Tales from the Trough: IceHogs slip from first place

Rockford IceHogs forward Rob Flick celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game in Rockford’s 5-3 win against the Milwaukee Admirals Friday, Dec. 7. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The week started out promising for the Rockford IceHogs with a big come-from-behind win against the Milwaukee Admirals Friday, Dec. 7. After falling behind 3-1 in the second period, Rockford tallied four third-period goals to strengthen their standing in the division against one of the division rivals.

However, as the weekend rolled on, Rockford would lose two straight games to close divisional opponents and fall out of their first-place lead.

Friday, Dec. 7, after giving up three goals in the second period, Rockford stormed back with four goals in the final frame to steal one back from the Ads.

Ben Smith got the third-period scoring off with a redirected shot from a Nick Leddy blast from the blue line to cut the lead to 3-2. The powerplay goal was Rockford’s first goal of the evening on the man advantage.

Smith struck again on the power play 6 minutes later to draw the ’Hogs even, and it was Leddy and Adam Clendening with the assists once again. The goal put Smith in the double digits with his team-leading 10th of the season.

Thirty-nine seconds later, Brandon Pirri gave Rockford the lead for the first time since midway through the second frame when Milwaukee tied it up at 1-1. Andrew Shaw pulled the puck into the offensive zone on a rush with Martin St. Pierre and Pirri in tow. Shaw dished over to St. Pierre, who was rushing through center ice. St. Pierre then dished it to his right, where it was slightly redirected off a Milwaukee player, but still found the stick of Pirri who deposited it into the net for the go-ahead goal.

Rockford would hold the score at 4-2 until 26 seconds remained on the clock when St. Pierre tallied his second point of the night with an empty-net goal, sealing a 5-3 Rockford win.

The following night, Rockford hosted the Chicago Wolves for the annual Teddy Bear Toss game. Guests were encouraged to bring a teddy bear to the game and toss it on the ice when the IceHogs scored their first goal. Once collected, all teddy bears would be donated to multiple charities for children around the Rockford area.

Teddy bears began to fly with 1:28 remaining in the first period when Kyle Beach sniped a shot over the glove of Matt Climie to give Rockford a 1-0 lead. More than 5,000 stuffed animals were thrown onto the ice after the goal.

Chicago center Andrew Ebbett tied the score at 1-1 at 4:53 of the second period while the Wolves were on the power play. The Wolves rushed up the ice in transition, caught Rockford flatfooted and managed to get an odd-man rush. Ebbett beat Carter Hutton for his third goal of the year, carrying the game to a 1-1 tie after 40 minutes.

Just shy of the midway point of the final frame, Wolves captain Darren Haydar scored his first goal of the season off a rebound let out by Hutton. Haydar had himself positioned at the center of the ice, a few feet back from the goal, and the rebound came out to his feet, where he slapped it past Hutton, giving Chicago their first lead of the game.

Rockford had a late powerplay opportunity, but could not convert on their attempt, as well as their two others in the game, and Chicago came back for a 2-1 win. Rockford’s special teams fought off a few five-on-three penalties in the game, giving the team a perfect 13-for-13 on the season, but the team gave up a total of eight penalties on the night, which contributed to the loss.

The following night, Rockford had first place on the line against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

What had plagued Rockford at the beginning of the season came back to haunt them again as Grand Rapids scored early in every period of the game. The first early goal came at 2:16 of the first period for Grand Rapids. A slick pass by captain Jeff Hoggan found Landon Ferraro open, who scored against Alec Richards, putting the Griffins up early.

But Rockford’s sixth-ranked power play tallied at 12:16 of the first period courtesy of Shaw to even the score at 1-1, where it would remain until early in the second period.

1:35 into the second frame, Joakim Andersson scored his sixth marker on the season to put Grand Rapids back ahead 2-1. After a few fights and many second-period penalties, both teams headed to the locker room with the Griffins up 2-1. Three second-period fights from Shaw, Beach and Rob Flick ignited the Grand Rapids crowd, but not the IceHogs.

Bettering the time of the score from the second period, Brendan Smith scored for Grand Rapids 81 seconds into the final frame to put the Detroit Red Wings affiliate up 3-1 on the ’Hogs.

As the game progressed through the third period, tempers flared with a large scuffle taking place at 9:49 into the period. Four 10-minute misconduct penalties were dished out, two for each squad, along with five roughing minors, two for Rockford and three for Grand Rapids.

The Griffins would tally another late misconduct penalty along with a hooking minor to put Rockford on the power play with under 2 minutes remaining.

Marcus Kruger would tally quickly, 48 seconds into the power play to close the gap to 3-2. The goal was a five-on-three goal for Rockford, and they had the remainder of the game with a power play to try to even the score.

However, Ferraro would score his second goal of the game with an empty-net effort with 50 seconds remaining to give the Griffins a 4-2 lead, and sole possession of first place in the division.

Keys for the week

1. Only one key for the week, and this is winning games against divisional opponents. Rockford has struggled against their Midwest Division rivals this season, and managed a 1-2 record this week in games against divisional opponents. It will be key as the season rolls on that Rockford wins those key games.

Looking forward

Rockford’s schedule slows down this week with two games slated in Week 10. The first game takes place Friday, Dec. 14, when the team travels to Milwaukee to face the Admirals. The following night, Rockford returns home to play host to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue

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