By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs have started to find their groove as the season rolls on. After coming up winless in their first four outings (going 0-3-0-1), the ’Hogs have rattled off four straight wins to right the ship before it sailed too far off course.
Rockford would find itself down early Thursday, Oct. 25, as the San Antonio Rampage scored just 53 seconds into the contest. Physically tough winger Andre Deveaux positioned himself in front of the net, where Quinton Howden found him from behind the net for a quick tap-in past Carter Hutton.
The Rampage continued to put pressure on Rockford throughout the first few minutes of the game with an aggressive forecheck and quick transition passing, but the ’Hogs withstood the attack and kept the Rampage from running up the score.
After San Antonio’s quick goal, the rest of the period showed many shots on goal by both teams, with Rockford amassing 17 shots to the Rampage’s 12, but only one goal remained on the board.
A few penalties were called in the first half of the middle period, but neither team was able to capitalize on the man advantage, and San Antonio remained one goal ahead of Rockford at the midway point of the game.
With the second period coming to a close, the aforementioned Howden was called for high-sticking, giving Rockford encouragement to try to end the second period with a goal.
It was Brandon Pirri who answered the call and put Rockford on the scoreboard for the first time. Jeremy Morin was taking the puck hard to the net, where a group of players from both teams was congregating. As Morin pulled the puck, and defense, over to the left side of the net, he put a quick, low show in on Rampage goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris, which was fended off the pad to the open ice on the right side. Pirri alertly raced into the open area, corralled the loose puck and flipped it toward the top corner of the net, just out of the reach of a stretched-out Grumet-Morris. The powerplay goal came with 41 seconds remaining in the period, sending both teams back to the locker room tied at 1-1.
Just before the teams skated off the ice at the end of the second, tempers started to rise and San Antonio’s Brian O’Hanley received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving Rockford the chance to add to their lead at the onset of the final frame.
San Antonio’s defense, behind the excellent work of Grumet-Morris, fought off the penalty to start the third, and also killed off the following two penalties, keeping the Rampage alive.
Just shy of the midway point of the third, one of the gatherings in the corner finally escalated to the point where Rob Flick and Jean-Francois Jacques dropped the gloves in Rockford’s first fight at home in the regular season.
Flick quickly stripped Jacques of his jersey as Jacques tried to inflict more pain on Flick. With the fight seemingly over, Wade Brookbank skated over to grab Jacques, signaling the end of the fight. However, the referee and linesmen must have seen this as joining the altercation as Brookbank was tossed for a third man in game misconduct. Jacques was also ejected from the game for not having his fight strap properly attached, which resulted in a game misconduct penalty.
After the dust had settled, both teams headed to overtime, where the Rampage looked to capitalize on a late Brett Lebda penalty from Rockford. However, the ’Hogs’ penalty kill prevailed for the fourth time of the night, and both teams prepared for the shootout.
Rockford’s first game of the season ended in a shootout, although it was one Hutton would like to forget as he let three of four shots sail by him. Forgetting the game was exactly what Hutton did as he was stellar in the shootout, stopping all four Rampage shooters. Martin St. Pierre and Marcus Kruger scored in rounds three and four to seal Rockford’s victory, giving them the valuable second point in the shootout.
Saturday night, Oct. 27, Rockford took their first trip of the year to Grand Rapids, Mich., to play the Griffins.
Similar to Thursday night, Hutton let in an early goal, this time 1:03 into the contest. To make matters worse, Grand Rapids would score a second goal at 2:57, a powerplay goal, putting Rockford behind the eight ball early.
Ben Smith stopped the bleeding for Rockford with his first tally of the season with 3:30 left in period one. Shawn Lalonde, who was taking the place for an injured Nick Leddy, was credited with the primary assist, along with Pirri.
Grand Rapids reclaimed the lead in the second, before Kruger pulled Rockford back to within one later in the second.
Rockford would then rattle off two more goals, giving the ’Hogs their first lead of the game at 4-3.
Once again, Grand Rapids answered, just 25 seconds after Kyle Beach put Rockford ahead.
On their fourth powerplay attempt of the evening, Rockford finally converted, courtesy of Andrew Shaw, who put Rockford back ahead just shy of the midway point of the third.
But Rockford gave the Griffins another chance, and Tomas Tatar would even the score once again, tallying the Griffins’ third powerplay goal of the night.
With the score tied at 5-5 after 60 minutes of hockey, the ’Hogs would once again find themselves heading into extra hockey.
Pirri would make sure this game wouldn’t go into a shootout and scored the deciding goal 58 seconds into the overtime period to give Rockford a 6-5 win. Pirri would finish the night as the first star of the game, recording one goal and two assists to go along with a +3 plus/minus rating.
The following night, Sunday, Oct. 28, Rockford would once again host San Antonio for the second time in three games.
This game would start out with Rockford scoring the early goal, as opposed to the previous two games. Smith tallied his second goal in as many games when Pirri set him up with a slick cross-ice feed. Smith went down to one knee and made sure the shot found the back of the net, putting Rockford up 1-0 1:42 into the contest.
Casey Wellman’s first goal of the year came at 15:11 of the same period to even the score for San Antonio. Despite Rockford outshooting the Rampage 11-3, the score was tied 1-1 after 20 minutes.
The ’Hogs continued to keep pressure with an aggressive forecheck in the second period. Their strategy worked perfectly around the 7-minute mark of the middle frame. While Rockford was forcing a play behind the San Antonio net, one of the Rampage defensemen fed the puck out toward the middle of the ice. St. Pierre was looming near the faceoff circle and slid across to intercept the errant puck. Grumet-Morris reached out in an attempt to free the puck from St Pierre’s stick, but St.Pierre pulled the puck back in, turned to his forehand side and lifted the puck into a mostly-empty net to put the ’Hogs back on top.
As the third period was getting underway, rookie defenseman Adam Clendening would notch the first goal of his young AHL career at 2:39. Clendening’s shot came from the right blue line and appeared to deflect off a Rampage player stationed in front of the net and slide past Grumet-Morris. The early goal put Rockford up 3-1 in a game the IceHogs had full control over.
But San Antonio would not go away quietly, firing off more shots in the period than in their first two periods while holding Rockford to only three. Hutton and his teammates were up to the task, and “Hutts” denied all 13 final-period shots to lead Rockford to a 3-1 win, earning him his third-straight victory.
Keys for the week
1. Keeping the streak going. For the last few seasons, Rockford has started off poorly, which led to the team having to fight back later in the season to jockey for a playoff position. Winning early will be a key to keeping the team in the hunt later in the season.
2. Not letting early goals against bring the team down. In two of the three games last week, Rockford gave up goals early only to fight back and win both of those games.
3. Faceoff draws. One glaring problem I noticed, mostly in the Thursday game against San Antonio, was Rockford losing a number of faceoff draws. I did not get a count of draws Rockford lost, but it wouldn’t surprise me if San Antonio won 65 percent of the draws that game, including many in their defensive zone. If Rockford wants to keep on the winning track, they will need to do what they did on Sunday and win more draws.
Rockford continues their homestand with two games at the BMO Harris Bank Center in week four. Friday, Nov. 2, marks the first time the division rival Chicago Wolves come to town. The following night, Saturday, Nov. 3, the Lake Erie Monsters stop by for their first matchup of the season. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. for both contests.
From the Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2012, issue