The Rockford IceHogs are loaded.
As in, loaded with players who saw plenty of NHL playing time this season.
That experience proved to be a huge boost for coach Jeremy Colliton's team and it paid off big time during a three-game sweep of the Chicago Wolves in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Victor Ejdsell ended a marathon Game 3 when he scored with 2:38 remaining in triple overtime to give the IceHogs a 4-3 victory in a contest that started at 7 p.m. Thursday and ended eight minutes after midnight.
Ejdsell, who also scored in the second period, ripped home a shot from the right point with Rockford on the power play.
"It was a long game, a long night," Ejdsell said. "Everybody's glad it went our way."
Cody Franson and Chris DiDomenico also scored for Rockford, and the IceHogs got 52 saves from Collin Delia in what was the eighth-longest game in AHL history.
"Longest one I've been a part of," said Colliton. "Lot of guys had to dig deep and played a lot of minutes."
Rockford will face either Grand Rapids or Manitoba in a best-of-seven series in the next round.
The Wolves, who won the Central Division with 36 victories in their last 53 games, got a whopping 72 saves Friday night from Max Lagace.
"My hips are pretty sore right now, but it was all worth it," Lagace said. "I just wish we had won. This really hurts."
Franson (23 games) and Ejdsell (6) are two of many IceHogs who saw time with the Blackhawks this season. Others included Lance Bouma (53), David Kampf (46), Gustav Forsling (41), John Hayden (24), Matthew Highmore (13), Andreas Martinsen (9) and goalies Delia, Jeff Glass and J-F Berube.
"If the Blackhawks had had more success, maybe not as many of them would have had the chance to audition," Colliton said. "But a lot of them went up and did well and showed they could play. This is a continuation of that audition to show, hey, we can help the team win."
Franson almost certainly won't be in Chicago next season, but the 6-foot-5, 214-pound Ejdsell is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
The Swedish forward, acquired from Nashville at the trade deadline, gave Rockford a 3-2 lead on a gorgeous back-and-forth move that easily beat Lagace with 6:06 remaining in the second period. It came just 54 seconds after DiDomenico's goal tied the game at 2-2 and 4:04 after Franson's one-timer got Rockford on the board.
Colliton coached against Ejdsell last year in Sweden and said this about the 22-year-old forward: "He's got a tremendous shot and skill. He's adjusting to the game over here, but his ability to make a play (is high end) … and he can hit a one-timer. Those are the type of guys that you like to have in your group."
Franson has 10 goals in 40 games since joining Rockford in January. Seven of those have come on the power play.
Colliton said he was surprised with the sweep, but also believes his team outplayed the Wolves in this series.
"That's a good team," he said. "They've got a really good group of forwards especially. So it says a lot about the team we have that we were able to win three in a row. Obviously they could have easily won tonight, but overall I think we were better.
"It feels good to be moving on."
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