To say the Rockford IceHogs have had a challenging start to their 2021-22 season would be a major understatement. For starters, they had to spend the first three weeks on the road while the ongoing renovations at the BMO Harris Bank Center neared the end of its first phase. Then, they felt the residual effect of the Kyle Beach scandal as the man who drafted much of the roster, former general manager Stan Bowman, stepped down.
There was more change ahead, as a couple of weeks later, the Chicago Blackhawks fired Jeremy Colliton and named IceHogs bench boss Derek King the interim head coach. This put Anders Sorensen in charge of things in Rockford. Even though he has been an assistant with the team for years, a change is still challenging. Through all of this, the IceHogs find themselves in the fifth and final playoff spot in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division.
Injuries, Call Up Means Next Man Up in for IceHogs
The IceHogs played three games in three days last weekend. Even though they picked up three of a possible six points, they came at a high cost. They lost Brett Connolly to a lower-body injury late in the third period on Saturday. The veteran is second on the IceHogs with five goals and 11 points and is tied for the team lead with six assists. He will miss another week or two.
The next day, leading scorer and top prospect Lukas Reichel was injured during their 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Admirals. He is in concussion protocol after going face-first into the boards. Sorensen revealed during his media session earlier this that Reichel was in good spirits. However, he had no timeline on the 2020 first-round pick’s return to the lineup.
On Tuesday, the Blackhawks recalled forward Josiah Slavin, a key part of the IceHogs penalty kill and physical game. Philipp Kurashev was reassigned to the AHL and should help fill the void, but Rockford needs a few players to step up to navigate this tough stretch without their top offensive producers.
One of those players who can use this as an opportunity to assert his place on this team and within the Blackhawks’ organization is Evan Barratt. So far, he has done just that.
Barratt Starting to Hit His Stride
Barratt is a name Blackhawks fans have been hearing for a while now. He was drafted in the third round (90th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He played three seasons at Penn State before turning pro. In 98 games for the Nittany Lions, he scored 39 goals and 95 points. He was heralded for his play-making abilities and smarts on the ice.
The Bristol, PA, native made his professional debut for the IceHogs last season. He put five goals and 14 points in 27 games. The 2020-21 season was as strange as it could get, especially at the AHL level, making it difficult to develop properly.
“I was lucky,” Barratt said of his first AHL season. “I got a little taste of it last year. Going into the summer, it gave me a taste of what I needed to do. It showed me how to take care of myself. Going into camp this year, I was more confident.”
Even though he was more confident, Barratt’s 2021-22 season didn’t get off to the greatest start. He had a goal and three points during his first seven games and even found himself out of the lineup.
“Any time you get bumped and miss a game, it’s good to take a second and evaluate yourself,” he admitted. “At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t playing how I like to play. I talked to Anders and some of our staff, and it got me back on the same page.”
The benching seemed to work because he has four goals and six points in his seven games since returning. He has already tied his goal outpoint from last season with five.
“I think the consistency is coming back in my game,” he continued. “That’s something I strive for; being the same player every night. It’s a long season and the first real pro season for me. I need to manage myself to play how I want to, and I’m learning day by day.
“I think I wasn’t playing hard enough. I wasn’t going into battles as hard as I wanted to. I was kind of staying on the outside. That’s not my game. These past couple of weeks, I’ve gone back to my identity.”
Barratt’s Turnaround Comes at the Perfect Time
With Connolly and Reichel on the injured list and Slavin in Chicago, a poor IceHogs offense faces an even bigger uphill challenge. They have scored 43 goals on the season, the fewest within the Central Division. Only three teams in the AHL have scored fewer goals than Rockford.
“It’s tough with those two out,” said Barratt. “Slavin has been playing so unbelievable, and I’m so happy for him that he’s getting his chance. I’m not really a flash player. I work hard and try to do things the right way. I like to win, most of all. I’m not going to do anything different in my game. I’m just going to play hard and let my game show itself.”
Barratt hugely impacted Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory at Milwaukee. He was put on a line in between Carson Gicewicz and Cameron Morrison. He scored the game’s first goal and added a huge insurance tally on a third-period power play. This was precisely the type of performance the team needed from him.
“His progression over the last four or five games has been good,” Sorensen said of Barratt before the trip to Milwaukee. “He’s done well for himself and has been playing with some purpose and intensity in his game. He’s been able to put up some points and play around the puck a lot. So, we’re happy with how he’s progressing here. It’s been a process, for sure, but we’re looking at him to that next step.”
This could be a make-or-break season for the 22-year-old center. He was once considered one of the top prospects within the organization but has since been passed up. Barratt’s recent performance has him back on the right track, so, hopefully, he can keep the momentum going. The IceHogs have a big weekend series at the Grand Rapids Griffins with back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday night.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.