By Todd Reicher
Through 66 games, the Rockford IceHogs have had an up-and-down season, with more ups than downs. To make things tougher, the ’Hogs have two straight weekends of playing three games in three days.
Last week’s three-in-three series had the IceHogs staying in Rockford for two home games and one on the road.
The first game Friday, March 18, brought the Oklahoma City Barons to the MetroCentre for the final time this season. The Barons have the edge against the ’Hogs this season, with Rockford going 1-2-1-0 against the Barons.
Unfortunately, the Barons would add to their win total, and with ease. Rockford came out with both guns shooting. After the initial puck drop, Kyle Hagel and Jesse Gimblett shed their equipment for a scrap.
The fight was even, but pumped energy into the crowd of 3,668 fans. Rockford took the early energy and peppered Jeff Drouin-Deslaurier’s shots. The Barons fended off Rockford’s early attack and subsequently dismantled the ’Hogs’ defenses.
Oklahoma City would rattle off 5 unanswered goals, including a 4-goal second period. Rockford was flagged for five penalties in the second period. Two of those penalties left the ’Hogs in vulnerable five-on-three situations, which the Barons would take advantage of, going 3-for-5 on the powerplay for the evening.
Two of the powerplay goals were scored by Barons winger Colin McDonald, with the third powerplay goal giving McDonald the hat-trick, and his 31st goal of the season.
The referee crew returned the favor and decided to hand out some penalties only to the Barons in the third, but by then, it was too late. Rockford would convert on the fourth of six powerplay attempts, a goal by Kyle Beach (his 14th of the season), but was unable to take advantage of the final two, and wound up on the bottom of a 5-1 score.
Saturday’s game brought the Peoria Rivermen into town for the fifth, and final, time this season. Rockford has struggled against the Rivermen this year, holding a 3-5-0-1 record, but have gone 2-1 in the last three games versus their downstate opponent.
Peoria has been the victim of call-ups recently, as their NHL counterpart, the St. Louis Blues, has had a large number of injuries, which boded well for the ’Hogs.
In what would be a back-and-forth game, the ’Hogs would draw first blood. A few minutes into the game, Brian Connelly would tally his seventh goal of the season.
Peoria would even the score a few minutes later when Graham Mink, assisted by former IceHogs Derek Nesbitt and Daryl Boyle, put up his 21st goal of the season.
Wade Brookbank, playing in his 700th professional game, would light a spark under his team with a good scrap against Brennan Evans. Brookbank got the best of Evans, landing a few nice lefts, and almost connecting with a wicked uppercut that would have put Evans on the ice.
The second period was unprofitable for both teams, with a total of 20 shots on goal, one penalty (a boarding call in Ivan Vishnevskiy) and zero goals.
Period three would make up for the lack of scoring and penalties. Peoria grabbed the lead early in the first with a redirected goal. Another former IceHog, Akim Aliu, took a shot from the back of the near face-off circle, which was redirected by Dave Scatchard, and past Alec Richards for a 2-1 lead.
Around 30 seconds after their goal, Peoria was flagged for a holding penalty, and Rockford took advantage of the extra man. Scoring his 23rd goal of the season, Jeff Taffe blasted a shot from the near face-off circle over the left shoulder of Ben Bishop to knot the score at 2-2.
Peoria would reclaim the lead a few minutes later with a nice tip-in goal from Aliu. Nicholas Drazenovic brought the puck into the zone on the rush with a two-on-two. No one picked up Aliu from the far side, and Drazenovic made a great pass onto the tape of Aliu, who tipped in the puck for a 3-2 lead.
Thirty seconds later, it was Rockford that took advantage of a botched play. Bishop had a puck come to the side of the net, and he stepped out of the goal crease to play the puck behind the net for his teammate. The puck wrapped around behind the net to the other side of the crease, unattended. Alertly, Peter LeBlanc, who was already in place for the forecheck, saw the lonesome puck and poked it into the open side of the net to once again tie the score.
With time winding down, the sellout crowd of 5,974 were looking at overtime. That was until Bishop blocked a shot to the wrong area. Vishnevskiy blasted a hard shot from the near point, which Bishop blocked with his left pad, but to the open side of the ice. Igor Makarov was planted on the far end, and received a gift from Bishop that he quickly deposited in the back of the net. An elated Makraov lifted one knee and skated in celebration toward the far glass with his linemates in tow.
Peoria would pull Bishop with time winding down, but Rockford fended off the last rush by the Rivermen, and skated away with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in the final matchup between these two teams this season.
Rockford would head to Grand Rapids, Mich., for their third game in three days.
Once again, Rockford came out hot, shooting at goalie Jordan Pearce from all angles. Rockford would double up the Griffins in shots in the first, 14-7, but could not crack the wall of Pearce.
It wasn’t until midway through the second period that a puck would find the net. Jamie Johnson beat Richards, who earned his second start in two days, for the 1-0 lead.
Only 9 seconds elapsed for the second goal. Joakim Andersson struck his fifth of the season to quickly turn a scoreless game to 2-0.
Scoring would be at a premium for almost a full 20 minutes. Veteran defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who spent a good part of this season with the Chicago Blackhawks, tallied his first marker of the season at the exact time Grand Rapids scored their first goal in the previous period: 9:59.
Grand Rapids would take advantage of sloppy play by the ’Hogs. With the puck behind the ’Hogs’ net, Ilari Filppula played an aggressive forecheck to force a turnover, and found Tomas Tatar out front for a quick goal. The goal was scored just 18 seconds after the ’Hogs closed the gap to 2-1.
The Griffins would tack on two more goals to bring the score to 5-1 with only 1:30 left in regulation.
Rockford would make a game of it, however. In a span of 28 seconds, Hagel and Cullimore would notch goals, bringing the score to 5-3.
The ’Hogs were unable to score any additional goals in the last 30 seconds, and Grand Rapids sent the ’Hogs packing with a 5-3 win.
Another full week is on tap for Rockford with the ’Hogs playing four games in five days, three of which are at home. The first game takes place at 6:35 p.m., Wednesday, March 23, when the San Antonio Rampage come to town.
The Hamilton Bulldogs come in from Ontario, Canada, Friday, March 25, and the Milwaukee Admirals roll into town the following night.
On their third game in three days, the ’Hogs head down I-90 once again to face the Chicago Wolves Sunday, March 27. Including the three games this upcoming week, the IceHogs only have five home games left this season.
For more information about the Rockford MetroCentre, including reviews, information and pictures, you can visit http://www.stadiumjourney.com/stadiums/rockford-metrocentre-s870/.
From the March 23-29, 2011, issue