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From Center Ice: Previewing Blackhawks vs. Oilers

From Center Ice: Previewing Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Courtney Bauman

Posted by Courtney Bauman

Posted on July 31, 2020

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The year is 2020. The Blackhawks somehow have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.


If you told me that fact 5 years ago, I’d tell you, “Of course they do. They’re the best team of the decade!” But, oh how times have changed. The Blackhawks went from the top of the world to, “Do they remember how to keep the puck out of their net?”


Granted, when you have that much success in a hard salary cap world, it's hard to keep the gang together and be competitive every single year. The fact that the Hawks were able to win 3 Stanley Cups in 6 years was beyond impressive – and exciting, as a fan. Now, due to aging and losing players to the cap, the Blackhawks are trying to find their new identity.


When the season came to a halt due to COVID-19, the Blackhawks had solidified their spot outside of the playoffs. Then, the NHL’s Return to Play plan expanded the playoff picture to include 24 teams, and suddenly the Blackhawks are right back in it.


First, they have to get through the high-octane Edmonton Oilers. Oh, and the Oilers have the best player in the world. No big deal, right?


Let’s take a look.


Recent Playoff Experience

 

This section is a lot happier for the Blackhawks than it is for the Oilers.


As mentioned before, the Blackhawks won 3 Stanley Cups in 6 years. There were some sore spots in between, and things went off the rails after the 2015 win.


2010: The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 6 games over the Philadelphia Flyers.


2011: After battling back from a 3-0 hole, the Blackhawks lose in Game 7 to Vancouver. Chris Campoli, anyone?


2012: The first round series that has somehow defined Corey Crawford’s entire career. The Blackhawks lost in 6 games to the (then) Phoenix Coyotes. They were up against a goaltender named Mike Smith . . . If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s currently on the Edmonton roster.


2013: The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 6 games over the Boston Bruins. 17 Seconds are all it takes to change your fate.


2014: My personal biggest hockey heartbreak. Game 7. Conference finals. Los Angeles. Alec Martinez rips a shot at the net in over time. The pucks deflects off of Nick Leddy and over the right shoulder of Corey Crawford. Could we have had a 3-Peat? We’ll never know.


2015: The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 6 games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and half of Ben Bishop’s groin.


2016: A first-round Game 6 exit against St. Louis (looking at you, Erik Gustafsson).


2017: Nashville. Hawks got Swept. Only scored 3 goals. I hate it.


2018 & 2019: The Blackhawks miss the playoffs.


Now for Edmonton –


2017: Connor McDavid’s second year in the league. The Edmonton Oilers make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They make it to the second round but lose to Anaheim in Game 7.


Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), past playoff experience doesn’t mean much going into a new year with new teams. But, I will rely on this a bit further down, so laying it out was important.


Rosters


Let’s take a look at the top scorers for both teams in the 2019-20 regular season


Blackhawks -

Patrick Kane: 70GP 33G 51A 84P

Jonathan Toews: 70GP 18G 42A 60P

Dominik Kubalik: 68GP 30G 16A 46P

Alex DeBrincat: 70GP 18G 27A 45P

Dylan Strome: 58GP 12G 26A 38P


Edmonton -

Leon Draisaitl: 71GP 43G 67A 110P

Connor McDavid: 64GP 34G 63A 97P

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 65GP 22G 39A 61P

Zack Kassian: 59GP 15G 19A 34P

Oscar Klefbom: 5G 29A 34P


Yeah, so, take a look at those top two guys for Edmonton. This is going to be quite the test for Chicago. Fortunately, their roster drops off a bit. But, depth players are typically the most important factor in playoff success. It’ll come down to which team has the strongest depth, and that's something we just can’t predict.


Players to Watch


Now that we’ve taken a look at the top scorers for both teams, I have some players from each team to watch for in this series.


Blackhawks -


Kirby Dach: The rookie! Going into this series, I am most interested to see what we get from Kirby Dach. From all accounts, he was one of the most impressive skaters coming into training camp, and he looked great in the exhibition game against St. Louis. Can he be the depth player that breaks out in this series? That’s yet to be seen. Look for him to be an important role player on the penalty kill as well.


Dominik Kubalik: Also a rookie – a calder trophy finalist, even. He put up 30 goals in the regular season and potted 2 more on the power play against St. Louis. Will his spark light up the team? Or will he fizzle out in crunch time?


Alex DeBrincat: As a sniper, potting only 18 goals in the regular season made for a rough year. He was frustrated, and the monkey was been clinging to his back so hard that it seems like it’ll take a miracle to rip it off. If the Blackhawks want to have playoff success now, and in the future, DeBrincat needs to be a big contributor, especially on the power play.


Drake Caggiula: Caggiula is a former Oiler and usually plays well against his old team. Remember the depth players I mentioned? This could be the perfect time for him to step up and make a huge difference.


Duncan Keith: I have been more than hard on Duncan Keith for the past year or two. Age was clearly catching up to him and he was slowing down. He looks to have put in a ton of work during the pause. If his feet can keep up with his brain and senses, that would be HUGE for the Blackhawks.


Calvin de Haan: Coming off of shoulder surgery, what can we expect from de Haan? In the best of times, he is a steady defender that can slow down the game and make life hard on the opposing offensive players. He took two penalties against St. Louis, but that’s not the norm for him. If he can keep his feet moving and get up to game-speed mentally and physically, it’ll be interesting to see how he contributes.


Oilers -


Kailer Yamamoto: This is Yamamoto’s third season with the Oilers. He improves every year and was a stand-out in their exhibition game against Calgary. If this kid gets going, it’s one more offensive threat for the Blackhawks to worry about.


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Don’t forget about this guy. He’s struggled through some very, very bad Oilers teams. Just because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have taken over as the top 2 centers, if you forget about Nuge, he will wreak havoc on you. He has been playing wing on the top 2 lines. Still, don’t discount him. Especially if he gets moved down to balance out the lines.


Darnell Nurse: He’s big. He’s fast. He can score. Nurse is a huge threat from the blue line. If he’s at the top of his game, he could take over a game – or even a series. If you have him feeding the puck to McDavid or Draisaitl, you better be tracking that puck well - and doing your damndest to keep it from getting to your goalie.


Zack Kassian: Kassian’s role is to make life hard on the opposing team. He’s a pest. He’s a hard-hitter. He'll drop the gloves. Basically, he’s no fun to play against. Plus, he can put up some points playing next to the top two. If he does his job and gets under the Blackhawks’ skin, things could go south for the Hawks very quickly.


It’s not even worth telling you to watch for McDavid and Draisaitl – the Two-headed monster of terror.


Top Storylines


The goaltenders


In typical gamesmanship fashion, Jeremy Colliton and Dave Tippett both refused to name their starting goaltender for Game 1 on Saturday.


Corey Crawford missed most of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19. He showed up for the last few days and travel to Edmonton with the team. Crawford played the first half of the game against St. Louis and combined with Malcolm Subban to shut them out. It was only an exhibition game, but it was against the defending Stanley Cup Champs and one of the Hawks' biggest rivals. He played well, despite not being tested often.


I cannot imagine a scenario in which a healthy Corey Crawford does not get Game 1 between the pipes for Chicago. After trading away Robin Lehner at the deadline, the crease was Crawford’s to lose. He played very well down the stretch and didn’t allow any goals on Wednesday. He may have missed most of training camp, but I don’t sit a 2-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender who has consistently shown up when his team needed him. I like Malcolm Subban. But, if I’m making the decision – Crawford gets the net.


Edmonton’s goaltending situation is a bit different. They have Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen on the roster. They also split the decision in their exhibition game on Tuesday. Koskinen got the start, but that doesn’t really mean anything.


Here’s where it gets interesting.


Koskinen had better numbers in the regular season (18-13-3 2.75 GAA .917sv%) compared to Smith (19-12-6 2.95 GAA .902sv%).


Here’s the kicker – Koskinen has no NHL playoff experience. He had a short stint (by short, I mean 4GP) with the Islanders in 2010-11. This is his second year with Edmonton. In the years between, he was minding the net in SM-liiga and the KHL.


Mike Smith has a much larger NHL resume and has 24 playoff games to his name. He’s gone 11-12 in those games but sports the best playoff sv% in the league at .938. Again, 24 games – but, that is good.


I guess we’ll see what Dave Tippett decides, but that’s a decision I wouldn’t want to make.


My guess? We see Corey Crawford vs Mike Smith.


Edmonton Oilers Speed vs Blackhawks Defense

 

The most difficult aspect for the Blackhawks facing the Edmonton Oilers may be the speed differential. If we put aside the scoring prowess of the Oilers' two-headed monster, there are speedy legs up and down their lineup. They’re young, they can skate, and they can make you look silly.


This young speedy team is going against a defense core of Duncan Keith, Olli Maata, Calvin de Haan, Adam Boqvist, Slater Koekkoek, and Connor Murphy. Keith still has some wheels on him, and Boqvist can skate with the best of them. The rest of those guys aren’t necessarily known as world-beaters on the ice. They’re going to have to rely on solid positioning, no bad pinches, and their forwards getting back to help out.


The Blackhawks aren’t known for playing the trap game in the neutral zone, and that won’t start on Saturday. So, they’re going to have to play smart, disciplined, and skate their asses off to keep up. I believe they can do it, but I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if a lot of odd-man rushes go the other way. In that case, it’s up to our goaltenders to be on the top of their game.


This is a best of 5 series. If you stop them in Game 1, you can’t get cocky and think you have them the rest of the way. You have to enter each game knowing that at any time, if you slip up, McDavid will be slipping right past you and threatening your goaltender. And, that’s just rude.



This series is going to be quite the test for a Chicago Blackhawks team that had no business being in the playoffs. That said, it’s hard to judge a team based on a regular season that ended over 4 months ago. They’ve had all that time to prepare. Both teams are in the same boat, but this is where I come back to the playoff experience. The Blackhawks have a lot of it. They may have a lot of young guys, but at the end of the day, they still have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford on the roster. If anyone knows how to battle through playoff adversity, it’s these guys.


If they get in, never count them out.


Listen and subscribe to From Center Ice: The Podcast

More Courtney Bauman Storys

From Center Ice: 2019-2020 AHL Season Cancelled

From Center Ice: 2019-2020 AHL Season Cancelled

Here we are. We’re in the place we expected to be in but didn’t want. Without an official announcement, it could remain “tomorrow’s problem”. Now, tomorrow is today and everything sucks.The 2019-2020 American Hockey League season was officially cancelled this morning.“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions. The League’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season. We are grateful to the National Hockey League and its teams for their support and leadership in navigating through the challenges faced over the past two months. The AHL continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff and fans and all of their families, and we all look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21.” - David Andrews, American Hockey League President and Chief Executive OfficerThe Rockford IceHogs finished the shortened season with a record of 29-30-2-2 (17-14-0-1 at home). It was an exciting season that saw the IceHogs right in the middle of the playoff hunt. When the season was cut short, Rockford was tied with Chicago in points but sat one point out of a playoff spot due to points percentage. They finished with 63 points, but Chicago finished with 2 games in hand.The IceHogs fanatic inside of me is driven a little bonkers by this fact. With such a promising season, the Hogs still finished behind Chicago despite leading the season series 6-3 and being the technical winner of the Illinois Lottery Cup.Now we are in the AHL offseason and have to begin preparing for next season. In the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at the season that was and the players that made an impact throughout.But, for now, I am just sad.Jacalyn and I discussed the cancellation briefly in this week's episode of From Center Ice: The Podcast.You can listen on your streaming service of choice by searching "From Center Ice" or click here to find it: https://podfollow.com/from-center-ice/viewFollow on Social:Twitter: https://twitter.com/vfcentericepodInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/fromcentericepod/

May 11, 2020

From Center Ice: Quarantine With the IceHogs

From Center Ice: Quarantine With the IceHogs

Here we are. It’s the end of April, and the hockey season is still on hold. Just as the playoff race was heating up and things were getting very, VERY interesting . . . hockey was taken away from us. It’s for the best, but that doesn’t make it suck any less.Thankfully, the IceHogs have been very active on social media. Their Facebook page is very much alive, and there are a lot of ways you can stay up-to-date with the IceHogs and stay entertained with hockey goodness during quarantine!One of my favorite things that they’ve started doing is posting puzzles for fans on the weekends. On Facebook, you can find IceHogs crossword puzzles and word searches. They’ve also posted some coloring pages for the kiddos. It’s a new and fun way to stay engaged with the team, and I would really like to see it continue when life goes back to normal.They’re also broadcasting old games on Facebook Live. If you miss hockey as much as I do, this is a great way to get your IceHogs fix!If you want to keep up with the players and coaching staff, they’ve also been hosting live Q&A’s over on Facebook live! If you missed any of them, you’re able to go on there and watch them back. You don’t get to interact with the players by watching the replay, but you can still see what they had to say. It’s almost like hanging out with them right from your home!Trust me, nothing is equal to seeing some IceHogs hockey on the ice down at the BMO. But, these are not normal times and we have to take what we can get. I’m very thankful to the team and team staff for keeping us fans engaged and providing us with fun ways to get through the quarantine.If you aren’t following them on social media already, here you go:Twitter: https://twitter.com/goicehogsFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/RockfordIceHogs/And while you're here, if you want more hockey goodness, go ahead and subscribe to the From Center Ice Podcast and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook: Twitter: https://twitter.com/vfcentericepodInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/fromcentericepod/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fromcentericepod/

April 30, 2020

From Center Ice: Weekend Warriors

From Center Ice: Weekend Warriors

The IceHogs were back in action at the BMO Friday night. I wish I could make you wait until the end of my recap to tell you the result, but I can’t contain my excitement. THE ICEHOGS WON THEIR FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON! To make it even better, they beat the Chicago Wolves!The IceHogs came out flying on Saturday night firing off 17 shots in the first period and putting 3 pucks by Wolves goaltender, Garret Sparks. Dylan Sikura netted the first goal from Brandon Hagel and Philipp Kurashev. With the offensive push came some defensive prowess as well. In the first period, the IceHogs killed off nearly 6 consecutive minutes of penalties. During the last kill, Alex Fortin and John Quenneville teamed up to score short-handed to put the IceHogs up 2-0. Anton Wedin added the third goal with 1:37 on the clock in the first from Jacob Nillson and Lucas Carlsson. Better yet, the IceHogs held the Wolves to just 4 shots on goal during that period. The first period of hockey on Friday night was on of the best I’ve seen from the IceHogs in a long time. They were shooting the puck from all over the ice. Their gap control on defensive entries was on point. They were keeping the Wolves to the outside, and clearly limited their shots at the net. The final two periods were not nearly as exciting. They had 16 shots the rest of the way with no goals. They allows the Wolves to get shots on net – ending with around 30 at the final buzzer. The Wolves also potted two goals. Their first came off of an awful turnover by Beaudin and a misplay by Delia. The second was a backdoor pass on the powerplay that Delia had no chance on. Thankfully, they held down the fort after that and secured the win, but it was dicey for a few moments. Neither team looked overly enthused to grab the win in the third period. It was a good thing the IceHogs were already ahead or we might be talking about them going down 0-4 on the season. There were a lot of positives in that first period. If the team can find a way to put it together like that for 60 minutes more nights than not, they’re going to go far this season. Unfortunately, Friday night’s contest was the last chance for us to see Kirby Dach this year. He was recalled by the Blackhawks shortly after. Even though he went pointless in his games here, he progressed with each one. By Friday night, he was creating chances and playing responsible in his own end. He had a short breakaway chance and nearly pulled it around Garret Sparks for the goal, but he got tripped up in the process. Kirby Dach will be just fine. He had great stick positioning. I was really impressed with the number of passes he was breaking up and shots he was getting in the way of. I’m upset he’s no longer in Rockford, but he’s making his NHL debut tonight. I’ll be cheering him on from afar. Adam Boqvist was a surprising scratch this weekend. Surprising until we learned he took a puck to the face in practice. Hopefully we see him next game. On Saturday night, the IceHogs and the Wolves faced off again. This time they were in Rosemont. I had the joy of watching it from my living room. The teams looked more evenly matched in this one. The Hogs still looked miles better than they did in the first three games, but they weren’t on fire like the first period on Friday night. I’ll take a strong 60 instead of an elite 20 most nights. This time, it happened to work out. Tyler Sikura kicked off the scoring with a trick shot off of Sparks’s pads, off of a defender, and in. Obviously, he meant to do all of that. The Wolves tied it up. Philip Holm broke the tie. The Wolves tied it again. It was a thrilling game, I’m telling you. Regulation was actually rather non-exciting. That could be because I wasn’t at the game. But, overtime was eventful. Tyler Sikura netted his second goal of the game with 11 seconds left. No shootout – thank goodness.I’m actually a fan of shootouts, just not for my team. They’re too stressful. If I had to take away one positive from this game (aside from the win), it’s that Tomkins looked great in net. This was his first AHL start since February 2018, and his work in Indy really paid off. He looked big, he was square to the shooters, and he was moving really well in the crease. I was critical of Tomkins in his first stint here. But, if he keeps playing like this, he may have won me over. The IceHogs are now 2-3 on the season. They’ve scored first in every game so far. There are positives to take away from this team. We just have to hope they can put it all together for a full 60 minutes. I have hope. Do you?If you aren’t subscribed to the From Center Ice podcast, you can find it here: https://podfollow.com/from-center-ice/viewYou’ll get a lot more analysis and a lot more . . . emotion . . . in response to how the team is doing. 

October 20, 2019

From Center Ice: The Hogs Are Home

From Center Ice: The Hogs Are Home

As the summer faded away into hockey season, I couldn’t help but to be beyond excited. That was, until I watched the first Blackhawks preseason game and remembered that I’m never actually ready for hockey. It was game one of the preseason. It realistically meant nothing. Yet, there I was – sitting in my living room, sweating, and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I swear this can’t be good for my health. But – I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now, here we are in the regular season. The NHL and AHL are both in full swing, and I have already nearly lost my voice twice from screaming from my seat in 203. In both of the home games we’ve had so far, the IceHogs have scored first. Against Grand Rapids, Anton Wedin ripped a shot glove side. Against Laval, Philip Holm put one home from the slot on the second shot of the game. Seeing as we scored first, both of these games looked promising. Then, it all went downhill from there. The IceHogs lost to Grand Rapids 4-2 and had another losing performance against Laval (3-1). They are now 0-3 on the season and I am slowly losing my sanity. We have a 4-way tie for the leading point scorer on the team with . . . 2 points. Dylan Sikura (2G)Anton Wedin (1G 1A)Philip Holm (1G 1A)Jacob Nilsson (2A)We have 6 players with 1 pointMatthew Highmore (1G)MacKenzie Entwistle (1A)Chad Krys (1A)Philipp Kurashev (1A)Tyler Sikura (1A)Kris Versteeg (1A)The rest have zero points, so I’m not going to bother listing all of them. But, two big names on the zero point list are Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach. Dach has only played 2 games. But, Boqvist has played in all 3, and I expected at least an assist from him by this point. I can’t put all of the blame on just these two for not scoring. It’s clear from the lists above that the team is not doing anything close to what they should be to win games.The team has looked a lot like last year’s team. The only difference is the players on the ice. It’s a lot of dumping the puck, losing board battles, and not shooting the puck. They can’t score on the powerplay, and the penalty kill is not doing it’s job. Basically, they haven’t won a game because they aren’t doing anything correctly as a unit. On to Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist. Boqvist has looked like just another guy out there. I understand that it’s 3 games into the season and its his first year pro, but he looked impactful during preseason games with the Blackhawks, so I expected a bit more fire from #27. To me, he has looked a bit lost and hasn’t used his speed. I often lose him on the ice because he’s not standing out. Usually, that’s what you want in a defenseman. But, with the skill this kid has, it’s been a bit disappointing. I’m not sure this is all on him, though. The whole team has been playing a very boring style. It’s like they are being told to slow the game down. With the amount of young guys we have, I want to see them play fast and fun. But, alas, I am not the coach. Maybe I should be. I would drill it in their heads to get the puck to the net. Kirby Dach has been the better of the two. In a surprising move, he was sent down a few hours before the home opener for a conditioning stint in the AHL. This is a loophole the Blackhawks found to get him some AHL time. Because of his age and CHL contract, he wouldn’t normally be able to make an AHL appearance for another year. His injury allows the Hawks to send him down on a 14-day conditioning stint while technically still being on the NHL roster. Dach hasn’t put up any points yet, but he has looked solid on the other end of the ice. There have been many plays that stuck out to me where his stick has been in the right position to block shots and passes. Dach is coming off of a concussion, so him not putting up points yet isn’t discouraging to me. It’s more encouraging that he doesn’t shy away from contact and he goes to the boards to try to win pucks. He’s playing the right way. The points will come. The next IceHogs game is tomorrow night right here at the BMO Harris Bank Center. They kick off the Illinois Lottery Cup series against the Chicago Wolves. It’ll be the first of twelve games between the two clubs. I’m hoping to see Dennis Gilbert in the lineup to ward off Chicago’s dirty play against the Hogs. I’m also looking to see Gilbert absolutely stapled to Kirby Dach’s line in case they target the kid. I’m sure I’ll leave the game utterly frustrated. But, if there were ever a time to come out swinging and get that first win, tomorrow is the time. It doesn’t help that the IceHogs have a home and home against the Wolves this weekend. They’ll be in Rosemont on Saturday night. I’m already getting my yelling voice ready. It takes a lot of warming up to get these vocal chords ready. If you don’t have tickets to tomorrow night’s game, grab them here: https://www1.ticketmaster.com/rockford-icehogs-vs-chicago-wolves/event/040056F1DB8D2FDBIf you aren’t subscribed to the From Center Ice podcast, you can find it here: https://podfollow.com/from-center-ice/viewYou’ll get a lot more analysis and a lot more . . . emotion . . . in response to how the team is doing. 

October 18, 2019

From Center Ice: Prospect Tournament Game 2

From Center Ice: Prospect Tournament Game 2

It’s only August and the Blackhawks are already playing back-to-back games! That’s the beauty of the prospect tournament. Alexis Gravel got the day off in net for this one, and we got to see free-agent invite Nick Kossoff. Period 1Period one today was way less exciting score-wise. But, it was a lot better in terms of play. Blackhawks got the first goal from Sean Josling (free agent invite) on a set up from Philipp Kurashev. Unfortunately they couldn’t take that lead into the intermission or add to it. Nick Kossoff made a huge breakaway save on Robertson to send the game to the first intermission tied 1-1. Period 2So, they didn’t make me write about slow starts becoming a trend. But here we are in the Second Period section talking about how this period went to hell. The Blackhawks give up two unanswered goals and don’t score on their own powerplay opportunity. A bad second period was an ever-present theme during the 2018-19 IceHogs season, and it has shown itself during the two games thus far this weekend. I’m not confident it’ll change. If that’s the case, we’re in for a long season in Rockford. The Blackhawks managed to get a goal from Tim Soderlund on the powerplay and only trail by one lading into the third. 3-2 Leafs. Period 3The third period didn’t start much better. The Blackhawks give up a goal to go down 4-2 then Dach immediately takes a hooking penalty. Period 3 was a penalty frenzy with the Leafs scoring a PP goal and the Blackhawks scoring a shorthanded goal. The whole time was spent exchanging penalties. I can't even write them all out, I'll be too exhausted. The game ends 6-3. I'm tired. Kirby Dach (77) – 3rd Overall 2019 DraftI have disturbingly little to write about Kirby Dach today. At times I was wondering if he was even playing. He was on the starting PP unit, but he couldn’t get anything done and turned the puck over a couple of time in the process. He wasn’t carrying the puck into the zone like he was trying last night. He seemed nonexistent overall. Well, until he couldn't stay out of the box. Adam Boqvist (27) – 8th Overall 2018 DraftYesterday I was talking about how Kirby Dach is obviously a good player, so he can use these tournaments to test his limit. That’s how I felt about Adam Boqvist in this game. He was trying to stick handle his way through the offensive zone. It didn’t always work out, but I have no problem with trying it out in games like this . . . as long as someone is covering for him at the point and he hustles back in the event of a turnover. What stood out to me was that he was getting time on the first penalty kill unit. I haven’t thought of Boqvist as a penalty killer, but if he can develop into a great two-way defenseman, I will be thrilled. He obviously has the offensive side of the game down, but he broke up a 1v1 rush pretty effortlessly. He looks as confident in his own zone as he does away from his net. That’s great news for the IceHogs and Blackhawks. It doesn’t appear that Boqvist is putting in 100% effort so far this tournament. That’s a but troublesome, but I guess we will see what the next games hold. Cole Moberg (62) – 194th Overall 2019 DraftHonestly, I didn’t know very much about this kid until watching game 1 last night. Then, I kept hearing his name and started paying attention. He was all over the ice. Moberg was a 7th round pick in the draft this summer and plays on the blue line. With a pretty stacked defense prospect cupboard, try not to sleep on this kid. In the game today, he was getting some time on the penalty kill. He was also noticeable in both ends of the ice. He was solid positionally and he’s not afraid to shoot the puck. For the last point alone, I need him to be signed immediately. He’s got a pretty good stick, and for a big guy (6-4), his skating isn’t awkward. Nicolas Beaudin (74) – 27th Overall 2018 DraftThe best way to describe Beaudin is steady. He’s a reliable guy on the blue line and gets in position to break up plays. He sticks with his man while defending and seems like a smart player. Dylan McLaughlin making himself knownSlow StartThe Blackhawks have blessed with me with not having to write about this becoming a trend. They came out looking a lot better than Friday night. They looked energized right from puck drop, and the first period was pretty back and forth. They weren’t getting hemmed into their own zone as much. It’s only one period, but I was more impressed with this first period. The four goals from Friday night would have been good, but let’s be pleased that they came out strong. Special TeamsGilbert and Boqvist getting 1PK time. No goals given up on special teams in the first period. They just have to take it one period at a time and work on improving the PK. They looked significantly better this game. They did On the powerplay, it’s curious to me that Kirby Dach was not playing at the front of the net. He was roving the half-wall and point. With most of the highlights I’ve seen from him, he scores more in close to the net. I don’t think using him in “Ovi’s Office” is the best use of his skill. Not only didn’t they give up a goal on the PK, but they only scored one on the PP. Not a good day for special teams. But, getting any goals on the power play is an improvement. Although, they did have a 4 minute power play that they couldn’t convert on. OverallThis game was a mess. I don't even know what happened after the first period. It just went all downhill very quickly.

September 7, 2019

From Center Ice: Prospect Tournament Game 1

From Center Ice: Prospect Tournament Game 1

Hockey is back on my TV! The 2019 Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan is upon us. As always, the Blackhawks have sent their top prospects to compete. The good thing about this tournament is there are a bunch of players who are fighting for NHL spots. But, if they can't make the big team - many of them will play for our IceHogs. It's a great chance to get a look at a few of our players before they hit the ice for NHL preseason or when the season starts in October.I’m going to watch as many of the games as I can and see who sticks out and how they’re playing. I’ve identified a couple of players I wanted to watch in this game specifically – Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, Dennis Gilbert, and Alexis Gravel. So, there will be some thoughts on their games further down this piece. Other than that, I’ll lay out each period and then discuss some of the things I observed in other aspects of the game. Enjoy!Period 1The Blackhawks and the Red Wings. A Storied rivalry – now back on the ice for the prospect tournament. The Red Wings take it to the Hawks early and hem them in their own zone going up 1-0 on the powerplay. The Blackhawks fight back for 4 unanswered goals. Things were looking positive going into the intermission. Period 2So, one of the criticisms of last year’s IceHogs team was that their second periods were garbage. It seemed like they could hold their own in the first and third periods, but the second periods would always kill them. Unfortunately, that happened here in this game as well. The Hawks entered the second period with a 4-1 lead and left the ice to a tie game 4-4. They gave up two powerplay goals, ended up having to kill a 5 on 3 and were an overall mess. There wasn’t a single player who stuck out and looked good. Not even the big two – Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist. Seeing as this game is being coached by Derek King, I am having some serious concerns going into the IceHogs season, but it’s only one game. We’ll see how the third period goes. Period 3Blackhawks look like they have more life than in period 2. Adam Boqvist comes out looking determined an draws a penalty. The Hawks still cannot convert on the powerplay. The Blackhawks couldn't get anything done in period three even though they looked much better than in the previous period. Thankfully, the Wings couldn't either. To overtime. . . OvertimeJust what everyone loves and hates all at the same time. THEY SHOOT, THEY SCORE! Adam Boqvist pots the game winning goal less than a minute into overtime. My three stars of the game1.Mortiz Seider2.Adam Boqvist3.Joe Veleno Now for some thoughts about different aspects of Game 1...Slow StartsThe game did not start well for the team from Chicago. Detroit was all over them - which led to them drawing a penalty and ultimately getting the first goal of the game. Obviously, the Hawks caught some life and stormed back with four unanswered goals, but you cannot expect that to happen every game. You have to hit the ice ready to play and fight for the puck. If they make a habit out of starting games like that, they’re going to get bit more often than not and end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Now, this is only one game so it’s impossible to say whether it’ll become a common thing, but it’s something to look for as this tournament goes on and leading into NHL preseason.Special TeamsThis is the one I wanted to have the best report on. Whether you’re watching the Blackhawks or the IceHogs, you’re likely going to be banging your head against the wall when they’re on special teams. For having such talent, they’re absurdly frustrating when on the PP or PK. That didn’t change here. In the first period, they gave up a goal on the PK and they didn’t convert on the PP. Puck movement was definitely more promising on the PP than we’ve seen during the regular season for both clubs, but it was a small sample size. In the second they gave up two more goals on the PK. This is not looking good. AggressionOne thing I noticed immediately is that the Blackhawks were actually attacking the puck. There was a lot more puck aggression in their game and it was so refreshing to see. If they can keep that going and not get complacent, you’re going to have success. The forecheck and backcheck were aggressive. They were using an aggressive attack off the drive to get to the net. Those are the habits you want to see early and often. The aggression is still missing from the penalty kill which is concerning.PaceFast. Fast. Fast. We’ve got some good skaters in the system and that’s great to see. Adam Boqvist has to be the smoothest skater for the Blackhawks in this tournament, but I didn’t notice any slouches. Kirby DachDach came out in the first period and scored a beautiful goal getting through the defense and deking out the goalie. That move may not work right away at the NHL level with more experienced goaltenders, but it’s not the first time he’s converted on a shot like that. You have to admire the creativity and willingness to try things out. Kirby Dach is obviously a good player. He knows it and the team knows it. He can use these tournaments to test his limits. Dennis GilbertGilbert was on the top pairing with Boqvist which seems to bode well for Gilbert. Boqvist can roam around and lead the offense. He is more of the responsible defensive type with an aggressive edge. I’d like to have seen him use his body more as I know he can from seeing him in Rockford last year. But it’s only game 1. I didn’t notice him much which is good for a player like him. Adam BoqvistIt’s still pretty amazing how smooth of a skater Boqvist is. One of the best things about his game that I’ve noticed is he gets the puck up the ice with a good first pass. He’s being used as a QB on the PP. Obviously they haven’t converted yet, but that’s where he’s meant to play. He rifled the puck home and scored the game winning goal in overtime. You can't be anything but excited for this kid to make the team. IceHogs OR Blackhawks. He's going to make an immediate impact. Alexis GravelWhat a frustrating game for the kid. He looked really good in period one. Things went way downhill in the second. I wouldn’t necessarily say he was bad, but he’s going to want that period back for sure. He did come up with some nice saves, and I need to see more out of him. He’s a very intriguing prospect. He gets the win in overtime after making a game saving sprawled out save on his back with less than a minute to go in regulation.There were two players that weren't on my "watch list" for today that will be going forward. Cole Moberg and Mikael Hakkarainen. They were all over the ice. Overall gameWhen the Blackhawks looked good in this game, they were skating into the offensive zone and driving to the net. They were aggressive on the puck carriers while defending, and they weren’t looking to make unnecessary passes. When things were bad, they were hemmed in their zone way too much. They would fall back into not pressuring the puck while pinned in their end, and they weren’t able to sustain any pressure. It was such an up and down game for them. Hopefully it’s first game jitters. I’m obviously a critic of the coaching staff, and I’m going to give them a pass for game one. But, if this continues, a serious look needs to be given to the bench in Rockford. Looking forward to Game 2 against Toronto tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 pm on Fox Sports Go.

September 6, 2019

From Center Ice: The Offseason So Far & A NEW PODCAST!

From Center Ice: The Offseason So Far & A NEW PODCAST!

Welcome back! It’s been awhile. The Blackhawks and the IceHogs both missed the playoffs, so you could say I was a bit bitter and didn’t want to write about hockey. Now that the playoffs are over, the fun season has begun! We had the draft and the opening of Free Agency. If you missed any of it, you’ve come to the right place. But first, I need to tell you about something super cool – I STARTED A HOCKEY PODCAST! Yeah, you could say I have the coolest job in the world. I get to spread positive news about my hometown and I also get to talk about hockey. Lucky me!So here’s the deal – we are two episodes in. The first one covers the draft. The second one in a whirlwind of free agency news. So they are great complements to what you’re about to read here. It’s called. . . wait for it . . . FROM CENTER ICE. Shocking, I know. It’s available on most podcast services including the big 3 – Apple, Google, and Spotify. I’ll include the link to the webpage for the podcast. From there, you can click on your streaming link of choice. Or, you can simply search to From Center Ice. The logo is the image from this article. Easy Peasy. https://podfollow.com/from-center-ice/viewI’m super proud of this. My good friend Jacalyn is also a season ticket holder with me, so we will be talking A LOT about the IceHogs once the season gets closer and finally kicks off. Until then, it’ll probably be a mishmash of hockey news from around the league. But, it’s fun!Now – onto the meat of this piece. Kirby Dach – The Blackhawks’s first round draft pick this year. He wasn’t my first choice, but the more I watch of him, the more I am warming up to this pick. Center depth is incredibly important for any good team, and the Hawks just got a big guy who is willing the crash the net. If he lives up to his potential, we are going to be very happy hockey fans in the year future. Calvin de Haan – This guy goes along with the next one. The Hawks acquired defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela from Carolina in exchange for ex-IceHogs Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling. Both of our former players kept getting pushed down the depth chart due to new players coming in. We got excellent value for them. Aleksi Saarela – The move for this guy was detailed above. He is a talented forward who played a key role in the Charlotte Checkers winning the Calder Cup this past season. I think we will see this guy start in Rockford. You sure won’t find me complaining. The Sikuras – DYLAN AND TYLER ARE BACK! Dylan signed and extension with the Blackhawks while Tyler picked up an extension on his AHL contract. Love having these brothers around. Andrew Shaw – WOW. Fan favorite former IceHog is back with the Blackhawks. I did not see this move coming at all. It will be interesting to see how he plays this year. A part of me didn’t like this deal when it was made. I’m softening up to the idea. If he plays well . . .David Kampf – Another former IceHog re-signed by the Blackhawks. Remember that center depth I mentioned above? Applies here as well. Ryan Carpenter – The first free agent pick up for the Hawks on July 1. A depth role player. He can win faceoffs. He can kill penalties. You aren’t going to catch flashy plays from this guy, but every team needs depth guys who can do the little things right. For a cheap contract, you can’t argue with this signing. If it doesn’t work out in the NHL, we could even see him in Rockford. Guys who are willing to work for every inch of ice? Sign me up. Robin Lehner – HO-LY GOODNESS. Where in the . . . did this signing come from? Robin Lehner: Masterton Trophy winner, Vezina finalist, Jennings trophy winner. Forget center depth. Having depth in goal is something the Blackhawks have been lacking for the past couple years. They knocked this signing out of the park. Absolutely great steal of the day. Can’t wait to see how he fits in and how he fits with Crawford. There’s the brief summary of what the Blackhawks have been up to and how it could possibly impact our IceHogs. To catch more in-depth analysis – make sure you subscribe to the From Center Ice Podcast. Here’s the link one more time: https://podfollow.com/from-center-ice/view

July 6, 2019

From Center Ice: Kiss Me, I’m Anton

From Center Ice: Kiss Me, I’m Anton

Sorry, St. Pat, red was better than green on your day. Sunday night’s contest had big playoff implications for the IceHogs. The team is still fighting for their playoff lives and sat one spot out coming into the game against the Texas Stars. You could say the IceHogs needed a bit of that Irish luck. To make the game even more important, the Texas Stars are the team that sat immediately ahead of the Hogs in the standings. Anton Forsberg took to guarding the net. He put up a 46 save performance on Friday night in Grand Rapids and stole the show. He looked to recreate that magic at home. Local boy Josh McArdle got the night off on Sunday as 6’4 newcomer D-Man, Dmitry Osipov, stepped into his first game for the Hogs. McArdle has been an awesome addition on the blue line for the IceHogs this season. His story is even sweeter because he’s a native of Roscoe. Once the puck was down on this Sunday night contest, we settled in and hoped that fatigue didn’t become too apparent on the third game in three nights. Jordan Schroeder got a puck toward the net that fooled a lot of us up in the stands but unfortunately went off the post. Would have been a nice, early goal to settle down my nerves. But, alas... The game continued 0-0. After a fortunate bounce off the referee to our skater, Graham Knott had a great shooting chance but the goalie came up with a better save. That didn’t stop the determined Hogs. Spencer Watson corralled the rebound and took the puck for a wraparound adventure. Desrosiers made an incredible stop slamming the puck against the post with his skate blade, but Alex Fortin swooped in with his (imaginary) super hero cape and poked it in for the first goal of the game! Things were going great until a cross-crease goal similar to the one the Monsters scored on Delia on Saturday tied the game on a defensive breakdown by Jokiharju and Gilbert.Don’t count these pigs out, a dogged effort by Martinsen to drive to the net after not getting enough on an open net tip regained the lead for the Hogs. The Hogs were determined to not have a blemish on their weekend record. END OF 1: Shots 12-5 Hogs. 2-1 Hogs. Anton freakin’ Forsberg came up with some MASSIVE stops nearly 5 minutes into the second period on the penalty kill. He seemed to be down and out but battled for every shot. The goaltending performance put on by #31 this past weekend was remarkable. I don’t know what kind of water he was drinking, but I want some of that!7:10 into the second, Hogs got their first powerplay. They fail to convert on first one. With 8 seconds left, Texas got another penalty. 5 on 3 . . .The IceHogs failed to convert on all three power plays. Texas got a breakaway coming out of the box. It was incredibly similar to how Victor Edjsell scored on Saturday. Anton Forsberg made the save, albeit - controversial save. The refs called no goal, but he seemed to slide into the net himself with the puck. Either way, I’ll take it. They ended the period still in the lead. END OF 2: Shots 19-17 Texas. 2-1 HogsFor a game that wasn’t tied, it was pretty crazy that there were only about four plays of note in the third period. Anton Forsberg came up with a huge set of saves with 6:10 remaining to keep the Hogs up by one. Delay of Game penalty on Jokiharju with just under 4:30 to go. Hogs killed it off.Joni Tuulola had a massive stick tie-up with 2:42 to spoil a Texas breakawayWith 10 seconds to go, there was a mad scramble around Forsberg’s net off the faceoff. No harm done . . . HOGS WIN HOGS WIN! HOGS WIN!The game ended 2-1 IceHogs. Shots 35-25 Texas. Let’s just reflect a bit. The IceHogs went into Grand Rapids and Forsberg stole the win and 2 points. They came home for a Saturday night battle and Collin Delia led the team to an overtime win against the Cleveland Monster. They got to entertain their home crowd again on Sunday night and Forsberg led them to their 3rd win in 3 nights which put your Rockford IceHogs right back into a playoff spot!This weekend was MASSIVE for the Hogs and their playoff hopes and they did everything right. I am still hyped up from the work they put in this weekend. It was great hockey. They got three great wins. Even more exciting, they are back home on Wednesday night! Grab your tickets and let’s keep this thing rolling!

March 18, 2019

From Center Ice: All We Do Is . . . Go To OT!

From Center Ice: All We Do Is . . . Go To OT!

The second game of a 3-in-3 came to Rockford on Saturday night, bringing with it tired players and an excited crowd. The BMO was rocking which is always great to see. The Cleveland Monsters were in town. I don't know if I'll ever forgive them for sweeping us in the playoffs a few seasons ago. There are just some things you can't let go of. Saturday night's contest was also the return (again) of Collin Delia after he was sent back to us coming off a crazy 3rd period relief performance in Toronto. Crawford was suffering from the flu and Collin took the net facing 30 shots in the process but securing the win.The Hogs got off to a good start. They didn’t look like they had played Friday night. They were skating well and getting some shots off, but they took the first penalty of the game. It always sucks the air out of the building when your team is the first to kill a penalty, especially when the game is scoreless. Just don't give up that first goal. The IceHogs came away with a perfect kill, thankfully. As soon as the two minutes were up, Pelletier hit Victor Edjsell with a perfect feed. He out waited the goaltender and tucked it behind him on the breakaway. It was a beautiful goal and the BMO went wild! Breakaway goals are some of my favorites. I'm also one of the minority that enjoys shootouts. Seeing what kind of creativity a shooter comes up with is really fun. Or, you have the flip side where you get to see your goalie's skills on display. Let's just pretend they always turn out well for the IceHogs. I like that idea. Cleveland tied the game with 2:26 to go in the first period off a wraparound goal that just squeaked by Collin Delia. They went into the first period tied 1-1. Shots were 13-10 Cleveland after first period. At one point, a Monster landed on Collin’s left leg in a weird way and he was in some pain. We’ll just have to hope it was a stinger and nothing more serious. Heading into the second period, we needed a strong performance to make the third period easier on the team. With a minute and a half gone, Blake Hillman rifled one over the goalie’s glove. I almost didn’t believe it went in. It just seemed too easy. There was nothing really happening, and then there was a puck hitting the back of the net. I saw it happen. I knew it was in. But it took me a second to actually celebrate. It was a strange time. But, it was Hillman’s first goal of the season! That should be exciting for the rookie blue-liner. I was excited for him, once my brain caught up to what was happening.The game became a bit scrappy and the teams both had guys in timeout. AKA - a 4 on 4 situation. The Monsters decided that one guy in timeout wasn't enough which led to an extended 4 on 3 of the IceHogs. PERFECT! This is a great chance to go ahead by two. When there are only 3 defenders on the ice, just get them moving, open up some lanes, and put that puck in the net! Or, that's how it works in theory. The Hogs did none of that. Cleveland came down and scored a short-handed goal as the first two penalties expired. It was a perfect passing play, and Delia had almost no chance on it. Those almost make me more frustrated that soft goals. Although, ask me again after a soft goal goes in and I will change my mind. Being a hockey fan is a fickle thing, okay?!The IceHogs got a power play with under 8 minutes left in the second. This would have been a great chance to get the go ahead goal and some peace of mind headed into the third period. Instead, they cashed in a power play that was nothing to write home about. The Monsters got the best chance while short handed. Moving on . . .Collin Delia came up with some huge saves with under 3 minutes to keep the game tied. His leg must have been feeling okay. After he looked in pain during the media timeout, he bounced back strong. I only hope it’s not a lingering thing that bugs him for the rest of the season. Shots were 22-20 Cleveland after the second. Somehow. I don’t know where all of our phantom shots came from. We had 10 but it felt more like 2. But, this is why I write about what I see and don’t keep the official shot clock. With the game tied, you’d expect the third period to be full of action . . . No, not really. Collin made some great saves on the PK to kick off the period, but that was about it. Both teams were getting shots off, and as the clock ran down it started getting a bit stressful. We needed two points badly for the playoff race, so each shot by Cleveland was a little heart-stopping. But the IceHogs held down the fort and took this thing to overtime . . . awesome. Overtime can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on the circumstances that got you there. In this game, I was fine with it. I felt confident that the boys would pull out a win. Sometimes you just get a feeling. Shots were 33-31 Cleveland after 3. Going into OT tied 2-2.There was some great back and forth action in overtime. There were a few more heart-stopping chances by Cleveland, but COLLIN DELIA, LADIES AND GENTS!!!! He came up with a MASSIVE save to keep the game alive which led to . . .ICEHOGS WIN ICEHOGS WIN ICEHOGS WIN!!!! 3-2 1:15 INTO OVERTIME! Peter Holland with the snipe and the fans get to go home happy! Oh, I bet the players are just a little thrilled as well. What a game. What a team. Strap in and get ready because the third game in three nights is TONIGHT! Puck drops at 4:00 pm at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Grab your tickets and let’s cheer them on to another win!I can’t end this piece without telling you about one of the coolest things that has happened to me. Cat Silverman of The Athletic and InGoal Magazine reached out to me and my dear friend Jacalyn for our opinions on what it’s like to be a fan of an AHL team. I felt so honored, and the piece came out awesome. You can check that out here (there’s even a photo of yours truly): https://theathletic.com/868746/2019/03/14/inside-the-life-of-an-ahl-fan-the-double-edged-sword-of-cheering-for-the-farm/

March 17, 2019

From Center Ice: This Is A Big Deal

From Center Ice: This Is A Big Deal

There’s some exciting news buzzing around the Rockford IceHogs this week. What’s a big deal, you ask? COLLIN DELIA IS BACK IN ROCKFORD!With Corey Crawford returning from a concussion in Chicago, Delia was sent back down to the IceHogs. Delia took to guarding his crease Tuesday night as they took on their biggest rivals in Chicago. It was sort of a rough game as Maxime Lagace stood on his head in the Chicago net and the Wolves ended up winning with a score of 1-0. If your goalie only gives up 1 goal per game, you’re going to win a great majority of contests. Unfortunately, Legace did one better and didn’t let a single puck by him. Fortunately, Collin got a chance to return to the net Friday night at home. He got a very enthusiastic welcome from the home crowd when he was announced as the starting goaltender. After being held off of the score sheet in their previous game, we were just hoping that the Hogs could pot a few goals and get another solid performance from their goalie. The Grand Rapids Griffins were in town and they’re near the top of the division. It was an important game, and the crowd was ready for it. In the first period, the IceHogs came out like they had something to prove. They were connecting passes, getting pucks to the net, and laying some hits. This determined effort led to them scoring the first goal of the contest on the power play. Schroeder took a feed from Jokiharju and Johnson and whipped it past the goalie. They stayed hot, and Spencer Watson scored his first goal as an IceHog by tipping a rocket of a shot from Lucas Carlsson. Watson is the new kid in town after being acquired shortly before the trade deadline in a deal with the Los Angeles Kings that sent Matheson Iacopelli the opposite way. Neither player could really find their footing on their previous teams. Hopefully a change of scenery will benefit both guys. With 1.6 seconds left in the first . . . ANOTHER ICEHOGS GOAL! This time, Dennis Gilbert snuck down from the blue line and tossed the puck by Harri Sateri after Luke Johnson got shoved into him by a Griffins defender. Shots after the first were 15-7 Hogs. The scoreboard was looking good as it read 3-0 Hogs. When the second period started, they looked like they were going to carry over their play from the first period. They had some great chances right in tight, but Sateri wasn’t allowing anything else by him. The goaltender’s solid effort to start the period injected some life into his team’s veins. 3 minutes go by . . . Griffins rifle one past Delia. IceHogs turnover . . . Griffins get a second goal. Thankfully, the penalty kill came up big after the second goal to keep the IceHogs ahead. But, with a failed power play of their own and a failed breakaway chance, it looked like the Hogs were doing everything in their power to not score a goal in the second period. I’m sure they WERE trying. But, from section 203, it was so frustrating to watch. Mercifully, the period ended. Shots were 26-19 Hogs after 2. The third period certainly can’t go worse than the second, right?One minute into the third period, Grand Rapids ties the game off of a hard slap shot on the power play. Well, ****. SCHROEDER! Just over 6 minutes left in the third period and Jordan Schroeder rips home the go ahead goal. This is great. The IceHogs need these points while playing against divisional rivals. The playoff race is on and they cannot afford to give up points. They battled back hard after a rough second period and won in regu. . . . . . Griffins tie the game with 2:11 in the third period. Cool. Awesome.This is fine. Everything is fine. To overtime we go. I swear this team is taking years off of my life, but I love them. Overtime was a wild ride. It seemed like the IceHogs had better possession time, but the Griffins had their chances as well. Delia had to come up with a huge poke check on a streaking Griffin in order to keep the game alive. With time winding down and a shootout looking guaranteed, Peter Holland cleans up a scoring chance and SENDS THE ICEHOGS TO A VICTORY WITH 35 SECONDS TO GO!ICEHOGS WIN! ICEHOGS WIN! ICEHOGS WIN!Now, that’s a pretty big deal(ia). 

March 3, 2019

From Center Ice: Sunday Night Snowdown

From Center Ice: Sunday Night Snowdown

There was once a snowy and slushy Sunday night in the great town of Rockford, Illinois when the San Antonio Rampage came into town to face the hometown boys, the Rockford IceHogs. The Rampage players are used to skating on ice, but being from Texas, they aren’t used to weathering it out in the wild. This came as a great advantage to the IceHogs as they welcomed them into their home at the BMO Harris Bank Center with a warm sense of security, AND THEN THEY BEAT THEM ALL THE WAY BACK TO TEXAS. Oh, that was just this past weekend? Excuse me, I just wanted to tell a great tale about how the IceHogs have won two straight games on the back of goaltender Kevin Lankinen and provided the hometown crowd with quite the weekend! Now, usually goaltenders will rotate starts on back-to-back nights, but after the good vibes from Saturday night’s comeback, Lankinen took to guarding the crease on Sunday as well. The roster surprise for me was that Joni Tuulola was scratched. If you recall from the last piece, I was raving about the beautiful goal he scored to tie the game. But, I wasn’t aware that Brandon Davidson was back after suffering an injury shortly after being sent down to Rockford from Chicago. Davidson comes in adding a much-needed steady presence to the blue line for Rockford. He’s a veteran guy on this team, and he’s only 27 years old. It was his first game back, so he couldn’t be expected to light the world on fire* (we’ll get back to this…), but it’s always great to see guys come back from injury. The IceHogs came out with a purpose in the first period. It was a much better showing than the night before. Kevin Lankinen was showing off his athleticism going post-to-post for saves, the Hogs were taking shots on goal, and they topped it off with a beautiful play to take the first goal of the game!William Pelletier entered the zone, got the puck to Andreas Martinsen who threw the puck over to Luke Johnson who proceeded to neatly tuck the puck behind the goalie. 1-0 IceHogs. This lead took us into the first intermission with the shots being 12-8 IceHogs. After the second period began, it didn’t take long for the IceHogs to get out to the most dangerous lead in hockey. Jordan Schroeder shot down the right wing and lasered a puck over the goalie’s glove. 2-0 IceHogs.That’s about as good as it got for the IceHogs that period. San Antonio came charging back hard after Schroeder’s goal. They were playing like their lives depended on them winning that game. Shot after shot – save after save. Lankinen was being attacked and he was doing his best to keep the Rampage off the score sheet, but the goalie can only do so much. The puck found it’s way into the net and it’s 2-1. Then all of a sudden it was 2-2. Oh boy. Here we go. There’s no way the IceHogs pull off two great third periods in a row, right? It seemed like the beginning of the end right here, friends. They came out flying in the first period, but the second was not their friend and the grey jerseys from Texas had life. But, friends, let me remind you that the IceHogs had Kevin Lankinen in net. He was not about to let this one get away. With 5 minutes to go in the second period he goes down into the full splits to keep the puck from getting past him. It was a crazy good save. It was athletic. It was timely. But, man, it hurt me just to watch it happen. I don’t know how he does that. I guess that’s why he gets paid the money to be a goaltender and I’m just here typing words on a computer. . . I digress. At the end of the second period, the game was tied at 2. Shots were 22-19 San Antonio. Let’s just take a peek back up at the totals from the end of the first. . . the IceHogs had 7 shots in the second period. San Antionio had FOURTEEN. Poor Kevin. The IceHogs needed a third period like Saturday’s. The situation wasn’t as dire, but they needed the points. They needed the points, and they needed to take the two points without giving up one in the standings. The playoff race is here, and it is real, and it is stressing me out so I’ll cover that in another article so I can get through this one without needed a paper bag to breathe into. The third period was probably the least stressful part of this game – somehow. The IceHogs were winning board battles, they were playing hard, and there was a sense that they wanted this one as much as the home crowd did. *Five minutes into the final frame, Jacob Nilsson drove hard to the net and BRANDON DAVIDSON was at the goal mouth to make sure that puck didn’t do anything but go to the back of the net. This is where we go back to talking about B Davey. It was his first game back from injury. For most of the game, he was steady and pretty unnoticeable – Which, for a defensemen, is a good thing. It was great to see him come back healthy and get the most important goal of the game. I didn't expect him to do anything noteworthy, but I can be wrong sometimes. With a power play opportunity, the Hogs had a chance to take another two-goal lead with under 10 minutes to go, but they resorted back to over-passing instead of taking the opportunity to shoot the puck. I would be a lot angrier about this if the end result of the game was different. With the clock ticking down and San Antonio with an empty net, William Pelletier added an insurance goal. 4-2.2:30 to go. San Antonio pressing. Defense on full lockdown. 3.9 seconds to go. . . EMPTY NET GOAL FROM NICK MOUTREY!ICEHOGS WIN! ICEHOGS WIN! ICEHOGS WIN!!!!!!What a weekend. What a team. The IceHogs added a cherry to the winning Sundae (heh, puns). The final score was 5-2. The shot total was 29-25 IceHogs. Let’s just take a moment to admire the IceHogs giving up only 3 shots in the third period. I love defensive hockey. Your three stars of the game were:#3 Kevin Lankinen#2 Jordan Schroeder#1 BRANDON DAVIDSON!The next IceHogs home game is March 1. Grab your tickets at the BMO Harris Bank Center or online at ticketmaster.comHere are some video highlights from the Rockford IceHogs YouTube channel:

February 19, 2019

From Center Ice: Saturday Night StressHogs

From Center Ice: Saturday Night StressHogs

If you weren’t at the game or following the score, I’m going to play a bit of a spoiler role and tell you right now that the IceHogs won this game. . . somehow. I’m telling you this now, because what I’m about to write will not lead you to believe the outcome, and I don’t want you to be stressed out like I was.When the puck dropped on this Saturday night duel between Central Division foes, neither team looked particularly interested in taking the lead. It was a lot of back and forth hockey with one-and-done chances, which is fine. It was a feeling out period for sure. It doesn’t make for the most exciting hockey, but it’s better than bad hockey.As the first period went on, the Iowa Wild had some grade A scoring chances in front of Kevin Lankinen, but the fierce Fin was turning them aside. Then the Penalty Kill Woes made themselves known. The Wild had a late power play and the IceHogs were not at all ready for the kill. They couldn’t clear the puck, and it wasn’t a matter of IF but WHEN the puck was going to find it’s way past Lankinen. It did. That’s fine. A 1-0 game. Hockey is a game of inches; you’re going to be down by one goal many times throughout the season.Shots were 18-8 Wild at the end of the first period.Well, on this Saturday night, the floodgates opened wide up after goal #1 for Iowa. They went on to score 3 more unanswered goal and the Hogs found themselves in a 4-0 hole. Then, something miraculous happened. Jordan Schroeder took a *SHOT (we’ll get to this) on the power play and the IceHogs injected an ounce of life back into their veins.The game was 4-1 at the end of the second period. Shots were 28-17 Iowa.The third period arrived. Shockingly, not many people had left yet. You never know in sports. When the game is going poorly for the home team, sometimes people like to leave early for whatever reason. I’ve never done it, but to each their own.From the beginning of the third period and on, the game played out somewhat like a movie. Henri Jokiharju blasted a puck from the point, it hit Luke Johnson, and it found it’s way into the back of the net. Jordan Schroeder netted goal #2 of the night for himself. With the clock ever present in the mind of fans and players alike, Joni Tuulola ripped an absolute laser top shelf to tie the game. This game-tying goal came off of the most precise cross-ice pass you can have from Andreas Martinsen and the finish was a thing of beauty.I think I could watch that goal on repeat forever and never get tired of it. Just a gorgeous, gorgeous goal - one that the Wild goalie surely wants to have back, not because it was weak, but because it changed everything. The IceHogs believed. The fan believed. The BMO was hopping.Unfortunately, after all of that excitement, there were still a few minutes to play in regulation time. These are the longest minutes ever. Are they going to win in regulation? Are they going to lose in regulation? If they’re going to lose, please just get to overtime to get a point. Oh, god, what if they give up a goal with under a minute and have no time to try to get it back.Friends, it’s stressful.I think my heart was doing a weird mixture of beating too fast and just completely stopping. Being a hockey fan isn’t healthy, but it sure is fun.Most of the time.At the end of regulation, with the game tied 4-4, the shots were 36-33 Wild.Now, take a look at the shot totals after the first two periods. They are terribly skewed in favor of Iowa. The IceHogs came out with fire in the third period and they weren’t to be denied. They played a near perfect period, and all numbers on the scoreboard showed this. I don’t know where this team was for the first 40 minutes, but I’m glad they showed up.Off to overtime we went. Going into overtime is either great or awful. It’s never just an experience that you’re indifferent about.In this case, it was great. I don’t think anyone thought the Hogs would be in this position after going down 4-0. But, in overtime, the next goal wins. There was some great action. I’m a big fan of 3-on-3 overtime, even though the coaches have now had a few seasons to take some of the frantic excitement out of it. The Hogs had a few awesome chances and Lankinen came up with some great saves. But, neither team popped that shifty piece of rubber into the back of the net.The stress continued and intensified as the game went to a shootout. I often joke that being a hockey fan is taking years off of my life. But, it might not actually be a joke. This kind of stuff is not for a weak person!Jokiharju – stopped.Anas – stopped by Lankinen.Schroeder – stopped.Sokolov – stopped by Lankinen.Edjsell – SCORES!!!!!!Mahew – STOPPED BY LANKINEN!!!!!!ICEHOGS WIN! ICEHOGS WIN! ICEHOGS WIN!Can we just take a moment to appreciate the greatness of Kevin Lankinen. After giving up 4 goals, it would be easy to get lost in your head and completely lose control of the game. But, after his team got one back, he locked it in and kept them in the game and did not let anything else by him. That, my friends, is mental toughness. And, yes, I love goaltenders. So, you’ll be hearing about them a lot.The IceHogs somehow dug deep a pulled out a win on this crazy stressful Saturday night. I don’t know how they did it, but I sure am glad they did.*Now we are back to this point about the power play. I don’t know what is going on, but it’s as if the team refuses to take a shot. Maybe it’s a confidence thing. Maybe it’s a coaching thing. I don’t think it’s a personnel thing, as that hasn’t really changed. All I know is that is way too frustrating to watch 2 minutes of possession pass by on the power play with either zero or one shot on net. It’s amazing what can happen when you actually shoot the puck.This afternoon, the IceHogs take on the San Antonio Rampage. The puck drops at 4 pm. Tickets are available at the BMO Harris Bank Center Box Office!

February 17, 2019

From Center Ice: The Finnish Edition

From Center Ice: The Finnish Edition

Welcome to From Center Ice, a new article series all about the Rockford IceHogs. I’ll try to keep this stuff as civilized as possible. . . but I’m not going to make any promises. If there’s anything I’m passionate about, it’s the Piggies. But, I will do my best. Because I was starting this series, I contacted the Blackhawks and asked them to send down Henri Jokiharju. I figured it would make for an interesting piece to kick this thing off! Okay, maybe I don’t have that kind of influence, but a girl can dream, right? They must have at least known this was coming because the IceHogs were gifted with the young and super-talented blue-liner AND it just so happened that there was a firework show ON THE ICE after the game. There’s so much to talk about, so let’s just get into it. Friday night, the IceHogs took on their bitter rival The Chicago Wolves. It’s been an up and down season series this year after the IceHogs swept them in the 2018 post season. Games against the Wolves are always hard fought and they get the crowd riled up. Henri Jokiharju lit the place up by scoring his first professional goal to tie the game at 1. That goal sparked the young Fin, the crowd, and the team. They didn’t look back and held up their strong play to beat the Wolves 5-2! Alexandre Fortin, William Pelletier, and Victor Edjsell also got on the score sheet betting goals of their own. We can’t possibly overlook the performance of Finnish goaltender Kevin Lankinen. He was owning his crease Friday night coming up with some absolutely huge saves to keep the Hogs ahead of their Illinois Lottery Cup rivals, the Wolves. Lankinen is a promising prospect in net, so it’s good to see him consistently post games with big saves to keep his team in it. The 23 year-old goaltender has appeared in 12 games with the IceHogs this season and sports a .910 sv%. This was the IceHogs 3rd consecutive win. They picked up another victory in overtime Saturday night in Milwaukee. The Hogs went on a slide in the standings after losing Head Coach Jeremy Colliton and young stud goaltender Collin Delia to the Chicago Blackhawks. Now that Rockford has been gifted with Jokiharju, they can turn this thing around and get back to the playoffs where anything can happen.In 37 games with the Blackhawks, Jokiharju notched 12 assists and a -6 rating. He spent a lot of time on the top defensive pair with Duncan Keith which is an awesome opportunity for a young player coming out of Juniors. He didn't look out of place at all, but the organization wanted to get him playing top minutes in every situation, so Rockford is blessed with his presence until they pluck him back from us. Henri also participated in the 2019 World Junior Championship and was on the gold-medal winning Finland squad. He scored 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points in the tournament. The next home game is Wednesday, February 6 at 7:00 pm vs Wilkes-Barre Scranton. They’ll also be home at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Friday and Saturday taking on the Tuscon Roadrunners. The IceHogs have a home-heavy schedule this month. They’ll look to take advantage of home ice and pick up as many points as possible. Grab your tickets and come cheer on the boys. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster or at the BMO Harris Bank Center Box Office.

February 5, 2019