By Todd Reicher
Although Rockford had their four-game home winning streak snapped Wednesday, Feb. 8, by the Lake Erie Monsters, Rockford has made some strides in getting back into the playoff picture. After Wednesday’s loss, Rockford came back and split a two-game weekend series with the Chicago Wolves. Even though Rockford is still in last place in the division, they are only 6 points behind third-place Peoria and 4 behind Milwaukee.
The week did not start out well for Rockford, as the visiting Lake Erie Monsters headed into town and took a 4-3 victory over the ’Hogs.
Rockford controlled most of the first period and had quite a few good scoring chances, but Lake Erie’s Gerald Coleman stopped all 17 first-period shots, and the game remained tied after 20 minutes. The ’Hogs had a few defensive breakdowns in the first period, but none proved costly as Carter Hutton stopped the seven Monsters shots on goal.
The second period was a different story, and a few Rockford turnovers and penalties turned into goals by the Monsters. Lake Erie tallied the first goal of the game 91 seconds into the second period on a goal by Mark Olver.
Rockford came back later in the second and cashed in on their second power-play opportunity of the evening.
A great feed by Peter LeBlanc set up Ben Smith for a one-timer from the back door, giving “Smitty” his 13th of the season, and bringing Rockford to within one goal.
Some ex-IceHogs players would come back to haunt Rockford as Evan Brophey and Danny Richmond factored into the next two Monsters goals to give Lake Erie a commanding 4-1 lead halfway through the final 20 minutes.
Rockford still had some fight left in them and made a game of it. Dylan Olsen, who was called up by the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday, Feb. 9, tallied his fourth marker of the season at 18:13 with Jimmy Hayes and LeBlanc on the assist.
A late hooking penalty on Lake Erie put Rockford on the power play, and with time winding down, Hayes tallied his sixth of the season to close the gap to 1.
With 18 seconds remaining, Rockford was unable to get the equalizer, and the Monsters skated away 4-3 winners.
Friday’s game was a hard-fought game by both the Chicago Wolves and the ’Hogs, which saw Rockford coming out ahead 2-1.
Alexander Salak made his return to the ice after sitting out two months with a lower body injury, and stopped 27 of 28 shots for his fourth win of the season.
Special teams for both clubs were busy, with all three goals scored coming on the power play.
Rockford tallied the first of their two goals early in the first to take control of the game. It was Smith once again on the power play getting the feed from LeBlanc that put Rockford ahead 1-0 at the 3:19 mark of the first period.
Around the midway point of the first period, Chicago would answer with a power-play goal of their own. Nolan Baumgartner, who was flagged for a goaltender interference penalty earlier in the period, was close to getting a second one called, but instead was awarded with a goal. One of the golden rules in hockey is to play hard until you hear the whistle, and that was exactly what led to the Chicago goal. The puck was lying in the Rockford goal crease sitting at the lower end of Salak’s left pad. A small gathering of players formed in front of the net, which sent Salak reeling to his back. As he slid backward into the net, the trapped puck came with him across the goal line, and Chicago was awarded a goal.
An early second-period goal put Rockford ahead. Defenseman Brian Fahey tallied his third marker of the year in what would be the game-winning goal.
Tempers flared late in the second period when Brandon Bollig took the puck hard to the net. From my view from the corner of the ice, it appeared Bollig was pushed into the net by a Chicago player as he was taking the puck in, and he crashed into Eddie Lack, taking the goal cage with him to the backboards. Both teams gathered around the net, and Antoine Roussel decided to tangle with Rob Flick. After roughly 60 seconds, it was Flick who seemed to hold the advantage, and both players were escorted to the “sin bin” for 5-minute fighting majors.
Rockford would fight off the Bollig charging penalty, and two more penalties in the second and third periods, and Rockford held on for a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Chicago came back the following night to finish off the double-header. Tempers flared up from the previous night’s interactions, and it only took 3:22 for our first fight of the night, a scrap between Bollig and Matt Clackson.
After the dust settled, it was Rockford lighting the lamp on their first power play of the game. Ben Youds blasted a shot from the point, which Matt Climie fought off, but Rostislav Olesz corralled the rebound and flipped it in for his 11th marker of the season.
The Wolves came back with a goal of their own at 14:32 of the first period, followed by another quick tally at 16:04 to take the lead.
Hayes tied the game for Rockford 62 seconds into the second period.
Shawn Lalonde blasted a shot from the point, which Hayes got a piece of, and the redirected puck trickled to the back of the net. LeBlanc was credited with the secondary assist, notching his second point of the night.
From then on, it was all Chicago, as the Wolves tallied three unanswered second-period goals, including two goals coming 10 seconds apart.
The final of the three goals, coming 2:24 after the previous two, signaled the end of Hutton, as Salak came on in relief. In all fairness, the pulling of Hutton was not entirely his fault, as the defense let him down on three of the five goals allowed.
Salak stopped all 15 shots he faced, but Rockford was unable to give him any support, and did not tally any additional goals, despite launching 18 shots on Climie in the third period alone.
Chicago would tack on an empty-net, short-handed goal late in the third to seal the Wolves’ 6-2 trouncing of Rockford.
Keys for the week:
1. Defensive breakdowns and defensive zone turnovers — In two games this week, sloppy play in their defensive zone cost Rockford at least four goals, with two coming in the Lake Erie game and two in the second Wolves game. Even though Rockford has lost Brian Connelly and Dylan Olsen, who was called up to Chicago, the defensemen are not the only players on the ice responsible for defensive duties.
2. Falling behind in the second period — In two games this week, Rockford struggled in the second period, allowing their opponents to take a big lead into the third period. Although Rockford has played well since January in coming from behind, you can’t expect your team to have to fight back every game.
3. Sticking up for your teammates — On at least four occasions Friday, Feb. 10, Chicago players took a run at the Rockford goaltender. The trend continued Saturday, Feb. 11, but Rockford players were standing up for their netminder and physically challenged the Wolves when they were too aggressive. It won’t always put points on the board, but you need to let the other team know you aren’t going to stand for it, and Rockford finally let Chicago know enough was enough.
Rockford looks to get back on track with a home game against the Peoria Rivermen Wednesday, Feb. 15. The team then travels to Canada for a Friday, Feb. 17, matchup against the Toronto Marlies and a Saturday game in Ontario versus the Hamilton Bulldogs. Both road games take place at 6 p.m.
From the Feb. 15-21, 2012, issue