Ryan Schnell (38) fights Milwaukee’s Michael Liambas Nov 22 in Rockford
photo courtesy of Rockford IceHogs
By Chris Block
Rockford IceHogs have rolled off four consecutive wins, all without their captain Joakim Nordstrom, veteran goaltender Michael Leighton and leading scorer Mark McNeill. The latter three wins also came without Adam Clendening and Phillip Danault.
In the process, the depleted IceHogs grabbed three wins from divisional foes this past weekend to solidify Rockford with the best record (14-4-0-1, .763) in the AHL. It started with 4-3 come-from-behind overtime win over Iowa on Friday.
The only games Rockford has lost this season have been to Milwaukee (3 times) and Rochester. Their shootout competition loss came in Toronto on October 19th, after 67 minutes of scoreless hockey.
The IceHogs snapped an 8-game losing streak, stretching back to last season, when they finally defeated the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday night in Rockford by a 3-2 score in what may have been the best 60 minutes of hockey Rockford’s been a part of all season.
No team in the AHL has been in more games decided by 1-goal than Rockford. And no team has more one-goal victories than the IceHogs.
IceHogs are 7-3-0-1 in one-goal games, and 3-0-0-0 in two-goal decisions.
The team’s success in the first quarter of the season (19 of 76 games) can be mostly attributed to goaltending and special teams.
Rockford’s penalty kill ranks 8th overall in the league, but if you throw out the PK’s 4-4 stinker at home versus Lake Erie on Nov 4th, the PK would be 61 for 67 (91.1%) on the season, which would be tops in the AHL over the Hershey Bears, who have played 18 games so far and are 90.5%.
The IceHogs power play, while not even good enough to be called mediocre on home ice, has been good enough on the road (22.0%) to rank 10th overall in the league (18.3%) through the first quarter of the season.
IceHogs goaltenders have recorded two shutouts. Leighton got an official shutout for his efforts in the 1-0 shootout loss at Toronto in mid-October. Mac Carruth, in his first AHL action of the season, shutout the Chicago Wolves 3-0 in Rosemont on Sunday. It was a game that Carruth probably saved in the game’s first 12 minutes from spiraling out of control until the IceHogs settled in and killed off some early penalties.
Rockford’s goaltending has consistently been good to great so far. Scott Darling has been tremendous in his 8 starts, going 7-2-0-0 with a 1.97 GAA and save percentage of 93.2% in 9 appearances overall.
Michael Leighton, who has missed the past six IceHogs game with a back injury suffered on Nov 10th at an off-ice team day activity, did his best work while Darling was on recall with the Blackhawks. Leighton is 5-2-1-1 with a 2.32GAA and 91.7% save.
Leighton is expected back this weekend. Mac Carruth was reassigned by the Hawks to ECHL Indianapolis on Monday.
Phillip Danault was returned to the IceHogs after two games filling in for Andrew Shaw over the weekend. He’ll be in the lineup on Wednesday night when Rockford hosts the Iowa Wild for the second time in six days. The IceHogs defeated the Wild on a Ryan Hartman overtime-winner last Friday.
Mark McNeill (knee) also could return this week.
As good as the IceHogs penalty kill has been, it hasn’t been as overworked as it has been in recent years.
And this is probably the biggest single factor in Rockford’s first quarter success.
The IceHogs have cut back on minor penalties from last season. Comparing the first quarter of this year to last, Rockford has offered the opposition 14 fewer power plays this year to last. This is a decrease of 16.5%.
Four points now separate the IceHogs and Wolves after Sunday’s game, but there is a big home-and-home between Rockford and the Wolves ahead this Friday-Saturday.
Milwaukee trails Rockford by six points, but the Admirals also have three games in hand on the ‘Hogs.
So while the IceHogs are off to a terrific start, things still couldn’t be too much tighter atop the AHL’s Midwest Division.
On his weekly “Hog Talk” television show this past Monday, Ted Dent was speaking about the differences in his team this season and how the IceHogs have been more effective this season against their top rivals than in past years.
“Well, we’ve sort of learned that you have to play that high-skill, high-pace game the last couple of years and got away from the penalty minutes, and the fighting, like maybe three years ago.” Dent explained.
“Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Chicago are always teams that aren’t penalized. They don’t take a lot of penalties…. We sort of learned that you have to match the same way they play. If we take too many penalties, [those teams] can hurt you on the power play. We’ve adapted that style. So, we all sort of play the same style right now.”
Dent’s comment about getting away from the fighting, in particular, got me curious.
I hadn’t really given it much thought, and maybe it’s something that just hasn’t stuck out to me because fighting on the IceHogs this year has been so far spread around that it hasn’t seemed like a lot.
However, in fact, Dent’s team’s fighting is up 157% as compared to the first quarter of the season last year.
Below are the IceHogs’ fighting stats through the initial 19 games from the past 6 seasons. Ted Dent became the head coach beginning with the 2011-12 season, Bill Peters was the bench boss for the bottom two years listed here.
|Season||Fights Per Gm||Fighting Majors||TSH||IceHogs’ Record|
[TSH = Times short-handed]
As you can see, fighting on the IceHogs is way up this season as compared to the early returns for the previous three seasons, all under Dent.
That shouldn’t be much of a surprise for two reasons.
With Brandon Mashinter, Cody Bass and Pierre-Cedric Labrie being regulars, and AHL signing Ryan Schnell drawing in six times so far this year, there would figure to be a healthy dose of fighting majors.
However, between those four noted pugilists, they represent just 39% (7) of the IceHogs’ 18 fighting majors through 19 games.
IceHogs fights: Schnell (3), Mashinter (2), Johns (2), Hartman (2), Svedberg (2), Bass (1), Labrie (1), Ross (1), Nordstrom (1), Dahlbeck (1), McNeill (1), Brennan (1)
The other reason undeniably comes from the top. When Stan Bowman publicly stated in September how the organization values the ‘Enforcer’ role and “element” that role provides, that message trickled down to some players living on the bubble in Rockford.
The one guy in that group who I’d really question fighting at this point is Svedberg. He is 6’9” and because of that will be targeted by opposing players looking to make a name, or draw attention to themselves. However, Svedberg is still not much more than a stick figure and is coming off surgery for a blown out shoulder. But when you have 8 AHL-caliber defensemen on a roster and Svedberg has been the odd guy out when Dent’s had full manpower, I suppose Svedberg feels he has to do whatever he can to stay in the lineup.
This one’s been lying around for a while. Here’s a follow up to our news a few months back on the Blackhawks analytics’ position.
Andrew Contis, a Culver Military Academy and Michigan State graduate, joined the Blackhawks hockey operations staff officially in August. He serves in the Blackhawks video analysis and ‘analytics’ position that was vacated by Adam Gill, who transferred to become the Rockford IceHogs’ video coach in July.
Contis was hired away from the O2K Management group in Los Angeles, where Contis worked last year after he graduated with a BA in Economics from Michigan State in 2013. Contis also interned with O2K during his time at MSU.
O2K represents Brandon Bollig, Raffi Torres, T.J. Oshie, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Garrison, Tyler Ennis, among other NHLers.
While at O2K, Contis was responsible for tracking and comparing player’s advanced statistics and trends for the purpose of assisting contract negotiations. Contis was also worked on the Michigan State hockey staff, marking and breaking down game video for coaching analysis.
Because the Blackhawks are so secretive about what their analytics entails, Contis’ position doesn’t have an official title, though he is an official member of the Hawks’ staff.
Matt Oates is one of O2K’s lead agents. He’s an Evanston native who would be best known to Blackhawks fans as the other player the team acquired when Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan were traded to New York in March of 1994 in exchange for Tony Amonte. Oates never made it to the NHL, but did skate in a handful of games with the Chicago Wolves in early 1998.
I do think it’s cute though now that the Blackhawks’ official Twitter account now lists Corsi updates during games. It’s cute because the analytics the Blackhawks do employ behind the scenes is so far beyond your standard Corsi or Fenwick that it’s almost like they’re mocking that ‘analytics’ crowd now. Even though I’m sure that’s not those actually punching the tweet button’s intention.
How much the team actually puts its self-evaluation analytics to use in another matter of conjecture.
—Scotty Bowman was watching Friday’s IceHogs game live on his computer. During that game, Rockford forward Ryan Schnell fought, then scored a goal and picked up an assist in the IceHogs win over Iowa. During the broadcast, Rockford play-by-play voice Mike Peck spoke of the “Gordie Howe Hat-trick,” (which is a goal, assist and a fight in one game) and how, as was said on the broadcast, Howe only had one of those in his career. Bowman forwarded a message to the Rockford broadcast booth to note that Howe actually had two ‘Gordies’ over the course of his legendary career.