By Todd Reicher
Special to TRRT
Just when the Rockford IceHogs began to falter and drop in the standings, the team got the spark they were looking for with the addition of some key players in Teuvo Teravainen and Captain Joakim Nordstrom. Teravainen spent the last three weeks playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, replacing the injured Kris Versteeg, and Nordstrom has been up with Chicago since December, skating in 24 games as a shutdown center.
The two players would make an immediate impact their first game back, which was Friday, February 13 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center against the Milwaukee Admirals, for the third straight game. Milwaukee won the first two games and managed to take over the divisional lead.
While shorthanded for the first time, Phillip Danault scored his second shorthanded goal in as many games to give Rockford a 1-0 lead. Danault tracked down a puck deep in the offensive zone and fired an off-angle shot at the net, which Marek Mazanec blocked to the opposite boards. The rubber came straight to Stephen Johns, who immediately fired it at the net. Danault, who was skating towards the net, redirected the Johns shot behind Mazanec for the 1-0 lead.
On the same power play, Milwaukee’s Triston Grant potted his ninth goal of the season to even the score up at 1-1.
The second period displayed some good scoring opportunities for both teams, however, a more conservative approach led to neither team tallying a goal in the middle frame.
Rockford’s special teams unit came through again, this time with the man advantage. Captain Nordstrom dropped a clutch goal 4:07 into the period to give Rockford their second lead of the game.
The IceHogs fought off the Admirals late surges to hang on for a 2-1 win, and more important, close the gap between the two teams in the Divisional race.
Scott Darling played well in net against his former team, covering for some defensive gaffes on Rockford’s end, and stopped all second and third period shots to earn his 12th win of the season.
The following night Rockford returned back home for the second of three games in three days, this time against the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Barons. The Barons have been slightly depleted recently as their parent club, the Edmonton Oilers, have suffered some injuries, resulting in players being called up. In addition to losing four players to call-ups, the Barons have also cooled off as of late, riding a 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games.
Rockford’s power play started off where they finished the previous night, tallying a power play marker on their first opportunity of the evening. With Kellen Jones in the box for the Barons, Ville Pokka tallied his seventh goal of the season (fifth on the power play) off a great feed from Teravainen. The cross-ice pass from Teravainen was a one-timer, shot from the left face-off circle, past Barons goaltender Laurent Brossoit for the 1-0 lead.
At one point in the period, Rockford was outshooting the Barons 9-1. It wasn’t until over eight minutes had expired in the first period that the Barons would get their first shot on net.
Oklahoma City started to catch up to Rockford in the shots department, but were unable to fire a puck past Michael Leighton in the first 20.
It looked as if the second period would be another stalemate for both teams, but Brandon Mashinter potted his ninth goal of the season with 1:03 left in the period to give Rockford a big 2-0 lead. Pokka fired the puck at the net from the right blue line, which Brossoit kicked away. The puck came out to the left slot, where an unmanned Mashinter fired into the open side of the net.
An early third period goal from Andrew Miller, his 17th of the season, closed the gap to one. Dillon Simpson fired a shot from the left blue line, which Miller deflected past Leighton.
Less than four minutes later, Rockford traded a tit-for-a-tat when Peter Regin, who had been on a cold streak for the last few weeks, deflected a Zach Miskovic shot into the net to give the ‘Hogs a big 3-1 lead.
The IceHogs clamped down in as the period moved on as their first few lines hemmed Oklahoma City in their own end most of the period. Despite Rockford being outshot 10-7, Leighton stopped the rest of the shots in the period enroute to earning the win, and first star of the game honors.
For the final game of their three-in-three weekend, Rockford played host to the San Antonio Rampage for the first time this season. Rockford won both games they played against the Rampage around Halloween, and coming into the game, Rockford held a slight two point advantage over their Texan rivals. The Rampage, however, have one game in hand on Rockford, so a win would give Rockford a big advantage in the playoff standings.
The same player who scored the game-winning goal the previous night, Mashinter, opened up the scoring by tallying his second goal in as many games when he fired a shot from a wide-open position in the slot. Regin carried the puck in deep behind the net and found Mashinter who came in uncontested and fired a snipe behind Dan Ellis to give Rockford the early 1-0 lead.
Both teams were tied with shots at 11-11 after 20 minutes. Each team had one power play opportunity, but neither team was able to convert on the advantage.
The Rampage carried the pace most of the second period and managed to tally the tying goal 6:42 into the second period. Connor Brickley scored his 17th marker of the season on a dish from Mark Mancari, knotting the score at 1-1.
The IceHogs managed to put more pressure on later in the period and closed the shots-on-goal gap, but the Rampage held a slight advantage at 12-10.
Midway through the final period, Cody Bass converted on an excellent wrap-around attempt to put Rockford ahead once again. After Bass celebrated by going to one knee for a fist-pump, he jumped into the glass and was subsequently surrounded by his linemates, including the recently acquired Dane Walters, who was credited with the primary assist.
Rockford kept possession and was dumping the puck deep as often as possible to keep the Rampage pinned into their own zone. The plan worked and Rockford fought off the Rampage late to hang on for a 2-1 victory.
The win sealed Rockford’s third win in three straight days, including holding all three teams to only one goal in each game, which included the Rampage, who ranked first in the league with 163 goals per game and the Barons who rank third in the league with 157.
Rockford stays at home for another game against the Rampage with an early 10:30 Wednesday start time for their annual School Day game. After the home game, Rockford will play four straight on the road with a two-game series on Friday and Saturday against the Lake Erie Monsters. After the Wednesday, February 18 game, Rockford will not play another home game until Friday, March 6 when they face the Oklahoma City Barons.