Tales from the Trough: ‘Hogs’ special teams start slow in Peoria, ramp up in Abbotsford

Last year, Rockford's Ryan Flinn (49) and Abbotsford's Shane Grantham (16) slugged it out at the MetroCentre. Friday's game at Abbotsford continued the rivalry in similar fashion. Photo by Todd Reicher

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The second week of the American Hockey League (AHL) season started off the same way the first week ended for Rockford. The special teams were still struggling while the goaltending and defense were being abused.

Rockford’s goal-a-period scoring trend would continue into the Tuesday, Oct. 12, game against the Peoria Rivermen, with drastic results, as the team was unable to keep up with the St. Louis affiliate, dropping the game 6-2.

A recent theme this year for the ’Hogs is getting into penalty trouble. Not only that, but they are not able to successfully get out of these predicaments.

Less than 2 minutes into the game, defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin was tagged for a delay of game penalty. Peoria quickly converted on the opportunity, taking a 1-0 lead.

The ’Hogs responded with their first powerplay goal of the season, when 19-year-old rookie Jeremy Morin notched his first professional goal of his young career. Morin, who was camped out on the doorstep, picked up the loose puck and slapped it home, tying the game at 1-1.

Surprisingly enough, there were a grand total of six shots in the first period: two from Peoria and four from Rockford.

The second period was not kind to Rockford as the Rivermen netted three straight goals before Rockford would answer.

Phil McRae tagged the first goal of the second period, while former San Antonio Rampage forward David Spina recorded the second, and Nicholas Drazenovic tallied the third goal of the period, putting the Rivermen ahead 4-1.

Rockford’s leading shooter for the game, defenseman Shawn Lalonde (four shots), connected late in the second, closing the gap to 4-2 at the end of two. The end of the second period also signaled the end of Toivoinen for the night, as he surrendered four goals on 14 shots.

For the record, all goals Toivoinen let in were not entirely his fault. Peoria’s third goal was a direct result of sloppy defensive play by Lalonde. While moving toward the defensive blueline, Lalonde misplayed a soft pass, leading to a two-on-one, and an easy goal for Peoria.

Richards wouldn’t fare any better in net, either, as Peoria tallied two more powerplay goals in the third period, sealing the victory with a 6-2 final. Richards finished off with two GA in 10 shots faced.

Rockford was a dismal two for six on the penalty and one for six on the powerplay. In three games this season, Rockford is five for 12 on the kill and one for 12 with the advantage. Obviously, coach Bill Peters needs to get his special teams together before the team gets too far behind early in the season.

The ’Hogs then traveled to Abbotsford, British Columbia, 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.

Rockford was successful last year against the Heat, finishing with a 3-1 record. The ’Hogs lost the first game of the series, which took place in Abbotsford, but won the final three matchups, including two of two at home.

After a long road trip to Abbotsford, the ’Hogs were ready to play, and came out firing. They also came out undisciplined, taking the first four penalties of the game. Less than 4 minutes into the game, Morin was tagged for a holding the stick penalty. Rockford successfully killed the penalty, and answered just 43 seconds later with the first goal of the night. Ryan Stanton took a shot from the point, which was fended off by Heat netter Leland Irving, but Evan Brophey was there to collect the loose change and tap home his second goal of the season.

Just after killing off their third penalty of the night, Rockford beat their previous time and scored 42 seconds later. This time, Rob Klinkhammer tallied his second of the season. Lalonde was the only player credited with the assist, but Klinkhammer and Kyle Beach created a great amount of traffic in front of the net, causing Irving to scramble in search of the puck. Klinkhammer grabbed the puck while traversing the back side of the net and slid it in to give the ’Hogs a 2-0 lead.

Scoring after a penalty seemed to be a trend on this Friday night as Rockford would tally a third goal after killing off a penalty. This time, Jeff Taffe came racing out of the box just as the puck was crossing center ice. Taffe grabbed the puck in full stride with no one in front of him except for Irving. Taffe deked left, went back to the forehand and beat Irving for a 4-0 ’Hogs lead.

Just a few minutes later, while on their first man-advantage, the ’Hogs added to their total when Morin picked up a hot rebound off an Ivan Vishnevskiy shot, increasing the lead to 3.

Rockford would tally their fifth goal of the night when a shot from the point by Brian Connelly was tipped in by Brandon Pirri.

Things would start to get ugly as fists were being thrown out left and right, as well as penalties. Three fights, including two game misconducts, would be handed out, giving both teams a total of 11 penalties throughout the night.

Finally, Rockford’s special teams came alive, going 2-5 on the man advantage and 5-5 on the kill. But just as important, ’Hogs goalie Alec Richards put in a strong bid as starting goaltender as he stopped all 27 shots he faced, earning his first career shutout and Player of the Game honors.

Saturday night’s game had the makings of a revenge game for the Heat. They were just shut out at home in their season-opener and were shaken from the game late in the third when penalties and fists started flying. Abbotsford would also try to solve Richards, who earned his second start in as many nights for the ’Hogs.

The first period was a defensive game as only 13 shots took place, and no one found the back of the net.

Revenge did not look well at the start of the second as Morin lit the lamp for his third goal of the young season while Rockford was on their second powerplay of the night.

What would happen next would come as a shock to the ’Hogs, as Abbotsford tallied three goals in a matter of 51 seconds. Center John Armstrong scored the first goal, while ex-IceHog Matt Keith tallied the next goal (his third of the year), and Keith Seabrook (brother of Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook) tallied the third goal, which was on a powerplay.

Shaken, but not stirred, Richards remained in the game.

Rockford would answer 6 minutes later with their second powerplay goal of the night when Taffe found the mesh for his second time of the season.

The ’Hogs would convert their third powerplay of the night 7 minutes into the third when veteran Ryan Potulny tagged his second goal of the season, knotting the score at 3.

After a 5-minute overtime, and no winner decided, the game went to a shootout.

Abbotsford gained the edge in the first two rounds as Keith and Bryce Cameron converted on the shots, while Morin scored on his attempt for the ’Hogs.

Down, but not out, the ’Hogs converted on two of their next three rounds as Vishnevskiy and Pirri converted on their attempts and Richards stoned the three remaining Heat shooters, giving Rockford a 4-3 shootout victory.

The ’Hogs’ next game is Friday, Oct. 22, at the MetroCentre when they face the same Abbotsford Heat. The following night, the team takes on the division rival Chicago Wolves for the first time this season with the puck dropping at 7:05 p.m.

From the Oct. 20-26, 2010 issue

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