By Todd Reicher
Last week, the Rockford IceHogs were riding a three-game winning streak, the best of the season. That thrill was quickly washed away as the IceHogs are now riding a season-high five-game losing streak.
In the past few years, Rockford has had good luck against the Grand Rapids Griffins, and hoped a trip to Michigan would be the remedy to cure Rockford’s woes.
The Friday, Jan. 28, game started off well for Rockford with team scoring leader Jeff Taffe giving the assist to Ryan Potulny, who scored the first goal of the game. The powerplay goal just more than 5 minutes in gave the ’Hogs some much-needed momentum, as scoring early has been a recent problem.
Five minutes later, the Griffins would even up the score with a Tomas Tartar goal.
Rockford would answer back later in the first with yet another powerplay goal. Potulny netted his second of the night, and Rockford staked claim to a 2-1 lead.
With the clock winding down in the first period, Grand Rapids would make good on their second powerplay attempt, converted by Ilari Filppula. Just as the goal was scored, Jassen Cullimore was flagged for an elbowing penalty and put the Griffins right back on the advantage, which would carry over to the second period.
Once again, Grand Rapids took advantage of the extra skater, giving them the first lead of the game—a lead they would not relinquish.
Left winger Chris Minard scored three consecutive goals for the Griffins, the first a powerplay goal at the beginning of the second frame, one with 5 minutes left in the third, and an empty-netter with 35 seconds remaining in regulation, as the Griffins ran away with a 5-2 lead.
The powerplay started to take some shape for the first time in a few games, but their penalty kill, which had been strong this year, was a dismal 33 percent, going one for three.
Saturday, the ’Hogs returned home to face the division rival Milwaukee Admirals, who were sporting a 5-2-0-2 record before coming to Rockford. This was the fifth meeting between the two rivals this year, with both teams sporting a 2-1-0-1 record.
Rockford came out hot and heavy, peppering goalie Mark Dekanich with 15 first-period shots, while holding Milwaukee to only five. The bad news is, two of the five Milwaukee shots found the back of the net. Hannu Toivonen allowed two goals in a span of 10 seconds, and was pulled in favor of Alec Richards.
Milwaukee’s first goal, scored by Blake Geoffrion, seemed to catch Toivonen by surprise and was rocketed past him into the upper corner of the net.
The Admirals would win the very next faceoff, and, with crisp passing, get the puck deep into the Rockford zone. Jonathon Blum made a great cross-ice pass to Mike Bartlett, who slipped the puck past Toivonen’s pads for a quick 2-0 lead.
The ’Hogs had seen this time and time again, but the team would not quit so quickly.
It took until midway through the second period, but Rockford closed the gap to 2-1 with a Taffe goal.
While on the powerplay, Peter LeBlanc received the puck deep in the right side of the Milwaukee zone and found Taffe inching in toward the near faceoff circle, where he one-timed the pass by Dekanich.
Rockford had a great chance to tie the game later in the second when Rob Klinkhammer was hooked on his way in on a breakaway attempt, which would result in Klink’s third penalty shot attempt of the year. However, the result would be the same as his other two attempts: no goal. Klink lost the handle of the puck as he was coming in for a deke, and Dekanich easily poked away the loose puck.
After a defensive third, Rockford would finally find the answer. Mathis Olimb tallied his seventh goal of the season with fewer than 4 minutes remaining in regulation to knot the score at 2-2. Igor Makarov and tough guy Kyle Hagel were credited with assists in the timely goal.
Neither team would tack on another goal in regulation, sending the game to overtime, which Rockford had not seen in 14 games, which they won. Richards had played well through his regulation time, stopping 19 of 19 shots and keeping Rockford in the game in a few tight situations. His luck would run out in overtime as Roman Josi blasted a shot in the back of the net halfway into the extra period, giving the Admirals a 3-2 overtime victory.
With the All-Star break this past weekend, Rockford will not play until Friday, Feb. 4, when the team heads up to Milwaukee to face the Admirals. The team returns home the following night to take on the Abbotsford Heat for the final time this season. Rockford won both games in Abbotsford at the beginning of the year, and the Heat won their only matchup in Rockford this year. Both games have a start time of 7 p.m.