By Todd Reicher
It’s a new season, and everyone is tied for first place as the American Hockey League (AHL) kicked off its opening weekend. The Rockford IceHogs started off the 2010-2011 regular season Saturday, Oct. 9, against the Manitoba Moose.
This season displays a newer, younger, faster team, but the beginning of the game seemed to take the tone of how the ’Hogs played in the postseason last year. The theme continued of the ’Hogs falling behind and trying to play catch-up.
Five minutes into the new season, the ’Hogs fell behind as Manitoba’s winger Jonas Andersson tallied the first goal of the game. Andersson took the puck hard to the net, and ’Hogs’ netminder Hannu Toivoinen couldn’t contain a rebound, which Andersson picked up from his initial shot and slipped past Toivoinen.
Just 10 minutes later, the Moose doubled their lead when rookie defenseman Kevin Connauton charged in from the blue line and blasted a one-timer, beating Toivoinen glove side.
The second period held more of the same for both teams when Lee Sweatt tallied his first goal of the season for the Moose. The goal came with 6 seconds remaining on a five-on-three powerplay.
Adding to their total, the Moose scored on the second part of the powerplay 30 seconds later, putting the Moose up 4-0.
Rockford finally put some points on the board when Brandon Bollig got one past Manitoba goalie Eddie Lack, cutting the lead to 3.
Three minutes later, Kyle Beach lit the lamp for his first goal of the season, cutting the Moose lead in half, 4-2.
That was all the scoring the ’Hogs would amass, and Manitoba put the dagger to the ’Hogs’ heart with under 5 minutes remaining as Victor Oreskovich scored for the Moose, sealing the 5-2 victory.
The following night, the ’Hogs faced the Grand Rapids Griffins in their first matchup of the season. Last season, the ’Hogs played well against the Griffins, finishing the eight-game series with a 7-0-1 record, and looked to continue their success this season.
The ’Hogs needed a win to finish the opening weekend 1-1. The other incentive for the ’Hogs to play well was Lord Stanley’s Cup was in town, along with the Campbell Bowl, Conn Smythe Trophy and Norris Trophy. The Blackhawks’ future players needed to put forth an excellent effort in honor of the special visitors. Before the ’Hogs had the opportunity to redeem themselves, there was other business to attend to.
As the lights dimmed, the crowd roared with applause as a red carpet and small round table was placed at center ice. Shortly thereafter, Chicago Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman rolled onto the ice in the backseat of a convertible car with the Stanley Cup placed beside him.
Flashes illuminated the MetroCentre as Bowman dropped the ceremonial puck. The team captains shook hands with each other, then Bowman, as they wished each other good luck. Bowman then proceeded to return to the Cup and hoist it high in the air one last time for the Rockford fans.
Rockford started out the scoring 96 seconds into the game when 6-foot-7-inch Simon Danis-Pepin scored on a shot from the point.
The play continued at a fast pace for both teams, with hard hitting and quick passing. many opportunities happened for both teams that were either shot wide or stopped by quick defenseman or goalies.
Grand Rapids finally connected on one of those chances when defenseman Doug Janik connected on a scoring chance, getting one cleanly by ’Hogs goalie Alec Richards.
Cory Emmerton tallied a goal for the Griffins with just 12 seconds left in the first period while on the powerplay, putting Grand Rapids up 2-1 at the end of the first period.
Rockford started a second period scoring explosion when IceHogs fourth-year forward Evan Brophey scored his first goal of the season. Rob Klinkhammer and Danis-Pepin picked up the assists, with Danis-Pepin getting his second point of the night.
Grand Rapids answered toward the middle of the period when defenseman Logan Pyett scored from near the blue line, putting the Griffins ahead 3-2.
Klinkhammer notched his second point of the night when he blasted a shot from the right point, knotting the game once again.
As the second period wound down, Russian-born Igor Makarov scored his first AHL goal when he picked up a rebound from the right side of the net and tapped it past Griffins goalie Thomas McCollum, giving the ’Hogs their third goal of the period and their second lead of the game, 4-3.
Similar to the ’Hogs in the first period, Grand Rapids came out quickly in the third and scored 1:45 into the period, knotting the score once again at 4-4.
But the ’Hogs would take the lead back for good when recently-acquired forward Ryan Potulny sniped one past McCollum. Winger Jeff Taffe made a great cross-ice pass to Potulny, who shot a wrister to the top-right corner of the net as McCollum was cheating to his right.
Now on to the good and bad notes from the weekend: The bad was Rockford’s penalty kill/powerplay. The other teams were a combined four of six on the man-advantage while Rockford was a dismal zero for six. It’s the beginning of the season, and the lines/player combinations have not been perfected, but the powerplay units need to be more effective.
The good was the turnaround from Saturday to Sunday. The ’Hogs began to come to life in the third period Saturday, and continued to put points on the board in every period, scoring at least one goal in four straight periods.
The ’Hogs began a three-game road trip with their next game Tuesday, Oct. 12, against the Peoria Rivermen (results not available at press time). The ’Hogs then travel to Canada to face the Abbotsford Heat for a two-game series Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15-16, with the first night being the Heat’s home opener.
The ’Hogs return home Oct. 22 to face the same Abbotsford Heat.
From the Oct. 13-19, 2010 issue