Hockey: Tales from the Trough: IceHogs win three straight, jump back above .500

Rockford IceHogs goaltender Alec Richards makes one of his 16 saves against the Peoria Rivermen Wednesday, Nov. 21. Richards came in for relief of Carter Hutton after the first period, and started both games in Lake Erie, where he stopped 66 of 71 shots, winning both contests. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

After a short losing streak in parts of weeks five and six, Rockford came back in week seven to win three straight.

Rockford’s first game in week seven took place Wednesday, Nov. 21, at home against the Peoria Rivermen. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Rockford was 0-2 this season against Peoria, falling by one goal in both games. Wednesday’s game would also turn into another one-goal affair, although this time it was Rockford scoring the win.

Fifty-six seconds into the contest, Adam Clendening tallied his third goal of the season to put Rockford up early. Clendening received the puck from Ben Smith and blasted a shot from the close blue line. The shot hit Peoria goaltender Jake Allen square in the glove, but the puck found its way out and into the back of the net for the score.

While Rockford was shorthanded for the second time in the game, Brandon Saad made a great defensive play and broke away for a shorthanded goal to put Rockford up 2-0. Saad was playing close to the blue line and reached out to break up a crossing pass by Peoria. Saad quickly gathered the puck and raced in on Allen. As Saad approached the net, he pulled the puck right, and then back to his left at the last minute. Allen committed to the puck on the right, and left Saad an open net on the left side for the goal.

However, Peoria would rattle off three unanswered goals in a span of 6 minutes to give them a 3-2 lead heading into the second period. Phil McRae scored first for Peoria at 13:17, followed by Ian Cole at 15:04 and Jaden Schwartz in the waning minute with 45 seconds left in the first. Cody Beach, brother of Rockford’s Kyle Beach, assisted on the second and third goals for Peoria.

Starting goaltender Carter Hutton was pulled for Rockford after giving up three goals on nine shots in the first, and Alec Richards came in to try to help spark a rally.

It took some time, but Rockford answered Peoria’s three-goal frenzy with two of their own starting a 17:32 into the middle frame. Jimmy Hayes put a quick shot on goal, which hit Allen on his shoulder and fell to the feet of Martin St. Pierre, who was stationed in front of the net. St. Pierre quickly found the puck and shoved it in the net before Allen could locate it, tying the score at 3-3.

Seconds after the goal, we had our first fight of the evening with Brandon Bollig squaring off against Rivermen captain Scott Ford. After Bollig pulled Ford’s jersey over his head, the linesmen stepped up to break up the fight as the fans cheered for Bollig.

Ten seconds down after the fight, and Peoria was in the box for a slashing call, putting Rockford on their third power-play of the game. It only took Rockford 12 seconds to net the go-ahead goal, courtesy of Jeremy Morin. A shot by Clendening was blocked away by Allen and came out to Morin on the right side of the net, who quickly put it past Allen.

Morin would strike again shy of the midway point in the third to give Rockford a two-goal lead. With 25 seconds left on their fifth power play, Marcus Kruger held the puck behind the net as Morin streaked in from the left wing. Kruger made a perfect pass out front to Morin, who sniped it past Allen for Rockford’s second power-play tally of the evening.

With time winding down, Peoria pulled Allen for an extra attacker, and finally managed to get a puck past Richards with 15 seconds left in the game. The IceHogs held Peoria off the board for the remaining 15 seconds, holding on to a 5-4 win.

Rockford would head to Cleveland for a two-game weekend series against the Lake Erie Monsters. The IceHogs were swept by the Monsters in the four games they played last season, and this season Rockford beat Lake Erie 6-3, rattling off four third-period goals for the win.

In their last meeting, both teams were involved in a heated series at the end of the second period, which led to suspensions for Andrew Shaw, Dylan Olsen and Bollig. At the end of the scrum, Bollig taunted Monsters forward Patrick Bordeleau, letting him know he was keeping an eye on him.

It only took 3 seconds before the two would get to settle the score with one another, and Bordeleau would handle Bollig, landing three shots before wrangling Bollig to the ground.

The fight may have riled up the crowd of 9,480 fans and the rest of the Monsters, but Rockford would take the wind out of their sails 64 seconds after the fisticuffs. Lake Erie’s Mitchell Heard received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty 30 seconds after the fight, putting Rockford on an early power play. Thirty-four seconds later, Nick Leddy blasted a shot from the left blue line that sailed past the glove of Monsters netminder Sami Aittokallio for the early 1-0 lead.

Both teams played back and forth for the remainder of the first period and into the second period before another goal was scored. After being denied on his previous rush up ice, Beach netted his sixth goal of the season. On his second time up ice, Beach got in behind the defense and moved from left to right in front of the Lake Erie net. Aittokallio came out to challenge Beach, who pulled the puck back away from the net and skated past the crease to the right side of the net and slipped it home to increase Rockford’s lead to 2-0.

Lake Erie finally got on the board just after the midway point of the second with a power-play goal by Luke Walker. Nice puck movement by Lake Erie spread out the defense, and a quick backdoor pass to Walker was shelved up high, beating Richards to pull Lake Erie to within one.

An early third-period power-play goal tied the score at 2-2. More solid passing by Lake Erie led to Tyson Barrie’s fifth goal of the season, knotting the score with a majority of the final frame remaining.

But Rockford’s Saad would score his second goal in as many games with a nice snipe shot from the left side, putting Rockford back up by one. Clendening found Saad on the left wing, and he used his speed to get past the Lake Erie defense. As Saad was halfway into the offensive zone, he fired a shot past the glove of Aittokallio on the top shelf to put Rockford ahead.

An empty-net goal by Shaw with 10 seconds left in the game sealed the win for Rockford, 4-2.

The following night, both teams met once again for the second game of their weekend series. Richards would get the start again for Rockford, and carried the team on his back, especially during the second period, where Lake Erie fired off an astonishing 24 shots on net.

For the third game in a row, Rockford would strike first. Rob Flick would net his first goal of the season 5:06 into the contest. Flick fought for the puck behind the Lake Erie net and came away with and carried it around the back to the opposite side of the net for a wrap-around attempt. The attempt was fought off by Monsters goaltender Calvin Pickard, and kicked out to the left side of net. Flick gathered in his own rebound and fired it up high, where it sailed past traffic in front of the net, and past Pickard for the 1-0 lead.

Brad Malone pulled Lake Erie to a tie early in the second, but Rockford responded quickly with Shaw tallying a marker just more than 3 minutes later to reclaim the lead.

Despite being outshot 30-25 after two periods, Rockford, with the help of stellar goaltending from Richards, would head into the third period with a 2-1 lead.

Smith would add to the ’Hogs lead with his sixth goal of the season at 13:01 of the third period. After getting the puck behind the net from Hayes, Smith skated toward the left corner of the net to draw Pickard in. Pickard bit, and Smith skated past him to the other side of the net and lifted the puck up and in, giving Rockford a 3-1 lead.

Undisciplined play would hurt Rockford late in the third, and Lake Erie would capitalize, scoring two power-play goals in fewer than 4 minutes to knot the game at 3-3. Mike Sgarbossa scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season to send the game into overtime.

Neither team registered a goal in overtime, even though Rockford had some good chances and 2 minutes of power-play time, and the contest would go to a shootout.

Saad, who scored on a breakaway goal the previous night, was the first shooter in the shootout. Similar to the previous night, Saad made a great right-to-left move and buried the shot for a 1-0 shootout lead.

Sgarbossa, who was 3-for-4 on the season in the shootout, would be denied by Richards, putting Rockford up 1-0 after the first round. Neither team would score in the next two rounds of the shootout, which consisted of shooters Brandon Pirri and St. Pierre for Rockford and Bryan Lerg and Mark Olver for the Monsters. Lerg and Olver were a combined 6-for-7 in the shootout this season, and Richards stopped both of them to hang on to a 1-0 lead after three rounds.

Barrie finally scored for the Monsters in the fourth round to even things up at 1-1.

Defenseman Nick Leddy scored in the fifth, as did Bill Thomas for Lake Erie, to send it into the sixth round. Morin scored on his attempt, which left Malone to continue the shootout to the seventh round. Malone, who was 1-for-1 on the year, was stopped trying to go low on Richards, and Rockford would sneak away with a 4-3 shootout win, their third win in a row.

Keys for the week

1. Scoring first — Throughout most of this season, Rockford was falling behind early, leaving the team to fight back. In all three games this week, Rockford tallied first, giving them an obvious advantage.

2. Winning one-goal games — Previous to this week, Rockford was 4-4-0-1 in one-goal games. Two of Rockford’s three wins this week were one-goal games, and the one two-goal game had an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left, or Rockford would have won three one-goal games.

Looking forward

In week eight, Rockford plays four games, with each being a back-to-back affair. The first game of the week will take place Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m. (results not available at press time) against the Texas Stars for Rockford’s only home game of the week. The following night, Wednesday, Nov. 28, Rockford travels to the Allstate Arena for an important divisional matchup against the Chicago Wolves. The ’Hogs then head down to Charlotte, N.C., for a two-game series against the Charlotte Checkers. Rockford split their home-opening series against the Checkers and look to go 3-1-0-0 on the season against the South Division leaders.

From the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2012, issue

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