By Chris Block
The IceHogs return home on Wednesday night from last week’s 2-1 road trip when they host the Charlotte Checkers at the BMO Harris Bank Center in downtown Rockford.
Rockford closes out its regular season this week with three home games. They’ll welcome the Chicago Wolves on Friday, and the Toronto Marlies on Saturday night to wrap the season with 3 games in 4 nights.
Ted Dent’s team has solidified a playoff spot and now eyes a chance to win the Midwest division, currently led by the Grand Rapids Griffins, the affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. The IceHogs failed to qualify for postseason the past four years. They haven’t won a playoff game since Game 5 of the Conference semi-final series with the Chicago Wolves in 2008. Rockford is 0-10 in AHL playoff contests since that Game 5 in 2008. The AHL record for consecutive playoff losses is 12, set by the Buffalo Bisons in the 1950s.
Grand Rapids is one point up on Rockford. They close out the season with a 3-in-3 starting Thurday; three winnable games at Lake Erie and then home for a back-to-back set against Charlotte. Grand Rapids also currently holds the first tie-breaker, regulation wins, 42 to the IceHogs’ 41. So, Rockford will need help from Lake Erie and/or Charlotte in addition to picking up a minimum of 5 of 6 points if they’re to have a shot at jumping Grand Rapids and winning the division.
Rockford has clinched home ice in the first round. If the playoffs were to begin today, they’d face Oklahoma City (Oilers). But the Chicago Wolves are right behind OKC, trailing the Barons by a point with a game in hand. The Wolves play Fri, Sat and Sunday, so it’s likely the IceHogs would not know their first round opponent in any event until Sunday night.
The IceHogs have never won a division crown since joining the American Hockey League.
One more win this week will also set a new IceHogs’ franchise record for wins in a season.
Rockford currently holds 44 wins, a mark also achieved in 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons, under the guidance of coaches Mike Haviland and Bill Peters respectively. Ted Dent served as assistant coach on each of those benches and now looks to establish the new franchise high water mark.
Dent, and assistant coach Mark Osiecki, are also set to finish with the best overall season since Rockford joined the AHL in 2007.
While the ’07-08 and ’09-10 teams finished with 44 wins, both of those came when the AHL regular season went 80 games long. The league reduced the schedule to 76 in 2011.
The 2014-15 IceHogs are 44-22-5-2 with three games remaining. Their .651 points-earned percentage would rate as a Rockford AHL franchise-best record.
Mike Haviland led the IceHogs in their inaugural AHL season in 2007-08 with a 44-26-4-6 (.613) record, the franchise previous best finish.
Dent’s record as head coach of the IceHogs is 156-117-14-14 (.565) as he closes out his fourth season as Rockford’s bench boss.
Before Dent, Rockford was led by Bill Peters, now the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. Peters left the IceHogs in 2011 to take an assistant’s gig on Detroit’s bench next to Mike Babcock, Peters’ prior mentor as well.
In Peters’ three seasons, the IceHogs were 122-97-7-14 (.552) in regular season contests and 0-8 in the postseason. Peters became the head coach in Carolina prior to this season.
Dent is in the second of a three-year contract with the Blackhawks. He inked an extension with the organization after completing his second season as head IceHogs coach in 2012-13. The final year of Dent’s current deal is reported to be a club option.
Dent’s win percentage is ahead of Peters, .565 to .552 at this point. But both trail Mike Haviland’s record as minor league coach for the Hawks, 137-77-14-12 (.625), who coached the Hawks affiliate when it was in Norfolk for the two seasons that preceded the move to Rockford.
Haviland, of course, vacated the IceHogs job in 2008 to join the Blackhawks coaching staff, which at the time was led by Denis Savard, who was fired just four games into the ensuing season in favor of elevating Joel Quenneville from a pro scout position, an initial role Quenneville served in for under a month. Haviland was let go by Quenneville after the 2011-12 season. He went on to become the head coach of the Hersey Bears (Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate) and has since left that job to become the head coach at Colorado College.
Dent was in the mix last off season for an assistant’s position on the Toronto Maple Leafs staff, but ultimately those spots went to Steve Spott and Peter Horachek, who were both fired this past week in the long-delayed bloodletting of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dent at the time was in the mix to be Randy Carlyle’s assistant, who Dent knew from working with on the staff in Washington in the early 2000’s where Carlyle was an assistant and Dent was the video coach.
His resume in helping to produce so many current NHL players in his time as the head coach and as an assistant in Rockford should put Dent’s name in the conversations for open NHL assistant’s jobs again this off season. A strong run in the postseason would help his cause even more.
Osiecki would seem to be the heir apparent to Dent’s job if and when Dent moves on in some form. Osiecki served as the head coach for the USA at the World Junior Championships this past winter. That tournament was a disappointment for the Americans but Osiecki has had success with the U.S. junior program before, was an assistant at the University of Wisconsin and head coach a run with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) and Ohio State (NCAA) prior to joining the Blackhawks organization.
ICEHOGS ALL-NEW SWEDISH DEFENSE
Rockford welcomed three new defensemen over the past week.
Carl (Calle) Dahlstrom, Robin Norell and Robin Press all joined the IceHogs for the remainder of this season and playoffs on Amateur Try-Out contracts.
Dahlstrom made his North American pro debut on Sunday in a 4-3 loss at Charlotte.
Carl Dahlstrom is now “Calle” Dahlstrom. He’s going by Calle, so we’ll refer to him as that going forward.
Dahlstrom assisted on the IceHogs’ first goal. It came on his first shift. Dahlstrom flicked a wrist shot at the net looking for a tip, or a rebound chance. Tanner Kero came up with a nice redirection on Dahlstrom’s shot and that got by Rasmus Tirronen, who was making his pro debut in the net for Charlotte.
Norell has not dressed in a game as of yet.
Press just joined the team for his first practice on Tuesday. He got into town late last week after the IceHogs had already left for games in Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday.
Dahlstrom showed poise and confidence on Sunday. He’s tall and a good skater. He did fumble a few pucks and gave a couple turnovers when pressured, but overall it was about as good of a debut you’d expect from a young defenseman.
Norell and Press are expected to see action this week. Dahlstrom looked good and should be in as well.
OTHER ICEHOGS NOTES
—Vince Hinostroza rejoins the IceHogs this week. He missed the 3-game road trip last week to return to South Bend and attend to some school business. In 3 games with the IceHogs, the 5’9” forward has 2 assists. He was playing on a line with Dennis Rasmussen and Alex Broadhurst when he was in the lineup.
–With the Indy Fuel completing the ECHL season over the weekend and not qualifying for the playoffs, the Blackhawks re-assigned a player
Goalie Mac Carruth rejoins the IceHogs. Carruth has appeared in two games for Rockford his year. He’s 2-0-0-0. One of those wins was a shutout in Rosemont against the Wolves.
Carruth will backup Michael Leighton now that Antti Raanta’s been recalled to be the emergency goalie for the Blackhawks during playoffs.
Rockford also recalled defenseman Kirill Gotovets and Justin Holl, both players being on AHL contracts with the IceHogs.
—Jamie Wise was not recalled. The center is contracted to Rockford as well.
We’re told Wise has an upper-body injury.
–In 11 games since his return from left arm surgery, Alex Broadhurst has 5 goals, 5 assists and 23 shots on goal (21.7%). In the 15 games he skated this year prior to injury, Broadhurst has accumulated just 2 assists and was averaging 1 shot on goal per game.
Broadhurst played his 100th career AHL game on Saturday at Charlotte. In 101 pro games now, he has 21 goals, 36 assists, is a plus-1 and is shooting 14.79%.
–In his last 11 games, Phil Danault has 1 goal and 3 assists. At that rate, at some point a conversation should be had as to whether Danault is the right guy to be centering Garret Ross and Mark McNeill, the IceHogs top two scorers this season.
All three players are defensively responsible and play hard (for the most part) in all three zones, but Danault isn’t quite the offensive player as the other two. I still really like Danault’s game, but perhaps for balance sake, it be worth trying someone else between Ross and Danault during these final three games.
With the arrival of Spencer Abbott, the first-line right now (in terms of production) is the line [L-C-R] of Brandon Mashinter-Peter Regin and Abbott.
In 16 games with the IceHogs, Abbott has 20 points. 11 goals and 9 helpers. Eight of those points have come via the man-advantage (2g 6a), which has come as an enormous boost to Rockford’s sometimes maligned power play.
Abbott registered 17 goals, 52 assists for 69 points in 64 games with the Toronto Marlies last year, and another 11 points in 11 playoff games. So, he is a point-per-game potential player, who was having a down year with the Marlies this season prior to coming over in the trade for T.J. Brennan.
—Tanner Kero made his pro debut and scored a goal on his 2nd shift in Des Moines last Thursday in a 5-3 win over the Iowa Wild. Kero came off the bench during a line change, picked off a dump-in, sped through the neutral zone before scoring on a wrist shot from atop the right circle on his off wing. Kero’s far side attempt beat goalie Johan Gustafsson by the blocker. Kero has some wheels on him, so he has that going for him. He played in all three games of the road trip, picking up 2 goals.