By Todd Reicher
For the second week in a row, the Rockford IceHogs took 4 of 6 points with both wins coming against their closest divisional opponent, the Chicago Wolves.
Rockford’s first win of the week took place at home in the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday, March 15, against the Wolves.
Terry Broadhurst started the scoring with his fifth goal of the year. Brandon Pirri fired a shot on Wolves goaltender Joe Cannata, which was blocked off to Broadhurst in the middle of the offensive zone. After a quick wrister, it was the IceHogs up by one.
Nicklas Jensen tied the game up for Chicago 34 seconds into the second period with a powerplay goal.
The Wolves took their first lead of the game later in the period off an Andrew Gordon goal at 8:39 of the second frame. Goaltender Henrik Karlsson lost sight of a rebound he let out, and Gordon gobbled it up and lifted it over the shoulder of Karlsson for the goal.
Rockford tied it up at 12:41 when Jeremy Morin buried a cross-ice pass from Martin St. Pierre into an open net on the back side.
Chicago once again reclaimed the lead with a late powerplay goal in the second by Darren Archibald. Karlsson got a piece of the puck, but it still had enough momentum to squeeze past the pads and into the net for Archibald’s 10th of the season.
With the ’Hogs down 3-2, the team was poised for yet another third-period comeback. Brad Mills was credited for his second goal of the season 5:45 into the final frame to tie the score for the fourth time in the game. As Mills was skating backward to position himself in front of the net, he was checked by a Wolves player and fell backward into the net. As Mills was falling back, Pirri launched a shot that hit Mills and bounced in behind Canata for a goal. Over on the Wolves bench, coach Scott Arniel was furiously hollering at the officials as he thought Cannata was interfered with and the goal should have been disallowed. The first referee skated by the bench to let Arniel know it was a good goal, but Arniel wasn’t satisfied and continued his rant. The second official skated over to give the coach a warning, which finally calmed Arniel down.
As the game grew closer to the end, Broadhurst was flagged for a holding the stick penalty, putting Rockford at a disadvantage since the Wolves already scored on two of their three powerplay chances. With time winding down, Rockford’s penalty kill cashed in. Pirri grabbed a loose puck just outside of the defensive zone, and an alert Morin trailed on the right side for a two-on-one chance. Pirri held the puck and raced deep into the zone and drove hard to the net. At the last possible second, Pirri saucer-passed the puck over an outstretched Wolves stick right on to the tape of Morin, who slid the puck into the backside of the open net to put Rockford up 4-3 late.
Chicago had one more opportunity as another late penalty on Rockford with 2:13 left in the game gave the Wolves their fifth powerplay of the game. But Rockford, and Karlsson, were up to the task and kept the Wolves off the board en route to their ninth come-from-behind victory of the season.
The following night, Rockford hosted the Peoria Rivermen for another key divisional game. Despite Rockford peppering goaltender Mike McKenna with 37 shots, Rockford couldn’t tally a single goal, as the Rivermen rolled over Rockford 4-0.
Carter Hutton played fairly well, but the defense let him down on a few occasions, and Hutton let in a few soft goals to prevent Rockford from winning a defensive battle. Two of the four goals Hutton let in were low shots to the five-hole, and one was a breakaway goal by T.J. Hensick.
But Rockford had their chances throughout the game, and had numerous shots hit the crossbars or slide just past an open skater’s stick.
Broadhurst came the closest to scoring midway through the second period when the game was a 2-0 affair. Broadhurst got a step on the defense and fired a shot from the middle of the offensive zone that beat McKenna five-hole, but just hit the outside of the post and bounced back out of the blue paint.
For McKenna, it was his second shutout of the season and 10th of his career.
Sunday, Rockford played its third game in 48 hours, just like last week, with the final game of the series against the Wolves.
Rockford came out fired up, and dominated the first period putting 16 shots on goaltender Matt Climie while only allowing one shot in on Karlsson.
With 14 seconds left in the first, Rockford was awarded its fourth powerplay opportunity of the game. After Ben Smith won a key offensive zone faceoff, he passed the puck to Morin, who found St. Pierre, who scored his 20th goal of the season with only 1 second remaining in the period to put Rockford up 1-0.
The Wolves evened up the score shy of midway through the second with defenseman Kevin Connauton’s fifth goal of the season.
However, Rockford answered later in the second when Morin scored his team-leading 25th of the season on the next ’Hogs powerplay to bring Rockford ahead 2-1.
Contrary to Rockford’s third-period playing style, the team seemed to play more defensively, as Chicago held the ’Hogs to two shots on goal.
With 4 seconds remaining, and Rockford on a powerplay, Smith was racing for a puck on the boards in front of the Rockford bench, where he was hit cleanly and knocked through the door into the ’Hogs’ bench. Rob Flick took exception and started grabbing for the nearest Wolves player, resulting in a small fracas. Joe Lavin, Morin, Pirri and Ryan Stanton were all involved in the melee, as well as Wolves skaters Guillaume Desbiens, Jensen, Tim Miller, Derek Joslin and Adam Polasek. In all, 142 penalty minutes were dished out, multiple players were ejected, including Pirri and Flick, and I am sure some suspensions will be handed out as well since Polasek left the Chicago bench to join the fracas.
After the dust settled, Rockford’s defense and Karlsson held the Wolves off the board for the remaining 4 seconds as Rockford came away with a 2-1 victory.
After the 2-1 weekend, Rockford sits in third place in the division, just 1 point behind the second-place Chicago Wolves and 10 points behind the division-leading Grand Rapids Griffins.
Week 24 has the IceHogs traveling to British Columbia for their annual weekend series against the Abbotsford Heat, where both teams will be vying for some very important points as the playoffs draw closer. As of Sunday, March 17, Rockford is only 1 point behind the Heat, who hold the eighth, and final, playoff spot, but also have played three more games than Rockford.
From the March 20-26, 2013, issue