Hockey: Tales from the Trough: IceHogs stumble down South, but finish week on high note

IceHogs forward Peter LeBlanc found his scoring touch again, earning three goals in three road games. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The Rockford IceHogs lost the first two games of their swing down South, but managed a big shutout win during their final game of the week. Rockford was still without leading scorer Brandon Pirri.

Rockford traveled down to Oklahoma City to take on the Western Conference-leading Barons. The Barons have a commanding 8-point lead in the Western Conference over their closest team, the Toronto Marlies, who sit at 79 points.

Oklahoma City took the first three goals of the game going up 3-0 early in the second period, forcing Rockford to fight from behind. After the Barons’ third goal, Carter Hutton would be sent to the bench in favor of Alexander Salak, who has seen limited ice time because of Hutton’s exceptional play.

Peter LeBlanc finally tallied a marker for Rockford, at almost exactly the midpoint of the game, 9:59 into the second period, which was on the power play. Rostislav Olesz and Matt Fornataro were credited with assists on the goal.

Olesz pulled Rockford to within one with just under 5 minutes left in the third period with his 12th goal of the season. This time, it was LeBlanc with the assist.

Rockford’s potential comeback was halted just 15 seconds later with a Barons goal by defenseman Taylor Chorney, who finished the game an impressive plus-4, including two goals.

Down 4-2, Rockford pulled Salak for the extra attacker, but it was Hunter Tremblay who tallied an empty-net goal with 2 seconds remaining in the game to give the Barons a 5-2 win.

Friday, March 16, it was down to Houston for a game against the Aeros, a team Rockford will face two more times this season. According to IceHogs announcer Mike Peck, the ice down in Houston was on the warm side, meaning the puck, and the players, would move slower.

In addition, Rockford was without starting goaltender Hutton, meaning Salak would get the start. Fortunately for Rockford, it wasn’t an injury keeping Hutton out — it was a call-up to the Chicago Blackhawks, Hutton’s first in the Blackhawks organization, as Chicago goaltender Ray Emery was out ill.

Once again, Rockford fell behind early with goals from Justin Fontaine and former IceHogs skater Jeff Taffe.

LeBlanc brought Rockford to within one on the team’s first power-play attempt of the evening.

Toward the end of the period, Salak was tagged for a hooking penalty, and Houston capitalized only 7 seconds into the power play, putting Houston up 3-1 at the end of 20 minutes.

Fontaine tallied his second goal of the game, the only goal in the second period, giving the Aeros a commanding 4-1 lead going into the final frame.

Rockford still had some fight left in them, and Rob Flick tallied two goals in 23 seconds to quickly close the gap to 4-3.

With more than 3 minutes left in the game, Rockford was unable to get the tying goal, and Houston escaped with a 4-3 victory.

After two road losses, Rockford headed to San Antonio for their final road game against the Rampage this season.

Hutton returned to action with the IceHogs, and the team was glad to have him back. Hutton stopped all 26 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season. On the opposite end of the ice, San Antonio’s Dov Grumet-Morris played very well, stopping 38 of the 40 shots the IceHogs fired.

Jeremy Morin made a great defensive play to get Rockford the first goal of the game. While on the penalty kill, Morin stepped in the passing lane between defensemen and snatched the puck at the defensive blueline. Morin raced one-on-one toward the Rampage net and beat Grumet-Morris for Rockford’s third shorthanded goal of the season.

Later in the period, Morin was involved in a roughing penalty with former IceHogs skater and teammate Bracken Kearns, and was handed a 10-minute misconduct for continuing an altercation, which started between Kearns and Chris DiDomenico.

A few fights would be the only second-period highlights with Wade Brookbank tangling with Eric Selleck and Flick lining up against Justin Vaive only 41 seconds apart.

Fornataro would score a huge goal at the 13:00 mark of the third period to give Rockford a 2-0 lead. Brandon Svendsen and Brian Fahey would get the assists on the goal.

San Antonio sent Grumet-Morris to the bench for the extra attacker with time running out in regulation, but LeBlanc found the empty net with just more than a minute left in the game, sealing Rockford’s win 3-0.

Keys for the week:

1. Scoring first — The difference between falling behind early and scoring first was evident this week as Rockford was 0-2 when their opponent scored first, and 1-0 when the ’Hogs scored first. It wasn’t just allowing the first goal, but allowing multiple goals before Rockford was able to tally a goal, which hurt Rockford’s change in their first two road games last week.

2. Finishing on a high note — Finishing the road trip on a high note helps turn a disappointing road trip into a positive. At this stage of the season, it is very tough losing one game, let alone two straight, but Rockford showed their urge to win and fight for a playoff spot with their outstanding game against San Antonio.

Looking forward:

Rockford returns home this week with three straight home games. The first game is Tuesday, March 20, against the Hamilton Bulldogs (game results unavailable at press time). Friday and Saturday, March 23-24, Rockford hosts a double-header against the Houston Aeros with both games starting at 7:05 p.m. With 12 games remaining in the regular season, Rockford will need to win at least eight of the 12 games if they hope to make the postseason. Of the remaining games, 11 are against teams fighting for a playoff spot. Fortunately for Rockford, eight of the 12 games will take place on home ice, while the other four will take place in Lake Erie and Milwaukee.

From the March 21-27, 2012, issue

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