By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs’ mettle was tested with three games in three days. If three games in three days weren’t enough, sandwich a road game in Grand Rapids in the middle of the three games, and you have a rough weekend.
Rockford’s first game of the week was a high-scoring affair at home against the Grand Rapids Griffins that saw Rockford winning 5-4.
The game did not start out rosy for the ’Hogs, as two quick power-play goals from the Griffins put them behind the eight ball early. In addition, both of the two power-play goals were scored 5 and 4 seconds into the power play, both by Landon Ferraro.
But Rockford would strike back with five unanswered goals spanning three periods to give Rockford a hefty 5-2 lead.
Brad Mills put Rockford’s first goal on the scoreboard at 16:56 of the first to cut the Griffins’ lead in half. Pierre-Marc Bouchard held the puck behind the Grand Rapids net as the Griffins’ defense waited for his move. Mills took the opportunity to catch the defense flat-footed and raced toward the net. Bouchard laid out a perfect tape-to-tape pass, which Mills lifted into the top corner for his seventh tally of the season.
Adam Clendening fired a rocket past Tom McCollum at 7:31 of the second period to even the score at 2-2. The power-play goal, on Rockford’s first opportunity of the evening, was scored 19 seconds into the advantage.
Defenseman Mathieu Brisebois scored his second goal of the season (first as an IceHogs skater) just more than 10 minutes later to give the ’Hogs their first lead of the game. The blast from the left blue line was a one-timer set up from Alex Broadhurst and his older brother Terry Broadhurst.
Clendening extended Rockford’s lead to 4-2 with his second marker of the evening. For the second time, Alex Broadhurst was the primary assist.
Rockford put up its fifth goal of the game, the fourth by a defenseman, 4:10 into the third period. The power-play goal, their second chance of the night, was scored 4 seconds into the penalty. Mills won the offensive zone face-off directly to Brian Connelly, who immediately fired the puck into the back of the net.
As expected, the Griffins would not go away quietly. Grand Rapids tallied two power-play goals late in the third to close the gap to 5-4. Andrej Nestrasil scored both markers within 3 minutes, cutting the ’Hogs’ lead to one goal with 2:12 left in regulation.
Agitator Jordin Tootoo was flagged for a high-stick penalty with 1:13 left in the game to all but squash the hopes of a comeback, and Rockford held on to a 5-4 win.
The following night, both teams headed all the way back to Grand Rapids, Mich., for the second game of the home-and-home. Both squads had to deal with the one-hour time difference as well as the lengthy bus ride through three states. For the second straight night, the home team came away with a victory, as the Griffins won 4-1.
Both teams were matched shot-for-shot, with both tallying nine shots in the first 20 minutes. The goaltenders prevailed, as the game went to the first intermission at a scoreless tie.
Alex Broadhurst broke the tie 4:58 into the second to give Rockford the first lead of the game.
That lead was short-lived, as Mitch Callahan tallied his 26th goal on the season, a power-play goal, at 10:25 to even things up at 1-1.
From there on, it was all Grand Rapids, as the Griffins scored three additional unanswered goals.
Colin Campbell scored at 17:17 of the second to send the game into the second intermission at a 2-1 Rapids lead.
Tootoo tallied at 6:46 to increase the lead to two, and winger Teemu Pulkkinen put the dagger in the ’Hogs at 16:24.
After a successful offensive show the previous night, Rockford was held to one goal and 0-for-5 on the power play. The Griffins scored on one of their two attempts. For the second night in a row, LaBarbera gave up four goals, although this night the ’Hogs’ offense couldn’t give him the support.
Rockford headed back almost immediately for a Sunday matinée against the Chicago Wolves. Sunday also marked the IceHogs’ 11th annual jersey auction night, and the theme for this year was the March of Dimes.
The first period marked a very fast-paced, up-and-down affair with a total of 25 shots on net as Chicago edged out Rockford 13-12. Both goalies, Kent Simpson for Rockford and Jake Allen for Chicago, looked good stopping all shots.
Mark McNeill drew first blood and got the scoring under way with his 16th tally of the season 4:32 into the second. Clendening found the rookie skater behind the Wolves’ defense, giving McNeill a one-on-one with Allen. McNeill beat Allen over his left shoulder for the score.
Ty Rattie pulled the game back to even with a point-blank slap shot off the left side of the Simpson.
A fortunate rebound gave Joakim Nordstrom his 17th goal of the season. Allen blocked a Mathieu Brisebois shot off his right pad, which came right out to Nordstrom on the left of the net. Nordy quickly corralled the puck and pitched it in, giving Rockford a 2-1 lead.
That lead was extended later in the third with a power-play goal from Brandon Mashinter. “Monster Mash” fired the puck at the net, which deflected off a Wolves skater and into the back of the net, putting the ’Hogs up 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Chicago came out firing in the third and quickly tied the game up with two goals in the first six minutes. Rattie scored his second marker of the night on a Chicago power play, and Michael Davis tallied his ninth of the season 2 seconds after the Wolves’ power play expired.
Rockford came storming back, starting with a goal from Mills right around the midway point of the period. For the second time this weekend, Bouchard set up the winger, who scored the goal from the right face-off circle.
Two empty-net goals at the end of the game, first from Mashinter with 1:18 remaining and a second by Phillip Danault with 56 seconds left, sealed the deal for Rockford, and the ’Hogs ended their three-game weekend with a 6-3 win.
Keys for the week
Coming out ahead on a weekend where you play three games in three days is never easy, and Rockford did just that. With Rockford still fighting to keep themselves in the playoff race, any win is big, but wins against teams that are above you in the standings are even more important. With a split against the Griffins and a win against Chicago, Rockford kept themselves in the driver’s seat for another week.
Rockford goes on their last big road trip of the season this weekend with a two-game series against the Abbotsford Heat. The ’Hogs then head to Milwaukee Tuesday, April 8, for their last game in Milwaukee in the regular season.
Rockford will wind up the season playing four of their last five games at home with a visit to Chicago smacked in the middle of their final five games.
Three weeks remain in the season, and it appears Rockford is in a five-way race for the final two playoff spots. At the end of week 26, Rockford sits in seventh place, tied with the Charlotte Checkers, at 75 points. The Oklahoma City Barons are on the outside looking in with 71 points, and the Rochester Americans, who are 0-7-2-0 in their last nine games, hold 70 points. The Utica Comets are still in the hunt with 68 points.
Above Rockford are the Abbotsford Heat and the Milwaukee Admirals. Milwaukee sits 2 points ahead of Rockford, but has one game in hand. In addition, Rockford will play the Admirals two more times before the season expires. The Heat sit 6 points ahead of Rockford, but if Rockford can sweep the weekend series and hold the Heat without a point, that gap would close to 2 points. Additionally, the ’Hogs have one game in hand on the Heat.
Posted April 2, 2014