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Hockey: Tales from the Trough: Rockford IceHogs, Charlotte Checkers face off for first time

November 9, 2011

Rockford IceHogs forward Jimmy Hayes (17) fights for the puck behind the Charlotte Checkers’ net with team captain Brett Sutter (7). Hayes scored the first ’Hogs goal of the game, and his first of the year, in the second period. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Rockford only had one game this week, which took place Sunday, Nov. 6, at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The ’Hogs would play host to the Charlotte Checkers, who are new to the ’Hogs and the West division this season.

Last year, Charlotte fell one series short of reaching the Calder Cup finals, falling to the Bingham Senators, who eventually won the cup against the Houston Aeros.

Rockford fell behind quickly in the first period, giving up three unanswered goals.

Charlotte’s first goal, scored by Jared Staal at 8:15 in the first period, was a quick wrister that beat ’Hogs netminder Alexander Salak just by the left side of his body. The goal was a result of an IceHogs turnover at the blueline.

The next goal was caused by a screen from Chris Terry in front of Salak, and Michel Jordan fired the puck in for a 2-0 lead.

Jerome Samson scored his sixth goal with 3 minutes left in the third, while Charlotte was on their second man-advantage of the night. Charlotte came across in a two-on-one rush, and Samson crossed passed the crease, waited for Salak to go down, then lifted the puck top shelf for the goal.

Rockford finally managed to get on the board with a heads-up play by Jimmy Hayes. With the puck behind the Checkers’ net, Philippe Paradis managed to get a handle on the rubber. He passed the puck blindly to his left, where Hayes was still waiting behind the net. Checkers goalie Mike Murphy lost sight of the puck, and Hayes quickly wrapped around the net and stuffed home his first goal of the season, and narrowed the Charlotte lead to 3-1.

But Charlotte would reclaim their 3-goal lead with less than a minute remaining in the middle frame.

Samson would tally his seventh marker of the season and second of the game, both while on the power play.

Shortly after the goal, our first, and only, fight of the night would take place between Brandon Bollig and Nicolas Blanchard. Neither player seemed to have a clear-cut victory, but from my vantage point, Bollig had a slight edge.

The lone third-period goal was scored by Rockford’s Brandon Pirri, who found a loose puck just outside the crease and slipped it past Murphy to narrow the lead to a 2-goal Charlotte advantage.

Despite pulling Salak in favor of the extra attacker, Rockford was unable to tally any more goals, and visiting Charlotte left their first visit to the BMO Harris Bank Center with a 4-2 victory.

Some of the keys for the Sunday match-up:

1. Odd-man chances — Throughout the game, I noticed far too many odd-man rushes coming from Charlotte. Some of this is the result of the defensemen playing too offensively, or someone getting caught in the wrong place as the puck is turned over. The point is, players weren’t getting back to position fast enough. Two of the goals scored were a result of the odd-man rush, but there were more Salak fought off.

2. Too many penalties — Of Rockford’s seven penalties, not all were what would be considered bad penalties. Some were just having the stick in the wrong place on the ice, or being slightly out of position. Regardless, giving up seven penalties is not going to help you win a game.

3. Keep on grinding — The ’Hogs were doing a good job of grinding the puck out of the boards and corners on Sunday. Sure, it’s only one facet of the game, but if you can win the majority of the board battles, you are going to put yourself in position for more scoring chances. However, with the speed of Charlotte’s forwards, even Rockford’s board-winning battles didn’t help much.

Rockford heads to Grand Rapids, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 9, to take on the Griffins with a noon start time. From there, Rockford travels back to the Carver Arena in Peoria to visit the Rivermen Friday, Nov. 11. So far, Rockford holds a 2-0 record this year in Peoria. The ’Hogs return home the following night for yet another home-and-home series against the Rivermen Saturday, Nov. 12, with game time at 7:05 p.m.

From the Nov. 9-15, 2011, issue

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