By Todd Reicher
Week four was a big test for the Rockford IceHogs with two road games and two home games slated in six days. The ’Hogs must have studied well, as the team passed with flying colors, winning three of the four games and taking one to overtime, earning seven out of a possible eight points.
Game one Tuesday, Oct. 22, took place against the Hamilton Bulldogs, a team that has historically had Rockford’s number, as the ’Hogs are only 2-4 in the last three seasons against the ’Dogs with one win an OT victory and the other a shootout win.
Rockford would once again lose to the Bulldogs 5-4 in overtime, but it was a game they should have won.
Garret Ross put Rockford up quickly with his first professional goal 31 seconds into the contest. Mark McNeill and Philip Danault were credited with the assists.
Nick Tarnasky evened it up late in the first for the Bulldogs, his third goal of the season.
Terry Broadhurst recorded the only tally in the second period, putting Rockford ahead 2-1.
A shorthanded goal early in the third by Sven Andrighetto of Hamilton knotted the score once again.
The tie wouldn’t last long, with McNeill scoring on the same power play to put Rockford up again.
McNeill struck again almost 9 minutes later with his fourth of the season, putting Rockford up by a seemingly comfortable 4-2 lead late in the third.
Then, it happened: the wheels fell off for Rockford. The ’Hogs gave up two goals in the last 2:28 to send the game to overtime. The first of the two goals, a second of the night for Andrighetto, occurred with 2:28 left in the game, and a tally by former IceHogs skater Akim Aliu with 19 seconds left sent the game to overtime.
Louis Leblanc ended the game with a goal 63 seconds into the extra session to take home the second point.
Kent Simpson was saddled with the loss, stopping 31 of 36 shots, and Dustin Tokarski took home the win for Hamilton by stopping 24 of 28 shots.
The very next night, Rockford jetted over to Toronto to face the Marlies. Toronto owned the first 30 minutes of hockey, holding a 2-0 lead midway through the game, but Rockford took over the second half and pulled out a 3-2 win.
Greg McKegg scored early in the first with a tally against Antti Raanta, and Carter Ashton doubled the Marlies’ lead to 2-0 8:23 into the second.
Broadhurst opened up the scoring for Rockford at 14:33 of the second as Rockford led a three-on-one rush into the offensive zone. Adam Clendening led the rush, and Broadhurst finished it off.
The other Broadhurst brother on the team, Alex Braodhurst, scored just under 3 minutes later to knot the score at 2-2 going into the third period. Brad Mills made a great play by rushing hard into the zone and beating the backchecker to the boards. Mills then immediately sent the pass to the front of the net, where a streaking Broadhurst snapped the puck into the net.
Jeremy Morin, who has since been recalled to the Chicago Blackhawks, gave Rockford the lead for good with 5:27 left in the game on a quick wrister from the slot.
Raanta preserved the win for Rockford and stopped 22 of 24 shots he faced, en route to his third win of the season.
Raanta would get the start Saturday, Oct. 26, and engaged himself in a goaltender shootout with Charlotte Checkers netminder Allen York. Both goalies played a stellar game, stopping a combined 57 shots of the 59 they faced, with Raanta edging out York with 29 saves on 30 shots. Both goaltenders were also named the first and second stars of the game, with Raanta winning the bid for No. 1 star.
Rockford controlled the pace of the game for the first 5 minutes of the game, and held a 7-0 lead on shots.
Charlotte struck first, and their only goal came with 2:23 left in the middle frame, courtesy of a low slapshot from the left blue line by Mark Flood. Rockford’s Klas Dahlbeck was sent off for a tripping minor, and the Checkers defenseman capitalized on the power-play attempt, putting Charlotte up 1-0 after two.
Jimmy Hayes knotted the score at 1-1 midway through the final frame with a nifty wrap-around goal. Dylan Olsen found Hayes in the offensive zone, and Hayes took the puck around the back side of the net from the left, emerging on the right side and sneaking the puck into the back of the net, fooling not only York, but referee Ryan Murphy and the lighting official. Murphy never signaled for a goal, and the red light, which is illuminated behind the net when a goal is scored, lit well after the goal celebration had started. Upon video review, it was determined the puck did, in fact, completely cross the line, and the game was tied at 1-1.
After 65 minutes of play, the game went to a shootout for the second straight time at home. Both first- and second-round shooters were denied on their attempts, and Hayes, the third-round shooter for Rockford, was denied as well. Chris Terry finally converted for Charlotte to put the Checkers up 1-0 after three rounds.
Rockford’ secret shootout weapon, Viktor Svedberg, who scored in the shootout against Grand Rapids, used the same move on Saturday and lifted a backhand shot to the top right corner of the net, knotting the skills competition at 1-1.
Garret Ross converted in the fifth round for Rockford, putting the ’Hogs up 2-1 in the fifth round. Raanta stopped Zach Boychuk’s attempt, solidifying a 2-1 shootout win for Rockford.
The following afternoon, Rockford played the final game of the week, hosting the Texas Stars. Sunday’s (Oct. 27) game would be another test for this young team for a few reasons. First, Rockford and Texas have the most points in the Western Conference, so a win would extend Rockford’s lead. Second, Rockford was playing its fourth game of the week, thus testing their durability and endurance. Finally, the Stanley Cup was in town and Rockford needed to show they deserved to be a part of the team that helped bring the cup to Chicago.
Once again, Rockford was pushed behind the eight ball early, giving up two goals in the first 5:03 of the game.
A fortuitous bounce gave Texas its first goal of the game 80 seconds into the contest. For Chris Mueller, it was his fourth of the young season. A pile-up in front of the net, combined with a sliding Svedberg in the crease, allowed the puck to bounce around, eluding Raanta and trickling into the net.
Francis Wathier tallied his first marker of the campaign at 5:03 to put Texas up by 2.
Rockford cut the lead in half with 3:24 remaining in the middle period with a power-play goal by Drew LeBlanc. The goal was a one-timer set up by Hayes while Rockford was on a two-on-one transition.
Alex Broadhurst tallied his third marker of the season just more than midway through the final frame with an excellent defensive play. Broadhurst was playing an aggressive forecheck against three Texas players. A cross-crease attempt was stolen by Broadhurst, who got in behind the defense and lifted a backhand shot past Cristopher Nilstorp.
Less than 2 minutes later, McNeill gave Rockford its first lead of the game with an unassisted goal. Rockford skated into the offensive zone with a nice transition from the neutral zone, allowing McNeill space on the right side to throw a dart over the shoulder of Nilstorp for the go-ahead goal.
Dahlbeck scored an empty-net tally with 52 seconds remaining to seal a 4-2 win for Rockford, their third straight. Raanta earned the win for Rockford, and once again, the first star of the game, stopping an impressive 46 of the 48 shots he faced.
Keys for the week
Rockford has done well playing from behind so far this season, and the trend continued in week four. The ’Hogs’ three wins this week all came after giving up the first goal in the game.
All lines are contributing for Rockford, and the young guns who were expected to produce are doing just that. The likes of McNeill, Ross, Danault and the Broadhurst brothers are all putting up points.
Svedberg may be out for a period of time, as he looks to have suffered a hand or wrist injury Sunday against Texas. A mid-ice hit left the large defenseman clutching his wrist as he slowly made his way to the bench. At the next stoppage, Svedberg skated toward the locker room, bent at the waist the entire time, and did not return to the game.
Rockford plays three games this week with two at home. The first game, a Halloween matchup Thursday, Oct. 31, has the Charlotte Checkers returning for the second time this season. The following night, Friday, Nov. 1, Rockford heads to Milwaukee to take on the Admirals for the first time this season. The IceHogs wrap up week five with a Sunday, Nov. 3, home game at 4 p.m. against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2013, issue