By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs started out the week on a sour note with the division rival Grand Rapids Griffins heartily beating up the ’Hogs to the tune of 6-3 Wednesday, Jan. 9.
In Rockford’s first game since the NHL lockout ended, the ’Hogs looked out of sync, but managed to keep the score close at 3-2 at the end of the second frame. It could be because Rockford lost a number of their starting lineup to the Blackhawks, as I predicted in my story last week. The players called up for the games this week were Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig. After the games this weekend, Brandon Saad, Ryan Stanton and Brandon Pirri were all called up, although I expect a few players will return for games this upcoming weekend.
After Rockford was dealt a punishing loss against the Griffins, Rockford came right back and handed the Griffins an overdue 5-2 defeat.
So, what changed between the games that were played less than 48 hours apart? For starters on Wednesday, Rockford gave up a total of nine shorthanded opportunities to the Griffins, and two of those were converted to goals. On Friday, Rockford still gave up a large number of shorthanded opportunities, five in total, but the ’Hogs halted all opportunities while going two-for-five themselves. Both of the powerplay goals were scored by Jimmy Hayes.
Hayes’ first goal was scored as a result of a number of factors, including Hayes parking himself in front of the net and gobbling up a loose puck to put into the back of the net. But the 30 seconds prior to the goal, Ben Youds rang a shot hard off the iron on the left side and also missed a nearly wide-open net the shift before. So, Rockford was pressing the Griffins hard, and was finally rewarded for its persistence.
But before Hayes tied the score late in the first period, Grand Rapids scored only 27 seconds into the contest when Carter Hutton let out a juicy rebound from a Tomas Tatar shot that was deposited behind Hutton by Gustav Nyquist, who was trailing the play on the right side of the net.
However, Rockford maintained its composure, holding the Griffins to six shots on goal after the initial shot, while collecting 15 of their own.
The second period was played a little more conservatively by both teams, and neither team managed to get on the board in the middle frame.
Jeremy Morin, who was out for a few games, tallied his 12th goal of the season 1:48 into the third period to break the 1-1 tie.
Rockford’s lead only lasted a few minutes as Tatar notched his second point of the night with a breakaway goal as a result of an aggressive checking defensive play at the Rockford blue line.
It was Saad who would get the go-ahead goal to put Rockford back out front at 11:42 off a perfect pass from Smith. Smitty carried the puck deep into the offensive zone and somehow slid the puck past two Griffins defender en route to the tape on Saad’s stick, where he cleanly beat netminder Petr Mrazek for what would be the game-winning goal.
Rockford would tally two more times in the final frame, courtesy of Philippe Paradis and Hayes on another powerplay goal, to carry the team to a 5-2 win.
The following night was a defensive battle between Rockford and Milwaukee with second place in the Midwest Division at stake.
After two scoreless periods, goaltenders Hutton and Magnus Hellberg played sensational at both ends, stopping a total of 36 shots to keep the game tight.
Milwaukee drew first blood with 5:48 remaining in the game when defenseman Joonas Jarvinen scored on a backhanded shot from the center of the IceHogs’ defensive zone.
Just when things were looking bleak for Rockford, Morin tallied his second goal in as many games just 2:20 after Milwaukee took the lead. Sloppy play in their own defensive zone by the Admirals allowed Saad to gain possession of the puck, who found Adam Clendening on the half boards. A great pass by Clendening over to Morin, who was stationed on the opposite side of the ice, set up a practically empty net for Morin to tally his 13th of the season.
After 60 minutes, the game remained tied at 1-1, leading to another overtime game between these two clubs.
Hard work and a great individual effort by Saad led to an unassisted, game-winning goal 52 seconds into overtime. Saad fought hard on a forecheck in the offensive zone and stripped Milwaukee of the puck. Saad pulled the puck back away from the goal crease, which pulled Hellberg down, and Saad wristed a quick shot to the right side of the net for the winning goal.
Rockford now has a two-game winning streak after losing four straight, and temporarily holds second place in the Midwest Division.
Week 15 begins Rockford’s longest home stand of the season: a five-game streak where the ’Hogs will host the Peoria Rivermen Friday, Jan. 18, the Grand Rapids Griffins on the 19th and an early 1:05 p.m. game Monday, Jan. 21, against the Texas Stars.
From the Jan. 16-22, 2013, issue