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Long Overdue Season Recap

04/25/2012 3:43 PM - Mike Peck
 Sorry for the delay on this end of season commentary for the IceHogs (not that you want to hear excuses), but we did some recap stuff here and I bolted out of dodge for a few days for a little recharge before another long summer.

I don’t always put together a “Report Card”, but here is one for the 2011-12 season.

Offense: B-

The IceHogs began the season as a high octane offense. Through 28 games, Rockford had the highest scoring offense in the Western Conference and 6th best overall in the AHL at 3.18 goals per game.  The team finished the first half averaging 3.08 goals per contest but scored 27 fewer goals in the second half (90) than the first (117).

But I didn’t give the team a B- because of the second half fall off in goal production. That was a byproduct of the coaching staff switching up the style of play to a more defensive minded approach. That grade reflects more the team’s inability to capitalize on a lot of grade “A” opportunities that I think cost them a few games throughout the course of the season, specifically in the first half of the campaign.

Overall, Rockford averaged 2.72 goals per outing, good for 19th in the AHL.

Defense: B

The IceHogs team defense was a mess at the start of the season. Not only from keeping the puck out of the net, but breakouts were a circus at times. The neutral zone was an adventure as well. This just isn’t pinned on the blueliners either. The forwards need to take some heat for this.

Adjustments, however, were made and the team turned into one of the best defensive clubs in the Western Conference in 2012. A conscience decision to focus on defense in all three zones, including a solid forecheck in the offensive zone, resulted in a much more competitive hockey team.

After the trade of Brian Connelly, d-men Brian Fahey, Joe Lavin, Ryan Stanton and Ben Youds played in every game with the exception of the April 10 game missed by Fahey (paternity). Those four were great cornerstones for the team down the stretch on the back end.

Goaltending: B-

Again, this is looking at the entire season and not just the second half or final two and a half months. If you want to point to one area why Rockford missed out on the playoffs, it was because they couldn’t keep the puck out of the back of the net in the first half of the season. Through 38 games, Rockford’s goals against average was last at 3.68 per contest. In the final 38 tilts, the Hogs GAA was 2.31, a 1.41 difference. That is astounding!

The understatement of the year is that Carter Hutton saved the IceHogs season (or at least made it respectable).  Hutton was spectacular during his time in Rockford, solidified the position for the team and made the final 20 games interesting during the playoff push.

Special Teams: D+

Special Teams have never been the forte for the Rockford IceHogs and I don’t care what era you’re talking about. There might be a season here or there that the power play was pretty decent or the penalty kill had a strong showing, but overall, it’s hasn’t been a strong point.

The 2011-12 IceHogs team won’t be remembered for their special teams. Rockford’s PP was 25th in the AHL at 15.0% while the PK was 25th at 80.5%. The team’s accumulative power play percentage is 95.5%, third worst in the AHL ahead of only Albany and San Antonio who each totaled 94.4%. Hershey had the highest at 109.9%.

Rockford’s penalty kill did show progress in the second half as it was 11.0% better in the final 38 games compared to the first 38. There was a stretch from Jan. 11 to March 2 that the IceHogs had a PK rate of 90.8% (9-98), and that was with Charlotte going 3-3 on Jan. 26. So that was a bright spot on the special teams.

Coaching: B+

This year’s coaching jobs was one of the best that I’ve seen here in Rockford in 11 years. With recalls, injuries, trades, and defections, the coaching staff was constantly making adjustments to the roster until after the NHL trade deadline when things settled in a little bit for the final month with the exception of some amateurs getting added to the roster late.

Out of the six players that Ted Dent circled on his Opening Night lineup card on Oct. 8, just one of those six skaters (Brian Fahey) finished the season with Rockford. Three of the four letters (captains) departed at some point in 2011-12, so there was a turnover in leadership as well.

I will say that even in the lean times this season, the locker room seemed to be tight and guys appeared to genuinely enjoy coming to the rink most days. I trace some of that back to the coaches and the atmosphere that they instituted.

Another huge factor was the adjustments the coaches made this season. Not just on the defensive end, but with the penalty kill and the revolving roster.  I think the job that this staff did led by Dent has been underappreciated.

Overall Grade:  B-

Big picture, this team made some huge strides this season, but in the end didn’t reach the postseason which was the goal. All things considered, I thought it was a successful campaign though, despite missing out on the playoffs for a second straight year.

Players like Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Ryan Stanton and Peter LeBlanc really made positive steps in their progress in their second seasons. Rookies Joe Lavin, Ben Youds, Rob Flick and Philippe Paradis showed promise as prospects. And Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen all graduated to the NHL (although some could be back in Rockford in 2012-13).

Add in the emergence of Carter Hutton and the team, albeit a lot different on paper in April compared to October, evolved into a solid hockey club in the second half of the season.

Playoff Push and Other Notes

04/06/2012 12:43 PM - Mike Peck
Here we go again- it’s another edition of “The Biggest Weekend Of The Season” for the Rockford IceHogs. This weekend’s two-game set in Lake Erie against the Monsters is huge. With one game in-hand on Lake Erie, Rockford trails the Monsters by two points in the standings and three total points separates the Hogs from the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Rockford is 0-2-0-0 against the Monsters this season and needs a minimum of three points this weekend to stay in contention heading into the final week of the regular season.

Rostislav Olesz is out for tonight’s game and his status for Saturday’s contest is still uncertain. Defenseman Eric Baier will make his IceHogs debut tonight, becoming the 40th different player to suit up for Rockford this season.

That’s about average as the IceHogs have used 36 (2010-11; a single-season low), 41 (2009-10), 44 (2008-09) and 45 players (2007-08; a single-season high) over the previous four years. That’s an average of just over 41 players per season.

The other scratches for Rockford tonight include the suspended Rob Flick and Shawn Lalonde, injured skaters Ben Smith and Paul Zanette, along with Simon Danis-Pepin, Mark McNeill and Kent Simpson.

Random Thoughts and Notes:

-Since the turn of the calendar year, the only team in the Western Conference with a better record than Rockford is Toronto. But if Rockford slips this weekend, it might not matter as the team is still walking the tightrope towards the postseason.

-It was fun this morning seeing some former IceHogs skaters, now with the Monsters, at morning skate. Danny Richmond, Evan Brophey, Mike Brennan and Pete MacArthur are all now with Lake Erie and they are all four quality people that were a joy to have in Rockford.

We’ll have an interview with MacArthur during the second intermission report tonight. He’s a guy who’s battled a lot of injury over the past two seasons and it’s great to see him back in the AHL. No one works harder than MacArthur and I’m sure he’ll be a factor tonight.

In 21 games this season (including 20 with Lake Erie), MacArthur has 4g-9a-13pts.

-A quick thought on the Chicago Express ceasing operations. Personally, I have a lot of ties to that organization, from the owner, to the coach, GM, a few players and of course the PA Announcer. There were a lot of good people in that organization and it’s too bad things didn’t work out. Putting a team back in the Sears Centre was a risk, and it obviously didn’t work out.

When a team folds, it’s easy to brush it off, but when you realize the jobs that are lost and all the hard work that goes down the tubes, it’s disappointing.

-We got into Cleveland at 4:45 p.m. yesterday and little did I know that we still could have caught six innings of baseball if we would have made our way over to Progressive Field after unloading the gear at the Quicken Loans Arena.

A few of us we’ll make up for it tomorrow as the Indians and Blue Jays play at 1 p.m. With the “Q” located 200 feet from Progressive Field, I’d be foolish not to check it out. I know baseball is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from hockey as action goes, but they are my two favorite sports (probably for that reason!)  So needless to say this is my favorite time of year from a sports calendar perspective. Combine hockey playoff push and playoffs, the start of baseball season, NCAA tourney (basketball and hockey) and the Masters, it doesn’t get much better than that!

-Finally, I feel obligated to send out a congrats to Ben Smith and Mike Brennan’s for their BC Eagles knocking off my Gophers on Thursday in the NCAA Frozen Four. BC looks primed for another national title and if you watch on Saturday, keep an eye on Blackhawks prospect Kevin Hayes.