The Rockford IceHogs defeated the Iowa Wild 3-1 Wednesday night led by Matthew Highmore’s hat-trick
Everybody has heard the phrase “change cannot happen overnight,” and indeed it cannot. But in some cases, it can. The Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate, wanted to change the culture in their farm system and it started this year by hiring new head coach Jeremy Colliton. A slew of new young players were also brought in to replace players that the team moved on from. So with the IceHogs clearly in transition, what do the Blackhawks believe they can get out of this new group of fresh faces? Hope.
Wednesday night I drove out to Rockford for their game against the Iowa Wild, the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate. It took about two hours in rush hour traffic but I made it just in time. Parking was just $5 in the complex adjacent to the BMO Harris Center that connected with a bridge. The promotion Wednesday night was $2 beers and $2 hot dogs. I’m not sure you can really beat that deal anywhere else.
When I walked up to the box office, I asked for the best seat in the house. I paid $27 to sit 12 rows back in section 104, center ice. I probably could’ve gotten the cheapest seat at $9, but I wanted to support the Hogs. It’s pretty crazy that you’re paying 4-5 times that much to see the Blackhawks.
The stadium had a small crowd, but I assumed it was because of Thanksgiving the next day. But fans still showed up with their cowbells and cheered their beloved IceHogs.
Throughout the game, I noticed a lot of sounds that were encouraging. Colliton had his hands on his hips and was barking at his team almost non-stop. Players were communicating, and sticks would slap the ice hard calling for passes. There was a good vibe at the BMO Harris Center. The tempo of play was good, the entertainment value was there, and I could tell there was some potential being developed.
There were several reports recently that Hinostroza has been doing very well in the AHL and I was there Wedneday night to confirm that. His control, his stickhanding, and poise were much improved since his time with the Blackhawks where it seemed like he was gripping the stick too hard. This time, Vinnie seemed like he was having some fun and really opening up scoring chances for this teammates.
Hinostroza’s situation in the AHL is something the Blackhawks need to do a better job of handling. For years, guys like Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault played with the IceHogs and produced at a high level, never to be rewarded with a substantial call up. Stan Bowman needs to find ways to reward players who produce and continue to get them to the next level. All Hinostroza wants to do is play hard and it doesn’t make sense for him to be at this level.
Highmore impressed Wednesday night scoring all three of the IceHogs goals. Two of them were greasy cleanup goals in front of the net while the last one was a five-hole breakaway goal. While only standing in at 5’10 187lbs., Highmore has great speed and a nose for the puck. He was everywhere Wednesday making smart plays. It looks like he has really bought into Colliton’s ‘work hard and get rewarded’ strategy. It’s great the ‘Hawks have another hard working forward who is developing nicely.
Berube looked strong stopping 23 of 24 shots. The only goal came when the Wild pulled their goalie and had a man advantage. A rebound came to Gerald Mayhew who cleaned it up without giving Berube much of a chance. Berube also took a hard shot that looked like it hit him in the neck area in the third period. After getting checked out by the trainer, he finished the game strong.
- Tomas Jurco looks good and motivated to do well with the IceHogs
- William Pelletier can skate and really pass the puck well with great vision
- Alexandre Fortin has great handles and is forming a better all-around game. He forechecks well and can maneuver in the corners to win puck battles
- David Kampf is another good forward that should be on the AHL/NHL bubble
- Viktor Svedberg had a couple bad penalties. He has great size but still struggles to defend quick players with his body. His passing game has improved.
- I was disappointed to see that Graham Knott isn’t playing center. He’s on the wing on the 4th line. He has great size but wasn’t very noticeable.
- Ville Pokka was also not noticeable, but it’s hard to blame him since he’s never been rewarded with a callup for his hard work. The Hawks need to see what they have in him or make room for somebody else.