By Todd Reicher
The last few weeks have made for an interesting concoction for the Rockford IceHogs. The ’Hogs would kick things off with a three-game win streak, followed by a few four-game losing streaks and a mix of wins and losses to give the concoction a little kick. The real kick to the mixture was a trade put in place by the Chicago Blackhawks late Monday, Feb. 28, when IceHogs forward, and second-leading scorer on the team, Ryan Potulny, along with a conditional second-round draft pick, was traded to the Ottawa Senators for a conditional seventh-round draft pick and defenseman Chris Campoli. Potulny was a part of the top line that helped vault linemate Jeff Taffe to lead the team in overall points and goals, and losing his presence on the team could prove to throw the ’Hogs deeper in the last-place spot in the division.
If the Wednesday, March 2, game in Houston was any indication of how the ’Hogs would play without Potulny, then these last remaining 20 games in the season would be unbearable to watch. The ’Hogs were shelled with an 8-1 loss against the Aeros, a game where Taffe’s 15-game scoring streak would end. In fact, the only goal the ’Hogs were able to muster was a shorthanded goal by Brandon Bollig halfway through the third period, but by that time the ’Hogs were already down 7-1. It didn’t help that Rockford was tagged for 12 penalties, and even worse, that the team gave up goals on six of those kill opportunities. If we were looking for a bright spot in this matchup, I don’t think we could find one.
Rockford would travel to Cleveland Friday, March 2, for a two-game stint against the Lake Erie Monsters and hope to put the dreadful results of Wednesday’s game behind them.
Garnet Exelby got the ’Hogs on the board first, and quickly. Slightly more than 2 minutes into the opening frame, “XLB” beat former AHL Calder Cup winner Jason Bacashihua for the quick 1-0 lead.
Rockford would hold that lead for almost a full 20 minutes. Seventy-four seconds into the second frame, Matthew Ford got one past Hannu Toivonen, knotting the game at 1-1.
The ’Hogs would respond quickly. Lake Erie’s Julien Brouilette was sent to the box for a cross-checking penalty, and 14 seconds into the man advantage, Ben Smith would tally his 10th marker of the season.
Once again, the ’Hogs would hold the lead for another 20 minutes of ice time until the next goal was scored. Mark Olver would get the game-tying goal 4 minutes into the third period, while the Monsters had the man-advantage.
The ’Hogs put themselves in position to lose the game late in the third when Exelby put the Monsters on another powerplay with a slashing penalty with 89 seconds remaining in the game. Rockford’s penalty kill, which was 5-of-6 throughout the game, played strong and held off the Monsters’ aggressive charge, which included 20 total third-period shots.
One point was guaranteed for both teams as the game headed into overtime. Luckily for the ’Hogs, you get 1 point for going into overtime no matter how long the overtime period lasts, because this overtime period was only 11 seconds long. Notching his second goal of the night, Ford beat Toivonen just 11 seconds into the extra session, giving the Monsters a 3-2 home win.
The following night, both teams squared off against one another again. Both goalies, Toivonen and Bacashihua, would get the starts for their teams once again.
Saturday’s game had many similarities to Friday’s game; early scoring, at least 10 penalties, and a 3-2 score.
Once again, Rockford got on the board first with Smith giving the ’Hogs the first goal of the game. After going two games without a point, Taffe got back on the board pitching in an assist, along with Rob Klinkhammer.
“Colonel Klink” extended that lead to 2-0 early into the second with Rockford’s second shorthanded goal in three games. Evan Brophey grabbed a loose puck in the defensive zone and moved it to the centerline, where he passed it over to Klinkhammer. Klink and Brophey went into the offensive zone on a 2-on-2 matchup, and Klink quickly whipped a wrister toward the net. The shot went off the elbow of Bacashihua and found the back of the net.
Lake Erie would respond with two second-period goals and knot things up at 2-2 after 40 minutes of hockey.
Brophey would get his second point of the game with a goal 2 minutes into the third frame. Exelby grabbed the puck in the defensive zone and found Mathis Olimb, who was making a quick run for the net with Brophey off to his left. Olimb held the puck until he was sure Bacashihua was committed to the play, and then passed the puck to Brophey, who put the puck on the top shelf for a 3-2 lead.
Lake Erie would pull their goalie late in the third, but Rockford held off the late charge and would leave Cleveland with three out of a possible 4 points.
Toivonen played a solid game, giving up two goals on 38 Lake Erie shots. The Monsters outshot the ’Hogs 38-29 this game, and 74-61 over the two-game series, with both teams scoring 5 goals.
Rockford’s road trip continues with three more road games before the crew comes back home. Tuesday’s game (score not available at press time) sent the ’Hogs to Toronto to face the Marlies, then to Hamilton, Ontario, to face the Bulldogs Wednesday, March 9. Two days later, the team finishes off their road trip in Milwaukee Friday, March 11, before coming home Sunday, March 13, to host the Chicago Wolves at 4:05 p.m.
From the March 9-15, 2011, issue