By Todd Reicher
After starting the season 3-1 and scoring at least three goals per game, the Rockford IceHogs’ offense fell flat against the rival Chicago Wolves.
The first game of a home-and-home series, and first against the Wolves this season, took place Friday, Oct. 21, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. The Wolves had come into Friday’s game without a win in the young season, but that did not mean Chicago would roll over for a division rival.
In addition, the Chicago Wolves we saw last weekend are a different Wolves team than we have seen in the previous seasons.
In the offseason, the Chicago Wolves’ parent club, the Atlanta Thrashers, was relocated to Winnipeg, leaving the Wolves without an affiliate club. Winnipeg would choose St. John’s as their new farm team. As a result of the shuffling of teams, the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate Manitoba Moose would be removed from the league, relocating Manitoba Moose players to their new affiliate team, the Chicago Wolves.
IceHogs goalie Alexander Salak would get his first start of the year, and would not be tested often in the first period.
However, the ’Hogs would put Salak against the ropes once in the first period with a power-play chance for Chicago. After Chicago fought off two Rockford power plays, Chicago would score just 7 seconds into their first, and only, power-play attempt in the first period. Darren Haydar scored his second of the season with assists going to Kevin Doell and Tim Miller.
Rockford would get another power-play attempt later in the first, but Chicago fought off another Rockford advantage, and went into the first intermission leading 1-0, despite being outshot 12-5.
The second period would be the complete opposite as far as shots-on-goal are concerned, with Chicago holding an 18-5 advantage in the middle frame. Despite the Wolves’ 18 shots on net, Salak stood his ground and stopped all 18 shots he faced. IceHogs announcer Mike Peck later stated the middle frame was the “Salak show,” as a result of some of the marvelous saves that would keep Rockford in the game.
As the third period was just under way, ’Hogs defenseman Dylan Olsen was flagged for a boarding minor 45 seconds in. The Wolves once again capitalized on the advantage, scoring 62 seconds into the power play, putting Chicago up by 2. Haydar would get an assist on the goal, scored by Kevin Connauton.
Rockford put more shots on Wolves netminder Eddie Lack, but none of the 35 shots would find the twine, as Lack earned his first shutout, and win, of the season.
Chicago would come into the BMO Harris Bank Center the following night to complete the weekend series. After a stellar night in goal, Chicago would sit Lack in favor of Matt Climie, and Rockford would put Salak back in net, starting his first game at home.
The ’Hogs came out shooting, and seemed to have a good pace at the beginning of the period. A power-play opportunity came just under 3 minutes into the period, but Chicago once again held Rockford off the board.
Yann Sauve would get the scoring started for the Wolves shy of 6 minutes into the game. A shot from just inside the blue line looked to have hit a player in front of the net, and the puck was redirected down and past Salak. After a few scuffles and a few penalties, both teams would head to the locker room with Chicago up 2-1 after 20 minutes. Once again, Rockford outshot Chicago in the first period, this time 17-9.
Period two was more of the same, with Rockford throwing puck after puck at Climie, with Climie covering up or knocking every shot aside. Once again, Rockford put another 17 shots on net, while holding Chicago to only two. Unfortunately for Rockford, one of those two shots found the back of the net. Their first shot of the period, more than 6 minutes in, was once again deflected off a player in front of the net. This time, the puck slid to the open side of the crease, where the puck hit the skate of Wolves forward Bill Sweatt and found its way to the back of the net. The officials met with the off-ice officials and discussed the goal as the video screen above showed the replay. A camera angle from the sidelines showed the puck hitting Sweatt’s skate, and the crowd groaned with the video replay. The groans would turn to boos as the officials determined the puck was not redirected by a “kicking motion,” resulting in a goal for Chicago.
After 40 minutes, Rockford was holding a 34-11 lead on shots, yet trailing where it mattered, 2-0.
Chicago would add to their lead 7 minutes into the final 20 minutes of play with a goal from Dustin Friesen. The shot, which was a rocket from the right face-off circle, eluded Salak under his glove, and gave Chicago a commanding 3-0 lead.
It wasn’t until Rockford’s eighth power play of the game (and 14th of the weekend) that the ’Hogs would get on board. A Brian Fahey shot from the point was fought off by Climie and fell to his right side in the crease. An alert Philippe Paradis lunged at the puck and poked it into the net for Rockford’s 42nd shot on goal of the night, cutting Chicago’s lead to 3-1 with just more than 8 minutes remaining.
As the third period expired, Rockford sent Salak to the bench in favor of an extra attacker. However, Rockford couldn’t contain the puck, and Wolves forward Mike Duco put it in the back of the empty net, sealing the victory for Chicago 4-1.
Key points: Week three
1. Special teams not very special — Rockford finished this weekend a dismal 1-for-11 on the man advantage, which included one five-on-three advantage for more than 30 seconds. The defensive special teams weren’t horrible as the Wolves were, 2-for-10, but when you struggle putting points on the board, you need your special teams to step up.
2. Getting quality chances — Saturday night, the ’Hogs tied a record for most shots in a game with 48. It took until shot 42 for Rockford to get their first goal of the night. The previous night, Rockford put 35 shots on Lack, so it took Rockford 77 shots to get one past one of the Wolves’ netminders. Granted, Climie and Lack played very well, but many of the ’Hogs’ shots were simply pucks being thrown at the net to try to get chances for a “garbage goal.” Throwing pucks at the net may be a result of Rockford being held to only 13 shots on goal last weekend against Abbotsford, but the team cannot simply tunnel vision on getting pucks to the net. Many times throughout both games, Rockford was not spreading the defense as much as they should have, which would lead to better scoring chances.
3. Bad breaks — I cannot comment on the goals scored during Friday’s game as I only listened to the game, but in Saturday’s game, two of the goals were just lucky bounces. The first goal against Salak was a shot from just inside the blue line, which hit a player in front of the net, and was redirected to the ground and slipped into the net. Same thing happened on the second goal, although the puck looked to hit the skate of a Wolves player, and find the back of the net.
Rockford will play a home-and-home series this weekend against the Peoria Rivermen. Rockford beat Peoria in their first of 12 meetings this year Oct. 9, 5-3. The keys to this series will be holding Peoria’s shooters to limited chances, and firing up the power play. The Rivermen started the season slowly, but have scored 15 goals, five goals each, in their last three games. Peoria will also take quite a few penalties, so Rockford needs to take advantage of the extra skater and put points up with the advantage.
Tuesday, Oct. 25, the ’Hogs take on the Texas Stars (results not available at press time) for one of their few Tuesday games of the season. Friday, Oct. 28, Rockford travels down state to face the Peoria Rivermen at 7 p.m. Both teams come back to Rockford the following night to finish their home-and-home series at the BMO Harris Bank Center at 7:05 p.m.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue