By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs tested their endurance with a tough three games in three days Dec. 13-15. Two of the three games came at home with a two-game series against the Oklahoma City Barons.
Rockford jumped out to a quick lead on a miscue from Oklahoma City’s young goaltender, Laurent Brossoit. The puck was passed out to the side of the net by Oklahoma City, and hit the skate of a Barons player, redirecting it into the net. Brossoit was not in position, allowing the puck to skitter past him. Brandon Pirri was awarded the goal, putting Rockford up 1-0.
Veteran Brad Winchester tallied his seventh of the season less than 2 minutes later to put Rockford up 2-0 only 3:13 into the contest.
Mac Carruth gave up his first goal of the game at 7:41 to Andrew Miller to draw the Barons to within a goal, but Garret Ross got Rockford back to a two-goal lead 4 minutes later.
Ryan Hamilton answered back with the fifth goal of the period to bring the game to 3-2 after 20 minutes. Neither goaltender played well in the first, with Carruth giving up two goals on 10 shots and Brossoit surrendering three on nine Rockford shots.
Oklahoma City’s Kale Kessy corralled a rebound at 3:14 of the second period to pull the game to a 3-3 tie.
Just after the middle of the period passed, Winchester received a breakaway pass from Viktor Svedberg, getting him behind the Oklahoma City defense. Winchester, skating in on the left side, saw an opening on the right side of the net and fired a shot past Brossoit at 11:41 to put Rockford up once again.
Both goaltenders settled in after that, with neither netminder allowing another goal, giving Rockford a 4-3 win.
As far as penalties go, both teams were pretty disciplined with only six total infractions called in the game, three on each club.
Both teams met up again the following night for the second game of the series, but this time it was Oklahoma City getting out to the early lead.
Will Acton scored 1:41 into the period on a fairly weak shot that Carruth should have stopped.
Instead of falling into a 2-0 hole, as the ’Hogs did to their opponent the previous night, Rockford’s Philippe Lefebvre tallied an unassisted goal at 6:57 for his second goal of the season.
Rockford’s power play finally struck gold with a Joakim Nordstrom goal halfway through the first. Brandon Mashinter tallied his first point in an IceHogs uniform with the primary assist on the goal. Mashinter was stationed in front of the net and received a pass from Pirri, which he tried to wrap into the net. The puck slid past the crease and right to Nordstrom, who slammed home his seventh of the season.
A Rockford turnover in their own end led to the Barons tying the game with 35 seconds left in the period. Roman Horak scored the unassisted goal for his seventh of the season.
Mark McNeill, who has been quiet after a hot start, gave Rockford the lead once again very early in the second period while Rockford was on a five-on-three power play. McNeill’s first shot was fought away by Richard Bachman, but the rebound came right back out to McNeill, who didn’t miss on his second attempt.
Ex-IceHogs skater Derek Nesbitt sniped a one-timer top shelf from the left face-off circle to tighten up the score.
Terry Broadhurst scored his seventh of the year on a shot from the back door to once again give Rockford the lead. The goal was the third power-play score of the game, putting Rockford at 3-for-5 with the man advantage.
The Barons put on the pressure late, but Martin Marincin scored on a blast from the point with 2:21 left in regulation to pull the game to a 4-4 tie.
Both teams had good opportunities in the extra session, but both goaltenders came up huge with some big saves. Carruth stopped on a breakaway attempt and made a great save on a cross-crease pass to keep the ’Hogs in the game.
Rockford’s shooters would prevail in the skills competition (or the shoot-out, if you prefer) with three of the four shooters finding the back of the net. Nordstrom and Pirri tallied in the first two rounds for Rockford, while Nesbitt and Linus Omark were stopped in their attempts. Maxim Shalunov made a great move on his attempt, which undressed Bachman; however, Shalunov lost the handle at the last second and couldn’t put the puck in the net.
With Ryan Martindale losing the handle on his shot, the door opened for Broadhurst to win the game. With a nice backhand-forehand move, Broadhurst lifted a shot into the back of the net, giving Rockford the extra point and the win.
The victory gave Rockford an impressive 9-0-2 record in one-goal games thus far this season. Rockford also improved their record to 4-0-1 in their last five games since a 7-1 drubbing from Chicago.
Rockford headed into the neighboring state of Iowa to face their newest Midwest Division rival, the Iowa Wild. The Wild, last place in the Midwest, split their series with Rockford on the weekend of Nov. 8 with Rockford winning the first game 3-1, then losing the following night 5-2.
Zack Phillips got the Wild on the board quickly, 26 seconds into the game, spoiling the debut of Allen York, a new IceHogs goaltender signed to a PTO (Professional Try-Out) contract as a result of the call-ups of Antti Raanta and Kent Simpson.
Darcy Kuemper played a strong first period, stopping all 13 shots faced.
The Wild extended their lead to 2-0 off the stick of Carson McMillan at 2:37 of the second frame.
Defenseman Klas Dahlbeck tallied his eighth marker of the season to pull Rockford to within one with 4:28 left in the second period.
Rockford got into penalty trouble early in the third, but managed to kill off two penalties in the first 8 minutes to keep the game close.
However, Tyler Graovac tallied his fourth goal of the season at 9:09 to extend the lead to 3-1.
The IceHogs, who had played a disciplined set of games against the Barons, tallied more penalties at the end of the third period to seal their fate. Although Rockford stopped all seven Wild power-play opportunities, they were unable to get anything else past Kuemper, who played a strong 37-save game, leading the Wild to a 3-1 win.
Keys for the week
After a brief losing streak, Rockford evened out the losses with a string of wins to keep them competitive in the tight Western Conference.
Despite having their top two goaltenders called up to Chicago, Rockford managed to snag some wins behind ECHL Carruth. The Chicago Blackhawks made a trade to give Rockford some help in goal, receiving veteran netminder Jason LaBarbera in exchange for future considerations. Labarbera, a veteran of more than 150 NHL games in 14 seasons, played a few games this season for the Oklahoma City Barons, where he showed an impressive 1.93 GAA and .953 percent save percentage in two games, allowing four goals on 86 shots. LaBarbera also played in seven games for the Edmonton Oilers this season, posting a 1-3 record with a 3.28 GAA and .870 percent save percentage behind a less-than-effective Oilers defense. The last time he suited up for an NHL team was Dec. 12, 2013, against the Boston Bruins, where he came in relief and stopped all 12 shots he faced in 39:06 of ice time.
Rockford will head to Grand Rapids to face the conference-leading Griffins Friday, Dec. 20, with a 6 p.m. start time. The team then heads back to Rockford the following night, Saturday, Dec. 21, to host the Milwaukee Admirals for a 7 p.m. match-up.
From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue