Oct 152011
 
photo: HockeyBroad.com

By Chris Block

The long-awaited return of Jeremy Morin took place in southern British Columbia on Friday night where the IceHogs travelled to take on the Abbotsford Heat.

In just his second shift since January 15th, Morin got a puck entering the Abbotsford zone from Chris DiDomenico.  Given time and space through the middle, Morin wasted no time cutting down the slot and deked Abbotsford goalie Leland Irving down and slipped the puck through to give Rockford a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game.  Morin gave a the big fist pump salute to himself in celebration.

Morin looked very good considering he’s largely been inactive for the past nine months.  It was a good sign on the goal that Morin did not hesitate to take open space through the middle of the ice when it was given to him.  After all, it was a similar situation against the Chicago Wolves back on January 15 that Morin was hip-checked and came down landing head first on the top of his helmet, sidelining the 19-year old for the remainder of the 2010-11 season and still feeling the effects of that unfortunate collision during training camp in September.

Rockford lost the game 4-3, after leading throughout the first 41 minutes of the contest.

Morin started the game on a line with Brandon Bollig and center Chris DiDomenico.  It can basically be considered the IceHogs’ fourth line at the moment.  By the end of the first period, Morin was bumped up to the top line with Brett McLean and Brandon Segal, taking Rob Klinkhammer’s spot.  Morin returned to DiDomenico’s line during the second period but eventually Ted Dent had Morin back up on the top line. Continue reading »

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Sep 052011
 


Concerns about Rockford’s lack of size and experience were partially answered last week with two new player acquisitions.

First, the IceHogs signed 30-year old defenseman Brian Fahey on August 31 to a minor league contract.

Fahey (6-1, 215) spent most of this past season in Hershey with the Washington Capitals organization.  Fahey also got his first taste of the NHL with the Capitals in seven games over separate call ups, the final being last December.

A fourth round pick of the Avalanche in 2000, Fahey has since bounced around the minors for Colorado, the Thrashers, Rangers, Capitals and on his own.    Fahey’s best seasons came on stacked Chicago Wolves’ teams (2006-08) and on Hersey in 2010-11. Between those stops, Fahey had a forgettable year in Hartford that led to him getting dealt back to Colorado for bad seed Nigel Williams.  He got back on track that year in Cleveland with the Monsters.

Fahey is a fundamentally sound veteran defender who provides the IceHogs with a strong right-handed shot from the point.  He’ll make a sound pass into the neutral area, one area in dire need of improvement from last season.  He’ll step into Ivan Vishnevskiy’s vacated spot on Rockford’s power play and Fahey will see time on the team’s revamped penalty kill but largely by default of better options. Continue reading »

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Aug 182011
 


The American Hockey League was finally able to release their 2011-12 regular season schedule on Thursday, exactly fifty days prior to the league’s official opener, October 7th.

Rockford will open its season on Saturday night, October 8th versus the Grand Rapids Griffins at the formerly-named MetroCentre, now the BMO Harris Bank Center.

The next day the IceHogs play their first road game at Peoria.  That October 9th contest against the Rivermen begins a four-game road trip continuing with two games in Abbotsford on Oct 14 and 16.  After five days off, the IceHogs make their first trip to Allstate Arena in Rosemont for the ’11-12 seasons’ initial meeting with the Chicago Wolves, brand new affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

In all, the IceHogs and Wolves meet twelve times during the new campaign.  In a weird twist, the Hogs-Wolves season series will be complete by Feb 26th.  The rivals will meet on back-to-back days on three separate occasions: Oct 21-22, Jan 20-21 and Feb 10-11 (both of these games are in Rockford). Continue reading »

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May 022011
 


It appears Norwegian prospect Mathis Olimb‘s stay in the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization will be a short one.

On Friday, Olimb signed a two-year contract with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien).  Olimb was scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1, having completed the one-year agreement he signed with the Blackhawks back on June 17, 2010.

Olimb returns to Frolunda after having spent the 2009-10 season with the Indians.  In 55 games with Frolunda in ’09-10, Olimb collected 9 goals and 34 points and another goal and four points in seven postseason contests.  Collectively, Olimb was a +1 performer in those 62 games.

After nearly two months on the sidelines in recovering from off season shoulder surgery, Mathis Olimb amassed 10 goals and 22 assists in 59 games as a Rockford IceHog.  Olimb was also a plus-8 and finished with a respectable, yet unspectacular 9.62% shooting percentage.

At five-foot ten and 175 pounds, Olimb figured as a long-shot to be re-signed by the Blackhawks.  At 25, he doesn’t have too much room left to grow and for his size, he doesn’t figure into the score sheet enough to expend a spot on the 50-man roster.

Other notable players with North American experience, signed to Frolunda for 2011-12 are Joel Lundqvist (Dallas Stars), PJ Axelsson (Boston Bruins) and Christian Backman (Blues, Rangers, Blue Jackets).

Olimb is currently playing in the IIHF World Championship tournament as a member of Team Norway.  His younger brother Ken-Andre Olimb is also competing for Norway.

KYLE HAGEL MOVES ON

In news shared with us by Mike Peck on our TTMI podcast Monday night, Kyle Hagel, the gritty Princeton University graduate who spent 2010-11 with the IceHogs on an AHL-contract, signed a two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues over the weekend.

In some respects, Hagel was the heart and soul of the Rockford IceHogs this past season.  His effort and passion both on and off the ice made him a favorite in many fans, teammates and scout’s eyes.

Hagel posted 5 goals and 8 assists (-11 plus/minus) in 77 games with the IceHogs.  But those numbers come in primarily fourth line duty.  Towards the end of the season Hagel moved up to the third line.  He’s versatile enough to play both center and the wing.  Hagel’s 245 penalty minutes ranked 5th in the AHL and second among AHL rookies.  His 31 regular season fights led the IceHogs’ team by a wide margin and ranked amongst the top in the American League.  Hagel had come into his own by the end of the season on a line with Evan Brophey and Igor Makarov, which was a key energy unit and focal point in the IceHogs’ late season turnaround.

The loss leaves Rockford with Brandon Bollig as the prime candidate to fill Hagel’s roll.  Bollig himself had a hard time getting into the line up in 2010-11, primarily due to Hagel’s performance, but also because Bollig didn’t show much offensively and took a lot of bad penalties when he did get into the lineup.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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Apr 012011
 

Rockford can go without seeing the Oklahoma City Barons for another seven months.

The bubble burst on Rockford’s five-game winning streak and overall recent upswing in the form of a 7-0 pummeling Friday night in Oklahoma City.

Hannu Toivonen made his fifth start in six games but was pulled in favor of Alec Richards during the first intermission.  Toivonen allowed three goals on nine shots.  Richards didn’t fair much better, letting another three by himself in the second period.  Richards stopped 14 of 18 Barons overall in finishing the game.

Toivonen has been pulled from 8 of his 41 starts this season.  Four of those have come against the Barons.

Friday, Oklahoma City scored all seven of their goals at even strength.  The Barons did go 0 for 2 on the power play but one of those lasted just 26 seconds and by the time they got their second chance the score was already 6-0.

The IceHogs finish the season series with OKC at a record of 1-4-1-0.  They were dominated 29-16 (-13) in the scoring column and their lone win came back on Jan 2 in Oklahoma City when the IceHogs needed six goals to defeat the Barons 6-5. Continue reading »

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Mar 312011
 

Hours after the Chicago Blackhawks and NHL office made his first professional hockey contract official, Jimmy Hayes got his first experience in the pro ranks for the Rockford IceHogs.

Under the guise of an amateur-try out contract, Hayes made his debut in Cleveland on Wednesday night as the IceHogs took on the Lake Erie Monsters.  Hayes’ entry-level pro contract with the Hawks kicks in on July 1st.

Hayes acquitted himself quite well in his unofficial pro debut.  He exhibited nice hands, decent wheels and didn’t seem too out of place all things considered.  The adjustment from college to the pro-pace wasn’t too much of a factor, at least in Lake Erie.  Oklahoma City on Friday poses a different challenge.

On his first shift, skating with Mathis Olimb and Ben Smith on the Hogs’ second-line Hayes showed good strides in transition leading a Hogs’ odd-man rush up the right side boards.  Hayes strung a slick pass just an inch or two further than Olimb could handle though, coming down just left of the slot and they didn’t get a scoring chance there.

In the middle period, Hayes again led a rush, but it also amounted to nothing.  Hayes was carrying the lead with Olimb and Andy Bohmbach on a 3-on-2, but Hayes lost the handle as he strode through the right circle.  He finished the game with three shots.  He’s not shy on the body but it appears he prefers to use his stick and he’ll have to shake that too much finesse with his head down college habit.  So its great for the Hawks, and IceHogs, Hayes is able to join up for some valuable minutes before an all-important off season.

Before the game Bill Peters noted he plans to dress Hayes in all seven (Wednesday included) of the IceHogs remaining games.  Peters was down six regulars (add another if you count Jeremy Morin) on Wednesday, so Hayes saw as much or more ice time as he figures to get in any single outing over the final two weeks of the season. Continue reading »

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Mar 262011
 

Friday night Evan Brophey became the latest player to add fuel to the blindside head shot debate.  And its likely he’s going to face a multi-game suspension due to a decision he made in the blink of a eye.

NHL observers who recall Joe Thornton’s check on David Perron back on November 4, 2010 would find that as a comparable hit.

Brophey had just stepped out of the penalty box mid-way through the third period with the IceHogs up 3-1.

A diagonal Hamilton pass through the neutral zone put Bulldogs’ forward Hunter Bishop in the direct line of Brophey as rejoined the play.  Brophey took a step or two and launched himself into Bishop.  Brophey is 6-3.  Bishop is 6-foot.

“Obviously it was a bad hit,” a conciliatory Brophey said after the game.

“It was to his head.  And my intentions were to just go shoulder to shoulder.  But it was a blindside hit and I feel bad.  And I’m sorry about that hit.”

Brophey has never been thought of as a dirty player, or one who takes cheap shots while an opponent is in a vulnerable position.  On Friday though, a split-second decision to separate Hunter Bishop from the puck in the neutral zone put Brophey in the eye of the current state of head shots, blind side hits and players putting some respect for each other back into the game.

Conventional hockey thinkers would say Brophey did what he was supposed to do.  Except he overshot his target when striking Bishop’s head.

“It was an unfortunate situation where I had just come out of the box and the puck came to him,” Brophey explained in his own words.   “So, I was trying, like I said, to go shoulder to shoulder.  But I clipped him right in the head, straight on.  You know, I feel bad and I apologize for that.” Continue reading »

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Mar 262011
 
 
The IceHogs faithful do finally have something to cheer about.

After dropping 9 of 12 home games dating back to mid-January, the Rockford IceHogs 4-3 overtime victory on Friday night gave the team something it hasn’t had all season – a 3-game home winning streak.

Friday’s win over the Hamilton Bulldogs also put the IceHogs within one game of the .500 mark in their own barn (16-17-2-2), and two wins short of an overall .500 record (30-32-4-5).

The IceHogs haven’t had a losing home record since entering the AHL in 2007. Including Saturday night’s contest, they have three dates remaining on the home slate, wrapping on April 8 & 9. Rockford will finish their 2010-11 season at Allstate Arena against the Chicago Wolves on Sunday April 10 at 3 o’clock.

Rockford will first try for home victory number 17 on Saturday night when they host the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals defeated Chicago in Milwaukee on Friday 4-2. With the win, the Admirals stayed one point ahead of the Houston Aeros for the top spot in the West division and best record in the Western conference.

On Friday, the IceHogs persevered just enough through a tough third period to have a little Jeff Taffe magic lift them to victory in OT. Continue reading »

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Mar 202011
 

Top Blackhawks prospect Jeremy Morin has been inactive due to an “upper body” injury he suffered in a game against the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont, Illinois back on January 15th.

Morin acquired the injury roughly a minute before the end of the opening period when he was hip-checked by Wolves’ defenseman Andrey Zubarev, catapulting him up and over Zubarev, resulting in Morin coming down on the top of his head (helmet on) as he struck the ice.

He is believed to have suffered a concussion on that incident.

Progress is being made as Morin’s health is improving, but a target for Morin’s return to the ice is still uncertain.

“You know what, I haven’t had an update on (Morin) for awhile,” IceHogs’ head coach Bill Peters said after Saturday night’s 4-3 win over Peoria.   “We’ve had some other guys that have been dinged up a little bit here that have been kept under the radar.  DJ [Jones, IceHogs trainer] has done a good job with those guys.”

“I know he’s feeling better,” Peters continued.  “I talked to (Morin) the other day and I had a good visit with him here today. 

“He’s starting to feel better.  So, I think there is some progress being made there.”

With just 11 games remaining in the IceHogs’ season after tonight (Hogs skate at Grand Rapids on Sunday), time is running short on Morin’s potential return to Rockford’s lineup.

The first step would be to resume skating with his teammates, which he hasn’t done since the injury occurred.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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Mar 192011
 

Chicago Blackhawks recalled forward Ben Smith from the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday.  An announcement will be made on Sunday morning.

Smith has played in twenty games since missing a month with a concussion suffered in a January 8th game against Grand Rapids.  In that game, widely regarded as Smith’s best performance as a pro at the time, Smith posted 3 assists in a dominant 6-0 win over the Griffins.

In the 20 games since his return, Smith has 8 goals and an assist.  However, seven of those eight goals have come in the last ten games.

Overall, Smith has 15 goals and 10 assists in 55 games in his rookie season with the IceHogs.

This move comes two days following the Blackhawks March 17th game at Dallas, a 5-0 loss to the Stars.  A late afternoon Bryan Bickell scratch left the Blackhawks short a player and they played the game with 17 skaters, one short of the regular 18.

Thursday’s loss could loom large next month if Chicago and Dallas wind up in a tie-breaker situation, in which Dallas’ 5-0 victory gave them the deciding head-to-head advantage.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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