Rockford, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs got off to a fast start in their season opener. They just couldn’t keep a talented Chicago Wolves out of the net.
The Hogs raced out to an early 2-0 lead, only to see Chicago rally from behind twice as the Wolves took over to win, 5-4. A pair of goals from Wolves rookie Seth Jarvis proved to be the difference in this high-scoring affair.
The Hogs were 2-2 on the power play in the first half of the opening period. With Lukas Craggs in the box for holding, John Quenneville took a pass from Wyatt Kalynuk into neutral ice. A give and go with Cody Franson allowed Quenneville to streak into the Wolves zone. He beat Chicago goalie Jeremy Helvig from the slot at 4:41 for a 1-0 Rockford advantage.
A few minutes later, Joey Keane was sent to time out for holding the stick. The IceHogs won the resulting offensive zone draw and maneuvered the puck to a pinching Franson. The veteran defensman found Evan Barratt in front of the Chicago crease. Helvig stopped the attempt, but Chad Yetman‘s put back gave Rockford a 2-0 lead at the 8:35 mark.
The Wolves rallied in the latter half of the first period. Jarvis potted his second goal of the season, cleaning up a rebound of Jamieson Rees power move to the Hogs net at 17:22 of the first. Just over a minute later, Cavan Fitzgerald sent a snipe from the top of the left circle. The shot beat Hogs goalie Matt Tomkins, clanged off the left post and settled into the net to tie the contest at two goals with 1:36 remaining in the fist period.
Rockford went up early in the second when Franson set up Kalynuk for a one-timer from the right dot on the man advantage 4:36 into the middle frame. The Wolves responded with three unanswered goals.
Coming off a faceoff win in the Hogs zone, Alexandre Carrier sent a shot wide of the net. However, the carom off the end boards wound up on the stick of Tanner Jeannot, who tied the game 3-3 at the 5:11 mark. Another strong move to the net by Rees got him past the defending Chad Krys. Jarvis was on hand to finish the play and put the Wolves up 4-3 at 8:10 of the second.
Rem Pitlick got in the way of a Quenneville pass attempt to set up a breakaway chance. Pitlick sent a shot over the blocker of Tomkins for a 5-3 Chicago lead at the 14:35 mark. The IceHogs found themselves down a pair at the second intermission.
Rockford cut the Wolves lead to 5-4 on an even-strength goal by Matej Chalupa, who gathered in a nice backhand pass from behind the net by D.J. Busdeker and snuck a shot past Helvig. Dylan McLaughlin was credited with the secondary assist and also helped out with a screen of Helvig on the goal, which came at 9:27 of the final frame.
The equalizer would not materialize before the final horn. Yetman had an open look from the left post on a late Rockford power play. However, his put back attempt of Barratt’s shot was just off the mark. Despite pulling Tomkins for a two-man advantage, Chicago held firm and time ran out on the Hogs.
- Helvig wound up stopping 28 of 32 Rockford shots in his second career AHL start. A big turning point of the contest came with the Hogs up 2-0. The Carolina prospect turned away some big scoring chances by the IceHogs in the middle of the opening period that allowed Chicago to climb back into the game.
- Tomkins saw 36 shots and made 31 saves. It appears that Rockford coach Derek King is set on giving the former Ohio State goalie the starters role. Both goalies saw a lot of action Saturday.
- Kalynuk, making his pro debut, really appeared to be accustomed to the speed of the game. He made some nice plays at both ends of the ice and his one-timer was right in the pickle barrel.
- In keeping with the “prospect camp” approach the Blackhawks are taking with their AHL affiliate, the piglets were sporting some pretty high numbers on their porcine sweaters. Krys, for example, went from wearing number 4 a season ago to donning number 43. Only four players had numbers lower than 40. Lots of fives, sixes, and sevens out there for Rockford.
- Rockford’s Dmitry Osipov was involved in a brief scrap with Jeannot midway though the first period. First fight of the year…and with ten more meetings between the IceHogs and Wolves, it won’t be the last.
- First pro goals for Yetman, Kalynuk (1 G, 1 A), and Chalupa were fun to see. In order to be competitive like they were tonight, the IceHogs have to get scoring from the young ones.
- To the surprise of no one, Franson was easily the best defenseman on the ice. Much like his run with the Hogs in 2018, he is strong at both ends and capable of controlling the action on the power play. He’s on an AHL contract and was pretty up front about trying to earn some NHL ink. Franson could draw some interest from a team in need of some depth at defense as the season progresses.
- With eleven games between these two teams, there will likely be a clear winner of the vaunted Illinois Lottery Cup, presently holding open the locker room door at the BMO Harris Bank Center (or so I like to think).
- Next up for the piglets is these same Chicago Wolves. The two teams will meet in Hoffman Estates on Tuesday night.