By Todd Reicher
One thing that has been constant for the Rockford IceHogs has been their goaltending. This was reinforced by three excellent outings in three games for Rockford.
The first game of the week, a home game Tuesday, Jan. 12, had the IceHogs hosting the Charlotte Checkers. In what was a goaltending duel, the IceHogs fell 3-2 in a shootout. Two of the three stars of the game were Michael Leighton for Rockford in the third place position, and Drew MacIntyre for the Checkers.
Charlotte tallied the first two goals of the game to take a 2-0 lead, which stood until just past midway of the second period.
Brendan Woods tallied the first goal with 5:30 left in the first period to give the Checkers a 1-0 lead heading into intermission.
Jared Staal scored his seventh of the season off a lucky bounce to put Charlotte up 2-0 midway through the game. After the puck was thrown in deep, it took a strange bounce from the back glass on the left side and bounced out hard to just in front of the net on the opposite side. Leighton lost sight of the puck, expecting it to bounce back out to the same side, and Staal jumped on the loose puck and put it in the open side of the net.
Rockford managed to cut the lead in half 5 minutes later with a Phillip Danault goal. A Garrett Ross shot eluded MacIntyre’s ability to control the rebound, and Danault was there on the right side of the net to fire it into the net.
Midway through the third period, a gritty goal by Ryan Hartman put the score even at 2-2. Dennis Rasmussen took the puck to the net, but was unable to get the puck past the goal line. Hartman played hard and was poking at the puck in the crease. He managed to get it into the back of the net, tying the score. The tie would hold up until the end of regulation, and we were headed to extra hockey.
Neither team managed to score during overtime, despite 10 total shots fired, which meant a shootout would determine the winner. Mark McNeill was stopped as the first shooter and Alex Aleardi beat Leighton in the bottom half of the first round. Both goalies would stop all remaining attempts, and the Checkers would take a shootout win victory.
Just a few nights later, Rockford would play the last game of their three-game home stand with a match-up against the Iowa Wild. The last-place Wild have given Rockford fits lately, but Rockford managed to control the game, starting with an early goal.
Brandon Mashinter was on the receiving end of a great setup by 2015 All-Star selection T.J. Brennan. Mashinter crossed from the right side of the ice to the center, and Brennan caught him just as he hit the center, and Mash redirected a one-timer past John Curry for the 1-0 lead early.
Rasmussen made an excellent defensive play, which led to Rockford taking a 2-0 lead. Playing hard on the forecheck, Rasmussen jumped in front of an Iowa defender to intercept the puck deep in Iowa territory, on the left face-off circle. Rasmussen, who already had some momentum going forward, kept going toward the net and lifted a backhander over the shoulder of Curry.
A few minutes later, P.C. Labrie fired a shot from the right side of the net with a feed from Mashinter to give Rockford a commanding 3-0 lead. The goal also signaled the end of Curry, who was pulled in favor of Johan Gustafsson.
At the end of two periods, Iowa was outshooting Rockford 22-16, but the ’Hogs were leading on the scoreboard, 3-0.
Ross would increase the Rockford lead to 4-0 with a power-play goal, a rare event for Rockford at the BMO, 6:41 into the third period. The one-timer from Matt Carey was Ross’ team-leading 13th of the season.
Rockford clamped down defensively, but Iowa fired frequently and often in the waning minutes of the game. The defense, and Scott Darling, managed to fight off the attack, as Darling would earn his first shutout of the season and Rockford’s fifth of the season. Darling’s shutout was Rockford’s only at home this season.
Saturday, the team headed over to the Allstate Arena for a match-up against the Chicago Wolves. Once again, Rockford was out-manned in the shots-on-goal department; however, the score was not indicative of the shot margin.
Magnus Paajarvi scored his first goal of the season 6:14 into the first period to put Chicago up 1-0. A Stephen Johns pass would be intercepted by the crafty forward, and Leighton was unable to catch up to the puck.
Hartman would score his second goal in as many games with a power-play marker 8:03 into the period to knot the score at 1-1.
The Wolves would take command of the game after that goal as Rockford would not register one shot on goal for the rest of the period. However, Leighton played a strong first and stopped the rest of the shots he faced, as both teams headed into the locker room tied 1-1. Chicago out-shot Rockford 13-5 in the first 20 minutes.
Chicago continued to carry its momentum into the second period, firing shot after shot on Leighton, but the veteran stood his ground, fending off the onslaught of rubber.
Rockford would not get its first shot on goal until almost 16 minutes later. At 4:27 of the second period, McNeill grabbed a Danault pass and fired it into the goal, giving Rockford a 2-1 lead, despite putting only six shots on goal.
Leighton stymied the Wolves in the second period, stopping all 11 second-period shots, as Rockford somehow headed into the locker room up 2-1, despite being outshot 24-10.
The Wolves finally managed to get one past Leighton at 11:38 of the final frame on a power play. Chicago once again trumped Rockford on shots, 16-8, but at the end of regulation, the score was tied 2-2.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the extra session, and Rockford went to the shootout for the second time in three games.
Both shooters were stopped in the first round, but Brennan managed to get a puck past Jordan Binnington to put Rockford up 1-0 in the skills competition.
Leighton would stop both Ty Rattie and Phil McRae to give Rockford the much-needed second point and the win.
Rockford lost 4-1 at home to the Chicago Wolves during a 1 p.m. game Monday, Jan. 19. The team now will cross into Iowa to face the Wild Thursday, Jan. 22, before coming back to Rockford Saturday, Jan. 24, to host the Utica Comets for the annual Pink in the Rink 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.
Posted Jan. 20, 2015