By Chris Block
Rockford IceHogs (8-10-1-0) drop the puck on a three-game weekend tonight when the Lake Erie Monsters (9-10-1-1) visit the BMO Harris Bank Center at 7:05. This will be the first time this season Rockford has had to play three games on consecutive days. They’ll do so again next weekend. In both cases, the first two games are at home, followed by a game day bus trip on Sunday.
Tonight’s game also marks the return of former Hogs Evan Brophey, Hugh Jessiman and defenseman Mike Brennan.
Brophey comes in on a 4-game point streak (2g, 2a). He registered his first career hat trick on 11/11/11 against San Antonio. Brophey turns 25 on Saturday. His IceHogs/Blackhawks tenure ended in suspension last March when he stepped out of the penalty box and destroyed Hamilton Bulldogs forward Hunter Bishop with an open ice blind side hit. Brophey received a season-ending 7-game suspension after playing in two subsequent games that weekend before the AHL got around to holding a hearing following the March 25th hit.
Hugh Jessiman had posted a goal in four consecutive games prior to Lake Erie’s 2-1 loss to Houston on Wednesday night. In 17 games this season, Jessiman has 7 goals and 9 points. Last season, prior to being sent to the Panthers in the Jack Skille-Michael Frolik/Alexander Salak swap, Jessiman had just 3 goals and 5 points in 25 games with Rockford. Jessiman was struggling with groin issues while with the IceHogs.
On Saturday night, the Abbotsford Heat (13-8-1-0) makes its maiden 2011-12 season voyage to Rockford. The IceHogs split a pair of games in Abbotsford back on the second weekend of the season; losing 4-3 on 10/14 and last winning 3-2 on 10/16. Alec Richards was in goal for both games as Alexander Salak didn’t make the trip as he was expecting his wife to give birth to their first child. Turned out the child wouldn’t arrive until October 29.
Finally, on Sunday the IceHogs will bus down to Peoria’s Carver Arena for the two teams 7th meeting of this two-month old season. Peoria Rivermen are just 10-10-1-1 heading into the weekend, five points ahead of the IceHogs in third place in the West division. Rockford is 2-0-1-0 at Peoria this season. The Rivermen are 4-5-0-0 overall at home.
The IceHogs must swing its early season fortunes at home if they’re going to get out of the West’s cellar. Rockford is 3-7-0-0 at the BMO and 5-3-1-0 on the road.
Games tonight and tomorrow close the IceHogs’ current 5-game homestand that has started 2-1-0-0.
Abbotsford is 11-3-0-0 on the road (meaning they’re 2-5-1-0 in B.C.) and play in Rosemont against the Chicago Wolves tonight and Sunday afternoon, with tomorrow night’s matchup with the Hogs at the BMO sandwiched in between.
Its not too early to be concerned about the IceHogs’ playoff hopes. While two, or possibly even three wins this weekend probably won’t be enough to elevate them out of last place, Rockford cannot afford to fall too much farther behind the pace as their upcoming schedule turns increasing more difficult by the week. They get a healthy dose of some of the AHL’s best this month with Milwaukee (3x), Charlotte (1), Toronto (1), Abbotsford (1) and always tough Peoria (3). And beginning Boxing Day, the Hogs play 9 of 10 on the road.
—IceHogs at the Quarter-mark
With 19 games in the book, Rockford has completed 25-percent of the 2011-12 regular season schedule. The team sits in last place in its division, trailing West division leading Charlotte by 13 points.
Head coach Ted Dent, when asked to assess the positives he sees at the quarter mark, said the following:
“Just the way we’re playing over the last 5 games,” Dent told us after last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Oklahoma City. “I like our group. I like our attitude, our work ethic. I think our confidence is getting better every day and our young guys are starting to become professionals.”
At 8-10-1-0, Rockford is a hair better than they were a year ago (7-10-0-2) through 19 games.
However, the difference is this year the team is trending upward at this mark instead of downward. Rockford had lost 5 their last 6 through 19 games in 2010-11.
In their last five games played in the current season, Rockford has posted a record of 3-2-0-0, with one of those wins coming via the shootout. They’re also a plus-4 (19gf, 15ga) in the goal differential department over the last five games.
–Kyle Beach update
There still is no official update on the status of Kyle Beach. For Beach and IceHogs fans, that’s actually a good thing.
While Beach has been sporting a brand new sling on his right arm, he is telling people he expects to return this season. Beach dislocated his right shoulder in Peoria on October 28th during a fight with Rivermen forward Stefan Della-Rovere. At the time of the injury, there was fear Beach’s season could be over.
In the 8 games leading up to the injury, Beach had 3 goals and 6 points.
As per organization policy, no one with the team will say anything definitive about the injury, or Beach’s status.
This is not anything we’ve been told directly, but my impression is if his rehabilitation goes well, Beach will return to the IceHogs lineup in March.
—Olsen itching for action
Dylan Olsen has played in 58 games now as a professional and the 6-3, 220 pound, 2009 1st round draft pick is still searching for his first career goal, and fight.
The defenseman turned pro last New Years Day when he chose to leave Minnesota-Duluth and sign his entry-level contract with the Blackhawks. He made his professional debut two weeks later against Texas, but has been slow to exhibit the offensive talents he showed in college and the junior ranks.
Olsen does not have a point in 16 games this season, but that isn’t worrying anyone at this point.
He is the closest thing Rockford has to a shut-down defenseman and is being groomed for that role in Chicago.
Still, Olsen laughed when asked about the elusive first pro goal.. and that fight too.
“Yeah, I don’t think too much about it, but it would be nice to get either one out of the way.”
Coming from college hockey, Olsen doesn’t have much experience in dropping the gloves, but it’s admittedly something he’s itching to do.
“I don’t mind [fighting]. It’s part of my game, I have no problem doing it,” Olsen said. “It’s just that the opportunity hasn’t come up yet. Nobody’s asked me and I haven’t asked anyone.”
“I’m just kind of waiting for the opportune time to shed the mitts.”
Olsen did drop the gloves with teammate Andrew Shaw on the final day of Prospect Camp this past July at Johnny’s Ice House West. The 5-11 Shaw turned some heads when he got the better of the bout, bloodying the bigger Olsen. But Shaw was also coming from the Ontario junior ranks where he has a lot of experience in the pugilistic affairs.
Just about all his damage recently has come from just a few feet outside the cage, but nonetheless, Brandon Pirri is red hot right now pivoting the Hogs’ second line with Andrew Shaw and newcomer Rostislav Olesz on his wings.
Pirri was held off the scoresheet in the Hogs’ most recent game last Saturday, ending a five-game point streak (6g, 4a). It was just the 3rd time in the past 12 games Pirri’s been held without a point (12gp, 8g, 8a).
He posted a hat-trick against San Antonio ten days ago against San Antonio, and then picked up another two in the following game with Peoria.
It’ll be interesting to watch if Pirri can keep it up. Aside from the rebounds and back door passes Pirri’s picking up around the goal crease, Pirri’s creativity and skills shine through when he’s able to skate with the likes of Jeff Taffe, and now Rostislav Olesz.
Rockford’s first line of late has been Brett McLean between Jeremy Morin and Brandon Segal. But with Morin struggling to even hit the net with his shot of late, and Rostislav Olesz’s presence with Pirri and Shaw, the Pirri line will draw the opposing team’s checking line assignments from now on.
Olesz is far and away Rockford’s most skilled player. And Dent loves Shaw’s energy and tenacity around the opposition’s goal. So Pirri seemingly has the perfect combination of wingers at his side and the trio is prosed to give the opposition fits, especially on the power play, which Dent has kept those three together for.
Speaking of Taffe, who skates for the Houston Aeros (he signed with Minnesota in the off season) now, Pirri really started to come around last March after returning from a concussion and getting lined up with Taffe, who was on fire throughout the second half of last season. Since then, Pirri has played 37 games. He has 14 goals and 38 points, and is a plus-11 over those 37 outings.
Speaking of Morin, while his aggression and passion didn’t miss a beat upon returning from a ten month absence, recovering from a concussion, he’s struggled to regain his goal scoring touch.
After picking up goals in his first two games back, Morin has just 2 goals in his last 15 games. Both of those came in a 7-6 overtime loss at Peoria on November 11. In his past 15 games, Morin has 2 goals, 5 assists and is a minus-4. His shooting percentage over that span is 5.4% (37 sog).
–Byron Froese demoted to Toledo; Walleye Notes
Rookie center Byron Froese [Frayz] was reassigned to ECHL affiliate Toledo Walleye back on Monday.
Froese had been held without a point in 11 appearances so far this season. That’s with a healthy dose of power play time (at the point) early on and mostly third line duties, skating with Kyle Beach.
After being a healthy scratch for the past five games, Froese was informed Monday he was being sent to Toledo to get some ice time.
Froese played in his first game with the Walleye on Wednesday night, a 4-1 victory in Toledo over the visiting Chicago Express. Froese scored an empty-net goal with one second remaining in the game.
With that tally, Froese matches David Toews’ current goal total, and in 13 fewer games. Toews has a goal and five assists in 15 games with the Walleye.
Chris DiDomenico, who was reassigned to the Walleye (in exchange for David Gilbert) back on November 14th was named the first star in the game Wednesday night. DiDomenico did score what would eventually become the game-winning goal, but it’s a little odd he’d get the game’s first star when he also took two penalties in the third period, giving the Express power plays when the Walleye were up a goal with 12 minutes left, and then another with 1:52 remaining and Chicago down two goals.
Carter Hutton picked up the win in that one, stopping 30 of 31 shots. Hutton has a 7-6 record with a 3.15 GAA and .897 save percentage. Those numbers are pretty much the norm around the Hawks organization these days. Hutton has started 11-consecutive games for the Walleye since Thomas McCullom was recalled to Grand Rapids.
DiDomenico has 1 goal and 5 helpers (+3) in the 7 games he’s played this time around with Toledo. In the 37 games he spent with the Walleye last season, DiDomenico posted 9 goals and 16 assists.
Rob Flick has 3 goals and 6 assists (-1) in 16 games.
Simon Danis-Pepin also has 3 goals and 6 assists (+5) in 16 contests.
Toledo is 8-9-0-0 overall, in third place behind division-leading Chicago (11-6-1-1)
Winger Paul Zanette (AHL contract) is out with a hand injury suffered back on November 9th at home in a 7-4 loss to the Chicago Express. (In that game, defenseman Bryan Rufenach scored all four Toledo goals in the loss) Zanette was 2nd in the NCAA in goal scoring (29) at Niagara last season. He had 2 goals in 6 games with Toledo before his injury. He had surgery to fix a finger a few weeks ago.
Toledo ranks 2nd (out of 20 teams) in average home attendance. Through 10 home games, Toledo is averaging 5,673 fans. The ECHL average is currently 3,968. Hoffman Estates, Sears Centre, based Chicago Express rank 20th in attendance at an average of 2,350 fans-per over their initial 9 home games.
–Rockford IceHogs initial 10-game attendance comparison by season
Season: Avg Attnd-10gm (change) – Season-ending Avg – [Diff 10g-Ending]
2011-10: 3,887 (+133)*
2010-11: 3,754 (+451), 4,360 [+16.1%]
2009-10: 3,303 (-16), 3,978 [+20.4%]
2008-09: 3,319 (-694), 3,909 [+17.8%]
2007-08: 4,013 (-214), 3,826 [-4.7%]
2006-07: 4,227 (+646), 3,895 [-7.8%]
2005-06: 3,581 (+65), 3,973 [+10.9%]
2004-05: 3,516 (-198), 3,694 [+5.1%]
2003-04: 3,714 (+36), 3,549 [-4.4%]
2002-03: 3,678 (+367), 3,667 [-0.3%]
2001-02: 3,311 (-390), 3,239 [-2.2%]
2000-01: 3,701 (-134), 3,707 [+0.2%]
1999-00: 3,835 ( —- ), 3,880 [+1.2%]
*The 2011-12 ten-game comparison against the 2010-11 first ten-game totals is slightly misleading. On October 25th, the IceHogs recorded an official “sell-out” as a local television station purchased “all remaining tickets” as a WIFR Channel 23 “Sell-Out Night” for a Tuesday night game with the Texas Stars in town. The announced ‘crowd’ that night was listed as 6,073.
Last season, “Sell-Out Night” was held on December 30th – an announced crowd of 6,116 for home game number 17 of 40, with the Houston Aeros visiting.
Live reports estimated the actual attendance for the 10/25/11 game at right about or slightly more than a half-full BMO Harris Bank Center.
If you take the 6,116 figure out of this year’s ten game total, the IceHogs average attendance over the nine games is 3,644, which is likely more close to the real number of fans in the building for the 10/25/11 game. In that case, the IceHogs would actually be drawing 110-fewer fans to this point, as opposed to last season.
No matter the case, IceHogs’ ownership will rely on the expected huge bump in ticket sales over the winter and spring months , as they’ve seen in the three previous seasons, if they are to meet this season’s attendance and revenue goals.
Before the season, RAVE was expecting to beat last season’s total attendance, even with 2-fewer home games, the result of the AHL trimming its schedule from 80 to 76 games.
Right now, the IceHogs are on pace to come up approximately 27,500 fans short of last season’s total attendance record of 174,418.
–Free IceHogs Stuff
This weekend the IceHogs have promotional giveaways slated for both home games.
Tonight is an Applebees sponsored IceHogs pint glass for the first 1,500 fans 21 and older.
Saturday the first 1,500 fans (all ages) get an IceHogs winter beanie hat. And it is also the annual Teddy Bear toss. Fans are encouraged to bring stuffed teddy bears to toss onto the ice between periods as donations to children at local hospitals.
The pint glass on Friday is the first of a three-piece set. The second pint glass will be handed out to the first 1,500 fans on Friday December 9th when the Hogs host the Chicago Wolves. The third-piece is a pitcher mug. That goes to the first 1,500 fans on Friday December 16th when Peoria visits the BMO.
IceHogs have three Bobblehead nights scheduled.
The first is coming up on Saturday December 17th when the Milwaukee Admirals visit. The first 2,500 fans get a Rob Klinkhammer bobblehead. The other two are Friday January 20th vs Chicago (Ted Dent bobblehead) and Saturday March 24th vs Houston (Ben Smith bobblehead giveaway).
Sunday January 22nd (5:05 vs Milwaukee) is the annual “Blackhawks Night” with current, yet to be determined, Blackhawks attending to sign autographs. The players are typically those who recently played in Rockford and not your mega star Blackhawks.
—Rockford IceHogs stat trackers
Consecutive games without a goal: Shawn Lalonde (59), Dylan Olsen (58*), Brandon Bollig (29), Ryan Stanton (29), Simon Danis-Pepin (22), Joe Lavin (19*), Rob Klinkhammer (16), Philippe Paradis (13), Byron Froese (11*), Chris DiDomenico (8), Brett McLean (7), Jeremy Morin (7), Ben Youds (6), Kyle Beach (5), Jimmy Hayes (3), David Gilbert (2), Rostislav Olesz (2), Brian Fahey (1), Rob Flick (1*), Pete Leblanc (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Brandon Segal (1), Andrew Shaw (1), Ben Smith (1), Brian Connelly (0)
*denotes player looking for first-career AHL goal
Consecutive games without a point: Dylan Olsen (24), Byron Froese (11**), Philippe Paradis (9), Chris DiDomenico (5), Ben Youds (4), Shawn Lalonde (3), Rob Klinkhammer (3), Brandon Bollig (2), Simon Danis-Pepin (2), Joe Lavin (2), David Gilbert (2), Ryan Stanton (1), Jeremy Morin (1), Kyle Beach (1), Jimmy Hayes (1), Rostislav Olesz (1), Brian Fahey (1), Rob Flick (1**), Pete Leblanc (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Brandon Segal (1), Andrew Shaw (1), Ben Smith (1), Brett McLean (0), Brian Connelly (0)
**denotes player without career AHL point