IceHogs Fall To Wolves In Season Finale, Prepare For Round One Series


Over the weekend, the Rockford IceHogs finished the regular season with the second of back-to-back games against future Calder Cup Playoff opponent, the Chicago Wolves. Just like the front-end of the back-to-back, the Wolves topped the IceHogs in a high-scoring affair that saw the intensity levels turned up to 11.

IceHogs Lose Regular Season Finale, Set Sights On Wolves In Playoffs

Saturday night’s regular season finale for Rockford was almost a déjà vu against the Wolves from their game on Friday night; high-scoring, hard-hitting, with a frantic pace. Opening the scoring was a nice change of pace, as well as having the lead heading into the final period, but a pair of third period goals from the Wolves sealed a comeback win for Chicago, 5-4.

Hopefully the way that the IceHogs competed against Chicago over the final two games is what they can build on, and can learn from what went wrong and fix it before puck drop for Game One.

HIGHLIGHTS: Chicago Wolves def. Rockford IceHogs, 5-4

If the IceHogs are going to have success against the Wolves, there are a few players that need to continue the success they found prior to stumbling in the final two games of the season. In net, Collin Delia has been one of the hottest goalies in the league, going 17-7-4 this season, and has back-stopped the most wins for Rockford in his rookie season this year.

Offensively, players like Anthony Louis, Matthew Highmore, Tyler Sikura, and Lance Bouma have been driving the scoring chances up front for most of the season. Adding in players like Henrik Samuelsson, Andreas Martinsen, Chris DiDomenico, and John Hayden to the mix gives Rockford a ton of size and skill up front that can cause issues for the Wolves.

Tyler Sikura Rockford IceHogs

Tyler Sikura of the Rockford IceHogs. (Courtesy: Todd Reicher)

Finally on the blue-line, Rockford possesses a great mix of players who can play shut-down defensively and some who can jump into the offense and create chances. Players like Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling will be looked to play sound in their own zone while defensemen like Cody Franson and Adam Clendening will be looked at for support offensively, especially on IceHogs powerplay chances.

Three Keys For The IceHogs Against The Wolves

Shutting down Chicago’s top skaters

One thing that jumps off the page right away are the 11 goals that Rockford conceded to Chicago over the final two games. Coming into the back-to-back season finale mini-series, Rockford had allowed an average of 2.9 goals per game over their last ten games (8-2-0).

Defense and goaltending are going to be huge factors in the series for Rockford against the high-powered offense of the Wolves. Chicago boasts four players above the 50-point marks for the season with a fifth player, Thomas Hyka, scoring 48 points in just 50 games this season. Namely keeping Teemu Pulkkinen and former-IceHogs Brandon Pirri in-check will be priority number one for the Rockford defensive core.

IceHogs Matthew Highmore

Matthew Highmore with a chance on net against the Chicago Wolves (Courtesy: Todd Reicher)

Clean Sheet

Another area the Rockford is going to have to focus on is staying out of the penalty box. The penalty-kill for the IceHogs this season has been an achilles heel all year, ultimately finishing dead-last in the AHL in penalty-killing percentage with a 77.4% success rate.

Here’s the kicker: Rockford already stays out of the box.

While the penalty-kill ranked last in the AHL, Rockford also finished last in the AHL in total penalty minutes and 22nd in the league in times short-handed. The IceHogs are going to have to battle and toe the line that the refs will allow in the playoffs. With the Wolves’ power-play unit ranking ninth in the AHL with a 18.6% success rate, Rockford will have to tighten-up and play hard, but clean.

Who’s Behind The Mask?

Finally, the most-intriguing decision looming for head coach Jeremy Colliton is who will be the starter in net for Rockford? Collin Delia, Jeff Glass, Matt Tomkins, and J.F. Berube are all currently listed on the IceHogs’ roster heading into Game One.

Berube, according to the team, has been allowed to return home, so he is not a starting option. Tomkins has been adequate as a rookie this season, but only has a limited number of starts and has not been the primary option at any point for Rockford this season, he’ll be the number three option, barring injury.

Collin Delia

Collin Delia makes a save against the Chicago Wolves. (Courtesy: Todd Reicher)

It truly comes down to Glass and Delia, who both have 28 appearances this season. Delia (17-7-4) was named the IceHogs’ most improved player this season and it shows. After beginning the season with a 1-4-0 record in his first five games, Delia rattled off a 16-3-3 stretch to finish the season, including a 7-1-2 record over his last ten games.

As for Glass (15-9-2), he holds the experience factor over Delia, having played 11 years at professional level in the AHL and KHL in Russia. Glass has been streaky at times this season for the IceHogs, and his last outing was a 6-4 loss to the Wolves on Friday night. After returning to Rockford after his stint with the Blackhawks, Glass went 5-5-0 with a 3.22 GAA and a .865 save-percentage. It seems like Delia will be the option to start Game One for the IceHogs, but it still has not been confirmed.

Rockford 2017-18 Season Leaders

Games played: Tyler Sikura, 74 Games

Points: Anthony Louis, 44 Points (14G, 30A)

Goals: Matthew Highmore, 24 Goals

Assists: Tie – Anthony Louis, Adam Clendening, 30 Assists

Shots: Luke Johnson, 161 Shots

Plus/Minus: Tyler Sikura, +24

Penalty Minutes: Adam Clendening, 86 PIM

Powerplay Goals: Matthew Highmore, 8 PPG

Powerplay Points: Adam Clendening, 18 points (2G, 16A)

Short-handed Goals: Tyler Sikura, 3 SHG

Starts: Tie – Collin Delia, Jeff Glass – 28 Starts

Wins: Collin Delia, 17 Wins

Goals Against Average: J.F. Berube, 2.37 GAA

Save-Percentage: J.F. Berube, .920 Save-Percentage

IceHogs vs. Wolves: By The Numbers

IceHogs Final Record and Standings: 40-28-8, 88 points, 4th Central Division

Wolves Finals Record and Standings: 43-23-11, 95 points, 1st Central Division

Head-To-Head: Even, 6-6-0

IceHogs Regular Season Goals For vs Chicago: 38

Wolves Regular Season Goals For vs Rockford: 44

Rockford Final Ten Games: 7-3-0

Chicago Final Ten Games: 6-2-2

Rockford Powerplay: 15.6% (25th in AHL)

Chicago Powerplay: 18.6% (9th in AHL)

Rockford Penalty-Kill: 77.4% (30th in AHL)

Chicago Penalty-Kill: 83.4% (12th in AHL)

Rockford Top Scorer: Anthony Louis, 44 Points (14G, 30A)

Chicago Top Scorer: Teemu Pulkkinen, 65 points (29G, 36A)

Rockford Top Goalie: Collin Delia, 17-7-4 (2.72 GAA, .900 Save-percentage)

Chicago Top Goalie: Kasimir Kaskisuo, 14-13-2 (2.33 GAA, .916 save-percentage)

What’s Next?

On Saturday, the IceHogs and Wolves will square off for the second time in the Calder Cup Playoffs since the 2007-08 season when Rockford joined the AHL. In the 2007-08 Playoffs, Rockford topped the Houston Aeros in round one before falling in seven games to Chicago in round two. Chicago would go on to defeat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Calder Cup Final to secure their fourth Calder Cup.

Here is the full first-round schedule for Rockford and Chicago:

  • Game One – at Chicago, Saturday, April 21 – 7pm
  • Game Two – at Rockford, Sunday, April 22 – 4pm
  • Game Three – at Chicago, Thursday, April 26 – 7pm
  • Game Four * – at Rockford, Sunday, April 29 – 4pm (if necessary)
  • Game Five * – at Chicago, Monday, April 30 – 7pm (if necessary)

Since joining the American Hockey League in 2007, the IceHogs have won two playoff series (2008 vs Houston, 2015 vs Texas) and return to the postseason this year after missing out last season. Only four players who played for Rockford during that 2014-15 playoff season (Tanner Kero, Robin Norell, Viktor Svedberg, and Carl Dahlstrom) remain on the current roster.

Since joining the American Hockey League in 2001, the Wolves have missed the Calder Cup Playoffs five times (2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2012-13, and 2015-16), but have two Calder Cup Titles in two trips to the Calder Cup Finals (2001-02, 2007-08).

The Illinois Lottery Cup rivalry spills over into the postseason, beginning on Saturday with a 7pm Central Time puck drop at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL.

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