Tales from the Trough: IceHogs starting to slip in December

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

After an incredibly hot start to the season, the Rockford IceHogs have started to cool down and sink back to reality a bit. In their last 10 games, the IceHogs show a record of 3-4-3-0; however, they are still atop of the Midwest Division.

The week started off with a very tough loss to the Iowa Wild. Despite putting a franchise-high 59 shots on goal against the Wild Tuesday, Dec. 16, the ’Hogs could only manage to put one puck in the net in a 5-1 loss.

It appeared Rockford would handle the Wild like they have other times this season, as Rockford hit the score sheet first. Matt Carey dumped in his fifth goal of the season with an assist going to Kyle Cumiskey and Mark McNeill, who returned to the lineup after missing almost a month of action.

After the first period, it was Rockford leading 1-0 and holding a shots-on-goal advantage of 15-19.

Rockford then poured on the shots in the next period, putting up 19 to Iowa’s 11. However, it was the Wild who tacked on three goals in the middle frame. The three-goal second period was the first time the ’Hogs have allowed more than two goals in a period this season.

The IceHogs’ previous period shot total was eclipsed with a 25-shot total in the third frame to a paltry five by Iowa, but the Wild still managed two goals on those five shots (one being an empty net goal late in the game). Still, Rockford was unable to find the back of the net, and Iowa’s goaltending tandem of John Curry and Johan Gustafsson stole the show. Inexplicably, Curry left the game after the second period, stopping 34 of 35 shots faced. Gustafsson came in and stopped all 25 third-period shots.

In a twist of events, both Iowa goaltenders were named the first and second stars of the game, and rightfully so.

Rockford would then head down to Oklahoma City to finish off their season-long six-game road trip with a pair of games against the surging Barons.

The IceHogs found themselves on the other side of the puck this game, as the Barons dominated the IceHogs in the shots-on-goal department by a total of 31-11 after two periods. Luckily, Scott Darling was standing on his head for Rockford as the game sat at a close 1-0 Oklahoma City lead after 40 minutes.

Toward the end of the second frame, Oklahoma was flagged for two penalties in a short amount of time, and Rockford went into the third period with 23 seconds of five-on-three time. The IceHogs managed to slip the rubber into the cage 30 seconds into the period with a hard one-timer from Teuvo Teravainen. McNeill found the rookie winger on the back door of the net and sailed a pass across the ice, which Teravainen fired right into the twine.

Just more than 1 minute later, Barons winger Travis Ewanyk was flagged for tripping, and Rockford was right back on the power play. Pierre-Cedric Labrie found a loose puck in the slot from a Ville Pokka shot and fired it in the net for his third goal of the season, and put Rockford up 2-1.

Rockford seemed to take control of the game as the period moved on, and held a 7-0 shots-on-goal advantage throughout 6 minutes into the final period.

The Barons started to fight back, and with T.J. Brennan in the box for a high stick, Oklahoma City’s third-ranked power play unit struck for the first time in the game. Jason Williams tallied his 11th of the campaign to even the score at 2-2.

With time winding down in the third, Barons netminder Laurent Brossoit made two excellent stops on both McNeill and Pokka with roughly 11 seconds left in the game to preserve the tie and send the game to overtime.

Once again, Brennan was the goat, as he was called for a delay of game penalty with 36 seconds left in the game. With the Barons at a four-on-three skater advantage, Williams struck again with just 1 second left in overtime play to give the Barons the extra point and send Rockford off with a 3-2 overtime loss.

Both teams met again the following afternoon for a matinee 2 p.m. game; however, this time it was not as lopsided as the previous game.

Oklahoma City’s Curtis Hamilton put in his sixth goal of the season at 15:58 of the period.

Five seconds later, McNeill was called for a tripping minor, followed by a Brennan delay of game call 1:11 later to give the Barons an extended five-on-three advantage. Rockford managed to kill off both penalties, but was put behind the eight ball once again just 5 seconds after the previous penalty expired. Luckily for Rockford, Hamilton was called for interference 30 seconds into the power play to put both teams to four-on-four.

Rockford was unable to capitalize on their extra skater to keep the game at 1-0, until Joshua Winquist scored his first goal of the season to give Oklahoma City a 2-0 lead.

Twenty-six seconds expired before Brandon Mashinter got one back for Rockford and brought the ’Hogs to within a goal.

Rockford had a chance to tie the game up when they were awarded two penalties in less than a minute to give them 66 seconds of five-on-three play. Unfortunately, Rockford was unable to take advantage of their opportunity, either, and the game remained at 2-1.

The IceHogs carried the play through most of the second period, and an unlucky bounce gave the Barons a 3-1 lead. With 14 seconds remaining in the second period, a shot from Andrew Miller deflected off of Mashinter’s stick and behind Darling to put the Barons up 3-1 going into the third — and final — period.

Unfortunately, the IceHogs were unable to crack Brossoit for a second time, and the ’Hogs left Oklahoma City earning 1 out of 4 points.

Despite Rockford stumbling these past few weeks, the team still remains strong in the division. The Wolves have shown a 3-7-0 record in their last 10, while the Admirals have gone 2-6-0-2 in the same stretch. The Grand Rapids Griffins, 6-3-1 in their last 10, have hit their stride recently, and are now tied with both Milwaukee and Chicago with 31 points.

Rockford will play its next three games at home: a Friday, Dec. 26, contest against the Iowa Wild; then, a Sunday, Dec. 28, 4 p.m. matinee match-up against the Chicago Wolves. The IceHogs will then host the Hamilton Bulldogs for the only time this season on Tuesday, Dec. 30, at 7 p.m.

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. 24-30, 2014, issue

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