By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs will be in for a long season if 2012 begins the way 2011 ended. Rockford ended their year losing four straight games, going 0-3-0-1 after a promising few weeks.
After a thrashing to Milwaukee Monday, Dec. 26, Rockford faced the Chicago Wolves Thursday, Dec. 29, for the first of three games in three days.
It looked as if the trend would continue to Rosemont as Chicago scored four goals before Rockford would get their first marker of the game, 18:35 into the second frame. The hot ’Hog of the week, Andrew Shaw, tallied the first Rockford goal on a rebound let out by Matt Climie. ’Hogs defenseman Joe Lavin blasted a shot from the point, which Climie blocked out to the left face-off circle. Shaw corralled the puck and snapped it past Climie.
Shaw would score once again just shy of the 3-minute mark of the final frame. While in the middle of a big pileup of players in front of the Chicago net, Shaw furiously poked at a loose puck, tallying his 11th goal of the season and his fourth against the Wolves this season.
Shawn Lalonde scored his second goal of the season less than 5 minutes later to bring the ’Hogs to within one with more than 12 minutes remaining in regulation.
But Rockford’s comeback would fall short, and Chicago would tack on an empty-net goal with 34 seconds remaining to finish off Rockford 5-3. Shaw’s two-goal game would be his third of the month of December, leading all Rockford skaters in two-goal games for the month.
Carter Hutton, who gave up three goals on 10 shots, was pulled after the first period and tagged with the loss, while Climie got the win, stopping 35 of 38 shots.
It was back to Rockford the following night, where Rockford held home ice to the Charlotte Checkers.
Although Rockford got on the board first, it was Charlotte knotting the score only 36 seconds after Rockford took the lead.
Brian Connelly put the ’Hogs on the board first with his fourth goal of the season, a blast from the far blue line while on a long delayed penalty.
Charlotte tied the score, which was started from a great play by Riley Nash. Lavin held the puck for Rockford in the defensive zone, and pushed a pass out to the left wing. Nash, who had his back to the play, put his stick out to the left in anticipation of the puck arriving, and deflected the puck back into the zone. Nash alertly swooped around to pick up the puck and feed it to teammate Zach Boychuk. Meanwhile, Matthew Pistilli raced in from middle ice and received a pass from Boychuk, then slapped it past Alec Richards.
The Checkers would tally two more first-period goals before Shaw would bring Rockford back to within a goal late in the first.
Most of the scoring was tallied after 20 minutes, with Rockford getting the only goal in the remaining 40 minutes of hockey, which was scored toward the end of the second period.
Ben Smith fought and won a loose puck behind the Charlotte net and fed a quick pass to the center of the ice, where Peter LeBlanc slapped the puck past Mike Murphy, knotting the score at 3-3.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, only one 2-minute penalty was called in the first period, an elbowing penalty to Charlotte’s Rasmus Rissanen, and 12 penalties were called in the second and third periods, totaling 30 minutes.
After a shaky first 20 minutes, Richards settled in nicely in net for Rockford, stopping all 22 shots he faced in the second and third periods.
The trend of few goals and multiple penalties carried into the overtime session with the PIMs piling up with 4 seconds left in the overtime period. Rockford played one last rush into the Charlotte zone and crashed hard to the net. Ryan Stanton was caught in the middle of the pileup on the Checkers’ goal crease, and Chris Durno, who was jabbing at Rockford players all game, skated in and took a few shots to the head of Stanton while he was down. Stanton attempted to retaliate, but Jeremy Morin came to the aid of his teammate and yanked Durno from the pile and started giving it back to him. Michal Jordan was tied up in the pile as well for Charlotte, and all players involved were tagged with 5-minute fighting majors, and Jordan and Stanton were also given 10-minute game misconduct penalties for secondary altercations.
After the dust settled, the game would head to a shootout, where Charlotte took control. Richards was beaten by his three opponents, and Murphy stopped all three Rockford shooters to give Charlotte the 4-3 shootout win.
For the last game of the week, Rockford headed to Peoria to end the year and start off a seven-game road trip.
Peoria was the first to score in Saturday’s game, with Brett Sonne getting a shorthanded goal for the Rivermen. The two-on-one rush from a forced turnover had Cade Fairchild feed Sonne the puck on the left side, who then made a nice move to the right and flipped a backhanded shot in past a sprawling Richards for the 1-0 lead.
In what would be a back-and-forth game, it was Brandon Segal getting the equalizing goal at the 4:17 mark of the second period. Shaw had the puck in tight on Ben Bishop in the Peoria crease, which Bishop initially fought off. Segal grabbed the loose puck in the crease and poked it in, tying the game at 1-1.
Almost exactly 10 minutes later, Fairchild would net his second of three points on the night, tallying his fourth goal of the season. Fairchild brought the puck in to the right side of the net, about 6 feet out, and tried to feed the puck across the crease, which deflected off ’Hogs defenseman Dylan Olsen and into the net.
It only took Rockford 30 seconds into the third period to even the score at 2-2. Connelly did a nice job of keeping the puck onside and fed it over to Morin on the left wing. Morin found Brandon Pirri to his left, who ripped a wicked wrist shot to the short side top shelf for his 14th goal of the season.
Peoria reclaimed the lead once again with their second power-play goal of the night. Phil McRae notched his 15th goal of the season on a one-timer from the slot, giving Peoria a 3-2 edge.
The ’Hogs would pull Richards for the extra attacker, but could not convert with the extra man, and Peoria took the win 3-2. Rockford followed up a 35 penalty-minute outing Friday, Dec. 30, with a 59 penalty-minute showing Saturday, Dec. 31. Rockford went one-for-five with the extra skater while Peoria finished off two-for-eight.
Key points for this week:
1. Inconsistency — At certain points over the last week, Rockford looked like a serious contender, while other times they looked as if they were playing in a different league from their opponent. Perfect examples are the first two periods of the Chicago game on Thursday where Rockford appeared to be skating in mud, and the final two periods of the Charlotte game, where Rockford played along with the Checkers’ physical play and outplayed the division leader.
2. Quit playing from behind — In two of their three games this week, Rockford fell behind early with their opponent scoring first, and in all three games, Rockford was behind after 20 minutes. Even when they did score first, as against Charlotte, they still gave up three goals, and ended up behind in the first.
Rockford’s seven-game road trip has the ’Hogs heading to Texas for a Friday night, Jan. 6, matchup against the Houston Aeros at 7:35 p.m. The following night, Saturday, Jan. 7, Rockford plays the first of two consecutive games against the Texas Stars with the Saturday game starting at 7 p.m. and the Sunday matinee starting at 5 p.m. The ’Hogs’ next home game will not take place until Monday, Jan. 16, when the Texas Stars come to town for the second time this season.
From the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue