Calder Cup Playoffs Recap: IceHogs swept by Stars
For the second year in a row, the IceHogs were swept in the Central Division semifinals of the 2023 Calder Cup playoffs.
The Rockford IceHogs' season came to a close Wednesday night as the were swept out of the Calder Cup playoffs in the semifinals against the Texas Stars. The IceHogs lost the first three games in a best-of-five series to scores of 5-3 on Friday, 4-1 on Sunday, and then 4-2 on Wednesday.
Game 1 Recap
Rockford's lineup remained mostly the same in the first game as it was from the Iowa series with one notable difference: Jalen Luypen was inserted as the fourth-line center.
Texas opened the scoring 12:34 into the first period. Nick Caamano dropped a pass to Rhett Gardner who whipped the puck quickly into the net.
The IceHogs tied the game 1-1 with two seconds remaining in the first. Joey Anderson tipped a point shot from Alex Vlasic on the power play after a faceoff win by Luke Philp.
The IceHogs went up 2-1 just 1:16 into the second period after a wrap-around attempt by Buddy Robinson missed the net but slid over to D.J. Busdeker, who buried the puck behind Matt Murray.
The Stars made it 2-2 with 5:27 left in the second after Arvid Söderblom mishandled the puck and Marian Studenic made him pay for it.
The IceHogs regained the lead 2:27 into the third as Bobby Lunch shoveled in a rebound created by Vlasic's long shot.
Unfortunately, the Stars took over the game, scoring two more goals to take the lead and cemented the 5-3 victory with an empty-net goal. Highlights for these start in the video below at 1:33.
- First, the game was tied 3-3 at 7:16 in the third period on the powerplay by Texas after Scott Reedy skated into the slot and beat Söderblom with a wrister glove-side.
- Second, Caamano tapped in a backdoor pass from Mavrik Bourque to score the late tiebreaking goal with under four minutes remaining in the game.
- Finally, Studenic skated down and added an empty-netter for his second goal of the game with a minute left.
Game 2 Recap
Despite the last lineup having trouble against Texas, no adjustments were made to the forward lines. Louis Creiver replaced Andy Welinski on defense, which is mostly a wash in terms of players.
As in Game 1, the Stars scored first: McKenzie received a drop pass from Oskar Back and McKenzie power-moved into the slot to score 8:08 in the first period.
The Stars doubled their lead to 2-0 just under 12 minutes into the second period. Tanner Kero fed the puck to Riley Barber from the corner, and Barber sent a wrister from the left dot past Söderblom.
The IceHogs got their first and only goal of the game at 5:54 of the third period. Grimaldi skated the puck in, swooped around, and passed to Joey Anderson, who scored from a sharp angle with a bouncing wrister.
The Stars went up 3-1 with 3:28 remaining, and then like the first game, picked up an empty-net goal to seal the win. Highlights for these start in the video below at 2:58.
- On the first goal, Michael Karow won a board battle for the puck and got it to Barber, who walked in and beat Söderblom five-hole. Not a good goal for Söderblom, and also one of the only blatant misreads by Phillips in both games.
- On the final goal, Söderblom was pulled with 2:25 left and the IceHogs had some decent zone time but only one shot on goal before McKenzie got the puck to Kero, who put the game away.
Game 3 Recap
The forward lines were finally shuffled around a little for Game 3. Most noticeably from a prospect perspective, Lukas Reichel and Michal Teplý were united on a line. Anderson dropped down to the third line in Teplý's old role while vets Seney and Grimaldi swapped places on the top two lines. The defense pairings remained the same from Game 2.
For the third game in a row, the Stars opened the scoring, this time just 2:16 into the first period. Riley Damiani deflected a shot by Ben Gleason from the point to put the Stars up 1-0.
The IceHogs tied the game 1-1 about five minutes later while on the power play. Vlasic got the puck to Teplý in the high slot, and the latter put a shot on goal that Stars goalie Murray ultimately knocked in himself.
The Stars went back up by a goal at 12:01 in the first after Caamano knocked in a rebound. Söderblom made two great saves on Gardner and Riley Tufte, but the IceHogs couldn't clear the puck before Caamano scored.
After a scoreless second period, the Stars pulled away from the IceHogs even more, scoring two goals in the third period. The IceHogs got one final goal in the wanning seconds, but the game was already over. Highlights for those start in the video below at 2:20.
- First, the Stars extended their lead to 3-1 about five minutes into the third period. Oskari Laaksonen's initial shot hit Reichel's skate but Laaksonen followed the puck and scored after a nifty move. The lack of a call on the cross-check that took out Teplý and caused the turnover was pretty egregious.
- Second, the Stars pretty much put this one away by scoring a power-play goal with 2:46 remaining. Garnder scored off the rush after a slick pass from Studenic to make it 4-1.
- Last, Reichel scored with 16 seconds remaining to make it 4-2, and that would be the final score of the night.
- Despite Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson talking about putting a lot of effort into making the IceHogs roster better this season, Rockford finished exactly how they did last year: swept out in the second round.
- The IceHogs were, at least, better at suppressing shot quality from their opponents this season. But they regressed offensively from an average of 3.09 goals per game to a more mediocre 2.97. Two years in a row with two different rosters suggests this could be an issue of coaching but, considering the roster construction wasn't anything to write home about, it's hard to say definitively. The lack of in-game adjustments wasn't a great look on the coaching staff, either.
- Speaking of roster construction, the top-end of the forward group this year produced at a higher pace – thanks mostly to the additions of Gust, Seney, and Philp – but the number of players who averaged at least 0.5 points per game (6) was exactly the same this season as in the one prior. The bottom six wasn't particularly different, mostly filled with energy guys. The defensemen were also very similar but it was a group of prospects that mostly took a step forward in their development. Söderblom had a solid season, but a subpar series against Texas.
- So, ultimately, it's the chicken and the egg question: was the roster still just not good enough to advance farther or is coaching to blame? Maybe a little of column A, a little of column B. Hopefully it's more about the roster than the coaching because it doesn't seem like the Rockford staff will change anytime soon, and that staff is going to be in charge of the incoming Blackhawks prospects.
- Final notes for prospects will becoming next week in the last AHL update.