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.
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.