By Todd Reicher
Since the turn of the calendar to 2012, next to the Toronto Marlies, the Rockford IceHogs have been the hottest team in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Rockford, they were one of the worst teams in the first half of the season. If Rockford hadn’t been so bad in the first half, they wouldn’t be fighting for a playoff spot, they would already have a spot secured.
The ’Hogs had a key two-game series in Lake Erie against the Monsters this past weekend, a series in which Rockford needed to win at least one of the two games to stay in playoff contention. Before the weekend, Lake Erie was only a few points ahead of Rockford, meaning if Rockford was able to sweep the weekend, they would be ahead of Lake Erie in the standings, with a game in hand.
Friday’s game April 6 was a back-and-forth game through two periods with both goalies keeping their respective teams in the game. Carter Hutton stopped all 24 shots he faced in the first two periods, and Cedrick Desjardins fended off 26 Rockford shots.
Early in the final period, Ryan Stoa finally put one past Hutton to give Lake Erie the lead. The goal was scored right after the Monsters fought off a penalty and Stoa was fresh out of the box. The goaltender Desjardins shot a quick pass out that found Stoa on the move, and he beat Hutton.
Rockford’s captain, Brian Fahey, has been playing steady all season but has recently been finding the scoresheet as well. Fahey tallied his sixth goal of the season just shy of the 6-minute mark to tie the score up 1-1. Joe Lavin and Jeremy Morin were given assists on the goal.
However, the Monsters would tally another goal at the midway point of the period to take the lead for good. Rookie forward Brad Malone tallied his 10th marker of the season, putting the Monsters up 2-1.
No late heroics would save Rockford this week, and the Monsters took game one of the weekend series.
The following night, Rockford started the scoring jumping out to a 3-0 lead into the second period.
Morin started Rockford’s scoring, tallying his 17th goal of the season on Rockford’s second power-play opportunity of the night. The goal was set up by Brandon Pirri and Philip Danault, who notched the first professional point of his young career.
The IceHogs struck again at 11:07 of the second with a goal by defenseman Ryan Stanton. Pirri would get the secondary assist for his second point of the night, and Brandon Svendsen had the primary assist.
Peter LeBlanc tied Pirri with his team-leading 23rd goal of the season just a minute after the Stanton goal to put Rockford up 3-0. Veteran Wade Brookbank had the primary assist, and rookie Connor Goggin was the secondary assist.
Lake Erie’s special teams unit came up big, scoring a power-play goal with 2:03 left in the second period to cut into Rockford’s lead.
Going into the third period, the Monsters would get a whole lot more out of their special teams unit, who carried the Monsters to a come-from-behind victory.
With Lake Erie’s Malone in the box for a high-sticking minor, Rockford looked to strike a second power-play goal of the night. However, Justin Mercier received a pass from Barry Goes and scored a shorthanded goal, putting Lake Erie only one goal down.
Chicago Blackhawks first-round draft pick Mark McNeill would put Rockford in a hole close to the midpoint of the frame when he was tagged for a 5-minute major penalty for boarding. The penalty was the catalyst to other penalties for both teams, including a roughing penalty for Kyle Beach, a matching roughing penalty for former IceHogs skater Pete MacArthur, and a slashing penalty for Stoa. However, the damage had been done, and the 5-minute major penalty meant Lake Erie could score as many times as they could in 5 minutes and still have a five-on-four advantage.
The Monsters used the 5 minutes wisely, and Malone would notch his second goal in two games on that power play to score Lake Erie’s third unanswered goal, tying the game at 3-3.
Lake Erie would claim their first lead of the game, which they would not relinquish, when Dean Strong scored with 7 seconds left on the extended power play.
Rockford would never recover, and wound up dropping their second straight game, 4-3. The loss gave the ’Hogs an 0-4 record against the Monsters this season.
One thing to note was that Rockford was without the services of Rostislav Olesz, who remained out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury, which he suffered a week ago during a game against the Milwaukee Admirals.
Although Rockford has not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the team is 6 points out of a playoff spot with three games (6 possible points) remaining. Rockford would need the Milwaukee Admirals, Houston Aeros, Peoria Rivermen, Lake Erie, San Antonio and Rochester to lose their remaining games, and Rockford would have to win out to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Keys for the week:
1. Not keeping a lead — When leading after two periods this season, Rockford was a stout 23-3-0-2, but special teams let them down in a big game, giving the team only their fourth regulation loss when leading after 40 minutes.
2. Falling back in the standings — Two wins last weekend would have been a huge push in the standings to put the ’Hogs in series playoff contention. A single win would still have given Rockford a fighting chance, but losing both games in regulation has pretty much sunk the ship for the ’Hogs’ season.
Rockford’s final week of the regular season has three games, all at home, against familiar Midwest Division opponents. Tuesday, April 10, Rockford takes on the Charlotte Checkers (results not available at press time). Friday, April 13, the Milwaukee Admirals skate in for what could be a heated game since it is the first time these teams have met since their bench-clearing brawl two weeks prior. The IceHogs close out their season with the Checkers returning Saturday, April 14. All games start at 7:05 p.m.
From the April 11-17, 2012, issue