As confidence and momentum from a strong November (8-3-0-1 in the month) continued to build, the Rockford IceHogs climbed into third place of the Central Division at the start of December and looked to enter the Holiday break challenging both Milwaukee (first place) and Iowa (second place).
The IceHogs carried the pace with a four-game winning streak spanning from the end of November into December and won seven of the first nine games of the month, improving to 17-10-0-1 by Dec. 20, their best winning stretch of the 2019-20 season. With the success, the club jumped into second place of the division, a spot they held for 10 days.
However, with injuries, call-ups, and inconsistent play mounting up against the club, the IceHogs would slide back down the standings with a six-game losing streak from Dec. 21-Jan. 5, tying their longest in team history. Overall, the IceHogs finished December with a 7-5-0-0 record and moved down to fifth place in the division.
Lankinen Stifles Admirals in Record-Setting Performance:
Those who arrived at BMO Harris Bank Center on Tuesday, Dec. 10 may not have been prepared for a record-setting evening or possibly the greatest goaltending performance in IceHogs history. All goaltender Kevin Lankinen wanted to do was put his team and himself back in the win column. After suffering a 5-2 setback to the Milwaukee Admirals three-days earlier in Wisconsin, the IceHogs and Lankinen were looking to bounce back in the second of the 12-game season series.
Facing 19 shots in the first period and his club only generating two, Lankinen kept the contest scoreless through 20 minutes. The IceHogs caught a break on the power play in the second when forward Brandon Hagel knocked in a loose puck for a 1-0 lead. The defense supported their goaltender, allowing 12 shots against in the middle stanza. As the third frame arrived, the high-octane offense of the Admirals rifled 25 shots against Lankinen and snagged the game-tying maker on a slow-rolling puck with just over eight minutes to play. The Finnish-born gatekeeper remained under fire for the rest of regulation time, but pushed the contest into overtime. Again, the IceHogs managed only two shots in the period.
With speed and agility, the IceHogs benefited from 3-on-3 overtime hockey all season, going 5-2 and 3-0 at the BMO. Forward Anton Wedin found space down the left wing to snap a low shot between the legs of Admirals netminder Connor Ingram for the 2-1 victory just 62 seconds into the skate.
Lankien earned the game’s first star with a franchise-record 55 saves in the win, snapping the previous mark of 49 saves set by Michael Leighton on Dec. 8, 2015 at Texas.
Hogs Earn Promotion to NHL:
In December, the IceHogs saw the promotion of six players to the Chicago Blackhawks, the most in a single month during the season. Goaltender Kevin Lankinen, defensemen Ian McCoshen, Dennis Gilbert and Adam Boqvist and forwards Matthew Highmore and John Quenneville earned time with the big club. The IceHogs also loaned goaltender Matt Tomkins to Team Canada on Dec. 23 to join the Spengler Cup tournament overseas and eventually helped Canada capture the title.
Kurashev Lights Up the Scoreboard:
With just seven points in his first two months of action (two goals, five assists), forward Philipp Kurashev became a scoring force in December, leading the IceHogs with nine points over 11 games in the month (three goals, six assists) including a three-point performance on Dec. 16 at Toronto (one goal, two assists). Sadly, the IceHogs would lose Kurashev to injury in Manitoba on New Years Eve and would not see him until Feb. 22 at Milwaukee, a span of 25 games.
Visiting the Great White North:
From Dec. 13-17, the IceHogs traveled North of the border to Canada for a three-game trek including their first-ever stops in Belleville, Ontario and Laval, Quebec to take on the Belleville Senators for the first time in team history and complete their-two game set against Laval Rocket. In the opening showdown of the trip, the IceHogs dropped a 5-2 decision to Belleville, but bounced back with a 4-2 win at Coca-Cola Coliseum against the Toronto Marlies, their first visit to Toronto since the 2014-15 season. The journey wrapped up with a 3-2 comeback shootout win at Laval.