Hockey: Tales from the Trough: Rockford declaws the Wolves, gets back to winning ways

IceHogs rookie winger Jimmy Hayes (17) puts a shot on Grand Rapids Griffins goalie Jordan Pearce (1) during Saturday’s game (Dec. 10). (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The last week was not kind to the ’Hogs with Rockford going on a season-long four-game losing streak.

That would all change on the first game of the week with the Chicago Wolves riding into town. Rockford’s four unanswered first-period goals helped pave the way for a 6-3 ’Hogs win.

Chicago got on the board first with Anton Rodin scoring on a delayed penalty 4:21 into the start of the game.

Rockford would fire off four goals in a span of 7 minutes to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the first intermission.

Less than 1 minute after Rodin’s goal, Bryon Froese, a fresh call-up from the Toledo Walleye, tallied not only his first goal of the season, but the first AHL goal of his young career. Fellow rookies Rob Flick and Philippe Paradis were credited for assists on the tying goal. The goal was Rockford’s first shot of the night, and came at 5:08.

Andrew Shaw put Rockford up by 1 with his fifth goal of the season.

It was Peter LeBlanc’s turn next. Jimmy Hayes played an aggressive forecheck and forced a turnover in the Wolves’ defensive zone. Hayes grabbed the rubber and fed it over to LeBlanc, who was alone in the middle of the ice and slapped a shot past Matt Climie, putting Rockford up 3-1. The third unanswered goal signaled a quick end for Climie as he was pulled in favor of Eddie Lack.

Climie was escorted off the ice by one of the linesmen, and as he entered the tunnel to the dressing room, his frustration reached a boiling point as he slammed his stick to the paved walkway and threw it down the tunnel.

Only a few games ago, ’Hogs goalie Alec Richards came into a game after starting goalie Alexander Salak was injured, and I commented about how difficult it was for a goalie to come into a game cold. My statement rang true once again, this time in Rockford’s favor, as Shaw notched his second goal of the night only 24 seconds after Lack hit the ice. Brian Fahey blasted a shot from the blue line, which Shaw, who was playing perfectly in front of the net, deflected in behind Lack.

Chicago made a game of it in the middle frame with two quick goals. Mark Mancari netted both goals for the Wolves, with the first coming on the power play. The goals, scored 2:30 minutes apart, brought the Wolves to within 1.

But Brett McLean tallied his seventh marker of the season, and gave Rockford a two-goal edge going into the last period.

Rostislav Olesz potted his fourth of the season just past the midway point in the final frame to seal the deal for Rockford with a 6-3 win, ending the ’Hogs’ four-game skid.

The following night, Rockford hosted the Grand Rapids Griffins for the second, and final, time this season, and the third of four matchups between the two teams this season. Rockford has always had success playing against the Griffins, holding a 2-0 record this season and an impressive 15-3-0-3 overall record dating back to the 2007-2008 season, and a 9-1-0-1 home record.

Once again, Rockford fell behind first with Griffins breakout rookie Gustav Nyquist netting his ninth goal of the season 8:38 into the first. The power-play goal was scored with some traffic in front of the net, and a little luck. Carter Hutton, who was starting in net for his fourth consecutive game, attempted to move a loose puck and poked it out a little too far. Nyquist jumped on the puck and beat Hutton for the 1-0 lead.

Statistically speaking, Rockford’s chances of coming back to win were very slim, as Rockford has only won one game this season after being down at the end of the first or second period.

The ’Hogs weren’t going to let statistics get in the way of tarnishing their great record over Grand Rapids, and Olesz helped to steer Rockford in the right direction. Hayes took the puck hard to the net, got in close on Griffins goalie Jordan Pearce and tried to stuff a shot in off the left pad of Pearce, which was turned wide left. Olesz was standing on the left side of the net and quickly shot it past Pearce, knotting the score at 1-1.

With time winding down in the second, Brandon Pirri took the puck in deep to the Griffins’ zone. Pirri found Jeremy Morin on the close side of the ice, and quickly fed it back across the ice to Shawn Lalonde, who wound up a blasted shot from the far blue line. The shot rang off the underside of the top crossbar and in behind Pearce, putting Rockford ahead for the first time in the game with 41 seconds left in the period.

Both teams played a fast-paced, back-and-forth third period, with both Pearce and Hutton making some excellent saves to keep their teams in the game. But with time winding down, neither team had scored, and Grand Rapids was pushing hard in the ’Hogs’ zone.

With a face-off opportunity in the Rockford zone, the Griffins pulled Pearce for the extra attacker. The plan worked, as the Griffins’ Joakim Andersson scored his seventh of the season on a redirect. Francis Pare received the puck on the near face-off circle and purposely shot the puck wide right where Andersson was stationed. He redirected the puck past Hutton, evening the score at 2-2 with under a minute left in the game.

Tempers flared in the overtime session when McLean was tagged for a goaltender interference penalty, and Ryan Stanton and the Griffins’ Logan Pyett were sent off for roughing minors. For the last 1:46 of the overtime session, the ’Hogs were going to be shorthanded.

Compared to the end of the third, Grand Rapids seemed pensive with the puck, and Rockford fought off the four-on-three, sending the game to a shootout. The shootout was only Rockford’s fourth shootout game in 366 days.

After two of four shooters, Rockford was down 2-1, with Morin looking to tie it up. Morin beat Pearce, and Hutton made his first stop in the shootout against Pare to keep things square after three. From then on, Hutton stopped the next two, with both teams tied at 2 goals each after five rounds.

The sixth shooter, Brandon Segal, made a nice deke from right to left, and lifted the puck over the pad of Pearce, putting Rockford up 3-2.

Next up, it was Landon Ferraro vs. Hutton. If Ferraro scored, it would extend the shootout for at least one more round, but if Hutton could fend off the shot, it was a win for Rockford. Ferraro picked up the rubber at center ice and weaved his way toward the net. He faked a shot on the right, shifted the puck to his backhand, and quickly deked to the left. Hutton did not bite on the fake, followed Ferraro to the side and stayed down as the puck was swallowed into his pads. Hutton quickly stood up, punched his fist toward the ground and slid to one knee as the ’Hogs’ players evacuated the bench to swarm Hutton, celebrating their 3-2 shootout win.

For their third game in three days, Rockford traveled up to Milwaukee to face the Admirals for the first time this season. The Admirals were sitting in second place in the division behind the Charlotte Checkers by only 3 points, but have played four fewer games than the Midwest Division leaders.

Rockford scored the first goal of the game to get the scoring started. Dylan Olsen tallied his first point of the year on a nice feed from Hayes.

Milwaukee tied it up a few minutes later as Joel Champagne tallied his third of the year.

The see-saw battle continued with Rockford reclaiming the lead, courtesy of LeBlanc. Fahey put a shot in on net and LeBlanc was there to clean up the loose change. Hayes recorded another point, as he was the secondary assist on the goal.

Milwaukee would tally the next two goals to take a 3-2 lead into the first intermission. Mark Van Guilder and Jani Lajunen scored 4:41 apart.

The second period would start with Rockford getting a goal from Shaw to tie the score yet again. Morin and Pirri were credited with assists on the goal.

Lalonde would get his second point in as many games, assisting on an Olesz goal. Lalonde fired a shot from the point, which was kicked aside by Ads goalie Jeremy Smith directly to Olesz, who deposited the puck for an easy goal, and another ’Hogs lead.

A player injury on the ice led to a brief game delay. Morin was tracking down the puck and had his arms out to brace himself when his elbow struck Champagne. As Champagne lay on the ice, Morin was sent to the dressing room and handed a 5-minute major for high-sticking and a game misconduct.

With a 5-minute power play ahead of them, Milwaukee looked to even the score. Richards, who was getting his first start in eight games, started to settle down, and fended off a number of Ads shots, and helped Rockford kill off the 5-minute penalty.

Rockford had some momentum going into the third, but Milwaukee quickly dissolved it with Van Guilder scoring his second of the evening 3:02 into the period.

The score would remain tied at 4-4 through the rest of regulation, and Rockford was lucky to be in the game. Rockford was outshot 43-20, and including the overtime session, 45-20.

For the second night in a row, the ’Hogs would go to a shootout to determine who would get the second point. As bad as Smith was in the first period, he was golden in the shootout, stopping all four IceHogs shooters. Michael Latta and Ryan Ellis both scored in the shootout, giving Milwaukee the win and the extra point.

Rockford still played much better in this week, earning five out of a possible six points, getting them closer to crawling out of last place in the division.

Key points for the week:

1. Hayes playing his size — Hayes has already shown great maturity in his first full season in the professional league, and is using his 6-foot-5-inch, 210-pound frame to move opposing players. For his size, Hayes is deceptively fast, and has been very good on the fore check.

2. Goalies coming up big — Since being called up from Toledo, Hutton has played very well in net for Rockford, and as of Dec. 10, is the only goalie on the Rockford roster to hold a save percentage above .900. After sitting out in favor of Salak and Hutton for a number of games, Richards played a great game on Sunday, barring the first period. Rockford’s offense did not help him out much, putting half the shots on net as Milwaukee, but the 1 point on Sunday would not have happened were it not for Richards’ excellent play.

Looking forward:

Rockford will travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., Wednesday, Dec. 14, to wrap up their annual series against the Griffins, with game time at 7 p.m. Rockford is 3-0 this season against Grand Rapids, and looks to sweep the series. The ’Hogs then travel back home for two weekend games, hosting the Peoria Rivermen Friday, Dec. 16, and the Milwaukee Admirals Saturday, Dec. 17, with game time at 7:05 p.m. for both games in Rockford.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2011, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!