By Chris Block
Behind another stellar week of goaltending from Carter Hutton, the Rockford IceHogs picked up five of a possible six points last week to improve their record to 26-26-2-5.
This marks the first time the IceHogs have sat at the .500 mark since way back on October 28th when the team was 4-4-0-0 after a win at Peoria, the same night Kyle Beach went down with a dislocated right shoulder.
The week began on Wednesday night as a flu bug hit the Rockford dressing room. The IceHogs, weakened also by the Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig call ups to Chicago earlier in the week, and without Jeremy Morin, put forth an amazing effort against the visiting Abbotsford Heat, one of the AHL’s best road teams.
Ben Smith was credited with his team-leading 8th power play goal to get the ‘Hogs on the board first. The goal was originally given to Ben Youds but the official scoring was flipped the next day. That goal also ended a 0 for 30 slump for the IceHogs power play units. And they needed just 3 seconds on their first power play of the night to end that nightmarish streak. The newest IceHog, Matt Fornataro knocked in his second goal in his fourth game since joining the team. The game went to seven rounds in the shootout with Abbotsford scoring four times on Hutton while Heat goalie Danny Taylor allowed three from the IceHogs. Rockford lost 3-2 but picked up a point.
Carter Hutton was the only reason the IceHogs were even in the game in Milwaukee after forty minutes on Friday night. Since signing an NHL contract with the Blackhawks on Feb 24, Hutton has been incredible for Rockford. The game was a rematch of the goalie-duel from six days earlier at the BMO between Hutton and Atte Engren. Hutton prevailed in that game winning 2-1 in a shootout. Engren stopped 35 shots in that game. In Friday’s contest, Rockford was outshot 33-13 after two periods but the game was tied 1-1 heading into the third period. In the final frame, the IceHogs got goals from Brandon Pirri (his team-leading 22nd) and Jeremy Morin (13th) to take the game 3-1. Rockford is now 5-1-0-1 against Milwaukee this season and have five game left with the Admirals beginning with a home-and-home this coming Saturday and Sunday.
Hutton got the call again on Saturday night in Peoria, making his sixth consecutive start. He had to be sharp early as Peoria dominated the first period. Adam Cracknell put Peoria up 1-0 with a power play tally 13:49 into the game. But Rockford came on in the second period and carried the action the rest of the way outshooting Peoria 27-14 in the final forty minutes. Pete Leblanc and Ben Youds scored in the third period to give the IceHogs the 2-1 come-from-behind win.
As noted, the IceHogs have a light schedule ahead of them this week. They are off until Saturday night when they visit the Bradley Center again. A rematch the next night in Rockford at 5:05 is the only other game ahead this week. That gives the team a full six days off between games since they bus the day of games when playing in Milwaukee.
—Carter Hutton set Rockford AHL franchise marks for most saves in a game on Friday night at Milwaukee, stopping 44 Admirals’ shots in sixty minutes in route to a 3-1 win at the Bradley Center.
The 44-save performance by Carter Hutton set an IceHogs’ goaltending record for most saves in regulation. The prior record of 43 saves was set last season by Hannu Toivonen. The 44 saves, both in a game and a win, also matches Toivonen who did that twice last March in beating Hamilton and Milwaukee in a shootout and overtime respectively.
Hutton’s record now stands at 15-8-0-3. His 91.6% save percentage is 18th in the AHL at the moment. The IceHogs single-season best save percentage is 91.7%, held by Corey Crawford (2008-09) and Wade Flaherty (2007-08).
For Hutton, who was recalled from Toledo to replace an injured Alexander Salak back on December 3rd, he has been nothing short of spectacular since the start of January.
In 2012, Hutton is 12-4-0-2 with two shutouts. He’s posted a 2.07 goals against and 92.8 save percentage in 18 starts and one brief relief appearance after Alexander Salak’s mental breakdown and hissy fit in a third period collapse in Hamilton on Feburay 18th.
In his last six consecutive starts (since the Salak meltdown in Hamilton), Carter Hutton is 5-0-0-1 with a 1.12 GAA and 96.2% save percentage. In those six games, the IceHogs have supported Hutton by scoring 12 goals but he has allowed just 7 total in regulation and overtime.
With just 17 games remaining in the regular season, Hutton would need 14 wins to tie Corey Crawford’s IceHogs’ record for most wins in a season, 29 (in 2007-08). However, Crawford also lost 19 games and another 5 in the shootout that year. While Hutton figures to get a clear majority of the remaining starts, he has a tendency to run hot and cold and Alexander Salak or Alec Richards will likely get a handful of what’s left this season.
–Speaking of the injured Kyle Beach, his return to the line up is now targeted for either March 20th at home versus Hamilton or the weekend immediately following when the Houston Aeros are in Rockford for a pair Friday-Saturday, March 23-24.
The current estimate is keeping with the internal timeline targeted for Beach since mid-January. However, at that time the feeling was they were “hopeful” Beach would make it back by the end of March so he could at least play in a handful of games before the regular season ends for the IceHogs on April 14th. Should Beach return the week of March 20-25, a stretch of four games in six days beginning Tuesday the 20th, he’ll be available to play in the IceHogs final 10-12 regular season contests. Considering at one point it was feared Beach’s season was over, this is great news all around.
–While the playoffs are realistically still a bit out of the IceHogs’ reach, getting back to the .500 mark has been a goal the team has been aiming at for some time now. With the success and confidence they’ve built against Milwaukee this season, if the IceHogs can sweep this coming weekend’s home-and-home, they just may put themselves in a position to make the battle for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West a bit more interesting.
When all is said and done though, the IceHogs no doubt will be kicking themselves for how they started the month of Feburary.
After a 9-3-0-1 month of January, Rockford began February by going 1-5-1-0.
When January ended, the IceHogs were within one game of .500. Then, after running 1-5-1-0 to start February, they found themselves back to five games below the .500 mark. Since then they’ve gone 5-0-0-1 led by the outstanding work of Carter Hutton and a commitment to team defense and sacrificing the body in their defensive zone.
Had Rockford gone even .500 in those initial seven games in February, you’d probably be looking a team tied for the 10th spot right now and would have a realistic chance at the postseason.
—A tale of two halves: As a team, the IceHogs have allowed 2 goals or less 24 times this season. 17 of those games (out of a total of 26) have come since January 1st. (*These figures exclude shootout decisions in goal totals. So, only goals scored through overtime count)
On the flip side, Rockford has allowed 4 goals or more on 25 occasions through 59 games. Just 8 of those have come since January 1st.
–In 2012, the IceHogs are 7-3-0-1 on home ice. Remember, this is a team that started the season at home 3-9-0-0. They’re now a game short of .500 on home ice at 13-14-0-2.
On the road in 2012, the IceHogs are 8-5-1-1.
Of the 17 games remaining, 9 are at the BMO including the final three games of the regular season (2 vs Charlotte, 1 vs Milwaukee).
–As noted above, after going a stretch of 0 for 30 on the power play, Rockford needed just 3 seconds on its first power play Wednesday night versus Abbotsford to end that slide. The power play is 2 for 10, including that goal, since.
–Rockford’s Penalty Kill, once the worst in the AHL, has climbed into a tie at 22nd. Since the beginning of February, they’ve given up 5 goals against 64 chances for a 92.2% success rate.
–With the recalls of Bollig and Shaw, the IceHogs recalled Paul Zanette from the Toledo Walleye.
They also signed winger Marc-Olivier Vallerand to a PTO this past Wednesday. Vallerand had scored 27 goals in 54 games with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL. He was scouted by Blackhawks pro scout Ryan Stewart and became available three days prior to signing with Rockford after spending a couple of games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL) where he was also on a PTO.
—Jeremy Morin missed this past Wednesday night’s game against Abbotsford with the flu. The team had a flu bug going around the dressing room last week. Morin tried to take the warmup before taking on the visiting Heat, but left the ice quickly and was a late scratch. Morin was back in Ted Dent’s lineup two nights later in Milwaukee scored a power play goal late to seal the IceHogs 3-1 victory at the Bradley Center.
—Ryan Stanton ended a personal 67-game goal scoring drought on Friday in Milwaukee when his point shot redirected in off a Milwaukee player and past goaltender Atte Engren at 12:27 of the first period to give Rockford a 1-0 lead. Stanton followed this up on Saturday night in Peoria where he assisted on both IceHogs’ tallies in the 2-1 victory over the Rivermen.
—Pete Leblanc set his career, and a 2011-12 IceHogs single-game high in shots on goal with 10 at Peoria on Saturday night. Leblanc was all over the ice against the Rivermen. His 18th goal of the season at 2:53 of the third period tied the game 1-1 and set the tone for the Hogs to dominate the final frame.
Coincidentally, the two previous season highs this season were also set in Peoria. Brandon Pirri was credited with 8 shots on net (1 goal) at Peoria on New Years Eve and Brett McLean had 7 shots (2 goals) in the aforementioned October 28th game at Carver Arena.
The IceHogs AHL record for most shots on goal in a game, 12, belongs to Jack Skille, who set the mark on January 7, 2009 at Grand Rapids.
–Ottawa Senators gave Rob Klinkhammer a call to the big show on Saturday. Klinkhammer, 25, was in Ottawa’s line up on Sunday for a 4-2 loss at Florida. He skated 13:34, had 2 shots on goal and was a plus-1 in the game. It was only Klinkhammer’s second career NHL game. The other came with the Blackhawks last season, a December 8, 2010 game versus the Stars at United Center. Klinkhammer wore number 59 with the Hawks. He has number 36 right now with the Sens.
Klinkhammer found a second-life with the Binghamton Senators, last season’s AHL Calder Cup champions turned the AHL’s worst team this season, since being traded to the Ottawa Senators organization on December 2nd. The Blackhawks received a conditional 7th round pick in the 2013 draft as compensation for the 6-3 winger.
With the IceHogs, Klinkhammer posted 2 goals and 4 assists in 18 games. Five of those points (2g, 3a) came in the first two games of Rockford’s season. Since the December 2nd trade, Klinkhammer was provided Binghamton with 12 goals, 23 assists (35pts) in 35 games played. Klinkhammer had been Binghamton’s leading scorer until he was edged out of the junior Sens’ top spot by teammate Mike Hoffman.
Interesting to note Klinkhammer’s recall comes in a period when he’s seemingly lost his scoring touch again. Klinkhammer has just one goal in his past 15 AHL games. But he does have 14 helpers in that 15 game span while also being a minus-4. The latter number should be kept in perspective though understanding Binghamton is the worst team in the AHL and there are only two other teams in the league that have given up more goals against than Binghamton.
Another former IceHog to spend time in the NHL this season is Evan Brophey. The 6-3 former scoring pivot turned checking center in the AHL was called up for 3 games earlier this season with the Colorado Avalanche. Brophey averaged 4 minutes and 10 seconds for the Avs over those three contests and was held off the scoresheet.
With the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado’s AHL affiliate), Brophey has already destroyed his totals from a season ago in Rockford.
Brophey currently leads the Monsters in scoring with 15 goals and 20 helpers. Those 35 points (in 56 games) have almost doubled his offensive output of last season when he posted 10 goals and 9 assists in 67 games in his final season in Rockford.
–One-time Blackhawks prospect Akim Aliu was in town with his newest team, the Abbotsford Heat this past Wednesday night to face the IceHogs. Aliu has notorious personality conflicts with coaches and players and his focus has left a lot to be desired in every place he’s played. Aliu was drafted by the Blackhawks 56th overall during the 2nd round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft under the suggestion of then assistant general manager Rick Dudley.
Abbotsford is Aliu’s fourth AHL team in three seasons (Rockford, Chicago, Peoria, Abbotsford). He spent the early part of this season in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles after being kicked off the Jets’ farm team in St. Johns. Winnipeg loaned him to the Salzburg Red Bulls and was teammates with Marty Turco for a holiday tournament hosted by the Red Bulls prior to Christmas. After returning, the Jets loaned Aliu to Abbotsford. On January 30th the Jets and Flames completed a trade officially sending Aliu to the Flames organization in return for John Negrin, a 22-year old defenseman picked fourteen spots after Aliu by the Flames in the 2007 draft.
As part of the Flames attempt to reform him, they forced Aliu to shave his Mohawk. At least at this point, Aliu is happy in Abbotsford and they seem happy with him. We’ll wait and see how this develops. In Abbotsford, Aliu is now teammates with other former IceHogs Brian Connelly (who Aliu did play with) and Hugh Jessiman. Former Blackhawk Quintin Lang is also on Abbotsford as is one-time Chicago Steel defenseman Joe Piskula.
Aliu scored what amounted to the game-tying goal on Wednesday night in Rockford when he sprung free on a breakaway and beat Cater Hutton midway through the second period to tie the game 2-2. Abbotsford eventually won the game in a shootout.
–IceHogs individual games without a goal: Simon Danis-Pepin (33), Chris DiDomenico (32), Wade Brookbank (31), Shawn Lalonde (21), David Gilbert (18), Brandon Svendsen (18), Byron Froese (16), Rob Flick (13), Philippe Paradis (13), Brian Fahey (10), Rostislav Olesz (9), Paul Zanette (8*), Andrew Shaw (6), Kyle Beach (5), Joe Lavin (5), Marc-Olivier Vallerand (5), Matt Fornataro (2), Ben Smith (2), David Toews (2*), Brandon Bollig (1), Jimmy Hayes (1), Jeremy Morin (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Ryan Stanton (1), Pete Leblanc (-), Dylan Olsen (-), Ben Youds (-)
(*) Denotes without a career AHL goal
–IceHogs individual games without an assist: Wade Brookbank (76), Brandon Bollig (15), Philippe Paradis (15), Joe Lavin (13), Dylan Olsen (13), Simon Danis-Pepin (13), Jeremy Morin (12), Pete Leblanc (9), Paul Zanette (8*), Byron Froese (5), Marc-Olivier Vallerand (5), Brian Fahey (4), Rob Flick (4), Brandon Svendsen (4), David Gilbert (3), Jimmy Hayes (2), Shawn Lalonde (2), Andrew Shaw (2), David Toews (2*), Ben Youds (2), Kyle Beach (1), Matt Fornataro (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Ben Smith (1), Chris DiDomenico (-), Rostislav Olesz (-), Ryan Stanton (-)
(*) Denotes without a career AHL assist