Tales from the Trough: IceHogs stuffed for Thanksgiving

IceHogs assistant captain Jeff Taffe celebrates after scoring Rockford’s first goal against the Lake Erie Monsters Wednesday, Nov. 24. The ’Hogs would end up losing 4-2. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The Rockford IceHogs must have been suffering from some early Thanksgiving meals, as they struggled Wednesday, Nov. 24, against the Lake Erie Monsters.

Rockford came out of the gate with some fire, creating three quick shots on goal in the first 1:30 of the game. The gusto didn’t last very long, however, as turnovers, poor passing and defensive breakdowns would become prominent.

In a span of under 3 minutes, Rockford would find themselves down 2-0. Eleven minutes into the first, the Monsters took advantage of a five-on-three powerplay opportunity to give Lake Erie a 1-0 lead. Quick and accurate passing between Jonas Holos and Julian TalbotHannu Toivonen led to a quick shot on goal, which blocked off. Unfortunately, it came back to Patrick Rissmiller of the Monsters, who picked up the loose puck and smacked it home.

Monsters centerman Ryan Stoa doubled the lead less than 3 minutes later, netting his third goal of the season. He was fed the puck from Talbot, who dug it out in the corner and fed Stoa who was unguarded and had a good look to the net.

Stoa would increase the Monsters’ lead to 3-0 early in the second period as he tallied his second goal of the evening.

Jeff Taffe would take a cut into the Monsters’ lead 79 seconds later, closing the cap to 3-1. Jeremy Morin was credited with an assist on the goal.

The air would be deflated from the ’Hogs late in the third when Mike Carman got hold of the puck while shorthanded, and beat Toivonen with less than a minute remaining in the second.

Not to be outdone, Ben Smith would score his second shorthanded goal of the season late in the third, cutting the lead to 4-2.

Unfortunately, that would be all the scoring Rockford would amass, and would fall at home to the Monsters 4-2.

Friday, Nov. 26, the ’Hogs traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to face the Griffins for the second time this year. Rockford won the first meeting early this year 6-5 at the MetroCentre.

With both offenses struggling as of late, getting that first goal would be a step in the right direction for either team. The Griffins have had only five goals in their past seven games. Coming into the game, Rockford was 27th in the league with a 2.37-goal-per-game average, while Grand Rapids, at 2.53 goals per game, was 26th. As a side note, Grand Rapids would put up 10 goals Saturday, Nov. 27, against the Chicago Wolves.

Rockford would get that key first goal when Brandon Pirri scored midway through the first period.

Rockford would soon double their lead thanks to Ryan Potulny tallying his fourth of the year midway through the second period. The powerplay goal was set up by Nick Leddy and Brian Connelly, putting the ’Hogs up 2-0.

The Griffins would answer quickly, as Francis Pare lit the red lamp for the fifth time this season, cutting the ’Hogs’ lead in half to 2-1.

The third period would feature a large number of shots, but most for Grand Rapids. Thankfully, ’Hogs netminder Alec Richards was able to fend off almost every puck his defense was unable to clear. On the 15 shots Richards faced in the pivotal third, only one would sneak past him. The goal, scored by Doug Janik would tie the game at 2-2 with 15 minutes of game time remaining.

Despite being outshot 38-23, the ’Hogs were still in the game.

After 5 minutes of scoreless overtime, Rockford would once again enter a shootout. Lucky for the ’Hogs, Richards would continue his stellar play in the skills competition, stopping all four Griffins shooters. Pirri and Kyle Beach scored on their attempts, which was good enough to give Rockford a 3-2 shootout win on the road.

The following night, Rockford returned home to take on the Rivermen. With the rivalry heating up in recent weeks, this game was sure to be a physical, no-holds-barred type of game.

Rockford started out with a huge opportunity, as they were awarded with a 1:30 five-on-three powerplay. Unable to take advantage, and only getting one shot off in that advantage, Peoria now had the ice tilted in their favor. Unlike Rockford, Peoria would take full advantage of the momentum swing.

Peoria lit up Rockford for three first-period goals, all coming within a 6-minute span. Anthony Nigro, ex-’Hog Derek Nesbitt and Nicholas Drazenovic all tallied markers, with Nesbitt’s goal on the powerplay.

Nigro’s goal was a breakdown defensively for the ’Hogs. As has happened many times this young season, the ’Hogs were battling in the corner for the puck off a dump-in. No one picked up the trailing skater, in this case it was Nigro, and Tyler Shattock dug the puck from the boards and found Nigro wide open.

Nesbitt’s snipe from the far face-off circle was set up from nice passing, with Graham Mink putting the puck right on the tape from across the ice.

After 20 minutes of play, Richards was pulled after giving up 3 goals on eight shots. Toivonen would step in to take his place, and looked good in the second period, stopping all seven shots he would face. Unfortunately, Peoria netminder Jake Allen would do the same, stopping 19 first- and second-period shots.

Period three would be the dagger for the ’Hogs as their anemic offense was unable to crack Allen’s wall. Allen stopped another 12 shots in the final frame, getting the shutout on 31 IceHogs shots. Toivonen, however, would only stop for of the six shots he faced in the third, and Peoria would skate away with a 5-0 win. Mink and Mark Cundari would tally the third-period goals for Peoria.

After starting the season off with some high-scoring games, Rockford’s offense has struggled tremendously in the past few weeks, as noted by their 27th-ranked offense. After three weeks into the season, Rockford was in the top 10 in scoring, and has since dropped more than 17 spots in the league rankings. Prior to this week, the defense and goaltending had been winning games for Rockford, but sooner or later, the offense will need to start producing.

Rockford will head down to Houston next weekend for a two-game series against the Aeros. Thursday’s game will start early, 11 a.m., and Friday’s game Dec. 3 will start at 7 p.m.

The ’Hogs return home Wednesday, Dec. 8, to host the Texas Stars. Game time is 6:35 p.m. The team stays home Friday, Dec. 10, to face the Milwaukee Admirals, and Saturday, Dec. 11, against one of the newest AHL teams, the Oklahoma City Barons. Both the Friday and Saturday games have a starting time of 7:05 p.m.

Tales from the Trough will be off a week, but will return in the Dec. 15 issue of The Rock River Times.

From the Dec. 1-7, 2010 issue

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