IceHogs finish weekend home series 1-1, clinch playoff berth

IceHogs Alternate Captain Bracken Kearns won two annual team awards for the 2009-2010 season. Kearns received the team's American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year for the IceHogs Award, and the Unsung Hero Award. With three games remaining in the season, Kearns has tallied 48 points (15 goals, 33 assists) in his first year with the 'Hogs. Photo by Todd Reicher

By Todd Reicher

Sports Columnist

Rockford had one thing on its mind this weekend: win one game, and clinch a playoff spot. The IceHogs have been up and down in their season-long seven-game home stand, and won one of the last two home games to finish 3-4.

Before the puck hit the ice, the IceHogs’ brass handed out the annual player awards. Eight different awards were handed out to players who were recognized for their achievements on and off the ice.

Richard Petiot was named Defenseman of the Year. His plus-18 rating leads the team, and if he finishes the season with this +/- rating, he will tie a team record.

Brian Connelly received the Rookie of the Year Award.Connelly has tied the rookie record with 34 points (4 goals, 30 assists).

Bracken Kearns received not only the IceHogs’ AHL Man of the Year Award, but also the Most Unsung Hero Award. One of the top penalty kill members, Kearns is currently tied for the team lead in points with 48 (15 goals, 33 assists).

England-born David Phillips was awarded the team’s Most Improved Player Award. His plus-13 rating is second on the team, behind Petiot.

The Heavy Hitter Award was given to Danny Bois. Leading the team in penalty minutes with 156, Bois has been a physical presence on the ice.

AHL All-Star Mark Cullen was the recipient of the coveted Most Valuable Player Award. One of the the team’s alternate captains, Cullen shows 48 points (17 goals, 31 assists) in 59 games played.

This past Friday, April 2, the ’Hogs faced the Lake Erie Monsters in a playoff-clinching game. With a great reward on the line, you had the feeling Rockford was going to come out strong, and come out strong they did. Brian Bickell scored the game’s first goal 2:44 into the first period. Defenseman Shawn LaLonde made a nice play, keeping the puck onsides and wristing it quickly toward the net. Bickell was waiting nearby and slipped it past Monsters goalie Tyler Weiman for the early lead. Rob Klinkhammer was also credited with an assist on the goal.

Scoring was at a premium until midway through the third period when Evan Brophey tallied his 14th goal of the year. The play started when Bois created aggressive pressure on the fore check and forced the play into the boards. Bois cleaned the puck out and found Jake Dowell midway between the goal and left face-off circle, which led to a feed to a streaking Brophey, who one-timed the shot past Weiman.

Crawford made multiple key saves throughout most of the game, and had a bit of luck on his side, markedly in the second period. Crawford blocked a shot from the left face-off zone and went down to block a second shot. While Crawford was down and out, the puck slid to the right side of the crease, but Monsters winger Mike Bartlett whiffed on the rolling puck, missing a virtually empty net.

The shutout was looking good as Crawford stopped all of his first 30 shots. But the Monsters pulled their goalie with just under 3 minutes remaining in the game, and the 6-5 man advantage proved too much for the ’Hogs to handle. Justin Mercier scored with a shot from about 5 feet in front of the net off a nice centering feed from behind the net by T.J. Hensick.

Lake Erie was only able to get two more shots off during the last few minutes of the game, and Rockford held on to a 2-1 lead, securing the team a spot in the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Rockford was on the losing end of the game Saturday as the Milwaukee Admirals came into the MetroCentre and played like it was their home ice. ’Hogs goalie Hannu Toivoinen struggled early, and at one time allowed four goals on 17 shots. As I was watching the ’Hogs warm up, Toivoinen was in goal, and it seemed every other shot he was getting beat over his stick-side shoulder. Sure enough, just 4 minutes into the game, Dave Scatchard beat Toivoinen over his stick-side shoulder, giving the Admirals a 1-0 lead. Andreas Thuresson and Teemu Laasko were given assists on the goal.

Four minutes later, Thuresson netted another goal for the Admirals, raiding the lead to 2-0. The power play goal came 8:30 into the first, with Laasko receiving his second point of the night.

Milwaukee would score once in the second and once in the third to take a 4-0 win. Mike Santorelli and Hugh Jessiman scored the last two goals for the Ads.

The ’Hogs couldn’t seem to get much going, and Milwaukee goalie Mark Dekanich stopped everything he faced, earning the shutout with 29 saves.

The final weekend of regular-season play takes place this week as the ’Hogs take a three-game road trip into the state of Texas to face the Stars, Rampage and Aeros in a span of five days. The ’Hogs take on the seventh-place Houston Aeros Tuesday, April 6, at 7:05 p.m. Friday, April 9, the team moves to Cedar Park to take on the second-place Stars at 7:30 p.m. For the final game of the regular season, the ’Hogs head to San Antonio to take on the Rampage with the puck dropping at 7 p.m. Playoff dates and times have yet to be announced.

From the April 7-13, 2010 issue

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