HAWL IN: The IceHogs carry the playoff hockey torch in 2018

ROCKFORD – To be fair, fans in Chicago have been void of deep postseason run for a couple of years now.

Their nine-year playoff streak ended this year, of course, but the team failed to get out of the first round the previous two seasons. Those memorable runs to June are now a bit removed from the conscious of Blackhawks’ fans.

Those rooters are naturally a bit disappointed, considering the way the team spoiled fans with a run to three Stanley Cups in six seasons. But there’s some good news in 2018 if you’re willing to look about an hour to the West of Chicago.

This team is worth your attention, especially considering that future hopes for a title may rest on a few of these player’s shoulders.

The Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks and the final step before the National Hockey League, has reached the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs. They’ve made their way through two rounds of the playoffs undefeated, sweeping the Central Division champion Chicago Wolves in three games and then Manitoba in four games.

For the most part, their victories have been decisive, with four of the wins coming by three goals, and are the only team in the AHL to clean sweep through the first two rounds. Next up are the Texas Stars for a seven-game conference finals beginning Friday in Cedar Park, Texas.

You’ll recognize some of the names on this team, since quite a few of them made their way to the Blackhawks this season as the team fell out of playoff competition in late February.  Some of them fans are just getting to know, and the good news is that many are enjoying some success that provides hope for fans looking towards the next generation of the franchise.

Victor Ejdsell, who was acquired in the Ryan Hartman deal with the Predators, leads the team with five goals during the playoffs. He had six games with the Blackhawks towards the end of the season and could fight for a full-time spot on the team in 2018-2019. Chris DiDomenico, acquired from the Senators midseason in the Ville Pokka trade, leads all scorers in the Calder Cup Playoffs with 11 points.

Defenseman Adam Clendening, who came to the Blackhawks with Anthony DuClair in the Richard Panik deal with Arizona, leads the team with eight assists. Cody Franson, whose one-year deal with Blackhawks is set to expire at the end of the season, has four power play goals, with his strong play giving the team a reason to look at him for the defensive rotation next season.

Meanwhile the man in the goal is someone Blackhawks’ fans can find not only entertainment in the present but hope for the future. Collin Delia, who made one start for the Blackhawks late in the season, has thrived in the Calder Cup Playoffs, starting all seven games with a 1.64 goals against average. That’s not bad for a guy that could figure into the team’s backup plans for next season, or take on an elevated role should Corey Crawford’s injury woes continue.

It’s a way to learn more about the future while enjoying some hockey in the present. The IceHogs are the team that provides that for local hockey fans this season, eight wins away from bringing another hockey championship cup to the State of Illinois.