By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs traveled up north for a weekend series against the Abbotsford Heat Friday, Oct. 14, and Sunday, Oct. 16. The ’Hogs face the Heat four times in a season, and last season the ’Hogs went 3-1 against the Heat, including one shutout by netminder Alec Richards in Abbotsford.
Game one of the weekend series took place Friday, Oct. 14, and Rockford was the first team to get on the board.
After being out of the lineup since January 2011 from suffering a concussion, Jeremy Morin made has return. It did not take long for his presence to be felt, as Morin netted his first goal of the season 5 minutes into the first period. Chris DiDomenico was the lone assist on the goal.
Kyle Beach would score his third goal in as many games 4 minutes after the Morin marker, giving the ’Hogs a quick 2-0 lead. Brandon Pirri and Peter LeBlanc helped set up Beach’s goal.
The first-period scoring was not done, but it was Abbotsford getting the next goal. Center Ben Walter would tally his first goal of the season midway through the first. Greg Nemisz and Assistant Captain Joe Piskula both earned points for assisting on the goal.
Adding to the first-period scoring frenzy, Pirri would find the back of the net with less than 1 minute to go in the first. With Abbotsford winger Lance Bouma in the box for a goaltender interference infraction, Rockford would make good on their third power play attempt, giving themselves another two-goal lead.
Rockford’s two-goal lead would only last 15 seconds. Paul Byron would close the gap quickly with helpers from T.J. Brodie and Jon Rheault.
The ’Hogs were lucky to be in the game, let alone holding a lead. After 20 minutes of play, Rockford only had five shots on goal, but netted three of those shots, compared to the 10 shots and two goals by the Heat.
After two periods, the shots would be even at 17, but neither team was able to tickle the twine, keeping the score at 3-2 Rockford. Both teams had plenty of chances, including a penalty shot attempt by Heat winger Bouma, which Richards stopped.
Five penalties were also tallied in the second, with four of the five occurring in one scrum. Brian Fahey, Andrew Shaw, Chris Breen and Jordan Henry were all sent to the box at 6:41, each receiving 2 minutes. Bouma was tagged for an interference penalty shortly before his penalty shot, but the ’Hogs were unable to capitalize.
As the third started, Abbotsford would tally two quick goals, only 44 seconds apart, to take a 4-3 lead. The first goal, 61 seconds into the third, was scored by Rheault, and the subsequent goal was tallied by Nemisz.
Despite getting another power play opportunity in the third, Rockford was unable to get the equalizing goal, and earned their first loss of the year, 4-3.
Two days later, Sunday, Oct. 16, Rockford faced the Heat again and hoped to even the weekend series at 1-1.
Once again, Rockford would get the first goal, and for the second time in as many games, Morin would score the first goal of the game, this time from just inside the right face-off circle. DiDomenico would get the assist once again, and rookie Ben Youds would notch the first professional point of his career.
With time winding down in the first, Pirri would give the ’Hogs a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission, scoing in almost the exact same spot Morin scored from earlier.
Despite being outshot in the first period once again, 12-6, Rockford held a 2-0 lead.
Abbotsford would cut that lead in half on a power-play attempt in the second. Brendan Mikkelson fired a slap shot from the point, which found its way though traffic in front of the net.
The Heat would hold Rockford to only four shots on goal in the second, and hold an overall shot lead of 23-10 after 40 minutes of hockey.
In their first three games of the season, Rockford held a one-goal lead going into the third period, and have given up that lead every game.
The ’Hogs were hoping to break the streak of giving up that lead, but just more than a minute into the final frame, Abbotsford’s Walter would be awarded a penalty shot, the second penalty shot attempt of the weekend series for the Heat. However, Richards would prevail, and denied the shootout attempt, preserving the one-goal lead for the ’Hogs.
But Walter would not be denied again. Less than 2 minutes later, Walter would knot the game at 2-2.
Abbotsford’s defense would remain stingy, holding Rockford to a measly three shots on goal in the third period. Luckily for the ’Hogs, one of those three shots would be a goal. Brandon Segal, who had a game-winning goal for the ’Hogs once this year, would get his second game-winning goal of the season with less than 5 minutes left to play in the game. ’Hogs D-man Brian Connelly floated a puck from the Rockford zone to the end of the Heat zone, which was raced down by Brett McLean, who found Segal open for the deciding goal.
Key points: Week two
Following are some of the keys from the weekend series against Abbotsford:
1. Alec Richards — After starting the season 2-0, Richards continued to play two solid games on the road, and stealing one of them to go 3-1 on the season. With the stingy Heat defense allowing only 13 shots on goal in Sunday’s game, Richards was stellar, stopping 31 of 33 shots and a penalty shot attempt. For the weekend, Richards was 56 of 62, and turned away two penalty shot attempts.
2. Making the most of scoring chances — Abbotsford Heat goalie Leland Irving has been a force already this season, allowing only one goal in his first two games. This is due, in part, to his stellar play, and the tough Heat defense. Rockford made the most out of their scoring chances, especially on Sunday when the team netted three goals on only 13 shots, and scored a total of six goals on Irving in 42 shot attempts over the two-game series.
3. Scorers are scoring — Morin, Pirri, Beach and Segal all contributed and added to their goal totals last weekend. The only downside to this is if these players start to go on a cold streak, others need to pick up the slack.
On a side note, after having a 5-point weekend last week, Rob Klinkhammer was held pointless in the two games this weekend, and finished with a -2 in the plus/minus category.
Rockford returns to the “Lower 48” to visit the rival Chicago Wolves Friday, Oct. 21, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. The ’Hogs return home the following night to complete the home-and-home series against the Wolves Saturday, Oct. 22, with game time at 7:05 p.m.
From the Oct. 19-25, 2011, issue