By Todd Reicher
At the beginning of the season, the Rockford IceHogs looked as if they were going to steamroll the competition. After four games, the ’Hogs showed a 3-1 record and played a solid outing every game. Since those first four games, Rockford has gone 1-4 (including this past week) and has been outscored 21-11.
Who is to blame for the recent slump? The defense? The goalies? The coaches? The answer could be all of the above, or none of the above, depending on how you look at the recent games. One thing you have to remember is the ’Hogs are still tweaking their lines to find what works best for the team. Granted, other teams are doing the same thing, but certain lines click faster than other lines, and certain players have played together longer than others, leading to a more cohesive line.
Another thing people need to remember is the team is still very young, one of the youngest in the league. Many of the players on this team only have a year of experience at the professional level, and it will take time before they get up to the speed of the pro-level game.
Now, this is not an excuse for the ’Hogs, because, regardless of age, some of their play has been sloppy. As the season continues, these unforced errors will work their way out of the game for these players, but everyone has to be patient. That is the reason why most of these players are here in the AHL: to hone their skills in an attempt to move up to the final and upper echelon of the hockey world, the NHL.
Rockford hosted a rare Tuesday game against the Texas Stars Oct. 25. The ’Hogs were hoping to break their season-long two-game skid, and Texas was looking to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season. The Stars just broke their own streak: a three-game slide, which included a humiliating 10-1 loss against the Oklahoma City Barons just more than a week ago.
Texas had a close 3-2 lead after two periods. The close games seem to be par for the course for Rockford this season, but holding on to a win or coming back to win seems to be the hard part.
A dominating third period led the way to a win for Texas, as they out-shot Rockford 21-9 in the final frame, which included two power-play goals, and three goals in the last 5 minutes of the game.
Once again, the special teams defense fell flat for Rockford, allowing the Stars’ power play to finish the day 3-for-5. Rockford did manage a goal on one of their three chances.
The bright spots for Rockford came in the form of Ben Smith, who netted both Rockford goals (including one power-play goal), and Kyle Beach, who had helpers on each of Smith’s two goals.
Smith would get another goal in Rockford’s next game, Friday, Oct. 28, in Peoria against the Rivermen. The ’Hogs won their only other matchup against Peoria this year, and were hoping to make it 2-0 on the road against their division rival, and break their three-game losing streak.
Rockford’s goal was accomplished as they came out with a 6-4 road victory, but the win cost the ’Hogs a valuable player injury in Beach. During a late third-period scrap with Stefan Della Rovere, Beach went down hard on his right shoulder. Beach jumped back up, but immediately said something to the linesman, who quickly stopped the fight. The official report is that Beach suffered an upper-body injury.
“(Beach) is still being evaluated with our doctors here in Rockford, and hopefully, we’ll know what’s going on in the next few days,” ’Hogs Head Coach Ted Dent said in a statement Saturday night.
The good news was that Rockford had found the back of the net again, including four unanswered goals spanning the first two periods.
Peoria was the first to score with Tyler Shattock netting a goal just more than 3 minutes into the start of the game, but four straight goals by ’Hogs skaters Brian Connelly, Ben Youds, Smith, and Brett McLean put the ’Hogs ahead 4-1.
The Rivermen made it a 4-3 game by scoring two goals in 54 seconds, including one by former ’Hog Derek Nesbitt.
McLean extended the lead for Rockford later in the period, netting his second of the game.
Going into the third period, Rockford was involved in yet another close game, 5-3.
Midway through the final frame, Brett Sonne brought Peoria to within a goal, scoring his second of the year.
Jimmy Hayes would net his first goal of the season only seconds after Sonne had closed the gap. Only 13 seconds had elapsed before Hayes took possession of the puck and slipped it past Jake Allen, giving the ’Hogs a 6-4 win.
Peoria would look for revenge the following night, Saturday, Oct. 29, as both teams came to the BMO Harris Bank Center for the back side of a home-and-home game.
Despite Rockford scoring in the first minute of the game, it was Peoria who would take the victory this time. Rockford’s new team captain, Brandon Segal, scored 57 seconds into the game with his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
Nesbitt would tie the game up toward the end of the period with his fourth score of the season.
Peoria turned around and scored three unanswered goals in the sandwich frame, putting Peoria up 4-1.
As time wound down, McLean would find the back of the net, closing the gap to 4-2.
Rockford would outshoot the Rivermen 15-9 in the last 20 minutes of hockey, but it was Peoria who would score the only third-period goal, and win the game 5-2.
The ’Hogs power play would finish 0-for-6 for the game, while Peoria was 1-for-7 with the extra man.
Key points: Week four
1. More special teams woes — Texas showed Rockford how to operate a power play, going 3-for-5 against the ’Hogs. Peoria and Rockford both went 2-for-12 on the power play in the weekend home-and-home series, but Rockford was hurt by going 0-for-6 in the second game of the series.
2. Back-checking and defense — Rockford has given up 21 goals in the last four games, and from what I have observed, most of this is because of the ’Hogs’ inability to successfully back-check. Players need to be more responsible and quickly transition from offense to defense to cut down on their opponents’ scoring chances. And when I say defense, I do not mean the two defensemen on the ice, I mean the whole team, which includes the forwards on the ice.
3. Life is not a Beach — The extent of the injury to Beach is not yet known. He could be out for a few weeks, or he could be out the rest of the season. After eight games this season, Beach has tallied three goals and three assists for Rockford. However, the stats do not show the importance he has with the team. Beach had started to show signs of maturity early in the season; poise and intelligence with the puck, hard skating, and being an agitator while not taking many stupid penalties. It was the grittiness and drive that made him a force on the ice, and opposing teams need to keep an eye on him because of his diverse playing style. With Beach out of the lineup, other teams will be able to put more focus on the players who have been contributing more for Rockford, which may put goals at a premium in the short term.
Rockford only has one game this upcoming week, a Sunday showdown against the Charlotte Checkers. This is the first time the ’Hogs will face Charlotte, who, as of press time, hold first place in the Central Division with a 6-3-1-0 record and 13 points.
The Checkers and ’Hogs face off at 5:05 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6, at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
From the Nov. 2-8, 2011, issue