Weekend notebook: New-look IceHogs poised for stretch

Photo: Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Rockford IceHogs are making their move.

Several, in fact.

With today’s 3 p.m ET National Hockey League trade deadline rapidly approaching, the team acquired sniper Rocco Grimaldi, whose 27 goals tie him for the AHL lead, from the San Diego Gulls, while the parent Chicago Blackhawks sent IceHogs forward Dylan Sikura to the Anaheim Ducks, San Diego’s NHL affiliate.

Signed to an AHL contract by the Gulls last October, Grimaldi has put up 56 points in 54 appearances, tied for sixth in AHL scoring. Nine of those goals have come in his past nine outings, and he chipped in a pair of assists in what would be his San Diego finale, a 6-5 loss to Henderson on Wednesday.

Then late Thursday, the Blackhawks brought in veteran goaltender Anton Khubobin in yet another trade, sending forward Max Domi and IceHogs netminder Dylan Wells to the Dallas Stars. Khudobin, a veteran of 259 NHL games, had played 24 contests this season with Texas, going 13-4-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. He was a 2020 Stanley Cup finalist with Dallas and also has 230 AHL games to his name.

Chicago is in a full rebuild, and team management wants its prospects in the Calder Cup Playoffs come April. To that end, the Blackhawks have undertaken an aggressive reshaping of the roster in Rockford. The IceHogs go into weekend play fourth in the Central Division following Wednesday’s 5-3 loss at Toronto, the team’s third defeat in its past four games. A stop tonight at Belleville followed by a Saturday matinee at Laval are next up for the IceHogs.

The additions of Grimaldi and Khudobin were the latest moves in what has been a chaotic stretch for the IceHogs. Also Thursday, Chicago brought Rochester forward Anders Bjork over from Buffalo, while the IceHogs dealt Carson Gicewicz to Rochester. Last week, the Blackhawks sent forward Josiah Slavin to Anaheim in a swap that brought forward Hunter Drew to Rockford.

Chicago also went to work this week to reshape Rockford’s defense corps, adding Andy Welinski from the New York Rangers in the Patrick Kane deal while the IceHogs sent Adam Clendening to Hartford.

Rockford has been making do lately with a blue line missing Jakub Galvas and Alec Regula (both in concussion protocol) along with Cliff Watson (knee sprain). All-Star forwards Lukas Reichel, Brett Seney and David Gust have all been on recall to Chicago.

Does this wave of action prompt other Central Division clubs to respond? After all, only eight points separate the IceHogs from first-place Texas in the Central. In between the two clubs are the Milwaukee Admirals in second place followed by the hard-charging Manitoba Moose. Today figures to be another hectic day of action for AHL rosters: A player must be on an AHL roster at 3 p.m. ET today to be eligible to be sent down from the NHL at any time for the rest of the season. Further reshaping of rosters can continue until the AHL’s own trade/loan deadline next Friday, March 10.

The defending Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves make their way to Winnipeg to continue their stretch-drive chase when they face Manitoba in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT).

Thanks to a 7-2-0-1 run, including a 4-3 victory at Grand Rapids on Wednesday, the Wolves have closed to within only four points of Iowa for the Central Division’s nearest available playoff slot. Manitoba has been hot of late as well, holding the AHL’s longest active point streak at nine games (7-0-1-1). The Moose are within four points of Texas for the Central Division lead.

The teams meet tonight before Sunday’s rematch.


🏒 Rockford’s David Gust is one of five AHL names added to the list of players making their NHL debut in the last week, taking the season total to 59.

Gust, who signed an NHL deal with the Blackhawks on Feb. 23 after posting career highs in goals (24), assists (26) and points (50) in Rockford, scored on his NHL first shift with Chicago last Saturday in San Jose.

Forward Elliot Desnoyers has scored 19 goals for Lehigh Valley this season, tying him for fourth among AHL rookies. His first NHL game also came last Saturday with the Philadelphia Flyers, who made him a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Cleveland blueliner Billy Sweezey’s NHL debut came at age 27, when the Yale product suited up for Columbus in the Blue Jackets’ game at Minnesota on Sunday. Milwaukee’s AHL All-Star forward Luke Evangelista, whose 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists) tie him for third in rookie scoring, debuted with Nashville on Tuesday night. And Matt Murray, third in the league with a 2.36 GAA this season for Texas, earned the win in his NHL debut as Dallas defeated Chicago on Thursday night.

🏒 Much like the Chicago-Rockford affiliation, the New York Rangers are giving Hartford help as the stretch drive intensifies.

Along with the deal that brought Adam Clendening to the Wolf Pack, top sniper Ryan Carpenter also returned to Hartford this week from a brief stay in New York. Carpenter has piled up 13 goals in 31 games for the Wolf Pack. A Hartford offense that ranks 24th in scoring received another boost when forward Will Lockwood came to the organization in the trade that sent Vitali Kravtsov to Vancouver. Lockwood, 24, had 18 points (12 goals, eight assists) in only 26 games with Abbotsford. Another forward, 23-year-old Jake Leschyshyn, has also joined the Wolf Pack from the Rangers after spending 35 games in the NHL this season between New York and Vegas. Last season he collected 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in only 34 games with Henderson.

The Wolf Pack, one point behind Bridgeport for the closest available playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, have won four in a row and are in Springfield tonight before they visit Bridgeport on Saturday. Their demanding weekend concludes Sunday back at XL Center against Charlotte.

🏒 A showdown between the Eastern Conference’s top two clubs is set for tonight in Hershey, where the Bears will welcome the Toronto Marlies.

At 37-14-2-1 and 77 points, the Marlies lead the Eastern Conference and have built an 18-point lead for first place in the North Division. They defeated Rockford on Wednesday night, even without the services of top forwards Bobby McMann and captain Logan Shaw.

The Bears have taken back control of first place in the Atlantic Division despite an uneven February in which they went 5-5-1-1. Hershey faces another stiff challenge Saturday night when the Providence Bruins visit Giant Center; the Bruins trail Hershey by just one point in the Atlantic. That contest will be the first of three consecutive meetings between the clubs in an eight-day span.

🏒 Rochester could deal a blow to one of their pursuers tonight with a win at Laval.

The Amerks have a three-point lead on the Rocket for fourth place in the North Division as the teams prepare for a rematch at Place Bell. Rochester’s offense has surged to life lately, with 25 goals in its last four games. It was not enough on Wednesday, however, as the Rocket took a 7-5 decision.

A regulation win tonight could put the Amerks five points clear of Laval in the teams’ race. Rochester also holds two games in hand as well as at least one game on every other North Division club.

🏒 Help is on the way for the Penguins, who have fallen four points below Bridgeport and the playoff line in the Atlantic.

With Wednesday’s loss at Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is on a 2-7-1-2 dating to Feb. 1. They visit Cleveland for a pair of games this weekend, including an outdoor game Saturday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.

But the Penguins received help from Pittsburgh, receiving forward Brock McGinn and defenseman Mark Friedman after they cleared waivers. McGinn, who last played in the AHL with Charlotte in 2016-17, had 16 points, including 10 goals, in 60 games with Pittsburgh this season. Friedman, who has split this season between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, will bring a feisty edge with him to Wilkes-Barre, where has a goal and four assists in 19 games this season.

However, the Penguins lost forward Drake Caggiula on recall to Pittsburgh before facing Hershey. Defenseman Ty Smith also remains out of the line-up.

🏒 Keith Kinkaid went from a three-goalie set-up in Providence to another one in Colorado.

Kinkaid came to the Eagles last weekend after the Colorado Avalanche acquired him from Boston for forward Shane Bowers. An offseason signing by Boston, Kinkaid ended up sharing time in Providence with Brandon Bussi and Kyle Keyser after the prospects showed well.

Avs netminder Pavel Francouz is out with a lower-body injury for now, and Justus Annunen and Jonas Johansson have been alternating recalls from the Eagles to the NHL club. Kinkaid’s arrival provides the organization with another proven recall option. When Francouz returns, however, the Eagles could have a Annunen-Johansson-Kinkaid rotation of their own.

🏒 A remaking of the Tucson blue line continued Thursday with the addition of Michael Kesselring, acquired by the parent Arizona Coyotes from Edmonton for defenseman Cam Dineen.

Kesselring, 23, had blossomed with Bakersfield in his third pro season, tying for second overall in goals (13) by a defenseman. He also has nine assists for 22 points in 49 games with the Condors, who are in a race with the Roadrunners for a Pacific Division playoff spot. Both clubs have 52 points, but the Condors have an edge for sixth place as they have played two fewer games than Tucson. On Feb. 22 the Roadrunners saw defenseman Dysin Mayo, the team’s all-time leader in games, sent off to the Vegas Golden Knights. Mayo has since settled in with Henderson.

Tucson hosts San Diego tonight and Saturday.

🏒 Tucson head coach Steve Potvin recently had assessed Dineen’s progress with the Roadrunners.

The 24-year-old Dineen, a 2016 third-round selection by the Coyotes, had taken a slow path in Tucson. In 207 games with the Roadrunners, he put up 90 points (18 goals, 72 assists). Fifty of those contests came this season as he reached career highs in assists (31) and points (35), placing him sixth in scoring among AHL blueliners.

“He’s definitely getting closer [to the NHL],” Potvin said. “He’s a player you know exactly what you can expect night in and night out. I think he’s always had this type of capability, and his game has definitely elevated. He’s had to play a little bit of the waiting game.”

Last season Dineen played his first 34 NHL contests, picking up seven assists. Potvin saw a difference in Dineen’s game after returning from the Coyotes.

Tonight, Dineen and the Bakersfield Condors welcome Coachella Valley. A home match-up with Ontario awaits them Saturday.


🗣️ “This year it’s really been up and down, so now I think it’s just kind of learning from all those downs. And to be honest, I don’t think I’d change a thing. I learned a lot, and I think it made me a better goalie and a better teammate. So be it. I’ll take all those downs to learn from those to be a better goalie, a better teammate, and a better athlete.”

— Belleville goaltender Kevin Mandolese on a season in which he has made his NHL debut while also spending time in both the AHL and ECHL.