It seems like forever since the Rockford IceHogs have hit the ice. While it was a shortened offseason for the hockey world as a whole, having no playoffs in the AHL made that specific offseason feel eternal. The wait is over, my friends. The Hogs are in the final stages of preparation for the 2021-22 season and have two preseason games against the Iowa Wild to get their lines in order.
They played their first game Thursday night and topped the Wild 3-0. Arvid Söderblom pitched a shutout in his IceHogs debut, making 23 saves on 23 shots. Methinks that was a good start for the IceHogs.
You will have to wait a bit longer for visual proof that there are humans in IceHogs sweaters actually skating on ice – the two preseason games are audio stream only. But, if you trust Joey Z (and you should), he will be calling Friday night’s game for you on IceHogs.com and their mobile app. So you can follow along with all the action, but you’ll just have to use your imagination to picture them skating around.
I have three points of interest heading into the 2021-22 season, and I’m hoping these preseason games will give me a positive outlook.
The Rockford IceHogs special teams are absolutely the number one focus. They were just simply not great last season. The power play started hot and then very quickly fell off a cliff. They even enjoyed being fed a few shorthanded goals against! Delicious…if you like horrible cuisines, that is. Okay, there were only two of those. But when you only score 17 power play goals in 107 chances, two shorthanded goals against feels like a lot.
The six shorthanded goals for were actually very delicious. Five-star cuisine, right there. I’m sorry to make this negative again, but they finished fifth out of six teams in the Central Division on the penalty kill with a 76.7% success rate.
I think the IceHogs may have had an actual curse on them last year when they hit the ice for each second period. There were only a handful of games where it wasn’t abysmal. Other than that, they rarely scored and very often were scored on.
It was rather maddening. I don’t need anything else here to explain why that needs to improve. It just does.
Rockford used a total of six goaltenders last season, and they were . . . not at the top of their games. Cale Morris walked away from the 2020-21 season with respectable numbers (2.52 GAA, .923 SV%). Matt Tomkins was the only other goaltender to finish above .900 at .907 SV%.
Of my three points of interest, this is the one I’m the most confident will improve. Cale Morris re-signed with the IceHogs over the summer. Tom Aubrun is back in camp, but he has a good chance of going back to the Indy Fuel (ECHL). Söderblom is the newcomer in net and had great numbers in Sweden last season.
With Skellefteå AIK, Söderblom had a record of 13-8-0 with a 2.03 GAA and .922 SV%. He brings a lot of skill and potential to the Rockford crease. A duo of Söderblom and Morris should be very fun to watch. Then there is the big question of whether one of the goaltenders in Chicago will be sent down to Rockford. The Blackhawks currently have Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen manning the net. They also have Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban just . . . hanging out. Of the two, Delia is most likely to make it back to Rockford. We’ll have to see how it pans out.
All I know is that the goaltending situation in Rockford this year is a lot more promising. A shutout in preseason game number one makes me feel even more confident about this.
We won’t know for sure how the 2021-22 season will go after just two preseason games, but we can potentially make out some trends in play. Or they will play two completely different games and throw everyone off. This is the AHL. You never know what you’re going to get. And that, right there, is why it’s so fun.
Next Preseason Game
Friday, October 8 – 7:00pm CST
Listen Live at IceHogs.com