Rockford is back in action this week with four games. The first, last night in Toronto, was an entertaining 3-2 shootout loss to the Marlies.
The IceHogs are wrapping up a seven-game road swing on Friday night in Milwaukee. Before then, they’ll meet the Bulldogs in Hamilton tonight.
Ben Smith scored both goals in last night’s loss. He now has goals in three consecutive games and five in his last six. Obviously Smith is getting his legs back now after missing a month with a concussion. With Ryan Potulny being traded to Ottawa, Smith has also now been moved up to the top line with Jeff Taffe, which also makes a big difference. Smith had played what was probably his best game as a pro the night he suffered a concussion on January 8th against Grand Rapids.
Hannu Toivonen has been very good in his last five appearances (2.27 gaa, .940 save %) going 2-0-1-1. He’s been, however, nasty bad in the shootout; allowing 14 out of 30 chances by in the skills competition. On Tuesday, Toronto converted on three of their four shootout turns before wrapping up the extra point.
Brandon Pirri returned to the lineup on Tuesday after missing five games with an undisclosed injury. We believe that was of the upper-body variety, but no one has confirmed as much to us. Same goes for Ivan Vishnevskiy, who has now missed twelve consecutive games.
Vishnevskiy was originally expected to return to the lineup this week, but his return is currently uncertain.
Jeremy Morin is still out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. As we’ve covered here before, no one is saying what his injury is officially, but its been rumored and written in other places as a concussion.
–Tuesday was “Clear Day” for American Hockey League teams. Each year at this time, all AHL clubs must submit a “clear day” roster. The significance of this is that only players listed on this roster can play for their respective clubs from now until the end of the regular season, continuing through playoffs.
Meaning, no player currently playing on an NHL roster can be sent back to his team’s AHL affiliate to play for the remainder of this season unless he is listed on the “clear day” roster.
With Rockford mired in last place, and out of playoff contention, their clear day submission isn’t really of much significance.
Jeremy Morin’s inclusion on the “clear day” blows uninformed speculation by some that the IceHogs have “shut down” Morin for the remainder of the season. Morin is still around the team and hoping to return before the end of the IceHogs’ campaign on April 10th. If Morin can get cleared to play, he will also be recalled to the Blackhawks’ roster after Rockford’s season ends as a reserve in case of injuries at the forward position. So he has that to work towards as well. Similar to Jack Skille and Kyle Beach tagging along with the Blackhawks last spring as black aces. If you’re looking for other guys in that category, figure Jeff Taffe, Ben Smith, Rob Klinkhammer, Jassen Cullimore, Alec Richards and possibly Shawn Lalonde (just for the experience of being around the big club, not that he’s anywhere near ready) to be up with the Hawks as extras next month. Other possibilities would be Garnet Exelby, Dylan Olsen and Brandon Pirri. They are high on Ryan Stanton from time to time. I don’t see anyone else getting that opportunity though. But, there is a lot of hockey yet to play here and a few of the recalls will be more about rewarding guys for effort and strong play, while a few will be more geared towards experience with a eye on the future.
Rockford’s Clear Day Roster:
Goaltenders: Alec Richards, Hannu Toivonen
Defense: Brian Connelly, Dylan Olsen, Garnet Exelby, Ivan Vishnevski, Jassen Cullimore, Ryan Stanton, Shawn Lalonde
Forwards: Ben Smith, Brandon Bollig, Brandon Pirri, Evan Brophey, Igor Makarov, Jeff Taffe, Jeremy Morin, Kyle Beach, Kyle Hagel, Mathis Olimb, Pete Leblanc, Rob Klinkhammer, Wade Brookbank (D/W)
Emergency provisions do exist in the event the team can’t dress a full roster of players. So, Rockford can still recall players like Simon Danis-Pepin, Chris DiDomencio, Andy Bohmbach, Zack Torquato or goaltender Joe Palmer if circumstances warrant. However, once the individual any such player is replacing is reactivated, the recalled player does become ineligible. Case in point, right now Vishnevskiy is out and the IceHogs are carrying Danis-Pepin on their roster, though he was a scratch last night.
The Clear Day roster does not prohibit AHL teams from bringing in junior players and collegiate players after their seasons conclude and signing them to Professional Try-out contracts. Or having a prospect currently in juniors and already signed to a pro contract joining the team once his current team’s season concludes.
The only other real notable thing is leaving Nick Leddy off. And that’s not a surprise at all. If the IceHogs were still in the playoff hunt it would be one thing. The Blackhawks are still not guaranteed anything and you’d think the Chicago brass would want Leddy playing meaningful hockey in April if the Hawks were out and Rockford were still to be an option. But they won’t be.
I would expect Leddy to be on the U.S. National team’s radar for the IIHF World Championships this spring. If he’s not already, I’m sure the Blackhawks will push Leddy on U.S. team, just as they did with Brandon Pirri and the Canadian U20 World Junior selection camp. I’m not suggesting he should be, nor would he be a lock, so to speak. Due to going well into June last summer and roller-coaster season this has become, I’d expect a lot of Hawks to decline IIHF invitations should the Hawks not earn a spot in postseason, or be eliminated in the conference quarter-finals. But Leddy would likely go if asked and the Blackhawks would love for him to go through that kind of experience. Although he’s currently sidelined due to a high-ankle sprain, Jack Skille is expected to be on that team too. For those who don’t recall, Jonathan Toews went to the 2007 IIHF World Championships right after his final game at North Dakota, the spring before he ever joined the Blackhawks. Toews was the only non-NHL player on that 2007 Canada team that won the gold medal, beating Finland in the finals.
–We’ll have more on Rockford, the Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville and Zdeno Chara tomorrow.