The Rockford IceHogs’ 2018–19 season, their 20th anniversary of professional hockey in Rockford, came to an end much earlier than last season. No Calder Cup Playoffs run this spring means an early exit interviews day. On Tuesday afternoon, Rockford IceHogs game-day broadcaster Joseph Zakrzewski interviewed the team as they wrapped up their year.
Rockford IceHogs exit interviews
The Rockford IceHogs put a cap on their season with their annual end-of-the-year exit interviews. After finishing the regular season in seventh place in the AHL Central Division, the IceHogs missed the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second time in the last three years. Paired with the Chicago Blackhawks missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row, this year marks the first time since becoming the AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks that Chicago and Rockford both missed the postseason.
There are a number of reasons why there is not playoff hockey being played in Rockford this season: coaching changes, injuries, recalls and assignments of key players, etc., but the IceHogs simply could not support their stellar team defense with enough scoring on a regular basis to get them over the hump and into the Calder Cup Playoffs. The league’s best goalie group of Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Anton Forsberg were regularly let down by the league’s lowest scoring offense. Rockford finished the season with a 30–2–2 record when scoring three or more goals in a game, while on the flip side, lost 19 games this year when holding their opponents to two or fewer goals in a game.
But let’s not beat a dead horse any longer.
Interim head coach Derek King
IceHogs head coach Derek King did pretty much as well as he could have been asked after taking over the IceHogs from Jeremy Colliton in early November. King inherited the reigns of a 6–3–3 IceHogs team on Nov. 6 and finished the season with a 35–31–10 record, a 29–28–7 record with King as head coach. As of Wednesday, King’s status with the organization is still undecided, but one would figure he managed his position well enough to be given a chance to remove the interim tag from his coaching position.
Dylan Sikura (46 games played, 17 goals, 18 assists)
One of the brightest spots for the IceHogs this season was Dylan Sikura‘s emergence as a force to reckon with at the AHL level. While his well-hyped arrival in the Blackhawks organization has not lived up to the billing at the NHL level (11 points in 38 NHL games, no goals), Sikura tied Peter Holland for the highest points per game rate for the IceHogs this season at 0.76 points per game. In his first full professional year, Sikura finished third on the team in scoring, having played nearly 20 fewer games than the other Rockford scorers in the top five. He also finished eighth in rookie goal-scoring with 17 tallies on the year. Sikura becomes a restricted free agent this summer after completing a two-year deal with the Blackhawks organization.
Jordan Schroeder (62 games played, 19 goals, 26 assists)
Veteran forward Jordan Schroeder had one of his best AHL seasons of his career in 2018–19 with the IceHogs. Finishing with a career-high 45 points, Schroeder was consistently one of the most relied-upon players for the IceHogs. Paired with Holland down the stretch of the season, Schroeder found scoring chemistry with his newly acquired teammate and it showed. Over his final 25 games of the season, Schroeder tallied 21 points, including a five-game point streak and four multi-point games. Schroeder becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after completing his one-year deal with the Blackhawks organization.
Henri Jokiharju (30 games played, two goals, 15 assists)
While there is some debate whether or not Henri Jokiharju actually needed to play with the Rockford IceHogs this season, it showed that his time in the AHL made an impact on him on the ice. Jokiharju finished second on the team in scoring for defensemen (excluding Darren Raddysh), having played half as many games as the leading scorer in Lucas Carlsson. Jokiharju logged heavy minutes with the iceHogs and played in all situations. His 0.57 point per game pace was the highest on the team for defensemen and his plus-7 rating was tied with Sikura for the best rating on the roster. Jokiharju will be joining Finland’s World Championships camp this Summer. Jokiharju has two years remaining on his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Luke Johnson (53 games played, 18 goals, 13 assists)
After starting the season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Luke Johnson joined the IceHogs in late November for the remainder of the season, save for two games in December. Johnson set new AHL career-highs in goals and points this season, playing all over the lineup. One of the more consistent players on the roster this season, Johnson’s physical aspect of his game seemed unchanged as his ability to score and generate scoring chances improved from last season. Johnson becomes a restricted free agent this summer after completing his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks organization.
Collin Delia (26 games played, 13–8–4, 2.48 goals against average, 0.922 save percentage)
Along with Sikura, another major bright spot for the IceHogs and Blackhawks this season was the continued improvement and development of goaltender Collin Delia. After joining the organization last season and ascending from the ECHL Indy Fuel to the Chicago Blackhawks in one season, Delia again played major roles for both the Blackhawks and IceHogs. Finishing this season with the second-best save percentage in the AHL, Delia, along with Lankinen and Forsberg, made up the best goaltending group in the league this season based on save percentage. Many have speculated that he projects to be the future No. 1 goaltender in the Blackhawks organization and if he continues his development trajectory, he will be. Delia signed a three-year, $3 million contract extension with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, which kicks in next year.
Dennis Gilbert (63 games played, five goals, nine assists)
Winner of the team’s ‘Most Improved’ award this season, defenseman Dennis Gilbert truly came a long way from the beginning of the season. His confidence grew as the year progressed and his ice time increased. At the beginning of the year, Gilbert seemed to do little more than throw his weight around on the IceHogs’ blue line. But as they year went on, he began to open up more in the offensive zone while continuing to be a menace defensively. Gilbert ranked third on the active roster for scoring defensemen and led the team with seven fighting majors. Gilbert has two years remaining on his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Matthew Highmore (12 games played, three goals, six assists)
The 2018–19 season could have been much different for the Rockford IceHogs had Matthew Highmore been healthy the full year. After tallying seven points over his first eight games of the year, Highmore was lost to a shoulder injury for nearly five months. He returned at the beginning of April, only to re-injure the shoulder and not finish the season on the ice for the IceHogs. Highmore had a lot of promise heading into this season, having set the AHL franchise rookie goal scoring record in 2017–18. Highmore probably would have been like Sikura was this season, up and down with the Blackhawks had he been healthy, but his games lost for the IceHogs truly had an impact across the board. Highmore has one year remaining on his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Anton Forsberg (32 games played, 15–15–2, 2.64 goals against average, 0.919 save percentage)
Much of what was said about Delia before can be repeated for Anton Forsberg this season. Consistently under-supported offensively, Forsberg took the majority of starts for the IceHogs this season after beginning the year as the backup in Chicago. His .919 save percentage finished as the fourth-best in the AHL this season. Forsberg becomes a restricted free agent this summer after completing a two-year contract with the Blackhawks he signed in the summer of 2017.
Victor Ejdsell (61 games played, 12 goals, 17 assists)
It is hard to label Victor Ejdsell‘s 2018–19 season a complete disappointment, but the expectations on him heading into the year certainly did not help his cause. Many, including myself, felt Ejdsell had a better than 50–50 chance of making the Chicago Blackhawks’ NHL roster coming out of training camp. He did not, nor did he receive a recall to the Blackhawks all season. Ejdsell dealt with injuries at times this year and only recently had found his stride within the offense. He still can show flashes of the scoring and playmaking ability that made him an intriguing prospect for the organization, but putting it all together consistently remains his issue. Ejdsell becomes a restricted free agent this summer after completing his two-year entry-level contract that he signed with the Nashville Predators in May of 2017.
Andrew Campbell (64 games played, three goals, five assists)
While there was little chance he would suit up for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, Andrew Campbell did everything asked and expected of him for the Rockford IceHogs this season. As he mentions in his exit interview, there is more to be measured that just numbers for his success this season. He was named a playing captain for the AHL Western Conference at the AHL All Star weekend this year, a testament to his longevity and leadership at the AHL level. Campbell served as a sort of assistant coach for the IceHogs this season, providing a veteran leadership presence for a young locker room. Campbell becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after completing his one-year contract with the Blackhawks organization.
Alexandre Fortin (47 games played, six goals, six assists)
After a quick two-game stint with the IceHogs to begin the year, Alexandre Fortin joined the Blackhawks for a generous portion of the season, skating in 24 games at the NHL level, before rejoining the IceHogs for the remainder of the season. At multiple points over the two years that Fortin has spent with the Blackhawks and IceHogs organizations, he as shown the abilities to be a dangerous speedster who can create space and scoring chances with his feet. His downfall is his ability to actually finish those chances. Over the final 21 games of the season, Fortin tallied just three points. The abilities are there, but putting them together needs to be the next step for Fortin. He has one year remaining on his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Andreas Martinsen (38 games played, three goals, eight assists)
Another forward who played a good portion of his 2018–19 season with the Chicago Blackhawks before coming to the Rockford IceHogs, Andreas Martinsen was exactly as expected in his time with the IceHogs: a physical player who can now and again contribute offensively and provide a veteran presence in the locker room, same as his role last season with the IceHogs. The problem is that he has more than likely reached his ceiling with the Blackhawks and IceHogs organizations. Martinsen becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after completing his one-year contract with the Blackhawks.
Tyler Sikura (50 games played, seven goals, 12 assists)
Similar to the season of Victor Ejdsell, Tyler Sikura‘s 2018–19 campaign was a let down. After playing his first full season in the AHL last year and finishing second in the team in goals and third in points in 2017–18, the elder Sikura failed to reach that productivity this season. Hampered by injuries for a while this year, Tyler was now and again the net-front presence he was last season, but did not reach his same ice time nor did he have the same opportunities on the power play that he had last year. Like Martinsen, Tyler has more than likely also reached his ceiling with the IceHogs organization. He becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after completing his one-year contract with the Blackhawks.
William Pelletier (41 games played, seven goals, 10 assists)
Rockford’s 2018–19 ‘Man of the Year,’ William Pelletier bounced back from missing nearly half of the season due to injury to provide jump and energy into the lineup late in the season. Pelletier’s highlight of the year came from scoring back-to-back goals just 13 seconds apart against the San Antonio Rampage on April 2 to spark an epic comeback win. Unfortunately, those were his final two points of the season. Pelletier plays above his 5-foot-7 frame and can provide a bit of offense at the AHL level. He becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after completing his one-year AHL contract with the Rockford IceHogs.
Terry Broadhurst (40 games played, four goals, eight assists)
Hampered by injuries this season, Terry Broadhurst‘s return to the IceHogs did not really live up to what both he or the team maybe would have hoped for. Broadhurst started hot with five points in his first eight games with the IceHogs, but tallied just seven more points over his other 32 games played this season. At 30 years old, it is unclear what the next step will be for Broadhurst in his playing career, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent after completing his one-year contract with the Rockford IceHogs.
Blake Hillman (54 games played, one goal, three assists)
In and out of the lineup for a portion of the season, Blake Hillman seemed to stall in his development in his first full professional season. After joining the organization late last season, Hillman looked like he might be in line for a shot at the NHL roster entering last summer. He never took that next step. Inconsistent with the puck on his stick, Hillman still has a lot of hockey ahead of him and could be brought back into the mix next season. He becomes a restricted free agent this summer after completing his two-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Nathan Noel (46 games played, two goals, four assists)
It is hard to get a true read on Nathan Noel. He has dealt with injuries the last two seasons with the IceHogs, but when healthy, he looks the part of a decent depth AHL player. He mixes speed, physicality and a good touch with the puck on his stick at times, but cannot find it consistently. He has one year remaining on his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Josh McArdle (19 games played, one goal, two assists)
The first Rockford-area native to play for the IceHogs, Josh McArdle was a solid ECHL call-up for Rockford this season. He was able to step in during a thin stretch of the season for the iceHogs when they were dealing with injuries to the blue line. He played 33 games with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL this season, his first full professional season. McArdle becomes an unrestricted free agent after completing his one-year contract with the Rockford IceHogs.
Dmitry Osipov (Eight games played, zero goals, two assists)
A big-bodied defenseman like Dmitry Osipov was missing from the IceHogs roster for the majority of the season. While Gilbert and Campbell both weigh in at over 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Gilbert was the only true physical presence in the defensive group for Rockford. Osipov, coming in at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, provided a physical element that King wanted more of in his lineup. Osipov played in 66 games with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL this season, totaling 13 points. He becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after completing his contract with the Indy Fuel.
Reese Johnson (Six games played, zero goals, four assists)
A late-season signing from the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, Reese Johnson stepped into the IceHogs’ lineup late in the season alongside his Red Deer teammate Brandon Hagel and made an immediate impact. Johnson showed flashes of playmaking skill and a high motor in his small sample of AHL play. He looks to be a part of the IceHogs’ lineup next season as he begins he three-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks.
Brandon Hagel (Eight games played, zero goals, one assist)
Speaking of Hagel, the WHL’s fourth-leading scorer this season joined the IceHogs late in the year after signing as a junior free agent in October. While he only tallied one assist in his eight games with Rockford, Hagel’s scoring ability should make him a key figure for the organization to keep an eye on going into next season. He begins a three-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks next season.
Philipp Kurashev (Three games played, zero points)
Another late-season addition for the IceHogs this year was QMJHL standout Philipp Kurashev. After leading the Quebec Remparts in scoring this season, Kurashev joined the IceHogs for their final three games of the season. While not tallying a point in those three games, Kurashev’s 125 points over the last two seasons with Quebec, paired with him showcasing his abilities at the World Juniors this past January, make him an exciting prospect for the Blackhawks and IceHogs heading into the summer. He begins a three-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks next season.
The IceHogs’ 20th anniversary season did not end with another run at the Calder Cup, but it was far from unsuccessful.
🎥: Thank YOU fans for an amazing 20th anniversary season! https://t.co/k3Q6kG5A4o
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) April 17, 2019
For the depth of the Chicago Blackhawks organization, the IceHogs have plenty of players to be excited about for the future and be encouraged for how many of them are progressing in their careers.
A giant thank goes out to the great media and communications staff with the Rockford IceHogs for providing all the videos of the exit interviews.
The Calder Cup Playoffs begin this week, but not for the IceHogs. Stay tuned to The-Rink for more news and analysis on the Chicago Blackhawks organization, top to bottom, as the spring and summer roll along.