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Rockford IceHogs Head East For The Weekend

Issak Phillips and the Rockford IceHogs travel to Springfield and Hartford this weekend. (Photo by Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

Rockford IceHogs Head East For The Weekend

ROCKFORD, Ill. – The Rockford IceHogs rarely find themselves playing anyone outside of the Central Division. Rockford has played 17 games so far this season; 16 of those games have been against division opponents. The Hogs are coming off eleven consecutive division contests heading into this weekend, where an eastern road trip provides a change of pace.

“It’s fun to see some different teams and travel and get a chance to play those teams and see what that division looks like, said IceHogs coach Anders Sorensen at the team’s media session Tuesday.

The fun begins Friday night, when Rockford visits Springfield for a 7:05 p.m. EST puck drop. On Saturday, the IceHogs are in Hartford, where they take on the Wolf Pack at 7:00 p.m. EST.

Both Springfield and Hartford are mired in three-game winless streaks heading into the weekend. The Thunderbirds (7-8-0-4) sit in seventh place in the eight-team Atlantic Division. Right below them is Hartford (5-7-1-4), who has struggled for goals in the first two months. While Rockford is on top of the league at 4.06 goals a game this season, the Wolf Pack is last in the league with a 2.41 per game average.

It may be an optimal time to face a pair of struggling teams, but that’s not how Sorensen views the upcoming games.

“I don’t know if we look at it that way,” he said. “It’s so early in the year, right? In this league, it changes so much for call-ups and guys go down. We just try to focus on our game, to be honest with you, and see what we’re going to do well. Then we’ll take a look at what they do and see if we can find some areas that we can exploit a little bit. Right now, we’re focused on what we’re doing.”

Over the last month, what Rockford has been doing is scoring in bunches. Luke Philp (11 G, 7 A) leads the team with eleven goals, while Brett Seney (10 G, 13 A) and David Gust (10 G, 12 A) pace a potent IceHogs offense.

Rockford (9-7-0-1, 19 points) is currently fifth in the Central Division, just behind Iowa (20 points) and Manitoba (21 points). The Hogs see a chance to move up in standings, but realize they can’t get ahead of themselves.

“If we could come out with four points, that would be amazing to steal them out of the other division and bring them back to yours,” said Rockford defenseman Issak Phillips. “That’s big, but I think our mindset stays the same. Just playing a 200-foot game the whole time.”

Friday marks the beginning of five games in the next nine days for the IceHogs. Keeping busy is just fine by the second-year defenseman, who leads Rockford blueliners with two goals and twelve assists.

“I mean, personally, I love it. I wish we could play every other (night),” said Phillips, who is leading the AHL with a plus-16 skater rating. “You just gotta recover, you’ve got to be really keyed on that after games, like, rolling out, stretching, doing what you need to do. But I love playing games. I’d rather do that than practice four days and then play one and then practice, practice. Playing just gets you in that rhythm, so I think we’re happy about it.”

Players To Watch: Springfield

The Hogs should be familiar with the Thunderbird’s point leader. It’s former Rockford forward Matthew Highmore, who has four goals and 16 helpers. Springfield’s top goal-scorers are Nathan Todd (8 G, 6 A) and former Iowa Wild forward Will Bitten (8 G, 2 A).

The likely starter in goal will be Joel Hofer (2.43 GAA, .923 save percentage), who is winless in his last six starts despite giving up two goals or fewer in five of those games.


Players To Watch: Hartford

Tim Gettinger (6 G, 4 A) leads the Wolf Pack in scoring and goals. Gettinger and defenseman Andy Welinski (3 G, 7 A) are the only Hartford skaters with double digit points. Rockford fans will recognize former Grand Rapids Griffins forward Turner Elson (2 G, 6 A). C.J. Smith (4 G, 2 A) skated for the Chicago Wolves last season.

Veteran goalie Louis Domingue (2.51 GAA, .910 save percentage) has four of Hartford’s five wins this season. Rookie Dylan Garand (3.21, .902) was a hard-luck loser back on Saturday, when he shutout Hershey for 65 minutes before losing in a shootout.

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

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