By Todd Reicher
Things keep going the IceHogs’ way, as Rockford won two divisional match-ups this weekend to extend their point streak to nine games and put them in a prime position for a playoff spot.
Rockford’s first game this week took place at the BMO Harris Bank Center Friday, Feb. 21, against the Chicago Wolves. One week prior, the Chicago Wolves scored the game-tying goal with 4 seconds left in regulation, en route to a shootout win. The loss was the only blemish on Rockford’s record in their last nine games played. This week, however, Rockford held off a late charge from the Wolves, en route to a 2-1 win.
The first period was fairly uneventful, with no goals tallied on a total of 18 shots —12 for Rockford and six for Chicago.
Three minutes into the second, Jani Hakanpaa boarded Brandon Pirri, causing a fracas in the Chicago zone. Brandon Mashinter joined the fray to stick up for his fellow linesman, and was agitated by Cody Beach, brother of ex-IceHogs skater Kyle Beach. With one swift blow, Mashinter sent Beach down to the ice in a heap. Officials quickly intervened and escorted Mashinter to the penalty box while medical staff attended to Beach. After a brief conference, Mashinter was sent to the dressing room after being assessed a 5-minute major for an aggressor penalty and given a game misconduct. The ’Hogs killed off the 5-minute major, keeping the game at a scoreless tie.
It took until 13:55 of the second period for the first team to strike, a goal by Pirri. The primary assist by Jeremy Morin extended the point streak for both players — Morin to eight games and Pirri to five.
Rockford struck again 1:33 later with a power-play tally from Garret Ross. The forward poked a rebound under the pads of all-star goalie Jake Allen for his 13th score of the season.
Jason LaBarbera carried the shutout until 7:06 into the final frame, when Chris Porter scored his seventh marker of the season. Rockford was unable to clear the puck out of the zone, and Chicago capitalized on the fatigued ’Hogs to cut the lead to one goal.
Ross was flagged for a goaltender interference penalty with 2:04 left in the game, opening the door for another late Chicago comeback. The PK prevailed for Rockford as they held the Wolves off the board and came away with a hard-fought 2-1 win. The victory closed the gap between the division rivals, pulling Rockford to within a few points of the Wolves.
The following night, Rockford played host to another division rival, the Milwaukee Admirals.
For the second night in a row, Rockford opened up the scoring. Halfway through the first period, Brad Winchester fired a shot from the left boards past ex-IceHogs goaltender Hannu Toivonen for his 16th score of the season.
Pirri tallied for the second-straight night to double the Rockford lead to 2-0 with a power-play tally at 16:07. The one-timer goal, which rang off the top crossbar, was set up with a perfect cross-ice pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Milwaukee controlled play in the second period, outshooting Rockford 12-6, but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for their efforts. Rockford’s sixth shot of the period extended the team’s lead to 3-0 with Morin’s 18th goal of the campaign. Adam Clendening fed the puck to Morin, who took it from the center line, past the Ads’ back end, and into the back of the net.
Rockford’s offense wouldn’t relent and extended the lead to 4-0 off a third-period Mark McNeill goal, his 16th this year. Both Broadhurst brothers, Alex Broadhurst and Terry Broadhurst, factored into the goal. It looked like Terry Broadhurst was the one who fired the goal into the back of the net, but McNeill, who was sprawled out on the ice in front of the net, somehow deflected the puck enough to change the path, fooling substitute goaltender Scott Darling, who was brought in at the start of the third to relieve Toivonen. LaBarbera, getting his second start in as many nights, lost another shutout bid at 9:13 with a power-play goal from the Ads.
Once again, Milwaukee doubled Rockford’s shot output for the period, 14-7, but it was all for naught as LaBarbera carried the weight for the rest of the period, backstopping Rockford to a 4-1 victory.
Keys for the week
Rockford’s defense had their best weekend so far this season only allowing two goals on 59 shots.
Pirri and Morin continued to produce for Rockford, both extending their point streaks. Clendening’s 2-point weekend put him at 18th overall in the AHL for scoring with 43 points, which is second overall for defensemen.
Rockford looks to keep the point streak alive with three straight road games in week 22. The first of three games takes place against the Iowa Wild Feb. 25 (results unavailable at press time). The team then travels down to Oklahoma City for a two-game road series against the Barons. The first game, Friday, Feb. 28, starts at 7 p.m. Central, as does the Saturday game.
Photos from these — and other — Rockford IceHogs home games can be seen on my website at www.reicherstudios.com/Sports/HockeyPhotos, or on my Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/ReicherStudios.
From the Feb. 26-March 4, 2014 issue