With all due respect to the San Antonio Rampage and Chicago Wolves tonight’s game should be a far better barometer on how the Milwaukee Admirals stack up right now. The Rockford IceHogs had a terrific season last season that simply pitter-pattered apart towards the finish. Much has changed in the Chicago Blackhawks organization which impacts how the IceHogs now look -but- they are just as strong of a team as they were a season ago.
Who of last season’s IceHogs has departed from Rockford-land? Bryan Bickell, Daniel Ciampini, Kyle Cumiskey, Matt Fraser, Kirill Gotovets, Ryan Haggerty, Jay Harrison, Sam Jardine, Michael Leighton, Drew MacIntyre, Dennis Robertson, Garret Ross, and David Rundblad.
Some big hitters are out and moved on, yes, but I feel the IceHogs have filled back out real well. Abbott and Carrick have a combined 249 points (91 goals, 158 assists) from 385 games in their AHL careers. Having well-rounded players such as these to complement an already good veteran group. The IceHogs still have Jake Dowell, Pierre-Cédric Labrie, and received familiar names after the passed through waivers in Brandon Mashinter and Mark McNeill. It’s a very established group of players and that should make the an incredibly tough test for the AHL this season.
Where a question mark can be thrown to the IceHogs this season is in net. Leighton was marvelous for the IceHogs last season: 46 games, 28-8-5-3 record, 2.44 goals against average, 0.918 save percentage, and 5 shutouts. He is now with the Carolina Hurricanes organization where he is with the Charlotte Checkers. Stepping into his place? A tandem between first year North American pro Johansson and a familiar face in Carruth.
Johansson is a 29-year old goaltender who has logged a lengthy career in his native Sweden before making his splash to the North American scene this season with Rockford. Looking at what he accomplished last season with Frölunda HC you can get the idea just why the Blackhawks wanted to bring him in:
Johansson, has played the last three seasons with Frolunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League, posting a 56-27-0 record with 11 shutouts in 93 games. During the 2015-16 season, he recorded a league-leading 1.74 goals-against average alongside a save percentage of .927 while going 27-6-0. Johansson picked up league honors for Goalie of the Year last season as Frolunda captured the league championship. In 10 playoff games last season, Johansson recorded a 1.27 GAA with a save percentage of .934. A native of Avesta, Sweden, Johansson also played professionally in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league with Mora IK (2008-11) and VIK Vasteras HK (2011-13).
As always, the European to North American transition is a different process for all who go through it. But I often find that the biggest trouble area for those going through it come at defenseman or in net. Why? That’s where the pace and style of the game can twist and turn you inside out the most. So far, he has hit the ground running with the IceHogs: 2 games, 1-1-0-0 record, 1.52 goals against average, and a 0.946 save percentage. His first win came last night in the IceHogs’ 2-1 victory of the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Carruth? This season is really his first chance to get a long AHL run. In the Blackhawks organization he has essentially bounced around between the AHL and ECHL 50-50 in his career. He’s been decent enough when given the opportunity for the IceHogs in his career: 28 games, 10-9-2-1 record, 2.53 goals against average, 0.912 save percentage, and 3 shutouts. That stat-line still comes through sporadic playing time and while going through the AHL/ECHL roller coaster. Can he stick and push for first choice goaltender? Or will he struggle alongside a netminder going through the motions of the North American pro game for the first time? That’s the true gray area on the IceHogs season to me.
Expectations for tonight’s game? How do you feel the Admirals match-up against the IceHogs? Will the penalty minutes issue continue to be a problem for the Admirals?
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