Author Archives: Chris Block

IceHogs return to postseason after 4 years out; After a strong 2014-15, how will Rockford fare; Calder Cup 1st round preview

By Chris Block

Tonight, Rockford plays its first playoff contest since 2010 when they begin their best-of-5 opening round series with the Texas Stars in suburban Austin.

Rockford has lost the past 10 consecutive playoff games they have played. The American Hockey League record of most consecutive losses in postseason is 12, set by the Buffalo Bisons in the 1950s.  The IceHogs last playoff win came in Game 5 of their second round series with the Chicago Wolves in 2008, the IceHogs first season in the AHL. Rockford was up 3-2 in that series then lost games 6 & 7.  The Wolves would go on to with the Calder Cup that year.

While the IceHogs dominated the season series with Texas, this was about the worst draw Rockford could have asked for. The key to Rockford’s success against Texas during the regular season was catching the Stars at the right times, and a power play that ran at a 37.5% clip against the Stars this season.

Rockford can skate with any team in the West at 5-on-5. Where they have separated themselves for success is in getting elite goaltending from Michael Leighton, Scott Darling and Antti Raanta. Mac Carruth, who was in net for three games this season and went 2-1 with a shutout (at Chicago) is now the backup.

But aside from the goaltending, which, no mistake, is why the IceHogs are in the postseason, Rockford’s special teams were consistently the difference between a win and a loss in 2014-15.

Noting that, no team boasts better special teams than Texas.

Their combined special teams mark is 106.9 (86.9 PP + 20.0 PK). Texas ranks 3rd overall in the AHL, and tops in the Western Conference on the power play. Their penalty kill is 4th in the AHL and 2nd in the West. Read more »

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Dan Carcillo talks the death of Steve Montador, life away from, and after the game

YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=E9XLs4BDdjk

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Darling’s 42 saves in relief carry rallying Hawks to 4-3 win in double-OT of Game 1

By Chris Block

Opening night of the 2015 playoffs in Nashville had everything you might ask for an NHL postseason game: Double overtime, the return of a mega star, huge momentum shifts, trading scoring chances in end-to-end sequences, a dramatic game-winning goal, a blown 3-0 lead, a goalie yanking, an incredible goaltending performance, bad ice, dramatic scoring chances as a result of bad ice, bad penalty calls, bad non-penalty calls, heroes, goats and finally – one now huge goaltending controversy.

And that was just Game One.

The return of Patrick Kane just seven weeks after surgery to repair a broken left collarbone suffered on February 24 against the Florida Panthers was the big story coming into Wednesday’s playoff opener. Kane wasn’t in top form, but 75 percent or so was enough to make a big difference.

But the story coming out of the Hawks come-from-behind 4-3, double overtime victory in Game 1 is who will be the starter in Game 2.

Corey Crawford was victimized for 3 first period goals. The middle of those three was result of a Crawford turnover behind his net, but that was in part due to some bad luck in that the momentum of the puck as it approached the trapezoid slowed down as Crawford waited to play it. Read more »

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Rockford IceHogs look to make franchise history

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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. Read more »

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Who cleared Kane, and at what risk?

By Chris Block

Patrick Kane returns tonight for the Blackhawks, seven weeks to the day since surgery to repair his fractured left collarbone. Of course, Kane’s return coincides with Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarter-Final series in Nashville against the Predators.

Original projections for Kane’s return were pegged by Blackhawks lead medical physician Dr. Michael Terry at 10 to 12 weeks.

Kane was medically cleared to return to action on Monday, less than 7 weeks since the surgery.

But who cleared Kane?

The Blackhawks released a short, and peculiar statement on Monday that was worded quite interestingly, evidently by Terry himself.

The following statement was issued [Monday April 13th] by Chicago Blackhawks Head Team Physician Dr. Michael Terry:

Patrick Kane suffered a broken left clavicle on February 24, and underwent successful surgery to repair the fracture on February 25. Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty.

After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick today, we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”

That’s an incredible final sentence, there. Read more »

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Blackhawks-Predators Quarter-Final Schedule

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Special Audio: Tim Sassone Tribute podcast with Chris Kuc, Brian Hedger, Al Cimaglia and Lindsey Willhite

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By Chris Block

On Wednesday, I was honored to be joined by four friends of the late, great 25-year veteran of the Chicago Blackhawks beat, Tim Sassone.

Sassone was 58 when he succumbed to illness on March 25, 2014.

53 weeks from that day, his friends, former colleagues and competitors assembled to pay tribute to Sassone, one of the greatest sports writers Chicago has known.

I am joined by Al Cimaglia [Sirius/XM Radio] and Brian Hedger [NHL.com] for the bulk of the show. Cimaglia and Hedger swap stories of Sassone’s influence and generosity, while sharing their personal experiences and thoughts on the man each called a friend.

Then I welcome Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Sassone’s closest friend on the Blackhawks beat. Kuc and Sassone worked alongside each other from 2007 up until Tim’s passing.

For the first ten minutes of his segment, Kuc helps us dissect the big news of Wednesday. We discuss Patrick Kane participating in his first Blackhawks practice since fracturing his collar bone five weeks ago, and speculate as to what Kane’s timetable for return looks like now.

Then, Kuc shares his experiences working alongside his great friend.

Hedger and Cimaglia stay with me a give their reactions to Kuc’s comments and more on Sassone at and away from the rinks.

Finally, I sit down with Lindsey Willhite, formerly a teammate of Sassone’s at the Daily Herald. Lindsey is now the Public Relations Director for the Chicago Wolves. He shares his experiences meeting and learning under Sassone, following Tim around the day the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup in Philadelphia and the time he answered Sassone’s desk phone at the Daily Herald offices and it was Jeremy Roenick on the other end of the line.

In closing, I give my thoughts on the impact Tim Sassone had on me and talk about having the opportunity to work alongside him myself and my regret in the last interaction I had with Tim.

Click to listen below, or Right-Click Here to Download the MP3 file

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Hawks get a bounce, a late Toews goal and one huge win in Winnipeg

By Chris Block

It wasn’t pretty, but the Blackhawks survived a Jets onslaught and pulled out a huge win Sunday night in Winnipeg that may have solidified the Hawks a playoff spot.

The third period began with Winnipeg leading 3-2 after Dustin Byfuglien power play goal in the final minute of the second period gave the Jets their second lead of the night.

Patrick Sharp tied the contest at 6:27 of the third, pouncing on a loose puck and a breakaway from near center ice after Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom became entangled with linesman Don Henderson and lost his stick with Sharp in pursuit.

The Hawks then won the game with 31 seconds left in regulation after some cycling by the top line and a Jonathan Toews re-direct on a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot.  The goal was Toews’ 25th, which marks the 6th time in Toews’ eight year career that he’s scored 25 or more goals in a season. And in one of those seasons, the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, Toews posted 23 goals in 47 games played.

Byfuglien tallied two goals on Sunday, his 17th and 18th, against the Blackhawks organization that raised him.   Blake Wheeler potted his 25th of the season in short-handed fashion in the second period on a 3 on 2 break after Andrew Shaw took off for the bench on an ill-advised change. Read more »

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Interview with Antti Raanta on his demotion, the trade deadline, his future and playing for a Cup in Rockford

Raanta_IceHogs_2015Mar06_OKCAntti Raanta, March 6, 2015 in Rockford vs Oklahoma City
Photo courtesy of Rockford IceHogs

By Chris Block

“When they said I was going down (to Rockford) – you just have so many questions inside your head. You try to figure it out, like ‘what did I do wrong?’” – Antti Raanta

Antti Raanta couldn’t have done much better for the Blackhawks this season.

In 12 starts and 14 appearances overall, the Blackhawks’ backup goalie went 7-4-1 with a 1.89 goals against average and .936 save percentage. He posted two shutouts, which is the same number of shutouts as Corey Crawford has tallied through 52 starts in 2014-15.

But after parts of two seasons under Joel Quenneville’s watch, the six-foot one inch Raanta fell down the depth chart in some key decision makers minds with the emergence this year of the 6’6” Scott Darling.

Quenneville was one of those minds.

Raanta last appeared for the Hawks in relief duty of a 6-2 drubbing by Boston at the United Center on February 22. Raanta entered more than halfway into the second period when the Hawks were already down 4-1. Read more »

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Van Riemsdyk On Long Road Back to the NHL

vanRiemsdyk_courtesy_IceHogs_2015Mar18_ADR_2_458x500Trevor van Riemsdyk, Wednesday March 18th in Rockford
photo courtesy of Rockford IceHogs

By Chris Block

Back-to-back serious injuries have posed a challenge to the bright, young career of Trevor van Riemsdyk.

The 23-year old New Jersey native, affectionately known by Blackhawks fans now as ‘TVR’, had his rookie season derailed after 18 games on November 16 when he blocked a Trevor Daley shot off the side of his left knee in the first period against the Dallas Stars, which was also the night of Brad Richards’ 1,000th game.

“I couldn’t tell at first. I just knew that it hurt,” said van Riemsdyk when asked if he knew the severity of the injury right away. “But I didn’t know how serious it could be. So then I got the x-ray done and that was that.”

Further examinations determined van Riemsdyk had suffered a fractured left patella bone and he underwent surgery four days later. Doctors projected he would need 3-4 months of recovery time. A hundred and seventeen days went by before van Riemsdyk would play in his next game. Read more »

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