High On The Hog: Weekend Sweep In Iowa

The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, have yet to drop a game to Central Division rival Iowa this season. The Hogs ran their record against the Wild to 5-0 this season with a sweep in DesMoines this weekend.

Rockford is 9-3-1-1 and in second place in the Central Division. There is a lot of credit to go around for what is now a ten-game points streak. Dennis Rasmussen and Bryan Bickell (see after the jump) both had a pair of goals over the weekend. Mark McNeill is on a five game point streak and Ville Pokka has six points in his last four games.

However, not all of the IceHogs are off to a hot start.

Daniel Paille, signed to a PTO by Rockford following Chicago’s training camp, has yet to record a point this season. Paille, a longtime NHL vet, has a minus-three skater rating in ten appearances this season.

Kyle Baun has played in 12 games since being sent down by the Blackhawks. In those games, he is scoreless with a minus-three rating.

Throughout last season, Garret Ross battled McNeill for the team lead in goals. So far in 2015-16, the scrappy forward is tied with Pokka, Rasmussen and Jeremy Morin with 31 shots to lead the team…but has just two points (1G, 1A) to show for it. He’s also a minus-eight.

For Mike Liambas and Ryan Haggerty, getting on the ice is the problem. Liambas has not played in nearly a month. He has been injured, appearing in only two games thus far. Haggerty has also been a frequent scratch, getting into just four games for the IceHogs.

Bickell Playing Well…But Does It Matter?

Bickell has three points and five assists in his four games with the IceHogs. He has had at least a point in each game and is a plus-six in his time in Rockford. Bickell was voted first star in both Iowa games this past weekend and was a deserving recipient both times.

Bickell’s play is reminiscent of Rostislav Olesz’s time as a member of the IceHogs. Olesz, as you may recall, was buried in Rockford to save over three million dollars on the salary cap. The former first-round selection of the Florida Panthers was a very productive player for the Hogs. Like Olesz, Bickell has NHL skills and is playing in the AHL primarily due to financials.

Bickell has shown some game since his demotion; it is going to be enough to get him back on an NHL roster? How well is he going to have to play to either be brought up or sought after by another organization?

Wild About Iowa’s Togs

I have to give a couple of stick taps to the Wild for doing the specialty uniform right. Pictured above is the look Iowa sported for their veterans weekend. Notice that this is a complete red, white and blue look; not just a sweater and sock combination that would have clashed with the green pants and gloves normally worn by the Wild.

Iowa is off to a 3-11-1-2 start to the season. Whoever is in charge of the Wild’s on-ice look gets kudos from me, though.

Roster Moves

Erik Gustafsson was back with the Hogs in time to play in both games this weekend. Viktor Svedberg, though sent down on Saturday, didn’t make the trip to Iowa. He should be in the lineup Wednesday in Grand Rapids.

With two defensemen coming down to Rockford and Kyle Cumiskey back in action, Sam Jardine was sent back to Indianapolis Sunday. Another blue liner could join Jardine with the Fuel as soon as Monday; either Kirill Gotovets or Nolan Valleau would be the likely candidates to head east.

With Chicago’s circus trip looming, the Hawks could also send a forward to Rockford following Sunday night’s tilt with Calgary. Stay tuned for updates.


Looking Back At Two In DesMoines

(Note-No special teams combos this week; for the most part it was the usual gang. The lines were also pretty fluid but I included them. I had a two-hour window to get the recaps done this week and just watched the Readers Digest version of both wins.)

Friday, November 13-Rockford 5, Iowa 2

The Hogs had five different skaters dent the cage in a rough and tumble game that saw several altercations. Rockford picked up points in its ninth straight contest.

Midway through the opening period, Dylan Labbe and Garret Ross freed themselves from the clutches of the officials and engaged in fisticuffs. Both players got in some decent shots, though the decision would have to go to the Wild rookie. This, despite Iowa color man Josh Fisher gushing about his guy having the stones to take on a heavyweight like Cody Bass (who no longer skates for the IceHogs).

A few minutes later, with Bass Ross and Labbe still in the box, Dennis Rasmussen took a pass from Ryan Hartman, gathered his own rebound at the right post and slipped the biscuit past Leland Irving. Leland inadvertently knocked the net loose while defending the play, however, and the goal was waved off after review.

Seconds later, the Hogs swooped in and found the back of Irving’s net for real. The play started with Bryan Bickell stripping an Iowa skater of the puck and bringing it into the Wild zone. His cross-ice pass to Vinnie Hinostroza was followed by a nice one-touch backhand feed to Pierre-Cedric Labrie at the right post. Labrie sent the puck to Happy Land for a 1-0 Rockford advantage 13:41 into the first.

The chippiness quotient was ramped up soon after when Kurtis Gabriel finished a check on Kirill Gotovets against the end boards of the Rockford zone. The play came just after a whistle on the ice and was responded to by Chris DeSousa, who bumped the Wild forward from behind. Both players were sent off for roughing (Gabriel) and boarding (DeSousa).

It wasn’t over; after the penalties expired both player left the box and things got interesting. The 5’9″ Hogs forward knocked the 6’4″ Gabriel down from behind and came in with fists flying. Gabriel quickly took control and had DeSousa’s sweater over his head before the officials pulled the bigger man off. Points to DeSousa for moxie but points taken away for the approach.

Rockford doubled the lead early in the second period. Ville Pokka pinched in along the right half boards and took a pass from Mark McNeill. Pokka found Jake Dowell in the slot, came around the net to pick up the rebound of Dowell’s attempt off the end boards and deposited the puck into the great wide open the was the Wild net forty seconds in.

The Wild cut the lead to 2-1 on a Maxime Fortunus power play goal in the fourth minute, but Bickell restored the two-goal lead via the man advantage later in the middle frame. Taking a pass from Hartman, the exiled Blackhawks forward skated into the left circle and sent a laser that caught the top far corner of the Iowa net. The Hogs were up 3-1 at the 14:02 mark.

Gabriel got Iowa back to 3-2 in the final minute of the second off a great feed by Brady Brassert. However, the IceHogs put the pedal down in the third to pull away. Rasmussen took a pass from Jeremy Morin and deked Labbe out of his skates. He finished an outstanding individual effort by skating across the crease, waiting out Irving and depositing the puck into Twine Savings and Loan at 2:28 of the third.

Up 4-2, the Hogs closed out the scoring when Morin stuck rope from the left circle midway through the final stanza. Bickell, with a goal and two helpers, was first star of the game. Pokka and Gabriel rounded out the three stars. Michael Leighton made 27 saves on 29 Iowa shots to pick up his 200th AHL win.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mark McNeill-Jake Dowell (A)-Kyle Baun

Garret Ross-Dennis Rasmussen-Jeremy Morin

Ryan Hartman-Vinnie Hinostroza-Bryan Bickell

Daniel Paille-Chris DeSousa-Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Kyle Cumiskey (A)-Nolan Valleau

Eirk Gustafsson-Kiril Gotovets

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Dane Walters, Mike Liambas, Dennis Robertson, Sam Jardine, Ryan Haggerty.

Power Play (1-4)

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 1-4)


Saturday, November 14-Rockford 4, Iowa 3

Rockford came out on top of a see-saw affair to claim their sweep of the Wild at Wells Fargo Arena. A Kyle Cumiskey power play goal was the difference on this night as the Hogs extended their point steak to double digits.

Kurtis Gabriel, who has been a frequent combatant for Rockford skaters, knocked Kirill Gotovets to the deck with a big (and clean) neutral ice hit. Ryan Hartman took offense and asked Gabriel to dance. Gabriel got Hartman’s sweater over his head and the bout was cut short.

The Wild drew first blood on the scoreboard with a Michael Kerenan tally 7:19 into the game but Rockford returned fire in the fourteenth minute. Bickell skated into the corner of the Iowa zone to collect an errant pass to get things started. The play ended with Rasmussen tipping in Nolan Valleau’s offering past Wild goalie Jeremy Smith to tie the game at the 7:19 mark.

Iowa went up 2-1 early in the second period on a Grayson Downing goal, but the Hogs came up with a pair of goals to take the lead. Ville Pokka, behind the Wild net, tossed the puck out to Bryan Bickell up top. Bickell’s blast got the best of Smith 4:36 into the second, thanks to a nice screen by Rasmussen.

Less than 20 seconds later, Rockford owned its first lead of the night. Bickell hit Mark McNeill coming into the Iowa zone. McNeill’s wrist shot from the top of the right circle beat Smith, dinged off the far post and nestled into the back of the net. The Hogs now led 3-2 at 4:55 of the middle frame.

The Rockford advantage lasted until the 14:18 mark, when Zack Mitchell struck from the right post. The score remained knotted well into the third period, when Downing sent a puck over the glass in the Iowa zone for a delay of game penalty.

Late in the resulting power play, Vinnie Hinostroza worked the puck in front of the Wild crease and threw it out to Cumiskey in the high slot. Cumiskey parked the shot over Smith’s glove and against the ropes for a 4-3 Hogs lead with 6:45 left to play.

Cumiskey’s effort would hold up as the game-winner; he was named the game’s third star. Bickell once again was tagged with first star honors with a goal and two assists.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Bryan Bickell-Dennis Rasmussen-Kyle Baun

Mark McNeill-Vinnie Hinostroza-Garret Ross

Daniel Paille-Dane Walters-Ryan Hartman

Chris DeSousa-Jake Dowell (A)-Pierre Cedric Labrie (A)

Cameron Schilling-Ville Pokka

Kyle Cumiskey (A)-Nolan Valleau

Eirk Gustafsson-Kirill Gotovets

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Mike Liambas, Jeremy Morin, Dennis Robertson, Sam Jardine, Ryan Haggerty.

Power Play (1-5)

Penalty Kill (Iowa was 0-4)


Coming Up

The parade thought the Central Division continues this week. Rockford visits Grand Rapids on Wednesday night and Milwaukee Friday. Sunday afternoon, the Hogs take on Lake Erie with a cup in the house (in addition to the Illinois Lottery Cup, that is).

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter as its more than possible I send out thoughts and updates during the road games and updates (apparently I can’t think at the BMO) on Sunday.

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