The list of the veteran presence on the Rockford IceHogs began and ended with captain Kris Versteeg. Following an announcement this weekend, cross that name off the list.
The 33-year-old Versteeg announced that he requested to be released from his AHL contract after the rigors of playing for the IceHogs proved too much for him. In statements and a press conference on the team website, Versteeg essentially hung it up in terms of his playing career.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion was injured October 18 against Chicago and missed three weeks before returning to action November 8. After two games back in the lineup, Versteeg sat out this weekend’s home-and-home with Grand Rapids before the announcement came Sunday.
In my season preview, I speculated on what kind of impact Versteeg could have with the IceHogs:
The ceiling on this move: a fit and motivated Versteeg plays 60-plus games, puts up some respectable offensive numbers, mentors the piglets on and off the ice and helps draw a few curious fans into the BMO this winter.
As it happens, he wasn’t fit following the injury. When Versteeg returned, he admitted that he didn’t believe he could stay in the lineup and take the pounding skaters receive in the AHL. I hoped for 60 games; turns out the Hogs got six, with a single assist on the score sheet.
There should be no ill feelings toward Versteeg whatsoever. Rockford took a flier on his health back in the spring; Versteeg’s body just couldn’t deliver. It happens.
The piglets must move on. Who fills the void in veteran leadership and mentoring in Rockford?
Well…it depends on what you call “veteran leadership,”.
The old man on the IceHogs is now D Philip Holm, who turns 28 next month. Holm, who had a goal in Friday’s loss to Grand Rapids, now leads the Hogs in scoring with 10 points (3 G, 7 A).
Four players (Tyler Sikura, Matthew Highmore, Collin Delia and Alexandre Fortin) are early into their third seasons in Rockford. Nick Moutrey has four AHL campaigns under his belt. Jacob Nilsson and Anton Wedin are solid citizens with experience overseas prior to coming to town. Each of these guys will have to step up for the Hogs.
This makes Rockford an even younger and less experienced squad. Unlike division rivals Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids, who are anchored by veteran talent, the IceHogs are going to sink or swim with their collection of prospects.
Those prospects split the weekend with the Griffins, losing in Grand Rapids before taking the rematch at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The 8-7 IceHogs are seventh in the Central Division standings with 16 points. However, their .533 points percentage is third-best in the division.
Friday, November 15-Grand Rapids 5, Rockford 2
The Hogs dropped the first half of the weekend’s home-and-home. Rockford never led as the Griffins got four pucks by Hogs starting goalie Collin Delia.
Grand Rapids took a 2-0 advantage in the opening half of the first period. Jarid Lukosevicius collected a faceoff win in the Hogs zone and beat Collin Delia’s stick side from the high slot 6:33 into the game. A couple of minutes later, Matt Puempel beat Adam Boqvist to the left post and tapped in a cross-ice pass from Dominic Turgeon at the 8:32 mark.
The IceHogs pushed back late in the period. Phillip Kurashev took a pass from Nicolas Beaudin and came down the middle looking to get a shot off. The attempt was stopped by the stick of Grand Rapids defenseman Oliwer Kaski but came back to the rookie. Kurashev slid the puck to Matthew Highmore, who guided the pass safely behind Griffins goalie Calvin Pickard at 17:30 of the first.
Rockford appeared to tie the contest with 53 seconds left in the period after Anton Wedin redirected a Tyler Sikura shot on goal. However, it was ruled that Wedin’s stick was a bit high and the power play tally was waved off.
The Griffins extended the lead to 3-1 7:40 into the middle frame. Delia had a real good look at a Chase Pearson shot from the right dot. The offering got under Delia’s blocker and caught cord.
As in the first period, the Hogs response came late. With two Griffins in the box, Rockford found the net on a one-timer by Philip Holm, set up by Jacob Nilsson and Tyler Sikura. The goal came at the 17:29 mark; the piglets skated into the locker room down 3-2.
Midway through the third period, Chris Terry capped off some nice puck movement by the Griffins power play, firing into a wide open net after Puempel and Filip Zadina got Delia moving across the crease. Grand Rapids went up 4-2 on Terry’s ninth goal of the season. Pearson added an empty-net goal in the final minutes.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Nick Moutrey-MacKenzie Entwistle-Reese Johnson
Anton Wedin-Jacob Nilsson-Tim Soderlund
Alexandre Fortin-Tyler Sikura (A)-Dylan Sikura
Matthew Highmore (A)-Phillipp Kurashev-Brandon Hagel
Adam Boqvist-Dennis Gilbert
Philip Holm-Ian McCoshen
Nicolas Beaudin-Joni Tuulola
Power Play (1-7)
Wedin-T. Sikura-D. Sikura-Nilsson-Holm
Penalty Kill (Griffins were 1-3)
Saturday, November 16-Rockford 5, Grand Rapids 2
Kevin Lankinen was the hero for the Hogs in the rematch, stopping 42 shots while Rockford made the most of their scoring chances. Five different Hogs potted goals in the victory.
When the smoke cleared at the first period buzzer, Grand Rapids had out shot the Hogs 17-4. Strangely enough, Rockford skated into the locker room with a 2-0 advantage.
Nick Moutrey got the IceHogs on the board 13:29 into the game with a shorthanded goal, swiping a pass and sniping high past Griffins goalie Filip Larsson. Just over a minute later, Phillipp Kurashev sent an off-angle shot past the Grand Rapids rookie.
Alexandre Fortin delivered a pass to MacKenzie Entwistle in front of the Griffins net; the rookie made it a 3-0 game 14:30 into the second period. Grand Rapids got on the board with an Evgeny Svechnikov goal, but Rockford still led 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Brandon Hagel was the recipient of a cross-ice feed from Jacob Nilsson that left Hagel with plenty of room to slide in Rockford’s fourth goal of the night. After Svechnikov got the Griffins back to within two, Fortin was sprung on a breakaway chance by Lucas Carlsson. Fortin converted at 16:00 of the final period to shut the door on Grand Rapids.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Anton Wedin-Jacob Nilsson (A)-Brandon Hagel
Nick Moutrey-Tyler Sikura-John Quenneville
Matthew Highmore-Phillipp Kurashev-Dylan Sikura
Alexandre Fortin-Reese Johnson-MacKenzie Entwistle
Chad Krys-Ian McCoshen
Philip Holm-Lucas Carlsson
Nicolas Beaudin-Denis Gilbert (A)
Rockford did not have a power play opportunity.
Penalty Kill (Grand Rapids was 0-4, the Hogs scored shorthanded once.)
Messing With Texas
The Hogs will be spending next weekend, and then some, in the Lone Star State. Rockford visits the Texas Stars on Saturday night, then travel to San Antonio, where they will play on Sunday and Tuesday.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.