At long last, the Rockford IceHogs have found the victory column in what has been a challenging start for the team. On Tuesday night, the Hogs came back from a 2–1 deficit to claim a 3–2 victory at home against the Cleveland Monsters.
Rockford now sits at 1–5–1 and is in the basement of the AHL’s Central Division.
This will not be the year for the IceHogs to be contenders. A slow start in any season may just be a slow start, yet in a 30-game shortened season, and given the Chicago Blackhawks’ insurgence of youth, it is difficult to envision the Hogs contending for any hardware. In the COVID-19 era of professional hockey, a youth movement for an NHL team and an extended taxi roster of support casts an ominous cloud over a possible winning season for its AHL affiliate. We are witnessing that now, and that very likely will continue.
The silver lining is it gives many young hockey players opportunity to grow and compete. Whether or not we see any of these prospects in a Hawks uniform soon is another matter, but suggesting that some of them could compete for an NHL roster spot in the next few years, working with Rockford Head Coach Derek King and developing is critically important.
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) February 24, 2021
The IceHogs have showcased some solid talent from the NCAA ranks. In their 3–2 victory on Tuesday, four-year Notre Dame standout Cale Morris stopped 35 of 37 shots he faced in his first professional start. If you had followed his career with the Fighting Irish, this should be no surprise. Morris has been playing in elite games on the big stage for the last four years, and while NHL scouts may not be salivating over his size, his play and compete level tell a different story.
Colorado College product Chris Wilkie has posted four points in his first six pro games and former Maine Black Bear Mitchell Fossier has three points in his first four tilts. The Hogs’ offseason free agent signings are providing dividends early on in their pro careers.
Former Penn State Nittany Lion and Hawks 2017 third-round pick Evan Barratt is getting better and regular AHL minutes continues to enhance his game. At long last, he dented the net for his first goal of the season on Tuesday. As too did Andrei Altybarmakian, whose power move to the net on Tuesday tied the game for Rockford. And while defenseman Alec Regula had a rough couple of games early on, his recent situational play has been to his and the team’s benefit. He tallied his first goal on the power play in a 3–1 loss against the Grand Rapids Griffins last week, and his ice time and in-zone play have increased and improved significantly over the last few games.
Here’s #Blackhawks prospect, Andrei Altybarmakyan’s first AHL goal (#84 in red). Nice drive to the net and relentlessly was trying to get the puck in. #HockeyTwitter #AHL #IceHogs pic.twitter.com/6nVMmkA09S
— Chicago Prospects (@Chi_Prospects) February 24, 2021
Unfortunately, measuring Rockford’s success this season based on wins and losses is a zero-sum game. It will not be a banner year in that sense. That said, the development of prospects is the key to the ultimate success of the organization the Hogs serve, and thus far, the IceHogs are taking positive steps in that direction.