The Chicago Blackhawks will soon be playing hockey. As good as that feels to say, that does mean changes for Chicago's AHL affiliate in Rockford. Thirty-five games into their schedule and the IceHogs will now sport a different look to the roster.
With several key players soon to be toiling for the 'Hawks, Rockford began the process of replacing those skaters from lower levels. The IceHogs made several moves Monday, bringing back some familiar faces.
The Blackhawks reassigned forward Terry Broadhurst from the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL to Rockford, where he played in eight games last season. Broadhurst was second among Walleye scorers with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 36 games.
Rockford also brought two Toledo skaters on AHL contracts up in the face of impending departures. Forward Brandon Svendsen and defenseman Ben Youds, both of whom spent a lot of time with the IceHogs in 2011-12. Youds, who was recently named an ECHL All-Star, led all league defensemen in scoring with 27 points.
Svendsen has been the victim of injuries throughout his Rockford tenure and is just getting back to action following preseason arm issues. He had four goals and 10 assists in 39 games with Rockford last year, The 'Hawks also reassigned forward David Gilbert from the CHL's Bloomington Blaze, where he had 13 goals and 10 helpers.
These moves aren't really shocking as these players would have been in Rockford full-time if not for the lockout. I would expect Rockford to soon recall injured forward Byron Froese as he approaches a return from a broken wrist.
Froese, who was also a frequent skater in Rockford a year ago, was playing very well for the Walleye with five goals and 12 assists in 20 games before the injury. I would imagine that he will be back with the IceHogs before the month is out.
Where The IceHogs Stand: Minus players like Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw and others, Rockford's roster is pretty similar to this time a season ago. A three-game losing streak, which included dropping last weekend's road games in Hamilton and Toronto, has left the IceHogs with a 17-16-1-1 mark.
Rockford was seven games under .500 a year ago today, so although some talent is headed out the door, the IceHogs are not in bad shape. Every team in the league is going to see a lot of skill headed to the NHL. Rockford has been a better second-half team in previous seasons and is still capable of winning a spot in the playoffs.
The D Must Improve: Leddy's departure could be a blessing in disguise for Rockford coach Ted Dent. The play on the blue line has been wildly inconsistent and could be helped by Dent pairing Adam Clendening with a more stay-home defender like Ryan Stanton.
Leddy and Clendening were paired on the top line for the bulk of the season, which hasn't resulted in balance on the back end. Perhaps the addition of Youds and a bigger role for a vet like Brett Lebda, who also might match up well with Clendening, could shake things up.
Huge Pair Of Games With Grand Rapids: With the IceHogs slipping in both the Midwest Division and Western Conference standings, the team has a chance to reverse the trend and close the widening gap between Rockford and the division-leading Grand Rapids Griffins.
The IceHogs host the Griffins twice in the next three days. Wednesday and Friday nights represent a key opportunity to catapult back into the thick of the division race at home. Grand Rapids leads Rockford, who is now in third in the division standings, by seven points. No matter who is on the ice for those games, four points needs to be the goal.
The IceHogs follow up the double date with the Griffins with a Saturday trip to Milwaukee, who has slipped ahead of them in the standings. It all adds up to a big weekend for whoever is left in town.