By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — Whether the Rockford IceHogs will emerge victorious against the Chicago Wolves in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs will be decided in the upcoming best-of-five series.
What is certain for Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton is level of intensity the teams have brought all year in their head-to-head battles. There will be plenty of it.
“We’ve had some really good games with them this season,” Colliton said. “They’re an excellent team, so it’s a good measuring stick for us. But I think we have competitive guys who want to win.”
Besides guys like MVP Tyler Sikura, Anthony Lewis and Luke Johnson, who’ve made their marks as core skaters, the IceHogs now have a full slate of reinforcements now that the Blackhawks didn’t qualify for the NHL postseason. That means Colliton will rely on the likes of John Hayden, Matthew Highmore, David Kampf and Carl Dahlstrom going into the Wolves series. They’ll play strong roles alongside Cody Franson, Lance Bouma and Gustav Forsling, who started the season with the Hawks but came down with plenty of time to pull Rockford from sixth place to the fourth playoff spot.
“It’s going to be a fun battle,” Colliton added. “But we can answer the bell. We have a good team.”
Franson had two points in Rockford’s 6-4 loss to the Wolves Friday, and has more than picked up where Eric Gustafsson left off when he was recalled earlier in the season. The veteran defenseman has nine goals and 19 assists in 37 games in an IceHogs sweater and has been a key to reshaping Rockford’s power play.
“We’ve tried to keep it simple,” the 11-year pro said of Rockford’s success down the stretch. “We’ve got Plan A, and if Plan A is taken away, we roll with Plan B. But when we execute in terms of moving the puck around and do that cleanly, it backs teams off and gives us space we’re looking for. When things are clicking, we can be good. An there’s lot of heart in our room. That’s what you need going into the playoffs.”
Collin Delia and Jeff Glass are expected to share the goaltending duties for Rockford in the playoffs. Matt Tomkins will be Colliton’s No. 3 man.
The IceHogs travel to Rosemont Saturday, April 21, to open the playoffs. Rockf