By Todd Reicher
Friday, March 12, the Rockford IceHogs started a two-game series against the Manitoba Moose. The IceHogs’ woes from last week’s game against San Antonio transferred into the first of the two games against the Moose.
The ’Hogs haven’t been able to figure out the Moose this year, as the Moose hold the four-game season series lead 2-0. Rockford’s first attempt to gain a win in the series seemed to start off well as the ’Hogs dominated play in the first period, but ended up down 2-0. ’Hogs goalie Hannu Toivonen did not face many shots in the first, only six to be exact, but two of those six found the back of the net. At one time, Toivonen faced three shots, two of which were goals for Manitoba. Both goals were scored by winger Matt Pope, which doubled his goal total for the year.
Toivonen’s struggles continued, as early in the second, Matt Pettinger beat him in the five hole on a shorthanded breakaway, leading to his early exit. Things would only get worse for the ’Hogs as Manitoba scored a total of 5 unanswered goals before Rockford would get on the board late in the first. Matt Keith netted the goal for the ‘Hogs, stretching his goal streak to four games.
The Moose would tack on one more in the third, wrapping up a 6-1 win for Manitoba. In their last two games, Rockford was outscored 13-3.
In the second game of the weekend double-header, the ’Hogs showed more fight and took home a well-earned 4-2 win.
Richard Petiot got the team on the board first with a shot from just outside the point. Brian Bickell found Keith, who then went behind his back and through the legs of a Manitoba defender to find Petiot open, where he buried the shot.
The lead wouldn’t last as the Moose tallied two unanswered goals in the first, both by winger Guillaume Desbiens, giving Manitoba a 2-1 lead.
Rockford’s defense, and offense, started to find their rhythm as the ’Hogs took over and out-shot the Moose 14-3 in the second. In his second game back from a two-week stint on the injured reserve list, Kyle Greentree lit the lamp for a team-leading 23rd time this season. Manitoba goalie Cory Schneider left out a nice rebound on a shot by Bracken Kearns, and Greentree was in the right spot to pick it up and put it in. Bickell was also awarded an assist on the power play goal, the ’Hogs’ second power play goal of the night.
Regarding his return to the ice, Greentree stated “the injury was not one that prevented me from getting on ice and staying in shape in practice, so I don’t feel set back physically.” You could tell that some rhythm was lost with his linemates Jack Skille and Kearns, as a few passes in the offensive zone were just off their mark or a little out of time. This was evident late in the first period as Greentree had a good opportunity to find an open net off a Skille pass, but couldn’t get a handle on the puck, allowing Schneider to get back into position before the shot went off.
Just more than 3 minutes later, Evan Brophey would somehow sneak a shot between Moose goalie Schneider’s stick and pad, giving the ’Hogs a 3-2 lead after two periods.
Period three had momentum continuing to flow in Rockford’s favor. With the ’Hogs at the beginning of a five-on-three power play, Skille somehow blasted a shot over the shoulder of Schneider, increasing the ’Hogs’ lead to 4-2. The goal was Rockford’s third power play goal of the night.
Rockford wasn’t out of the clearing yet, however. With Schneider pulled, the Moose tallied a late goal with just fewer than 2 minutes left to pull within 1. That was the last goal Manitoba would tally, as Rockford staved off the late charge and added two empty-net goals late (one by Greentree and a second by Danny Bois), securing the ’Hogs’ victory, 6-3.
Sunday, March, 14 had the team returning home for the first game of a seven-game homestand. The struggling Houston Aeros came to town for the last time in the regular season, fresh off a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to the rival Chicago Wolves the previous night.
Both teams were feeling the effects of games played in consecutive nights, and the 0-0 score after one period was the proof. Play was somewhat physical, but both teams played cautious as they did not want to give up any odd man situations.
The second period was more active with three total goals scored; two by Rockford and one by Houston. The first goal, tallied by Houston, came off a fluke bounce. Houston played a dump-in pass to the zone, which ’Hogs goalie Corey Crawford moved behind the net to play. The puck took a funny hop off the side board, hit the side pole of the goal, and bounced back toward the front of the net. Crawford quickly came back around the net to cover the goal, but Aeros forward Petr Kalus beat Crawford to the punch and put the puck in the net.
It took Rockford almost 10 minutes to even up the score when Bois beat Anton Khudobin over the shoulder from an odd angle. Rob Klinkhammer fought for the puck in the back corner and passed it a few feet to Bois, who moved just a few skates and made good with his shot.
As the period was winding down, Keith stole a puck off the boards and found a streaking Pete MacArthur, who beat Khudobin, putting the ’Hogs up 2-1 after two periods.
Rockford seemed to play a more defensive/cautious third period, which worked for the first 16 minutes of the period. Houston winger Duncan Milroy took a shot from just inside the right point, which Crawford fought off with the right pad. The shot bounced out to the far left boards, and was picked up and shot on a one-timer from the point by defenseman Justin Falk. The shot beat Crawford past his left pad, hit the inside of the crossbar, and found the back of the net.
With the score tied at 2, the two teams went into overtime, both earning 1 point. Only three total shots were attempted in the overtime period, which led to a shootout.
Crawford stole the overtime period, stopping all four attempts he faced. Brophey and Bois both tallied shootout markers for the ’Hogs, securing the victory and the second point.
Rockford’s second of seven straight home games will be at 7:05 p.m., Friday, March 19, at the Rockford MetroCentre as the ’Hogs play the Peoria Rivermen for the final time this season. The following night, the team plays the Texas Stars in a fight for positioning in the upcoming Calder Cup playoffs. Saturday’s game will also feature the team’s annual Jersey Auction night, where fans in attendance can bid on game-worn jerseys from the night’s game. The puck will drop at the MetroCentre at 7:05 p.m.
From the March 17-23, 2010 issue