Tales from the Trough: IceHogs rebound with two big road wins

Backstoppers were the story this weekend as Rockford IceHogs goaltender Scott Darling (pictured right) picked up the first two wins of the season for the ‘Hogs on the road this past week. Despite being saddled with a 1-0 shootout loss, Michael Leighton (pictured left) turned in a 28-save shutout for the first shutout of the season on Sunday against the Toronto Marlies. (Photos by Todd Reicher)
Backstoppers were the story this weekend as Rockford IceHogs goaltender Scott Darling (pictured right) picked up the first two wins of the season for the ‘Hogs on the road this past week. Despite being saddled with a 1-0 shootout loss, Michael Leighton (pictured left) turned in a 28-save shutout for the first shutout of the season on Sunday against the Toronto Marlies. (Photos by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Rockford started its first, and longest, road trip of the 2014-2015 season this past week with four games in eight days and secured five out of a possible six points in three games.

The first game of the road trip took place in Adirondack against the Flames. The home team came out early with a 1-0 lead just more than 5 minutes into the contest with an unassisted goal from Michael Ferland.

Rockford responded early in the second period with a goal from newcomer T.J. Brennan, his first of the season and first in an IceHogs sweater. Peter Regin and Teuvo Teravainen were credited with assists on the game-tying goal.

Both teams remained in a stalemate until Corban Knight tallied his first marker of the season for the Flames just less than 5 minutes into the final period. The unassisted goal put the Flames up 2-1, despite being outshot by Rockford 27-18 after two periods.

Viktor Svedberg pulled the game to even at 2-2 with his first marker of the campaign, assisted by Garrett Ross.

With Knight on the bench for a cross-checking penalty, Rockford’s back line once again lit the lamp, this time courtesy of Klas Dahlbeck. Assists on the goal were awarded to Regin and Stephen Johns.

The Flames were once again flagged for a penalty, this time with 50 seconds left in the game, which allowed Regin to tally an empty-net power-play goal, sealing a 4-2 IceHogs victory, their first of the young season.

Saturday, Oct. 18, Rockford headed to Hamilton, Ontario, to face the Bulldogs for the first of two meetings this season. Historically, Rockford has fared poorly in Hamilton, holding a dismal 1-4-1-0 record dating back to the 2007-2008 season. Last season, Rockford was awarded one point in an overtime loss on Oct. 22 when the Bulldogs won 5-4 in overtime.

It looked to be more of the same early as Hamilton’s Christian Thomas tallied his first of the season 2:50 into the contest.

Rockford looked outmatched throughout most of the first period as the Bulldogs dominated Rockford for large stretches of time, but goaltender Scott Darling, who earned his first victory as an IceHogs player against the Flames, kept the ’Hogs in the game, stopping a whopping 19 out of 20 shots he faced in the frame. On the other side of the ice, Mike Condon stopped all seven shots he faced in the first 20 minutes.

At 2:42 of the second, Rockford finally matched the Hamilton goal with a Joakim Nordstrom lamplighter. The second-year center tallied his first marker of the year to even the score at 1-1.

It looked like Rockford was going to take the lead on a Mark McNeill goal when a puck bounced off his chest into the back of the net. However, the officials deemed McNeill was interfering with Condon in the crease, and the marker was waved off.

After a back-and-forth third period, both teams remained tied, sending the game to overtime. In their first overtime game of the season, the IceHogs would meet the new overtime rules put into effect this off-season. The rules now state that teams will switch sides, making a long change for both teams, similar to the second period. In addition, the time of the extra session has been increased from five minutes to seven minutes. The biggest change, however, is that the teams will play four-on-four until the first whistle after three minutes of play. After that, teams will play three-on-three for the remainder of the period, or until one team scores.

The first three minutes came and went without a deciding goal, so we moved down to three-on-three. Rockford ended up gaining possession and drove in with a two-on-one advantage started by recent acquisition Kyle Cumiskey. The defenseman drove hard to the net, only to be denied by Condon. Alex Broadhurst attempted to stuff the puck in, but was also denied. A third — and final — effort by Regin was successful, and Rockford gained the second point of the night with Regin’s second goal in as many games.

Darling was, in fact, darling in the net for Rockford, stopping 34 of 35 shots for the ’Hogs, including many good changes in the overtime session.

The following afternoon, Rockford headed over to Toronto for a matinee game against the Marlies. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rockford has fared well away in Toronto over the years, holding a 4-1-1-1 road record against the North Division opponents, including a 3-2 win last season.

In a rare turn of events, neither team would tally a goal through 67 minutes of hockey, meaning the game would be decided in a shootout: only the second shootout in the AHL this season.

Both teams had multiple scoring chances throughout the contest, and Dahlbeck was the closest to lighting the lamp when he rang a shot off the crossbar 3:30 into the first period.

Both goaltenders played stellar with Antoine Bibeau earning first star honors of the game, stopping all 33 he shots he faced, and Michael Leighton was named second star, stopping all 28 shots he faced.

The shootout, however, was a different story with both first- and second-round shooters for both teams tallying in the skills competition. It was not until the fifth round of the shootout where Greg McKegg got one past Leighton, which Broadhurst was unable to match, giving the second point to Toronto with a 1-0 shootout win.

We have to go back to opening night 2012-2013 for the last time a game went to a shootout in a scoreless tie, when Rockford played the Wolves in Chicago. Carter Hutton, who is now the back-up goaltender for the Nashville Predators, was in goal for the IceHogs at the time.

The ’Hogs finish up their road trip Wednesday, Oct. 22, when they face the Rochester Americans in Rochester, N.Y.

Rockford will return home from their four-game road trip Saturday, Oct. 25, to host the Wolves, and then stay home the following afternoon to welcome the Lake Erie Monsters with a 4 p.m. matinee game.

View Todd Reicher’s photos from Rockford IceHogs games online at www.reicherstudios.com/Sports/HockeyPhotos or on his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/ReicherStudios.

From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue

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