By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs’ annual pilgrimage to Abbotsford, British Columbia, took place this past weekend with the IceHogs and Heat squaring off for a weekend series to finish their series for the regular season.
Rockford won both games against the Heat at home earlier this season with a 3-2 win Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, and 7-2 drubbing Saturday, Feb. 16.
The Feb. 16 game had Rockford scoring a season-high five first-period goals on Heat goaltender Barry Brust, who at the time was the third-ranked goaltender in the league.
Friday, March 22, had a similar tone with Rockford scoring three unanswered goals on Brust on only 11 shots, chasing him out of the game 2:11 into the second period.
Brandon Svendsen started the scoring for Rockford with his second goal of the season with a nice wrist shot from the right circle. Svendsen brought the puck into the offensive zone with a Heat defender skating with him on his left. Svendsen managed to get a slight distance on his defender and quickly wristed the puck into the top left corner for the 1-0 lead.
With 10 seconds remaining in the first period, Martin St. Pierre turned in his 21st goal of the season to increase the lead to 2-0. A costly turnover in the defensive zone was picked up by Ben Smith, who put the puck on the net. Rostislav Olesz, who returned for his first game in almost a year because of major reconstructive surgery on his knee, attempted to put in the rebound, but it was blocked away by Brust to St. Pierre, who had a mostly open net to deposit the puck.
Rockford’s lead stretched to 3-0 with recent acquisition Steve Montador tallying his first goal in an IceHogs sweater while on their first powerplay of the game. Dylan Olsen, who was credited for the secondary assist on Rockford’s first goal, passed the puck from the far right blue line over to St. Pierre, who was at the top of the blue line in the center. St. Pierre immediately cycled the puck to his left, where “Monty” slapped a one-timer into the back of the net, signaling the end of Brust for the evening.
Rockford cashed in again while shorthanded just shy of the midway point of the second. Brad Mills took a breakaway attempt to the net, but was fouled on his way in, resulting in a penalty shot. Mills backhanded his penalty shot past Danny Taylor, increasing the lead to 4-0. Mills was the first IceHogs skater to record a goal on a penalty shot this season. Prior to his goal, Rockford was 0-4 this season on penalty shot attempts.
The ’Hogs looked to increase their lead to 5-0, but a shorthanded goal by Abbotsford turned the tide in favor of the Heat. After being denied a few moments earlier by Henrik Karlsson, Carter Bancks beat him the second time, registering his fourth goal of the season.
A tip-in goal by the Heat late in the second closed the gap to 4-2. Traffic in front of Karlsson allowed the Heat to get position, and Greg Nemisz tallied his third goal of the season to cut the lead in half.
Abbostford had some good third-period chances, but none would get past Karlsson.
With 6 minutes remaining in the game, Olesz scored on Rockford’s best chance of the period when a Ryan Stanton shot was blocked off to the right side, but right to Olesz, who put Rockford back up by 3, 5-2.
Karlsson continued to thwart the Heat scorers throughout the rest of the game as Rockford took the third meeting of the season.
The following night, Rockford looked for the sweep in the fourth, and final, meeting of the regular season between these two teams.
All was quiet in the first period with neither team managing a goal in the opening 20 minutes, despite Rockford earning two powerplay opportunities to Abbotsford’s one.
The Heat put the first points on the board with a goal from Ben Walter. Poor defensive play allowed the Heat to take possession of the puck in the Rockford zone, as Walter tallied his 13th goal of the season.
A rare mistake by defensemen Klas Dahlbeck put Abbotsford up 2-0 with 1:38 left in the second period. Dahlbeck took possession of the puck deep in the defensive zone, and looked to clear the puck by passing it to the middle of the ice in the Rockford zone. Tyler Ruegsegger stepped into the lane to steal the puck and put it past Karlsson for the 2-0 lead going into the third period.
Currently, Rockford leads the league in third-period come-from-behind victories with nine, and looked to make it 10.
On their third powerplay of the evening, Brandon Pirri cut the lead to 2-1 4:27 into the frame. Less than 4 minutes later, Rockford had their second goal of the period to tie the game at 2-2. This time, Pirri led the assist to Ben Smith, who tied Pirri with his 19th goal of the season.
But the tie wouldn’t last, as the Heat scored with 4:25 left in the game to take a 3-2 lead.
With 1:05 remaining in the game, Ben Street took a costly holding penalty, leaving Rockford a chance to tie the game once again. With Karlsson on the bench, and only 10 seconds remaining in the game, Olesz tallied the equalizer with his second goal in as many games to send the game to overtime.
A 10th come-from-behind victory was not in the cards for Rockford this time, as Roman Horak beat Karlsson five-hole on a breakaway halfway through overtime for the 4-3 victory.
Rockford’s league-leading powerplay went 3-for-8 this weekend, while holding the Heat to 0-for-4.
With Rockford grabbing 3 of 4 points this weekend, the team stays in the hunt for the playoffs and finish the weekend tied for the eighth, and final, playoff spot with three other teams: the Chicago Wolves, Oklahoma City Barons and the Heat. Both the Barons and Wolves have two games in hand on Rockford, but Rockford has three games in hand on the Heat. Rockford will play both the Wolves and the Barons once more this season.
Rockford’s fight for a playoff spot continues this week with three games all at home and against playoff-contending opponents. Wednesday, March 27, Rockford plays host to the Toronto Marlies in their second, and final, meeting of the season. The ’Hogs lost to the Marlies 5-2 back on Jan. 5, and look to even the series.
Friday, March 29, the ’Hogs host the Milwaukee Admirals in a key matchup. The Ads are currently 2 points ahead of Rockford and hold the seventh playoff spot. The ’Hogs and Ads will battle a total of four times in the last 12 games of the season, and these wins could make the ’Hogs’ road to the playoffs that much easier.
Saturday, March 30, Rockford hosts the Oklahoma City Barons for the final time this season. Rockford won the recent two meetings against the Barons with a 4-3 shootout win back on March 8 and a 7-4 win on March 9, with both games taking place in Oklahoma City.
Of the 12 remaining games in the regular season, Rockford will play six at home and six on the road.
From the March 27-April 2, 2013, issue