The Wolves-Icehogs matchups have always been a tough one for me to pick a side for. The Wolves are Chicago’s team and I’ve been to many more of their games, but Rockford is the other Illinois team, and affiliated with the Blackhawks. That being said, I’ll really just look to enjoy this series and root for whichever team moves on. The playoff history between these two involves just two previous series meetings- with the Wolves winning in 2008 and the Icehogs winning in 2018.
This Central Division semifinal of the AHL Playoffs is a best-of-5 series beginning Thursday Night. The Wolves own the best record in the AHL (50-16-5-5) with a 72.4% point percentage. The Icehogs (37-30-4-1) finished the regular season with a 54.9% point percentage. But there’s reason to believe this series won’t be easy for the Wolves. Chicago ran through the central division this year, but the Icehogs were the one team they struggled against consistently. Rockford actually won eight of the 12 matchups this season and five of the six at the Allstate Arena. The Icehogs had their number this year. Will it be different this time around with the season on the line?
The Icehogs had to win a play-in series against the Texas Stars just to be here. They won both games in that quick best-of-3 series despite being outshot in each game. Much of that play-in series victory was because of Arvid Soderblom in net. He allowed just one goal on 70 shots in those games. He’s a guy that has shown the ability to keep them in games. The Wolves will have a tough task to beat Soderblom in his current form.
Soderblom will be tough to beat, but the Wolves have two of the top three point scorers in the entire AHL leading the way for an offense that scored the most goals in the AHL this season. Andrew Poturalski (101 points) and Stefan Noesen (85 points) have been unstoppable this year. Poturalski earned the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the league’s top point-producer and he did so for the second straight season! He’s also the first AHL player to hit the 100+ points mark since the 2009-10 season! Noesen on the other hand, led the AHL in goals with 48: earning the Willie Marshall Award. He also led the AHL with 13 game-winning goals!
Below is a plot showing all of the teams in the AHL by goals scored and goals allowed. The bottom right are the teams scoring a lot and allowing a low number of goals (ideally the best teams). Conversely the top left show those giving up a lot and scoring a little (ideally bad teams). On a side note, if you’re curious who those terrible teams are on the plot, furthest left is the Tucson Roadrunners and furthest up is the San Jose Barracuda.
This plot does a good job showing the Wolves domination this year. The Icehogs are in the middle of the pack, but above-average in goals allowed and with Soderblom in net, the defense will need to be tremendous if they are to advance.
As for the Wolves defensively, they used multiple goalies this year. Alex Lyon started the most games with 30. But Pyotr Kochetkov (15), Eetu Makiniemi (14) and Jack LaFontaine (13) all have double digit starts too. You’d think we’d see Lyon in this series, but it is definitely less certain than Rockford’s goaltender situation.
The Rockford offense is led by Lukas Reichel and Dylan McLaughlin. Reichel led the Icehogs with 57 points and is the Blackhawks top prospect. The 19-year-old did get his first NHL experience this year playing 11 games with Chicago. McLaughlin is nearly 27 years old, but without any NHL experience. He was second on the team in points with 42 and scored the play-in series OT clincher against Texas. The Icehogs do have plenty of guys who’ve had some time in Chicago so Blackhawk fans may be familiar with players like Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula, Wyatt Kalynuk, Jakub Galvas, Mike Hardman and Josiah Slavin.
We’ll find out soon what happens when the unstoppable force of the Wolves’ offense meets the impenetrable brick wall that is Arvid Soderblom. In all seriousness, this should be a fantastic series to follow, no matter which team you’re pulling for.
Central Division Semifinals Schedule
|Game 1||Thursday, May 12||7 PM @ CHI|
|Game 2||Saturday, May 14||7 PM @ CHI|
|Game 3||Sunday, May 15||4 PM @ RFD|
|Game 4*||Tuesday, May 17||7 PM @ RFD|
|Game 5*||Thursday, May 19||7 PM @ CHI|