By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
After three straight wins against the top Western Conference Teams, Rockford split a two-game series against the Lake Erie Monsters.
The first game, Friday in Cleveland, saw the ‘Hogs keep a runaway matchup competitive. Rockford was thoroughly outplayed through all three periods in the game and managed to keep the game tight until late.
After a scoreless first period, which saw the IceHogs outshot 16-8 by the Monsters, it was Rockford who tallied the first goal of the game.
On their second shot of the period, which would be their last shot of the period, newcomer Kirill Gotovets tallied his first AHL goal with assists coming from Peter Regin and T.J. Brennan.
Despite only throwing two shots on net in the middle period the IceHogs earned a 1-0 lead from the strong play of goaltender Scott Darling, who had stopped all 28 shots he faced as the ‘Hogs were outshot 28-10 after two periods.
The shutout only lasted until 1:12 of the final frame when Michael Schumacher potted his seventh goal of the season.
Four minutes later, the Monsters capitalized on a power play opportunity to take the lead for the first time in the game.
Rockford fought back and Garrett Ross, who had been silenced as of late, popped in his 15th goal of the season to knot the score at 2-2.
With time winding down and an overtime game looking more inevadible Cody Bass took a penalty giving the Monsters a power play for the remainder of regulation.
That error proved to be costly as Andrew Agozzino put his 15th of the season behind Darling with 33 seconds remaining in the game. Frustrated, Darling argued with the referees and was tagged with a delay of game penalty.
Rockford was unable to convert with the extra attacker as the Monsters held on for a 3-2 win despite thoroughly outplaying Rockford and outshooting the ‘Hogs 38-16.
The following night both teams met for the second game of the series. Once again it was Rockford getting on the board first, although this time much quicker.
On their first power play opportunity of the game Brennan lit the lamp with his ninth of the season to put Rockford up 1-0 early. Joakim Nordstrom and Dennis Rasmussen were credited with assists on the goal.
Rockford looked like a different team from the night before as the ‘Hogs played with a fire and outshot the Monsters 16-5 in the opening frame.
A Rockford mishap gave the Monsters their first goal of the game. Darling came out of the net to play a puck by the boards but was unable to play it properly for his teammates and Troy Bourke grabbed it quickly. As Darling was skating backwards towards his net the puck hit his skate and started to slide into the net. Zach Miskovic was there and cleared the puck out but the entire puck barely crossed the goal line before Miskovic could move it and the goal was awarded.
Despite being let-down from a bad goal, Rockford’s fourth line came through in a big way on the very next shift.
Recently signed to a Professional Try Out (PTO), Dane Walters fired a shot from the blueline which goaltender Calvin Pickard played poorly. Pickard tried to block it away towards the boards but he missed completely as it went right by him and into the net. Walters’ first professional goal came 13 seconds after the mishap on the other end of the ice.
Just over three minutes later, the third line with Pierre Cedric Labrie leading the way gave Rockford a 3-1 lead.
In the middle of a line change, Phillip Danault carried the puck in deep behind the Lake Erie net. Danault found Labrie in the near corner and the winger circled around to the top of the slot and fired one past Pickard. Frustrated, Pickard left the ice and was pulled for goaltender Sami Aittokallio.
The third period had Rockford playing keep-away and the Monsters fighting for the late tie.
A double minor from Gotovets opened the door for the Monsters but Rockford’s penalty kill, which was only 3-for-5 the previous night, fought off the double minor to hold on to a 3-1 lead. The kill unit was a perfect 5-for-5 on Saturday evening.
Another late tally, this time from Markus Lauridsen, opened the door for another come-back attempt. The goal, with 42 seconds left in regulation, closed the gap to 3-2.
But Rockford, behind Darling, managed to fight off the late onslaught as Rockford eked out a 3-2 win splitting the series with the Monsters.
The weekend split put Rockford in a three-way tie for third place in the Western Conference and tied for first overall in the Midwest Division. However, both teams they are tied with, the Milwaukee Admirals and Grand Rapids Griffins, both have on game in hand on Rockford.
Rockford will stay on the road for a two game series against the Texas Stars in Cedar Park on Friday and Saturday night, with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop for both matchups.
The first game of the series will kick off a season long seven game home stretch for the Stars.
View Todd Reicher’s photos from Rockford IceHogs games online at reicherstudios.com/Sports/HockeyPhotos or on his Facebook page at Facebook.com/ReicherStudios.