📝 by Patrick Williams
The Rockford IceHogs have done some growing up this season.
For the IceHogs’ next learning experience, here come the Henderson Silver Knights in tonight’s AHLTV Free Game of the Week (8 ET/5 PT).
A team that has already used 17 AHL rookies this season, the IceHogs spent their first six games on the road while renovations to BMO Harris Bank Center were completed. Then hours before their Nov. 6 home opener, the parent Chicago Blackhawks plucked IceHogs head coach Derek King from Rockford to replace Jeremy Colliton on an interim basis in Chicago. That move prompted Rockford assistant coach Anders Sorensen to take King’s place behind the Rockford bench, and after a 2-1 loss in that home opener to Grand Rapids, the IceHogs had to lug around their 2-5-0-0 record.
That was only the start.
Over the last 33 days, Rockford has endured 25 player transactions ― including three trades ― and injuries to no fewer than six players.
Forward Chris Wilkie departed Nov. 13 in a trade to the Belleville Senators. On Dec. 2, the IceHogs lost key experience in net when Chicago sent Malcolm Subban in a deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Then on Thursday, defenseman Chad Krys departed in a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that brought Toronto Marlies forward Kurtis Gabriel to the Chicago roster.
The Subban deal had left the Rockford crease to Collin Delia and Arvid Soderblom, certainly a strong hand for Sorensen and his club. But this week Rockford announced that Soderblom has entered concussion protocol.
Among the other injuries, Lukas Reichel, a 19-year-old forward taken 17th in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks, broke out with 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in his first 15 games in North America until exiting the lineup to enter concussion protocol the final weekend of November. On that same weekend, a leg injury pushed long-time NHL forward Brett Connolly to the sidelines.
But to see the IceHogs battle their way to a 4-3 shootout win Wednesday against the formidable Iowa Wild, that upheaval would be hard to believe.
Rockford fell behind 3-1 to the Wild on home ice going deep into the second period until second-year forward D.J. Busdeker cut into that Iowa lead. Then defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk, just back from the Blackhawks, sped down the left side, slipped past two experienced Wild defenders in Jon Lizotte and Doyle Somerby, and managed to tuck the puck behind netminder Dereck Baribeau with 1:48 to go in regulation. From there, Delia stopped both Marco Rossi and Nick Swaney in the shootout while Alexander Nylander and Andrei Altybarmakian converted their chances to pull out the victory as the team spilled from their bench in jubilation.
Since that Nov. 6 loss, the IceHogs have put together a 7-3-1-1 run and inserted themselves into the Central Division race as they ready themselves for a two-game weekend set with Henderson.
Second-year defenseman Ian Mitchell has had an opportunity to gain more AHL time this season after playing 39 games for Chicago last season. The 22-year-old 2017 second-round pick supplied three assists in the win against Iowa just one night after he played 18:17 for the Blackhawks.
“He’s finding his game a little bit,” Sorensen said of Mitchell to the team website. “He’s making the first pass. He’s up the rush.”
Said Mitchell to the Rockford website, “We’re battling big-time with that team (Iowa) standings-wise and positioning for playoffs here, so it was definitely big to get the upper hand on those guys.
“I just really try to maintain the same mindset whether I’m up (in the NHL) or whether I’m down. I just try to play the same game, and just finding that consistency has been really big for me this year. It’s something that I’ve tried to work on in past years, and I think I’m getting into a groove right now.”
The Silver Knights have endured their own wild ride this season, at one point having 14 players out of the lineup with injuries. They also have had to deal with uncertainty for head coach Manny Viveiros, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October. The team has been out of action since a two-game home split against Iowa on Nov. 27-28.
Tonight’s game also begins another stretch without Viveiros, who went on a medical leave of absence this week to begin his next phase of cancer treatment. With Viveiros away, assistant coach Jamie Heward will again lead the Silver Knights on an interim basis and be joined by assistant coach Joel Ward, goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite, and video coach Andrew Doty. The team estimates that Viveiros will be gone for three to four weeks.
Heward believes that this second time without Viveiros should be an easier process.
“We were all kind of in shock and disbelief that it was happening (in October),” Heward said to the Henderson website. “It just happened so fast that there was a little bit of chaos at times. This time we’re going into it with a little more confidence knowing that Manny has gotten some good news and that once the surgery goes forward, there’s an opportunity to beat it.
“You’re going into it with a totally different perspective on his outlook and when he’s coming back and his return date, which gives us all an opportunity to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
WROBLEWSKI TAKES LEAVE IN ONTARIO
The Ontario Reign will be without head coach John Wroblewski as he takes a personal leave of absence “for an undetermined period of time,” the team announced Wednesday.
Wroblewski is in his second season with the Los Angeles Kings organization after being hired in August 2020. Reign assistant coaches Chris Hajt and Craig Johnson will guide the team in the interim. Ontario (12-4-0-1, .735) is third overall in the Western Conference.
The Reign also have forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan and T.J. Tynan in from Los Angeles this week. Tynan, the reigning AHL MVP, has 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 12 games with Ontario while also dressing twice for Los Angeles. Anderson-Dolan, who played 34 games last season with the Kings, has grabbed 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 16 games for Ontario.
The Reign host the start of a home-and-home series Friday with their Southern California rival, the San Diego Gulls.
BLUES, THUNDERBIRDS SHUFFLE GOALTENDING
St. Louis already had Charlie Lindgren on recall from the Springfield Thunderbirds, then turned to another AHL goaltender in Jon Gillies, who has a .939 save percentage in four AHL appearances with Providence and Lehigh Valley this season. Gillies signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues and backed up Lindgren on Thursday, returning to the Blues organization after spending last season with the Utica Comets.
Thunderbirds forward Nathan Walker also departed for St. Louis and landed his first NHL hat trick on Thursday, in his first NHL action of the season.
With Lindgren still in St. Louis, the Thunderbirds will turn to Colten Ellis, the Blues’ third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, as they prepare to host the Toronto Marlies and Providence Bruins this weekend.
DUBNYK CHECKS IN WITH CHARLOTTE
In need of goaltending help, the Charlotte Checkers went big this week in more ways than one, signing Devan Dubnyk to a professional tryout contract on Tuesday. The 6-foot-6 Dubnyk brings 542 games of NHL experience, has been chosen for three trips to the NHL All-Star Game, and finished third in voting for the Vezina Trophy in 2014-15.
As Charlotte prepares to welcome the Syracuse Crunch for games tonight and Saturday, the move satisfies needs for both the Checkers and Dubnyk. Joey Daccord remains on recall to the Seattle Kraken, and Christopher Gibson did not play last weekend on the Checkers’ two-game road trip. For Dubnyk, who had 140 games of AHL experience between 2007 and 2014, he has been out of work since splitting last season between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche.
“I’m just super excited to come here,” Dubnyk told the Charlotte website. “I’ve been sitting at home for a while, so I’m looking forward to getting down and having some fun and playing some games with these guys.”
DETROIT-GRAND RAPIDS SHUTTLE WORKING OVERTIME
The Grand Rapids Griffins arrived in Winnipeg to battle the Manitoba Moose this weekend minus several key players.
Grand Rapids lost a quartet of veterans to the Detroit Red Wings this week ― captain Brian Lashoff, Dan Renouf, and Luke Witkowski from the blue line along with center Kyle Criscuolo. Criscuolo headed to the NHL owning a career-best seven-game points streak with the Griffins (seven goals, seven assists).
AROUND THE AHL
🏒 Efficiency was the theme for the Cleveland Monsters in an 8-3 road defeat of the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday. Cleveland converted those eight goals on just 16 shots, even after being outshot 17-1 in the second period. Adam Helewka collected a hat trick for the Monsters; after scoring just once in his first 16 games, Helewka has broken through with eight points (four goals, four assists) in his past five games.
🏒 Utica Comets starter Nico Daws left in the third period of Wednesday’s road game against the Rochester Americans and did not return. Daws is fifth in the league in save percentage (.925) and sixth in goals-against average (2.15). With Akira Schmid recalled by the New Jersey earlier today, the Comets will turn to Mareks Mitens, who joined the organization last spring after four seasons at Lake Superior State University. Utica is coming off back-to-back overtime losses at Bridgeport and Rochester, but hosts Cleveland tonight still with a league-best 16-1-2-0 mark (.895).
🏒 Long-time NHL goaltender Ben Bishop saw his first game action Thursday since August 31, 2020, when he was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Dallas Stars. Following a knee injury that kept him out of action last season, Dallas sent the veteran to the Texas Stars on a conditioning assignment this week. Bishop finished with 26 saves in an 8-4 loss to the Chicago Wolves, his first AHL competition since Jan. 11, 2013. The three-time Vezina Trophy finalist was the MVP of the AHL All-Star Game in 2012 and played 175 games in the AHL coming up in the St. Louis and Ottawa organizations.
🏒 Thursday’s game was the start of an 11-game homestand for Texas, which has two more games with the Wolves this weekend. The Stars do not play on the road again until Jan. 15 at Charlotte.
🏒 C.J. Smith had a hat trick, Josh Leivo posted five points (two goals, three assists), and Andrew Poturalski and Joey Keane each scored once and contributed two assists apiece as the Wolves took their point streak to eight games (7-0-0-1) with Thursday’s win. Poturalski’s night moved him into sole possession of the AHL scoring lead with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists); he is bidding to become the first back-to-back AHL scoring champion since Philadelphia Phantoms’ Peter White in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
🏒 Before being recalled to the Calgary Flames on Thursday, Stockton captain Byron Froese had a hat trick in the Heat’s 10-1 win over the San Jose Barracuda on Tuesday. Glenn Gawdin provided a four-point night with his own hat trick and an assist, while Matthew Phillips had two goals along with an assist, and 15 Stockton skaters had at least one point. The 10 goals set a team record for the Heat, who lead the Western Conference at 14-2-2-0 (.833). Dustin Wolf, who made 24 saves, still has not lost in regulation this season (10-0-2, 1.98, .937).
🏒 Rochester’s power play leads the AHL at 29.0 percent (20-for-69). Stockton has taken over the AHL’s penalty-kill lead at 88.9 percent (72-for-81).
ON THE MOVE
🏒 The New York Rangers and Hartford Wolf Pack exchanged goaltenders with Keith Kinkaid going up to the NHL club and Adam Huska returning after making his NHL debut on Wednesday vs. Colorado. Forward Morgan Barron has also been reassigned to Hartford.
🏒 Center Alex Barre-Boulet is back with Syracuse and made his AHL season debut in the 8-3 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday, contributing two assists. Barre-Boulet has three goals and three assists in 16 NHL games between Tampa Bay and Seattle this season.
🏒 Rochester goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is on recall to Buffalo, where he made his NHL season debut against Anaheim on Tuesday.
🏒 The Laval Rocket have seen their top two scorers, Laurent Dauphin and Jesse Ylönen, recalled to the Montreal Canadiens. Defensemen Corey Schueneman is also with the Habs while blueliner Mattias Norlinder is back in Laval, where he scored his first career North American goal on Wednesday vs. Manitoba.
🏒 Winnipeg Jets first-round blueline prospect Ville Heinola has been recalled from Manitoba.
🏒 Forward Hudson Fasching returned to the Tucson Roadrunners from the Arizona Coyotes.
🏒 Top Edmonton Oilers defensive prospect Philip Broberg has been sent back to the Bakersfield Condors after playing eight NHL games. The eighth overall pick from the 2019 NHL Draft has 10 assists in 13 appearances with Bakersfield.
After postponements due to league COVID-19 protocols, several teams are set to return to action this weekend… Hartford resumes play on Sunday afternoon in Lehigh Valley, in a game that can be seen on NHL Network… Hershey visits Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night… Providence opens a three-in-three as Belleville visits tonight, then visits Springfield on Saturday… Bakersfield visits Colorado for a pair of games in Loveland tonight and Saturday… Laval brings a three-game winning streak to Rochester tonight before visiting Hershey on Sunday… Iowa has a pair of games in Milwaukee tonight and Saturday… Stockton and Tucson are set for a Friday-Saturday run in the desert… Abbotsford has matinees Saturday and Sunday in San Jose, the start of a five-game road trip for the Canucks.
“As much as we’d like to think that [players] can learn in a video room or learn in a school, there’s no university of hockey. You gotta be on the ice, and you gotta feel it, and you gotta grow.”
— San Diego Gulls head coach Joël Bouchard to the team website following a 4-1 loss at Stockton last weekend
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently the co-host of the Around the A Podcast. Patrick was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently the co-host of the Around the A Podcast.
Patrick was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.