By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs continued their improved play in the second half of the season, but only showed 2 points for their efforts in three games.
Rockford’s first game of the week took place at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., Wednesday, Jan. 11.
The ’Hogs started the game with a five-on-three power play only 3:30 into the game, but Chicago fought off the early penalties, holding the score at 0-0.
It looked like Rockford’s penalty kill woes would continue as Chicago got their first power-play opportunity of the evening at 8:29 of the first frame, and promptly scored on the attempt, giving them a 1-0 lead.
Jeremy Morin quickly tied things back up with his seventh goal of the season 1:18 after Chicago took the lead. Brandon Pirri led a two-on-one into the offensive zone and made a nice pass to Morin, who buried the shot. Brian Connelly was also credited with an assist on the goal.
Victor Oreskovich gave Chicago the lead later in the period. Alec Richards was out of position as he came way out of his crease on the right side. Oreskovich took possession of the puck in front of the net and had a huge opening on the left side to bury his sixth goal of the campaign.
Seven minutes into the second period, Morin netted his second goal of the day to tie the game once again. Morin’s tally was the only goal for both teams in the period. Pirri held the puck on the right side of the ice and passed to Chris DiDomenico stationed in the center of the offensive zone. DiDomenico quickly fired a shot on net, and the rebound came out to Morin, who was conveniently stationed on the left side of the net, and had an easy tip-in for the goal.
Chicago took control at the midpoint of the third, scoring two goals in a span of 57 seconds, both by Mark Mancari. The two-goal advantage was too large for Rockford to overcome, and the Wolves took the game 4-2.
Friday, Jan. 13, Rockford returned to the South to take on the Western Conference’s best team, the Oklahoma City Barons. If you want to talk about polar opposites, this game was the perfect example; Rockford, the last-place team in the conference, against the Barons, the first-place team in the conference, and Rockford with the last-ranked penalty kill in the conference and the Barons with the top-ranked power play in the conference. It seems like a recipe for an easy win for the Barons, but Rockford has played much better in the last week and was hoping to spoil the feast.
The game turned out to be a defensive battle with nine total shots on goal in the first period. Surprisingly, it was Rockford holding court with an impressive 7-2 shot advantage, but even more surprising, it was Oklahoma City holding a 1-0 lead.
Mark Arcobello gave the Barons the lead 14:22 into the first period on their second shot of the game.
Period two was more of the same, but no goals for either team in the second set of 20 minutes.
Prior to this game, Rockford was a dismal 4-for-14 on the five-on-three power play, and had a golden opportunity to tie the game early in the third with a 1:39-long five-on-three power play. The Barons pushed the ’Hogs to 4-for-15 and fought off the penalty, retaining their 1-0 lead.
Oklahoma City then had a chance to put Rockford away 12:54 into the last period when Brandon Segal was caught for a hooking penalty.
Rockford fought off the Barons’ fourth power-play opportunity of the game, and kept the game 1-0. After the power play had expired, the Barons got a quick two-on-one in the ’Hogs’ zone, and Rockford goaltender Carter Hutton fought off the shot. The puck came rolling to Segal, who was fresh out of the penalty box. Segal took the puck up the right boards and found Phillippe Paradis, who got behind the Oklahoma City defense. Paradis came hard to the net and slipped the puck under the pads of netminder Yann Danis, tying the score at 1-1 with less than 5 minutes left in regulation.
If you recall, as 2011 ended, the ’Hogs were winless when trailing after the second period. That streak was broken the other night against Texas with Rockford winning their first game after being down after two periods. Rockford aimed to make it two as the game ended in regulation tied 1-1. The IceHogs held a slight shot advantage on the Barons, 20-18.
A key offensive face-off win courtesy of Ben Smith would be the game-changer for Rockford. Smith won the draw and sent it directly back to Brian Fahey on the blue line, as Smith headed toward the net. Fahey blasted a shot, which Smith redirected past Danis, giving the ’Hogs a big 2-1 overtime victory. This was also only the second time this season that Rockford has held an opponent under two goals in a game.
The next night, Rockford traveled back down to the state of Texas for a meeting against the San Antonio Rampage. Typically, Rockford and San Antonio have higher scoring games, but this would be an exception.
In fact, there were more fights in this game than goals. Rob Flick and Eric Selleck both dropped the mitts two times, 18:35 into the first period and 17:37 into the second period, as well as Segal and Fahey getting into altercations.
Rockford drew first blood on the scoresheet, however, as Smith remained hot, scoring a goal in his third consecutive game. Joe Lavin was credited with an assist on the goal.
Hutton and the IceHogs’ defense played a stout 40 minutes of hockey, with Hutton stopping all 24 shots he faced in the first two periods.
It wasn’t until 11:49 of the third period when the Rampage finally broke past Hutton. Two former ’Hogs, Mark Cullen and Bracken Kearns, tied the game when Kearns tallied his 11th of the season.
Greg Rallo gave San Antonio the lead just under 2 minutes later with his ninth goal of the season.
Rockford pulled Hutton to the bench in the waning minutes of the final period, but was unable to tally a tying goal, as San Antonio grabbed a come-from-behind 2-1 victory.
Key points for this week:
1. Improved special teams — After some poor showings by the IceHogs’ special teams, and a last-place penalty kill in the league, Rockford’s defensive special teams played very well in the last three games, giving up only one goal on 14 shorthanded opportunities.
2. Dealing with a shortage of players — In the last few weeks, Rockford has had to deal with quite a few of their key players being out of the lineup. Rostislav Olesz was out of the lineup for a few games because of injury. Upon his return, Olesz suffered another injury on his first game back, a different injury, and has been out of the lineup for three games. Two other losses are those of Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes, both of whom have been called up by the Chicago Blackhawks. The call-ups are the result of ’Hawks injuries to Patrick Sharp, who is listed as being out three to four weeks, and Dan Carcillo, who will be out for the season to undergo ACL surgery.
Rockford returned home Monday, Jan. 16, for an early 1:05 p.m. tilt against the Texas Stars. Results of that game were not available at press time. The ’Hogs then have a home-and-home series against the Chicago Wolves — home in Rockford against the Chicago Wolves at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 20, and then at the Chicago Wolves Saturday, Jan. 21. The ’Hogs return home at 5:05 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 22, to host the Milwaukee Admirals.
From the Jan. 18-24, 2012, issue