Ice Hogs

High On The Hog: Kinks In Cleveland

The Rockford IceHogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, elected to forgo preseason exhibition games heading into the 2018-19 season. Ergo, this past weekend’s action in Cleveland was the first in which the piglets faced off against another team.

The results were a bit underwhelming. Rockford dropped two games to the Monsters to open the season.

According to a tweet by IceHogs broadcaster Joseph Zakrzewski, the Hogs coaching staff felt that the NHL exhibitions were enough, citing a large number of players in Hawks training camp this fall. It’s not like the Hogs have a rigorous preseason schedule most seasons; usually Rockford has a game or two against their AHL neighbors in Chicago and Milwaukee.

IceHogs head coach Jeremy Colliton had a full week of workouts with the bulk of his opening-night roster, so the lack of preseason games is hardly a smoking gun. Rockford, despite what the franchise accomplished last spring, is still a very young group of players. There are quite a few new faces, especially on defense, to work into the lineup.

With a few notable exceptions this weekend, the passing wasn’t particularly sharp in Cleveland. Friday’s 4-1 loss was closer than the score indicated. Saturday, the 5-2 result spoke for itself. The Monsters really got the best of Rockford in the transition game. The Hogs effort wasn’t terrible, but Cleveland was the better team on the ice both games.

While it is fair to question the decision to skip a preseason game or two, it isn’t as if this is a move that will sink the 2018-19 campaign. If the Hogs are to enjoy success rivaling that of a year ago, they will have to develop some chemistry. That’s going to take some time. How much time will be a big factor in how the season progresses for Rockford.

 

Jordan Maletta Retiring

One recent acquisition who had been missing from the Blackhawks and IceHogs training camps was recently acquired forward Jordan Maletta. Picked up from Arizona in trade this past summer, Maletta was not medically cleared to play this fall after an injury-filled season with Cleveland and Tuscon. Chicago put the 23-year-old Maletta through waivers and the two parties mutually terminated his contract.

Maletta battled a hand injury last year; apparently the issue is is of a career-ending nature. It’s too bad, firstly because it stinks for a young player to have to shut it down at this stage of his development. Secondly, I think Maletta could have potentially added a dimension to the IceHogs that they could have used.

Maletta showed in his rookie season with Cleveland that he could contribute offensively and play a power game. It would have been interesting to see how he would have fit in with Rockford and how he might have contributed.

Mind Made Up On Iacopelli?

The lineup in the two games in Cleveland was identical, save for the net, where Kevin Lankinen made his AHL debut Friday, followed by Collin Delia getting the start Saturday. The scratches both games included defensemen Blake Hillman and Dennis Gilbert, injured forward William Pelletier…and second-year pro Matheson Iacopelli.

The former Western Michigan skater seems to be approaching a crossroads in the Blackhawks organization. He found ice time hard to come by in his rookie year despite possessing an above average shot. Iacopelli is an offensive player who does not seem to have a place on a scoring line.

I’m not casting any proclamations on the kid’s work ethic or attitude. Perhaps Colliton is going to work Iacopelli into a line that can utilize his strengths. The fact is that two of Rockford’s AHL signings, Terry Broadhust and Henrik Samuelsson, are in the lineup ahead of Iacopelli. When Pelletier is healthy, he’s definitely in the lineup ahead of Iacopelli.

The 24-year-old right wing has shown he can fill a net. He had 11 goals in 50 games in Rockford to go with the nine he put up in ten games with the Indy Fuel. Iacopelli needs to show he can play at both ends and at the pace Colliton likes. He just may running out of time and opportunity to do that.

 

Roster Moves

After backing up Cam Ward in Chicago’s Thursday night’s game in Ottawa, Delia was re-assigned to Rockford Friday following the Hogs loss to Cleveland. Matt Tomkins was assigned to the Indy Fuel in the corresponding move.

 

Recaps

Friday, October 5-Cleveland 4, Rockford 1 

Rockford drew first cord but the Monsters broke open a tie game in the third period and bested the IceHogs in the season opener for both teams.

Shortly after holding off a two-man Monsters advantage in the latter half of the first period, Rockford found itself up a skater on a delayed penalty. Cleveland’s Calvin Thurkauf got tangled up with Viktor Ejdsell. Thurkauf dropped his gloves but Ejdsell didn’t bite, choosing to skate with his teammates into the offensive zone.

Luc Snuggerud found Ejdsell at the right dot. In turn, Ejdsell sent a frozen rope to the blade of Matthew Highmore at the left post. The back door was wide open; Highmore united rubber and twine at 17:11 of the opening frame to give the IceHogs a 1-0 lead.

Cleveland knotted the score early in the second period. Zac Dalpe out muscled Snuggerud and Lucas Carlsson for the puck along the end boards behind the Hogs net. Dalpe threw the puck out to an open Eric Robinson, who beat Rockford goalie Kevin Lankinen. Through two periods, the teams were tied at a goal apiece.

The Monsters took a 2-1 lead at the 3:26 mark of the third with a bullet of a snap shot by Kevin Stenlund, who took a neutral zone pass from Nathan Gerbe, skated into the Rockford zone and fired past Lankinen from the high slot. Cleveland got a key insurance goal later in the period when Vitaly Abramov brought the puck into the offensive zone.

Rockford’s defenders gave the swift forward some extra space, which proved problematic when Abramov skated to the right dot and worked a give and go with Michael Prepavessis. Taking the return pass, Abramov sent a high shot to the right corner of the Hogs net, making it 3-1 Monsters at 15:14 of the final frame. Cleveland added an empty-net goal from the stick of Justin Scott a few minutes later to close out the scoring.

Former Hogs goalie Jean-Francois Berube greeted his old teammates with a 24-save performance to pick up the win. Kevin Lankinen made his AHL debut in net for Rockford and stopped 18 of the 21 shots he faced.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura (A)-Terry Broadhurst

Anthony Louis-Jordan Schroeder (A)-Viktor Ejdsell

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Henrik Samuelsson-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Andrew Campbell (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Joni Tuulola-Darren Raddysh

Luc Snuggerud-Lucas Carlsson

Kevin Lankinen

Power Play (0-1)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 0-3, including 56 seconds of 5-on-3 time)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Campbell

Fortin-Knott-Carlsson-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

Saturday, October 6-Cleveland 5, Rockford 2

Five unanswered Cleveland goals erased an early Hogs lead and then some, sending the piglets back to Rockford on a two-game losing streak.

The IceHogs had a pair of power play opportunities in the first period. On the second, the Sikura brothers gave Rockford a 1-0 lead at the 13:53 mark. Dylan and Tyler went back-and-forth with the puck, culminating on Dylan centering to Tyler in front of the Monsters net. The redirect got past Cleveland goalie Brad Theissen and into the cage to put the IceHogs ahead.

Circumstances turned following the power play goal. Less than 30 seconds later, Eric Robinson sent a shot toward the Rockford goal. The puck glanced off the stick of Carl Dahlstrom and got the best of Hogs goalie Collin Delia to tie the score.

Less than a minute after Robinson’s goal, a turnover behind the Rockford net wound up in the Rockford net. Alex Broadhurst collected the loose puck and hit Zac Dalpe skating to the left post. The shot beat Delia under his glove to make it 2-1 Cleveland at 15:31 of the first.

Late in the frame, Matthew Highmore was sent off for a slashing penalty. It took just a moment for the Monsters to build on their advantage. Robinson got the puck in the high slot and went high on Delia. The resulting goal gave Cleveland a 3-1 advantage with nine seconds remaining in the period.

Rockford was the victim of some good luck/bad luck early in the second period after a Justin Scott wrister from the slot made it over Delia’s shoulder. The shot clanged off the crossbar but bounced off of Cleveland’s Kole Sherwood and into the net. Just 2:48 into the period, the Monsters lead was 4-1.

Late in the second, Broadhurst and Dalpe struck again. The two got an odd man rush started after Viktor Ejdsell lost his footing while attempting to hold in a clearing attempt. Luc Snuggerud was the lonely defender; he forced Broadhurst to pass but Dalpe let fly from the slot and sent it past Delia’s glove for a 5-1 advantage at 18:37 of the second.

It was largely academic in the final 20 minutes, though the Hogs put up 14 shots on goal and found the net in the eighth minute. The score was set up by Jordan Schroeder, who chased down a high clearing pass in the neutral zone and made a beeline for the Monsters zone.

Schroeder skated down the left half boards, behind the Cleveland net, and back up the right boards before backhanding a pass to Lucas Carlsson near the top of the left circle. The rookie defenseman wound up and slapped home his first AHL goal over Theissen’s blocker at 7:50 to close out the scoring.

Delia, who arrived in town the night before after being re-assigned to the IceHogs, gave up five goals on 31 Cleveland shots.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Jacob Nilsson-Dylan Sikura

Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura (A)-Terry Broadhurst

Anthony Louis-Jordan Schroeder (A)-Viktor Ejdsell

Henrik Samuelsson-Graham Knott-Nathan Noel

Joni Tuulola-Darren Raddysh

Andrew Campbell (A)-Carl Dahlstrom

Luc Snuggerud-Lucas Carlsson

Collin Delia

Power Play (1-4)

D. Sikura-Schroeder-T. Sikura-Samuelsson-Raddysh

Highmore-Ejdsell-Louis-Broadhurst-Dahlstrom

Penalty Kill (Monsters were 1-4)

Highmore-Nilsson-Dahlstrom-Campbell

Fortin-Knott-Carlsson-Tuulola

T. Sikura-Broadhurst-Snuggerud-Raddysh

 

What’s Next?

Colliton has all week to prepare the IceHogs for opening play at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The home part of Rockford’s schedule commences on Saturday night when the defending Western Conference champs, the Texas Stars, come to town. On Sunday, the IceHogs host the Hershey Bears.

I’ll have a preview of this weekend’s action coming up in what I hope will be a regular Friday post, circumstances allowing. Until then, follow me @JonFromi for thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

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