Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Special Assignment
Puckin Hostile Invades Rockford

IceHogs vs. Monsters_TR January 14, 2017_5.jpg

This past Saturday, I took the family out for our first Rock Vegas experience, to see the Icehogs face the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffs are the AHL squad of the Detroit Red Wings, so there was some recent familiarity. Before I get into the game itself, I'd like to touch on a few peripheral points. If you're used to the Blackhawks or the Wolves experience, bring down your expectations a bit. This is, by no means, a slam on Rockford or the Icehogs, but the experience and arena are what you would expect in semi-rural Illinois. That said, the atmosphere and BMO Harris Bank Arena are charming. The fans seem friendly and highly invested in this team, even though the on ice product has been pretty awful at times, including this particular game. The arena kind of feels like you are inside a big metal shipping container, the scoreboard is pretty small and dated, and they have a car parked in the corner which makes you feel like you're in a European hockey arena. This is kind off what you should expect, though.

I will say that the Icehogs store was absolutely phenomenal. Especially for an AHL team, their selection of QUALITY merchandise was more than I would have ever expected. Not only this, but they were running a special that made it affordable to outfit the entire family of four in nice Hogs gear for $150. I'm heading out there again on 1/28, against the Iowa Wild, and I have no problem dropping some more money on their sharp swag. Seriously, whoever designs their gear needs to be commended. There is so much gear that the store had to be expanded out into the concourse, because there is double the amount of product that could fit into the store. Joking aside, Rockford is a pretty large city. It's no different than Joliet or Aurora. If you have the time, head out to check out a game. Tickets are super affordable and you don't have to deal with the, sometimes intolerable, snooty hipster Wolves fans. Hawks and Hogs fans are on the same side.

I was able to meet up with our "Rockford Correspondent", Beth, and her family, as well as local sports anchor from WREX, Dan Cohen. Both completely awesome people. I can't speak highly enough about them. Both had birthdays over the weekend, and I hope they had great ones.

Now to the actual reason I made the trip; the game. This might have also been the least exciting part of the evening. The Icehog were on the ass end of a back to back so they started backup Mac "The Truth" Carruth. He was just terrible. I want to like this guy, but he was simply awful. The Griffins went up 3-0 in the first period, and were up 4-0 a minute into the second, which got Carruth the ol hook-a-roo. Granted, his defense did him no favors, whatsoever. Erik Gustafsson had one of the worst defensive turnovers I've ever seen, 10 feet directly in front of his own goalie, just as an Icehog powerplay ended. Red light; goal number 2. Carruth didn't take too kindly to getting the hook, throwing a tantrum at the bench door, slamming his mask to the floor, slamming the door shut and jawing like a lunatic. Not going to get you in the favor of your coach with behavior like that, kid. I personally thought Ted Dent should have given Carruth the hook between periods. He gave up a powerplay goal with under a minute left in the first period, and then proceeded to give up one less than a minute into the second. His fault or not, the team needed the boot in the keister. If you give up three first period goals, including one inside the last minute, you need an intermission shakeup. That one is on Dent.

In came Lars Johans-SON, to finish the game. I have nothing bad to say about Johansson. He looked poised and confident. Unfortunately, I missed it live, but he made an old school Dominik Hasek style partial breakaway two pad stack that gave the Icehog some momentum. They ended up getting two goals in the second period following this play. It's nice to see a small flash of goaltending days gone by. The goal that Johansson gave up wasn't his fault. He made a nice save and the rebound popped out to his right. The defenseman lost track of his man and it left Ben Street with the puck on his stick and a wide open net. Johansson almost got across in enough time to make a big glove save.

Other observations were as follows:
  • The Evan Mosley goal was really bad. It was a long wrist shot from the blue line that Cal Heeter just muffed.
  • Kyle Baun-Baun had a nice 1-on-2 move that Heeter got a piece of, but hit the post, Hetter's back and then dribbled into the net. The move by Baun to cut to the middle and rip off a solid shot was the highlight of that play.
  • The Hogs had some chances in the second and third, but Heeter was generally solid.
  • Tyler Motte's speed was very apparent. He was able to close on defenders, and sometimes around them, before they knew how to daeal with him. It didn't show on the score sheet, but he could have easily had 2 goals.
  • I saw a few flashes of offensive skill from Robin Norell that could blossom into something.
  • Gustav Forsling is clearly the best defenseman on the team. He was out there for all the important ice situations. Dent paired him up with his Finnish older brother Ville Pokka. Pokka didn't really show any brilliance, but he's definitely the second best defenseman after Forsling.
  • I was on the Erik Gustafsson bus last season, but OOOF. Dude was pretty brutal. He's regressing. He was a minus 2 and the second goal rests solely on his shoulders.
  • A player that wasn't really on my radar caught my eye is Jeremy Langlois. He has some really good speed, and provided some forechecking pressure. I have no idea if he has any hands, at all, but he pretty "pesty".
  • Mark McNeill is definitely one of the best forwards on the ice, but had a generally quiet night. The look on his face is constantly that of a puppy smacked with a newspaper for shitting on the carpet that feels shamed. He doesn't look aggressive. I'll be shocked if he's not finishing the season with another organization after the trade deadline.

Check out the highlights of the game Saturday right here:

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