While the Chicago Blackhawks continue their hot start to the 2017-18 season, AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs look to do the same when they open the BMO Harris Bank Center to the hometown fans against the Iowa Wild on Saturday and Milwaukee Admirals on Sunday.
The IceHogs have been off a full week since their season opening shutout win against the Cleveland Monsters, which marked their first regulation shutout in a season opener since a 1-0 shootout loss against the Chicago Wolves to open the 2012-13 season.
Jean-Francois Berube notched his seventh career AHL shutout in the 4-0 win last week and looks to cement his spot as the No. 3 goalie on the organizational depth chart with another top performance.
A few things to look for as the IceHogs open home-ice this weekend:
Which players are stepping out as the first call-up candidates?
While it was made clear that Vinnie Hinostroza was the last player on the cutting line between the Blackhawks and IceHogs and would be the first forward called up if the Blackhawks needed an injury replacement or change of play, which other players will step up to be call-ups?
Tomas Jurco is 100 percent in the discussion after his two-point night against the Monsters last Saturday. Jurco was another player right on the cut-line, but showed less promise than Hinostroza in the preseason. If he continues to excel at the AHL level, a call-up should be in the future if/when the Blackhawks need it.
Defensively, Ville Pokka continues to be a hot-button player that Blackhawks fans want to turn into an NHL regular, but does he have that next level talent? After a two-point night against the Monsters, he’s off to a good start, but with Chicago carrying eight defensemen, it may take an extreme case for Pokka or another defender to crack the NHL roster early on.
Will the IceHogs be playoff contenders?
Yes, it is only the first handful of games and in the AHL roster changes happen near-daily, but the IceHogs have a passionate and loyal local fanbase and who doesn’t like a winner? Last season, the IceHogs finished last in the Central Division and fourth-worst in the AHL. Passing early tests against the Monsters, Wild, and Admirals could go a long way early on to see where the IceHogs stand moving forward from last season’s poor finish.
Saturday begins the home season for Rockford, puck drops against the Wild at 6 p.m. CT and the first 4,000 fans in attendance will receive a free IceHogs calendar, courtesy of Impact Networking.
On Sunday, the IceHogs host the Admirals on First Responders and Touch-A-Truck night, where local police, EMS, and fire fighters will be on hand and have their specialty vehicles on display prior to the game. Sunday is also the first Kids Eat Free day of the season, and the first post-game skate with the Hogs. Puck drops at 4 p.m. CT.