Rockford IceHogs control their playoff destiny

  

With five games to play this season, the Rockford IceHogs are just three points out of a Calder Cup Playoff spot in the Central Division. Even to that, the IceHogs are just five points out of third-place in the division. In the final five games of the season, four will come on the road and all five are against teams sitting above them in the standings. With each game’s outcome meaning either two steps forward or two steps back, there is one goal for Rockford: Just win, baby.

IceHogs in the driver seat

It is a tall task to string together five wins in a row at any point in the season, let alone in the final five games of the year. For the IceHogs, winning the final five games of this season would all but lock them into a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The final five games this season are against teams that are above them in the Central Division, meaning each game has a possible four points on the line, rather than the usual two (in theory).

Rockford is first tasked with a Friday-Saturday set against the Texas Stars, a team the IceHogs have taken points from in four of the six meetings this season. Following that are road games against the Milwaukee Admirals and Iowa Wild, before closing the season at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford against the same Admirals on April 14. Depending on how the next week goes, that April 14 game against Milwaukee could every well mean the difference between making or not making the postseason for both clubs.

A couple of things that the IceHogs have going in their favor heading into the last stretch of the season include their AHL-leading goaltending and a shot in the arm offensively coming back from the NHL.

Rockford IceHogs Collin Delia

Rockford IceHogs goaltender Collin Delia makes a save against the San Antonio Rampage. (Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs)

First, the IceHogs continue to be at the top of the AHL when it comes to stopping the puck. Goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia continue to sit atop the league leaders in save percentage this season. Forsberg’s 0.920 save percentage ranks fourth in the AHL among qualified goalies, while Delia leads the league with a 0.923 save percentage. Although he has not played since March 10, Kevin Lankinen‘s 0.911 save percentage this season is nothing to scoff at.

A key for the IceHogs will be the continued play in net from Delia and Forsberg down the stretch. Last season, Delia was the work-horse that led the IceHogs into the postseason and through the first two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoff run for Rockford. If he can duplicate that kind of success keeping the puck out of the net, Rockford will be able to win these meaningful games with the minimal goal support they have created for their goalies this season.

But, that brings about a second, and maybe more important, key for Rockford if they are to make the Calder Cup Playoffs and make some noise: the goal scoring. Rockford has been at or near the bottom of the AHL all season in creating goals and scoring chances this season. While some of it can be chalked up to some bad luck, the personnel the IceHogs have had to play with has not been littered with high-quality finishers for most of this season.

Rockford IceHogs Peter Holland

Rockford IceHogs forward Peter Holland awaits a face-off during a game this season. (Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs)

After losing Matthew Highmore early this season to injury, the IceHogs had to make up his depletion in goals. Players like Jordan Schroeder, Anthony Louis and Dylan Sikura did their best to pick up the scoring slack. But a cold streak from Louis and Sikura being up and down with the Blackhawks had stalled the offense.

But in the last half of the season, and more importantly the last few days, the IceHogs have been able to add firepower back into their offense. Making a trade for Peter Holland in January added a veteran player who can create and finish at the AHL to the Rockford offense. This season, Holland ranks ninth in the AHL in scoring with 62 points in 69 games, with 13 points coming in his 17 games with the IceHogs. His 62 points and 25 goals this season are new AHL career highs for Holland.

Rockford IceHogs Dylan Sikura

Rockford IceHogs forward Dylan Sikura fires a shot against the Grand Rapids Griffins. (Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs)

Along with Holland’s addition, the IceHogs benefitted from the return of Dylan Sikura to the lineup on Tuesday night after playing the better part of the last two months with the Chicago Blackhawks. On Tuesday night, Sikura scored his first two goals in nearly two months with a pair of tallies against the San Antonio Rampage.

This season with the IceHogs, Sikura ranks tied for third on the team in scoring with 32 points in 41 games. His 0.78 points per game pace is tied with Highmore for the highest on the team. The re-addition of Sikura into the lineup and getting Matthew Highmore back healthy should surely rejuvenate the Rockford offense, as was evident in the 5–3 win over the Rampage on Tuesday night.

William Pelletier named Rockford IceHogs’ ‘Man Of The Year’

On Wednesday, the AHL announced their list of every team representative for the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year awards. The awards are presented to players for their outstanding contributions to the local community and charitable organizations during the 2018–19 season.

Last season, Collin Delia was named the IceHogs’ ‘Man of the Year,’ and he is followed this season by William Pelletier. By being awarded the team’s ‘Man of the Year’ award, Pelletier is now in the running for the AHL’s Yanick Dupre Memorial Award for the league’s ‘Man of the Year’ title.

Rockford IceHogs William Pelletier

Rockford IceHogs forward William Pelletier skates onto the ice prior to a game this season. (Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs)

From the Rockford IceHogs:

“Pelletier spearheaded Rockford’s Brovember campaign this year, helping raise awareness and funds for the fight against men’s cancer. Pelletier’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago and Will has since led the IceHogs locker room’s efforts in the Brovember initiative.

Pelletier and the IceHogs also took the lanes of Cherry Bowl on March 3 for the Hogs’ annual Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser. Brovember Inc. was the primary benefactor of the event, and the IceHogs players generously donated their time to help raise money for the local charity.

Overall, Pelletier helped the IceHogs raise more than $30,000 for the fight against cancer this season. That total includes more than $8,000 at the annual Bowl-A-Thon and more than $22,000 through Hockey Fights Cancer. “

In his second full season with the IceHogs, Pelletier has skated in 36 games and tallied 17 points after missing a large portion of the beginning of the season due to injury. In his AHL career, Pelletier has 53 points in 113 games, all with the IceHogs.

Roster moves

On Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs announced a number of roster moves being made.

First, after being recalled to the Blackhawks on Wednesday and making his NHL debut for Chicago against the St. Louis Blues, defenseman Dennis Gilbert was re-assigned back to the IceHogs. Gilbert played 12:46 minutes against the Blues on Wednesday night, recording a team-high six hits in the process. Gilbert has played in 59 games this season for the IceHogs, recording 14 points and a team-high 65 penalty minutes.

Rockford IceHogs Dennis Gilbert

Rockford IceHogs defenseman Dennis Gilbert carries the puck during an IceHogs game this season. (Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs)

Also announced on Thursday was the addition of Dmitry Osipov and Philipp Kurashev to the Rockford IceHogs. Osipov rejoins the IceHogs on a PTO contract after playing in four games for Rockford two weeks ago. As for Kurashev, he joins the IceHogs following his third full season in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts. In his QMJHL career, Kurashev has played in 183 games and has tallied 179 points.

Philipp Kurashev

Quebec Remparts forward Philipp Kurashev joined the IceHogs this week. (Courtesy: Quebec Remparts)

A fourth-round pick by the Blackhawks in 2018, Kurashev set his QMJHL career highs in goals (29) and points (65) this season. Adding Kurashev to the forwards group comes at a perfect time for head coach Derek King, as the team’s second-highest scorer in Jordan Schroeder went down with a lower-body injury on Tuesday night against the Rampage.

Calder Cup Playoff race

The Central Division at one point this season was a two-spot race with the first and fourth spots up for grabs. As the season has wound down, the Iowa Wild have hit a cold streak and the third-place spot is now in play for the final five teams searching for a Calder Cup Playoff position.

  1. x – Chicago Wolves (70 GP) – 42–2–8 – 92 pts.
  2. Grand Rapids Griffins (71 GP) – 38–23–10 – 86 pts.
  3. Iowa Wild (72 GP) – 34–25–13 – 81 pts.
  4. Manitoba Moose (71 GP) – 36–28–7 – 79 pts.
  5. Milwaukee Admirals (71 GP) – 32–24–15 – 79 pts.
  6. Texas Stars (71 GP) – 35–29–7 – 77 pts.
  7. Rockford IceHogs (71 GP) – 33–28–10 – 76 pts.
  8. e – San Antonio Rampage (72 GP) – 28–37–7 – 63 pts.

x – Clinched playoff spot
e – Eliminated from playoff contention

All five of the remaining games for the IceHogs come against teams ahead of them with two games against Texas, two games against Milwaukee and one game against Iowa left to play.

What is next?

The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Friday night as they begin a four-game road trip. On Friday and Saturday night, the IceHogs travel to take on the Texas Stars. Both games are set for 7 p.m. CT puck drops at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park in Cedar Park, Texas. Rockford holds a 2–2–2 record against the Stars this season in six previous meetings. Texas sits one point ahead of the IceHogs in the Central Division.

Center Ice Forums Rockford IceHogs Control Their Playoff Destiny

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