Soderblom impressing in first North American season

Photo: Brad Repplinger

📝 by Patrick Williams

Defenseman Ian Mitchell had keyed the comeback for the Rockford IceHogs.

Now they needed Arvid Soderblom in net to finish off the Iowa Wild on Tuesday night, and holding that win was hardly a sure thing with dangerous Kyle Rau standing at center ice.

Mitchell’s one-timer past stubborn Iowa goaltender Zane McIntyre with 2:58 to go in regulation had pulled Rockford into a 2-2 game, forcing a scoreless overtime that bled into the shootout. Just sent back to Rockford from the Chicago Blackhawks earlier in the day, Soderblom had already shut down Iowa’s Joseph Cramarossa and Marco Rossi, two offensive dangers before Mitchell converted his shootout opportunity.

Rau broke in from center ice and attempted to backhand a shot past Soderblom. But the 22-year-old netminder stayed patient, held his ice, and smothered the puck with his left glove. Soderblom has stopped 11 of 13 opposing shootout chances, an .846 save percentage that ranks among the leaders in the AHL.

“I thought he was really solid,” Rockford head coach Anders Sorensen told IceHogs TV after Tuesday’s win.

Soderblom and the IceHogs (20-16-3-1, .550) locked down the team’s third consecutive win to earn at least a bit of space between them and the fifth-place Wild (20-17-3-3, .535) in the tightening Central Division. Just ahead in third place are the Milwaukee Admirals, who are 24-19-2-2 (.553) with 11 wins in their past 12 games.

“I think that…was probably one of our most complete games,” Mitchell said of the win to IceHogs TV. “It felt like we controlled the pace of play there from the get-go. I think we’re in a groove.”

Tuesday’s win sets up a showdown for Rockford to grab that third-place spot when they visit Admirals tonight, completing a run of four games in six nights. Then a home-and-home match-up with the Grand Rapids Griffins looms for the IceHogs this weekend.

It is that time of year in the American Hockey League.

Like Milwaukee, Rockford has overcome a difficult start to the season. Soderblom has taken on much of Rockford’s workload this season with a team-leading 17 games. And that total could be higher had Soderblom not spent three separate stints in Chicago since Dec. 29; Tuesday’s appearance was his first at any level since a 4-2 win at Iowa on Feb. 4.

With Collin Delia still in Rockford as well, the IceHogs have a formidable tandem. Soderblom is 9-7-1 with a 2.57 goals-against average, and his .925 save percentage is good for fourth in the AHL. When Rockford struggled in October and into November, it was Soderblom who had 40, 47, and 45 saves respectively in his first three AHL starts this season, two of them wins.

Photo: Todd Reicher

Soderblom’s climb has come quickly despite his going undrafted after solid growth in the storied Frolunda junior program at home in Sweden. In the Swedish Hockey League in 2020-21 with Skelleftea, he went 13-8-0 in 22 games with a 2.03 GAA (tied for second in the league) and .922 save percentage (second overall). That work convinced Chicago Blackhawks management to take a chance on Soderblom, who signed a two-year entry-level deal with the organization last May.

Tuesday’s win gave Soderblom his third win in his previous four outings. He had closed out January with road starts on back-to-back nights, capped by a 36-save, 1-0 masterpiece against the powerhouse Chicago Wolves.

“I feel like I’m always playing better when I get to play,” Soderblom said earlier this month. “So I liked that opportunity. I think I did a good job there in those two games keeping a high level in my game, so it felt good.”

“[It is] tough for the body to play back-to-back games with so many shots. But after the first game there, I just tried to take care of my body as much as possible and then get ready for the game the day after. But I felt full of energy, and it was fun to play. I didn’t feel tired. I felt pretty good.”

So far 2022 has been eventful for Soderblom, who made his National Hockey League debut New Year’s Day in Nashville, finishing with 15 saves in a relief appearance. Then he stopped 37 shots in his first NHL start the next night against the Calgary Flames.

Soderblom has worked closely with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite as he adjusts to North American hockey, particularly on post work.

“We work [on] a lot of like the sharp angles,” Soderblom outlined. “Knowing when to watch on the smaller ice. It’s a little bit different, especially those low, sharp angles. We’re working on that both up [in Chicago] and down here. So that’s probably the biggest thing I had to change a little bit in my game. Since coming over, I feel like it’s getting more and more comfortable in those situations.”

The IceHogs shoring up their defensive play has been noticed by Soderblom, too. They allowed just 25 shots to Iowa on Tuesday.

“I felt like we’re better at taking care of the rebounds, helping me on the rebounds and the back-door plays,” Soderblom started. “I feel like we’re letting the opponent shoot from outside and giving them the outside and closing the inside. [A] lot of [shots] have been from the outside with no screens in front. They’ve helped me with the rebounds, so that’s been helping me out a lot.”

The next step is a strong run in Rockford. There might also be more NHL time for Soderblom as the organization works to determine a long-term goaltending plan.

“It’s good for my confidence to know that I can play on that level,” Soderblom said. “I try to bring that confidence back down here and just keep working on my game and try to get better every day. That helps a lot to get that experience up there.”