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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

Calder Cup Playoff Central Division Quarterfinal Preview: #4 Rockford IceHogs vs #5 Texas Stars

Photo Courtesy: Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs

Calder Cup Playoff Central Division Quarterfinal Preview: #4 Rockford IceHogs vs #5 Texas Stars

ROCKFORD, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs are in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2018. That year’s club surged to the Western Conference Final, where they were eliminated in six games by the Texas Stars.

Rockford’s opponent in their 2022 postseason opener? The Texas Stars.

The postseason gets underway tonight at the BMO Harris Bank Center, when the IceHogs play Texas in a best-of-three play-in series.

Rockford is the fourth-seed and will host the fifth-seeded Stars for every game of the series, per the league’s travel guidelines. The winner moves on to face the Central Division champs, the Chicago Wolves in a best-of-five affair.

Here’s a closer look at what promises to be a hotly contested series.

Final Regular Season Records:

Rockford IceHogs: 37-30-4-1, 4th in Central Division

Texas Stars: 32-28-6-6, 5th in Central Division

Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):

Wednesday, May 4 – Texas at ROCKFORD – 7:00 p.m. CT
Friday, May 6 – Texas at ROCKFORD – 7:00 p.m. CT
*Saturday, May 7 – Texas at ROCKFORD – 6:00 p.m. CT

*=> If Necessary

Season Series Recap:

The two teams split their eight meetings this season. Each team won two games in the other’s barn.

It’s been a while since the Hogs and Stars have hooked up. The last meeting was a weekend series in Rockford on February 26 and 27. Rockford beat Texas 7-3 in the first game, with the Stars coming out on top of a 3-2 decision the following evening.

How Rockford Wins:

  • Although the IceHogs offense is putting up a respectable 3.10 goals per game, they have been grinding out wins for the bulk of the season. A poised and deep blueline, coupled with very capable goaltending, have been the ticket in the past couple of months.
  • Rockford needs to be to limit the Stars speed in transition and continue to take care of the puck in their own zone. That’s been the formula for the Hogs success this season; no reason to change things up.
  • With veteran Brett Connolly (17G, 18A) out with a knee injury, some younger guys have to step up. Players like Mike Hardman (19G, 13A), Michal Teply (13G, 18A), and Andrei Altybarmakian (10G, 21A) have to capitalize on the play-making abilities of Lukas Reichel (the Hogs Rookie of the Year with 21 goals and 36 helpers) and Dylan McLaughlin (13G, 29A).
  • Texas is a team that the IceHogs should not be intimidated by from a physical standpoint. Controlling the front of the net in both zones has been an issue for Rockford on more than a few nights. Hardman and Teply, in particular, need to establish residency in front of the Stars net.
  • In 14 April games, Josiah Slavin had eight goals and seven assists. He is a big part of the ‘Hogs penalty kill and leads the team with three shorthanded goals.  It’s important for Slavin to continue leading Rockford’s forecheck against the Stars. Slavin’s game should be well-suited for playoff hockey; he could have a big series.
  • Defenseman Ian Mitchell (11G, 24A) has been out of the lineup since injuring his right wrist in practice last week. His return makes the Hogs a bit tougher to play against, but Mitchell is probably out for the opening series. The IceHogs depth at defense makes this a little easier to bear, with Alec Regula (4G, 22A) coming down from a stint with the Chicago Blackhawks. Wyatt Kalynuk (7G, 20A) and Issak Phillips (10G,15A), who can help pick up the slack on the blueline.
  • The organization has handed the net for as far as Rockford goes in the playoffs to rookie Arvid Soderblom (2.76 GAA, .919 save percentage). He should be fine with the workload, having started 12 of the IceHogs last 16 games.
  • This series may come down to the ‘Hogs penalty kill unit (tenth in the AHL at 81.9 percent) taming the Stars power play, which is sixth in the league at 20.6 percent. Limiting Texas’s chances on the man advantage certainly wouldn’t hurt.

How Texas Wins

  • Texas can win this series if they stick to their identity. They’ve been a physical, fast-paced team for much of the season. They also rely on goaltending a lot, sometimes a bit too much.
  • There are four players who took the ice in that 2018 Western Conference Final; all currently reside on the Stars roster. This includes former Hogs forwards Anthony Louis (24G, 31A for Texas this season) and Tanner Kero (5G, 12A), as well as Texas captain Curtis McKenzie (21G, 29A) and forward Joel L’Esperance (24G, 25A). This gives the advantage in playoff experience to the Stars.
  • Texas has had its backs to the wall for the past month, clawing back into playoff contention. They’ve been playing must-win games for a while. That intensity may catch the IceHogs by surprise.
  • The young guns will be the ones who decide if the Stars are moving on. Center Ty Dellandrea had an impressive rookie campaign, with a 50-point season (23G, 27A). Riley Damiani (13G, 23A) was last year’s outstanding rookie in the AHL and could play a big part in the opening series. Look for breakout performances from Dellandrea, L’Esperance, and Ben Gleason (9G, 35A).
  • Gleason (9G, 35A) and Ryan Shea (3G, 29A) pace the Texas defense. Alex Petrovic (5G, 19A) is another veteran with playoff experience.
  • The x-factor in this series could well lay in the crease. Matthew Murray has been used quite a bit since signing an ATO out of UMass this spring. He split time with second-year goalie Adam Scheel, who was recalled to Dallas on Saturday.
  • If Murray winds up being the man in net for Texas, he’s coming in hot. Currently, he is sporting a 1.68 GAA and a .947 save percentage in his six AHL starts. Likely to serve as Murray’s backup is LaGrange native Matt Jurusik.
  • While Murray is good and most don’t have him figured out, the Stars need to implement a heavy forecheck and suffocate the neutral zone breakouts by Rockford. They could look to play a more trap-style game, but nevertheless, they’ll need to amp up the pressure and capitalize on opportunities in their offensive zone.
  • If they can hold Rockford to two goals or less in most of the games, they should be through to the first round against Chicago.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    John Fromi covers the Rockford IceHogs for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHIceHogs.

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