By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
Despite some personnel changes the Rockford IceHogs swept a two-game weekend series on the road against the Texas Stars.
Missing were Teuvo Teravainen and Joakim Nordstrom, who were called up to the Blackhawks,along with goaltender Scott Darling.
We would see appearances by Justin Holl, who was called up to Rockford from the Indy Fuel, and the second appearance of the season for Antti Raanta on Saturday.
The first game of the series, a Friday, February 27 meeting had the IceHogs pulling out a 4-3 overtime win. Each time Rockford held a one-goal lead, and every time, the Texas Stars evened the score, except for the overtime session.
Brandon Mashinter tallied the first goal of the game 8:39 into the opening frame to take a 1-0 lead. The power play goal was the 11th marker of the season for Mash.
Early in the second period, the Stars Greg Rallo potted his 19th tally of the season to knot the score at 1-1.
Mark McNeill reclaimed the lead for Rockford at the midpoint of the second period with his 15th goal of the campaign. Dillon Fournier also added a point with the primary assist, the first AHL point of his career.
Once again, the Stars knotted things up with a Scott Glennie goal at 16:13 to bring the game to a 2-2 tie.
As the third period was getting going, Garrett Ross popped in his 16th goal of the season just over five minutes in to give Rockford their third lead of the game.
The back-and-forth game continued with a Jamie Oleksiak score with exactly three minutes left in regulation to give us a 3-3 tie, which would stand at the end of regulation.
Each team had good scoring chances in the extra session but it was Rockford scoring the game-winner with 22 seconds remaining in the overtime period. McNeill earned his third point of the night with the primary assist on a give-and-go with Pierre Cedric Labrie.
After Labrie reclaimed the puck from McNeill, he got past the defense and made a quick move to the backhand in the front of the net, beating goaltender Jack Campbell for his eighth of the season, giving Rockford the second point and the victory.
The following night both teams met for the second half of the double-header. An odd earmark prior to the game starting was a healthy scratch to defenseman Klas Dahlbeck.
Once again it was Rockford getting on the board first, but this time it wasn’t until the second period. An unassisted tally from McNeill put the ‘Hogs up 1-0.
McNeill was in an awkward position and just put the puck on the net to potentially create a rebound. Campbell misplayed the puck and gave Rockford the lead.
The trading goal trend continued into this game and Texas tallied the game-tying goal just over four minutes later. While on the penalty kill, Dennis Rasmussen was interfered with, taking him out of the play, but the call was not made by the referee, and Texas subsequently scored the game tying goal.
Rockford answered a few minutes later with a power play goal of their own to reclaim the lead. Peter Regin made a nice move in close off a dish from Ryan Hartman, putting Rockford up 2-1.
Kevin Henderson kept the trend alive tying the game at 2-2 with his second goal of the season two minutes after the Rockford goal.
In a bizarre twist for the series it was not the opposite team scoring the next goal, but the same team.
Texas’ Travis Morin put his 16th of the season behind Raanta with under three minutes left in the second period to give Texas their first lead of the weekend, 3-2.
Both teams came out firing in the third period but it was more the physical play that was getting attention.
Labrie was cross-checked into the net, which was not called, and less than a minute later,coincidental contact was made and McNeill was called for a slash, which was an undeserved call. Rockford killed off the penalty but it was clear the referees were calling a few more against Rockford than they should.
With the slew of penalties against Rockford, the referees decided to give a make-up call which eventually became a 5-on-3 advantage for the ‘Hogs.
Rallo was called for a trip and then 35 seconds later Cameron Gaunce was called for a cross-check. The advantage gave Rockford an opening and they took full advantage with Ross tallying the game tying goal.
Shortly after the power play expired, Rockford was called for another phantom penalty. A Texas skater caught an edge in front of Kirill Gotovets and in front the referee yet Gotovets was called for a trip.
As Mike Peck said during the broadcast, “The referring tandem in this game has been brutal”.
The ensuing penalty kill for Rockford was successful and both teams remained tied 3-3, but not for long.
Phillip Danault beat Campbell five seconds after the penalty expired to put Rockford up 4-3.
In another unexpected twist Danault would score his second in goal in two mintues to give Rockford a little breathing room and a 5-3 lead.
Texas pulled Campbell with over three minutes remaining but could not take advantage of the extra attacker.
Rockford won a faceoff, and Danault grabbed the puck and flipped it down ice toward the open net. The rubber had just enough momentum to carry itself across the goal crease, giving Danault his first AHL hat trick, a natural hat trick nonetheless, and Rockford scored four third-period goals to win the game 6-3.
Towards the end of the game it was announced through the NHL that the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Antoine Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Dahlbeck and the Blackhawks first round draft pick in the upcoming draft.
Earlier in the day it was announced Kyle Cumiskey was reassigned to Rockford and recently acquired Tim Erixon was sent through waivers.
Erixon was picked up off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs and is now no longer a part of the Chicago Blackhawks system.
Rockford returns home on Friday for a home game against the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Barons. The following night, Rockford stays home to host the Grand Rapids Griffins, who are just two points ahead of Rockford for the Midwest Division lead.
The Griffins have been red hot, earning points in their last 12 games and showing a record of 10-0-2.
After the weekend games, Rockford will head up to Grand Rapids for another game the following Saturday.
Including the game this upcoming weekend, the ‘Hogs will face the Griffins a total of four times in their last 20 remaining games this season. Needless to say, with how close the Division is at this moment, those four games will be crucial in determining the Midwest Division winner.
View Todd Reicher’s photos from Rockford IceHogs games online at reicherstudios.com/Sports/HockeyPhotos or on his Facebook page at Facebook.com/ReicherStudios.