The Rockford IceHogs had a great chance in front of them to gain major points against AHL Central Division foes over the weekend, taking on the Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Wild. Unfortunately, two regulation losses have seen the IceHogs drop from fourth in the Division and eighth in the AHL Western Conference, to sixth in the Division and 12th in the Conference with 25 games to play.
Friday: Milwaukee Admirals def. Rockford IceHogs, 5-3
Entering Friday night’s game, the IceHogs would be looking at an opponent in the Admirals that had just ended a six-game losing streak and was behind them in the Central Division Standings.
Milwaukee came out of the gate and put the IceHogs on their heels in the first period. Just beyond the mid-way point through the opening 20 minutes, the Admirals struck first with a goal from Jimmy Oligny to take the opening 1-0 lead. From there, the IceHogs would respond evening up the shots on goal totals and eventually evening up the score 1-1 after a nifty passing display between Cody Franson and Anthony Louis before Franson scored the powerplay goal. But, with under two minutes to play in the period, the Admirals regained the lead with a powerplay goal of their own from Frederick Gaudreau.
The second period would be more kind to the IceHogs as they took charge and out-shot the Admirals 16-6. Rockford would get on the board in the middle frame and tie the game at 2-2 after Darren Raddysh scored his fifth goal of the season. Tyler Sikura provided a screen on the Raddysh goal and the game would head to the third period knotted up at 2-2.
In the third period, the Admirals would once again regain the lead just under three minutes into the period as Justin Kirkland scored his second goal of the season. Milwaukee would pad their lead ten minutes later as Kirkland would tally his second goal of the game to give the Admirals a 4-2 advantage. The IceHogs would try to mount a comeback as John Hayden would make it a 4-3 game with just about five and a half minutes to play, but Kirkland would score the empty net goal to complete his hat-trick, the first of the season for the Admirals, and put the game away 5-3.
Collin Delia made 19 saves on 23 shots for Rockford as his record would fall to 7-6-2 on the season. With his assist on Franson’s powerplay goal, Anthony Louis improved his point-streak to five games and had tallied 11 points over his previous 14 games and is second on the team in scoring with 30 points (9G, 21A), just one point behind Matthew Highmore for the team lead. John Hayden’s goal also gave him 11 points (4G, 7A) in his 14 games with the IceHogs this season.
Saturday: Iowa Wild def. Rockford IceHogs, 2-1
After falling to the Admirals, the IceHogs packed the bus and headed off to Iowa to take on the Iowa Wild, whom they were looking up to in the Central Division standings. After missing an opportunity against Milwaukee, Rockford needed a bounce back against the Wild.
A bright spot for the IceHogs against the Wild was that goaltender J.F. Berube would make his return between the pipes after missing nearly two months of action with a lower-body injury. Berube would dress and back-up Delia on Friday, but Saturday marked his return to starting action. It was a short-lived welcome back for Berube and the IceHogs, though, as Kurtis Gabriel would tip-in a goal just under six minutes into the first period to give the Wild the early 1-0 lead. Iowa’s lead would only last a minute and 46 seconds as Tyler Sikura would score his 15th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1 less than eight minutes in.
The first period would end with the score at 1-1 and the teams would trade scoring chances in the second period, but neither team could find a breakthrough and it would remain 1-1 heading into the third period. While the IceHogs’ star rookie this season Matthew Highmore has both of his hat-trick performances against the Wild this season, it would be Iowa’s star rookie who would break the tie game just over seven and a half minutes into the third period. Justin Kloos would net his 15th goal of the year to give Iowa the 2-1 lead and Niklas Svedberg, who made 36 saves on the night, would shut the door on Rockford the rest of the way.
Rockford dropped two regulation games over the weekend and dropped themselves into sixth place in the Central Division, along with dropping into 12th place in the Western Conference. Tyler Sikura’s first period goal marked his 15th of the season, good for second on the IceHogs behind Matthew Highmore’s team-leading 20 goals. Sikura coming into this season had played in 22 AHL games with zero points. He has 22 points (15G, 7A) in 49 games this season. With an assist on Sikura’s goal, IceHogs defenseman Adam Clendening now has 13 points (2G, 11A) in 13 games with Rockford.
Notes: Berube Returns For Rockford, Samuelsson Signs PTO
While not going the victory in his return to action, the Rockford IceHogs are much better off having a healthy J.F. Berube back in net for them. Prior to his lower-body injury in early December, Berube was the leading goaltender for the IceHogs and would have been in line for a call-up to replace the injured Corey Crawford with the Blackhawks, but Berube was out and Jeff Glass would get the call instead. Berube this season leads all Rockford goaltenders in Goals Against Average (2.40) and save-percentage (.919) with a 7-7-0 record over his 14 appearances.
While Rockford has been able to find success in Glass and Berube’s absences behind Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins, having a goaltender with the veteran experience of Berube back as an option in net could be the boost that gets the IceHogs back into the Calder Cup Playoff picture. No slight to Tomkins and Delia either, but both players were expected to be the organization’s ECHL goaltending tandem with the Indy Fuel, not the AHL duo in Rockford. With a returning Berube and the possible return of Corey Crawford in Chicago soon, the IceHogs goaltending rotation could return to the Glass-Berube rotation that saw Rockford go 15-11-3 to begin the season.
Also happening over the IceHogs’ weekend was the addition of Henrik Samuelsson, who signed a Professional Try-Out agreement with the team on Sunday. Henrik is the son of Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, and a former first-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Samuelsson has three games of NHL experience with the Coyotes during the 201415 season and is a veteran of 136 AHL games with 55 points (23G, 32A) from 2014-2017. This season, Samuelsson has been playing with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads where he has 43 points (16G, 27A) in 49 games. According to the American Hockey League’s roster page, Samuelsson will wear number 15.
Heading into Monday night, the Rockford IceHogs sit in sixth place in the Central Division with a 25-20-6 record, good for 56 points in the standings and a .549 points-percentage. The difference between Rockford the second place Iowa Wild in the Central Division is only .043 point-percentage points.
On Tuesday night, the IceHogs get back into action as they play the first of back-to-back games against the Central Division’s last place team, the Cleveland Monsters. While it won’t be games in back-to-back nights (games on Tuesday and Saturday), Rockford needs to capitalize on opportunities to gain points against teams below them in the standings. Tuesday night’s game is set for a 7pm Central Time puck drop at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford and starts a three-game home stand for the IceHogs.