Now without a doubt this AHL themed blog will be overshadowed by the “NHL is back” stories you’re all dying to read. I’m beginning to think the hockey blog writing Gods are against me considering that I began writing for Hockey Independent at the cusp of a lockout and struggled/could not be bothered, like many others in covering the roller coaster CBA negotiations. It would make sense that the morning following my AHL hockey-watching weekend was highlighted by an NHL/NHLPA agreement. Why not, right?
Well, the persistence (see: stubbornness) in me will carry on with my Rockford Icehogs piece, but now adding in my thoughts on how this agreement will potentially affect the team and individual players on the Hogs.
I will provide a quick snapshot of Friday and Saturday’s games and then go into weekend analysis of certain players, coaching and overall team dynamic and then let you go on your way getting excited for NHL hockey. How does that sound?
Friday night the Icehogs rolled in to Canadian Steel City, Hamilton, to play a struggling Bulldogs team who had generated 26 points heading into this contest. Key players on the Bulldogs include Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu on D and Louis Leblanc, Brendan Gallagher and former Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Mike Blunden.
The Icehogs lineup:
Bollig – Shaw – Beach
St. Pierre – Kruger – Morin
Saad – Pirri – Smith
Paradis – Flick – Hayes
Stanton – Dahlbeck
Leddy – Clendening
Olsen – Lalonde
The Hogs started off well with a quick goal by Ben Smith from his home office out front of the net. Hamilton tied it up in the 1st with a goal that was scored 0.01 seconds left in the frame. There wasn’t much video replay (I’m not sure how sophisticated it is in the AHL but should have warranted a longer look regardless) and the goal stood. No one was to blame though except the 5 Hogs scrambling in their own zone like a tyke’s first practice.
The 2nd period was led off by the main card of Brandon Bollig vs. Zach Stortini with Bollig winning over the judges (which consisted of myself + my girlfriend). This reinforces my thoughts on how Bollig is the real deal as a legitimate NHL tough guy as Stortini is no slouch with 725 career PIMs in the NHL, mostly as Edmonton’s enforcer.
Hamilton added a PP goal in the 2nd and then another goal in the 3rd immediately after another penalty kill by the Hogs. The Bulldogs cruised to a 3-1 victory and did it in pretty convincing fashion.
As I threw on my lucky Dave Bolland shirt, I was setting myself up surely to see a much better effort against the Toronto Marlies, on Saturday afternoon who were 8-0-1-1 in their last ten putting them at 43 points prior to the match.
Well that was not exactly the case and not even a lucky shirt could save them. I won’t attempt to put the lineup together because Ted Dent was channeling his inner Joel Quenneville behind the bench with his line juggling. All players remained the same with the exception of Carter Hutton in net, Dylan Olsen and Rob Flick who were scratches.
This game right from the beginning was much more physical than the night in Hamilton and played at a higher pace. Toronto was first on the board off a Paul Ranger goal. Ranger’s story, although shrouded in mystery, is a remarkable one as he attempts to make his way back to the NHL after an almost 3 year hiatus.
Brandon Saad must have the boys respect in the locker room as he was laid out with an open ice hit and without blinking an eye Jimmy Hayes dropped his mitts vs. one tough customer in Mark Fraser. It was a dangerous looking hit and Saad must learn to keep his head up at times.
Kruger scored the lone Icehogs goal but they still trailed 2-1 after the 1st period. The 2nd and 3rd periods were just a game of catch up that was unsuccessfully executed by the Hogs. The Marlies went up 3-1, Bollig got it within 3-2, then the Marlies score shorthanded right after to go up 4-2 and did not look back. The added an empty netter for a final of 5-2.
I was confident that the effort would be higher as Shaw, Flick, Pirri, LeBlanc, Lalonde and St. Pierre all hail from Ontario but that wasn’t the case. A long bus ride to Canada provides serious bonding time with the boys and with a couple poor performances (some in front of friends and family) in a disappointing fashion could also prove to be a quality learning experience. Andrew Shaw agrees:
My overall feeling after watching the Icehogs live for the first time this year was… uninspired. I’m not sure if it’s a wet behind the ears coach in Ted Dent but I can’t seem to determine any kind of identity with this team. Keep in mind that this is a small sample size that I’m basing this on and maybe someone who watches them more frequently (Eli) can help me on that one. I found myself questioning Dent more than once though as I sat right behind the bench in Hamilton. His interactions with the players were very limited. Even with 5 minutes left down 3-1 during a TV timeout, he said nothing. Instead, the 5 man unit slated to play the next shift huddled into a circle and came up with their own “game plan”.
In watching the Marlies post-game on TV last night I was able to view a very composed, future NHL coach in Dallas Eakins. He’s a very creative thinking (ie. placing his centre behind the net when the Hogs pulled their goalie to retrieve dump ins), active coach and although I’m not going to put in him and Dent side-by-side it definitely puts things into perspective.
Dent’s team is rapidly going to become a bit lighter on the skill side of things with potentially losing his top players to the NHL, so it should become apparent that strategy, more than ever needs to be executed properly. We’ll see how he copes.
Now on to individual player thoughts:
Carter Hutton: The saavy vet is very good laterally and has strong reflex/reactionary skills, which were on display as he constantly bailed out teammates on Saturday afternoon. The 28 year old could see NHL time this season in my opinion.
Ryan Stanton: He had a rough game on Saturday with a couple really bad turnovers. He is a warrior though and is always first out of the gate for top line matching and penalty killing duties. He needs to limit his minor penalties though and he could potentially see time in Chicago.
Klas Dahlbeck: The Swedish defender was paired with Stanton all weekend and you wouldn’t have even known he was there unless you looked for him. Don’t worry Klas, I mean that in a positive way. I don’t think he made a mistake all weekend – a very solid defender that could be the darkhorse to working his way to the NHL as a depth d-man.
Nick Leddy: I’m hoping he was working on specific things in Rockford as he looked pretty ordinary out there. I did like how he was getting his shots through from the point on the PP though. This skill is needed and he should get the chance to continue to hone it on the Blackhawks powerplay.
Adam Clendening: Stan Bowman, please don’t hint that this young man is close to playing in the NHL because he’s not. The skill is there, that’s evident but he needs a lot of work before plunging into the show.
Brett Lebda: Saturday was Lebda’s only weekend appearance as he took Dylan Olsen’s spot but I feel in a pinch the Hawks should have no problem pulling this Illinois native up. I’m unsure of his contract specifics but don’t overlook a vet who has player 450+ NHL games (60+ in the playoffs), plus he’s a small puck moving defenseman, he’d fit right in.
Marcus Kruger: The best Rockford forward all weekend. His passing and vision is so far advanced than some of the talent there it’s a treat to watch. Martin St. Pierre and Ben Smith seemed to have the best chemistry with the young Swede. The number 2 or 3 center spot is waiting for him in Chicago.
Ben Smith: I’m a fan of what Ben Smith brings to the table. One would think if he doesn’t crack this shortened-season roster, he would be one of the first call-ups.
Kyle Beach: I dedicated an entire blog to him in hopes that he would consistently put together a strong season. After watching him closely all weekend, I would be shocked if he ever plays in the NHL, even as a 4th liner.
Philippe Paradis & Rob Flick: These 2 gentlemen on the other hand, have potential 4th line NHL futures. There’s not a lot of room on the Hawks now so it may have to be with another team however.
Jimmy Hayes & Jeremy Morin: I was very disappointed in their performances this weekend. My recommendation would be to leave them in the minors to continue to work on their games until they become an asset to the Hawks lineup or someone else’s.
Brandon Saad: I enjoyed watching Saad play against the talent of the AHL as I’ve only viewed him live in the prospect camps to date. He did not look out of place, creating offense and was sound defensively, however more time in the minors would not hurt him. Did you hear me Stan?
So everyone give 3 cheers for AHL hockey: hip-hip-hooray! hip-hip-hooray! hip-hip-hooray! as I’m sure interest will drop significantly now that the NHL is back. I’ve always held a strong interest in watching prospects develop so I will continue to keep up with the minor league happenings and Blackhawks specific prospects best I can. That way, you can enjoy watching the Hawks on your FREE Centre Ice package. That is a thing right?
But Tyler, what else can we expect from your blogs? Well I’m glad you asked fake Bonsai tree on my office desk! Moving forward I will continue to follow the Hawks very closely and offer my post game analysis, player comments and witty banter that you may or may not agree on.
I will also cover league wide stories as I’m sure this will be anything but a dull 48-50 game season with multiple intriguing storylines.
I encourage you to comment away below and engage in friendly debates as I’m sure a lot of you have a lot of pent up arguments like Dave Bolland should just be the #2 center already or this is the Maple Leafs year they make a playoff run or maybe even should I trade Luongo in my fantasy keeper league?
Thoughts on training camp, schedule and trade rumblings shortly!
Ty Cam out!
Filed Under: Chicago Blackhawks
About the Author: I am a rare Chicago Blackhawks fan from Canada, one might describe me as a hockey connoisseur and a solid checking line centre to your local rec hockey team. I once lived in a town of 500 people and now work in the hockey mecca that is Toronto. I work in the wonderful world of Advertising and these opinions are one of my own and not of my company - don't get it twisted.