With 22 games left in the regular season, the Rockford IceHogs are in 7th place in the Central Division or 14th overall in the Western Conference. Their record of 19-24-8-3 gives them 49 points. That puts them 8 points behind the Iowa Wild for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
The playoff race is incredibly tight this season. Just 11 points separate the 3rd place San Diego Gulls (who have 60 points) from the IceHogs. While the IceHogs are in the lower end of that multi-team mix, there is still plenty of hope.
They have 6 games left with the Manitoba Moose, who are in 16th place in the Western Conference and trail the IceHogs by 5 points. Unfortunately, four of those six games are in Manitoba. If the IceHogs are going to climb into the playoff picture, they will need to take at least 4 of these six games. The teams have split their 2 matchups this season.
On the other hand, they play the 2nd place Grand Rapids Griffins 3 times. The Griffins have 71 points and have taken 5 of the seven games between the teams. The IceHogs did win their most recent encounter though.
That leaves 4 other games. They play one game each against the Gulls (3rd place), the Ontario Reign (4th place), the Chicago Wolves (5th place) and the Texas Stars (9th place). The IceHogs are a disappointing 5-11 against these 4 teams.
There is reason for hope though. Until their recent loss to the Charlotte Checkers (12th place), they had won five in a row, including the two previously mentioned wins against the Admirals.
The IceHogs have a history of heating up as the playoffs approach. Coach Ted Dent has been here before. Now in his sixth season as Head Coach, Dent has lead the IceHogs into the playoffs the last two seasons and has confidence they will earn a spot this season. This isn’t “coach-speak” from Dent either.
Prior to that recent win streak, the IceHogs endured an 8 game losing streak, featuring 5 over-time losses, including two against the Wolves. There is no room for “ifs” in sports, but it would have been huge if the IceHogs could have won 2 of those OT losses. Still, it shows their spirit that they immediately turned it around with that win streak.
I don’t make excuses for the IceHogs. Every team has their own challenges. I do believe that the IceHogs have unique circumstances being the farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks. On the way to winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons, Coach Joel Quenneville has been a master at shuffling his roster. While this leads to success in Chicago, it often leaves the IceHogs a bit empty of hot players when they are needed the most.
Of course, one could argue the other side by stating the IceHogs enjoy the benefit of having Stanley Cup caliber players on their roster. It goes both ways and is a tough situation to balance, as Coach Dent knows.
As I look at the final 22 games, I see the IceHogs grabbing the last spot. I’m not eager to see them face the Griffins or the 1st place San Jose Barracuda, I wouldn’t immediately write off the IceHogs either. I’m getting ahead of myself though.
This stretch starts with consecutive games with the Moose. These might not be “must-win” just yet, but they are pretty close. At the very least, they must split these games. Hopefully, the IceHogs start strong against the Moose and kick off these final 22 with wins.
Feature Photo courtesy of IceHogs.com