The Rockford IceHogs have only played the Milwaukee Admirals four times this season and tonight marks just their second trip to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. It feels bizarre to say that considering it is already February but all that means is that they’ll be a near constant in the upcoming schedule just as the Chicago Wolves had been the previous two months.
It is a welcome sight for an Admirals group looking to get on a run. The Admirals are 3-0-0-1 against the IceHogs this season with the lone loss coming the night of the “Food Poisoning” game for the Nashville Predators that saw several key figures go up from the Admirals with random plugs into the roster including Mark Visentin in net – who was great that night.
Of the Admirals wins over the IceHogs this season only one came from a narrow margin. That was a shootout win in Rockford that featured goals from Frédérick Gaudreau and Vladislav Kamenev in the final five-minutes of regulation to force overtime. The other games saw wins of 7-3 and 5-2. That last scoreline came at the top of the 2017 side of the calendar in the first match-up in Milwaukee. The leading scorer in the season series is Matt White who has 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 4 games.
The IceHogs enter this game with a record of 14-23-5-3 (36 points, 0.400 points percentage). They aren’t just dead last in the Central Division. They aren’t just dead last in the Western Conference. They are the worst team in the entire AHL based on points percentage, points earned, and fewest wins. Only the Rochester Americans (24) and Hartford Wolf Pack (24) have more regulation losses in the league this season than the IceHogs (23) and that can change tonight.
In discussions I’ve had with Chicago Blackhawks fans, because we have those around Southeastern Wisconsin, I get the sense that the reason for the sheer -bad, bad, awful- effort of the IceHogs this season comes in not so much who is there as much as it is who isn’t there anymore: Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero, and Nick Schmaltz. That is a lot of NHL/AHL fringe talent that is up with the Blackhawks out of necessity right now. Add to the fact that last year’s security blanket in net Michael Leighton signed elsewhere in the off-season and you have a hodgepodge group that deliver plenty of disappointment.
I feel very much that this year’s IceHogs are last year’s Chicago Wolves. When you see the roster it is still capable of being really good. There just has to be something between the ears not firing right. They have quality veteran leadership players: Jake Dowell, Spencer Abbott, Brandon Mashinter, and Pierre-Cédric Labrie. They still have some youngsters that are exciting: Tyler Motte, Mark McNeill, Ville Pokka, and Carl Dahlström. And depth style players to fill in gaps: Sam Carrick, Christopher DeSousa, and Jeremy Langlois. I can see a stumble here and there, like the Admirals the last two months, but how are the IceHogs as bad as this? It begs questioning.
Perhaps a spark plug is needed for the IceHogs to get things firing right. Enter former-Admiral forward Michael Latta who was recently acquired from the Los Angeles Kings organization in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.
Latta logged 122 career games as a member of the Admirals while producing 63 points (23 goals, 40 assists) and 286 penalty minutes. He infamously came out of the penalty box without wearing a jersey during the bench clearing brawl that took place on April Fools’ Day 2012. He was traded the next season in a deal that saw Filip Forsberg acquired from the Washington Capitals. He was in their organization up until this season when he signed a two-way deal with the Kings where he had been in the AHL as a member of the Ontario Reign for the whole of this season until the mid-season trade made him a member of the IceHogs. He has played 3 games and produced an assist since joining the IceHogs. He had 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 29 games with the Reign this season with a plus/minus rating of +4 and 67 penalty minutes. Expect to see him chatting at neutral ice during pre-game skate with former best pal with the Admirals Mike Liambas.
Expectations for tonight’s game? How will the All-Star break play with tonight’s game: slow and sloppy or refreshed and fast? Considering how often these two teams will be playing for the rest of the season do you feel some message sending across both sides could happen in tonight’s game? What are the odds of a Liambas vs. Latta fight?
Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.