Hockey: Tales from the Trough: ’Hogs snap home losing streak, Pirri heats up

Rockford IceHogs forward Brandon Pirri (27, foreground) tries to sneak the puck in the net past San Antonio Rampage goaltender Brian Foster (33), while IceHogs winger Rostislav Olesz (85, in the background) and Rampage defenseman Colby Robak close in on the net. Pirri had the hot hand for Rockford last week, scoring five goals in three games, including a three-goal performance against San Antonio Wednesday, Nov. 23. Olesz was also hot for the ’Hogs, scoring one goal and three assists over the week. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

For the first time since opening night, Saturday, Sept. 8, the Rockford IceHogs won a game at home. The ’Hogs had lost their previous six home games, and had been outscored 27-11 in those six losses.

Last week, things would turn around for the ’Hogs as they opened up the first game of a five-game home stand. The San Antonio Rampage, who were just 1 point ahead of Rockford entering Wednesday’s game (Nov. 23), were also at the bottom of their division and struggling to win games.

Three was the magic number, as both teams would score three unanswered goals, with the Rampage in the middle of the scoring frenzy.

Brandon Pirri’s tip-in goal, the first of his three-goal night, came 4 minutes into the game, just as Rockford was coming off a power-play opportunity. Joe Lavin found Rostislav Olesz, who blasted a shot at Rampage netminder Brian Foster. The deflected puck fell on the opposite side of the net to a waiting Pirri for an easy goal.

Rockford would add a second goal late in the period, courtesy of Brandon Segal. Winger Brett McLean took a shot from the left point, which Segal got a piece of, and redirected the puck to the back of the net.

David Gilbert would net his first goal of the season 4:46 into the second frame. Once again, traffic in front of the net allowed Gilbert to find a loose puck and poke it into the net, giving Rockford a 3-0 lead.

The next three goals belonged to the Rampage, with Evan Barlow notching his first goal of the season. The unassisted goal came less than 2 minutes after the last IceHogs goal, cutting the lead to 3-1.

David Marshall would cut the deficit to 3-2 with a backhand goal as a result of a rebound let out by ’Hogs goaltender Alexander Salak.

Four minutes into the third period, Greg Rallo tallied his fifth goal of the season, tying the score at 3-3. It was another goal caused by a loose puck in front of the net.

Pirri was quick to break the tie, scoring his second goal of the night just more than 1 minute after the Rallo goal. Pirri received the puck from Jeremy Morin, raced into the zone and slipped a quick snapshot over the glove of Foster.

After two quick San Antonio penalties, Olesz would score his second point of the night, and his third goal in three games, while the ’Hogs had a five-on-three power play. A shot by Brian Connelly was deflected back to mid ice, and picked up by Olesz. Grabbing the puck and making a quick 180-degree turn, Olesz quickly weaved in and out of traffic, made a great fake to the left, then cut right and placed the puck in the net in one of the prettiest goals this season. With Connelly grabbing an assist on the goal, he set an AHL IceHogs record for assists by one player in a single game with four.

Rockford would grab another five-on-three power play 17 seconds after the Olesz marker. Pirri would complete the hat trick with a perfect pass from Lavin, and another close-quarters goal, bringing the ’Hogs to a 6-3 lead, and eventual win.

The ’Hogs were an impressive three-for-eight on the power play (scoring one of their six goals just after a power play expired in the first period), while San Antonio’s last-ranked power play finished one-for-two.

Winning one game at home wasn’t enough, as Rockford was fishing for another win to string their first two-game winning streak together since the first two games of this season Oct. 8-9.

Peoria got the scoring started in the Friday night, Nov. 25, game with Phil McRae scoring his 10th goal of the season just 33 seconds into the game. It was sort of a fluke goal, as the puck was sailing down ice, and hit a spot on the boards, which caused the puck to ricochet back toward the middle of the ice to Jay Barriball, who found McRae open for the one-timer.

Midway through the first, Peoria extended their lead to 2-0. Salak was unable to handle a rebound, and the puck was poked in by Brett Sonne.

Peter LeBlanc would draw the ’Hogs to within one on Rockford’s first power-play opportunity of the evening. Rivermen goalie Ben Bishop let out a big rebound from a Morin shot, and LeBlanc was stationed about 5 feet from the front of the net and blasted a shot to the back of the net.

With time winding down in the opening period, Pirri would net his first of the evening. The goal came on a quick rush up the middle, set up by Ryan Stanton, who grabbed the puck deep in the ’Hogs’ zone. Stanton found Andrew Shaw streaking up the right side of the ice, who dished the puck to Pirri, who was on his left. Pirri let a quick snapshot go and beat Bishop glove-side. Despite being outshot 11-6, Rockford headed into the locker room tied at 2-2.

On their third power-play attempt of the evening, Peoria’s Shaun Heshka ripped a shot from the blue line to beat a screened Salak.

But once again, Rockford would tie the score with time winding down in the period. This time, with 27 left to go, Segal would get the equalizer, and his team-tying ninth goal of the season. Segal gained possession of the puck on the right wing close to the boards, and ripped a shot on net. The puck was misplayed by Bishop, and the rubber slipped between his arm and his body, knotting the score at 3-3.

From then on, it was all Rockford. The ’Hogs would outshoot Peoria 29-16 in the last two periods, and rattled off five unanswered goals, with four of them coming in the third period.

Defenseman Brian Fahey tallied his first marker as a Rockford IceHog to start off the third period scoring. Olesz brought the puck into the zone and pulled a few players from Peoria out of position. Olesz managed to get the puck to Fahey, who was midway between the net and the blue line in the center of the ice, and ripped a shot past Bishop, giving Rockford a 4-3 lead.

One minute later, Rockford would extend that lead with a great pass by Stanton to LeBlanc. The pass traveled cross-ice to LeBlanc, who was waiting on the backdoor of the net, and tipped in the puck, giving the ’Hogs a 5-3 lead, and LeBlanc his second goal of the night.

Pirri remained red-hot and tallied his second of the night, and fifth in two games, at the 13:11 mark of the third period. Olesz blasted a shot from the left face-off circle, which Bishop was unable to handle. Pirri pulled the puck out from the front of Bishop, and showed quick hands by moving it around to the right side of the net and in.

With 3 minutes left in the third, Gilbert was called for a high-stick penalty, giving Peoria a chance to cut into the Rockford lead. Peoria pulled Bishop for an extra attacker, but Andrew Shaw put the dagger in with an empty-net, short-handed goal with 2:22 left in regulation, sealing the victory with a 7-3 win. Fahey and Segal also figured in on the goal, both getting their second point of the night.

Saturday night, Nov. 26, Rockford looked to make it three in a row as they played host to the Oklahoma City Barons. Salak would get his third-straight start in net for the ’Hogs and played a very good game, keeping the score tied at 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Rockford had some close calls in the first, however, and they even fooled the off-ice official two times. The red light behind the goal, which signifies a goal, went off two times, but both goals were waved off by the on-ice officials. One puck clearly hit the side of the net, resulting in no goal, and the second puck did not completely clear the goal line, and the second red light was waved off.

The Barons would grab the first goal of the evening while on their second power-play chance of the night. The shot in-close looked to have been stopped by Salak with his left pad, but the referee was over the net in position to see the puck cross the line, giving the Barons a 1-0 lead.

It wasn’t until 2:41 into the final period that the Barons would extend their lead to 2-0. Mark Arcobello played some aggressive forechecking and forced a turnover from Lavin behind the Rockford net. Philippe Cornet came rushing in on the opposite side of the net, and received the puck and slapped it into the open side of the net.

Connelly would close the gap to 2-1 midway thought the last frame, while Rockford was in their sixth power-play chance of the night. McLean won an offensive face-off draw and found Connelly in the back, who blasted in his second of the year.

Salak was sent to the bench with time winding down, but Rockford was unable to capitalize with the extra attacker, and Ryan O’Marra scored an empty-net goal, sealing the win for the Barons 3-1.

Key points for the week:

1. Grabbing some wins at home — Rockford got back on the winning streak, getting two straight at home, and ending their six-game home skid.

2. Putting points on the board — Even though Rockford only scored one goal in Saturday’s game, they managed 13 goals in their other two home games. The 13-goal total exceeds their total of 11 during their six-game streak. Olesz, Pirri and Connelly all had numerous points this week, which played a large part in winning two of the three games this week.

3. Face-off wins — I wasn’t keeping track of the face-off wins versus losses, but Rockford was very strong in winning draws this week, especially against San Antonio. Over this week, I can count at least three goals that were directly related to winning a face-off.

Looking ahead

Rockford wraps up its five-game home stretch this week hosting the Lake Erie Monsters Friday, Dec. 2, and the Abbotsford Heat Saturday, Dec. 3. Rockford will play their third game in three days Sunday, Dec. 4, traveling to Peoria to face the Rivermen. Game time is 7:05 p.m. for both home games, and 5 p.m. for the Peoria matchup.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2011, issue

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