Tales from the Trough: IceHogs retain top spot in Western Conference

Rockford IceHogs second-year forward Garrett Ross was hot for Rockford this week, scoring four goals in three games, including a hat trick in Sunday’s game against the Lake Erie Monsters. (Photo by Todd Reicher)
Rockford IceHogs second-year forward Garrett Ross was hot for Rockford this week, scoring four goals in three games, including a hat trick in Sunday’s game against the Lake Erie Monsters. (Photo by Todd Reicher)

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The IceHogs faced another week of challenging games, and came away with another 3 points.

The week started out with a tough road game against the rival Milwaukee Admirals. Rockford ended the Ads’ streak of eight-straight wins against the ’Hogs last week as the team looked to start a winning streak of its own.

Rockford’s Garrett Ross gave Rockford the first goal of the game midway through the first period with his seventh goal of the season.

The ’Hogs controlled the pace for the majority of the period, and held a 10-4 shots-on-goal advantage after the first 20 minutes

Matt Carey extended Rockford’s lead to 2-0 2:42 into the middle period. The gritty winger’s fourth goal of the season was set up by TJ Brennan with a cross-ice pass. Carey mostly whiffed on the pass, but he got just enough of it to carry across the goal line. This time, it was Milwaukee holding a shots advantage by a total of 9-6. Michael Leighton looked impressive, stopping all 13 shots in the first two periods.

Rockford scored early in the third to put a stranglehold on the game. Drew LeBlanc got his third goal of the season into the basket following a Cody Bass shot to put the ’Hogs up 3-0.

Brennan put the final nail in the coffin with 3:49 remaining in the game, notching his fifth goal of the campaign. Brennan’s snipe shot from the left face-off circle beat Magnus Hellberg cleanly, giving Rockford a commanding 4-0 lead.

Rockford cinched the defensive game up tight, allowing only six third-period Milwaukee shots, and Leighton made some key saves late to preserve the 4-0 win, and his 38th career AHL shutout, putting him third all-time in the AHL. More importantly, the win extended Rockford’s point lead over the Admirals and the rest of the Midwest Division opponents.

Friday, Dec. 6, Rockford laced up for its annual Teddy Bear Toss against the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins have been up and down this season, starting out slow, then winning a few key games, before cooling off again. The Detroit Red Wings’ AHL squad came in to Rockford losing two straight.

After the IceHogs shut out the Ads on the road, it was time for the IceHogs to get shutout at home in Rockford’s most disappointing performance of the year. The ’Hogs looked a step out of sync — missing passes, blowing coverage and assignments, and exhibiting all-around sloppy play. Give credit where credit is due — the Griffins looked like a team on a mission to win.

Jared Coreau played a perfect game in net, stopping some good chances from Rockford, but the ’Hogs couldn’t find a way to get one past him.

The Griffins got a gritty goal early when Kevin Porter found a puck that bounced around behind Leighton. Rockford’s netminder attempted to spin around and bat the puck with his stick, but he was unable to clear it out, and Porter got it into the net.

Rockford was caught trying to be aggressive late in the first period. The ’Hogs’ d-men pinched in with 15 seconds left, but the Griffs got the puck past the two back ends, leading to a 2-0 rush. Anthony Mantha rushed the puck on the left wing with Andreas Athanasiou on his right. At the last second, Mantha looked off Leighton and fed it to Athanasiou for the one-timer and a 2-0 lead at the intermission.

A five-on-three advantage for the visitors turned the game into a 3-0 contest when Mantha slapped home a one-timer.

The ’Hogs carried into the final period with a brief five-on-three, but were unable to convert the chance.

Leighton was pulled with 3:30 left in the game, but Rockford was unable to find the back of the net, and Landon Ferraro hit an empty net to give the Griffins a 4-0 win.

Rockford played its final game of the week with a Sunday matinee against the Lake Erie Monsters. The ’Hogs had previously defeated the Monsters in two games at home this year and were looking to make it three straight versus the Ohio opponents.

It was the IceHogs that got out to the early lead with a quick two goals from Ross. At 4:59 of the first, Ross scored a greasy goal in front of the net for his eighth tally of the season. Ville Pokka and Teuvo Teravainen were credited with the assists.

Ross’ second goal of the night came just under 3 minutes later, with another goal scored close in. This time, it was Brennan and Phillip Danault with the assists that put Rockford up 2-0.

Paul Carey pulled the Monsters to within a goal at 12:09 of the period, his fifth of the season. Carey was playing hard in front of the net, and Mike Sgarbossa fired a shot from the half boards, and the puck hit Carey and slid into the back of the net.

With time winding down in the frame, Carey knotted the score at 2-2 with an assist from Colin Smith.

The second and third periods were played much tighter than the first, with the only goals coming in the second period.

Ross completed the hat trick with 2:57 left in the second period to give Rockford a 3-2 lead.

With only 18 seconds left in the period, Maxim Noreau scored his fourth of the season. Leighton was unable to corral a puck in the goalmouth, as a flock of players gathered on the opposite side of Leighton. Noreau jabbed his stick at the loose rubber and barely got it into the net, tying the score at 3-3.

No scoring in the final frame led to an overtime session during which the Monsters would claim the victory. Both teams were pulled down to three-on-three, as we were late in overtime, and Joey Hishon got a feed from Stefan Elliott to seal the OT win.

Rockford will travel to Milwaukee for a Wednesday, Dec. 10, game against the Admirals. The team then travels to Ohio for a weekend match-up against the Lake Erie Monsters. The first game is a Friday, Dec. 12, game starting at 6:30 p.m. Central, followed by a 6 p.m. Central game the following night, Saturday, Dec. 13.

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 Dec. 10-16, 2014, issue

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