By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs had a busy schedule this week playing four games, three of which were at home.
Wednesday, Jan. 12, the ’Hogs hosted the Houston Aeros in another back-and-forth matchup.
Houston would be the first on the scoreboard midway through the first with Justin Falk notching his first goal of the year.
Rob Klinkhammer tied up the score for the ’Hogs just more than a minute-and-a-half later. Kyle Beach and Shawn Lalonde were credited with helpers on the goal.
Late in the first, Houston made good on a powerplay opportunity with assistant captain Warren Peters’ eighth marker of the season.
After a scoreless middle frame, Ryan Potulny knotted the score once again early in the third. As Jeff Taffe was bringing the puck up the right side, an uncontested Potulny drove hard to the net and Taffe shuffled a pass just outside the crease and found Potulny wide open for an easy goal.
But the Aeros would respond and grab the lead once again. Chad Rau sniped a goal over the left shoulder of ’Hogs netminder Alec Richards, giving the Aeros a 3-2 lead.
With the period drawing to an end, and Richards on the bench, Houston would secure the victory with an empty-net goal with 18 seconds left in the game. Houston finished 1-3 on the powerplay, and Rockford a dismal 0-5.
Friday, one of Rockford’s other Texas rivals, the Texas Stars, returned to town. The ’Hogs have been unlucky at home against the Stars, including losing two straight against the Stars in last year’s Clader Cup playoff run.
The game was scoreless until Beach put Rockford on top 2:10 into the second with a quick snipe over Stars goalie Richard Bachman’s right shoulder.
Stars forward Colton Sceviour would finally put Texas on the scoreboard 1:38 into the third frame.
However, Jeremy Morin gave Rockford the lead once again a minute after Texas had tied the score, marking his eighth goal of the season.
With the third period coming to a close, Lalonde was penalized for a hooking penalty with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game. With their goalie pulled, the Stars couldn’t take advantage of the four-on-six advantage, and Potulny capped the victory with an empty-net, shorthanded goal with 35 seconds remaining in the game—his 10th marker of the season.
Rockford goaltender Hannu Toivonen stopped 29 of 30 shots in net for his eighth win of the season (8-7-3).
The following night, Rockford traveled to Rosemont to face the Chicago Wolves. Toivonen continued his stellar play and helped backstop the ’Hogs to a 1-0 victory. The win was Toivonen’s second shutout this year.
The game remained scoreless until midway through the third. Beach, who has four goals in his last six games, scored the unassisted goal to give Rockford the 1-0 lead.
Rockford held a 21-15 shots-on-goal advantage after two periods, but Chicago would outshoot Rockford 17-6 in the third for a total of 32-27 advantage for the Wolves. But they could not solve Toivonen, who stopped all 32 shots, and was awarded the first star of the game.
Rockford faced their third Texas opponent Monday, Jan. 17, the San Antonio Rampage.
The interesting stat this week, the ’Hogs haven’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since losing twice at San Antonio Nov. 11-12. Riding a two-game winning streak, the ’Hogs hoped to have a good showing against the Rampage.
As with a few recent games, the first and second period would go scoreless.
Both teams were feeling one another out in the first period and playing conservatively. Rockford held the shots advantage 9-3, and San Antonio had the only penalty, a tripping call 11 minutes into the period.
The second period would open up more in terms of shots and penalties, but still no player was able to find the back of the net. The Rampage committed two more penalties to Rockford’s one, and the ’Hogs would once again hold the shot advantage, 15-9.
Rockford quickly jumped out of the gates in the third and Evan Brophey put Rockford ahead just 13 seconds into the period, beating ex-Stars goalie Matt Climie for the 1-0 lead.
Hugh Jessiman, who has been injured for a majority of the season, notched his third goal of the season 8 minutes into the last frame to give Rockford a cushion at 2-0.
San Antonio’s Andrew Ebbett, who had a brief stint with the Chicago Blackhawks last year, drew the Rampage to within 1 1:27 after Jessiman’s marker.
Rockford would remain strong and hold the Rampage off the board for the remainder of the game, earning them another 2 points and a 2-1 lead. The win would mark the team’s first three-game win streak of the season, and Toivonen’s third-straight win after giving up 3 goals on three shots back on Friday, Jan. 7.
Rockford’s next game is at the MetroCentre, Friday, Jan. 21, against the Oklahoma City Barons at 7:05 p.m. The following night, the Rampage come back to town for a 7:05 p.m. face-off. The ’Hogs then travel downstate to Peoria to square off against division rival Peoria Rivermen Tuesday, Jan. 25.