By Chris Block
The American Hockey League office dealt out discipline on Tuesday in response to Sunday’s bench-clearing brawl incident in Milwaukee between the Rockford IceHogs and hosting Admirals.
In all, four players received a total of 10 games as penalty for their involvement in Sunday’s brawl. Rockford got the short-hand with two of its players each getting three games while Milwaukee got a total of four. The two teams and respective coaches were fined undisclosed amounts as well.
IceHogs center Rob Flick received 3 games for essentially instigating the incident when he skated over to Milwaukee’s crease and engaged with Admirals’ goaltender Jeremy Smith while the two teams were lining up for a face off in the neutral zone. Smith got a 1 game suspension.
Smith and Flick appeared to be exchanging words before Smith took a sip from his water bottle and turned around to find Flick approaching the top of his crease. At that point Smith took the first swing with his blocker at the head of Flick and the two immediately began fighting before the puck had ever dropped out near the Admirals’ blue line.
Shawn Lalonde and Milwaukee’s Michael Latta each received 3-game suspensions for leaving the penalty box to join in the melee. Those two had been sent off with off-setting fighting majors at the previous whistle. Lalonde was responding to Latta taking a run and IceHogs’ forward Brandon Svendsen, who was in a vulnerable position a few feet away from the boards.
In addition to Flick, Lalonde, Smith and Latta, both coaches – Ted Dent for Rockford and Ian Herbers were ejected from the game. Carter Hutton, Ryan Stanton and Admirals’ tough guy Zack Stortini and defenseman Jeff Foss were all also ejected essentially for being involved in fights after the original fight between Smith and Flick.
Dent and Herbers have been penalized with undisclosed fines but were not suspended. Both Milwaukee and the Rockford franchise have also been issued undisclosed fines for the incident.
Outside of Flick (3gms), Lalonde (3), Latta (3) and Smith (1) though, no other suspensions came of Sunday’s bench-clearing melee.
–The AHL does not provide any insight or explanation publicly when they hand out suspensions other than when speaking privately to the club’s general manager.
The biggest question coming out of Tuesday’s disciplinary actions is how Jeremy Smith can receive a one game suspension to Flick’s three when it was Smith who threw the first punch?
I’m guessing the Admirals claim is self-defense. It is completely true, and obvious, that Flick shouldn’t have been anywhere near Smith’s crease with a faceoff going down 65 feet away at the time. However, there were two linesman and two referees on the ice who allowed it to happen. Flick should have been whistled off for an unsportsmanlike or delay of game before a punch was ever thrown.
Earlier in the game, referee Shaun Davis gave Flick and Zack Stortini off-setting unsportsmanlike minors for doing too much yapping while lined up prior to a faceoff in the same location just outside the blue line.
But the fact remains while Flick may have incited the incident in the second period, he did not throw a punch until we was attacked by Jeremy Smith.
Smith is Milwaukee’s number one goaltender and the Admirals are currently in a dog fight with, among other teams, the IceHogs for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
–To add fuel to the AHL’s decision, because the suspensions were not handed down until late Tuesday afternoon, and with Milwaukee already in Charlotte for a Tuesday night game with the Checkers, the Admirals were able to elect to have Smith serve his suspension on Thursday night to allow the Admirals to secure a second goaltender on an emergency basis.
So, hours after learning of his suspension, Jeremy Smith started in goal for Milwaukee on Tuesday night and led the Admirals to a 4-0 shutout win over the Checkers in Charlotte to match the IceHogs in points at 76. By way of wins and points percentage, Milwaukee now sits 10th in the West with two games in hand on the 12th seeded Rockford IceHogs.
–Rockford and Milwaukee will rematch on Friday the 13th at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford for the last of the two sides 12 regular season meetings.
Flick and Lalonde will sit out the next three IceHogs games and return (I’m not sure if this is by pure coincidence or the AHL’s complete disregard of thoroughness or attention to their own schedule) just in time for that Friday night game at the BMO against Milwaukee.
On the season series, the IceHogs are 9-1-0-1 versus Milwaukee and have defeated the Admirals in all of the past 8 head-to-head contests. The last two wins over Milwaukee have come by way of the shootout, which is really important to note since the IceHogs have allowed Milwaukee a point in defeat (as they did to 8th place Peoria on Friday night at the BMO) which ultimately could come back to bite them.
Season on the brink
–The IceHogs will travel to Cleveland this weekend to a back-to-back set with the Lake Erie Monsters beginning on Friday night.
With five games remaining in the regular season, Rockford simply cannot afford to lose at all from here on out.
The IceHogs are two points behind 8-seed Peoria but they have three fewer wins than the Rivermen (so they’d lose the tie-breaker with Peoria) and still have Rochester, Milwaukee and Lake Erie jammed up in front of them for the 8th spot.
Lake Erie currently sits in 9th and is a team the IceHogs must climb over to earn a postseason berth. A weekend split in Cleveland could make that impossible.
The IceHogs and Monsters have faced off twice this season with Lake Erie winning both times at the BMO by a combined score of 8-4. Each time, however, the IceHogs went into those contests, record-wise, two games below .500 whereas now (34-29-2-6) they are five games above that line. There’s no question Rockford is playing its best hockey of the season, but when they last saw Lake Erie the IceHogs had gone into that game having won 6 of 8 and they still lost 4-3 on home ice.
After the weekend set in Cleveland, the IceHogs will wrap up the regular season next week with three games, all on their home ice. Two of those games are against Charlotte, who currently have three more points than Rockford, but also have played two fewer games to this point. The other is the aforementioned Friday the 13th game with Milwaukee.
So, while every game is a virtual must-win (and in regulation as well) its not like the IceHogs can’t help themselves or do their own dirty work in these final five games.
OLESZ POSSIBLY DONE
–Even worse news coming out of Sunday’s game in Milwaukee is the loss of perhaps Rockford’s best forward, Rostislav Olesz.
With 4:26 left in the first period, Olesz fell to the ice in a tremendous amount of pain after his right leg buckled underneath him at the IceHogs’ blue line.
Olesz had lost the puck along the right half wall and was backchecking in pursuit of Jani Lajunen when his right skate slipped out and he crashed to the ice awkwardly on his right knee. Olesz had to be helped off the ice by Matt Fornataro and down the tunnel to the IceHogs dressing room by IceHogs trainers and equipment staff.
For Olesz, if it were to be a knee injury, it’s the same right knee he had surgery on late last season while with the Panthers. He was also hampered by a right MCL issue during his 2005-06 rookie season.
Olesz had posted two-goal games for the IceHogs on both Friday and Saturday against Peoria and San Antonio. He also had an assist in Friday’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Rivermen.
In 50 games since clearing waivers in Chicago and being reassigned to Rockford in mid-November, Olesz has 17 goals and 24 assists for the IceHogs. He’s also a plus-7 and has a modest shooting percentage of 11.6%.
We are unlikely to get an update on Olesz’s condition until before Friday’s game in Lake Erie.
Olesz has two years remaining on the six-year contract extension he received from the Florida Panthers on June 30, 2008. Olesz will make $4 million in 2012-13 and $4.25M in 2013-14. Under terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, his cap hit is $3.125 million.
This summer the Blackhawks are expected to try to deal Olesz’s contract to another NHL team who believes they can use him on their NHL roster.
Going the Distance
–Rockford has earned 11 of the past 12 possible points (5-0-0-1) and has seen their past four games decided via the shootout (3-0-0-1).
Playing four straight games into a shootout has only happened once before since the IceHogs joined the AHL in 2007, in that 2007-08 season, from Nov 30 to Dec 7, 2007. The IceHogs went 2-2 in that stretch. The next game went to overtime, in Lake Erie, and they won that one 4-3 in OT.
Numbers and stuff
–Since returning from right shoulder surgery on March 23rd, Kyle Beach has 2 goals and 4 points in 6 contests. More importantly, and perhaps surprisingly, Beach didn’t do anything stupid in Sunday’s brawl in Brewer town.
–In Brandon Pirri’s last 18 games he has 4 goals and 3 assists. He’s also a minus-6 in that span. Pirri recently missed seven games with a knee injury, which he told us was the most time he’d ever been held out of action playing hockey. When he returned on Mar 24 it was acknowledged he would be gutting out the pain from the injury for a least a little while. As long as he’s in the lineup, especially now if Rostislav Olesz is lost for the foreseeable future, the IceHogs will need a lot more offense from Pirri if they hope to clinch a playoff spot.
—Mark McNeill played on Friday in the 4-3 shootout win over Peoria but skated on the fourth line and hasn’t shown much yet in his three games since being assigned here after his junior season in Prince Albert ended. McNeill was a healthy scratch for the games on Saturday and Sunday.
—Phillip Danault made his IceHogs debut in place of McNeill on Saturday night in Rockford against the San Antonio Rampage. Ted Dent even put Danault out first for the shootout that night but Danault did not convert.
—Terry Broadhurst assisted on Kyle Beach’s goal on Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee. That gives Broadhurst two assists in his four games since turning pro.
Broadhurst is extremely slight but very quick and gets in on a lot of plays. He doesn’t seem to be intimidated much yet by playing against physically stronger, more mature guys. He is 23, so I’m not sure how much bigger he’ll get? But he has sense for offense and is a skillful player. Broadhurst sat out of Friday’s game and then took veteran Wade Brookbank’s spot in the lineup for the rest of the weekend.
—Chris DiDomenico has been getting a lot of ice time over the past 20 games and with the likes of Olesz and Leblanc. While DiDomenico is performing at his highest level since coming to the Blackhawks organization, he’s still hasn’t shown much offense. In the past 20 games, DiDomenico has 1 goal to go with 4 helpers.
–After Hutton was tossed for his involvement in the brawl on Sunday, Alexander Salak stopped 24 of 25 Admirals shots in 35 minutes of action and then stopped another 4 of 5 in the shootout to secure a pivotal second point for Rockford.
The win was Salak’s first since his return performance on February 10th against the Chicago Wolves. He’d lost four decisions since then (0-3-0-1) and twice, not including Sunday, appeared in relief of Hutton.
The Blackhawks signed Carter Hutton to a contract a few days after a mental and visual Salak meltdown in Hamilton on Feb 18 that saw Salak give up three goals in a 38 second span which took the IceHogs from a 2-1 lead to being down 4-2.
Prior to Sunday’s relief effort, Salak had made two appearances in the IceHogs net since the Feb 18th game in Hamilton. The lone start was a 4-3 loss in Houston on March 16 while Hutton was on recall with the Blackhawks.
On the season, Salak is 5-8-2-0 with a 90.2% save percentage and 2.81 GAA.
Salak’s 15 starts are still 3 less than Alec Richards has had for the ‘Hogs this season.
Current IceHogs individual consecutive games without a goal: Simon Danis-Pepin (36), Shawn Lalonde (33), David Gilbert (23), Byron Froese (22), Joe Lavin (17), Ben Youds (12), Paul Zanette (12*), Chris DiDomenico (11), Ryan Stanton (10), Brandon Svendsen (10), Connor Goggin (9*), Matt Fornataro (7), Pete Leblanc (7), Terry Broadhurst (4*), Rob Flick (4), Jeremy Morin (4), Philippe Paradis (4), Mark McNeill (3*), Phillip Danault (2*), Brian Fahey (2), Ben Smith (2), David Toews (2*), Brandon Bollig (1), Wade Brookbank (1), Rostislav Olesz (1), Brandon Pirri (1), Kyle Beach (-)
*Denotes player without a career AHL goal
Note: We’ve omitted Andrew Shaw (6), Jimmy Hayes (1) and Dylan Olsen (-) now from this list since they cannot be reassigned to the IceHogs for the remainder of this regular season and playoffs since they were left off the IceHogs’ Clear Day Roster.
Current IceHogs individual consecutive games without an assist: Simon Danis-Pepin (16), Brandon Bollig (15), Shawn Lalonde (14), Paul Zanette (12*), David Gilbert (8), Wade Brookbank (5), Brian Fahey (4), Joe Lavin (4), Brandon Pirri (4), Rob Flick (3), Mark McNeill (3*), Philippe Paradis (3), Brandon Svendsen (3), Phillip Danault (2*), Byron Froese (2), Connor Goggin (2), Jeremy Morin (2), Rostislav Olesz (2), David Toews (2*), Ben Youds (2), Kyle Beach (1), Chris DiDomenico (1), Matt Fornataro (1), Pete Leblanc (1), Ben Smith (1), Ryan Stanton (1), Terry Broadhurst (-)
*Denotes player without a career AHL assist
Note: We’ve omitted Dylan Olsen (13), Jimmy Hayes (2) and Andrew Shaw (2) from this list (see above)