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Article updated: 12/4/2012 10:00 PM

Clendening leading Rockford's AHL surge

By Tim Sassone

Adam Clendening is hardly the sole reason why the Rockford IceHogs are in first place in the American Hockey League's Midwest Division, but he played a big role in them taking 6 out of possible 8 points last week.

The 20-year-old rookie defenseman from Boston University is tied for second on the team in scoring with 16 points, including 3 power-play goals. He had 6 points last week and has five multi-point games this season.

"He's gotten better and better as the year's gone on," said Rockford general manager Mark Bernard. "He's only a 20-year-old kid playing in this league. He makes plays a lot of defensemen won't even attempt at this level.

"He has the confidence and a little swagger about him that he knows he can do it. He has great vision and great hands, and he's only going to get better."

That's great news for the Blackhawks, who drafted Clendening in the second round (36th overall) in 2011. He should be in Chicago sooner than later, especially with the Hawks looking for a power-play quarterback.

Ever since Rockford coach Ted Dent switched his defense pairings and put Clendening with Nick Leddy, the Icehogs have taken off.

"It made sense to put them out there together 5-on-5 since they were playing the power play," Dent said. "Leddy is shooting the puck better. Clendening can shoot it as well, and it's opening up a lot of rebounds and tips for our forwards."

Clendening is going to be a good one, Dent thinks.

"He's progressing real well," Dent said. "He competes, he's got some offense to his game, and he sees the ice well. He's proving he's a good player in this league."

Bernard credits Leddy with being a good influence on Clendening.

"Nick, even though he's a young guy, he's got a lot of experience for a first-year player to learn from," Bernard said. "He's got lots of knowledge from the NHL level to teach and pass on to a guy like Adam, so it's been a good fit."

Jeremy Morin leads Rockford with 9 goals, including 5 on the power play, and he should figure into the mix at forward in Chicago once the lockout ends.

"Jeremy Morin has been very good over the last three weeks," Bernard said. "He's back to feeling like himself. He took a really hard hit here about two years ago and didn't train all summer. He still had a pretty good season last year with 18 goals, but he was behind the eight ball.

"This summer he trained all summer, and I think he's 100 percent. I think he's gotten stronger and stronger as we've gone along."

Ben Smith has 8 goals and 16 points, Kyle Beach 7 goals, Jimmy Hayes 6 goals and 15 points and Andrew Shaw 5 goals and 5 assists in just 15 games because of a pair of suspensions.

"I'm impressed with all our young guys," said Bernard, who also singled out defenseman Ryan Stanton for his strong play.

As for Beach, Bernard sees a guy making progress.

"Kyle is having a good season," Bernard said. "People think he's been around for seven or eight years, but it's only his third year pro. He lost a full year last year being injured.

"For Kyle to be successful he has to be that agitator out there, keeping his feet moving and causing that other team to dislike him because he has that ability that when he finished hits to get under the skin of the opposition.

"That's imperative for him to have success. He has great hands; when he can get a shot off it's usually in the back of the net."

Rockford just finished its busiest stretch of the season: seven games in 12 days with a record of 6-1-0-0, including taking three out of four games.

The power play has converted on 31.8 percent of its chances in the last four games, going 7-for-22.

"We've been playing a much more consistent team game," Dent said.

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