Iowa Wild Take on Rockford IceHogs in First Round
The Iowa Wild return to the AHL playoffs for the first time since 2019 when they face the Rockford IceHogs in the first round starting on Wednesday night. The bitter rivals begin the series in Rockford, Illinois for Game 1, then travel to Des Moines on Friday for Game 2. Game 3, if necessary, will be played in Des Moines on Sunday. Here is a preview and prediction for the series.
Tale of the Tape:
Home Record: 18-14-4
Away Record: 17-14-5
Last 10: 5-5-0
Goals For: 214
Goals Against: 232
Penalty Minutes: 935
Penalty Killing: 79.0%
Home Record: 14-16-6
Away Record: 20-11-5
Last 10: 5-3-2
Goals For: 211
Goals Against: 211
Penalty Minutes: 948
Penalty Killing: 76.0%
How Rockford Got Here
The Rockford IceHogs finished October even at 3-3 thanks to the team winning the final two contests of the month, but this team was challenged to put together a prolonged winning streak early on. The IceHogs went 6-4-1 in November, but put together their first three-game winning streak of the season when they opened December with victories over Springfield, Hartford, and Milwaukee. After the Iowa Wild swept Rockford at home, the IceHogs defeated Iowa in Des Moines, then split the next six games before earning victories in the final two games of 2022.
One of the challenges for Rockford was that the Chicago Blackhawks, the parent club for the IceHogs, was struggling so much that there were continual call ups, including at the goalie position, where both Arvid Soderblom and Dylan Wells spent time up with the big club.
That made the start of 2023 a real challenge, as Rockford had the worst month of the year. After defeating the Texas Stars on January 3, the club was swept in a two-game set against the Wild before splitting a two-game series in Colorado. They then lost five games in a row but finished the month strong with victories over Manitoba and Chicago.
That momentum carried into February, where they earned two victories over Iowa to begin the month but were then swept in a home and home series with Milwaukee before falling in Grand Rapids. The team closed the month going 2-2-0 in the final four games, with both victories coming in Des Moines.
This was a tough team to figure out as they began March with losses in four of their first five games going 1-3-1 overall. Those woes continued for the remainder of the month. After earning a 4-3 victory over Manitoba, the team then went 2-3-0 over the final five games. Rockford was still battling to try to earn one of the remaining playoff spots in the Central Division and earned their way in by going 5-3-0 in April. That included a huge victory in Milwaukee (4-1) in the final game of the season.
How Iowa Got Here
The story was very much the same for the Iowa Wild through the first three months of the season. The club opened the season with four straight losses, going 0-2-2. This was a concern, as all four games were at home, but the team earned their first victory when they defeated Manitoba on October 29, but fell to the Moose the next day, moving to 1-3-2 through the first six games of the season.
Things began to turn around the November, as the club earned victories in four of their first five contests. However, Iowa was blown out at home by Milwaukee (November 18) and finished the month going 3-3-0.
December began with a split of a home and home set with Chicago and a loss in Grand Rapids. Then Iowa earned two overtime victories in Rockford before falling at home to the IceHogs. That began a troublesome stretch for the team, as they were swept in a two-game set at home by Texas before losing two at home to Manitoba. The Wild rebounded to win two games against Colorado to close out the year, and it was beginning to feel like this team was ready to get on a big run.
The change in calendar brought a change in success, as the team dropped a 5-2-game to Chicago to begin the year, then earned six straight victories and went on an 8-0-2 run before losing the final game of the month in Austin. The goaltending was spectacular during the month as both Jesper Wallstedt and Zane McIntyre were on top of their games, and Sammy Walker was turning into one of the most dangerous scores in the AHL.
It was a sign that good things lay ahead for the Wild but, as hot as the team was in January, that is how cold they were in February. After earning a 5-3 victory in Austin, Texas, the team dropped to overtime losses to Rockford, starting a nine-game winless streak where the team went 0-7-2, losing seven straight games. They did earn a 2-0 victory in Rockford to close out the month, but this team was proving to be an enigma.
The cold February led to a hot March. After losing the first game of the month in Milwaukee (1-0), the team earned five straight victories. A trip to Coachella Valley snapped the winning streak, but they responded with two victories in San Diego, before splitting a two-game series against Grand Rapids in Des Moines. In April, the team went 3-3-1, locking themselves into the fourth position in the division standings.
Rocco Grimaldi – 17 Points, 16 Games
Lukas Reichel – 51 Points, 55 Games
David Gust – 59 Points, 65 Games
Luke Philp – 29 Goals, 53 Points, 60 Games
Arvid Soderblom – 33 Games, 15-12-5, 2.92, .905
Anton Khudobin – 24 Games, 13-4-4, 2.89, .899
Dylan Wells – 17 Games, 9-6-1, 2.96, .905
Nic Petan – 39 Assists, 62 Points, 53 Games
Marco Rossi – 51 Points, 53 Games
Sammy Walker – 27 Goals, 48 Points, 56 Games
Joe Hicketts – 42 Assists, 48 Points, 72 Games
Jesper Wallstedt – 38 Games, 18-15-6, 2.68, .908
Zane McIntyre – 34 Games, 16-12-8, 2.87, .899
Keys for Rockford IceHogs
- Stay out of the penalty box. The Iowa Wild power-play may only be at 18.1%, but this group is capable of scoring two or three power-play goals in a game. Limiting the chances for Iowa is a key.
- Do not worry if you lose Game 1. Iowa has been a much better team on the road this season than they have been at home. In fact, Rockford has won the last two games in Des Moines, so there is no reason to panic should they lose the first game of this series.
- Rely on your depth. The Blackhawks returned their call ups back to Rockford, so this team is very deep. They have 10 players who scored at least 11 goals this season and five who scored better than 20. That means they can roll three or four lines and expect goals to be scored.
Keys for Iowa Wild
- Wallstedt and McIntyre need to be spectacular. When this team was rolling in January and March, it was because the goaltending was spectacular. This team is not nearly as good as Rockford is when it comes to scoring, but goaltending is one area where they have the advantage and the two need to be spectacular.
- Get their first two lines going. This is not a deep offensive team, but there are two lines that are as good as any in the AHL. Walker, Steven Fogarty, Rossi, Petan, Adam Beckman, and Nick Swaney need to get going and going early.
- The defense has to get involved. For much of the season, the defensemen were providing minimal points. Only Hicketts was producing, but they need greater production out of their blueline corps, especially on the power-play.
Who Wins the Series
Iowa dominated the season series between these teams, finishing 7-3-2, but five of their victories were in overtime or shootout. In fact, seven of the games went to an extra session, so these teams are fairly evenly matched, and the IceHogs have the better of the play down the stretch.
Rockford got a big boost when Chicago sent a number of players back to the team before the playoffs get underway. However, the same thing can be said for the Wild, who got an influx of players from the big club this past week. That still makes the IceHogs a little deeper, but the goaltending matchup is one area where Iowa has the clear edge. Whether it is McIntyre or Wallstedt, they can expect spectacular goaltending throughout this series, and that will be the difference.
Take the Wild to win in three.
By Robert Pannier