AHL Preview: Rockford Ice Hogs vs. Grand Rapids Griffins

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Jeff Hoggan, Carter Hutton
Mark Newman – Grand Rapids Griffins

First place in the AHL’s Midwest Division will be on the line this afternoon when the Rockford Ice Hogs (Chicago Blackhawks) visit Van Andel Arena to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings). The Ice Hogs currently hold a one point lead over the Griffins, after a Grand Rapids shutout of the Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks) on Friday night and a Rockford loss to those same Wolves last night.

The Griffins defeated Chicago 3-0, behind goals from Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar and Adam Almquist. Thomas McCollum made 20 saves to record his second career shutout. The win was the sixth straight on the road for Grand Rapids, one short of tying a franchise record.

Rockford suffered a loss Saturday despite goaltender Carter Hutton turning away 34 shots, and the team killing off seven of eight Chicago power plays. Kyle Beach scored the lone goal for the Ice Hogs. Nine players on the team have scored in double figures so far this season, led by Martin St. Pierre with nine goals and 21 points. Brandon Pirri (eight goals, 20 points), Ben Smith (nine goals, 18 points), Jimmy Hayes (six goals, 15 points) and Marcus Kruger (four goals, 15 points) all saw time with the Blackhawks last season and continue to excel in the AHL. Rookie Adam Clendening (four goals, 14 points) is fifth in the league in rookie scoring.

Tatar’s goal Friday night gave him 11 on the season, and he and Gustav Nyquist (eight goals, 20 points) continue to lead the team offensively. Andersson (five goals, 12 points) is showing more of the offensive skill that got him five games in Detroit last season, and Landon Ferraro (six goals, 15 points) is already on pace to double his offensive totals from last season.

Even with McCollum getting the shutout Friday, the Griffins will likely look to rookie Petr Mrazek (7-2) in goal tonight. Hutton starts most games for the Ice Hogs, but Alec Richards (4-2) could get the start tonight after Saturday’s tough-luck loss. Next up for Rockford is a Friday, Dec. 14 tilt against the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators). The Griffins are back in action Friday as well, when they will host the Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues).