foil the shutout bid, but Matt Read intercepted a pass and threw in an empty netter to close out the scoring.

Rockford denied three Wild power plays but failed to convert on four of its own man advantage opportunities.

 

Friday, December 28-Chicago 4, Rockford 2

Rockford dropped its second straight game despite leading twice in this game. Curtis McKenzie’s two goal effort provided the winning margin at the BMO Friday night.

After skating to the tune of no goals for most of the opening period, the teams traded goals in the latter part of the frame.

Jordan Schroeder got Rockford up 1-0 at the 15:26 mark. Schroeder got to a rebound off a Darren Raddysh shot at the right post, knocking his attempt through Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk and just across the goal line. Moments later, Chicago responded with a Curtis McKenzie goal. The teams went to the first intermission all even.

Lucas Carlsson was set up by Graham Knott early in the second period to give the Hogs a 2-1 lead. At the seven minute mark, the Wolves Keegan Kolesar potted the equalizer. After a delay of game penalty on Rockford, McKenzie drew cord on the power play for his second goal of the contest. His back hand attempt slipped under the stick arm of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg at 11:24 to give Chicago a 3-2 advantage.

Late in the second period, the Wovles man advantage struck again. Dylan Coughlin sent a hard slap shot from the slot that skidded past Forsberg for a 4-2 Chicago lead with 14 seconds to play in the period.

The IceHogs made a push to get back into the contest but found the post uncooperative on numerous occasions in the third period. The Wolves couldn’t score, but didn’t need to.

Chicago won the special teams battle, converting twice in six chances. The IceHogs came up empty on four power play attempts.

 

Saturday, December 29-Chicago 2, Rockford 1 (OT)

The Hogs salvaged a point in Rosemont solely on the strength of Kevin Lankinen’s performance on the evening. The rookie goalie stopped 43 shots and weathered a first-period assault by the Wolves to keep his team in the game.

Chicago came out smoking; Lankinen fended off 25 of the 26 shots the Wolves sent at him in the opening frame. Brooks Macek capped an extended scrum in front of the crease by knocking in his 17th of the season at the 14:18 mark, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead that they would hold through the bulk of regulation.

Rockford managed to play a more competitive game after the first intermission. However, they wouldn’t come up with the equalizer until the waning minutes. Stefan Matteau provided the opportunity after throwing an elbow at the IceHogs Blake Hillman.

Nathan Noel and Curtis McKenzie were already in the bin of sin for an earlier altercation. As they exited the box, Jordan Schroeder faked the shotand hit Jacob Nilsson at the goal line with a pass. Nilsson got Wolves goalie Max Lagace to bite on a fake, scooted around the cage and beat Max Lagace to the right post. Nilsson’s wrap-around made it 1-1 with 3:25 remaining.

An IceHogs infraction would set up the Chicago game-winner. Rockford was called for too many men on the ice three minutes into Gus Macker Time. The Hogs got caught in a partial change and Macek set up McKenzie in front of the net. Lankinen stopped the point-blank chance, but Dylan Coughlin followed up on the rebound, backhanding the puck though Lankinen’s pads and across the goal line at 3:55 of overtime.

Both teams scored once on the power play; Rockford was one of four, while the Wolves were one for six.

 

This Week

The IceHogs will be in Grand Rapids Monday night to close out the 2018 portion of the schedule. Starting Wednesday, the Hogs will don their white sweaters at the BMO. First home date of the new year is with Milwaukee. Friday, Rockford travels to Iowa before hosting the Wild on Sunday afternoon.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs get to take it easy this weekend…sort of.

The Blackhawks AHL affiliate have just one game on the schedule. Of course, that game is in Rosemont with the Central Division-leading Chicago Wolves, who just happen to be the league’s highest scoring team.

The Hogs visit the Allstate Arena Friday night for another in a steady stream of Illinois Lottery Cup meetings with the Wolves. The two teams have split the first four meetings; after Friday, Rockford will clash twice more with the Wolves before the end of the calendar year.

The IceHogs have won both games in enemy territory: the Wolves have taken both contests at the BMO by wide margins. Coming into this game, Chicago is riding a six-game winning streak.

AHL scoring leader Brandon Pirri (17 G, 24 A) was recalled to Vegas this week, so he won’t be around to torment the IceHogs. Rookie defenseman Erik Brannstrom (4 G, 16 A) is also with the Golden Knights.

Rest assured, Chicago has plenty of other scoring options. Tops on that list is Daniel Carr (14 G, 19 A) , who has been on a tear since being sent back to the Wolves. Carr is currently on a three-game goal streak as well as a six-game point streak. He has 11 points (5 G, 6 A) in six games since returning to the Chicago lineup.

Rockford is still last in the league in terms of offense. They have raised that average to 2.33 goals per game (compared to 3.98 goals for the Wolves), but have failed to break the three-goal barrier in regulation play in 17 of their last 20 games.

Coach Derek King can take solace in the fact that his team has been making the most of its meager output. Rockford is 6-2-1-1 in its last ten games. The Hogs (.567 points percentage) are currently in a tie for fifth place in the division with Grand Rapids.

 

Pelletier Returns

Rockford has won three of its last four games, including a comeback victory at the BMO Harris Bank Center against Milwaukee. A welcome sight came that night in the form of William Pelletier, who made his season debut Wednesday. The speedy forward was a key contributor throughout last season. Off-season surgery kept him out of action for the first 29 games of the 2018-19 campaign.

Pelletier chipped in with 14 goals and 15 assists last season. His wheels were utilized on the penalty kill as well as at the offensive end, where the Hogs could employ him to chase down dump-ins and avoid icing calls. For a player on an AHL contract, Pelletier had the full confidence of then-coach Jeremy Colliton. He was a mainstay in the Rockford lineup.

Pelletier made an immediate impact in his first game back with the piglets, getting a secondary assist on Tyler Sikura’s goal against Milwaukee. His presence is going to be felt throughout the roster.

 

Campbell Represents

It was announced Thursday that defenseman Andrew Campbell has been named a captain of the AHL’s Western Conference All-Star team. The captaincy of both the Eastern and Western Conference teams is awarded by the league in recognition of outstanding leadership and service.

Campbell is not an offensive stalwart. In 24 games with the IceHogs this season, his only mark on the score sheet has been a goal against Manitoba October 28. Campbell has brought some stability to what is a young Rockford defense. With the Hogs penalty kill (85.4 percent kill rate) at sixth in the league and the defense giving up 2.80 goals per game (tied for fifth in the AHL), the 11-year veteran has to be cited as a steadying force on the back end.

 

Odds And Ends

Viktor Ejdsell sat out Wednesday’s game with a groin issue. He may be ready to play Friday at Chicago, but King wasn’t certain of Ejdsell’s status following the win over the Admirals.

The IceHogs are the least penalized team in the AHL. Rockford skaters spend an average of 10.67 minutes in the penalty box. Defenseman Dennis Gilbert is third in the league in fighting majors after getting into his fourth scrap of the season Wednesday. He and former Hogs defenseman Sam Jardine are among several players four major penalties.

Rockford has gone into overtime in 11 of its first 30 games. Only Milwaukee (14) and Iowa (13) have done so more often. The IceHogs are 0-4 in games decided by a shootout, having gone 1-10 in shootout attempts.

 

Big Weeknight Win

Wednesday, December 19-Rockford 4, Milwaukee 3 (OT)

In one of the more impressive rallies of the season, Rockford dug itself a three-goal hole. The Hogs then climbed out of said hole to post the victory.

The Ads quickly went out to a two-goal advantage. Anthony Richard scored on the power play 1:51 into the game, then doubled that lead on the subsequent faceoff when Jeremy Gregoire sent a shot over the glove of Hogs goalie Anton Forsberg.

Down 2-0 just 2:05 into the first period, things got worse. Milwaukee potted a second power play tally when Tyler Gaudet jumped on a loose puck in front of Forsberg’s net at 13:26.

Late in the first period, Rockford got on the board after Anthony Louis was twice denied by Admirals goalie Troy Grosenick. Jacob Nilsson backhanded the second rebound into the cage at the 19:24 mark. The Hogs skated into the locker room down 3-1.

Rockford was able to cut the lead to 3-2 with a strong second period. Tyler Sikura brought the puck into the offensive zone and sent a pass to William Pelletier, who was making his season debut. Pelletier made a sharp cross-ice pass to Dennis Gilbert at the top of the left circle.

Gilbert’s shot got knocked down in front of the Admirals net, where Sikura completed the scoring play. Throwing the biscuit into the basket at the 9:18 mark, Sikura snapped a seven-game goal drought and got the IceHogs back into the contest.

Rockford made it all the way back 4:20 into the third period after Sikura grabbed a loose puck in the Milwaukee zone and found Joni Tuulola in the high slot. Tuulola sent a pass to Darren Raddysh at the right point. Raddysh’s shot glanced off of the stick of Richard and over the blocker of Tom McCullom, who had relieved Grosenick in the second period, to knot the game at three.

The Hogs capped an incredible effort in Gus Macker Time to claim the third point. Alexandre Fortin picked off a pass attempt along the half boards in his own zone and turned on the jets. With Louis and Jan Rutta in tow, Rockford worked the 3-on-1 rush to perfection.

Fortin and Louis traded passes before Fortin hit Rutta at the left post. The one-timer zipped behind McCullom to bring the evening to a satisfying climax 1:51 into the extra session.

Rutta and Sikura, each with a goal and assist on the night, were the game’s first and second stars, respectively. Pelletier nabbed third star honors. Forsberg made 27 saves, keeping Milwaukee in check until the Hogs could climb back into contention.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura-William Pelletier

Anthony Louis-Jacob Nilsson-Jordan Schroeder

Terry Broadhurst (A)-Graham Knott-Nick Moutrey

Matheson Iacopelli-Nathan Noel-Henrik Samuelsson

Lucas Carlsson-Jan Rutta

Dennis Gilbert-Andrew Campbell (A)

Joni Tuulola-Darren Raddysh

Anton Forsberg

Power Play (0-2)

Louis-Nilsson-Schroeder-Carlsson-Rutta

Broadhurst-Fortin-Samuelsson-Sikura-Raddysh

Penalty Kill (Milwaukee was 2-4)

Sikura-Broadhurst-Rutta-Carlsson

Knott-Moutrey-Gilbert-Campbell

Pelletier-Noel-Tuulola-Raddysh

 

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for frequent commenting on the doings of the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are back on the road again this weekend. Chicago’s AHL affiliate is currently in Tucson for two games with the Roadrunners. The puck drops for both Friday and Saturday are scheduled for 9:05 p.m. central time. What can we expect from this back-to-back weekend?

 

Rockford’s Week

On Thursday, the Blackhawks re-assigned Luke Johnson to Rockford in order to make room on the roster for Corey Crawford to be activated. Johnson will be meeting the team, who departed for Arizona earlier that day, in Tucson and should be in the lineup for at least one of the two games.

Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton will have some decisions to make on his lineup card:

  • Which forward is sitting to make room for Johnson? The odd man out would appear to be Matheson Iacopelli, but I thought he played well at the BMO this weekend, collecting a goal and a helper in wins over Texas and Hershey.
  • Will Andrew Campbell or Luc Snuggerud draw back into the defensive rotation? Rookies Dennis Gilbert and Blake Hillman played last weekend.
  • How will Colliton utilize his goalie tandem? Collin Delia had the net in both games this past weekend. I would expect Delia and Kevin Lankinen to each get a start in Tucson.

No team-issued updates on William Pelletier and whether or not he’s nearing a return to action. It’s certainly possible that Campbell and/or Snuggerud are sitting due to an injury, but no information was divulged concerning that topic at Colliton’s Tuesday media availability.

 

Captain-less But Not Leaderless

Colliton hadn’t yet decided on his starting goalies in this weekend’s action in his Tuesday media session. He also hasn’t decided on a captain for the 2018-19 piglets. This is likely due to the fact that he isn’t planning on naming one.

Last season, Colliton went with different sets of alternate captains for home and road games. The way it sounded Tuesday, his preference is to have several leaders in place as opposed to sticking a “C” on one player’s sweater.

Campbell, Jordan Schoeder and Tyler Sikura donned “A”s while the IceHogs visited Cleveland. At the BMO Harris Bank Center, Colliton’s alternates were Matthew Highmore, Terry Broadhurst and Carl Dahlstrom.

 

Quick Stats

Rockford currently sits in fifth place in the Central Division with a .500 points percentage. Chicago leads the division with a 4-0 record. Iowa is 3-0, while Milwaukee is 4-0-1 on the season.

The IceHogs special teams have performed well in the early going. The power play has three goals in 15 chances. Rockford has also killed all but one of the opposition’s 12 man advantages.

Tyler (2 G, 2 A) and Dylan (1 G, 3 A) Sikura pace the Hogs with four points. Matthew Highmore, like Tyler Sikura, has a pair of goals to lead Rockford. Highmore (2 G, 1 A), Darren Raddysh (1 G, 2 A) and Jordan Schoeder (1 G, 2 A) all have three points for the IceHogs.

Rockford has scored first in all four games to begin the season.

 

A Look At Tucson

The Roadrunners are coming off of their first loss of the season, a 3-2 shootout loss in San Jose Monday night. That wrapped up a span of three road games in four days for Tucson.

Most of the big point producers from last season’s Pacific Division Champs are elsewhere. That team was the top seed in the Western Conference but was eliminated in the second round by Texas.

The forward group is led by Michael Bunting, who tied for the team lead in goals with 23 last season. Former IceHogs center Laurent Dauphin also returns for the Roadrunners after combining for 9 goals and 20 assists between Rockford and Tucson a season ago. Center Lane Pederson is back for his second season after 12 goals and 14 helpers last year.

Adam Helewka, who had 38 points (9 G, 29 A) for the Barracuda in 2017-18, has four goals to pace the Roadrunners this season. Also with Tucson this fall is Hudson Fasching, who played with Rochester last year (12 G, 18 A).

Among the rookies up front for the Roadrunners are Kelly and Kevin Klima. Not only are they brothers, but twins to boot. The sons of former NHL forward Petr Klima were signed to AHL deals with Tucson. Kevin had 39 goals in his last season of juniors in the QMJHL.

Defenseman Robbie Russo should be a familiar face to Rockford fans; the Westmont native spent three seasons with Grand Rapids before the Red Wings traded him to Arizona this summer. Russo had 32 points (9G, 23 A) with the Griffins last season.

Russo will join Trevor Murphy, who came from Milwaukee in a mid-season trade, as the top offensive options on the blueline. Murphy has had double-digit goals in each of his first three AHL seasons, including 10 goals and 25 assists between Milwaukee and Tucson last year.

Kyle Copobianco (2 G, 28 A) is back after a strong rookie season. Dysin Mayo and Dakota Mermis are also returning defensemen with some experience. Mermis is tied for the team lead so far with four poins (1 G, 3 A). As a group, the Roadrunners defense is not real big but have an edge in experience over their Rockford counterparts.

Tucson won 42 games in 2017-18 and have the same goalie tandem this season. Third-year pro Adin Hill posted a 2.28 goals against average and a .914 save percentage and served as the Roadrunners playoff goalie.

Hill split the starts with Hunter Miska (both goalies played in 36 games), whose numbers weren’t quite as gaudy but went 22-9-0-1 in the regular season. Tucson is very solid in net regardless of who patrols the crease.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on this weekend’s action as well as a coherent though or two throughout the week.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs commence on-ice operations for the 2018-19 season this weekend. The piglets are opening their AHL slate in Cleveland, where they play Friday night and again Saturday afternoon. In the interest of getting you ready to take in the action at your respective bases of operation, here’s a preview of the upcoming weekend for the Blackhawks affiliate.

The Hogs dropped two straight to the Monsters to open 2016-17, a harbinger of miserable times to come.  Rockford split four games at Quicken Loans Arena last season, though the franchise is just 5-9-1-1 in Cleveland over the past five campaigns.

The Monsters should have a different look from the squad that finished dead last in the Western Conference by a wide margin. For starters, two of Cleveland’s top scorers from that club now don the Hogs head.

Jordan Schroeder (36 points) and Terry Broadhurst (32 points) were third and fourth, respectively, in scoring for the Monsters. I would expect both veterans to be in Rockford’s lineup this weekend. The only returning Cleveland player from the top of the score sheet is Alex Broadhurst, who was second on the team with 41 points.

Cleveland (again helmed by Hawks alumn John Madden) has several veteran players coming in that should more than make up for the loss of offense over the summer. Topping that list is former Penguins/Blue Jackets/Oilers center Mark Letestu. The 33-year-old hasn’t skated in the AHL since the 2019-10 season, when he had 55 points (21 G, 34 A) for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The scoring load will also be shouldered by 31-year-old Nathan Gerbe, who has 398 NHL games under his belt. He skated in 24 games for the Monsters after signing with Columbus mid-season with four goals and 14 assists. He is a more than capable AHL scorer.

Tommy Cross, a 6’3” defenseman, is also new to the Monsters this season after playing in the Bruins organization. The 29-year-old has spent most of his seven-year career in the AHL with Providence. Cross had 12 goals from the blueline two years ago and finished 2017-18 with eight goals to go with 28 assists. He isn’t afraid to finish a check, either.

Oilers farmhand Dillon Simpson is a new addition to the Monsters blueline, which is made up of some big bodies. Dillon is set to begin his fifth season of AHL action. Former Notre Dame defenseman and Aurora native Justin Wade was signed to an AHL deal by Cleveland.

Along with Alex Broadhurst, who skated with Rockford for several seasons, Hogs skaters may see a familiar face in net this weekend. Jean-Francois Berube was assigned to Cleveland this week; he’ll probably face off against his former team at least once or twice this season.

 

Roster Moves

The IceHogs roster has been trimmed to 24 players headed into game one. Brett Welychka and Josh McArdle were assigned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel Monday. Matt Tomkins followed suit the next day.

I expect that William Pelletier will not be available to begin the season; he was at the BMO for Friday’s Fan Fest with what appears to be an injured left thumb or wrist. I don’t believe he took part in any on-ice activities in training camp.

Right now, Hogs coach Jeremy Colliton should have 13 forwards on hand to use in Cleveland. There are eight defensemen on the roster; keep in mind that Colliton would often an extra skater on the blueline and go with just 11 forwards. With several rookie defenders on the team, it is an option Colliton may choose to employ again this season.

The unexpected call up of Collin Delia following an injury suffered by Hawks goalie Anton Forsberg makes for a bit of uncertainty between the pipes. Matt Tomkins was called up from Indy while Delia is with Chicago, joining Kevin Lankinen as the current net tandem.

If Delia isn’t needed past last night, perhaps he is sent back down to the Hogs and makes a start in the crease Friday or Saturday. I would guess that with two games less than 24 hours apart, Colliton was planning on using both of his goalies against the Monsters. It will be either Delia and Lankinen or Lankinen and Tomkins, depending on if Delia’s presence is required with the Hawks in St. Louis.

It is likely that I’ll be watching both IceHogs games vs Cleveland and might just fire off a tweet or two. Follow me @JonFromi for updates, thoughts and general foofooraw all season long.

 

 

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

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.