Rockford Files – Tidbits, Whispers and Educated Thoughts
The Rockford IceHogs season is finished and although it would have been nice if they were the ones playing game #4 tonight vs. the Toronto Marlies, all-in-all, it was a very successful season.
The Hawks were pleasantly surprised at how far the young guys came along and went on a nice run in the playoffs this year.
The Blackhawks inconsistencies as the parent club to the ‘Hogs was a silver lining for guys like Highmore, Kampf, Martinsen, Dalhstrom and Delia.
It allowed them to get some NHL experience and take that back with them as they continued to grow as professionals during meaningful games in the Calder Cup playoffs.
It was also difficult decisions by Stan Bowman like sending down Cody Franson, Lance Bouma and John Hayden that paid dividends to Mark Bernard's Rockford squad as they played underdog all the way to the conference finals.
I was waiting for the season to conclude to speak to a couple people and get feedback on the season, the team and some individuals:
Jeremy Colliton – everyone is fanboying hard over Jeremy's first season; and you know what? They should be.
He helped elevate a young and underdog-type IceHogs team to the AHL conference finals and we've heard nothing but extreme praise from every player that was playing for him and/or called up to the Blackhawks during the season.
According to my contact, he's was "so damn impressive this year" far surpassing what the executive team in Chicago had laid out for him and this Rockford team in 2017-18.
Colliton's saying all the right things too (on purpose or not) to put him on the radar to be in line for a spot on the Blackhawks (hold on, I was told it would likely be just as an Associate Coach to start after his contract is up) coaching staff:
"Each guy is different, each guy needs different things and different feedback and to be handled in a different way," said Colliton. "You challenge yourself each day to help these guys get better both as a team and individually because ultimately they all want to play with the Blackhawks and I want to help them get there."
Colliton did just that for his players by helping a dozen make the leap to the NHL. But the Alberta-native was not about to take credit for the call-ups and says he needs to continue improving as a coach only in a new way.
"We had success as a team, but that's a credit to the players," Colliton said. "I enjoyed working with them, I loved every minute of it, but now the challenge for us is we have to find a new way. But I think that's what makes it fun. We can't just do what we've done before and think it's going to work. We've got to find a new way."
(Source: WIFR.com, an article by Mike Buda)
It's this type of talk of "finding new ways" that I personally feel is intricate to success in today's NHL and will keep Jeremey Colliton successful as a coach at any level.
Colin Delia – there is a lot of talk of him being the backup goalie in Chicago as soon as next year. I've been told if that's the case, it's going to be another bust of a season in the Windy City.
Delia is starting to look like a bonafide prospect at this point but had a lot of ups-and-downs this year. My contact said, "heck he started in this season ECHL and now people are ready to hand him the keys to the backup job in the NHL? Not a good idea."
He's right – goalies take a lot of time and my personal belief is that the Hawks should bolster their defence and defensive scheme as a team and let Anton Forsberg play in front of a more competitive team because they may have something in the young Swede.
However, if you see a move made for, let's say a Brian Elliott or Cam Ward, then signs point to concerns over Corey Crawford's health moving forward.
Who's Next Up? - The Blackhawks will have some holes next year and don't think the Rockford crew doesn't know that.
I asked who could make a legitimate impact on a retooled (and winning) Blackhawks roster next year and one of my contacts said: "there's a few that could step in as role players but don't expect any top-6 or top-4 defence from this group. I think you have some interesting pending free agents like Andreas Martinsen (update: signed 1-year deal June 7th, 2018), Chris DiDomenico and Adam Clendening that they would like to bring back as they have potential for stints with the big club. Then you have a whole slew of defencemen that will have to sort itself out with the Blackhawks and IceHogs. You might even get a surprise out of that group like a Blake Hillman or Dennis Gilbert that play a significant amount of games with the Blackhawks this year. At forward, Luke Johnson came a long way this year and has potential to be their future 3rd/4th line centre and Victor Ejdsell and Matthew Highmore are knocking on the door as well."
After talking to a couple of my contacts a few things stood out to me in a positive way; the Blackhawks would like to have a winning culture all the way down to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL and they want this young group to grow together.
It looks like Colliton can shorten the developmental curve for these Hawks prospects which is something that they felt they were lacking with Ted Dent behind the bench the last couple of years prior.
Also, it sounds like they may have found a formula to win (short and long-term) by seeding a few veterans in there to help win actual games (short-term) and be serious mentors to these young players (long-term) like Franson and Glass were able to do this year. So don't be surprised if a couple borderline NHLers or legit NHLers who can't find a job this summer sign a deal or PTO with the Hawks. Obviously, for the player, they will be looking to get back to the NHL, but the win for the Hawks and IceHogs would be having them leading by example in Rockford.
I'll have more updates along the way on Rockford and the Blackhawks as we near the Draft and the Free Agency Frenzy.
See ya out there!