By Todd Reicher
It’s finally the start of a new regular season of hockey, and there have been many changes to Rockford IceHogs hockey since the 2010-2011 season.
The first of these changes was the MetroCentre being revamped and renamed the BMO Harris Bank Center. In addition to the new name, new dasher boards, new glass, a different center ice logo, a new location for the penalty box and a fresh coat of paint greeted fans on opening night, Oct. 8.
On the hockey side of things, new players and a new head coach were making their debut for the Rockford IceHogs.
Ted Dent, who was the assistant coach for the Rockford IceHogs last season, took over the reins of head coach in the off-season when previous head coach Bill Peters was recruited by the Detroit Red Wings.
Game No. 1 of the year was Saturday, Oct. 8, when Rockford hosted the Grand Rapids Griffins. The IceHogs hoped to pick up where they left off last year: winning.
The ’Hogs started things off right when second-year player Kyle Beach tallied the first goal of the season, and the first goal in the newly-named BMO Harris Bank Center, at 8:10 into the first period. The goal also occurred on the very first power play opportunity of the season. The goal was set up by returning player Peter LeBlanc and rookie Jimmy Hayes.
A few minutes later, we would have the first fight of the season. Returning forward Brandon Bollig was setting himself up in front of the net, and Grand Rapids defenseman Greg Amadio took offense to Bollig’s positioning and started a shoving contest. Both players shed their gloves and locked up behind the Griffins’ net. Bollig asserted himself as the alpha male in this fight, as he got four quick shots in on Amadio, and a fifth shot as the two were tangled on the ice. Amadio never got the chance to raise a fist before Bollig took him out.
Later in the first, Shawn Lalonde showed some undisciplined play and was flagged for a roughing minor with 6 minutes left in the period. Lalonde was jawing with a Griffins player by their net, which ensued in Lalonde putting a glove in the face of his instigator, and getting the penalty.
Despite Rockford’s lack of clearing the puck out of their defensive zone, they fought off the first penalty unharmed. However, Lalonde would get flagged again just 2 minutes after he left the penalty box, this time for a cross-checking infraction.
With the period winding down, Willie Coetzee tallied his first marker of the season and a nice cross-ice feed from Chris Conner. The goal came with 14.5 seconds left in the period. Gustav Nyquist also figured in on the goal.
The second period featured a good fight between two rookies in Rockford’s Andrew Shaw and Grand Rapids’ Mitch Callahan. Both players landed some good punches, but from my vantage point on the ice, Shaw had the win by a slight margin.
Not long after the fight, Griffins’ D-man Travis Ehrhardt would have two minors called on him, one for interference and one for cross-checking, sending the ’Hogs on a 4-minute power play.
The Griffins fought off the first 2-minute penalty, but could not stop the ’Hogs on the second minor. Chris DiDomenico would get his first marker of the season from a rebound from a shot by ’Hogs veteran Rob Klinkhammer. Brandon Pirri, fresh from a previous night game playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, started the play by finding Klinkhammer in the offensive zone. Klinkhammer first took shot in on Griffins netminder Joey MacDonald, who lost the puck on the open side of the net. Alertly, DiDomenico rushed toward the net and dove in to poke the loose puck in the net, and give the ’Hogs a 2-1 lead.
Rockford’s 2-1 lead would last until a little more than midway through the final frame when Griffins center Jamie Johnson fired a one-timer in from a feed by Landon Ferraro. The power-play goal was scored with 6:32 left in the game.
As the minutes ticked away in the final period, Rockford took control of the game, and, ultimately, the lead. Two newer players to the IceHogs (at least the AHL IceHogs) factored into what would be the game-winning goal. Veteran Brett McLean found Klinkhammer about 8 feet from the net. Klinkhammer showed great patience and quick hands as he faked left, then moved right, and drew MacDonald to his side of the net. Klinkhammer quickly passed to the other side of the net, where Brandon Segal was wide open, and slapped a one-timer into the open side of the net.
Segal played 10 games for the IceHogs in 2004-2005 when they were in the UHL. In those 10 games, Segal tallied five goals and four assists.
Sunday, Oct. 9, Rockford traveled down to Peoria to the face division rival Rivermen. Peoria had a tough opening-season game the night before, losing to the Milwaukee Admirals 4-1, so you knew the Rivermen were going to come out fighting.
Peoria wouldn’t take long to get on the board, scoring 1:52 into the game. Adam Cracknell, assisted by T.J. Hensick and Brett Sterling, gave Peoria a quick 1-0 lead.
Rockford knotted the game up midway through the first with Segal’s second goal of the campaign — a tip-in shot from a Connelly shot from the point. Klinkhammer would also register an assist on the goal.
Not to be outdone, Hensick beat Richards, who slipped out of the crease to give Peoria the lead once again.
Peoria would lead 2-1 after 20 minutes of hockey, despite outshooting the ’Hogs 11-2.
The second period would fare better for Rockford in both the shot and goal column, with Rockford taking a 3-2 lead after two periods.
Segal tied it up again, while on the power play, 5 minutes into the middle frame. McLean and Beach would get the helpers on the tying score.
Around 10 minutes later, Klinkhammer gave the ’Hogs the lead on a wraparound goal, catching Ben Bishop out of position on the wrong side of the net. Klink’s first goal of the season gave Rockford their first lead of the game.
After 40 minutes of hockey, the game was still up in the air, with Rockford holding on to a 3-2 lead. Peoria still retained an edge on shots-on-goal with a 20-18 lead.
Peoria knotted it up once again with Stefan Della Rovere scoring midway through the third. Peoria’s Jay Barriball and Brett Sonne were both credited with an assist.
Only 2 minutes later, Beach, who was playing an excellent game to that point, buried a shot from a great feed from Shaw. It may not show on the score sheet, but Beach was doing what he was drafted by the ’Hawks’ franchise to do: get in the heads of opposing players. The go-ahead goal was a little twist of the dagger that Beach had been poking in the Rivermen players all game.
Holding onto a 4-3 lead, Peoria left an open net in favor of an extra attacker.
With a six-on-five disadvantage, Rockford launched the puck from the defensive zone in a clearing attempt. Jimmy Hayes showed some legs, beating an icing call, and found Klinkhammer open, who found the empty twine, sealing the ’Hogs’ win with 45 seconds remaining in the game.
For the first time in their AHL career, the IceHogs have started a season 2-0.
Key points: Week one
Something new I will throw into my weekly Tales from the Trough will be some key points for the week, which are as follow for the first week:
1. Veterans played like veterans — Klinkhammer, Segal, McLean and Brian Fahey all contributed in many different ways in both victories. Whether it was scoring goals, clearing pucks from the crease, or playing the body, the veterans stepped up in week one.
2. Special teams play — After starting dismally last year with special teams, Rockford went three-for-eight on the power play and eight-for-10 on the kill this weekend. Eighty percent may not be a great statistic on the kill, and neither is giving up 10 short-handed situations in two games, but the fact that the ’Hogs held Peoria’s stacked, high-powered special teams scoreless on all five attempts really says something.
3. Rookies not playing like rookies — The few rookie players who stood out to me were Shaw, Hayes and Rob Flick. Sure, each player did have a few miscues during the weekend, but they were minor. Hayes is a big man — 6-foot-5, 210 pounds — at only 20 years of age, and he sure doesn’t play like it. It’s hard to find a larger player who knows how to use his size to his advantage, especially at a young age. But Hayes skated smoothly, made smart plays, and contributed greatly on and off the score sheet.
4. Alec Richards — Although the ’Hogs gave up a few goals this weekend, most of them you cannot fault Richards for. The two goals in the Griffins’ game were a result of a miscommunication on the defensive side of things, with both goals coming from within 5 feet of the net. Richards made some key saves at the onset of Saturday’s game, and quite a few more on Sunday, and certainly showed he is ready for the upcoming season.
Next week, the ’Hogs travel to Abbotsford for a weekend series against the Heat, with the first game taking place at 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 14. The second game will be at 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 15. Last year, the ’Hogs shut out the Heat in one of the two road games. In the first two games this season, the Heat have given up only one goal, and have scored three.
From the Oct. 12-18, 2011, issue