ROCKFORD–The IceHogs return to the BMO Harris Bank Center Tuesday, March 14, for a weekday clash with the Milwaukee Admirals.
Rockford is coming off of 2-1 loss in Milwaukee Friday, and still sit eighth in the Central Division with a record of 21-30-8-3 for 53 points on the season. After a rocky middle of the 2016-17 campaign and just ahead of the NHL trade deadline, the team lost each of its top-three scorers as Spencer Abbott, Sam Carrick and Mark McNeill were dealt away.
As Rockford sits on the outside of playoff contention, head coach Ted Dent said he hopes his team learns from the results of this season, and that he expects each skater to come to work through the remainder.
“That’s what happens when you’re not in contention and you’re not a playoff team,” Dent said following the trade deadline. “It’s a learning lesson for our whole group. We needed to be better, and we weren’t.”
Dent said the team focus also shifts from playoff preparation to individual improvement once the club is no longer working towards postseason play.
“There will be lots of player development staff from Chicago working with the guys, working on skills (now),” Dent said. “And that’s what happens when you’re not in contention for the playoffs — it turns into ‘skills and drills.’ And it’s a lesson for everyone involved here in the process; (our play) needs to be better.”
As for Abbott, Carrick and McNeill, they’ve picked up where they left off in Rockford. Carrick and Abbott each found the scoresheet in their first two games with the San Diego Gulls. Carrick beginning his stint with the club with a four-game point streak. As of March 13, he has notched three goals and two assists in five games, while Abbott has totaled three assists in five appearances.
McNeill, who departed Rockford ranked second in all-time goals (72), third in points (157) and fourth in games (273), has posted three points (1g-2a) in six games with the Texas Stars.
GUSTAFSSON ON TEAM ‘FAMILIARITY’
Erik Gustafsson has not made any major adjustments to his on-ice play from October to March.
For the blueliner, who has scored 16 of his 27 points over the last 20 games, the key difference is familiarity with his teammates and their style of play.
“It’s much easier to play now with the team than it was earlier in the season,” Gustafsson said. “We just have to keep it going in March too.”
Gustafsson has also worked with coaching staff to make simpler plays with the puck, rather than looking for a big play to develop. As a result, he concluded his most recent game ranked first on the team and second in the AHL with 13 assists since the beginning of February.
“I think I play the puck a little easier than i did at the start of the season, i think at the start of the season i struggled a little bit with my passes trying to do a little bit more,” he said. “Now, I play it simple, and when i have a chance to do (more), then I do it.”