By Chris Block
It’s another 3-in-3 this weekend for the Rockford IceHogs, beginning tonight when the Chicago Wolves drive up Interstate 90 to the BMO Harris Bank Center for a 7:05 puck drop.
The Wolves have won each of two meetings two far, a back-to-back, home and home affair on October 21-22. Rockford and Chicago will see each other 12 times this season. The final meeting coming on Sunday February 26th in Rockford. After tonight, the two teams will next face off on December 29th at Allstate Arena. So, the other eight meetings will come in January and February.
Chicago (9-8-1-3) is 4th in the West Division, sitting 5 points (and with a game in hand) above 5th and last-place Rockford. It’s already becoming a broken record, but the IceHogs really need these two points tonight to keep from falling too far behind the pack.
Saturday night, Grand Rapids visits the BMO. It will be the final time this season to see Detroit Red Wings prospects at the BMO. Rockford has defeated the Griffins in two meetings already this season, including a 3-2 opening night victory in front of a crowd of 5,434. The two teams will wrap their 4-game season series this coming Wednesday night in Grand Rapids.
On Sunday, the IceHogs travel to Milwaukee (13-6-0-1) for their first visit to the Bradley Center this season. These two teams have yet to face off in 2011-12 and will do so 12 times before its all said and done. The Admirals are a modest 6-4 at home this year. By Sunday, Milwaukee will also be playing their 3rd game in as many days as they host Grand Rapids tonight, and visit the Chicago Wolves tomorrow evening.
—Watch the IceHogs: Tonight’s Rockford IceHogs – Chicago Wolves game will be televised locally in Chicago by the Wolves at 7pm on My50-Chicago, WPWR channel 50.
—How Rusty Goes….: Upon Rostislav Olesz’s arrival in Rockford, the Hogs were 3 games below .500 at 5-8-1-0. Olesz immediately made an impact, posting a goal and assist in each of his first three games and two helpers in his fourth game. Rockford went 3-1-0 in Olesz’s initial four games (3g, 5a, +6, 12sog) with the IceHogs. In the four games since, Rockford has gone 0-4-0, with three of those losses coming on home ice. Olesz had one point in his last four games (0g, 1a, -3, 17sog), an assist on Jimmy Hayes’ power play goal in the first period of Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Peoria this past Sunday.
Rockford is now 5 games below .500 (8-13-1-0), in worse shape than when Olesz arrived.
Olesz is by far the most advanced and pure talented player on the IceHogs roster. When he chooses to, he can take a game over at this level. The ‘Hogs need more from Olesz if they’re going to make a push to get back to the .500 mark and into the playoff race. Olesz has said he’ll begin granting media requests this week.
—McLean talks about “the process” and staying positive: One of the veterans brought in during the off season to help lead and guide another very young group of prospects is center Brett McLean. The 33-year old returned to North American hockey after two seasons with Swiss-league Bern where he posted 23 goals and 37 assists in 84 games during his time there. McLean was a member of Bern’s 2010 Swiss-championship team. Beforehand, McLean made stops in the NHL with Chicago, Colorado and Florida. The 13-year pro has 6 goals and 17 points in 22 games with Rockford this season. He’s skated pretty much his entire stint thus far on the top line with winger, and team captain, Brandon Segal.
McLean has 1 goal and 3 assists over his last 10 games. Ten games Rockford is 3-7-0-0 in. Recently, McLean and Segal have been skating with Philippe Paradis, who replaced a struggling Jeremy Morin on that top line. Paradis was inserted there not for his offense, but for his energy and physicality, much like what Andrew Shaw has brought to Brandon Pirri’s line.
McLean is trying to remain positive during a losing stretch when the effort has been there on most nights, but the results have not.
“We are disappointed with where we are right now,” said McLean after last Saturday night’s loss to Abbotsford. “We’d definitely like to be at least .500. We feel we maybe should be there, but we’re not going to make it up in one game or in one weekend.
“It’s about the process for us. It is going to take some time for us to get back to .500. You’ve just got to believe that the wins are going to come.”
–The team announced this afternoon that Brett McLean will leave the IceHogs at the end of this month to join Team Canada for the annual Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland from December 26-31.
I don’t know what kind of message this sends to a team currently five games south of .500, but in leaving the team, McLean will miss a minimum of four IceHogs’ games, all divisional opponents.
—Byron Froese was recalled from Toledo this week. Center Byron Froese was assigned to the Toledo Walleye back on November 27. The temporary demotion seemed to have more to do with getting Froese some needed ice time and a shot of confidence.
In 11 games with the Hogs this season, Froese is without a point despite seeing minutes skating on the power play (at the point) and skating regularly with Kyle Beach on the Hogs’ third line early on in the season.
Game rosters are shorter in the ECHL, dressing 16 skaters as opposed to 18 in the AHL and NHL. So ECHL teams largely rotate three lines throughout their games, thus giving forwards like Froese plenty of quality minutes. Its been four years since the AHL bumped from 17 to 18 skaters on game rosters.
In Toledo, Froese played in 3 games, posting 1 goal and 1 assist (+2, 5sog). The goal was an empty-netter on Nov 30th in a 4-1 win over the Chicago Express.
It’ll be interesting to see where head coach Ted Dent uses Froese tonight. The IceHogs badly need a checking line to emerge now as the games get tighter and the grind of the AHL season sets in. Froese could fill the role of a checking line center, but Pete Leblanc is currently in that third line role as he’s providing offense for a team that isn’t getting it consistently on the top two lines. And now with Rob Klinkhammer gone (the checking role is one Klinkhammer excelled in last season with Evan Brophey) Rockford has one less defensive-minded forward that can play in their top nine. McLean and Segal wind up taking a lot of the main checking assignments, which is a reason for that line’s lack of offensive production of late.
—Power Play in the dumps again: While ranked 17th overall in the AHL (17.5%, 20-114), Rockford’s power play has hit the skids recently, going 1 for its last 19 (or 5.3%); the lone tally coming off Jeremy Morin’s stick (and doorstep feed from Brian Connelly) in Sunday’s loss at Peoria.
Statistically, if you can tie one single-most aspect of the IceHogs’ game to their record so far it’s Special Teams.
In Rockford’s 8 wins, the power play is 12 for 28 (31.6%)
In their 14 losses, the IceHogs’ power play has gone 8 for 76 (10.5%)
On the other side, the PK is 81.8% (27-33) in the 8 wins.
In Rockford’s 14 losses, the PK is 49-67 (73.1%)
At home, the IceHogs PP is ranked 19th in the AHL (16.1%). Tonight they’ll face a Chicago Wolves’ Penalty Kill ranked 9th in the AHL (83.7%) overall. But that Wolves’ PK is lights-out at home (26 for 28, 92.9%) and not nearly as good away from Allstate Arena. On the road, Chicago’s PK is ranked 23rd in the AHL, 12 goals against on 58 chances, for a 79.3% PK success rating. The Wolves gave up two power play tallies (on 5 chances against) in its most recent road game, last Friday in Grand Rapids.
IceHogs’ consecutive games without a goal: Shawn Lalonde (62), Dylan Olsen (61*), Brandon Bollig (32), Ryan Stanton (32), Simon Danis-Pepin (22), Joe Lavin (22), Philippe Paradis (16), Byron Froese (11*), Chris DiDomenico (8), Ben Youds (8), Kyle Beach (5), Rostislav Olesz (5), Brian Fahey (4), David Gilbert (4), Brandon Pirri (4), Andrew Shaw (4), Brandon Segal (4), Brian Connelly (3), Rob Flick (3*), Pete Leblanc (2), Brett McLean (1), Ben Smith (1), Jimmy Hayes (0), Jeremy Morin (0)
*Dylan Olsen, Byron Froese & Rob Flick are looking for their 1st career AHL goal
IceHogs’ consecutive games without a point: Dylan Olsen (27), Byron Froese (11**), Shawn Lalonde (6), Ben Youds (6), Brandon Bollig (5), Chris DiDomenico (5), Joe Lavin (5), Brian Fahey (4), David Gilbert (4), Andrew Shaw (4), Ryan Stanton (4), Rob Flick (3**), Simon Danis-Pepin (2), Pete Leblanc (2), Kyle Beach (1), Brett McLean (1), Philippe Paradis (1), Brandon Segal (1), Ben Smith (1), Brian Connelly (0), Jimmy Hayes (0), Jeremy Morin (0), Rostislav Olesz (0), Brandon Pirri (0)
**Byron Froese and Rob Flick are looking for their 1st career AHL points.
—Shawn Lalonde was a minus-3 in Peoria on Sunday. Ted Dent hasn’t exactly been enamored with Lalonde’s play of late and could have a quick trigger once again if Lalonde doesn’t turn things around quickly.
–Since the 5-goal outburst in two games (Nov 23+25), Brandon Pirri has 0 goals, 1 assist (-4, 11sog) in the Hogs’ last four games, all losses.
—Jeremy Morin: 3 goals, 6 assists, -4, 48 shots (6.3%) – last 18 games.
—Carter Hutton let in some bad goals in Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Peoria, but look for him to see more action this weekend. Alec Richards will get at least a game of the three this weekend for sure (you’d figure), but he’s on a short leash with his team desperate for wins.
In Richards’ last six appearances (Oct 29 – Dec 2), the 24-year old Yale product has allowed 20 goals against 155 shots (.871 sv%) and a 5.09 average goals against over sixty minutes. Richards allowed a goal on the first shot he faced in relief of the injured Alexander Salak last Friday against Lake Erie and two others he’d probably prefer to have back later on in that 4-1 defeat.
Last weekend Ted Dent told us it was “fair” to say Richards is struggling with his confidence right now.
—Brandon Bollig’s minute and five second long fight with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from last Saturday night’s game with Abbotsford is up now at HockeyFights.com.