Ice Hogs

High On The Hog: Thoughts At The Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Special Teams

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

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

 

Odds And Ends

Rockford still does not have a captain.

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

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

 

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

Recaps

Tuesday, January 23-Rockford 4, Bakersfield 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Darren Raddysh-Carl Dahlstrom

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Colin Delia

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

Power Play (0-5)

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Condors were 0-1)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Raddysh

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines (Starters in italics)

Matthew Highmore-Luke Johnson (A)-John Hayden

Anthony Louis-Tanner Kero-William Pelletier

Andreas Martinsen-Tyler Sikura-Robin Norell

Matheson Iacopelli-Graham Knott-Alex Wideman

Gustav Forsling-Adam Clendening

Cody Franson (A)-Viktor Svedberg (A)

Ville Pokka-Carl Dahlstrom

Colin Delia

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

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

Highmore-Johnson-Kero-Louis-Forsling

Sikura-Martinsen-Hayden-Franson-Clendening

Penalty Kill (Ontario was 0-2)

Johnson-Kero-Franson-Svedberg

Martinsen-Sikura-Dahlstrom-Pokka

Pelletier-Hayden-Forsling-Clendening

 

Saturday, January 27-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekend Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Related Posts