Tales From the Trough
By Todd Reicher
With the AHL’s 2010-2011 regular season coming to an end, teams are still jockeying for a playoff spot and position. The Rockford IceHogs had a very slim chance to make this year’s postseason, but they needed quite a bit of help.
The ’Hogs would need to win the rest of their regular-season games, and have other teams in their division lose at least 80 percent of their remaining games.
The first task at hand was to win a game against the red-hot Lake Erie Monsters. The Monsters were boasting a first-place standing in the North Division as well as a record of 9-1 in their last 10 games, including an eight-game winning streak.
The last loss the Monsters received was at the hands of the IceHogs back on March 5, when the ’Hogs won 3-2.
Rockford returned to the Quicken Loans Arena for the final time this year for a key matchup against the Lake Erie Monsters. Rockford needed the win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and the Monsters needed the win to hold on to a first-place standing in the North.
Lake Erie Center and former Peoria Riverman Julian Talbot gave use to the game’s first marker 6 minutes into the game with a quick wrist shot from just outside the far faceoff circle.
’Hogs captain Garnet Exelby evened the score later in the first with a rocket from the near point. With traffic in front of the net, Exelby reeled back and fired a shot past Monsters goaltender Jason Bacashihua.
In a penalty-filled second period, Matthew Ford would tally his 22nd of the year, putting the Monsters back up by a goal. Rockford was unable to clear the puck from the zone, and Justin Mercier put a shot on Hannu Toivonen that yielded a rebound Ford slammed home.
But five penalties later, Rockford would tie the score again with Taffe leading the way on the power play. Rob Klinkhammer found Ben Smith near the side of the Monsters’ net, and Smith quickly fed the puck toward the middle of the ice, where Taffe had slid into position undetected. Taffe fired a blast to the top left corner of the net, bringing the score to 2-2.
Brian Connelly would give Rockford their first lead of the game with close to 5 minutes expired in the final frame. Chris DiDomenico took possession of the puck in the offensive zone from Mathis Olimb, and brought it to the near faceoff circle, just enough to draw in the Monsters’ defense.
DiDomenico quickly fed the puck over to Connelly, who moved quickly across the blue line, and ripped a shot past Bacashisua. Four more penalties would be called toward the end of the third, but neither team was able to take advantage, and the ’Hogs skated off with a much-needed 3-2 win, and moved their season-high winning streak to five games.
Rockford played a fairly disciplined game compared to the Monsters, yielding only three power play opportunities for the Monsters (who went 0-for-3) , whereas the Monsters were sent to the box for eight penalties, one of which Rockford scored on (1-for-8).
Friday, April 1, Rockford traveled down to Oklahoma City to take on the Barons for the last time this season. Whenever these two teams meet, you can be sure there will be no shortage of scoring.
In the five games played between these two squads this season, an average of more than seven goals a game have been scored. Combined, 38 goals have been scored in the series, with Oklahoma holding the advantage 22-16, and also a 4-1 record.
The seven-goal-per-game average would stand this game, but unfortunately for Rockford, they would not contribute to the scoring total as Oklahoma City scored seven unanswered goals to rout Rockford 7-0.
Despite outshooting the Barons 33-27, Rockford could not beat goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauries, who worked hard for his second shutout of the year. On the other side, Toivonen was pulled after the first period, when he gave up three goals on nine shots.
Colin McDonald, who has been a ’Hog-killer this year, added two more goals this game, bringing his yearly total to 36 goals.
The game became heated early into the third period as both teams racked up some penalty minutes. Kyle Hagel was tagged for a double-minor roughing penalty, and Wade Brookbank threw off the gloves and tussled with Andrew Lord, who were both tagged for 5-minute majors.
Zack Stortini was the instigator of the penalty spree. He was flagged for a 2-minute roughing penalty, 5-minute major for spearing, and a game misconduct for the spearing penalty.
Even with a 5-minute powerplay, the ’Hogs were unable to score, and went 0-4 with the man advantage for the night.
The loss ended the ’Hogs’ five-game winning streak, and also their hopes for a playoff berth.
With the postseason out of their sights, Rockford still had the chance to play spoiler and knock some contending teams out of their current playoff positions, or the playoff race.
Rockford’s next opponent, the Texas Stars, were sitting in third place in the division at 90 points with a few games in hand on the fourth-place Oklahoma City Barons.
As of Sunday, April 3, there were four teams in contention for the fourth-place spot: Oklahoma City at 87, the Peoria Rivermen and Chicago Wolves at 86, and the San Antonio Rampage at 85. In their remaining four games, Rockford will play two of these teams, the San Antonio Rampage and the Chicago Wolves.
Sunday, April 3, Rockford had a 5 p.m. game against the aforementioned Texas Stars.
As the game progressed, one would have thought the IceHogs were the playoff-bound team. Rockford came out scoring first with a shot from Peter LeBlanc for the 1-0 lead.
The ’Hogs would net the next two goals in a matter of 38 seconds to bring the lead to 3-0. The first of these two goals occurred with only 2 seconds remaining in the opening period. Connelly netted his 10th of the year as their powerplay opportunity was getting under way, and the period was coming to a close.
Rockford’s next goal was tallied 36 seconds into the middle frame with Brandon Pirri getting his 11th goal of the season and second point of the night. Taffe also recorded his second point of the night as he had a helper on Pirri’s goal, as well as Connelly’s goal in the previous period.
Texas would finally get on the board midway through the second period with a powerplay goal from Travis Morin. Klinkhammer lost his stick, and Rockford was flagged for another penalty while on the kill, giving Texas an additional attacker.
The Stars would convert, closing the gap to 3-1, and would go back on the powerplay, which Rockford would kill off.
Taffe would respond to the Texas goal early in the first with his 27th of the season, leading to his third point of the night. Klinkhammer and Ryan Stanton would get assists on the goal. Taffe has been nothing short of stellar against Texas this year, tallying 11 points in five games against Texas.
Smith would shut the door on a Texas comeback 7:16 into the last frame with his 18th goal of the year.
Both teams would be tagged with a few more penalties later in the third, but no more goals would factor into the final score of 5-1.
Rockford rebounded from a disappointing 7-0 loss the previous night, and after a loss of four or more goals this season, Rockford boasts an impressive 5-1-1-1 record.
Rockford will play its final four games of the season this next week with the first game Tuesday, April 5, against the San Antonio Rampage (results not available at press time).
The ’Hogs then come home for their last two home games of the season. Friday, April 8, the Lake Erie Monsters come to town, and Saturday, April 9, the Grand Rapids Griffins skate into the MetroCentre.
The ’Hogs’ final game of the season takes place the following day, Sunday, April 10, at the Allstate Arena against the Chicago Wolves.
From the April 6-12, 2011 issue