The Rockford IceHogs took the ice in the BMO Center Wednesday night to take on the Iowa Wild in the first game of the first round of the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. After squeaking in one point ahead of the Chicago Wolves, the IceHogs were hungry to prove themselves and took game one in overtime.
The game, which was kicked off by singer-songwriter Abby Grimaldi singing the national anthem, ended with her husband, Rocco Grimaldi, netting an overtime goal.
The score was tied at 1-1 less than four minutes into the opening period after Iowa’s Mitchell Balmas and Rockford’s David Gust each found the back of the net. Forward Brett Seney of the IceHogs scored in his first career postseason game, ending the first period at 2-1. Early in the second period, the Wild answered, but that was the end of the scoring in regulation. The teams went into overtime deadlocked at 2-2. After Iowa turned the puck over at their own blue line, Grimaldi fired one in to end game one.
The IceHogs and Wild are perhaps the most evenly-matched teams ever. They finished with the exact same amount of points, and in 12 matchups in the regular season, seven of them went into overtime. The playoff opener was a perfect example, taking extra minutes to find a winner.
The IceHogs will take the win and look to secure the series Friday night on the road, as they head to Des Moines for games 2 and 3 (if necessary). If Rockford can secure that game, they’ll advance in the Central Division bracket to the Division Semifinals against the Texas Stars, a best-of-five series. The road to the Calder Cup isn’t an easy one, as the IceHogs would have to get through both the Wild and Stars before moving on to the Division Finals, then the Conference Finals before competing for a championship.
With each win with the IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ young prospects gain more and more valuable playoff experience. That experience can’t be understated, as it can play a huge role in postseason success at the NHL level. It’s a major aspect of late-game moments of adversity. Experience in high-pressure situations can come into play in any game, but in playoff situations, it’s clearly evident. Teams that are battle-hardened tend to not panic, even when they’re playing from behind.
That experience is just what the Blackhawks need at this stage in their rebuild. Chicago hasn’t made it past the first round of the postseason since their 2015 championship run. With the departure of Jonathan Toews, Connor Murphy, as the longest-tenured Blackhawk, wasn’t even on that team. This team, who prides itself on being a young, hungry group, has virtually no playoff experience among them.
With the IceHogs looking to advance past the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks’ young prospects are learning how to win when it matters most. Players like Lukas Reichel, Alex Vlasic, and Joey Anderson will take all the postseason experience they can get and hope to bring it to the Blackhawks as they try to work back toward their own playoffs.