Hockey: Tales from the Trough: ’Hogs’ offense comes alive, team manages one win in three games

Rockford’s Ben Smith (wearing a throwback jersey for Alumni Night) was the “Hot ’Hog” last week, tallying three goals and two assists over three games. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The Rockford IceHogs had three games last week, with one against the Grand Rapids Griffins, and a home-and-home series against the Peoria Rivermen. The ’Hogs hoped to continue their dominance over the Griffins and looked to earn more wins in Peoria.

The first game in week five of the season took place Wednesday, Nov. 9, with an early 11 a.m. start time in Grand Rapids. The ’Hogs won the first meeting this year on opening night 3-2 against the Griffins, and looked to earn their second win against the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate this season.

It was Grand Rapids that would start the scoring with Doug Janik tallying his second goal of the season. The shot, from the far blue line, beat IceHogs goalie Alexander Salak over the right shoulder for the 1-0 lead.

Rockford’s Andrew Shaw evened the score with only 11 seconds remaining in the first period with his second score of the season. Ben Smith won an offensive face-off draw, and fed the puck over to Shaw, who was stationed near the front of the Griffins’ net. The puck looked to have gone off Griffins netminder Jordan Pearce’s leg pad, and into the net.

The scoring would continue for Rockford as the team would score three more unanswered goals in the middle frame to jump out to a commanding 4-1 lead.

Brandon Segal netted his team-leading sixth of the year to start off the second period scoring. Brett McLean fought hard against the boards to win the puck, which he fed back to Brian Connelly, who was waiting at the offensive blue line. Connelly found Segal on the left side of the net, and Segal skated uncontested around the front to the right side of the net and deposited the puck for a 2-1 lead.

Later in the third, Jimmy Hayes would mark his second goal of the year with David Gilbert and Brandon Bollig getting assists on the goal. An aggressive forecheck by Gilbert and Bollig caused a turnover in the offensive zone, and Hayes was parked in front of the net, ready to backhand the puck past Pearce for a 3-1 lead.

Rockford’s fourth unanswered goal came with exactly 2 minutes remaining in the second period while on the power play. Ben Youds received the puck deep in the ’Hogs’ defensive zone and caught the Griffins on a line change. He found Smith on the near end of the Griffins’ blue line with a great pass, and Smith skated in and beat Pearce.

But Grand Rapids would stop the bleeding and close the gap to 2 just 37 seconds later. Some good passing led to Louis-Marc Aubry scoring his first goal of the year. Brendan Smith and Janik were credited with assists, both getting their respective second points of the night.

Grand Rapids would close the gap to 1 just shy of midway through the third period. A nice cross-ice pass by Gustav Nyquist set up Jamie Johnson, who was about 3 feet from the ’Hogs’ net, and tapped in the puck to close the ’Hogs’ lead to 4-3.

With time winding down, Grand Rapids pulled Pearce for the extra attacker, but McLean sealed the win for the ’Hogs with an unassisted empty-net goal off a center-ice turnover with 46 seconds left in the game.

Rockford held the Griffins scoreless on the power play in three attempts, and Rockford went 1-for-4 with the extra skater.

Friday, Nov. 11, Rockford traveled south to Peoria for the first of two straight games against the Rivermen.

In one of the wildest games in the last year, Peoria got out to a 2-goal lead. T.J. Hensick and Cade Fairchild scored less than 2 minutes apart.

Hensick managed to get past the ’Hogs’ defense and skated at ’Hogs goalie Alec Richards, then quickly cut left at the last second and flipped a backhander into the net.

Fairchild’s goal was a shot from close to the right face-off circle, which Richards must not have seen. ’Hogs D-man Ryan Stanton was parked in front of the net to keep traffic at bay in front of Richards, but Fairchild managed to put Stanton between himself and Richards, and shot the puck in for a 2-goal lead.

Jeremy Morin managed to bank in a quick goal in the last minute of the first period to bring the ’Hogs to within 1. Morin came into possession of the puck behind and to the side of the Peoria net. Alertly, Morin slapped the puck toward goalie Jake Allen, which caromed off his back and into the net.

In the second period, Peoria would come back with two more goals in a span of 71 seconds, stretching their lead to 4-1. Phil McRae and Danny Syvret tallied markers, with Syvret’s goal coming on the power play.

Similar to the Grand Rapids game on Wednesday, Rockford would go on a scoring rampage, this time scoring 5 unanswered goals spanning from the middle of the second period to the middle of the third.

The first of five was scored by McLean on a backhanded, wrap-around shot just more than midway through the second.

Rockford had an opportunity to add to their lead when Peoria gave Rockford a five-on-three power-play chance for more than 1 minute. The ’Hogs, however, could not capitalize on the two penalties.

Despite missing out on the power play, Rockford would still manage more goals. Smith would add the next two for Rockford, marking his fifth and sixth of the season. The first goal was shot from the far blue line by Connelly, which Smith redirected past Allen.

His second goal came from a fast snapshot while the ’Hogs were pushing into the offensive zone on a three-on-two rush. Brandon Pirri brought the puck across the offensive line and fed Smith to his right. The snapshot, which hit Allen on the left side of his mask, hit the net, resulting in a game-tying goal.

Rockford would grab their first lead of the game just 45 seconds later. This time, it was Smith winning another offensive face-off draw. Smith had a clean win right back to Pirri, who quickly fired the puck through traffic, giving the ’Hogs a 5-4 lead.

But Rockford wasn’t done yet. Their fifth-straight goal was scored only 1:55 later while on the power play. McLean found Morin on the back door of the net, and Morin slapped a one-timer in for the 6-4 lead.

With time winding down, Rockford seemed to have control of the game. That is, until Rockford took two costly penalties with 2 minutes remaining. Peoria pulled Allen for a six-on-three attack. The next 45 seconds belonged to McRae, who scored both goals, knotting the score at 6-6 with 28 seconds remaining in the game.

From watching the replay on the two goals, Salak, who came in to relieve Richards, was changing position from standing up to going down when the shot sailed past his glove side. On the second goal, McRae was open at the close face-off circle and fired a shot high glove side. I am sure Salak would like to have that shot back, as no player was obstructing his view.

In overtime, it was Rockford outshooting Peoria, but Peoria would have the shot that counted.

Adam Cracknell raced into the offensive zone with the puck and made a line for the front of the net. From the replay, it was hard to tell how the puck went in the net as a pile of players, including Salak, was lying in front of the net.

After the official pointed to the net, referring to a goal, Salak jumped up and had words for the referee, which resulted in Salak receiving a game misconduct and cemented the win for Peoria.

The following night, Saturday, Nov. 12, was all Peoria — at least in the scoring department. Rockford led the game in shots on goal with a 37-28 advantage, but it was Ben Bishop who was coming up big for the Rivermen.

Hensick scored a few minutes into the game to set the pace for Peoria. Rockford had three power-play chances in the first, all of which Peoria stopped, and also had a 13-11 shot advantage.

Peoria’s second goal was scored by Brett Sonne at exactly 14 minutes into the second period.

Rockford looked to have scored a goal shortly after the Peoria marker, but the goal was waved off. Pirri was in on the net and had a shot go off Bishop and drop down. Pirri carried his momentum toward the goal, and put the puck in the net. However, the referee claimed the puck was kicked in by Pirri, resulting in the goal being waved off.

From then on, things got a little chippy. Bollig and Anthony Peluso had some words for one another, but were tossed for 10-minute misconduct penalties before any fight would manifest.

At the following face-off, Brett Sterling was having words with Shaw while stationed out on the wing. Sterling slashed hard to Shaw’s stick, and the two continued to talk.

On the subsequent drive down the ice, Sterling drove hard to the net and took out Connelly, who was certainly not pleased. The two had words, and a shoving match ensued — but no fight. Both players were sent off for matching roughing penalties.

The third period was more of the same, and Sterling would rack up two more penalties: one for hooking just less than a minute into the third, and interference seven minutes into the frame.

But Rockford was unable to capitalize on those chances, and Peoria held on to a 2-0 lead.

Rockford only committed one third-period penalty, a slashing call on Brian Fahey, and Peoria would strike. Of all players, it was Sterling who would get the goal. Sterling must have said or done something, as he was flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the time of the goal.

Rockford was unable to notch a goal, leaving Peoria with a win, and handing Rockford its fifth-straight home loss.

Following are some of the IceHogs’ keys for the weekend:

1. Once again, too many penalties — I know this is going to sound redundant, but way too many penalties given up. The back-breakers were the two final penalties in the first game against Peoria. It’s hard to say if the ’Hogs would have won the game had those penalties not occurred, but chances are they would have won.

2. Traffic in front of the net — Against Grand Rapids, Rockford did a good job of keeping traffic in front of the Griffins’ net. One of Smith’s goals is a perfect example, as his redirect resulted in a goal. Against Peoria, Rockford had a much harder time staying in front of the net, as Peoria was constantly shoving players out of position. In turn, Rockford was not doing a good enough job of clearing in front of their own net, which resulted in a few goals for the opposition.

Rockford stays home to host the Oklahoma City Barons at 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 16. The ’Hogs then make their first trip to Charlotte, N.C., where they play a two-game series against the Checkers. The first of two games takes place at 6 p.m. Central, Friday, Nov. 18, with the second game at 2 p.m. Central, Sunday, Nov. 20.

From the Nov. 16-22, 2011, issue

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