The Rockford IceHogs are sitting pretty in the AHL Central Division with 29 points through 24 games this season. In second-place behind the Milwaukee Admirals, the IceHogs are currently playing on a 91.8-point pace this season and have played the fewest games in the Central Division to date. Things are heading in the right direction for the IceHogs, but it has required several breakout and historic performances to get to this point in the season. With a three-game Canadian road trip ahead of them, here are a few news, notes and observations for the IceHogs.
Lankinen sets IceHogs AHL record
It was quite the anomaly of a game. The Rockford IceHogs welcomed the Milwaukee Admirals back to the BMO Harris Bank Center on Tuesday night for the second of back-to-back matchups between the teams. Milwaukee took the first contest on the previous Saturday night, spoiling Teddy Toss night for the IceHogs in a 5-2 defeat. Kevin Lankinen was in net for the Saturday night loss and looked for redemption in the Tuesday night rematch. It was a much different story on Tuesday night as Lankinen put in his best professional game of his career and the IceHogs put out a historically low-offensive effort.
Rockford was held to just two shots on goal in both the first and third periods against Milwaukee. Their high-octane offense put up nine shots on net in the second period, including a goal from rookie Brandon Hagel. All the while, the Admirals were able to apply pressure for 60-full minutes on the IceHogs and Lankinen, putting 56 shots on goal during regulation. Even more miraculously, Lankinen was able to stop 55 of those shots, with the only goal coming on a net-crashing scramble from Milwaukee in the third period. Thankfully for Rockford and Lankinen, Anton Wedin was able to find the back of the net in overtime on the only shot of the extra frame to give the IceHogs the 2-1 win.
In the victorious effort, Kevin Lankinen set a career-high in saves and set the IceHogs AHL record for saves in a game. He was named the game’s first star but deserved all three stars of the game. Lankinen’s record this season sits at 6-3-1, with a 2.58 GAA and a .924 save percentage which ranks fifth in the AHL among qualified goaltenders.
Climbing the ladder
Entering Thursday night, the IceHogs are in second place in the AHL Central Division behind the Milwaukee Admirals. 29 points through 24 games with a 14-9-1 record, the IceHogs have made quite the turnaround from the beginning of this season, where they started 0-3-0 for the first time in franchise history. Once sitting at the bottom of the Division standings, Rockford has rattled off a 12-4-1 record over their last 17 games since October 30.
The IceHogs have found success offensively over the last 17 games, scoring 3.35 goals per game and allowing only 2.58 goals per game. Both marks are improvements over their season-long totals for goals scored and allowed per game. In the Central Division, the IceHogs have second-fewest goals (70) but have also allowed the second-fewest goals (71). Rockford ranks second in the Division in team save percentage this season with a .910-mark between Lankinen, Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins.
Coffee meets Hagel
Helping the IceHogs offensive charge is rookie forward Brandon Hagel. After a collectively and anticipatedly sluggish start from the Rockford rookie class, Hagel has started to separate himself from the rest of the first-year crowd. Hagel leads the IceHogs rookies in both goals (8) and points (13). He also ranks in the top-20 in the AHL for rookie points and is eighth in rookie goal scoring.
After an eight-game stint with the IceHogs at the end of last season that saw Hagel tally his first and only professional point at the time, he came into the 2019-20 season with high expectations as a point-producer in this rookie class. After a slow start to the year with just one assist in his first six games, Hagel has found his stride since October 30. With 12 points over his last 17 games and four goals in his last six games, he is beginning to solidify himself as one of head coach Derek King’s go-to offensive options.
Add in this nugget from the vaunted Rockford IceHogs fun facts department: Hagel is one of only two rookies since October 30 to not go more than two games without a point. The IceHogs are now 6-1-1 when Hagel finds the back of the net this season. He is finding his game right when the IceHogs need it most with several high-profile players missing from the lineup.
Rockford’s penalty-killing unit this season has been less than desirable. Ranking last or next to last in the AHL for much of the season, the IceHogs current 78.0 percent kill-rate ranks 29th in the AHL. But not all is doom and gloom for the penalty-kill. Over their last 19 times on the penalty-kill, Rockford has been able to kill off 18 of those opportunities, including going 7-for-7 in their last two games against the Admirals, who have the league-leading powerplay.
The IceHogs are in the middle of the AHL for times being short-handed this season (100), averaging 4.16 penalty kills per game. Rockford is 22nd in the league in penalty minutes (295) and the third-fewest penalty minutes in the Central Division. Rockford also has tallied six goals while shorthanded this season, tied for third-most in the league. If the powerplay can find the same kind of successful run that the penalty-kill is currently on, the IceHogs could find themselves closing the gap between them and the Admirals at the top of the Central Division standings.
The Rockford IceHogs are back in action on Friday night as they head North of the border for a three-game Canadian road trip. Starting on Friday night, the IceHogs take on the Belleville Senators for a 6 p.m. CST puck drop at the CAA Arena in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. It is the first of two meetings between the teams this season and the first-ever meeting between the Senators and IceHogs franchises in AHL history.
Following Friday’s action, the IceHogs head to Toronto to take on the Marlies on Sunday afternoon. It is the second meeting between the teams this season, the IceHogs won the first meeting on November 6 in Rockford. Puck drop is set for 3 p.m. CST on Sunday at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.