Photo credit: TheThirdManIn.com
By Chris Block
Rockford opened its season at home on Saturday night with a 3-2 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals.
Blackhawks 2013 1st round pick, Ryan Hartman tallied both goals for the IceHogs. Hartman benefited from skating hard in following up a Matt Carey shot late in the first period and then got a fortunate redirect late in the second when he threw a puck on net and watched it bounce off a Milwaukee defenseman and by Admirals’ goaltender Marek Mazanec.
Veteran Michael Leighton got the start for Rockford and was good, yet the tough-luck loser. Milwaukee’s game-winning goal came when Adam Clendening over-skated a puck Leighton had left for the defenseman behind the IceHogs’ goal. The puck was quickly snatched up by Milwaukee and Leighton had little chance to stop the immediate Joe Pendenza goal.
Rockford started the scoring late in the first. The scoring sequence actually began when Milwaukee winger Brendan Leipsic had a breakaway in on Leighton, but Leipsic shot the puck over the IceHogs’ net. The puck eventually came out to center where Phillip Danault stripped an Admirals’ player and stormed into Milwaukee’s zone. Danault dished to his left winger, Matt Carey, who wound up and muscled a shot through Admirals’ goalie Marek Mazanec. The puck got by the goalie but fluttered down and settled just in front of the goal line. Ryan Hartman, who had just come on a line change, was unchecked and beat a diving Milwaukee player to the puck and poked it into the back of the net to give the IceHogs the first lead of the game at 18:33.
Milwaukee evened the scored 21 seconds into the middle period when Dennis Rasmussen lost a defensive zone draw to Mark Van Guilder in the circle to the left of the ‘Hogs net. The puck went back to Austin Watson and he sniped a shot inside the far side post, past Leighton’s blocker to tie the game 1-1.
Three minutes later the IceHogs were in the middle of a power play, and about to go up 5-on-3 after Triston Grant stuck his knee out on T.J. Brennan. Instead, Joakim Nordstrom jumped Grant, in defense of Brennan. Grant, a more experience fighter, got the best of Nordstrom in the ensuing battle. Both got fighting majors. Grant got the two extra for kneeing and the IceHogs’ winger picked up the instigator minor and misconduct. So, the IceHogs didn’t get the two-man advantage but Nordstrom’s response didn’t hurt the team in the immediacy anyway. Brennan was down briefly but was okay and didn’t miss a shift.
After killing off the ‘Hogs power play, Milwaukee took the lead at 5:59 of the second period when Mark Van Guilder won a scramble in front of Leighton. Stephen Johns stepped up on Austin Watson and shoved Watson off the puck in front of the crease, but Johns had no support low on his side of the ice, so no one picked up Van Guilder and he beat Leighton to the short side to give the Admirals a 2-1 lead.
On the next shift Garret Ross and Fredrick Gaudreau traded chances as the action was fast end-to-end for the next minute.
Hartman tied the game at 16:12 of the second. Teuvo Teravainen won a draw just outside Rockford’s zone, setting up an IceHogs’ breakout. Teravainen carried the puck through center and dished to a streaking Zach Miskovic. The defenseman gained the line and dropped the puck back to Hartman, who was trailing. Hartman released a shot from the right point area that redirected off Milwaukee defenseman Taylor Aronson and past Mazanec, washing Milwaukee’s one goal advantage.
Hartman had a chance for the hat-trick on the very next shift after a Milwaukee turnover in their own zone, but Hartman was hooked down by Van Guilder. The IceHogs power play could not convert on that opportunity, or the other four they had in the contest.
Milwaukee took the lead they would not relinquish at 7:14 of the third period off a dump-in and an Adam Clendening mishandle behind Leighton. The Admirals dumped the puck in. Leighton went behind his cage and settled the puck for Clendening, who had just come on a change. Clendening mishandled the puck and Fredrick Gaudreau pounced on it just as quickly. Gaudreau fed his winger Joe Pendenza who was alone on the doorstep to Leighton’s right. Leighton couldn’t recover to his post in time and Pendenza had an easy goal, giving the Admirals the 3-2 lead.
For a brief second the Rockford faithful thought Phillip Danault had tied the game with 3 minutes to go, but Matt Carey had taken a selfish slashing penalty seconds before. So Danault’s goal was washed on the delayed penalty call. Carey had been checked off the puck along the wall just inside Milwaukee’s zone by defenseman, Johan Alm. As the two were separating, Carey slashed Alm in full sight of referee Tom Chmielewski.
On the resulting Ads’ power play, Ross and Hartman had a two-on-one chance but Ross couldn’t get his pass through the defender and across to Hartman. Later, Mazanec made a win-saving stick save on a Ross back-hander with 30 seconds left and the ‘Hogs skating the extra-attacker.
Marek Mazanec was named the game’s first star, stopping 29 of Rockford’s 31 credited shots.
Leighton allowed 3 goals against 23 Milwaukee shots on goal.
Both teams went 0 for 5 on their respective power plays.
Rockford is now off until Thursday when they’ll begin a season long 4-game road trip. It’s an odd road trip for the IceHogs, since a great percentage of their opponents are within a bus trip of Rockford. They leave Wednesday for Glen Falls, New York and will be on the road for 8 straight days. After playing Adirondack on Thursday, the IceHogs visit Hamilton (10/18), Toronto (10/19) and Rochester (10/22) before returning to the BMO for a double-shot the weekend of October 25-26.
–Saturday’s attendance of 5,228 fell way short of a sellout. In fact, last season there were 15 games in which the IceHogs drew greater crowds than they did for this year’s home opener. Last season’s opener, a Saturday, October 19th contest, drew a sellout 6,202 fans.
—Ville Pokka missed the game with a minor upper body injury. Whatever it is, he came to Rockford with it. He’s been skating with the IceHogs since his arrival but he’s wearing a no-contact jersey in practices.
—Ted Dent began his 4th year as IceHogs head coach. He’s the only coach in Rockford franchise history to make it to a 4th consecutive year as bench boss.
—Brandon Mashinter was placed on waivers by the Blackhawks on Sunday for the purpose of reassigning Mashinter to Rockford on Monday. He’s expected to clear. (He cleared and was assigned to Rockford on Monday.) That would seem spell the end of Ryan Schnell on the AHL roster for the time being, as he would be sent to Indianapolis. Though, Rockford has an 8-day 4-game road trip up next, so perhaps they keep the extra bodies around until that trip ends. Schnell is on an AHL deal. The Hawks have 23 without Mashinter (he was injured, thus couldn’t be sent down until cleared to play) so there won’t be a corresponding recall unless there’s another Blackhawks roster move to go with it.
—T.J. Brennan won the AHL “Eddie Shore Award” last season. The award is to honor the league’s best defenseman. Brennan plays a Bobby Orr style of hockey. He’s basically thinking offense all the time. He has great skill at this level, and he’s exciting to watch, but his game his high-risk to say the least.
I remember when Dustin Byfuglien was coming up through the system in Norfolk and briefly in Rockford as well. His coach was Mike Haviland. Byfuglien (strictly a defenseman at the time) did, essentially, whatever he wanted to do. Byfuglien would pinch down low and just start playing forward all of a sudden. He would join the rush and not bother getting back to his position after establishing zone control. (To be fair to Brennan, he’s not as nonchalant as Byfuglien was about this at times. Brennan pushes a high pace and does come back to his position.)
And with Brennan, as a coach it forces you to be particularly careful to who you put on the ice with him, and what forward lines he should skate with. If your coaches are teaching structure and positional discipline, Brennan’s game flies in the face of that somewhat because a too many shifts become a T.J. Brennan show. His shifts have to be with a partner whose an adept centerfielder, and forwards how are the best skaters and most defensively responsible, or you could be asking for trouble.
I was amused after Byfuglien came up to the NHL roster full-time in 2007 when there was all this talk of ‘maybe he’d be a better forward’ and about his defensive game being a little short. Well, that was because Haviland, apparently, didn’t force Byfuglien to play within a structure. It was entertaining as hell to watch Byfuglien, but what he was doing at the AHL level in Norfolk (and for one month in Rockford in 2007) was never going to fly in the NHL. So, Haviland was actually doing Byfuglien a disservice. Now, all these years later, Byfuglien is still a player that can’t stick to a position.
When you watch Brennan, you see some similar issues. How he plays at the American League level is exciting, and he is skilled enough to get away with it. But it would never fly on an NHL team. It’s a big fish in the little pond style blue liner.
I was a little perplexed to see Brennan’s name in the Nick Leddy deal to begin with. It’s nothing against Brennan. Again, he’s exciting and makes any minor league team more dangerous to play against. But he couldn’t play the way he does here under Joel Quenneville. And if he’s in Rockford, what’s to say Brennan’s style or tendencies don’t rub off on the other defensemen, not to mention the forwards? Is that something you want to risk if you’re the Blackhawks?
In game one, Teravainen had two shifts I can recall off the top of my head that he started with the puck in his own end and tried to skate across the middle of the ice and stickhandle around 2-3 Milwaukee players. In both attempts, he lost the puck at the offensive blue line. That may or may not have been influenced by seeing Brennan attempt similar plays, but either way, you know four guys standing around watching one teammate go it alone isn’t what you’re looking for.
It’s possible Bowman wanted Brennan in the Leddy deal because he felt the concept of getting the reigning AHL ‘defenseman of the year’ would make the Leddy loss look a little better on paper. Or, Brennan is here because there’s a trade potentially coming down the road that will include sending one of the IceHogs’ top young blue liners elsewhere.
–One more note in regards to Brennan: He skated the first power play unit alongside Adam Clendening in Saturday’s opener. On paper that may seem to be the right thing to do. Brennan’s greatest quality to Rockford would be on the power play, should he stick around with the IceHogs. Brennan was dominant last year on the PP with the Toronto Marlies, leading the AHL with 32 PP assists. He and Clendening together on one unit would seem like a dominant combo at first blush. However, last year’s IceHogs’ power play ran through Clendening. He was the setup guy. Plugging Brennan into that first unit essentially takes the stick out of Clendening’s hands, which, I don’t know why you would want to do. You could see early on the IceHogs were trying too hard to get the puck onto Brennan’s stick and Clendening wound up being too much of a spectator. The IceHogs are probably better off splitting those two up and only going the Brennan-Clendening route when loading up for delayed penalties, crucial late-game power plays or empty-net situations.
–A minute prior to the IceHogs’ first goal, Mark McNeill and Teuvo Teravainen had a 2-on-1. McNeill held the puck on his off wing and dished off his forehand to Teravainen in the slot, but Teravainen missed the net.
—Matt Carey nearly had a short-handed goal that would’ve tied the game midway through the second period. The Hogs were short after Stephen Johns roughed up his man a little too much after a whistle at the Hogs’ net. Near the end of that Admirals’ PP, a Milwaukee player skated the puck out into the low slot in front of Marek Mazanec. Carey stripped the puck and had a nice backhanded chance that was swatted away.
—Drew LeBlanc dressed in all 76 games for the IceHogs last season. He was a healthy scratch in Game 1 of the 2014-15 campaign.
–Carey pretty much took Nordstrom’s place in all situations while Nordstrom was serving his 17 minutes in penalties for instigating the fight with Triston Grant.
–The 5-on-5 pairings as constructed on Saturday worked very well. If together all season, Svedberg and Johns have potential to be a tremendous pairing for the IceHogs as the season moves along. Dahlbeck and Clendening know each other very well and Brennan being with Miskovic makes the most sense.
—Peter Regin had a strong game, I thought. He and Phillip Danault together had a great shift on the PK in the third. Though, the next time Regin was out, he was the shooter on a 3-on-2 with Broadhurst and Ross and Regin missed the mark on his best scoring chance of the night. Regin cracked his stick in disgust over the back of Leighton’s net moments later after a whistle.
Rockford IceHogs Opening Night lines & pairings for 10/11/14
23-Joakim Nordstrom / 12-Dennis Rasmussen / 24-Ryan Hartman
11-Peter Regin / 21-Teuvo Teravainen / 28-Mark McNeill
26-Garret Ross / 25-Alex Broadhurst / 22-Pierre-Cedric Labrie
27-Matt Carey / 18-Phillip Danault / 16-Cody Bass
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 2-Adam Clendening
8-Viktor Svedberg / 4-Stephen Johns
7-T.J. Brennan / 3-Zach Miskovic
Scratches: D-9-Dillon Fournier… C-14-Drew LeBlanc… F-38-Ryan Schnell
Injuries: D-Ville Pokka (upper-body, day-to-day)
Power Play I: Ross-Teravainen-Nordstrom w/ Brennan & Clendening
Power Play II: Regin-McNeill-Hartman-Broadhurst w/Dahlbeck
PK forwards: various: 18-28, 23-16, 27-16, 12-23, 18-26, 23-24, 18-11, 24-26
PK defense: Dahlbeck-Clendening, Svedberg-Johns, Brennan-Miskovic
20-Miikka Salomaki / 29-Mark Van Guilder / 51-Austin Watson
28-Brendan Leipsic / 18-Colton Sissons / 46-Pontus Aberg
21-Triston Grant / 16-Felix Girard / 33-Viktor Arvidsson
22-Joe Pendenza / 89-Fredrick Gaudreau / 24-Zach Budish
2-Anthony Bitetto / 7-Joe Piskula
55-Johan Alm / 37-Garrett Noonan
47-Jimmy Oligny / 23-Taylor Aronson