Well, we thought — or maybe we just hoped — that at this point we’d be paying attention to a first place team. If you squint real hard, we are. This weekend, with two wins in Charlotte over what was supposed to be a pretty fierce AHL squad, the Rockford Icehogs are in 1st place in the Midwest Division. Yes, they’ve played at least two more games than their immediate chasers, and their point total would only land them sixth or seventh in the conference if they weren’t leading the division. But considering how bad the Hogs have been in the past few years, this is clearly a step forward. Of course, if the top club ever deigns to give us hockey again, the engine on this little revival will probably be ripped out. But hey, it’s more fun to talk about a winning team, no matter what level you’re referring to.
So, to the recaps then.On Saturday night, after a lackluster 1st period, the Hogs exploded for four second period goals to basically put it out of reach. They were down 2-0 after one, but then the Hogs top two lines came to the rescue. Martin St. Pierre finished off some heavy work from Jimmy Hayes. Brandon Saad and Jeremy Morin (more on them later) waltzed through Charlotte for another score. Brandon Pirri set up Ben Smith on a 5-on-3 for a tap-in — yes Virginia, someone in the black and red scored on a two-man advantage. Try not to ruin your screen spitting up some liquid on it. Then the highlight of the night was Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes especially setting St. Pierre off on a breakaway with gorgeous feeds, and the man with the joust embarrassing Justin Peters to score. In the 3rd, again on the power play, Brandon Saad returned the favor to Jeremy Morin to cash in down low.
On Sunday afternoon, it was kind of the reverse as the Hogs jumped out to a start (for once) and then kind of hung on from there. Adam Clendening notched yet another power play goal in the 1st. In the 2nd, Kyle Beach ruthlessly finished off a 3-on-2 off a cross-ice feed from Andrew Shaw with a sadistic wrister into the corner. Charlotte climbed back into it early in the 3rd with a goal off a scramble, but Brandon Pirri forced a turnover at the Checkers blue line a short time later to walk in alone and put Dan Ellis on his twitter-fed stomach before damaging the roof-tiles of twine. Chicken Hawk added an empty-netter.
Some thoughts on what I saw briefly checking in on both games, as even with the recent improvements on the AHL Live feed, my computer’s slowly dying state and it still aren’t combining for all that watchable of an experience.
-The Hogs PP is humming. It’s doing it with two d-men on the points. Any chance Q is paying attention? Nah? Ok, thought I’d ask. Anyway, it’s due as much to Adam Clendening as it does Nick Leddy. Clendening looks the faster and more assertive of the two, though his size and defensive awareness are a problem at this level, much less the next one. Still, maybe next year Clens (I’m gonna go ahead and call him “Clens”) is probably going to warrant a look.
-Brandon Saad and Jeremy Morin are tearing teams apart. Saad has been impossible to handle along the boards for teams at times, causing turnovers and chances. Morin’s senses keep getting him into the right spots, which is usually right in front. As we know, the Hawks don’t have a wealth of players who finish around the net. While Morin wouldn’t seem to have the size to do so at the top level, sometimes it’s just about the balls to do so and right now he has it. If there is a training camp soon, one would imagine Saad and Morin will be battling for the one spot open on the top six, which is the opposite wing of Marian Hossa (with whatever center is there).
-Speaking of that center spot, I know it’s a given that Marcus Kruger will inhabit it. And with a shortened season (if we’re lucky), there isn’t a lot of time to try stuff. If there was, I really wouldn’t mind giving Brandon Pirri a look at that spot with Kruger centering the 4th line. No, Pirri can’t win a draw, and his defensive work is still…agricultural. But he’s got more offensive sense than Kruger, and maybe surrounded with superior talent he would be more productive. With a shortened season and greater injury-threats, Pirri will probably get some NHL burn anyway.
-Jimmy Hayes at center is….well, check out me and Block on his puckcast tonight and he’ll tell you. It’s at TheThirdManIn.com
And that’s it for now. The Hogs have the full week off before hosting Milwaukee on Friday and the the Wolves on Saturday. Check this space for Saturday’s game, we may be doing something for that.