By Todd Reicher
With a winter storm warning blanketing the area, and the Chicago Wolves’ bus delayed on Interstate 90 en route to the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, Friday’s 7:05 p.m. game was delayed until 8 p.m. Once the game started, the IceHogs wasted no time getting on the board.
Eighty seconds into the opening period, Rob Flick netted his second goal of the season. Brian Connelly passed the puck from the defensive zone to Brandon Bollig, who found Flick at the center line. Flick charged right into the offensive zone, bounced off a Chicago defender, and deked right, then flipped a backhand shot over Matt Climie for the quick 1-0 lead.
Brandon Pirri added to the lead at the 12:41 mark. Carter Hutton sent the puck over to Jeremy Morin on the near boards of the defensive zone. Morin, with speed, raced to center ice with Pirri to his left, and caught the Wolves in a change. Pirri switched to the right wing side in a 2-1 with Morin and fired a shot at the net, which Climie blocked away. The rebound hopped right back to Pirri, and his persistence paid off as he fired another shot, this time beating Climie, putting the ’Hogs up 2-0.
Chicago managed to get two goals back in the second period on goals by Jordan Schroeder and Darren Haydar less than 2 minutes apart to tie the score 2-2. Both Chicago goals were close, as both shots hit a goalpost on their way behind Hutton.
Persistence paid off for Rockford once again, this time by the stick of Rostislav Olesz. Brian Fahey initially took possession of the puck deep in the Rockford zone, and fed it over to Chris DiDomenico, who found Olesz skating backward at center ice. Olesz took the puck to the far wing, then made a backhand-to-forehand move with the puck right to the front of the goal. Olesz’s first and second shots were blocked off as his momentum carried him to the other side of the net. The second shot bounced right back to his feet, and he finally got his third shot past Climie, putting Rockford up once again.
The remainder of the game, almost 30 minutes of game-time would go by without another goal, and Rockford would shoot down the Wolves 3-2.
Less than 24 hours later, Rockford would face the Wolves again, this time at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, for the second game of the home-and-home series.
Chicago would play a more aggressive game, almost doubling Rockford in shots, 39-20, and in power-play opportunities, four to two, but it was Rockford that would come out on top, 3-2.
Once again, Rockford scored early on a strike from Olesz. Morin found Olesz at center ice, who took the puck hard to the net, and made a nice move to fake out goaltender Eddie Lack. Olesz quickly wrapped around the back of the net to the open side and shoveled in his ninth goal of the season.
Defenseman Kevin Connauton tied the score later in the first period for Chicago with his 10th goal of the season with a blast from a face-off win.
Just past the midway point of the second, Chicago took their first lead in both games. Tim Miller tallied his 11th of the season on a miscue from Hutton, as he missed an attempt to poke-check the puck away from his crease. Miller was there to capitalize on the error and stick the loose puck in the back of the net, putting Chicago up 2-1 at the end of two.
At the end of the year 2011, Rockford had yet to win a game when trailing after two periods. In 2012, Rockford has already beaten that mark by coming back twice when behind after two. Make it three times.
A face-off win by Pirri was the catalyst to tying the score for Rockford. The face-off win was drawn back to Shawn Lalonde, who fed the puck to Connelly at the point. With traffic in front of the net, Connelly blasted a shot that beat a screened Lack, knotting the game at 2-2.
One second after the halfway point, Byron Froese scored after he forced a turnover inside the offensive zone and sniped a shot past Lack, putting Rockford up for good, 3-2.
The Wolves turned up the heat late and blasted shot after shot at Hutton, but the ’Hogs’ defense, and Hutton, stood tall, and Rockford took their third win in a row. Hutton took home first star honors after stopping 37 of 39 Chicago shots, earning him — and his team — their third straight victory.
For their third game in three days, Rockford hosted the Milwaukee Admirals Sunday, Jan. 22. Also in attendance were former Rockford IceHogs and current Chicago Blackhawks players Nick Leddy and Brian Bickell, along with Assistant Coach Mike Haviland. Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” was soloist Jim Cornelison, who sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every Chicago Blackhawks home game.
Milwaukee’s Aaron Marvin scored the first goal of the evening off a redirect from a shot by Jonathon Blum at 5:49 of the opening period. The goal would be the only one for the Admirals as Hutton and the Rockford special teams and defense once again stole the game.
Pirri evened the score at 1-1 midway through the first on Rockford’s first power-play opportunity of the night. Some nice passing between Olesz and Connelly set up Pirri for the one-timer on the right wing, beating Ads goaltender Jeremy Smith top shelf glove side.
The power play came through again for Rockford on their third attempt of the night at 8:17 of the second period, with Pirri picking the top shelf once again on Smith. This time, it was Connelly passing to Olesz before Pirri buried the one-timer from almost the same location as earlier.
Hutton was stellar once again, stopping 33 of 34 Admirals shots in his fourth-straight win, giving Rockford their longest winning streak of the season.
Rockford’s defensive special teams continued to shine, holding Milwaukee scoreless on three power-play chances, extending their penalty kill streak to 27 shorthanded attempts without a goal. The offensive special teams showed some spark, going two-for-five on the evening, accounting for both Rockford goals.
Keys of the week:
1. Longest winning streak of the season — Mentally, this could be a big boost for the IceHogs. Beating two division rivals in one week, including two against the Chicago Wolves, could help the team gain back some confidence.
2. Defense picking up — After a slow first half of the season, Rockford’s defense has stepped up, keeping the ’Hogs in more games. In addition, Hutton has been playing lights out, going 4-0 in his last four starts.
The IceHogs put their four-game winning streak on the line as they travel to North Carolina for the final time in the regular season for two straight games against the Charlotte Checkers. Both games, Thursday, Jan. 26, and Friday, Jan. 27, start at 6 p.m. The following day, Rockford comes right back home to host the Milwaukee Admirals at the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday, Jan. 28, with a 7:05 p.m. start time.
From the Jan. 25-31, 2012, issue