The Rockford IceHogs are fresh off a stretch of seven wins in 10 games, and as the season progresses, there are more and more reasons for Hogs’ fans to grow more optimistic.
The Hogs are the Chicago Blackhawks’ affiliates and are now in third place in the AHL Central Division. And as the Hawks struggled, with the fewest wins (12) and the fewest points (28) in the NHL, the Hogs are surging, with the 10th most wins in the league overall (20), and the third most over the past month .
Rockford also has three of the top 13 scorers in the league, in newly named all-stars Lukas Reichel, Brett Seney and David Gust. This is only the second time Rockford has had three all-stars, and they are one of only three teams to have that many this season.
“I think we’re in a good spot, and we’re doing some really good things out there,” Hogs head coach Anders Sorensen said this week. “We’re playing with some pace and playing with some energy, and that puts fans in the stands, right? We’re exciting to watch. And as long as we do that and have success in the scoresheet and in the win column, then we’re in a good spot.”
Heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Hogs had won 10 of 14 games and are moving up the standings as the mid-season all-star break nears.
Here are the top three signs that this organization is on the rise:
1) All-star nods show scoring depth
The Hogs are filled with stars that can put the puck in the net this year.
Rockford has 124 goals in 36 games (3.44 goals per game) already this season, 10th most in the league, but well past the halfway mark of last year’s 223 goals in 72 games (3.09 per game).
“It shows the kind of depth this team has with Reichs (Lukas Reichel) and Seens (Brett Seney) and me all going to the all-star game. It’ll be fun,” said sixth-year winger, and first-year Hog, David Gust, who leads the team with 18 goals and just earned his first all-star nod. “I think I’ve just gotten a little better opportunity this year to play with some better players and on some better lines, and on special teams and all that. And I kind of ran away with it.”
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The trio led the Hogs to 3.56 goals per game through 2022, eighth-best in the AHL, with 46 goals and 65 assists between them, accounting for 33.1% of Rockford’s scoring.
“We’re all three pretty fast players, and we’re working well together,” Reichel said. “It’s nice to have some success, but everyone knows they have to keep it going.”
2) When given the chance, Hogs stepping up at NHL level
Reichel just returned to Rockford from a weeklong stint with the Hawks. He has played in four NHL games this season and three have been wins for the Hawks. He has registered a goal and two assists, with all three points coming on Jan. 8 against the Calgary Flames.
Like the other Hogs who have been called up, he’s made the most of his opportunities.
Two weeks ago the Hawks called up both Reichel and Seney to fill in for multiple injuries and illnesses, and with former Hog defenseman Isaak Phillips with Chicago as well, the team won four games in a row. That was more wins than Chicago had in all of December, and most of November.
“I’m not going to say that me and Reichs going up there won games for anyone,” Seney said. “But maybe our presence and kind of our confidence when we came in kind of shot some energy into some guys.”
And they’re not alone. The 10 Hogs who have played for the Hawks this season so far have done their jobs well, and have injected some energy into the locker room.
“For all of the (Hogs) who have gone up, no one has looked out of place… everybody has looked ready,” said Seney, who played 55 NHL games for New Jersey and Toronto, but got his first ice time with the Hawks earlier this month. “When you’re winning at this level, you go up there with a little more confidence, too. It allows you to make plays and kind of play your game.”
3) Goalies are holding strong
Even with their No. 1 goaltender headed into the season, Arvid Soderblom, playing most of the season with the Hawks, and now on the injured list, Rockford has held steady in net.
The Hogs have allowed just 3.11 goals per game, and that’s using four different guys, two of which were not expected to be needed much. That would be Dylan Wells, who is 8-3-1 and has a 2.63 goals-against average, and Mitchell Weeks, who is 5-2-3 with a 2.67 goals-against average.
Hawks goalie Alex Stalock was placed in concussion protocol for the second time this season after getting banged up in practice on Monday, and he already missed a month and a half with a concussion earlier in the season. The Hawks have now taken Jason Stauber from Rockford twice in the last three weeks, although he has yet to see any NHL time. Stauber has a 6-4-0 record with the Hogs this season, with a 3.06 goals-against average.
Stalock and Petr Mrazek are the Hawks’ main goalies now and for the foreseeable future this season, but Soderblom, and now Stauber, should have a chance to show what they’ve got at the NHL level this new year as well. Which means Wells and Weeks will continue to get AHL shots as well.
So far, when given a chance, they’ve all stepped up.
Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, since the turn of the century at the Register Star, and for over 30 years all together.