By Todd Reicher
The past few weeks, Rockford has been struggling to win games, mostly at home. The last few home games had Rockford trailing early and fighting to come back.
Last week’s game against the Oklahoma City Barons was more of the same. Wednesday, Nov. 16, the ’Hogs came out of the gate first with Peter LeBlanc scoring his first goal of the season. The power-play goal came as a result of a Linus Omark interference penalty 6 minutes into the game.
The Barons would rattle off four straight goals spanning two periods to go up 4-1 after 40 minutes of hockey. Teemu Hartikainen scored the first two of the four goals, with Gilbert Brule and Philippe Cornet tallying the other two.
Rockford finally answered in the third with a three-goal flurry of their own.
Brandon Segal scored 3 minutes into the third, and LeBlanc knocked in his second of the night just more than a minute later.
Halfway through the third, Brandon Pirri would even the score at 4-4 with his fifth of the season. LeBlanc was in on the assist, giving him a 3-point night.
The tie wouldn’t last more than 60 seconds. Ryan Keller gave the Barons the lead once again.
Despite one more power-play opportunity and a late penalty shot attempt, Rockford couldn’t get the tying goal, and fell 5-4.
Two days later, Friday, Nov. 18, Rockford would make their first trip to Charlotte for a weekend series against the Checkers. Rockford lost their earlier meeting to Charlotte back on Nov. 6, 4-2, at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
In the first 20 minutes of hockey, Rockford was outshot 21-7, but magnificent goaltending by Alec Richards kept the game at zeros.
After a scoreless first period, Rockford’s newest member, Rostislav Olesz made his first game as an IceHog a memorable one.
“Rusty,” as he is nicknamed, scored the first goal of the game at 1:11 of the first period on Rockford’s first power-play opportunity of the night.
Checkers defenseman Michel Jordan tied the score midway through the second with his third of the year.
Rockford grabbed hold of the lead again later in the second, converting on their second power play of the evening. Andrew Shaw was credited with the goal, and Pirri and Olesz both tallied their second points of the game with assists on the go-ahead goal.
The ping-pong game would continue, as Charlotte tied the game once again late in the third.
Seconds after a Rockford penalty expired, Zac Dalpe got the puck past Richards, tying the game at 2-2.
With 60 minutes of hockey played, the game would head into overtime. Rockford was outshot 42-30, and would be outshot 8-2 in the overtime period, but Richards kept the ’Hogs in the game.
Neither team scored in the overtime period, so the game headed to the shootout.
The first shooter for Rockford, Olesz, scored on his attempt, and Charlotte’s Delpe was denied on his.
Rockford’s Brian Connelly and Brett McLean would score on their chances, and only Charlotte’s Drayson Bowman would score, giving Rockford a 3-1 shootout advantage, and the win, 3-2.
Both teams would meet up again Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, for the second game of the series.
Rockford was first on the board with LeBlanc continuing his hot hands this weekend, getting his third goal in two games.
The Checkers would tally the next two goals, before Rockford’s Jimmy Hayes tied the game again with 10 seconds left in the first period.
Charlotte would score the next two goals, one in the second and one in the third, giving the Checkers a 4-2 lead midway through the final frame.
Olesz would cut that lead to 4-3 with his second goal of the weekend. Pirri got his second point of the evening with the assist.
But Rockford’s comeback would fall short, in part to two late third-period penalties committed by Hayes and McLean, and Charlotte would win the game 4-3.
Key points for the week:
1. Win at home — Rockford still shows one win this season at home. With five straight games at home, Rockford needs to get on the winning track this week to keep them in the hunt in the competitive Midwest Division. Their upcoming game Wednesday, Nov. 23, against the West Division bottom-dweller San Antonio Rampage may be the cure.
2. Welcome to Rockford, Olesz — Up in Chicago, Olesz was not given much of a chance to show himself off, as he only played a handful of regular-season games this season with the Blackhawks. He, and his $3-plus-million-per-year contract, was sent down to Rockford this past week. Olesz, an overall seventh-round pick in the 2004 draft by Florida, made his Rockford IceHogs debut Friday and scored two goals, two assists and a shootout goal in his first two games with Rockford.
Rockford’s five-game home stretch starts this Wednesday, Nov. 23, against the San Antonio Rampage. The ’Hogs will then play host to Peoria Friday, Nov. 25, and the Abbotsford Heat Saturday, Nov. 26. All three games will take place at the BMO Harris Bank Center with game time at 7:05 p.m.
From the Nov. 23-29, 2011, issue