By Todd Reicher
Rockford IceHogs wins keep rolling in, as Rockford won both of their games in week 17.
With the All-Star game and the first half of the season behind them, the IceHogs, who entered the game in second place, returned to Peoria Friday, Jan. 22, to face the Rivermen, where one week earlier the IceHogs lost in a shootout 4-3.
Just like last week’s game, the IceHogs jumped ahead first. At 1:19 into the game, Rockford’s leading scorer, Kyle Greentree, tallied his 16th goal of the season on a one-timer from Bracken Kearns.
Midway through the first, Akim Aliu grabbed his own rebound and put it past Rivermen goalie Hannu Toivonen, putting the IceHogs up 2-0. Defensemen Richard Petiot and David Phillips assisted on the goal.
Flashes of the last meeting between these two teams appeared again, as Peoria jumped on the board when a shot from defenseman Steve Wagner went off Rockford goalie Corey Crawford’s glove, and hit the crossbar before finding the back of the net.
With time ticking down in the first period, Peoria Center Lars Eller sniped one past Crawford with one second remaining in the period, knotting the game at 2-2 after the first period.
Peoria thought they had taken the lead when, minutes into the second period, a shot got past Crawford and hit the right crossbar, but never crossed the line. Officials viewed the replay, and the correct call was made—no goal was awarded to Peoria.
While Peoria could not get a marker in the second, the period led to more scoring for Rockford. Tough guy Ryan Flinn helped the IceHogs reclaim the lead 9:28 into the second stanza, when Flinn deflected a shot from rookie defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin for his second goal of the year. Defenseman Brian Connelly was also credited with an assist on the goal. The lead would hold for the rest of the game as the IceHogs defeated the Rivermen 3-2, and claimed first place in the Western Division.
Evan Brophey played his 200th game in an IceHogs jersey, putting him second all-time in IceHogs history behind Dan Davies, who played in 298 games for the IceHogs when they played in the UHL.
Rockford returned home Saturday, Jan. 23, to host the Grand Rapids Griffins, where the team leads the yearly series 4-0-1. Once again, the IceHogs lit the lamp first when Brophey won the faceoff and got the puck to Brian Bickell, who notched his ninth goal of the season.
A few minutes into the second period, Jack Skille took the puck into the Grand Rapids zone and made a nice pass to Bracken Kearns, who found the back of the net for his 10th goal of the year.
Rockford’s lead would increase to 3-0 when rookie defenseman Jonathan Carlsson scored his first goal in as an AHL player. Kearns grabbed a loose puck in the ’Hogs’ defensive zone, and passed it down to Skille, who, on the rush, took a shot from the left wing. Carlsson was in the right place at the right time, when Griffins goalie Thomas McCollum left a rebound out, which Carlsson quickly put in the net. Carlsson, who was a +3 and selected as the first star of the game, was asked if it was better being selected first star of the game or scoring his first goal. Carlsson laughed and said, “It’s always good to be a star of the game, but scoring the first goal was better.”
The IceHogs seemed to be in control, but that changed midway through the second period. While the ’Hogs were on the powerplay, Griffins center Kris Newbury got a hold of the puck and found defenseman Logan Pyett, who put one past Crawford for a shorthanded goal.
Just more than 4 minutes later, Griffins forward John Vigilante bounced a shot off Crawford’s skate and into the goal, closing the gap to 3-2.
Mark Cullen increased the IceHogs’ lead to 4-2 in the third period, getting a shot off a beautiful centering pass from Matt Keith, who was stationed behind the Griffins’ net. Cullen’s goal tied him for the team’s goal lead at 16.
Not to be outdone, Greentree scored his 17th goal of the season when he scored an empty-net goal with 1:09 left in the game. Cullen fought for and took possession of the puck behind the Rockford net, and immediately found Keith, who took the puck down the right and found a trailing Greentree wide open for an easy goal.
The win extended the IceHogs’ streak to 6-0-0-1 and 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 games. The current streak has given the IceHogs enough points to take sole possession of second place, only 1 point back from first-place Milwaukee.
On a side note, the IceHogs have played 49 games this season, which ties them with the Springfield Falcons for the most games played. Also, goaltender Crawford is 5-0-0-1 since returning from a two-month stint on the DL.
The IceHogs will see action Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 7:05 p.m., as they take on the Hamilton Bulldogs, who are in first place in the North Division. The IceHogs stay home Friday, Jan. 29, where the team will face the Rivermen on “Pink in the Rink” night at the MetroCentre. Rockford then travels back to Grand Rapids, Mich., where they take on the Grand Rapids Griffins at 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 30.
From the Jan. 27-Feb 2, 2010