DES MOINES, Iowa - This game is going to have a little more pomp to it than usual. Despite being absolutely thrashed by the Chicago Wolves (Vegas/St. Louis) last night in Rosemont, the battered warriors of the playoff hunt return home tonight to take on a Rockford IceHogs (Chicago) squad - attempting to avenge a 3-2 overtime loss to start their four game road trip where they picked up 5 of a possible 8 points.
The homecoming also has something important for the fans as well. Louie Belpedio, fresh off his senior season with the Miami RedHawks (and one game in Chicago), will be making his Des Moines debut, and hopefully in front of a packed house. Like Luke Kunin before him, the much anticipated debut of a future sensation will come on the annual St. Patty’s game where Iowa will be wearing these guys:
Here's your first look at the new sweaters we are sporting tonight— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) March 19, 2018
*The jerseys will be auctioned off live after the game on March 30. Proceeds benefit @MakeAWish_Iowa pic.twitter.com/THXniPIt0r
Also joining the Iowa roster during the road trip fresh out of the NCAA was Baxter, Minn. native Mitch McLain.
While touring the Midwest, the Wild also saw Sam Anas and Cal O’Reilly break the 50 point barrier - something never previously done by an Iowa Wild player in their five year history. Just as last season was a big year of firsts for the Des Moines club, Derek Lalonde has a team on pace to finish in the “plus” on goal differential, score 200 goals in a season, and reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
It’s only his second season in the AHL.
Rockford is coming into tonight’s contest on a six-game points streak and have won six of their last ten contests. First year AHL coach Jeremy Colliton has also had to make due with his roster being plucked for future showcasing during one of the Blackhawks’ worst seasons since the death of Bill Wirtz. Still, they’ve continued to win with the upswing in play by rookie netminder Collin Delia, and led by rookies Anthony Louis and Tyler Sikura on the offensive.
The Wild currently hold a two point edge on the IceHogs in the standings with a game in hand, but tonight - the only game being played in the Central Division - will definitely have the atmosphere of postseason puck. Get ready for a good one.
Rockford - Points
- Anthony Louis (C) - 37 pts (12G/25A)
- Tyler Sikura (LW) - 27 pts (17G/10A)
- Andreas Martinsen (LW) - 26 pts (12G/14A)
- Adam Clendening (RHD) - 25 pts (3G/22A)
- Chris DiDomenico (C) - 24 pts (8G/16A)
At first glance, it’d be easy to scoff at this points chart considering that there is only one guy that has garnered over 35 points this season - and even with Matthew Highmore on the roster, there’d only be two. And yet, the IceHogs continue to win games and put pucks away. They trail the Iowa Wild in overall goals for (191) by just five, despite not having the top heavy success enjoyed in Des Moines.
Clendening has been a big addition to Colliton’s squad, and a proverbial thorn in the side of everyone else that has to play against him. Though starting the season in Tucson where he played 21 games, the Niagara Falls native has garnered 20 of his 25 points in just 26 games in a Rockford sweater.
Louis isn’t blowing the doors off this season by any means, but he has enjoyed some success against the Wild. The rookie from Winfield, Ill. has 4 points (1G/3A) in eight games against Iowa this season. He’ll be looking to add to that total tonight.
Sikura, a former member of the Iowa Wild, is listed as a rookie, though has been in professional hockey since graduating from Dartmouth back in 2015. He seems to pick up his game against his former AHL team, potting 4 goals and adding an assist in 8 games opposite the Wild.
Iowa - Points
- Sam Anas (RW) - 52 pts (20G/32A)
- Cal O’Reilly (C) - 52 pts (12G/40A)
- Justin Kloos (C) - 43 pts (19G/24A)
- Kyle Rau (LW) - 34 pts (16G/18A)
- Pat Cannone (C) - 34 pts (15G/19A)
As the season trudges onward, Anas continues to be a consistent invitee to the scoring party. His 52 points - albeit tied with Captain Cal - is the most scored by a member of the Iowa Wild in the franchise’s existence. He’s been using his hands to his advantage, and while the division knows that he’s going to have the puck on his stick, the Potomac, Mary. native has managed 3 multi-point games in his last six outings.
After spreading the wealth on the power play and on his own dynamic line with Kloos and Gerry Mayhew, he’s due. While still getting the apples, Anas hasn’t lit the lamp himself since Mar. 3rd in Manitoba.
Rau has also been increasing his presence and was on that aforementioned list of five forwards worthy of some NHL time following the decimating injury to Luke Kunin - may he return with a vengeance. Sitting in the five spot for the majority of Iowa’s second half, the Eden Prairie native is on a four game point streak - his longest of the season.
My eyes are going to be locked on Belpedio, who has been paired with Viktor Lööv since Ryan Murphy was re-called by the big club. Though “Louie” has said that he feels comfortable on either side of a pairing - something borne out of necessity his freshman year at Miami - Lalonde has yet another powerful, offensively potent pairing in his arsenal.
Rockford - Goalies
- Collin Delia (12-6-4) - 2.70 GAA/.901 SV%
- Jeff Glass (12-7-2) - 2.73 GAA/.907 SV%
Colliton could flip a coin at this point at who he wants to start in net given the season-long stats, but Delia has had the hot hand for the Chicago-affiliate and buckled-down mightily after conceding two first period goals to the Wild in their Mar. 13th tilt. His overtime loss to Grand Rapids last Friday night was his worst outing since Feb. 24th.
An AHL journeyman, the best part of Glass’ season was his call-up to the Blackhawks - 14 games that the 32 year old has waiting for in 13 years of professional hockey. He’s only made three starts this month - the worst coming in a match-up with the Milwaukee Admirals where he gave up 3 goals on 11 shots. The kicker is that he played a full 60. Is there a saying about idle goalies?
Iowa - Goalies
- Niklas Svedberg (18-11-6) - 2.52 GAA/.917 SV%
- Steve Michalek (11-6-5) - 3.16 GAA/.906 SV%
With Svedberg and Michalek in contract seasons, and with Kaapo Kähkönen playing at an incredibly high level over in Finland, there is room for rumblings about what is to happen this summer. Personally, I think Michalek needs reps, and he’s shown that he can handle the high volume shot teams. Once again, it appears that the idle goalie is a restless one.
Sveddy has torn it up in his second half and has been a big reason as to why the young Iowa d-corps hasn’t made me completely pull my hair out. Still, hockey is a team game, and he can’t always be there to bail the team out. However, his work with Freddie Chabot has proven fortuitous, and it can be argued that the Swede has been the reason as to why the Wild are in the playoff hunt - fending teams off rather than having to beat them out.
Iowa had a hell of a performance in their last return home in front of a vivacious crowd. It may not always be a full barn, but the fans have been picking up their intensity as much as the players have. They’ll be tired, this being their third game in as many days, but I’d expect to see a hungry Iowa squad looking not only to improve on their 7-3 loss to Chicago yesterday, but to make an example of the IceHogs who bested them in an emotional, overtime win less than a week ago.
If tired, play smart.
Mental toughness is as much a part of the game as physical toughness. It’s game three of three and a homecoming after a bus trip, but excuses are aplenty when results aren’t favorable. Yes, the legs won’t be there, that’s not expected. What is will be veteran leadership leaning on the young guys to not try and do too much - trust the mind when the body starts failing you.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 CST from Wells Fargo Arena, on the banks of the mighty Des Moines River.