By Todd Reicher
Just a few short games after the Milwaukee Admirals stopped the Rockford IceHogs’ winning streak at eight games, the IceHogs rebounded to win four straight, including a Saturday night (Nov. 22) victory over the Ads.
The IceHogs had a Friday night (Nov. 21) home game against the last-place Iowa Wild. Despite the Wild sitting in the cellar of the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild affiliate has been playing strong hockey as of late, including a recent win against the Milwaukee Admirals on the road.
This game would be a big test for Rockford, as quite a few of their upper-echelon players had been called up by the Chicago Blackhawks to fill injury voids. Defenseman Adam Clendening had been called up to take the place of injured rookie defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk, who is out for three to four months with an injury. In addition, Phillip Danault was called in to fill in for ailing forward Andrew Shaw, and IceHogs captain Joakim Nordstrom is still up filling the void left by the Patrick Sharp injury. This is all compounded by Mark McNeill, Rockford’s leading scorer, still being out as a result of an injury suffered during the Milwaukee game last week.
Iowa tallied quickly, with an early power-play marker 1:37 into the opening frame. Tyler Graovac potted his fifth goal of the year to give the Wild a quick lead. Despite out-shooting the Wild, and controlling most of the play in the opening frame, Rockford was down 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Rockford got the tying goal 3:32 into the second frame when Ryan Schnell tallied his first goal of the season. The grinding forward took a nice pass from Alex Broadhurst, carried the puck around the back of the net and fired a shot over the shoulder of Johan Gustafsson and tied the game up at 1-1.
The IceHogs carried that momentum well into the second period, with Iowa getting their first shot on goal 12:00 into the second period. It wasn’t long after that Justin Falk would net his first goal of the campaign for the Wild to pull ahead once again.
Less than 1 minute later, big Viktor Svedberg blasted a shot from inside the left blue line to even the score at 2-2.
But Iowa would come storming right back with a hard-grinding goal of its own. Exactly 22 seconds later, Kurtis Gabriel put in his second goal this season to put the Wild in the lead yet again. Despite being up on shots by a margin of 26-12, Rockford was down where it mattered: on the scoreboard, by a score of 3-2.
Iowa pushed the pace through most of the final frame, and equaled its shot count of the first two periods combined. However, Scott Darling stood as tall as his 6-foot-6 frame and stopped all shots in the third period.
The IceHogs would get the equalizing goal 8:52 into the final period from Ryan Hartman, who had been silent in the goal category since he tallied two markers opening night. The gritty forward fired a hard shot over the shoulder of Gustafsson to knot the score for the final time.
After 60 scoreless minutes, the ’Hogs headed to overtime, where Hartman would once again be the hero. Defenseman TJ Brennan carried the puck from the defensive zone and caught the Wild on a two-on-one with Hartman. A sweet pass by Brennan led to a sweeter goal by Hartman at 3:14 of the overtime session to give Rockford a hard-fought 4-3 win.
The following night, Rockford faced its Wisconsin nemesis, the Milwaukee Admirals, for the fourth time this year. The IceHogs lost all three match-ups this year against the Ads, including two at home, and had lost eight straight dating back to last season. In fact, out of Rockford’s four regulation losses this season, three of them have come at the hands of the Ads.
For a change, it was Rockford getting on the board first, during their first power-play opportunity of the evening. Defenseman Kyle Cumiskey, just returning from injury, put his first goal of the season in the net at 8:49 of the opening frame to give Rockford the 1-0 lead. At this point of the game, Rockford held a commanding 9-2 shots-on-net, keeping the speedy, hard-forechecking Admirals at bay.
Milwaukee would figure out Rockford’s strategy quickly, and starting firing more shots at the net, which allowed them to tie — and finally surpass — Rockford in shots at the end of the period. Once again, Darling fared well against his former team, and stopped all 15 first-period shots.
Dennis Rasmussen scored at 3:26 of the second period to open up Rockford’s lead to 2-0, the largest lead they have held over the Ads this season. The crafty forward gobbled up a rebound let out from a Zach Miskovic shot and fired it into the back of the net for his fourth marker of the season.
Milwaukee would finally solve Darling 7:10 into the period with a nice one-timer from Garrett Noonan. Five seconds after a Peter Regin penalty expired, Anthony Biteto sailed a cross-ice pass to Noonan, who got the shot in before Darling could sprawl over to make the save, edging the Ads closer to the Hogs.
Brendan Leipsic would score his first of the year at 13:47 of the same period, on another cross-ice/one-timer combination, to knot the score at 2-2.
Rockford’s power play would come through again, this time with a Brennan blast, to put Rockford up once again 3-2. Brandon Mashinter got into the zone with Brennan on a two-on-one, and a perfect pass set up Brennan with his fourth of the season.
The IceHogs would commit a few more penalties down the stretch, but the defense and Darling helped fend off the Ads’ attacks. Miskovic also got more playing time in the third period as he took the role of right wing for the period, and played flawlessly. The 29-year-old defenseman made some great offensive plays with a strong forecheck, and set up some great chances for his teammates.
As the game progressed, Darling settled in more as the ’Hogs started to play their puck possession style of hockey. Each team saw a large decrease of shots taken, despite Milwaukee putting on pressure late in the third. Rockford blocked shot after shot in the final minutes, and the IceHogs held on for a 3-2 win.
The following afternoon, Rockford finished its second consecutive weekend of three games in three days with a road visit against the Chicago Wolves. Rockford defeated the Wolves at home 4-3 earlier in the season in their only other match-up.
As if Rockford hadn’t faced enough adversity this weekend, the IceHogs had to go into enemy territory, where the Chicago Wolves were undefeated in regulation in seven games this season (5-0-2).
It would also be the first game of the season for goaltender Mac Carruth, who was called up recently because of the injury of Michael Leighton.
The first period was a tough one for the ’Hogs, as they were forced to fight off three penalties in the first 9 minutes of the period, including 39 seconds of five-on-three. The ’Hogs, behind Carruth, fought off the early onslaught, as the Wolves fought off a Rockford power play midway through the period.
It wasn’t until just shy of the middle of the second period when the first team lit the lamp, and it was Garrett Ross of the IceHogs getting the tally.
Svedberg corralled the puck deep in the Rockford zone and found Brandon Mashinter alone behind the Chicago defense for a breakaway. Mashinter was just about caught, but just as he got to the front of the net, he left a drop pass that Ross snagged and flipped past Wolves backstop Matt Climie for the 1-0 lead.
After being out-shot 10-8 in the first period, Rockford took the lead in shots by putting nine on the board to Chicago’s four.
The third period was much of the same for both teams, but only Rockford was the recipient of a few power-play opportunities. With their first opportunity of the third period expiring, Rockford held strong presence in the offensive zone. As the penalty expired, Cumiskey slid the puck over to Klas Dahlbeck on the left side of the blue line. Dahlbeck fired the puck at the net, which was deflected by a Chicago defender on the way to the net. Climie managed to block the shot away, but it sat out in front of the crease, where Ross was stationed. He alertly slapped the puck behind Climie for the goal, his second of the night, and put Rockford up 2-0.
Rockford played its puck possession-style game, limiting the Chicago shots on net for a majority of the frame.
Climie was pulled with more than 2 minutes left in the game, but they were unable to convert with the extra attacker. Mashinter put an exclamation point on the victory with an empty net tally with 58 seconds left in the game.
Carruth fought off a few quality chances in the last minute of the period and solidified his first career AHL shutout, along with his first win of the season.
The win against Chicago gives Rockford its fourth straight win, and puts its points at 29 which, at the end of week seven, is best in the AHL.
Rockford’s schedule lightens up a bit this week with three games in only four days, as opposed to three. Rockford will stay home through the Thanksgiving holiday with a Wednesday, Nov. 26, game against the Iowa Wild. Friday, Nov. 28, the ’Hogs will host the Wolves in the first game of a home-and-home series. Both teams will head over to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, Saturday, Nov. 29, for the second half of the home-and-home.
From the Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2014, issue