Tales from the Trough: Rockford rolls to eighth straight win

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

Rockford IceHogs second-year forward Mark McNeill gets a lucky bounce for a goal during Saturday’s 3-1 win over Grand Rapids. McNeill remains hot for Rockford, scoring six goals in three games this week, including a hat trick Saturday. (Photo by Todd Reicher)
Rockford IceHogs second-year forward Mark McNeill gets a lucky bounce for a goal during Saturday’s 3-1 win over Grand Rapids. McNeill remains hot for Rockford, scoring six goals in three games this week, including a hat trick Saturday. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

Rockford’s winning streak was in serious jeopardy with their first game of week five against the Lake Erie Monsters. After 40 minutes, Rockford was down 4-1, but rattled off three third-period goals en route to a 5-4 overtime win.

Lake Erie jumped out to an early lead with two power-play goals in the first 6 minutes of the game. Stefan Elliott scored at 3:50 and Colin Smith tallied at 5:57 to give the Monsters a 2-0 lead.

Ville Pokka cut the Lake Erie lead in half with his second tally of the season 5:19 into the game.

The Monsters reclaimed their two-goal lead with another power-play marker 1:39 seconds after the Pokka goal. Smith was the culprit, once again.

Elliott would tally a fourth-straight power-play goal for Lake Erie, giving the Monsters a commanding 4-1 lead after the second period.

After the goal, Rockford pulled Michael Leighton after giving up four goals on 14 shots in favor of Scott Darling, who played a perfect game in relief.

At the end of the second period, I thought to myself that the IceHogs would need to tally at least one goal in the first 10 minutes of the period to make it a contest. That would give the team enough time to get a second goal in the latter half of the period, and potentially a third with the goaltender pulled.

Mark McNeill did tally a goal within that 10-minute time frame, but it was much sooner: 1:57 into the period.

As the period dragged on, Rockford started to pinch their defensemen into the zone a bit more and have them play deeper in the offensive zone. This created many more scoring chances, which Lake Erie backstop Calvin Pickard fought off.

It wasn’t until McNeill tallied his second goal of the night at 14:35 that the game truly became one the ’Hogs could win.

With a nice pick-up by Peter Regin, and a quick wrist shot, the crowd erupted with 1:40 left in regulation as the IceHogs evened the score with their third straight goal.

After 60 minutes, Rockford carried all of the momentum into the overtime session. Despite both teams getting two shots on goal in the overtime session, it was Rockford that got the goal and the extra point. With both teams dropping down to three-on-three, Regin got in with T.J. Brennan on a two-on-one situation going across center ice. Regin gained the edge over the defender, and Brennan fed a perfect pass to Regin, who moved in and lifted a shot over the right side of Pickard, giving Rockford an amazing 5-4 come-from-behind victory.

Darling was awarded the win after stopping all 12 shots he faced in relief, moving him to 4-0 on the season.

Two days later, Rockford crossed the border into Iowa for its first meeting of the season against the Wild. Just the opposite of the Lake Erie game, it was Rockford that came out storming the gates, launching to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. In addition, Rockford outshot the Wild by a whopping 21-3 margin. P.C. Labrie scored his first of the season for Rockford with a marker at 5:26 of the period.

Captain Joakim Nordstrom potted his fourth of the season 13:33 into the period with a power-play marker in their second attempt of the game.

The second period started out the same way with Rockford tacking on another two goals and holding a 4-0 lead. Peter LeBLanc netted his first of the season by playing hard at the net, and McNeill scored his third goal in two games with an unassisted marker 13:42 into the period on Rockford’s fourth power-play chance of the game.

Iowa made a game out of it as time was winding down in the second period. Brady Brassart and Marc Hagel scored exactly 1 minute apart with 1:51 and 0:51 left in the second period.

The Rockford lead was cut to one goal with a Jordan Schroeder marker at 4:20 of the final frame to bring the game to 4-3.

However, Nordstrom batted a puck out of mid air at 9:36 while on another power play to reclaim that two-goal cushion.

Iowa pulled goaltender John Curry in the waning moments of the period but could not get another puck past Darling, and Rockford carried a 5-3 win back home.

Saturday, Rockford returned to the BMO for its second game of the season against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Just like the first time these teams faced one another, the Griffins were the first to hit the scoreboard. Landon Ferraro notched his second goal of the season 3:39 into the contest for a 1-0 lead.

Answering later in the period was hot-handed McNeill at the 10:15 point of the first frame. The goal was McNeill’s team-leading seventh of the season and his fourth in four games.

The second period featured a plethora of scoring chances for both teams, along with back-and-forth action, but no goals to account for the efforts.

As play continued into the third period with the game still deadlocked at 1-1, a fortunate bounce put the IceHogs up by a goal.

McNeill was driving hard to the net and put a puck in on the pads of Grand Rapids goaltender Thomas McCollum. The shot was blocked by McCollum, but the rebound shot out and hit the skate of Griffins defender Alexey Marchenko and redirected itself past McCollum and into the net for the goal.

Leighton made some key saves down the stretch, especially late in the third when Rockford had two penalties called against them in quick succession, and finished the game stopping 24 of 25 Grand Rapids shots.

With McCollum on the bench for the extra attacker, McNeill fought near the centerline boards for a loose puck, and managed to gain possession of the rubber. With a quick backhanded flick, McNeill lifted the puck through the Griffins’ zone and into the open net for the natural hat trick and game-sealing goal with 21 seconds remaining in the game.

The win gave Rockford an AHL-era best eighth consecutive win, putting them 1 point behind the Utica Comets for the best record in the league.

Rockford will remain home most of this week for a stretch of three tough games. The first is a Friday, Nov. 14, contest against the Milwaukee Admirals, one of only two teams to hand the IceHogs a regulation loss this season.

Both teams will travel to Milwaukee the following day for the second half of a home-and-home series.

The IceHogs finish their third game in three days with a 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 16, match-up, at home against the Texas Stars, who sit just behind Milwaukee in the conference standings.

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 Nov. 12-18, 2014, issue

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