By Todd Reicher
Rockford keeps finding ways to win close games. Monday, Feb. 15, against the Grand Rapids Griffins illustrates this perfectly.
On the first shot of the game, Grand Rapids forward Mattias Ritola put one past ’Hogs goalie Corey Crawford, giving the Griffins a 1-0 lead just 37 seconds into the game.
After giving up a goal seconds into the game, you would have thought a large part of the ’Hogs’ momentum would have been drained from the team. However, this was not the case. Rockford forward Bracken Kearns evened the score later in the first as he stole a pass in the offensive zone and slipped it past Griffins goalie Daniel Larsson.
Penalties plagued the ’Hogs as Rockford found the penalty box eight times throughout the game, but Rockford’s penalty kill was marvelous, and held the Griffins scoreless on all attempts.
“We got into some penalty trouble, but our PK was really strong,” Crawford said after being selected first star. “It wasn’t the best game we played, but we find ways to win.”
Goalies were the stars of this game as both Crawford and Larsson made crucial saves throughout the game, and after regulation, the game remained tied at 1.
Overtime would prove to be short, as Rockford defenseman Brian Conneley put one in the back of the net 1:39 into overtime. The shot, from the left point, was slightly deflected off a Griffins player, and Larsson could not catch up to it. With a 2-1 victory, the ’Hogs completed the season series against the Griffins, finishing with an impressive 7-0-0-1 record.
San Antonio came into town Friday, Feb. 19, for a two-day series at the MetroCentre. The Rampage came into the game in sixth place in the division; however, they held a victory in their last visit to Rockford.
The Rampage got on the board first as Stefan Meyer scored on an assist from ex-IceHog Jimmy Sharrow.
With a 1-0 deficit, the ’Hogs turned up the heat and scored four unanswered goals in the first period. Matt Keith started off the scoring when Pete MacArthur stole a pass in the neutral zone, hit Evan Brophey, who then found Keith alone in front of the net.
Mike Brennan, Keith and Richard Petiot all scored within 2:30 of each other, giving the ’Hogs a 4-1 lead after one period.
San Antonio scored the next two in the second, narrowing the gap, but Kyle Greentree took one back for Rockford with just more than a minute left in the period. The goal gave Greentree his team-leading 22nd goal of the year.
The Rampage took that goal back on the power play in the third, and had Rockford on their heels.
Scoring was at a premium for the next 12 minutes, but hats soon littered the ice as Keith scored his third goal of the night. The goal not only secured the game for the ’Hogs, it also gave the team its first hat trick of the season.
Saturday night, Feb. 20, the Rampage returned for another physical game at the MetroCentre. This time, the ’Hogs lit the lamp first as MacArthur fed a great cross-ice pass to Skille, who beat Josh Tjordman.
Kevin Porter and Matt Watkins scored the next two goals, giving the Rampage a 2-1 lead after two.
Skille tied the game 5 minutes into the third while on the power play. Skille missed a pass at the blue line and immediately confused the Rampage by driving the puck down the middle of the ice, splitting the defense and beating Tjordman on the high-blocker side.
“We had some good passing tonight, and we played well,” Skille said.
Keith scored his fourth goal in two games, giving the ’Hogs a 3-2 edge, once again securing the game for the ’Hogs. Keith’s 15th goal of the year gave him two game-winning goals in two straight days.
“We played better as a team tonight, and it’s something we can look forward to build on,” Keith said after game.
Unfortunately, the ’Hogs could not carry the momentum forward Sunday, Feb. 21, as the IceHogs fell to the Admirals in Milwaukee 4-1.
Rockford was put in a deep hole as Milwaukee scored the first three goals, leading 3-0 halfway through the second.
Akim Aliu narrowed the gap by sneaking one past Mark Dekanich, just after the halfway point of the second. It was a shot Dekanich would stop 99 out of 100 times, and Aliu had the odds in his favor, putting the shot through a tiny opening, into the back of the net.
The Admirals put the icing on the cake late in the third and sent Rockford packing with a 4-1 loss. On the bright side, the ’Hogs picked up 6 out of 8 points for the week and still hold on to second place in the division with 75 percent of the regular season behind them.
Rockford’s next game is at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee for a rematch against the Admirals. The ’Hogs then return home Saturday, Feb. 27, for a 7:05 p.m. game against the Peoria Rivermen. Saturday’s game is Blackhawk night as six previous IceHogs players will be returning for the night to sign autographs. In attendance will be current Chicago Blackhawks players Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Niemi and Colin Fraser, as well as Assistant Coach Mike Haviland and mascot Tommy Hawk.
From the Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2010 issue