Tales from the Trough: IceHogs split road games to open season

Rockford IceHogs rookie forward Mark McNeill (shown here against the Milwaukee Admirals last season) achieved many firsts this weekend, earning his first professional assist, goal, multiple-point game, game-winning goal and first star of the game, all coming against the Texas Stars in Rockford’s 4-3 victory Sunday, Oct. 6, in Cedar Park, Texas. (File photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The Rockford IceHogs started the 2013-2014 season on the road with two games in Texas, with the first of the two games Saturday, Oct. 5, against the San Antonio Rampage.

It was an ominous start to the game as IceHogs starting goaltender Antti Raanta left the game after an injury forced him out 5:36 into the first. He had made four saves on four shots. Kent Simpson came on in relief, and stopped all 14 shots he faced in the opening stanza.

Rockford was also unable to light the lamp in the first 20 minutes, leaving the game tied 0-0 with the Rampage outshooting Rockford by a whopping 21-8.

A late power-play opportunity in the first period for the Rampage carried over to the second period, and Jon Matsumoto capitalized for his first goal of the season 47 seconds into the second.

Despite being outshot again 18-7 in the second, Rockford still remained close, down by a score of 1-0 after 40 minutes of hockey.

That all changed exactly 1 minute into the final frame with a goal by Alex Broadhurst to knot the score at 1-1. The assists went to Brad Mills and Adam Clendening.

However, Rockford was unable to hold on to the lead, as Matsumoto scored his second of the game on another wrap-around goal at 11:47 of the third frame to reclaim the lead for the Rampage.

Simpson was sent to the bench late in the game in favor of the extra attacker, but the Rampage netted an empty-net tally with 43 seconds remaining to spoil Rockford’s first game of the season and give San Antonio a 3-1 win.

Despite being saddled with the loss, Simpson played an outstanding game, stopping 49 of the 51 shots he faced, setting an IceHogs record. Another record was set in this game, as Rockford gave up 56 shots on goal.

The following night, the team headed to Cedar Park, Texas, to face the Texas Stars. Last season, both teams were winless at their home stadiums in each of the four games they faced one another, with Rockford earning the last win in the final game of the season. The win was also Simpson’s first AHL victory.

Another impressive stat from the series between these two teams last season (or depressing, depending on which team you are cheering for) was Texas going 8-for-15 against Rockford with an extra attacker.

It looked as if the trend was carrying over to this season as Texas scored on their first power-play opportunity 10:19 into the game for the second goal of the night.

Travis Morin scored the first goal for Texas 6:32 into the game, and Curtis McKenzie scored the power-play goal to put Texas up 2-0 just more than halfway through the first period.

However, the other Morin on the ice, Jeremy Morin for Rockford, tallied his first goal of the season with a great snipe from just over the left face-off circle to cut the lead to 2-1. Byron Froese was credited with the initial helper, and Clendening held the secondary assist.

Clendening earned his second point of the game just more than 3 minutes later when Rockford was awarded its first power play of the game. Brandon Pirri held possession of the puck in the offensive end and found Mills on the boards, who cycled the puck up to Clendening at the point, who fired a shot on net. Newly-acquired forward Brad Winchester was in front screening Texas netminder Cristopher Nilstorp as the puck sailed into the back of the net, drawing the game even at 2-2. After 20 minutes of hockey, the score was tied at 2-2, with Texas outshooting Rockford 13-10.

At 9:44, Rockford’s Broadhurst was awarded the first penalty shot of the season, but was denied.

Disappointment turned into celebration 28 seconds later when Rockford took its first lead of the game, and the season, on a goal by second-year defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Phillip Danault was credited with the primary assist, and Mark McNeill earned his first point for the IceHogs in his 14th game.

But 70 seconds later, the Stars pulled even on a goal by fourth-year winger Mike Hedden, who played in one game for the ’Hogs in the 2010-2011 season.

The scoring wasn’t over for the second period, and McNeill earned his first professional goal to go along with his first professional point, giving him his first multi-point game. Danault also earned his first multi-point game of his professional career with the assist on the goal.

McNeill’s goal turned out to be the game-winner, as Rockford killed off a late penalty to snag its first win of the season.

The IceHogs finished 1-for-2 on the power play, while Texas finished 1-for-5.

Simpson played an outstanding set of back-to-back games, stopping 41 of 44 against the Stars and 49 of 51 the previous night, totaling 90 saves on 95 shots.

It is unknown how long Raanta will be out, but if Simpson continues his stellar play, he may take over the starting goaltender spot.

Rockford will come home for a few days of practice before heading to Ohio to face the Lake Erie Monsters for two straight games; one Friday at 7:30 p.m. and the other Saturday at 7 p.m. The IceHogs swept the four-game series last year with two of their wins coming in a shootout.

The IceHogs will not be home until their home opener Saturday, Oct. 19, when they host the reigning Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins.

From the Oct. 9-15, 2013, issue

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