Tales from the Trough: ‘The Comeback Kids’ win weekend series

Rockford IceHogs goaltender Antti Raanta (31) makes a close save on Grand Rapids Griffins forward Tomas Jurco (28) during Saturday’s season-opener at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The IceHogs would go on to win 5-4 in a shootout. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

It might be too early in the season to give the 2013-14 Rockford IceHogs the moniker “The Comeback Kids,” but if the team keeps playing games like they did this weekend, the name will be deserved.

Although Friday’s (Oct. 18) game against the Chicago Wolves wasn’t necessarily a comeback win, late heroics gave Rockford the win. Rockford was up 3-0 after 20 minutes of hockey in Friday’s game against the Chicago Wolves at the Allstate Arena, but squandered the lead on three-straight Chicago goals.

Terry Broadhurst tallied the first goal for the ’Hogs 47 seconds into the contest. Adam Clendening carried the puck into the offensive zone and fed Jimmy Hayes, who was just off to his side. Hayes motored the puck around the back of the net, exiting on the left side, and fed a laser pass to a streaking Broadhurst, who fired in his first marker of the season.

Jeremy Morin tallied his second goal of the season after following up on his initial shot. Viktor Svedberg passed to Morin, who took the puck from the left wing to the slot and fired wide of the net. Drew LeBlanc was stationed in front of the net and attempted to poke the puck in after it caromed off the back boards, but Wolves goaltender Jake Allen stopped the puck, which sailed out to Morin, who raced in and tapped the puck into the back of the net.

Hayes, who was sent back from the Chicago Blackhawks after Rockford’s game Oct. 11, potted his first goal to give Rockford a 3-0 lead at the end of the first. Broadhurst earned his second point of the night with the primary assist. He grabbed the puck off the boards and fed Hayes, who was at the bottom of the right face-off circle. Hayes quickly pulled the puck to his backhand and flipped a backhanded shot at the net, which surprised Allen and trickled past his left side.

Chicago finally got on the board with 6:16 remaining in the second period on a Tyler Shattock goal, and then cut the deficit to one with a shorthanded goal less than 3 minutes later to make it a 3-2 game after 40 minutes. Evan Oberg was credited with the primary assist on both goals for Chicago.

Oberg, earning his third point of the night, tied the game for Chicago with a power-play tally with 2:36 remaining in regulation to complete the comeback for the Wolves. Chris Porter carried the puck behind the net and fed to Oberg, who was alone in the slot and fired the puck on the left side of the net, beating Kent Simpson.

Just as the fans thought the game was headed to overtime, Klas Dahlbeck earned his second goal of the season with 1:31 left. Morin made a hit behind the net, with Brad Winchester there for support, jarred the puck loose, stole possession, and fed the puck to Winchester in front of the net. Allen blocked the shot, and the rebound was blocked out to the left blue line, where Dahlbeck corralled the puck, moved a few steps up from the left blue line, where the puck found its way, unmolested, through the sea of bodies crowding the crease and into the net to give Rockford a late 4-3 lead.

Mark McNeill sealed the victory with an empty-net tally with 16 seconds remaining, as Rockford’s late surge put the ’Hogs back into the win column. I guess Friday’s game shouldn’t be considered a “Comeback Kids” game, but maybe a “better late than never” game.

Before I get into the write-up for Saturday’s game, I’d like to mention that I have been to quite a few IceHogs games over the past five years. In fact, I believe I have only missed five to seven home games in that span. Of all the games I have attended, this was probably the loudest game I have ever attended. I can’t say if it was the new lighting, the changes to the concession stands, the restaurant upgrades or what, but the fans for Saturday’s season-opener were amped up for hockey night to start in “Rock Vegas.”

And speaking of the lighting, it is such an amazing upgrade. The illumination almost tripled in intensity, and you can certainly notice the difference. Prior to the upgrades, the corners and side boards were noticeably darker than the rest of the rink, but now you can clearly make out the corners and sides.

In addition, the concession stands now have TV monitors with digital menu screens, as well as credit card ordering.

As for the game itself, it didn’t start out so rosy for the hometown team as Rockford fell into a 2-0 hole after the first period. Landon Ferraro scored for the 2012 Calder Cup champion Griffins 1:51 into the game. A costly turnover by LeBlanc led to a clear shot for Ferraro, who beat Antti Raanta as he netted his first goal of the season to give Grand Rapids an early 1-0 lead.

Triston Grant scored a late goal with 1:17 left to put Grand Rapids up by two late in the period. An offensive zone face-off win for Grand Rapids was the catalyst for the goal, but a blocked shot, which popped out to Grant in the slot, sealed it.

Hayes started the comeback for the ’Hogs with his second goal in as many games. Broadhurst maintained possession of the puck on the right offensive boards after being checked off, and fed the puck back to Dahlbeck at the blue line. Dahlbeck fired a rocket at goaltender Petr Mrazek, but missed wide right. The puck ricocheted off the boards hard to the left to a waiting Hayes, who quickly fired it at the open side of the net to close the gap to 2-1.

Morin added his second goal of the week with a five-on-three power-play tally. A key offensive zone faceoff win by Winchester back to Clendening started the play. After a few cycling passes, Clendening passed it to his left, where Morin ripped a one-timer into the twine to knot the score at 2-2.

It looked like Rockford was carrying all the momentum until Teemu Pulkkinen scored for Grand Rapids with 0.6 remaining in the second period. Pulkkinen initially stripped the puck away from Broadhust around center ice, and wound up getting the puck back as he crossed into the offensive zone. A hard slapshot from the top of the left faceoff circle beat Raanta, putting the Griffins ahead by one going into the final frame.

Pulkkinen scored again for Grand Rapids on a wraparound goal midway through the final period. The power-play goal put the Grifs up 4-2 with less than 10 minutes to play.

Winchester gave Rockford some hope late with his first tally of the season with 2:10 remaining. Morin fired a shot on net that was blocked away by Mrazek, but Winchester was staked out at the net and poked the puck into the net to bring Rockford to a one-goal deficit.

An elated Phillip Danault celebrated his first professional goal with 1:11 left in regulation to tie the game for the second time. Dylan Olsen started the play by driving hard on the left boards into the offensive zone. Olsen fed the puck over to Broadhurst, who shot at the net, where a rebound bounced out to Danault, who snapped it into the net.

After a scoreless overtime session, both teams headed to the shootout, where Rockford would complete the come-from-behind victory in the fifth round. Broadhurst was the first shooter in the “skills competition,” and he rang iron with his shot. Pulkkinen was denied by Raanta as the shootout remained tied after one round. Maxim Shalunov made about four or five dekes/stickhandles with the puck before scoring on his attempt, while Cory Emmerton was denied on his second-round attempt. Hayes lost the puck by the net on his attempt, and Gustav Nyquist went five-hole on Raanta for the first Griffins shootout goal, tying it up at 1-1 after three rounds. Morin made good on his shot before Raanta stoned Tomas Jurco to put Rockford up 2-1. Viktor Svedberg converted a nice rising backhand shot over the shoulder of Mrazek to give Rockford the 3-1 shootout win for a final 5-4 score.

Keys for the week

Playing great late for two consecutive games sealed 4 points for Rockford this weekend. However, the team cannot hope to come back in this method every game. Once the defense tightens up and the team begins to gel a bit more, we should start seeing fewer shots on goal against and fewer scoring chances for the opposition.

Key players are contributing on all fronts. Guys like Morin, Hayes and Clendening are being looked upon as leaders of this team, and they are playing like it at both ends.

Penalties limited against Grand Rapids helped keep the game close. With a talented lineup, the ’Hogs needed to be disciplined and stay out of the box, which they did, limiting the Griffins to only three power-play opportunities.

Looking forward

The IceHogs have a busy four-game schedule in week four, with two Canadian away games against Hamilton and Toronto, followed by two earlier games on Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27) at home against Charlotte and Texas. Sunday’s game has a special visitor with the Stanley Cup as the guest of honor. Fans attending the game are encouraged to arrive early to get a spot in line for their photo with the Cup.

From the Oct. 23-29, 2013, issue

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