What can cure an ailing season? How about some goalie wins and a new signing? With what can only be described as a trying year for the Rockford IceHogs, the team just got a boost of energy. In their last two contests, the IceHogs have earned back-to-back 2–1 overtime victories over the Grand Rapids Griffins off the heroics of seasoned goaltender Matt Tomkins.
In addition, on Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 seventh-round pick and Colorado College standout Josiah Slavin to an entry-level contract. Slavin has reported to Rockford and will join the Hogs for the remainder of the season.
Tomkins stands out
On Saturday, the Hogs rode Tomkins and his 42 saves to victory. The Hogs tied the game 7:25 into the third period, as Matej Chalupa tallied his fourth goal of the season, with assists going to Evan Barratt and Dylan McLaughlin. In overtime, McLaughlin would end the contest 2:14 into the extra session, scoring on a 2-on-1 rush.
🔥 Hog: Goalie Matt Tomkins has 71 saves over our last two games and made a career-high 42 stops in our 2-1 OT win at Grand Rapids on Saturday! pic.twitter.com/SQD5f3HLhw
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) March 15, 2021
On Tuesday, Tomkins was at his best again, this time registering a career-high 46 saves in a repeat 2–1 overtime performance. McLaughlin was also a difference maker again, with his second overtime winner in as many games. He also added an assist on Gabriel Gagne’s first goal of the season in the second period. McLaughlin tallied 19 seconds into overtime to cap off four points in two games against the Griffins.
For Tomkins, this could not come at a better time for him or for the IceHogs. With an active and unpredictable goalie situation in Rockford this season, for Tomkins to prove himself at this stage of his career is essential. This is the best the 10-year pro has looked to date, and for him to establish himself as a reliable option could prove vital for the Hogs if they want to stay alive in the AHL’s Central Division. Currently 5–8–1 and fifth in the division, the odds are not in the team’s favor, but as the sport goes, a hot goalie can make a difference.
The Hawks’ signing of Slavin may seem somewhat insignificant to the average hockey fan, but it may turn out to mean a lot more than that. Slavin, the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin, projects as a bottom-six forward, and, with his two-year entry-level deal, could eventually have an opportunity depending on what the Blackhawks decide to do with their grinding forwards. After this season, it is hard to imagine the Hawks continuing with restricted-free-agent-to-be Lucas Wallmark, who has been disappointing thus far. That leaves room for a defensive-minded winger to ultimately compete for a roster spot. Slavin brings that sandpaper element that that is much needed in an NHL lineup.
Slavin’s defensive responsibility, character and work ethic are the most important intangibles to his game. Slavin’s former assistant coach at Colorado College, Leon Hayward, echoed those sentiments.
“From a hockey perspective, the kid has a lot of detail in his game already,” Hayward told The Rink. “He has a pro stick from the defensive side of the puck.”
Hayward went on to comment on Slavin’s commitment and approach to the game.
“Any skills he’s deficient in, he’ll work his way to get better at,” Hayward said. “His work ethic is elite. He’s all dialed in. He’s already a pro.”
As the Hawks have shown thus far with their youth movement and surprise season, the attributes that Slavin possesses can only be seen as a positive. It will be exciting to follow his growth in the days, weeks, months and years to come.