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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Mar 172011
 


As I had mentioned last week, I’ve been getting more email than usual of late regarding Hawks’ prospects in Rockford. So I decided to throw some of these up on the site with the emailers’ consent. We’ll break this up into parts since there are quite a few.

Enjoyed your (Kyle) Beach q&a. Be nice if he practiced the things he says though. Another Dale Tallon miss if I may say. Tallon had some nice late round picks and a few good trades but his overall body of work is vastly overrated. Beach is an eyesore, just as Cam Barker, Tuomo Ruutu and Jack Skille. Seriously, I have no faith Dylan Olsen will do anything given Tallon’s draft history. Unless he’s drafting 1st or 3rd. Who can miss then?

Aside from attitude, what’s the major hold up in his development? Who would you compare him to? Beach is one of two players in the top 15 in his draft class who’ve yet to reach the NHL and the other, Colton Teubert, just changed addresses. Cody Hodgson was picked one spot ahead of Beach and he’d probably been in the NHL for some time now had he not been injured severely a year ago. Josh Bailey was picked 10th by the Islanders (one spot before Mr. Beach) and he’s played in almost 200 games now. Its probably high time we chalk Beach up to a first round bust. Don’t you agree? Continue reading »

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Feb 232011
 

Rockford continues its busiest week of the season tonight when they bus to Rosemont, Illinois for the 7th of 10 matchups this season with the Chicago Wolves.  The two teams have split the games even so far.

As a team, the IceHogs have been nothing short of awful of late.

Rockford has lost 13 of their last 15 games (2-11-2-0).  Seven of those losses have come on home ice.  When this recent stretch of losses began back on January 21st, Rockford was three games above the .500 mark (19-16-1-4) having won seven of ten.

Today, the IceHogs (21-27-3-4) are deeply trenched in last place in the West division, trailing 7th place Chicago by 15 points.  With only 25 games left in the regular season, the IceHogs would essentially have to run the table now in order to grab a spot in the postseason.  Just two teams in the league (Adirondack and Bridgeport) hold fewer wins than Rockford.

The chief culprit in this recent swoon has been some inexplicable poor starts.

Dating back to Jan 21st, Rockford is being outscored 27-11 in the opening period.  It gets a little better in the middle stanza (10gf-15ga) while the 3rd period rings dead-even (14-14).

On five occasions in the last 15 starts, Rockford has trailed by two or more goals after the opening twenty minutes.  Three times, they trailed by three or more.  On Feb 13 at Milwaukee, the IceHogs trailed after the first period 5-1.

While the goaltending of Alec Richards and Hannu Toivonen has been less than adequate at times over the downturn, Rockford’s defense has largely been to blame. Continue reading »

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Feb 202011
 

Kyle Beach takes shot Jan 2nd @ OKC

 
Recently I sat down with highly touted, and debated, Hawks prospect Kyle Beach to discuss his progress during his 1st pro season, mending fences with teammate Mathis Olimb and how he responds to his critics (which admittedly, we’ve been one).  The following are excerpts from that interview.

To date, Beach has posted 13 goals and 29 points in 52 games.  Beach does own an IceHogs’ worst minus-17 plus/minus rating. He’s been on the ice for a staggering 30 of 68 even strength goals scored against (44%) on home ice and 40 of 109 (37%) even strength goals scored against Rockford overall.  As mentioned below, he’s been benched on occasion as well as designated a healthy scratch by head coach Bill Peters twice, and as recently as eleven days ago.  The IceHogs have lost 12 of their last 14 games. Beach has 4 goals, 4 assists (-10) in that stretch. When we spoke with him, he was enjoying a season-best stretch of 4 goals, 5 assists over 8 games.

Chris Block:  Halfway through your first pro year, what’s different for you now as opposed to earlier in the season?

Kyle Beach:  I think its just getting used to the play. Getting used to the bigger bodies.  Getting used to having to use your strength; use your size and learn how to protect the puck.  I mean, coming into this level from junior, I mean, I was one of the older guys last year.  I was always one of the bigger guys and now I’m average.  And you gotta learn the little tricks of the trade.  And now pucks are starting to my way, bounces are starting to go my way.  You know, fortunately I’ve been able to go on a little bit of a run here. Continue reading »

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Jan 212011
 

** Another huge back-to-back is upon the Rockford IceHogs this weekend as they attempt to climb back into a tough AHL West division playoff race.

40 games into the season, Rockford (19-16-1-4) is three games above .500, yet nine points out of the 4th and final playoff spot in their division.  The IceHogs find hope though in that they own ‘games in hand’ on every team in their division and the majority of their second half will be spent facing those teams above them in the division.

So, while the season is far from over, every point is a big one.

Tonight the current 3rd seed in the West Division, Oklahoma City visits Rockford.  These two teams have traded wild 6-5 decisions of late.  The Hogs dropped a New Years Day game at Oklahoma City 2-1 on a night both IceHogs’ special teams units let them down.

Rockford has five games in hand on OKC, and trail them by nine points as well.  A win tonight would put Rockford in line to reach the Barons once they catch OKC in the games played column.

Tomorrow night the San Antonio Rampage return for a rematch of this past Monday’ MetroCentre matinee, which the IceHogs took 2-1.  All scoring in that one came in the third period.  Goals on the Rockford side came first from Evan Brophey, then Hugh Jessiman.

San Antonio is 8 points up on Rockford and currently in 6th place.  They also have played four more contests than the IceHogs to this point.

As we mentioned earlier this week, odds are the 5th place team in the West will wind up with more points than the 4-seed in the North division, thus sliding over and taking that spot.  But competition for that spot will be fierce as teams currently 3rd through 7th are separated by just three points.

Games in hand don’t mean a thing if you don’t turn those into points.  A mediocre start, coupled with being in the toughest division in the AHL leave Rockford with little room for error.

The IceHogs are 7-3-0-0 over the last ten games, their best stretch of the season.  Kyle Beach, Evan Brophey and Hannu Toivonen have led the way, playing the best each of those three have to this point. Continue reading »

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Jan 032011
 

 Here’s the video we talked about earlier in this morning’s update.  Video footage of last Thursday’s fight between Rockford’s Brandon Bollig and Houston Aeros’ winger Matt Kassian.

Courtesy of JimKorn20 ‘s YouTube channel

Get another look in a different angle shot after the jump Continue reading »

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Dec 312010
 

The Duluth News Tribune is reporting the Blackhawks have signed their 2009 1st round draft choice (28th overall) defenseman Dylan Olsen to a three-year entry level contract.

Olsen is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, currently one of the top five teams in Division-I college hockey.  Once a collegiate player signs a professional contract, he or she becomes ineligible to play collegiate athletics.

For Olsen, 19, the decision to leave his Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs teammates mid-season was academic related.  He turns 20 this coming Monday.

Kevin Pates of the Duluth paper is reporting Olsen will report to the Rockford IceHogs, presumably once the World Junior U20 championships conclude in Buffalo next week.

Olsen has been paired on the first defense unit with Team Canada captain and Nashville Predators’ prospect Ryan Ellis in the tournament.

Its being reported that Olsen’s contract calls for an NHL salary of $525,000 in his first year, $700,000 in the second and $810,000 in the third.  Olsen will earn the standard $67,500 while in the minors.  Each year has a signing bonus of $90,000 tacked on to it.

UMD head coach Scott Sandelin expressed his disappointment, but also gave clarity to the situation in an interview with Pates:

“Dylan was having a good year and we were expecting a better, more confident player to return to us after the experience of the junior tournament,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We knew how much making Canada’s team meant to him and that it could only help his play. We’re just disappointed he chose to make a change at midseason.”

Sandelin did note that recent academic developments would likely have left Olsen ineligible for the second semester.

Olsen is the second Blackhawks draft pick in the last two years to leave school early due to poor academics.

In January of 2009, University of New Hampshire defenseman and team captain Joe Charlebois was forced off his team in the middle of his senior season when he was ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season.  Charlebois subsequently signed his first pro contract with the Blackhawks and reported to the Rockford IceHogs.  Charlebois has since left the Blackhawks organization.

Olsen also becomes the third Chicago prospect this year to leave his college team early, joining Brandon Pirri (R.P.I.) and Nick Leddy (Minnesota) who both left school after their freshman seasons.

Olsen’s arrival clouds and already cluttered IceHogs’ blue line.  Assuming Nick Leddy returns to Rockford at the completion of the World Junior tournament, he’ll join Olsen, Brian Connelly, Garnet Exelby, Ryan Stanton, Ivan Vishnevskiy, Simon Danis-Pepin, Shawn Lalonde and Wade Brookbank (who splits time on the wing).  Not to mention the possibility of Jassen Cullimore returning at some point.

The Olsen signing does raise one issue roster-wise.  The Blackhawks are now at the maximum 50-man organizational roster limit.  Which means any acquisition the team makes must involve a player moving off the current chart of 50.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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Dec 152010
 

Brandon Pirri was released from Team Canada’s World Junior Championships selection camp this morning.  He had survived the initial round of cuts on Tuesday, but not today’s final cuts.

Pirri was one of 39 players invited to the camp.  The Blackhawks 2nd pick in the 2009 Entry Draft (2nd round #59th overall) was invited to this week’s selection camp after not being one of the 48 players who attended last summer’s Team Canada WJC development camp.  Pirri was also one of only two players in the Under-20 camp who are currently playing professional hockey.  The other being Brayden Schenn.

Pirri took this morning’s news very hard.  Pirri, and the rest of this morning’s cuts received the news individually just after six o’clock at their hotel in Toronto.  Pirri will now return to the Rockford IceHogs.

Dylan Olsen (1st round – 2009, #28th overall), defenseman with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (WCHA), will be the lone Blackhawks’ representative on Team Canada.  Olsen is one of seven defenseman on the Canadian roster.  Olsen is a Calgary native who was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Continue reading »

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Oct 052010
 

On Monday, the Blackhawks assigned Jeremy Morin to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.  The decision ends an apparent late pre-season competition between Morin and 24-year old Vitkor Stalberg for a spot on left wing.

In the off season, Morin, 19, was acquired from Atlanta in the deal that sent Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to the Thrashers.  Viktor Stalberg was the key return in the trade in which the Hawks sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto.

In the final exhibition game Sunday versus the Blues, Stalberg skated just under 9 minutes for coach Joel Quenneville, while Morin played 13:18 including several shifts on the power play.  Both were credited with two hits.  Morin registered two shots to Stalberg’s one.  Each picked up an assist while Morin finished a minus-1 and Stalberg a plus-1.  Morin’s effort leading to Marian Hossa’s deflection-goal during a second-period power play was a highlight of the game.  Afterwards, Quenneville called Morin’s night “okay.”

The move of Morin to the AHL trims the Blackhawks roster down to the maximum of 23 with the injury to Brian Campbell and demotion of goaltender Hannu Toivonen having previously gone down over the weekend.

Here’s how the opening night roster stacks up: (lines speculative)

Troy Brouwer – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Tomas Kopecky – Patrick Sharp – Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg – Dave Bolland – Fernando Pisani
Bryan Bickell – Ryan Potulny – Jack Skille
Jake Dowell

Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Nick Leddy
Jordan Hendry – Nick Boynton
John Scott (W/D) – Jassen Cullimore

Marty Turco
Corey Crawford

Injured: Brian Campbell (sprained right knee; out 4-5 weeks)

Jack Skille (arm) is at this point still considered questionable for Thursday’s opener in Colorado.  Skille has said he thinks he’ll be ready.

Cullimore is still around in case the Hawks get cold feet with the Nick Leddy experiment or it simply doesn’t work out.  Cullimore had a better camp than most everyone is willing to give him credit for and while it may seem unfathomable to some, Cullimore is still a better option for Quenneville than rookies like Ivan Vishnevskiy or Brian Connelly.

If Skille can’t go Thursday, its very possible John Scott will dress as the 12th forward and Cullimore as the 6th-D against the Avalanche.  Remember, Nick Boynton will be serving a one-game suspension Thursday night for his throat-slashing gesture in the first exhibition game on September 22 in Winnipeg against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Jake Dowell dressing the final two preseason games and Ryan Potulny watching those contests from the stands, it would stand to reason Dowell is getting the call to center the fourth line in Game 1 of 82.  Or, both Dowell and Potulny dress  (if Skille is out) in game one and Scott stands in as the 6th defenseman.

While Jordan Hendry didn’t do much this exhibition season to gain many’s confidence in his ability to anchor the third defensive pairing, the 5-6 duo needs the additional mobility neither Boynton or Scott can provide.  Thus, Hendry could have a longer rope.

In regards to the Morin demotion….

I think you’d be troubled to find a single person who felt Viktor Stalberg out-performed Jeremy Morin during the exhibition contests.  If this were a legitimate one vs one competition, Stalberg would be the player headed to the AHL.  But this obviously wasn’t.

There’s also not much to the notion Morin was a casualty of salary cap considerations.  While Morin’s 2010-11 potential performance bonuses total $170,000 more than Stalberg’s, those would be covered under the entry-level bonus cushion.  Also, Morin’s base salary and preliminary cap hit is $70,000 less than Stalberg’s.  So Morin’s preliminary hit is more favorable than Stalberg’s.  And if Morin were to stick all year at the NHL level and meet all his marks for those bonuses, I’m sure the Blackhawks wouldn’t mind.

More likely, if the cap figured into Morin’s case at all, is apparent inclusion of Nick Leddy on the opening night roster.  Leddy’s base salary according to numbers listed on CapGeek.com is $900,000.  Leddy also does not have attainable performance bonuses this season.  With Leddy in the mix on the Hawks’ blue line, the Hawks only have space for minimum sized contracts for the time being.  If Brian Campbell had not been injured Friday in the game with Pittsburgh, Leddy probably would not have made the team and Morin may have been rewarded with an early trial with the Hawks.

With Leddy in the picture, Morin had to beat out Stalberg since the contracts of Bickell, Skille, Potulny, Dowell, and even John Scott are all closer to the league minimum.  And ultimately, Morin doesn’t have to clear waivers while most of those players do, and that’s why Morin was never really in competition for a spot with anyone but Stalberg.  However, once Viktor Stalberg hits the 20 games played mark this season, he becomes waiver-eligible.  So you can see the pressure is on Stalberg to get going early or he could be headed to Rockford sooner than later after all.  Morin won’t become waiver-eligible until the 2014-15 season, or when he hits 160 NHL games played.

Stan Bowman, may also be looking to delay the passing of Jassen Cullimore through waivers until a few days after the season begins and teams set their initial rosters in case there would happen to be interest in him.  And there very well could be if you consider losing another veteran blue liner (Cullimore) would hurt the Hawks to a degree.  He hasn’t had a bad camp either.  While I’m pretty positive he’s not someone Bowman wants to see in any regularity in a Hawks uniform, Cullimore, who turns 38 in December, is still a veteran who could give the Hawks some minutes in a pinch and also has value skating with the young kids in Rockford.

While I don’t find the Morin cut as any great injustice, it is slightly disconcerting to see Bowman’s slight of Morin.  That said, Stalberg can erase those thoughts in a hurry if he gets off to a quick start this week.  And by all accounts, Morin is a determined, intelligent kid and this probably won’t set him back any.  He could also use the experience of a season in the AHL to learn the intricacies of the pro game and continued improvement on his skating.  He was only in the running for a spot this year to begin with because the Hawks’ depth up front so poor.

Stalberg posted 9 goals and 14 points in 40 games with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs last season.  In Chicago, he’s greeted, yes, with more-accomplished teammates, but also with greater expectations.  The early returns simply won’t do.  Stalberg will find himself on the outs soon enough if he can’t find the net and help provide some offense on one of the top three lines.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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Jul 282010
 

— Before we get started, as a reminder, or for those who don’t know, the NHL Network tonight will be airing Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at 7pm central time.  This is a continuation in the network’s Raising the Cup series.  At the time, this was the greatest game I had ever seen live and still would rank in my top 3 or 5.  This is the Dirk Graham hat-trick game.  Pittsburgh shut out the Hawks 1-0 in Game 3 at Chicago Stadium two nights prior.  Again, tonight, 7pm, NHL Network.  It replays at 12:30am Thursday, and again at 8am tomorrow morning.

— Look for the next edition of TTMI~Radio with Dieter Kurtenbach and myself late tomorrow.  It appears we’ll be in Antti Niemi/arbitrator waiting mode by that time, but there’s much more for us to discuss.

— Antti Niemi’s arbitration hearing is tomorrow.  No progress, apparently, has been made in talks between the Hawks and his agent to elude this process.  The Hawks can only afford to give Niemi so much under their current salary cap constraints.  Anything more than $2.5M would trigger another trade.  While its true the Hawks will have cheaper options in free agency should the arbitrator’s decision come down in Niemi’s favor, letting your rookie Stanley Cup Champion goaltender walk without receiving any compensation in return is a tough sell to 90% of the fan base.  Its possible a ruling could come as early as Friday, which would mean a decison on whether to accept the arbitration reward would have to come down before the convention closes.  Letting Niemi walk is not a good way to climax John McDonough’s sacred creation.  And for that reason and a few others, I just don’t see it as a real option.

Nick Leddy leaves Gophers, signs contract with Blackhawks

On Tuesday, news broke that Blackhawks prospect Nick Leddy would be leaving the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers as he has signed a professional contract with Chicago.

The contract Leddy signed is a standard three-year, entry-level contract that would pay him at a rate of $900,000 with the Blackhawks, or $67,500 while in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs. Continue reading »

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