By Todd Reicher
After a long weekend in Texas, the IceHogs gathered seven of eight points while playing four games in five days for their second straight week.
The IceHogs, who lost to the Houston Aeros in Houston the week before, took the second game in Houston Sunday, Jan. 10, then returned to Rockford to take two more from the Aeros.
The IceHogs returned home Wednesday, Jan. 13, to one of their biggest crowds of the season. With WIFR’s buyout of the MetroCentre, 5,989 fans showed up to show their support for the IceHogs, and the team did not disappoint. The IceHogs, with goals from Jack Skille, Rob Klinkhammer and Evan Brophey, defeated the Houston Aeros 3-2.
Rockford had a 3-1 lead until Houston pulled close with 2:24 left in the game on what seemed a controversial goal. Game officials went to the replay, which showed the puck went through the back of the net, narrowing the IceHogs’ lead to 3-2. But Rockford held strong, and fended off the Aeros’ comeback with a 3-2 win.
Friday, Jan. 15, the Aeros returned to the MetroCentre, where the teams played the final game of a two-week stint in which the teams faced one another four times in the last five games. In front of another large crowd of 4,819, the IceHogs again triumphed over the Aeros.
Pressure was on Houston early as Aeros goalie Wade Dubielewicz was pulled only 51 seconds into the game after surrendering two goals in three shots. After losing the first face-off, Rockford gained ownership of the puck, and quickly moved into the offensive zone, where 2010 AHL All-Star selection Mark Cullen scored his 14th goal of the season just 24 seconds into the game.
Not to be outdone, fellow AHL All-Star team member Skille went top shelf and scored 27 seconds later, giving him his 14th of the season as well. Later in the first period, Kyle Greentree continued his excellent play, notching his 14th goal of the season, putting the IceHogs up 3-0 after the first period.
Only one goal was scored in the second period, as IceHogs defenseman Richard Petiot tallied his second goal of the season, giving the IceHogs a 4-0 lead.
Those four goals were all the IceHogs needed as goalie Corey Crawford played one of his best games of the season, stopping 34 of 35 shots on the way to his ninth win of the season. Crawford lost his bid for a shutout on a goal by Houston’s Fraser 10:57 into the third. That goal was all Houston would amass as the Aeros could not crack through Crawford’s brick wall.
After missing a series of games with a wrist injury, rookie forward Akim Aliu returned to play and potted an empty net goal with 15 seconds remaining in the game as Rockford took another game from Houston, winning 5-1.
Saturday, Jan. 16, had the IceHogs traveling to Peoria playing the Rivermen. Rockford came out strong with Bracken Kearns and Matt Keith scoring the first two goals of the game. Peoria scored late in the first to close the score 2-1 after the first.
The second period had the IceHogs striking first with Brophey’s eighth goal of the year, stretching Rockford’s lead to 3-1. But the lead would not last more than 10 minutes, as Peoria tallied two goals in the second, knotting the teams at 3 after two periods.
The third period went scoreless as the teams carried to overtime. After few close calls by both teams, no goals meant the game was headed to a shootout. After four rounds in the shootout, both teams had scored once, with Aliu scoring the shootout goal for the IceHogs. However, the IceHogs could not come out ahead, as ex-IceHogs forward Pascal Pelletier scored in the last round of the shootout, giving Peoria a 4-3 shootout win.
For their fourth game in five days, the IceHogs traveled from Peoria to Grand Rapids, Mich., to take on the Griffins. The hectic schedule had the IceHogs weary, but the team played on and fell short/pulled ahead of the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Cullen, Greentree and Skille continued to play follow-the-leader as each player had their 15th goal of the season. The game went back and forth for the first two periods, and after two, the game was tied 3-3.
Rockford regained the lead halfway through the third as Jake Dowell caromed a shot from behind the net off Griffins goalie Daniel Larsson’s skate, giving the IceHogs a 4-3 lead in the third. That lead would carry the rest of the game, as the Icehogs defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins for the third time this season in four attempts.
Aliu sat out Sunday’s (Jan. 17) game after re-aggravating his wrist injury Saturday against Peoria. When asked about his injury, Aliu said, “My game had turned around since playing Chicago around Christmas, and it’s unfortunate.” He was, however, optimistic in returning quickly, saying he “hopes to be back next weekend.”
The team, with the exception of Cullen and Skille, will have some time to rest, as the AHL All-Star game is taking place this week (Jan. 18-19) in Portland, Maine, and the IceHogs will not have to play again until Saturday, Jan. 23, when they take on the Grand Rapids Griffins at the Rockford MetroCentre.
From the Jan. 20-26, 2010 issue