IceHogs Holding On To Last Playoff Spot In Central Division


This season has been a big turnaround for the Rockford IceHogs. At this point last season, the storylines centered around who may or may not be called up to the Chicago Blackhawks as they prepared for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and which NCAA players would be making their professional debuts with Rockford. This time, it is the IceHogs who are pushing towards a Calder Cup Playoff spot, and the Blackhawks are focusing on who will be making their NHL debuts. While ultimately the goal of an NHL franchise is to play for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, having success for your minor-league program is a good sign for the future to build upon.

With eight games remaining this season, four of which are against Divisional opponents, the IceHogs find themselves on the cusp of locking down a Calder Cup Playoff spot. But, will the ever-changing roster that Rockford is experiencing hinder their chances?

Central Division Standings

Heading into Wednesday night’s action, here are the Central Division standings (Games remaining):

  1. Manitoba Moose – 39-21-8, 86 pts, .632 pts% (8)
  2. Chicago Wolves – 37-21-9, 83 pts, .619 pts% (9)
  3. Grand Rapids Griffins – 36-24-8, 80 pts, .588 pts% (8)
  4. Rockford IceHogs – 35-25-8, 78 pts, .574 pts% (8)
  5. Iowa Wild – 30-22-15, 75 pts, .560 pts% (9)
  6. Milwaukee Admirals – 34-28-5, 73 pts, .545 pts% (9)
  7. Cleveland Monsters – 21-35-10, 52 pts, .394 pts% (10)

IceHogs Playoff Push Coming To Fruition

As Rockford stared down the barrel of the AHL Central Division heading into a 10-game stretch against inter-Division opponents, they were teetering on the brink of falling out of the playoff race, sitting in sixth-place behind the Milwaukee Admirals, Iowa Wild, and Grand Rapids Griffins. Through nine of those games, Rockford has a 6-1-2 record and has jumped from sixth to fourth-place in the Division and currently holds a three-point lead over the Wild for the final Calder Cup Playoff spot, with Iowa having played just one fewer game than Rockford.

There are a few players who have factored majorly in the playoff push that the IceHogs have put together. In net, Collin Delia and Jeff Glass have been a solid one-two punch that is able to give Rockford a chance to win every night. Since January 6, Delia has a sizzling 13-2-4 record after starting the season 1-4-0 in the AHL. As for Glass, since he returned from his stint with the Blackhawks in February, he has gone 3-4-0 with a 1.99 GAA over his last four games (3-1-0). Both goalies give the IceHogs a shot to win moving into the final two and a half weeks of the season.

Collin Delia

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

On the blue-line, there is no telling where this Rockford squad would be down the stretch without the contributions of Cody Franson and Adam Clendening. Both joining the team later in the season (Franson by assignment, Clendening by trade), they have provided a huge amount of experience to a young IceHogs locker room and have been driving the production from the blue-line as of late. Clendening has 29 points (3G, 26A) this season, 24 of which have come in his 30 games with Rockford this year. For Franson, although he imagined himself as a full-time Chicago Blackhawk this season, he has taken the leadership role with Rockford and provided a big boost on defense. 20 points (6G, 14A) in 30 games played with Rockford this season, Franson ranks third on the current roster for point per game (.67) and is fourth on the active roster in points for defensemen, having played a fraction of the games.

Finally, up front for the IceHogs has been a mixture of  full-season efforts and a few mid-season finds that have pushed Rockford offensively. Anthony Louis and Tyler Sikura have been major drivers of the IceHogs offense with Louis leading the team with 38 points (12G, 26A), and Sikura not far behind in third on the active roster with 32 points (18G, 14A) and second in goals behind Matthew Highmore’s 21. Add in Lance Bouma and Chris DiDomenico, two players who joined the IceHogs around the NHL trade deadline, and Rockford’s offense has been buzzing over their last ten games, averaging 3.1 goals per contest. Bouma has nine points in his 12 games with Rockford this year and since joining the IceHogs in late February, DiDomenico has 16 points (5G, 11A) in 14 games this year.

For a team that has endured a myriad of changes this season, having those players involved in the changes be able to produce at the levels they have has been a key to the successful run that Rockford has put together.

Roster Moves

Speaking of roster changes, there have been quite a few to catch-up on over the last two weeks. Here are a few of note since the 10-game stretch against the Central Division began:

  • March 10 – Matheson Iacopelli returned from assignment to the Indy Fuel (ECHL)
  • March 10 – John Hayden recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks
  • March 20 – Andreas Martinsen recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks
  • March 21 – Victor Ejdsell assigned to Rockford IceHogs from HV71 (SHL)
  • March 23 – Joni Tuulola signed PTO
  • March 25 – Victor Ejdsell recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks
  • March 26 – Matthew Highmore returned from recall to the Chicago Blackhawks
  • March 27 – Matt Tomkins recalled from the Indy Fuel (ECHL)
Highmore IceHogs

Matthew Highmore of the Rockford IceHogs. (Courtesy: Todd Reicher)

The final roster move coming in response to the Blackhawks also placed goaltender J.F. Berube on waivers on Tuesday morning. The loses of Martinsen, Hayden, and the newly acquired Ejdsell would have potentially crippled a lesser squad. But this is not the old IceHogs. Rockford has been able to answer the bell all season, and with the Blackhawks season in flux for most of the time, Rockford has been able to keep pace and now find the right time to get hot and make their moves in the Calder Cup Playoff race.

The re-addition of Matthew Highmore from his 13-game stint with the Blackhawks may be the biggest return they could have at this point in the season. Highmore leads the team in goals with 21, a rookie record for the IceHogs as an AHL organization, and was the team-leader in points when he was recalled with 35 points (21G, 14A) in 56 games.

What’s Next?

The IceHogs return to action tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 28) when they take on the Manitoba Moose for the second of tow games between the teams in Manitoba. On MOnday, Rockford defeated the Moose, 4-2 with a 32-save performance from Delia and multi-point games from Clendening, DiDomenico, and Sikura. Wednesday’s puck drop is scheduled for 7pm Central Time. After Wednesday’s game, the IceHogs return home to close the month of March with a Saturday night contest against the San Jose Barracuda. The second of two meetings between the teams this season, Rockford defeated the Barracuda earlier this year on the road with a 4-2 win in January. Puck drop for Saturday night’s game at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford is set for 6pm Central Time.

Leave a Reply