By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
Week 21 in the American Hockey League season was to be another tough test for the Rockford IceHogs as they faced the top two teams in the Western Conference.
The first tie featured the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Barons. The Edmonton Oilers affiliate has been slipping a bit as of late, mostly due to injuries at the parent club.
Prior to the game start, four different Barons players had been called up leaving the AHL team somewhat depleted.
Rockford jumped out to an early lead 7:35 into the first period with a power play goal. Peter Regin, playing in his 500th career professional game, notched his eighth of the season with help from Ryan Hartman and newcomer Spencer Abbott.
Just under four minutes later, Stephen Johns sniped his first goal of the season to put Rockford up 2-0. The big defenseman found a loose puck in the offensive zone, skated in toward the right circle and sniped a shot over the shoulder of Laurent Brossoit.
Under two minutes later, Regin was called for slashing putting the Barons on their first advantage of the evening.
It didn’t take long–only seven seconds–for the Barons to convert on the power play. Jason Williams went bar-down on Michael Leighton, sniping a shot into the top-left corner for his 18th of the season.
The second period started off with a bang for the ‘Hogs with Cody Bass putting Rockford up 3-1 with a redirected goal. Zach Miskovic fired a shot which Bass tipped in for his third of the season.
Just 2:30 later, Abbott scored his first goal in a Rockford sweater with a snap shot in tight on the goal. A P.C. Labrie shot was fought off by Brossoit, and the rubber bounced out to the right side of the net. Abbott was in the right spot, found the bouncing puck, and fired it home.
The Barons turned up the heat in the third and fired 12 shots on Leighton, but he stopped all the third period efforts giving him 29 saves on 30 shots for the game.
Garrett Ross finished the scoring for Rockford with his 18th of the season with 5:30 left in the game.
The following night, the Grand Rapids Griffins, who lost to the Milwaukee Admirals in overtime the night before, came to town. As mentioned last week, the Griffins were red hot, and coming into this game had earned points in 14 straight games, going 12-0-2 in that stretch.
After a scoreless first period in which each team registered seven shots, the Griffins scored 6:55 into the middle frame for a 1-0 lead. Team captain Jeff Hoggan got loose on a breakaway and beat Antti Raanta for his ninth of the campaign.
Rockford finally got on the board 2:12 into the final frame with a Brandon Mashinter goal to tie the game at 1-1. Miskovic was the primary assist on Mashinter’s 12th goal of the season and Labrie was credited for the secondary.
Four minutes later, it was Miskovic potting his second goal of the season, assisted by Regin and Kyle Cumiskey, to give Rockford their first lead of the game.
Unfortunately, that lead lasted only one minute as the Griffins tied the game at 2-2 with an Anthony Mantha goal.
The game remained tied, sending the contest to overtime, guaranteeing each team at least one point in the standings.
Extra hockey only lasted 87 seconds as Andy Miele knocked in his 20th of the season, giving the Griffins the second point and the win, extending their point streak to 15 games.
After the game, the standings had the Griffins atop of the Western Conference with 77 points. Rockford sits four behind at 73, but with one game in hand on Grand Rapids. The teams still have three more matchups left this season, including this weekend.
The overtime loss gave Rockford one point, and extended their point streak to five straight games, with a 4-0-1 record in their last five.
Week 22 has the ‘Hogs away from the BMO for two games with a Saturday game against the Grand Rapids Griffins followed by a Sunday matinee game against the Chicago Wolves.
The Sunday game against the Wolves will be the last time Rockford visits the Allstate Arena this season as the last time these two meet it will be at the BMO on Friday, April 17.