Hockey: Tales from the Trough: IceHogs end season with two shootouts

Rockford IceHogs forward Peter LeBlanc scored his team-leading 24th goal of the season Saturday, April 14, against the Charlotte Checkers. Friday, April 13, LeBlanc was rewarded for his outstanding play this season as the Chicago Blackhawks signed him to a one-year contract for the 2012-2013 season. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

With Rockford out of the playoff picture, the IceHogs still had an opportunity to play spoiler for two of their opponents: the Milwaukee Admirals and the Charlotte Checkers.

Rockford faced off against the Admirals Friday, April 13, for the first time since their bench-clearing brawl back on Sunday, April 1, a game Rockford won in a shootout 2-1.

Both Rob Flick and Michael Latta, who were suspended for three games for their roles in the fracas, returned to the ice for the first time since the brawl. Most people assumed tempers would carry over from the previous game, but these two culprits played integral parts in Friday’s game. And it wasn’t just the fight between the two, it was also the goals that Flick and Latta contributed.

Although Rockford controlled the pace for most of the first two periods, Milwaukee was the only team to put points on the board. Latta scored on a redirected shot with 1:56 remaining in the second period to put the Ads up 1-0 after two periods.

Flick matched Latta’s goal with a marker of his own at 4:30 of the third period to knot the score at 1-1. The goal was the third shot in a series started by a Brandon Pirri breakaway. As Pirri raced into the zone alone, Ads netminder Jeremy Smith fought off the shot and blocked it to the right side of the net. Phillip Danault raced in quickly and put a shot on net as Smith was sprawling in the crease after stopping the Pirri shot. Smith somehow fought off Danault’s effort, but the puck came out to Flick on the left side of the net. With Smith still down and out, Flick lifted the puck up and into the back of the net.

Shortly after Flick’s goal, he and Latta squared off at center ice with both players getting in their licks before being sent off to ovations from the fans.

After 65 minutes of hockey, the teams would go into extra hockey for the third-straight game in the form of a shootout.

Milwaukee’s Kyle Wilson scored in the first round against Alexander Salak to put Milwaukee up 1-0 after the first round. Pirri was Rockford’s second shooter, but failed to beat Smith. Latta couldn’t get one past Salak in the second round, as Salak fought off the next three Admirals shooters.

Matt Fornataro scored in the fourth round and Peter LeBlanc in the fifth as Rockford took yet another shootout victory from Milwaukee for their 10th win of the season against their division rivals. Rockford’s only losses to the Admirals came Dec. 11 in a 5-4 shootout loss and a 7-3 defeat Dec. 26.

The Charlotte Checkers returned to the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford Saturday, April 14, after beating Rockford there earlier in the week 3-0.

Kent Simpson would get his first professional start in goal for the IceHogs, and Justin Peters would try to hold Rockford scoreless again. The 20-year-old Simpson was signed to a PTO (professional try-out) contract March 31. The 2010 second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks recently finished his fourth full season with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and ended the 2011-12 season with a 3.33 GAA and a .909 save percentage in 60 games played.

Peters’ shutout streak would end quickly as Peter LeBlanc scored 6:26 into the contest to put Rockford ahead. A Brandon Svendsen shot on net yielded a rebound that LeBlanc flipped into the net for his team-leading 24th goal of the season, eclipsing Pirri who was tied with LeBlanc at 23.

Charlotte’s Nicolas Blanchard scored on a quick wrap-around goal at 12:54 of the first to even things up at 1-1.

A late Checkers penalty carried over into the second period for Rockford, and Jeremy Morin capitalized on the power play with his 18th marker of the season at 1:01 of the second.

Charlotte’s top five-ranked power play responded at 8:41 as Zach Boychuk tied the game once again with a power-play goal. The redirected shot was Boychuk’s 21st goal of the season.

The Checkers took their first lead of the game with slightly more than 7 minutes remaining in the game. Evgenii Dadonov blasted a shot from the left faceoff circle to put Charlotte up 3-2.

Shy of 4 minutes remaining in regulation, Justin Krueger was sent off for a delay of game penalty, giving Rockford an opportunity for a late comeback. With 2:30 left in the game, and Rockford still on the power play, Simpson was sent to the bench for the extra attacker and a six-on-four advantage.

Charlotte fought off the extra skater, but Simpson remained on the bench for Rockford. With under a minute remaining, Flick took a shot at net that Peters blocked off. The rebound came out to Svendsen, who put the puck past Peters with 43 seconds left in regulation.

For the 19th time this season and the second night in a row, Rockford was headed to extra hockey. Another scoreless overtime session sent the game to a shootout.

Both netminders stopped their first-round shooters, but failed to stop their second-round opponents. After being tied 1-1 after two shootout rounds, Charlotte would score on their next two rounds while holding Rockford scoreless to win the shootout 3-1, taking the extra point in a 4-3 victory.

Key for the week:

Fighting despite out of the playoffs — Even though Rockford was out of the playoffs for the second straight season, the team played to the end, almost spoiling playoff chances for both Milwaukee and Charlotte.

Looking forward:

With Rockford out of the playoffs, that will end coverage of the game recaps for the season. In the coming weeks, I will have a full season recap and thoughts about next season.

From the April 18-24, 2012, issue

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