Tales from the Trough: IceHogs struggling to find the win column

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

As of two weeks ago, the IceHogs had their longest winning streak of the season: three games. Immediately after, the ’Hogs had their longest losing streak of the season: six games. Rockford worked their way back into the win column against the Abbotsford Heat, and immediately veered off to another losing streak.

Wednesday, Feb. 9, the ’Hogs played host to the Houston Aeros.

It took most of the first period to find the back of the net, but Rockford’s leading scorer, Jeff Taffe, put the ’Hogs ahead on the power play. Peter LeBlanc and Ryan Potulny were credited with assists on the Taffe goal.

It would take just shy of 20 minutes for the next goal. Unfortunately for the ’Hogs, it was a Houston goal. Defenseman Nate Prosser tallied his fifth goal of the season with 2 minutes remaining in the second period to even the score at 1-1.

Houston controlled most of the pace in the second, and after their first goal, continued to pressure the ’Hogs’ defense. With less than a minute remaining in the second, Houston netted their second goal in under 80 seconds. Jean-Michel Daoust slipped one by Alec Richards, giving the Aeros a 2-1 lead after two periods.

Halfway through the final period, Houston converted on its fifth, and final, power play of the evening. Patrick O’Sullivan scored his seventh of the season, and Prosser would get his second point of the night with an assist.

An empty-netter with under a minute remaining sealed the ’Hogs’ fate, sending the Aeros away with a 4-1 victory.

Next, a weekend trip to Cedar Park, Texas, for a two-game series against the Texas Stars was on tap. Rockford had been successful recently versus the Stars, and hoped to get back on the winning track.

Similar to Wednesday’s game, the ’Hogs struck first, and quickly, thanks to Igor Makarov. The first goal of the game, just 34 seconds in, gave Rockford a huge momentum gain early on.

The game would go back and forth until about 5 minutes remaining in the first. Then, things got ugly. Rockford would give up four unanswered goals in a span of 5 minutes, including one with 9 seconds left in the period.

Rockford must have received an earful in the locker room, as the ’Hogs owned the second period. The team outshot the Stars 13-6, and held a 3-0 goal advantage in the middle frame. The scoring started 4 minutes into the second, with LeBlanc getting his eighth of the season, and Taffe getting his second helper of the night.

Ben Smith, who just returned after a stint on the injured list, tallied his eighth of the season 5 minutes after LeBlanc, drawing the score to 4-3.

Rob Klinkhammer would even up the score 67 seconds later, much to the dismay of the Texas crowd.

The scoring onslaught would continue into the third, as Rockford scored its fourth unanswered goal off the stick of Brandon Bollig.

With 6 minutes remaining, Texas’ Dan Spang would finally answer the call and stop the bleeding for the Stars with his sixth of the season.

Neither team was able to tally a sixth goal in regulation, sending the game into overtime, guaranteeing Rockford at least 1 point.

The Stars held Rockford to only one shot in the extra session, and Texas managed four. That fourth shot was the one that counted, and it came with only 4 seconds left in the overtime period. Greg Rallo chipped the puck past Richards (who came in for Hannu Toivonen after the first period), sending the ’Hogs back to the hotel with a heartbreaking 6-5 overtime loss.

Rockford would return again the following night to take on the Stars once again, hoping for different results.

Both teams played strong defensively for most of the first period, with a combined total of 15 shots. Once again, Texas’ last shot of the period found the back of the net. With 10 seconds remaining in the first, Richards was unable to stop a Brandon Segal shot, sending the Stars ahead 1-0 after one.

Ondrej Roman tallied the only second-period goal, which came just shy of the halfway point of the second period. LeBlanc was sent to the box for a tripping minor, which opened the door for the Stars to take a 2-0 lead.

Potulny would draw the ’Hogs to within 1 early in the third. Matt Stepehnson was called for a hooking penalty, putting the ’Hogs on the advantage. While on the power play, Cody Chupp was called for high-sticking, but Rockford maintained possession of the puck. They pulled Richards for the extra attacker, and the 6-on-4 advantage paid off.

The ’Hogs would have one more power-play advantage later in the period, but were unable to convert. They were also unable to convert in the waning minutes of the game with the goalie pulled, and Texas would fend off the ’Hogs again for a 2-1 victory, and a weekend sweep.

Road weary and riding a three-game skid, Rockford would catch a flight early Sunday morning and head to Milwaukee for a bout with the Admirals.

Milwaukee must have known the ’Hogs were fatigued from their Texas journey and took full advantage of the tired travelers. The Admirals put on a first-period scoring exhibition, notching 5 unanswered goals in a span of 13 minutes. Chris Mueller and Mark Van Guilder both accounted for two goals, and Jonathon Blum would get the fifth goal of the period while on the advantage.

Kyle Beach stopped the bleeding with just more than 2 minutes left in the period, but the damage had been done.

Taffe would score his team-leading 16th goal of the season late in the second, but that was all the scoring Rockford could muster, and the Ads walked away with an easy 5-2 victory, putting the ’Hogs on a four-game losing streak.

Another busy week is on tap for the ’Hogs with four games in six days. The good part is that all of the games will take place at the Rockford MetroCentre, so little travel will be required.

Wednesday, Feb. 16, the ’Hogs host the Peoria Rivermen at 6:35 p.m. The Chicago Wolves make the jump down I-90 to come to town Friday, Feb. 18, at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, the Aeros return for a 7:05 p.m. match, and Monday, the ’Hogs host an early 2:05 p.m. game against the Rivermen.

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