IceHogs sweep weekend series against Wolves


The IceHogs came into the weekend series against the Chicago Wolves winless. They would leave the weekend with back-to-back wins. After a fast start on Friday, Rockford held on for their first win of the season and on Saturday night, needed heroics in overtime to get the two-game mini-sweep of their Illinois Lottery Cup rivals.

IceHogs notch first win of 2019-20 season

Prior to last night, the Rockford IceHogs were getting off to a much slower start than anticipated for the 2019-20 season. Coming into the year with a fresh group of highly-skilled rookies, expectations were set high for the young IceHogs. They promptly lost their first three games of the season in regulation, the first time that had happened for an IceHogs team in their short AHL history. While not sweating the sluggish start, head coach Derek King was adamant that if things didn’t turn around soon for Rockford, that changes were going to need to be made.

Luckily for the IceHogs, they were able to get the monkey off their back in game four of the regular season as they took down the Chicago Wolves in the first of 12 meetings this season, winning 3-2 and opening the Illinois Lottery Cup rivalry up the right way.

The two main goals for Rockford in Friday night’s contest were to get off to a fast start and to maintain that momentum for a full 60-minute effort. They emphatically checked the first box, putting three goals on the board against the Wolves in the opening period. The second box, was penciled-in, just enough, to get the win at home.

Dylan Sikura put the IceHogs ahead with the 1-0 goal early in the first period just after a Rockford powerplay had expired. The goal marked Sikura’s third in the first four games of the season. Sikura was paired with Matthew Highmore and Kirby Dach to begin the game on the top line for the IceHogs, but a hip/mid-section injury to Kris Versteeg in the first period caused the lines to be jumbled as the game went on.

Seven minutes later, while on the penalty-kill, the IceHogs were able to cause a turnover in the neutral zone with Alexandre Fortin and John Quenneville on the two-on-one rush. Fortin shot the puck on net, but Wolves goaltender Garret Sparks was able to make the initial save. After the bouncing puck found it’s way back to Fortin, he setup Quenneville at the far post for the 2-0 goal, Quenneville’s first as an IceHog this season.

Rockford IceHogs 2019-20

The Rockford IceHogs celebrate a goal against the Chicago Wolves. (Photo Courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

While the IceHogs had to kill off six minutes of penalty time in the opening period, they were able to fend off the Wolves man-advantage. As the opening period neared a close, Rockford was able to score what would become the game-winning goal—once more in chaotic fashion. Jacob Nilsson drove the puck to the net, but was stopped by Sparks and the Wolves defense, but Anton Wedin was there to gather the loose puck and fire home the 3-0 goal, his second of the season.

The IceHogs outshot the Wolves 17-4 in the first period and were outshooting opponents 39-33 in the opening period though the first four games this season. The biggest challenge for the IceHogs would not be getting off to a good start—but holding on to that good start. Second and third periods have not been the best collective efforts for Rockford so far this season, so having a large lead heading into the final 40 minutes of the game might prove helpful.

It may not have been a pretty final 40 minutes, but the IceHogs did enough to get the win. They allowed a goal to the Wolves in the second period as goaltender Collin Delia was drawn far out of his net on a cross-crease pass and Chicago was able to re-center the puck and catch Delia out of position. Rockford was outshot 27-16 in the final two periods and had to kill-off four Wolves powerplay opportunities to close out the game. Chicago tallied a powerplay goal in the third period to cut the Rockford lead to 3-2, but the defense and Delia were able to hold off the Wolves attack just enough to seal the first win of the season for Rockford. The Hog netminder made 29 saves on 31 shots to earn his first win of the season and has a .912 save-percentage this season through three starts.

Versteeg did not play the second and third periods for the IceHogs but after the game was said to have sustained a non-serious mid/lower-body injury. Also of note was the absence of rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist from the starting lineup. According to head coach Derek King after the game, Boqvist had taken a puck to his face during the morning skate. Rockford finished the game 0-for-5 on the powerplay and 5-for-6 on the penalty-kill.

Kirby Dach recalled to Chicago Blackhawks

Shortly after both the IceHogs and Blackhawks finished their games on Friday night, Chicago recalled rookie forward Kirby Dach from Rockford to end his conditioning assignment. Dach had 14 days and a possible five games available to play while he was with the IceHogs, he only played in three of those games over a seven day period. While he didn’t tally his first professional point while with the IceHogs, Dach did show little to no rust after missing nearly a month of action due to a concussion suffered in the Traverse City rookie tournament.

Kirby Dach IceHogs

Kirby Dach with the Rockford IceHogs against the Grand Rapids Griffins (Photo Courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

The Blackhawks seemed to want to be patient with Dach’s recovery process in Rockford, but felt he was ready in just half the projected time. He joins the Blackhawks now, but it remains to be seen if/when he’ll make his NHL debut. From there, Chicago has a nine-game window to play Dach in the NHL before they have to make a decision to either keep him with the club and burning the first year of his three-year entry-level contract, or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.

IceHogs need overtime heroics for Saturday sweep

With Dach out of the lineup and Boqvist and Versteeg missing a second game, the IceHogs faced the Wolves again on Saturday night with three new bodies in the lineup and a new goaltender in net. Matt Tomkins, MacKenzie Entwistle, Nick Moutrey and Reese Johnson found their way back into the Rockford lineup for the back-half of the home-and-home. Tomkins made his first AHL start for the IceHogs since April 7, 2018 against the Texas Stars. He has spent the majority of his time in the Blackhawks system with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL.

Tomkins would be tested early. Having to make two post-to-post saves within the first ten minutes of action, but he was up to the task. The IceHogs controlled most of the opening period, including a powerplay chance, but were unable to break open the scoring in the same fashion they did the night prior. That would be until Tyler Sikura got the IceHogs on the board with a tally with just over seven minutes to play in the first period. It would be Sikura’s first goal of the season and would be the fifth game in a row that the IceHogs scored the opening goal of the game.

The 1-0 lead would be short-lived as the Wolves knotted the game at 1-1 with just under five minutes to play in the opening frame. Following the Chicago goal, the IceHogs quickly regained the advantage as Dennis Gilbert was hit with a double-minor high-stick in his face. Gilbert would go to the locker room for maintenance while the IceHogs went on the powerplay to end the period.

The second period started much like the first with neither team getting too many high-quality chances. The Wolves hit a post early in the period but could not get the go-ahead goal, while Moutrey and Wedin had decent chances for Rockford to no avail.

The stalemate continued late into the period with Wolves starter Garret Sparks keeping a trio of chances out of the net as the IceHogs increased their pressure offensively. Nilsson had an open net chance from a cross-crease pass from Brandon Hagel, but couldn’t control the puck to get it on net. Rockford out-shot the Wolves in the second period and the teams would head to the third tied 1-1

The IceHogs would be pressured in their own end in the first five minutes of the third period, having trouble getting possession away from the Wolves. But it would be an opportunity on the rush that would lead to Philip Holm scoring the 2-1 goal early in the third period to give Rockford the lead. Holm’s second goal of the season, coming against his former AHL club.

Rockford was forced to defend a heavy attack late in the game from the Wolves with Chicago hitting a second goal post clean, but would not go in. A delay of game call with less than five minutes to play would come back to haunt Rockford as they gave up the game-tying goal just under a minute into the kill. The tying goal went in off a sliding Gilbert as he went to breakup a two-on-one breakaway just moments after Fortin was unable to convert on his own breakaway chance. The Wolves kept the pressure up and Rockford held for the overtime period.

In the extra frame both teams would have their chances, but the IceHogs would leave it late as Joni Tuulola flipped a puck to a streaking Tyler Sikura and he buried the overtime winner behind Sparks for the 3-2 victory. Sikura’s second goal of the game, and first multi-goal game since April 7, 2018, gave Rockford a two-game sweep of Chicago in the home-and-home series.

Matt Tomkins was named the third-star of the game, making 37 saves on 39 shots faced. Rockford out-shot the Wolves 39-33 and for the first time this season, out-shot an opponent in both the second and third periods of a single game. With the win, the IceHogs improve to 2-3-0 on the season.

What’s Next?

Following the weekend home-and-home with the Wolves, the IceHogs are not back in action until Friday, October 25 when they travel to take on the Cleveland Monsters. Rockford will be in Cleveland to take on the Monsters in back-to-back road games Friday and Saturday. Puck drop for Friday’s game is set for 7 p.m. Eastern Time and Saturday’s puck drop is set for 1 p.m. Eastern Time. These will be the first two of four meetings this season between the IceHogs and Monsters. Rockford held a 1-3-0 record against Cleveland last year.

Center Ice Forums IceHogs sweep weekend series against Wolves

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    Mario Tirabassi

    The IceHogs came into the weekend series against the Chicago Wolves winless. They would leave the weekend with back-to-back wins. After a fast start o
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