By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs improved their chances at making the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs by winning four straight games, all against divisional opponents.
Rockford’s first win of the week took place against the Milwaukee Admirals Tuesday, April 2, at the BMO Harris Bank Center, where the ’Hogs squeaked by with a 2-1 victory.
Kyle Beach tallied the first goal of the game with under 2 minutes remaining in the opening period with a quick turnaround wrist shot.
Michael Latta tied the game for the Ads late in the second period with a powerplay goal, his ninth of the season.
A quick snapshot by Ryan Stanton with 1:13 left in the second frame put Rockford up once again at the end of two periods.
Milwaukee put the pressure on in the third period, outshooting Rockford 14-7, but Henrik Karlsson stood as tall as his 6-foot-6-inch frame and stopped all 14 shots to preserve a 2-1 win for Rockford.
Both teams faced one another again Friday, April 5, and once again, Rockford eked out a one-goal win, 4-3.
The Admirals, who had very little success earlier in the season on the powerplay against Rockford, scored on their first powerplay opportunity of the night at 4:14 of the first period.
Later in the first, Martin St. Pierre tallied his 23rd of the season to knot the game at 1-1, and Brad Mills scored just more than 4 minutes later to give Rockford a 2-1 lead, which they would take into the first intermission.
Milwaukee’s Daniel Bang scored the only second-period goal, tying the game after 40 minutes.
Rostislav Olesz put Rockford ahead once again at 8:33, but the lead would not hold for very long, as Scott Valentine lit the lamp at 13:19 to tie the game for the third time.
Once again, the tie was broken quickly, with Olesz tallying his second of the game 33 seconds after Valentine’s goal.
Olesz’s goal would go down as the game-winner, and Karlsson earned his second-straight win against the Ads, 4-3.
The following night, the ’Hogs headed down to Peoria for the first of three-straight meetings between the ’Hogs and the Rivermen. For the third-straight game, Rockford would claim a one-goal victory.
Peoria jumped out to a quick two-goal lead with markers from ex-IceHogs forward Derek Nesbitt and Yannick Veilleux.
In a flurry of three goals in 3 minutes, Rockford closed the gap by scoring two of the three goals, putting the score at 3-2 Peoria after 20 minutes.
The first of the three goals was credited to Brandon Pirri, with helpers from Jeremy Morin and Olesz.
Less than 1 minute later, Brett Sonne brought Peoria back to a three-goal lead.
Olesz ended the 3-minute scoring frenzy with a goal at 13:45 of the first frame.
Despite Karlsson playing well in the last few games, he gave up three goals on seven shots in the first period. Showing confidence in his netminder and defense, IceHogs coach Ted Dent decided to leave Karlsson in the game, which turned out to be a good decision, as Karlsson would only allow one more goal in the next 20 shots faced.
The second period was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams scoring once in the middle frame. Peoria’s Anthony Nigro scored after the midway point, and St. Pierre scored 3 minutes later, as Peoria continued to hold a one-goal lead at the intermission.
Doing what they do best, Rockford rattled off two third-period goals en route to their league-leading 10th third-period come-from-behind victory.
Rookie defenseman Adam Clendening scored on Rockford’s second powerplay of the game to draw the score even at 4-4.
With time winding down, Olesz would score for the ’Hogs with 2:31 left in the game in what would be his second game-winning goal in two nights, as Rockford pulled out a 5-4 win.
For the second time in as many nights, and their third game in three days, Rockford came back home to the BMO Harris Bank Center to host the Peoria Rivermen for the final time this season, and possibly the last time in the foreseeable future. The Peoria Rivermen’s parent club, the St. Louis Blues, recently announced they have decided to end their affiliation with the Peoria club, leaving doubt about whether the city of Peoria will have a team next year.
The second-to-last home game of the season also marked the IceHogs’ 14th annual jersey auction night with Abrahammy Lincoln as this year’s theme.
After three-straight one-goal games, Rockford would take control for a full 60 minutes and handily beat the Rivs 4-1.
Jimmy Hayes broke a scoreless tie exactly 2 minutes into the second period to put the ’Hogs up 1-0, where the score would remain after 40 minutes.
Another early-period goal for Rockford extended the lead to 2-0, courtesy of St. Pierre.
Carter Hutton, who was getting his first start since giving up four goals March 30 against Oklahoma City, lost his bid for a shutout halfway through the final frame when Veilleux scored with a snipe shot over Hutton’s glove.
Rockford answered quickly when Mills fought hard for a rebound 1:43 after Peoria scored their first goal. Rivermen goalie Mike McKenna was down and out after a few good scoring chances by Rockford and Olesz. With the puck bouncing back to Mills from behind the net, he shelved a shot up high, giving Rockford their two-goal lead back.
Morin would tally his team-leading 28th goal of the season with an empty-net goal assisted by Hayes and rookie Joakim Nordstrom to seal a 4-1 win, giving Rockford their fourth-straight win, with three coming against close Midwest Division opponents.
After the game, the player’s jerseys were auctioned off as part of the jersey auction night. The totals are as follow: $1,400 for No. 21, Ben Smith; $1,100, No. 3, Dylan Olsen; $1,600, No. 8, Steve Montador; $1,900, No. 36, Brad Mills; $1,600, No. 9, Shawn Lalonde; $1,500, No. 7, Brandon Svendsen; $1,500, No. 15, Wade Brookbank; $1,300, No. 85, Rostislav Olesz; $1,500, No. 1, Henrik Karlsson; $1,700, No. 4, Ryan Stanton; $1,100, No. 32, Joakim Nordstrom; $1,500, No. 25, Kenndal McArdle; $1,500, No. 10, Klas Dahlbeck; $1,100, No. 37, Terry Broadhurst; $1,000, No. 28, Mark McNeill; $1,400, No. 12, Kyle Beach; $1,950, No. 6, Joe Lavin; $1,400, No. 27, Brandon Pirri; $1,900, No. 19, Jeremy Morin; $1,200, No. 29, Phillip Danault; $4,000, No. 39, Martin St. Pierre; $1,700, No. 2, Adam Clendening; $1,600, No. 17, Jimmy Hayes; and $2,500, No. 30, Carter Hutton.
As of Sunday night, April 7, the ’Hogs sit tied for the eighth, and final, playoff spot in the Western Conference with Milwaukee. The Admirals, however, do have one game in hand on Rockford. Both teams will square off once again Saturday, April 13, in Milwaukee.
Also, as of Sunday night (April 7), Pirri is in a four-way tie in the AHL points race with 63 total points. The four skaters trail ex-IceHogs forward Jeff Taffe by 1, who has 64 points. Pirri also trails Taffe by three in the assists lead with 43. Clendening sits at 12th with 36, which ties him for the lead in assists by a defenseman.
Two other IceHogs skaters rank in the top 20 in the league with St. Pierre sitting at 13th with 56 points and Morin holding the 17th spot with 51. Morin is also in a five-way tie for fourth in the league in goals scored with 28, which is five behind Texas Stars forward Matt Fraser, who sits at 33. St. Pierre sits at 15th on the list with 25.
With two weeks left in the season, Rockford has five games, with four of them on the road. Rockford will travel to Peoria Wednesday, April 10, to face the Rivermen, then back home to the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday, April 12, to host the Wolves, who are 2 points behind Rockford with two games in hand.
The final week of the season has Rockford traveling to Texas for games against the San Antonio Rampage Friday, April 19, and the Texas Stars Saturday, April 20.
From the April 10-16, 2013, issue