By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs have been piling up points again, going 2-0-0-1 this week, earning 5 points. Game one came Wednesday, Feb. 29, against the visiting Abbotsford Heat.
In a close game, it was Abbotsford coming out with a 3-2 shootout win.
Ben Smith put Rockford ahead first with a power-play goal at the 10-minute mark of the first period. Just 3 seconds into their first power play, Smith beat Heat netminder Danny Taylor on a redirected shot from Ben Youds for the first goal. Smith won the faceoff back to Youds, then headed right for the net. Youds shot almost immediately, and Smith changed the direction of the puck.
Abbotsford’s Ryan Howse pulled the Heat even with his second goal of the season at 14:39 while on the power play. The shot toward the goal hit IceHogs defenseman Brian Fahey’s stick, changing its course and finding the back of the net behind Carter Hutton.
The Heat’s lead was only good for 17 seconds, as Matt Fornataro scored his seventh goal of the season. Rockford won the faceoff, then Smith carried the puck over the line and put a pass over to Shawn Lalonde, who fired a shot on net. The shot was blocked away, and Fornatero was in the right place. He quickly wristed the puck toward the net past Taylor, and Rockford regained the lead 2-1.
Rockford’s lead would hold until the 7:23 mark when former IceHogs skater Akim Aliu beat Hutton on a breakaway attempt. Rockford was setting up shop in the offensive zone when Aliu tipped a defense-to-defense pass and knocked it into the neutral zone. Aliu showed his speed and broke past both defenders to get in alone on Hutton. Aliu’s shot was partially blocked by Hutton, but not enough, as it floated into the net for a goal.
The remainder of the game would go back and forth, including 5 minutes of overtime.
Ultimately, it was Ryan Howse scoring in the seventh round of the shootout to give Abbotsford the second point, and the win, 3-2.
Friday, March 2, Rockford headed to Milwaukee for the first of three-straight road games. The IceHogs led another come-from-behind charge to beat the Admirals 3-1. In a game where Milwaukee really outplayed the ’Hogs, it was Hutton who stole the game for Rockford, with some scoring help by Brandon Pirri.
Rockford put the first points on the board at 12:27 of the opening period. Smith was fighting hard in the corner for the puck, and won the battle. The puck was passed down the boards to Ryan Stanton, who immediately fired at the net. The puck hit the stick of Admirals defenseman Teemu Laakso, changing the flight path, and sailed behind Atte Engren for the 1-0 lead.
Milwaukee’s pressure at the front of the net created the first goal of the evening for the Ads early in the middle frame. Juuso Puustinen attempted a centering pass to Victor Bartley in front of Hutton. Bartley’s initial shot was blocked away by Hutton, but Bartley managed to grab his own rebound, and put it past Hutton.
Pirri gave Rockford the lead once again at the 3:55 point of the third frame. Fornataro intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and forwarded the puck ahead to Smith. Rockford’s speed in transistion created a two-on-one advantage for Rockford. Smith fed the puck to Pirri as the players switched zones, and Pirri fired the puck from the right face-off dot over the glove of Engren.
Jeremy Morin extended Rockford’s lead while Rockford had short time left on a five-on-three power play. Good puck movement between Pirri, Rostislav Olesz and Morin gave way to a quick wrist shot from Morin getting under the skate of Engren, giving Rockford the 3-1 lead.
Despite Milwaukee outshooting Rockford 45-27, Rockford would come out with a “goalie win,” with Hutton stopping 44 of 45, and Pirri recording 3 points on one goal and two assists.
Rockford had another come-from-behind third-period win in them again Saturday, March 3, in Peoria. Hutton once again shone, stopping 24 of 25 shots en route to a 2-1 Rockford win.
Adam Cracknell scored the first, and only, Peoria goal at 13:49 of the first period. The power-play goal put the Rivermen up 1-0 after the first period.
After a scoreless second, Rockford finally got on the board just shy of the 3-minute mark of the third period. Peter LeBlanc redirected a Stanton shot from the point past Jake Allen, tying the game at 1-1.
With time winding down in the third, Youds would tally his fourth goal of the season on a snapshot from just outside the right faceoff circle. Chris DiDomenico moved the puck from down low to Stanton, who fed the pass cross ice to his defensive partner Youds. As he skated toward the boards, Youds quickly moved left as he faked out his defender. Youds moved toward the net, firing his shot past Allen for the game-winning goal, putting Rockford up for good 2-1 at 17:45 of the third period.
Keys for the week:
1. Hutton and the defense playing solid — Rockford needs to keep on winning to keep their post season hopes alive. Hutton, along with the defense, helped keep Rockford in the hunt, allowing only four goals in three games this week. Hutton’s recent play has improved his stats dramatically, as Hutton now shows a 2.50 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, along with a 15-8-2-3 record, including two shutouts.
2. Fighting back when down — I’ve said this previously, but it is worth repeating. Rockford has been excellent in coming from behind since January, which has been a key to their rise in points.
Rockford only has two games this week, both against the Milwaukee Admirals. Saturday’s (March 10) game takes place at the Bradley Center with a 7 p.m. start time, and Sunday’s (March 11) game is a 5 p.m. start at the BMO Harris Bank Center. With Rockford only a few points behind Milwaukee in the division standings, two regulation wins could make the difference in putting Rockford over Milwaukee in the standings in the next few weeks. These two teams will face off a total of five more times this season, including these two games.
From the March 7-13, 2012, issue