Baseball has the dog days of summer. Hockey has December and January.
It hits the same.
The mid-season drag of the schedule hits you and you’re stuck in a middle-limbo state where the excitement of a fresh new season has worn off, but the prospect of a playoff push hasn’t truly set in yet. The mantra of every game and every point matter can get stale, but its truth doesn’t change.
For the Rockford IceHogs, the mid-season winter blues are hitting hard. Following a loss to the Chicago Wolves on Sunday night, the first loss to the rival Wolves this season, the IceHogs are still looking for their first win since before the Christmas holiday break and have tied their longest losing streak since late 2017.
Depleted IceHogs hitting slump
Rockford has dropped their last six games in a row, all in regulation. Once sitting in second-place in the AHL Central Division, the IceHogs have stayed stagnant at 35 points in the standings since December 21 and have fallen into fifth-place in the Division. Although based on points-percentage, the IceHogs still sit in third with 35 points in 34 games played, the fewest games played in the Central Division. But sugar-coating it does no one any service. The IceHogs need points.
Four of the six-straight regulation losses for the IceHogs have all been one-goal games. This season, Rockford holds a 4-6-2 record in one-goal games, excluding shootouts. Being able to close the deal on close games could be a learning opportunity for a young IceHogs roster, but it would be good for head coach Derek King to have a just a few more veteran players who know the drill to be able to lead the rookies both on and off the ice in tight situations.
The IceHogs have had their hand forced this season by injuries and call-ups to play their young players more consistently and have to dig deep into the organization to fill roster spots. Missing from the IceHogs lineup for a significant amount of time already this season, either due to injury or being recalled to the Chicago Blackhawks include Adam Boqvist, Dennis Gilbert, John Quenneville, Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore, Anton Wedin and Alexandre Fortin. It appears as though Gilbert and Boqvist will not be re-joining the IceHogs this season after season-ending injuries to Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook. Highmore and Sikura continue to draw into the Blackhawks roster and could also make the decision to send them back to Rockford difficult for the Blackhawks management if/when Drake Caggiula and Andrew Shaw return to health.
That’s a large chunk of the IceHogs’ early season production gone from the current roster. Players who were either producing points or playing significant minutes gone during a pivotal point of the season. It’s no excuse though, as such is life in the AHL as injuries and call-ups are dealt with league-wide.
It’s now on the IceHogs remaining in Rockford to step up to the plate and fill those voids. Captain Tyler Sikura leads the team in points (21) and has been moved around the lineup all season, but hasn’t seen his game change. Rookies Brandon Hagel and Philipp Kurashev have stepped up their production with their new roles on the current roster, ranking second and tied for third on the team in scoring this season.
The depth of the Blackhawks organization is being tested. The IceHogs are relying on a hefty amount of rookies and Indy Fuel call-ups to fill their lineup and fill the score-sheet, trying not to lose too much footing in the standings and have to play catch up late in the season.
Hey now, you’re an All-Star…
The AHL All-Star game is being held in Ontario, California on January 26-27. Kevin Lankinen will be the only Rockford IceHogs player heading to the All-Star game this season after being named to the Central Division roster late last week.
Lankinen, currently with the Chicago Blackhawks on an emergency basis, got off to a hot-start with the IceHogs this season, but has cooled in his last few starts for Rockford. Lankinen holds a 7-7-1 record this season, with a 3.17 GAA and a .905 save percentage. He has dropped his last four starts for the IceHogs, including being pulled in the first period against the Manitoba Moose on December 31, a 4-3 loss for the IceHogs.
Some off-ice news for the IceHogs as Collin Delia and his partner Ava announced on Instagram over the weekend that they are expecting their first child. The couple made the announcement through their leather company’s social media account.
Delia has been trending up for the IceHogs after a slow start to the season. He holds a 6-7-0 record on the year, with a 3.04 GAA and a .901 save percentage. After starting the year 2-5-0, Delia has won four of his last six starts and has a .939 save percentage over his last seven appearances for Rockford.
Even more news for the IceHogs goaltending trio as Matt Tomkins returned to Rockford after playing for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland from December 26-31. Tomkins played in one game for Canada, a 5-1 win over HC Davos during the group round, making 22 saves on 23 shots faced. Canada would eventually go on to win their fourth Spengler Cup in-a-row and their 16th Spengler Cup.
Tomkins has been splitting time in net for the IceHogs along with Lankinen and Delia and has been much more than just a third goalie. Tomkins has a 4-2-0 record this season and holds the best numbers of the trio with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 save percentage in six starts this year. Tomkins’ last start came on December 13, a 5-2 loss to the Belleville Senators.
Holm terminates contract
Over the weekend, the Chicago Blackhawks organization and Philip Holm came to an agreement to terminate the defenseman’s contract with the club. Holm signed a one-year deal with the organization this summer after playing for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the KHL and being named a KHL All-Star last season. Holm’s agent cited that Philip was unhappy with not being called up to the Blackhawks this season and had decided to return to playing in Europe. According to reports, Holm is set to join Lausanne HC in Switzerland.
In his time with the IceHogs, Holm was a consistent defenseman and produced decently from the blue-line. He played in 30 games for Rockford, scoring 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) and was a plus-four rating.
First of many?
It finally happened. Dylan Sikura, playing in his sixth game with the Blackhawks this season and 44th career NHL game with Chicago, finally scored his first NHL goal.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 6, 2020
The younger Sikura brother has been a focal-point in the Blackhawks’ farm system for a few years now. He was labeled as the next big prospect to jump into the NHL system for Chicago when he signed his professional contract after a successful NCAA career at Northeastern University. Sikura showed his skill in the AHL, but had difficulty translating it fully to the NHL level. He has slotted into the Chicago lineup this season, at the expense of Alexander Nylander as of late, and has made the most of his opportunity. If he continues to improve and produce, he likely will not re-join the IceHogs this season. He has 16 points in 22 games for Rockford this season.
Turn down for Wat-son
As mentioned before, the IceHogs are dealing with a hefty amount of injuries and call-ups that have plucked top players from the roster in the last month or so. With that comes call-ups for the IceHogs and one player that could make a significant impact while in Rockford is Spencer Watson. A former seventh-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings, Watson has been a prolific scorer in the ECHL, but has not been able to translate that success into the AHL ranks. Watson has 131 points in 131 career ECHL games, but only five points in 24 career AHL games.
Watson joined the IceHogs and Fuel last season after the Blackhawks acquired him from the Kings for Matheson Iacopelli. Watson skated in 10 games for the IceHogs last year, tallying three points. This season with the Indy Fuel, Watson has 39 points in 33 games played. He ranks in a tie for third in the ECHL in points and is second in the league with 20 goals this season. Watson was named an ECHL All-Star on Monday afternoon.
The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Wednesday, January 8 as they host the Manitoba Moose. Wednesday night’s puck drop is set for 7 p.m. CST at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford. The IceHogs hold a 1-2-0 record over the Moose this season.
Following Wednesday night’s contest, the IceHogs travel North to Milwaukee to take on the Milwaukee Admirals for back to back road games on Friday and Saturday night at the Panther Arena in Milwaukee. Friday night’s puck drop is set for 7 p.m. CST, while Saturday’s game starts at 6 p.m. CST. The IceHogs hold a 1-1-0 record against the Admirals this season. Five of the next 12 games for the IceHogs come against the Admirals, who lead the AHL Central Division with 54 points.