Hockey: Tales from the Trough: Offense finally clicks for IceHogs as team picks up first win

Rockford IceHogs winger Jimmy Hayes slips the puck past Charlotte Checkers goaltender Justin Peters for his first goal of the season while defensemen Brett Bellemore (34) and Bobby Sanguinetti (6) watch helplessly. Hayes would score again later in the third and earn First Star honors in Rockford’s 5-4 win Sunday, Oct. 21, against the Charlotte Checkers. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

After a poor start to the season in week one, Rockford finally grabbed a win at the end of week two.

The IceHogs’ second week started Friday, Oct. 19, with a matchup against the Peoria Rivermen.

An aggressive tone was set immediately with Brandon Bollig dropping the gloves with Anthony Peluso just 4 seconds after the puck hit the ice.

It seemed the momentum from the fight favored Rockford. Last season’s team goal leader, Peter LeBlanc, would net his first goal of the year only 1:57 into the contest to put Rockford on the board first.

LeBlanc would follow up his early goal with a fight of his own at 12:59 against Ian Cole.

Rockford wasted a golden opportunity early in the second period. Evgeny Grachev was tagged for a double-minor high-sticking penalty, outing Rockford on a 4-minute power play. Unfortunately, rookie defenseman Adam Clendening was called for an interference penalty 1:30 into the power-play opportunity, cutting down the ’Hogs’ advantage.

After Rockford fought off yet another penalty, Peoria finally answered Rockford’s early goal. T.J. Hensick netted his second of the season at 12:40 to even the score at 1-1.

Less than 4 minutes later, Peoria took the lead with a goal by Jaden Schwartz. Hensick received his second point of the night with the secondary assist on the goal.

The IceHogs tried to swing momentum back into their favor midway through the third with their third fight of the evening as Rob Flick found a dancing partner in Brett Ponich.

However, Dylan Olsen was caught elbowing just more than a minute later, giving Peoria a chance to increase their lead. Rockford once again killed the penalty, leaving Peoria 0-6 on the advantage for the night.

Grachev was once again tagged for a penalty, but Rockford was unable to capitalize, as the ’Hogs went 0-5 with an extra attacker.

With time winding down, Rockford pulled Carter Hutton, but could not get a second puck past Peoria’s Jake Allen, and Rockford lost a close one 2-1 in Peoria.

The following night, Saturday, Oct. 20, Rockford played their first home game of the season against the Charlotte Checkers, who, prior to this game, held a 4-0 record against the ’Hogs at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Ben Smith put the ’Hogs behind the eight ball early — 24 seconds in, to be exact — with an elbowing minor.

Rockford would get flagged for the next two penalties, Smith again at 7:40 and Philippe Paradis at 8:47, but Rockford’s strong penalty kill fought off both penalties. The kill gave Rockford a streak of 21-straight shorthanded opportunities where the team did not give up a goal.

Marcus Kruger put Rockford on the board first, tallying his second goal of the campaign.

Jeremy Morin looked to give Rockford a 2-0 lead. However, the goal was waived off as the officials deemed a Rockford player was inside the blue paint (goal area) when the goal was scored.

The IceHogs’ penalty kill streak was finally broken at the halfway point of the second frame, and 16 seconds into the power play, courtesy of Drayson Bowman.

Bowman would give Charlotte their first lead of the game at 3:18 of the final frame.

Shortly after the goal, Paradis was sent off for a 5-minute boarding major, giving Charlotte an opportunity to put away the game. Roughly 2:30 into the kill, Shawn Lalonde would commit a roughing penalty, giving Charlotte 2 full minutes of five-on-three play.

Rockford’s kill once again stood tall and fought off both penalties to keep the game close.

But Rockford was unable to tally another goal, even with a power play for the last 1:11 of the game, and Charlotte continued their dominance of Rockford at the BMO.

The following night, Sunday, Oct. 21, Rockford looked to earn their first win of the season, and their first win at home against Charlotte after an unsuccessful attempt the night before.

Both teams came out racing with a strong back-and-forth first period, but few shots to show for either team. In fact, with almost 10 minutes expired in the period, both teams showed only one shot on goal.

Rockford stepped up the pace, and by the end of the first period, was outshooting Charlotte 10-6. However, neither team managed to earn a goal, and the first period went by scoreless.

With just less than a minute expired in the middle frame, Rockford would light the lamp first. Martin St. Pierre notched his first goal of the season with a quick snapshot from directly in front of goaltender Justin Peters. Kruger and Ben Youds would get the assists on the goal.

Brandon Pirri would also obtain his first goal of the season 7 minutes later. Youds found Pirri at mid ice with a tape-to-tape pass, and Pirri rushed hard into the offensive zone. Pirri stopped quick and allowed the defense to rush by him, then flipped a quick wrist shot that caromed off the crossbar and into the back of the net.

As fast as Rockford took the lead, Charlotte tied it right back up. Chris Terry put his second puck of the season in the net past Alec Richards at 10:20, and Bowman tallied his third goal of the series at 11:30 on the power play.

After two periods, Rockford held a 28-17 shot advantage over the Checkers, but the mark that mattered, goal total, remained tied at 2-2.

A back-and-forth third period scoring frenzy started at 8:59 with Jimmy Hayes tallying his first goal of the season, and night, with a nice setup from LeBlanc.

The play started with St. Pierre holding the puck in the offensive zone and dishing over to LeBlanc on the left side. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 Hayes slid over to the right side of the net just 5 feet from the goalpost. LeBlanc fired a quick pass across the ice, where Hayes redirected the puck just past the stretched foot of Peters to put Rockford ahead.

Once again, the Checkers responded quickly and tied the score 1:46 later on their fourth power-play attempt of the night.

But Hayes would answer with a power-play goal of his own at 14:24 to reclaim a one-goal lead.

With time winding down, Rockford placed their checking line of Bollig, Andrew Shaw and Kruger on the ice to keep Charlotte’s offense in check. The move paid off for Rockford, as Bollig would net his first goal of the season off a nice setup feed from behind the net by Shaw.

Charlotte pulled Peters for the extra attacker, and managed to close the gap to within one goal. The late goal, with 4 seconds remaining in the game, was all Charlotte could muster, and Rockford exorcised the demons of the Charlotte streak and claimed their first win of the season as the ’Hogs skated away with a 5-4 victory.

Rockford has another three-game week coming up in week three with games Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The first game, Thursday, Oct. 25, takes place at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford against the San Antonio Rampage. Saturday, Oct. 27, has Rockford traveling to Grand Rapids to face the Griffins at 7 p.m., before returning home Sunday, Oct. 28, for a 5:05 p.m. rematch against the Rampage.

From the Oct. 24-30, 2012, issue

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