By Todd Reicher
Prior to this season, it had been five years since the Rockford IceHogs traveled to the state of New York for a hockey game. Rockford returned to the Empire State this weekend for meetings against the Rochester Americans and the newly-formed Utica Comets.
Much has changed between Rockford and Rochester since they last met five seasons ago, with Rockford being toward the top of the league and the Americans hovering at the bottom. Now, Rochester is climbing out of the cellar, and the ’Hogs have slowly been falling to where the teams are almost even. Although the teams have only met a total of four times, Rockford holds the advantage with a 3-1 record.
The first game of the weekend took place Friday, Jan. 31, against the Americans. Rochester dominated the ’Hogs in the first 20 minutes, not allowing Rockford a shot-on-goal, until 6 minutes left in the first period. Despite being outshot 11-1, the game remained scoreless after the first period.
Rockford started to play catch-up in the second period, but it was the Americans who got on the board first. Colton Gillies, who spent the last three seasons with a familiar Rockford opponent, the Houston Aeros, tallied the first goal of the game, unassisted, at 3:52.
Less than 1 minute later, Garret Ross was called for a slashing penalty, which led to a Rochester goal 41 seconds later. Defenseman Brayden McNabb scored his fifth marker of the season on the power play to put the home team up 2-0.
The lead was increased to 3-0 at 13:53 by winger Alex Hutchings.
Rochester piled on another goal in the third period with 9:34 remaining in the game to give the Americans an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
Philippe Lefebvre spoiled the shutout for Matt Hackett with his fourth goal of the season at 12:03. Brandon Mashinter and Alex Broadhurst assisted on the lone goal.
Rockford was unable to put any more past Hackett, and the Americans skated off with a 4-1 victory.
The following night, Rockford made its way through New York to face the Utica Comets, the newest team in the AHL. Although the IceHogs statistically have never faced the Comets before, they have, as the Comets were the Chicago Wolves last year. The Wolves’ affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks ended, leading to the birth of the Comets, the new affiliate for the Canucks.
The game started ominously with a Rockford delay of game penalty on Klas Dahlbeck 19 seconds into the first period. Ex-IceHogs skater Pascal Pelletier took advantage 9 seconds later with his ninth goal of the season, putting the Comets up 1-0 28 seconds into the game.
Rockford’s Pat Mullane would respond quickly with his fourth goal of the campaign with 2:05 expired in the first.
The ’Hogs’ worst-ranked PK in the AHL would fight off a five-on-three penalty kill later in the first, keeping the game tied 1-1 after 20 minutes.
Rockford would give up another five-on-three advantage to the Comets early in the second, but the PK prevailed once again, keeping the game locked at 1-1.
Mashinter broke the tie just after the midway point of the game with his sixth goal of the season.
After a 12-12 shots-on-goal tie in the first period, Rockford edged out Utica by a 13-9 margin in the second.
Utica dominated the third period, amassing 14 shots-on-goal to Rockford’s five, but Kent Simpson fought off the barrage in net for the ’Hogs, en route to a 34-save performance and a 2-1 win.
Keys for the week
The Rockford power play was held off the board on four attempts this weekend, while the opponents earned two goals on nine attempts. The biggest kills of the weekend were both of the five-on-three attempts against the Comets Saturday, keeping Rockford in the game.
The IceHogs return home for four-straight games, starting Tuesday, Feb. 4 ,against the Hamilton Bulldogs (results unavailable at press time).
Rockford will then play host to the Iowa Wild at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8, and then wrap up the week Sunday, Feb. 9, against the Utica Comets.
From the Feb. 5-11, 2014, issue