|(Photo Credit: Michael Owen/100 Degree Hockey)|
Well here we are again. The Texas Stars and the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks affiliate) square off in the Calder Cup playoffs, again. For the second consecutive year and the fifth time in franchise history, the teams matchup in the postseason. Prior to last season's two-game series, swept by Rockford in a pair of goalie duels, the Stars last series win was in 2018, winning in six games to advance to the Calder Cup Final.
After clawing their way into the dance last season, Texas took a much easier route in 2022-23, winning the Central Division and earning a bye past the play-in-round. Rockford took the hard route to get in, clinching a playoff berth on the final day of the season and advanced to face Texas in the Division Semi-Finals by virtue of a two-game sweep of the Iowa Wild last week.
100 Degree Hockey had a chance to speak with some of the experts around the league and in Rockford to see what they thought of the best-of-five series that begins Friday night in Rockford, and how it will unfold.
Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com - "Texas is a well-rounded, deep team. A Texas penalty kill that was strong during the regular season should keep the Rockford power play in check. The main challenge for the Stars will be to get back up to game speed after a long break." TEXAS in FOUR
Brooke LoFurno, TheHockeywriters.com - "The Stars didn’t have the best record against the Icehogs in Rockford this year, and the fact that the Icehogs have the home advantage to start is huge for them. They are also coming into the series hot, sweeping the Iowa Wild, thanks to their star players and depth coming together. They have gotten goals from Rocco Grimaldi, Brett Seney, and David Gust, who are some of their biggest top-six producers. Lukas Reichel is their most elite forward and will be hard to keep off the scoresheet in a five-game series. They have also gotten goals from players like Buddy Robinson, their third-line forward. Everyone is clicking at the right time, and this should help them have a successful series." ROCKFORD in FOUR
Mario Tirabassi, CHGO_Sports & CHGO_Blackhawks - "Rockford held a winning record over the Stars in the regular season and found a way to win in each of the three games that went into overtime in the regular season as well. But this is playoff time and both teams a lot different than the last time they met.
"I am biased, but the IceHogs offensively are led by veterans Brett Seney, David Gust, and Rocco Grimaldi, along with the top professional prospect in the Chicago system, Lukas Reichel. I have faith that their abilities will push Rockford over the top with Arvid Söderblom providing solid play in net behind a sizable defense led by Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips, and Alec Regula." ROCKFORD in FIVE
Brian Sweet, Blackout Dallas - "The thing that I’m most concerned about this series is how Texas is going to respond after the opening puck drop. They've been out of action for the last two weeks and that can end up being a disaster for teams that have a bye in the AHL playoffs. The IceHogs have two games under their belt so they will be ready for whatever Texas gives them.
Riley Barber leads the Stars in points going into the semifinals matchup with 32 goals and 32 assists. Curtis McKenzie and Tanner Kero are right behind him the points column respectively. Mavrik Bourque is also going to play a key role for Texas as well. If the Stars can stop IceHogs top goal scorers Rocco Grimaldi and David Gust, they should win this series. This won’t be a sweep for the Stars as it’s going to take at least four games to get to the Division Finals." TEXAS in FOUR
Mark Zimmerman, CoachellaHockey.com & Defending Big D - The Texas Stars Calder Cup road always seems to go through Rockford. Last year, the Icehogs and goaltender Arvid Soderblom shut down the late qualifying team from Cedar Park.
Matt Murray was fresh out of college and on a heater, but it wasn't enough. This year, Texas qualified early. The team is missing Thomas Harley and his transition game, but in spite of that, Texas is deep. With three solid defensive pairs and the ability to roll four dangerous forward lines, Rockford will be hard pressed to match up for a full 60 minutes.
Chicago doesn't have enough NHL/AHL eligible prospects to bring down to overcome the team that Texas has rolled all year. TEXAS in FOUR
Jack Bushman, TalkinHawkey & Locked On Blackhawks - The IceHogs have won 7 of their last 9 games and have been on a roll since Lukas Reichel, Alex Vlasic, and Joey Anderson were reassigned at the end of the season. Young goaltender Arvid Soderblom was also tremendous in the play-in series against Iowa, going 2-0-0 with a 2.38 goals-against average & .917 save percentage. Rockford won five of the eight meetings with Texas in the regular season, and I think they ride the momentum to win this series. ROCKFORD in FOUR
Wally Mazurek, Chicago Prospects/Substack - "Well, here we are again. Almost one year later we have another Rockford IceHogs-Texas Stars playoff series. So how do these two teams match up?
The IceHogs look much better on paper this year compared to last. While they still have a lot of young talent on the roster, they bolstered their team last offseason. However, the results have stayed roughly the same. The Stars on the other hand have improved on paper and statistically. As mentioned above, the Stars finished with the #1 seed in the Central this year. They brought in a couple of veterans, but their younger players have also taken big steps forward.
For the IceHogs to win this series they need their top-six firing on all cylinders (Grimaldi-Reichel-Anderson, Seney-Philp-Gust), Arvid Soderblom is going to have to play lights out, and they need to get their special teams in order (27th in PP%, 21st in PK%).
For the Stars to win this series they need to keep doing more of the same. They’re 6-3-1-0 in their last 10, statistically they’re better at both 5v5 and on special teams (20th in PP%, 5th in PK%), and their roster is great all-around (Riley Barber, Mavrik Bourque, Matej Blumel, Will Butcher, and Matt Murray).
I expect the Texas Stars to win this series. They have a plethora of talent and were excellent this year. The Rockford IceHogs have a talented roster, but I don’t think it’ll be enough." TEXAS in FOUR
Stephen Meserve, 100 Degree Hockey & co-author of "We Win Here" - "I think Texas steals one in Rockford. If last year's playoffs are any indication, it's going to be tight and hard-fought. I think low scoring as well. Probability for OT is high here, especially given how they played in the season series. However, it's 5-on-5 OT in the playoffs and Texas is the better team at 5-on-5. That's the edge." TEXAS in FOUR
Not unsurprisingly, nobody is predicting a sweep, and I don't foresee that happening myself. Texas is the better team. Period. As Stephen pointed out, the chances of OT are highly likely as five of the last ten meetings (including playoffs last season) have gone to bonus hockey, and I just don't see see that changing anytime soon. The Stars dropped all three games to the IceHogs this season that went to OT, but the Stars suffered mightily to everyone else on the 3-on-3 in '22-23 and as noted before, overtime during the playoffs are 5-on-5.
I see this series going in two possible directions. If Texas does not at least earn a split in Rockford, expecting the Stars to win three straight, is a big ask - even if at home. If the IceHogs manage to win both home games, they probably win in five. With that being said, there were only a handful of times Texas lost (or didn't get points) back-to-back games on the road, and I don't expect that to change. Texas will get their split on the road and close it out at home. TEXAS in FOUR
So there you have it. The consensus is, that there is no consensus. This should be a fun series, unless you're on the short end.
The series schedule looks like this:
Game 1: Friday, Apr. 28 – Texas at Rockford – BMO Center, 7:00 p.m. CT
Game 2: Sunday, Apr. 30 – Texas at Rockford – BMO Center, 4:00 p.m. CT
Game 3: Wednesday, May 3 – Rockford at Texas – H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, 7:00 p.m. CT
*Game 4: Friday, May 5 – Rockford at Texas – H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, 7:00 p.m. CT
*Game 5: Saturday, May 6 – Rockford at Texas – H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, 7:00 p.m. CT
(* if necessary)
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