Tales from the Trough: IceHogs win a pair of home games

Rockford IceHogs winger Brandon Pirri attempts to sneak around the back and slide the puck past Abbotsford Heat goaltender Barry Brust Saturday, Feb. 16. Pirri had the hot hand for Rockford this week tallying three goals and one assist in three games in week 19. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

After falling to Peoria Wednesday night, Feb. 13, Rockford looked to get some wins as they hosted a weekend series of games against the Abbotsford Heat and the Lake Erie Monsters.

Saturday’s (Feb. 16) game against Abbotsford would be a test of goalies and defense with the Heat leading the AHL in the least goals allowed so far this season. The Heat also employ two of the top three goalies in the league in goals against average with Danny Taylor coming in at 1.82 and a .929 save percentage and Barry Brust, who the IceHogs would face, came in at 2.10 and a .927 save percentage. Brust also ranks among the league leaders with five shutouts this season.

Despite the rankings, Rockford came out in the first period firing shot after shot at Brust, and tied a franchise record for most goals scored in the first period with five.

Rockford’s first goal was scored by Kenndal McArdle at 6:03 of the first period. Kyle Beach moved the puck around the back of the net and tried to sneak the puck in on the corner. The puck sprayed out to the front of net, and McArdle hit the brakes as he slapped at the puck while falling down. The puck found its way past Brust and put the ’Hogs up 1-0.

Two minutes later, Brandon Pirri cleaned up a rebound from an Adam Clendening shot with a powerplay marker to extend Rockford’s lead to 2-0. Clendening took a shot from the right blue line, which was blocked before it made its way to the net, but came right back to him. His second shot hit Brust on his right pad, but Pirri was there to corral the loose change and slip it in around the left side.

Martin St. Pierre was the next IceHogs skater to score with a quick shot from the right face-off circle that snuck under the arm of Brust at 12:12.

Clendening tallied his second point of the night with a powerplay goal just under 2 minutes later. Jimmy Hayes cycled the puck to Ben Youds at the top of the blue line, who fed the puck toward Clendening on his left. Clendening ripped a one-timer to the top left corner of the net to give Rockford a 4-0 lead with only 14 minutes expired in the game.

A shorthanded goal with under 4 minutes left in the period gave Rockford a commanding 5-0 lead. Jeremy Morin, who was robbed on two goal opportunities earlier, made a nice defensive play to steal the rubber just shy of the Rockford zone and raced in with Shawn Lalonde for a two-on-one rush. Lalonde sped up off the left side of Morin trailing the play into the offensive zone. Morin faked a shot from the right side, which froze Brust, then backhanded the puck over to Lalonde who had a wide-open net in which to deposit the puck for his fourth goal of the season.

Abbotsford finally got a puck past IceHogs goaltender Carter Hutton to cut the lead to 5-1 midway through the second period. The powerplay goal by Ben Walter was his 10th goal of the season.

It took exactly 121 seconds for Rockford to reclaim their 5-point advantage as Pirri scored his second powerplay goal of the night. Once again, great puck movement allowed Pirri time to get open, and he fired the puck from the right side to earn his 16th goal of the season.

The third period started with an early Abbotsford goal from Krys Kolanos at 55 seconds to make it a four-goal contest. Klas Dahlbeck was trying to kill off some time by the puck as Abbotsford was called for a high stick on the puck, meaning Rockford had to take the puck first or play would be stopped. Ryan Howse raced in on Dahlbeck and slapped his stick to make contact with the puck first. Howse fed the puck over to Walter, who found Kolanos open in the center of the ice, where he made good on his shot.

As the third period was getting shorter, the fans began cheering for another goal. With six goals already scored, ticket holders were rewarded by Culver’s restaurants in the Rockford area with free concrete shakes, but a seventh Rockford goal would give them free cheeseburgers.

At the midway point of the final period, the crowd began chanting “Cheese-bur-ger! Cheese-bur-ger!” in unison in hopes of earning a free meal with that elusive seventh goal. The fans’ cheers were answered with 9:40 remaining in the game when David Gilbert notched his first goal of the season, unassisted, for a 7-2 lead, which would be the final score for the game, and a much-needed win for Rockford.

The following day, Rockford played host to the Lake Erie Monsters for the final time this season. Rockford had taken the first three of four games this season, including a 4-3 shootout win in their last meeting Saturday, Nov. 24.

By the way the game ended, you would have thought this was the Abbotsford game, as it was the goalie battle we expected on Saturday night with both goalies combining for 75 saves.

It was Paul Carey who scored the first, and only, goal of the game for the Monsters. The powerplay goal at 10:16 of the opening frame put Lake Erie out front.

Rockford’s first powerplay opportunity of the night was successful with a goal scored by Beach with 50 seconds remaining in the period. For Beach, it was his 13th goal of the season.

The second period was played more cautiously than the first with a combined 13 shots by both teams (eight for Rockford and five for Lake Erie), but no goals.

An odd turn of events occurred in the second intermission when one of the Zambonis unexpectedly broke down on the ice after 90 percent of the surface was cleaned. The delay took 18 minutes to resolve, and play resumed as normal after the unexpected interruption.

Period three displayed more aggressive play and more scoring chances by both teams. However, neither team would light the lamp, sending the game to overtime.

Lake Erie has recent history with games going over their 60-minute mark as the Monsters were riding a seven-game winless streak, with three of those seven games going to overtime or a shootout.

Unfortunately for Lake Erie, that streak would continue as Rockford would take the game in a seven-round shootout.

Rockford’s first two shooters, Terry Broadhurst and Pirri, would tally markers with Lake Erie’s first two shooters being held off the board.

Monsters backstopper Calvin Pickard rebounded from his first two shooters to stop the next four Rockford shooters.

Hutton would be beaten on the third and fifth round to send the shootout to extra shooters.

Pickard stopped Rockford’ sixth-round shooter Morin, but was beaten by Brad Mills in the seventh round to put Rockford ahead in the shootout.

Hutton stopped Karl Stollery in Lake Erie’s seventh attempt to give Rockford the 3-2 advantage in the shootout — and the win.

Looking forward

The IceHogs play another three games in week 20, all key divisional matchups. Game one is Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Carver Arena in Peoria. Rockford returns home Friday, Feb. 22, to host the Grand Rapids Griffins for the final time this season in what should be a physical game. If you recall, the last meeting between these two teams resulted in a bench-clearing brawl, along with multiple suspensions. Sunday, Feb. 24, Rockford heads up Interstate 90 to face the Chicago Wolves.

From the Feb. 20-26, 2013, issue

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