Michael Latta finding his niche and game again in Rockford

Michael Latta finding his niche and game again in Rockford

ROCKFORD – When the Rockford IceHogs traded for Michael Latta in January, Twitter mentions went a little crazy for what was a minor-league deal. Latta earned some social-media darling status a few seasons ago with the Washington Capitals on "Road to the Winter Classic," when he and then teammate/roommate never had anything but ketchup in their fridge.

Good news is, when he was traded here for defenseman Cameron Schilling, Latta's lack of food wasn't an issue.

"Yeah, I took Schilling's place so he left me a bunch," Latta said with a laugh. "So thank God."

All kidding and Costco levels of condiments aside, Latta is in a good place these days. Coming from the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), where things didn't go so well, Latta is now playing a lot of minutes, getting a lot of responsibility and recording a lot of assists. Coming off a three-point game on Saturday, Latta now has seven assists since making his Rockford debut on Jan. 25.

The change of scenery was a welcome one for the 25-year-old, who's been playing with Tyler Motte and Mark McNeill.

"It's been great," Latta said following the IceHogs' practice on Tuesday. "They've given me a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities. And this last weekend I started feeling really comfortable. I get along with the guys and [I'm learning] the system so it's been good. It's going well so far."

The IceHogs were happy to take Latta; Rockford coach Ted Dent said Latta was a thorn in the IceHogs' side when he played with the Milwaukee Admirals from 2010-13.

"He's the type of guy you hate to play against but you love to have him on your team. We lived through the not having him on our team for two years and he was very effective against us, scrappy and in your face and he shows up to play. All coaches respect that and want guys like that on your team," Dent said. "He has a little skill as well that some people may not know about, but if you give him an opportunity he's definitely showing he can play with some high-end players as well."

Latta started the season at the Los Angeles Kings' training camp but was assigned to the Reign in early October. Not much was happening there, so Latta was thrilled at the trade.

Sometimes players go and you think it's going to be a good fit but it doesn't work out," he said. "But I'm happy here, I think I'm a good fit here and I hope they think so, too."

Naturally, Latta would love an opportunity with the Blackhawks. He knows there's plenty of competition for whatever chance there would be but he keeps it in the back of his mind.

"They don't know me very well so it'd be nice to go up there and get a shot," he said. "Just get a chance to show the and see what they think."

If or when that happens, who knows. Right now, however, Latta is happy to get more playing time and more of a chance to get his game back.

"I know he wasn't playing a lot in Ontario, it wasn't going well," Dent said. "He wanted an opportunity. The fact we know him and have seen him play helps out. I've seen him, management's seen him, everyone liked him and [know] the intangibles he brought to the table. Right away he's playing with our top-nine forwards, between 14-17 minutes of ice time a night. I think he's like, 'wow this is fun,'" Dent said. "We just brought the fun back into the game for him at the beginning and now he's getting to know the guys and feels a lot more comfortable."

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Ted Dent was another longstanding member of the Blackhawks' organization. On Tuesday, he was the latest to be let go.

Dent, head coach of the Rockford IceHogs for the past six seasons, was fired on Tuesday morning. Dent spent a total of 11 years in the organization; he was the IceHogs' assistant coach for five seasons before taking the head coaching job for the 2011-12 season.

Just over a year ago, the Blackhawks gave Dent a three-year contract extension that was set to run through the end of the 2018-19 season.

"The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization," Blackhawks general Manager Stan Bowman said. "He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best."

The IceHogs didn't have the depth this season they had in previous years, and they struggled all season en route to a 25-39-9-3 record. The struggles got worse after the March 1 trade deadline, when the Blackhawks sent Spencer Abbott and Sam Carrick to the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate). At the time, Abbott led the IceHogs in points with 35 (15 goals, 20 assists) and Carrick was second with 28 points (11 goals 17 assists).

After the two were traded, the IceHogs went 4-12-1.

It's the second consecutive day in which the Blackhawks fired a member of their organization's coaching staff. Mike Kitchen, the Blackhawks' assistant coach since 2010, was fired on Monday. Kitchen and head coach Joel Quenneville have been friends going back to their NHL playing days, when the two were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was also part of Quenneville's coaching staff in St. Louis.

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media on Saturday, he said that there would be change. That started on Monday when assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired.

The move came five days after the Blackhawks were swept out of the first round by the Nashville Predators. Bowman said in a statement that, “we believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward. Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen has been a member of coach Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010. The two go back to their playing days, however, when they were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and also the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was Quenneville’s assistant when the two were with the St. Louis Blues and when Quenneville was fired as Blues coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Kitchen was promoted to head coach.

As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the regular season 24th overall in the league, although that has to come with an asterisk. The penalty kill started the 2016-17 season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the basement. It did get stronger as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short stay in the playoffs.