War Pigs Report: IceHogs experiencing The Perils


Win and lose. Call up and send down. Shut out and shutout.
Such are The Perils of the Rockford IceHogs these days. The dreary winter blues are making the AHL All-Star weekend break come to a crawl on the schedule, unlike their NHL affiliate counterpart Chicago Blackhawks, who are streaking heading into the NHL All-Star break. Again, such are The Perils of the IceHogs in January.

Consistency in the roster and on the ice have led the IceHogs into a weird roller-coaster type of month where they surely won’t lose grip on their season, but they are in danger of falling into a hole that could be too deep to dig out of once March and April roll around.

Rockford currently sits in a three-way tie for fourth-place in the AHL Central Division with 42 points in the standings through 42 games with a 20-20-2 record. They are on par with the Texas Stars and Grand Rapids Griffins, having played one more game than Texas (41) and one fewer than the Griffins (43) at this point in the season. Looking with a broader scope, the third-place Chicago Wolves and the last-place San Antonio Rampage are only separated by seven points in the Central Division standings. It’s going to be a classic divisional slug-fest the rest of the season for the IceHogs as they navigate their Calder Cup Playoff push.

A Tale of Two Tendys

The roster has been influx with injuries and recalls/re-assignments, yes. But what was once the biggest strength of the IceHogs this season has turned into a question-mark. Goaltending was the key for the IceHogs last season with Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia leading the way. Coming into the 2019-20 season, it looked as if Delia and Kevin Lankinen were in prime position to once again be a deadly one-two combo in net.

While Lankinen came out of the gate with a great start to the season, Delia struggled. Add into the mix the IceHogs willingly carrying three healthy goaltenders all season with Matt Tomkins also in the fold and ice-time for Rockford goalies was at a premium.

  • IceHogs goalie stats through the end of November
    • Kevin Lankinen: 5-2-1, 2.45 GAA, .926 save percentage
    • Matt Tomkins: 4-1-0, 2.39 GAA, .924 save percentage
    • Collin Delia: 2-5-0, 4.08 GAA, .855 save percentage
Kevin Lankinen Rockford IceHogs

Kevin Lankinen of the Rockford IceHogs (Photo Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs.)

Lankinen and Tomkins became the one-two punch early in the season, and Delia was relegated to healthy scratches to get more work in practice without taking away from the goalies who were playing reliably during that time. But since then, there has been a shift in control of the IceHogs’ net as Tomkins has seen less ice, as well as taking a trip to the Spengler Cup with Team Canada, and Delia has returned to the form that the Blackhawks organization was used to seeing from him starting late in the 2017-18 season and beyond.

  • IceHogs goalie stats since December 1, 2019
    • Kevin Lankinen: 2-7-1, 3.89 GAA, .879 save percentage
    • Matt Tomkins: 1-2-0, 3.03 GAA, .894 save percentage
    • Collin Delia: 6-3-0, 1.59 GAA, .946 save percentage (ten appearances and one shutout)
Collin Delia Rockford IceHogs

Peter Quenneville of the Rockford IceHogs (Photo Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs.)

Delia recorded the first shutout of the season for the IceHogs by blanking the Chicago Wolves for 34 saves on January 19. His second career shutout in the AHL, Delia also recorded a goalless appearance in relief of Lankinen against the Manitoba Moose, making 20 saves in Manitoba on December 31, 2019.

While IceHogs head coach Derek King might be reluctant to flat-out name a starter when the team is carrying three healthy goalies that have all shown the capability of being a solid goaltender at the AHL level, it’s almost looking like the WRONG move right now to not be giving Delia the heavy workload while the teams roster continues to be ever-changing on a nightly basis.

Roller-coaster Ride

Up and down the organization is not a fun or mentally-healthy way to play a career. But, such are the perils of the IceHogs these days. With so many injuries both in Rockford and Chicago this season, the IceHogs and Blackhawks have not been strangers to the NHL and AHL transactions pages. No two players know how hectic it has been this season than Brandon Hagel and Dennis Gilbert this last week.

First, Hagel receives his first recall to the NHL in his young career with the Blackhawks on January 16. He joins the Blackhawks on their Canadian road trip, but doesn’t get into a game. He is then sent down back to the IceHogs on the night of January 19. He plays in the IceHogs’ game at home against the Belleville Senators on January 20, a 3-0 loss for Rockford, and then hops right back on the bus back to Chicago as the Blackhawks again recall him to the NHL that night as the Blackhawks prepare for their final game before the NHL All-Star break.

Brandon Hagel Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon Hagel of the Chicago Blackhawks (Photo Courtesy: Chicago Blackhawks.)

On top of that, there is a more than likely chance Hagel will once more be sent back to the IceHogs as they play four games between January 22-31. The Blackhawks are off after their game on January 21 against the Florida Panthers (the return of former head coach Joel Quenneville to Chicago) until February 1. Hagel has been one of the top point-producers for the IceHogs this season and has been thrust into a top-role with Rockford during their injury-riddle stretch of this season. Hagel leads all Rockford rookies in points (21) and leads the team in goals (13) in 39 games this season.

On the defensive side of the roster, the Blackhawks have been hurting, literally, with season-ending injuries to Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan and have been forced into playing young defensemen Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert in regular roles in the lineup. Unlike Hagel, Gilbert has been used by the Blackhawks in his time being called up to the roster. But with the extended break coming for Chicago, Gilbert is also being subjected to the up and down riding of the transaction wire between the Blackhawks and IceHogs. Gilbert came back to the IceHogs with Hagel on the night of January 19 and was in the Rockford lineup against the Senators on January 20. He also rode the bus back to Chicago that night with Hagel to be on the Blackhawks roster, but not in the lineup for the January 21 contest against the Panthers.

Dennis Gilbert Chicago Blackhawks

Dennis Gilbert of the Chicago Blackhawks (Photo Courtesy: Chicago Blackhawks.)

It won’t end there for Gilbert as it is highly likely he joins Hagel back down to Rockford for the four-game stretch with the IceHogs where they will play three home games and a road game only 90 minutes away against the Milwaukee Admirals. Gilbert has skated more for the Blackhawks than the IceHogs this season with 20 NHL games played, compared to his 12 AHL games. He has a goal and two assists with Chicago this season and two assists with Rockford in his 12 games.

Getting the extra work will be good to keep Gilbert active during the Blackhawks’ layoff, especially since he hasn’t seen ice-time over the last few games for Chicago. He’ll be relied upon for significant minutes if and when he joins the IceHogs again to end the month. As for Hagel, his quick stint with the Blackhawks will most likely be more of a learning experience as he will not factor into the lineup and may not return to Chicago as February begins. It looks likely that Dylan Strome will return to health for the Blackhawks when they get back to games on February 1 or very soon after that.

*UPDATE: Both Hagel and Gilbert were re-assigned to the IceHogs late on January 21*

IceHogs Face Familiar Foes

The Rockford IceHogs are in a Calder Cup Playoff push. Not doubt about it. As mentioned before, the race for playoff positioning in the AHL Central Division is tight and will likely come down to the final week of the season. With 34 games remaining, the IceHogs play just one more game that will not be against a Central Division opponent as they host the Cleveland Monsters on Saturday, February 15. That leaves 33 contests against rivals heading down the stretch of the season.

Nick Moutrey Rockford IceHogs

Nick Moutrey (left) fights with Jermaine Loewen of the Chicago Wolves. (Photo Courtesy: Rockford IceHogs.)

Here’s how those remaining 33 contests break down:

  • Three games vs Manitoba Moose (two home; one away)
  • Three games vs Grand Rapids Griffins (one home; two away)
  • Four games vs Iowa Wild (two home; two away)
  • Five games vs San Antonio Rampage (two home; three away)
  • Five games vs Chicago Wolves (two home; three away)
  • Six games vs Texas Stars (three home; three away)
  • Seven games vs Milwaukee Admirals (three home; four away)

Rockford has had their rival Chicago Wolves’ number this season in their previous seven matchups this season, holding a 6-1-0 marker. The biggest takeaways are the remaining seven games that come against the league-leading Milwaukee Admirals and the six games against the Texas Stars, a team the IceHogs are currently tied with in the Divisional standings.

While every game and every point is and will continue to be right up to the season finale on April 11 against the Iowa Wild, it begins now for the IceHogs to stay in the Calder Cup Playoff hunt. Getting healthy will be the biggest key for Rockford as they look to build momentum. If the Blackhawks can return healthy players to their lineup consistently, then Rockford will likely enjoy another reinforcement player (Matthew Highmore, probably) returning to their lineup.

What’s Next?

The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Wednesday, January 22 as they take on the Texas Stars. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. CST at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford on Wednesday night. The IceHogs hold a 1-0-1 record against the Stars this season.

Wednesday night’s game will be game three of a ten-game stretch where the IceHogs do not have to travel more than a 90-minute drive to play. From January 19 to February 8, Rockford enjoys eight home games and one road game each in Chicago and Milwaukee. The IceHogs are 1-1-0 to begin said ten-game stretch.

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