War Pigs Report: IceHogs at the mid-season mark


The Rockford IceHogs have just surpassed the mid-way point of the 2019-20 AHL regular season. Through 39 games, Rockford holds a 19-18-2 record and currently sit in a tie for fourth place in the AHL Central Division with the Texas Stars at 40 points. While the IceHogs first half of the season got off to a slow start, it reached a peak when Rockford held second-place in the Division and was on a 90+ point pace. But as the Holiday season came around, the IceHogs hit a rut and are now slowly climbing out and looking to make a second half of the season push towards the Calder Cup Playoffs.

IceHogs hold playoff position…for now

Technically, the IceHogs are in a playoff position in the Central Division. Tied for fourth with the Texas Stars with 40 points, the IceHogs and Stars have played the fewest games in the Division with 39 games played. The San Antonio Rampage, who sit in last-place, have also played 39 games. The IceHogs’ focus can only be to take care of their own business and not have to rely on any other team to help them in the standings as they try to begin their Calder Cup Playoff push.

Collin Delia Rockford IceHogs

Collin Delia in net for the Rockford IceHogs against the Chicago Wolves. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Rockford has the worst stretch of any Central Division team over their last ten games with a 2-7-1 mark. But a positive spin on their recent slump is that things are beginning to trend back in the right direction. The IceHogs have a 2-2-1 mark over their last five games, including wins over the Manitoba Moose and Grand Rapids Griffins, two teams sitting directly behind them in the Division standings.

Six of the next seven games for Rockford are against Central Division opponents to close the month of January and they only face two non-Central Division teams the rest of the season. Every game and point matters now for Rockford as they sit in a tie for fourth-place with only 11 points separating the second-place Iowa Wild (49 points) from the seventh-place Manitoba Moose (38 points).

Not-so-special teams


The Rockford IceHogs have been struggling on the special teams end of the game this season. Both the powerplay and the penalty-kill rank at the bottom of the AHL this season and it’s a trend that the IceHogs have seen under head coach Derek King. This season, the IceHogs rank 30th in the AHL on the powerplay with a 11.1 percent success rate with the league’s 10th-most powerplay opportunities with 162. On the other end, Rockford ranks 29th on the penalty-kill with a 77.7 percent kill-rate with 157 times short-handed, 16th in the AHL.

Tyler Sikura Rockford IceHogs

Tyler Sikura of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo Courtesy of Laval Rocket)

Under head coach Derek King, the IceHogs ranked 29th on the powerplay last season, but had an impressive 10th-ranked penalty-kill. One driving factor last season on the successful penalty-kill was the goaltending duo of Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia as both finished near the top of the AHL in save percentage in the 2018-19 season. This season, the goaltending trio of Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tomkins have not been as consistent in net, but that is not the end-all-be-all of killing penalties. On the bright side, the IceHogs are tied for the fourth-most short-handed goals this season with seven tallies by seven different players.

The more concerning number is the discrepancy on the powerplay. Only the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have a worse powerplay in the AHL (9.9%) with nearly as many powerplay opportunities (161). Rockford has been depleted of their offensive point-producing players for a big chunk of the season now, but still a team creating as many man-advantage chances, shouldn’t be at the bottom of the league in conversion. One would think the numbers game would just figure itself out and a bounce here or there on the powerplay would boost the IceHogs numbers, but it hasn’t come about yet this season.

Walking wounded

As just mentioned, the IceHogs have been depleted on their roster this season for a decent portion of the schedule. Between injuries and call-ups to the Chicago Blackhawks, the IceHogs have had to piece together a healthy roster relying on a heavy rotation of rookies, ECHL Indy Fuel call-ups and PTO signings.

The most recent lineup for Rockford in their game against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday night is a testament to how much Derek King has had to piece together a roster. Peter Quenneville, older brother of John Quenneville, signed a PTO and found himself on the top line in his first two games with the IceHogs.

While having Alexandre Fortin return to health was a positive, the IceHogs still went with just 11 forwards against the Griffins, playing Ben Youds as a seventh defenseman. Youds has played in 11 games for Rockford on a PTO contract and it seems like half of those starts have been as a seventh dressed defenseman or lining up as a forward.

Anton Wedin Rockford IceHogs

Anton Wedin of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Along with Peter Quenneville and Youds on PTO contracts, the IceHogs have also had to have Josh Winquist and Spencer Watson sign PTO deals to join the team and recalled Dmitry Osipov, Dylan McLaughlin, Nathan Noel, and Mathew Thompson from the Indy Fuel in the ECHL all since December 1.

With injuries and call-ups, the IceHogs are having to replace players like Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore, Dennis Gilbert, and Adam Boqvist as they have spent a good amount of time with the Blackhawks and players like Anton Wedin, Philipp Kurashev, Tim Soderlund, and Mikael Hakkarainen have missed significant time due to injury this year. Not to mention losing Kris Versteeg and Philip Holm before the mid-way point of the season as both have left the team.

It’s slim-picking for Rockford right now, but they are making due and not making excuses.

Help on the way?

The good news for the IceHogs is that help may be on the way. (Cue the Rise Against song!)
The Chicago Blackhawks are getting healthy in their own right as Drake Caggiula returned to the team recently and both Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad could be returning to the lineup soon.

Those are three major players coming back into the fold for Chicago and with Andrew Shaw‘s return also a possibility still this season, the IceHogs could see major players coming back down. John Quenneville had a stint with the Blackhawks in the last few weeks, playing nine games with 14 shots on goal and no points, but had since returned to Rockford and has two assists in his last two games. The younger Quenneville on the roster has 15 points in 21 games with the IceHogs this season, including ten points in his last seven games played in the AHL.

With Quenneville already returning, the IceHogs could also see familiar faces like Dylan Sikura and/or Matthew Highmore return as well once the Blackhawks get their forwards healthy again. Sikura hasn’t played with the IceHogs since December 7 and still ranks fourth on the team in points (16) and first in shots on goal (99). He finally broke through and scored his first NHL goal back on January 5 against the Detroit Red Wings. In nine games with the Blackhawks this season, Sikura has three points and ten shots on goal.

War Pigs Report: IceHogs at the mid-season mark

Dylan Sikura #95 of the Chicago Blackhawks reacts after scoring against the Detroit Red Wings in the second period at the United Center on January 5, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rockford could see Sikura return, but if the Blackhawks decide to hold onto him, it could be Matthew Highmore returning to the IceHogs. Highmore has been with the Blackhawks fro 16 games also since December 7 like Sikura, and has one goal and one assist in his 18 total games with Chicago this season. In his time with Rockford this season, Highmore has tallied 12 points in 21 games coming back healthy from an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. One or both of those players coming back to the IceHogs could very well turn the season back in Rockford’s favor and give the powerplay and penalty-kill some key players back into the fold.

Hagel, Nilsson leading offensive charge

The IceHogs have not been making excuses during this adverse stretch of the season. It’s the life of an AHL team to deal with injuries of their own and to their NHL affiliate club and the ever-changing make-up of the roster. Rockford has had to rely on a few veterans and a lot of rookies to shoulder the load with a good portion of their top players missing. Two players who have stayed healthy (knock on wood) and kept up with the production are last year’s Team MVP Jacob Nilsson and rookie Brandon Hagel.

Brandon Hagel Rockford IceHogs

Brandon Hagel of the Rockford IceHogs. (Photo Courtesy of the San Antonio Rampage)

Hagel has come into his own this season as a go-to player for Derek King. Playing on the powerplay and getting significant minutes in a top-line role, Hagel has responded with eight points in his last 12 games and sits in second-place on the team in scoring with 21 points, trailing only Tyler Sikura with 23 points. Hagel leads all IceHogs rookies in points (21) and goals (13), ranking tenth and tied for fifth in the same categories for rookies in the AHL.

Jacob Nilsson IceHogs

Jacob Nilsson of the Rockford IceHogs (Photo Courtesy of the Rockford IceHogs)

Along with Tyler Sikura as a veteran point-producer (six points in last ten games), Jacob Nilsson has been pacing the Rockford offense during what I am calling “The Great Exodus” for the IceHogs. With six points in his last six games, Nilsson ranks third on the IceHogs in scoring behind Sikura and Hagel with 18 points in 39 games this season. His 12 assists this year are second on the team behind the elder Sikura and both are the only two players on the Rockford roster to not miss a game yet this season for the IceHogs.

What’s Next?

The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Friday night as they take on the Grand Rapids Griffins for the second time in as many games. Rockford took the most recent meeting in Grand Rapids, 2-1 in the shootout. The IceHogs hold a 4-2-0 record over the Griffins this season. Puck drop is set for 6 p.m. CST on Friday night at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

The IceHogs return to the Central time zone and take on the Chicago Wolves on Sunday, January 19 at the Allstate Arena in another edition of the Illinois Lottery Cup Rivalry. The IceHogs hold a 5-1-0 record over the Wolves this season with Chicago winning the most recent matchup back on January 5. Puck drop is set for 3 p.m. CST on Sunday afternoon.

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