After nearly a full week off of action, the Rockford IceHogs faced a three games in three nights slate over the weekend. While every point counts at any spot in the schedule, gaining points early in the year makes the months of March and April that much easier in the long run. Over the weekend, the IceHogs took five of a possible six points in three games and have gained at least one point in the standings in nine of their last ten games.
Rockford IceHogs Take Five Of Six Points Over Weekend
Starting on Friday night in Milwaukee, the Rockford IceHogs faced a jam-packed weekend of AHL Central Division hockey. On Friday, the IceHogs took on the division-leading Milwaukee Admirals in Milwaukee.
The Admirals jumped to the game’s first lead late in the first period (on Teddy Toss night no less, with 1,069 Teddy Bears collected by the Admirals), but the IceHogs responded quickly thereafter with a goal coming from Dylan Sikura. Shortly after killing off one of Rockford’s SEVEN penalties on the night, Jacob Nilsson corralled the puck out of the penalty box, brought it deep into the Admirals zone and found Sikura on a beautiful cross-crease feed for his third goal of the season.
Once again the Admirals would have to respond as the Admirals took a second period lead with the 2-1 goal coming from Zach Magwood, his second goal of the game and Rockford trailed by the same score heading into the third period. Time wound down in the period, Rockford held the Admirals scoreless on three powerplay opportunities in the third, and Darren Raddysh would give the IceHogs the equalizing goal. His second goal of the season and the game would head to overtime. In the extra frame, it would be Raddysh again, on a delayed penalty chance that gave the IceHogs a 3-2 win on the road. Anton Forsberg made his second start of the season, making 22 saves on 24 shots, earning his first AHL win of the year.
Following the overtime win over Milwaukee, the IceHogs prepared for a home-and-home series with the Iowa Wild beginning in Rockford in Saturday night. Iowa would strike early in the first period, taking the 1-0 lead into the second period with the IceHogs failing to capitalize on three powerplay chances in the opening frame. Late in the second period, Anthony Louis buried his fourth goal of the season to tie the game up at 1-1 going into the third period.
Fighting off two penalties in the third period, the IceHogs and starter Collin Delia were able to hold the Wild off and force overtime. No scoring in the overtime period led to a shootout where Louis and Victor Ejdsell would not convert on their chances while Iowa put two behind Delia for the 2-1 shootout win. Delia made 41 saves on 42 shots in 65 minutes of work, sealing his sixth start in a row earning at least a point for the IceHogs.
Putting a bow on the three games in three nights stretch of play for Rockford, the Wild and IceHogs headed West to Des Moines, Iowa for a Sunday late afternoon tilt. With both teams finishing a three-in-three stretch, undisciplined play ruled the day again. The IceHogs were forced to kill-off three penalties in the first period, doing so successfully. Iowa wasn’t able to capitalize and the IceHogs jumped out to a two-goal lead early with goals from Dylan Sikura, his fourth of the season, and Anthony Louis, his fifth of the season, a minute apart. Matt Bartkowski tallied his first goal of the season to make it a 2-1 Rockford lead after one period.
The Wild converted an early second period powerplay to tie the game at 2-2 under four minutes into the middle frame. But the IceHogs were able to get their own powerplay goal in the second period, coming from Jacob Nilsson to re-take the lead on his first goal of the year. IceHogs held the 3-2 lead into the third period and added the 4-2 goal on an empty-net tally from Louis to seal the deal. Forsberg made his second start of the weekend, getting his second win of the weekend with 31 saves on 33 shots.
Rockford improves their record to 6-3-3. good enough for 15 points in the standings and a fourth-place standing based on points-percentage (eye-roll).
While the results are the high-points for the IceHogs over the weekend, they didn’t come out unscathed. On Friday night, Rockford was without defensemen Gustav Forsling. Adding to the list of injured IceHogs that includes top-minutes eaters in Carl Dahlstrom and Matthew Highmore, Forsling was out with what Head Coach Jeremy Colliton called a “Tweaked Groin.” Colliton did iterate that the injury to Forsling shouldn’t be long-term.
Gustav Forsling was out tonight for the #IceHogs with what Head Coach Jeremy Colliton called a "Tweaked groin" adding "If he was healthy, he would be playing." Colliton believes that the issue should not be long term.#Blackhawks #NHL #AHL
— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) November 3, 2018
As if that wasn’t enough to worry about on the injury report, the IceHogs also lost defenseman Luc Snuggerud on Saturday night against the Wild. Snuggerud had to be taken by stretcher off the ice after a dangerous check from Mike Liambas sent Snuggerud’s head into the boards.
An update was given on Sunday to his condition after the hit on Satuday night:
Received an update on @goicehogs D Luc Snuggerud from team doctors:
— Joseph Zakrzewski (@JoeyZRadio) November 4, 2018
With the IceHogs suddenly short-handed on defense, the team made two moves to fill the gaps left by Forsling and Snuggerud, recalling defensemen Josh McArdle and Neil Manning from the Indy Fuel prior to Sunday’s game in Iowa. Both McArdle and Manning were in the lineup for the IceHogs on Sunday.
Without major players in the lineup for some time for the IceHogs, getting points is at a premium. Rockford did a good job of that over the weekend, but that kind of play and points-pace will need to continue if they are to avoid falling behind in a tough Central Division.
So who is helping the IceHogs keep the pace in the Division early on? One need look no further than the men in-between the pipes. Both Collin Delia and Anton Forsberg have been solid and reliable in net since the season began. In seven appearances this season, Delia is 4-1-2 with a 2.38 GAA and a 0.933 save-percentage. Over his last six starts for Rockford, Delia has earned at least a point with a 4-0-2 record. For Forsberg, in his three appearances this season, he has a 2-1-0 record with a 1.99 GAA and a .929 save-percentage. Delia has yet to start a game this season without facing less than 31 shots on net, while Forsberg’s three starts has seen him face 24, 27, and 33 shots on net, respectively.
Also helping pace the IceHogs are a group of young “vets” and a pair of “rookies” that lead Rockford on the score-sheet seemingly every night. On the backend, coming off a two-goal performance against the Admirals and three-point weekend, Darren Raddysh has solidified his spot in the IceHogs defensive group. Entrusted in all facets of the game, the second-year pro has rebounded from losing ice-time in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs to be a leader on the ice for a young IceHogs group.
Also producing a three-point weekend, with three goals, Anthony Louis continues to find the back of the net for Rockford. Last season’s point-leader is again near the top of the score sheet for the IceHogs with a team-high six goals. His eight points on the year rank him tied for third on the team with Tyler Sikura.
After a hot start to the season, Tyler Sikura has seen his production hit a small dip with just two assists in his last six games following a six points in six games start. Sikura still is creating offense for Rockford and continues to be used by Jeremy Colltion on both the powerplay and penalty-killing units.
Finally, the “rookie” class leaders for the IceHogs come from two players who saw their first NHL experience last season. Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura, two players many believed would start the year with the Chicago Blackhawks, have found their ways early on in the AHL.
Ejdsell, after a sluggish start and a healthy-scratch from Colliton, has returned to the offensive formed that he showcased late last season. Over his last six games, Ejdsell has five points (3 G, 2 A) and finds himself ranked in a tie for fourth with Matthew Highmore in scoring for the IceHogs with seven points (3 G, 4 A) in 11 games.
As for the younger Sikura brother, Dylan has been one of the brightest spots for the IceHogs so far this season. Coming into his full rookie season with heavy expectations, Sikura began the season with Rockford after making his NHL debut late last season with Chicago. A prized late-round draft pick and NCAA hockey stand-out, Sikura has been the driving offensive factor for Rockford since game one. Sikura also had a three-point weekend and added to his team-leading ten points (4 G, 6 A) in his first 12 AHL games. His ten points also ranks tied for fourth in AHL rookie scoring.
Dylan Sikura Making Case For NHL Ice-Time
Speaking of Dylan Sikura, his play to begin the season is beginning look pretty familiar to a player who also started last season off with a high-point production, offensive-driving style of play. The comparison has been made before on this site between Sikura’s start this year to that of Vince Hinostroza last season.
After firing off 22 points in 23 games to start last season, Hinostroza made his way to the Blackhawks roster and provided an offensive spark to a struggling Chicago squad. Hinostroza put up 25 points in his 50 NHL games with the Blackhawks last year, then was traded this offseason to the Arizona Coyotes. While the same fate is hopefully not in the cards for the young Sikura, his opportunity to make an impact on the Blackhawks could be similar.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a bad defensive team. Sikura is not going to help that. It’s not his style, nor was it Hinostroza’s. Sikura is a playmaker with the puck with an ability to find space for teammates to create scoring chances. It’s what drove him in his four years at Northeastern University, leading to a Hobey Baker nomination in his Senior Year.
If the Hinostroza comparison doesn’t get your gears moving, look at a player that the Blackhawks recently faced that made their poor defense look even worse, Johnny Gaudreau.
Now, right off the bat, there is no comparing Gaudreau and Dylan Sikura on paper as far as skill goes. The gap is far too wide to sensibly make that statement, but stylistically, it’s there. As The-Rink.com College Hockey Analyst Aaron Goldschmidt puts it, “Sikura is a poor man’s version of Johnny Gaudreau.” The diminutive Gaudreau (5-9, 165-pounds) relies on his speed and agility to create space for himself, while having a set of silky hands to control the puck like most others in the NHL cannot do.
Chef Victor Ejdsell, known for his world-famous sauce, serves up renowned sauce critic Dylan Sikura
Sikura enjoyed the sauce so much he put it on a biscuit then put said biscuit into the basket pic.twitter.com/nMmr5yfW40
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) November 4, 2018
Sikura (5-11, 160-pounds) has shown that style of play in the AHL so far this season. He demands the puck on offense and has set-up numerous scoring chances for Rockford. He’s also been on the receiving end of some nice setups as well, thanks to his ability to find space without the puck.
If the Blackhawks are going to continue to play the way they are defensively, then they will have to out-score opponents in 7-6 games all season. It’s not realistic, nor would it be sustainable. But it couldn’t hurt to try as the early-season luster is wearing off the Blackhawks rapidly. Could Dylan Sikura not provide more to the Blackhawks than Chris Kunitz or Luke Johnson at this point offensively? One could figure a move may be in the cards sooner rather than later.
After taking five points over the weekend, the IceHogs are off until Wednesday when they host the Iowa Wild for a 10:30 AM CT puck drop. Completing a three-straight set of action against the Wild in what Jeremy Colliton called a “mini playoff series,” the Rockford IceHogs host their annual “School Day Game” on Wednesday morning. Expect an energetic crowd full of Rockford-area youngsters ready to blow the roof off the BMO Harris Bank Center.