The Rockford IceHogs will not go gently into that good night. They will continue to rage, rage against the dying light that is their slim Calder Cup playoff hopes.
After taking two of three games in Texas over the past five days, they improved to a 6-4-0 mark over their last ten games and have worked themselves into a three-way tie for fourth place in the AHL Central Division with 59 points and 16 games left to play. While the IceHogs have the fewest games remaining of any Central Division team (16), they are continuing a slightly positive stretch of play that could see them hang around well enough to have a fighting chance at the organization’s seventh postseason berth in AHL history.
Wrapping up a five-game road trip with three contests in Texas, the IceHogs were able to take both games against the Texas Stars before falling to the San Antonio Rampage in the team’s final trip to San Antonio before they are relocated to Nevada.
Collin Delia backstopped the IceHogs in both wins over the Stars, making 30 saves on 32 shots in 65 minutes of work and making all four stops in the shootout before Dylan Sikura eventually scored the shootout winner on Wednesday night. Gabriel Gagne led the IceHogs attack with both Rockford goals in Wednesday night’s win.
On Friday night, the IceHogs jumped all over the Stars early and often, running out to a 5-1 lead midway through the third period. Goals coming from Philipp Kurashev and Garrett Mitchell in the first period and from Tyler Sikura and Alexandre Fortin in the second period. Brandon Hagel scored his team-leading 19th goal of the season make it a 5-1 game in the third period, but it would shortly turn sour for the IceHogs as the Stars rattled off two goals less than two minutes later to cut the lead to 5-3. Texas’ Joel L’Esperance scored his 21st goal of the season late in the period to make it 5-4, but Delia and the IceHogs were able to fend off a furious comeback effort by the Stars as the final moments ticked away. Delia made 30 saves on 34 shots and improved his record to 15-12-1 on the season with both wins.
Rockford had a chance for a Texas-sized sweep on Sunday afternoon as they traveled to face the Rampage in San Antonio. A tightly contested game that was scoreless into the third period was finally broken with two goals just 31 seconds apart for the Rampage. Austin Poganski and Jordan Nolan both scored their tenth goals of the season to give San Antonio the 2-0 lead and Dakota Joshua potted an empty-net goal to seal a 3-0 win. Matt Tomkins had the start for the IceHogs on Sunday, making 26 saves on 28 shots, but dropping his fifth-straight start and sixth loss in seven starts since December 13. The shutout loss for Rockford marked the sixth time they have been held scoreless this season.
Rockford had a chance to take sole possession of third place in the AHL Central Division were they to win on Sunday. But with the win, it was San Antonio who would leap-frog their way from tied for fifth-place into third-place by themselves with 60 points on the season. Rockford now sits in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Division, the final Calder Cup playoff spot in the Central.
Here are the full standings entering Tuesday, March 3:
- Milwaukee Admirals (59 games played): 38-13-8, 84 points
- Iowa Wild (59 games played): 36-16-7, 79 points
- San Antonio Rampage (57 games played): 24-21-12, 60 points
- Chicago Wolves (58 games played): 26-25-7, 59 points
- Grand Rapids Griffins (59 games played): 26-26-7, 59 points
- Rockford IceHogs (60 games played): 28-29-3, 59 points
- Texas Stars (56 games played): 24-26-6, 54 points
- Manitoba Moose (59 games played): 26-32-1, 53 points
As mentioned prior, the IceHogs have the fewest games remaining of any team in the Central Division as of Tuesday, March 3. But with Rockford off until Friday, March 6, the rest of the Central Division will catch up, more than likely putting the IceHogs further outside the Calder Cup playoff chase by week’s end, but hopefully not.
Here is how the final 16 games for the IceHogs will be spread out over the final five weeks of the regular season and Rockford’s record against their opponent this season:
- Zero vs Manitoba (4-3-1)
- One vs San Antonio (4-3-0)
- Two vs Grand Rapids (3-4-1)
- Two vs Texas (4-1-1)
- Three vs Milwaukee (1-6-1)
- Four vs Chicago (6-2-0)
- Four vs Iowa (1-3-0)
Fairly respectable marks for the IceHogs against the Division this season, aside from the top two teams in the Central (Milwaukee and Iowa), Rockford has seen decent success against their most important opposition this year. If they can continue their ways against Texas and Chicago and steal a game or two against the Admirals and Wild, their postseason hopes should be in good standing. If all goes according to plan, that is.
During last week’s NHL Trade Deadline, the Blackhawks made one minor-league move that affected the Rockford IceHogs, trading forward Nathan Noel to the Philadelphia Flyers organization and acquiring defenseman T.J. Brennan in return. Noel had played eight games for the IceHogs this season with zero points Noel also skated in 39 ECHL games with the Indy Fuel this season, tallying 17 points prior to the trade. Brennan returns to the IceHogs, having played 54 games with Rockford in the 2014-15 season.
Brennan, a former five-time AHL All-Star and two-time AHL Defenseman of the Year winner, played in 28 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season, recording eight points. He had been out of the Phantoms lineup since January 10. In his career, Brennan is a veteran of 53 NHL games and 676 AHL games. In his first game with the IceHogs on Wednesday, he tallied a secondary assist.
The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Friday, March 6, as they take on the Grand Rapids Griffins. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. CST on Friday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford. It is the ninth of ten meetings between the teams this season, with Rockford holding a 3-4-1 record against the Griffins this year. Grand Rapids and Rockford are currently tied for fourth place in the AHL Central Division.