ROCKFORD, Ill.-Forward Dylan Sikura was expected to be a big goal-scorer in his second stint with the Rockford IceHogs. He did not, however, get off to a prolific start in the 2022-23 campaign. After 13 games, he had managed just two goals and three assists.
Things picked up for Sikura this past week. The five-year veteran picked up a pair of assists in Rockford’s 7-2 win over Texas on November 23, then erupted for four goals in two games with Milwaukee over the weekend.
“I think he’s found his game,” said Hogs head coach Anders Sorensen in the team’s weekly media session on Tuesday. “He’s been working, he’s competing harder inside the dots. He’s been getting to those scoring areas more. “
Sikura, 27, was drafted by Chicago in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, playing two seasons with Rockford before the Blackhawks traded him to Las Vegas after the 2019-20 season. This past summer, Sikura was coming off of a career year with the Colorado Eagles, with 33 goals and 40 assists in 60 games.
The Blackhawks signed him to a one-year contract as part of an effort to bring in veteran scoring. However, Sikura got off to a slow start with Rockford.
“I can’t imagine a guy that has the pressure to put up points,” said IceHogs assistant coach Jared Nightengale, ” and I know Dylan was wearing that pressure the first two or three weeks.”
Sikura (6 G, 5 A) managed a single assist in his first five games. He put up two goals against Belleville on October 29, then went through a seven-game goal drought to begin November.
“I think if you talk to anyone, sometimes even if you’re playing good and it’s not going in, it’s tough on you mentally,” Sikura said. “As you kind of get older and you grow as a pro, those little things that you learn, you realize that everyone goes through those parts, maybe not as bad as others, but it’s all about coming out of it and trying to stay positive.”
That attitude was certainly noticed by the coaching staff.
“I was just really impressed the last two or three weeks how he didn’t let his own personal game come into the locker room,” said Nightengale. “He’s a guy that’s encouraging other guys and still working on his craft. It’s a long season, and I think he’s a big piece of this. I think that’s a huge testament to his character and his leadership to put the team first.”
That hard work paid off this past week. After helping Rockford beat the Stars, Sikura converted on a power-play chance in the third period in the IceHogs 6-4 win over first-place Milwaukee at the BMO Center Friday.
“Nothing really in particular. Just sticking with it,” Sikura said in regard to his scoring outburst. “A couple fortunate bounces, a couple of nice plays in the last couple of games. On that first night, it’s good to get the power play going. I thought that was a pretty nice goal; I think everyone got a touch on that one.”
His head coach agreed that it was the type of goal Sikura, who added a big insurance goal in the final minutes, needed to get his offensive game back on track.
“He’s a guy that drives off the power play,” explained Sorensen. “Obviously, when he gets a couple on the power play there, he felt good about himself and that carried over into Saturday.”
The following night, Sikura picked up where he left off. With the IceHogs trailing 3-0 early in the first period, he poured in two lamp-lighters in the last four minutes of the first to get Rockford back in the contest. The IceHogs ultimately lost that game 5-3, but Sikura looks ready to start contributing to what is the AHL’s highest-scoring club.
“We knew it was only a matter of time,” said Nightengale, “but it’s awesome to see a guy like that get rewarded. I think that’s a luxury (on) our team. We have a lot of depth at scoring, if one guy’s not clicking, other guy’s can pick him up. We’re only that much better when Dylan’s going.”
With a week of practice leading to a two-game eastern swing this weekend, Sikura is ready to get back to work in hopes of building on a three-game point streak.
“We had a good video session today with Anders, who’s showing us, you know, using that middle guy off the forecheck and trying to hit that weak side D and making more plays,” Sikura said. “I think there’s always room for improvement, especially at this level. A lot of it comes from getting traffic at the net, getting bodies to the net. Sometimes, for smaller guys like me, you kind of fizzle out a bit when you’re not getting to the dirty areas, that’s where a lot of goals are scored. I think there’s always room for improvement and room to get better no matter where you are in your career.”
Sorensen is glad to have another veteran making his mark on the goal sheet as the IceHogs continue to compete in the Central Division.
“When you’re down in those situations, sometimes it spirals, but he dug himself out,” he said. “I’m really happy for him.”
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