Rockford drops points Friday, lose ground on division leader
By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
With the post-season encroaching, the Rockford IceHogs split a pair of games this weekend leaving them in fifth place in the Western Conference.
Rockford’s first game in week 22 took place Saturday in Grand Rapids against the ultra-hot Griffins. Prior to the game, the Griffins were riding a 17 game point streak, showing an amazing 13-0-3-1 record in that span.
The IceHogs controlled the pace for most of the first period, holding an 8-4 sots-on-goal advantage in the first 20 minutes. However, both goaltenders; Michael Leighton for Rockford and Tom McCollum for Grand Rapids, stopped all shots on them, leaving the game a 0-0 tie after 20 minutes.
Rockford finally struck gold with a power play goal 14:09 into the second period to take a 1-0 lead. Matt Carey scored his eighth of the season, assisted by Peter Regin and Stephen Johns.
Just over three minutes later, the Griffins tied the game with a power play marker of their own. Ryan Sproul potted his fourth marker at 17:41 to even things up at 1-1.
The Griffins took their first lead of the game with 51 seconds remaining in the period. Kevin Porter scored his 11th of the season to give Grand Rapids the lead heading into the final frame.
With five minutes left in the game, Captain Jeff Hoggan lit the lamp for the 10th time this season, putting Grand Rapids up 3-1 late in the game.
Despite sending Leighton to the bench for the extra attacker Rockford was unable to put another puck past McCollum, and wound up being defeated 3-1.
The following afternoon Rockford faceed the Chicago Wolves in their final trip to the Allstate Arena this season. As a minor reward, the IceHogs could take home the Illinois State Lottery Cup with a win over the Wolves.
For the second game in a row, both teams headed into the first intermission with a scoreless tie. Chicago held a slight advantage in shots on goal with an 11-7 edge. Antti Raanta was in net for Rockford and the Wolves had Jordan Binnington manning the pipes for Chicago.
The sandwich stanza belonged to Rockford as the ‘Hogs held a commanding 14-2 shots advantage, but more importantly, tallied three markers to take a 3-0 lead.
Brandon Mashinter deflected a Ville Pokka shot at 11:23 to put Rockford up 1-0.
At 17:27 of the period, Spencer Abbott tallied his ninth of the season, and second with Rockford, on an unassisted tally to double Rockford’s lead to 2-0. Abbott got around the side of the Chicago defense, made a nice toe-drag back to the outside, and threw a shot over the shoulder of Binnington for the goal.
Just 79 seconds later Ryan Hartman scored a power play goal, assisted by Carey and Abbott, to give Rockford a commanding 3-0 lead going into the third frame.
Chicago’s Shane Harper ended Raanta’s bid for a shutout 7:46 into the final period to cut the lead to 3-1.
Rockford held tight and Mark McNeill scored an empty net goal with 1:39 to all but seal the Rockford win, putting the ‘Hogs up 4-1.
Dylan Fournier was called for Holding the Stick with 1:08 remaining in the game, giving the Wolves a hint of life in the game.
Adam Cracknell took advantage 22 seconds into the 6-on-4 advantage, and cut the ‘Hogs lead to 4-2 with 46 seconds left.
Chicago tallied again quickly, 15 seconds later, to make this a real contest by cutting the score to 4-3 with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.
Rockford would not allow another mistake or goal in the waning seconds, and the IceHogs held on for a 4-3 victory.
The weekend split gave Rockford 75 points from 60 games, putting them in fifth place, one point behind the San Antonio Rampage who are sitting at 76 with 61 games played.
Unless the IceHogs can overtake the Griffins, who are in first place with 82 points and 62 games played, the best playoff position they can get is the fourth seed as the top three positions in the conference are reserved for the first place team in each respective division.
Rockford will play four straight home games with three home games in week 23 starting with a matchup tonight against the Adirondack Heat, followed by a rematch three days later on Saturday night.
On Sunday the IceHogs host the Texas Stars for the final time this season. The Sunday game also marks Rockford’s annual Jersey Auction Night, with the theme for this year being Autism Awareness.
After the game the jersey’s will be auctioned off via a traditional live auction. The players will be on-hand to sign each jersey and pose for a photograph with the player after the winning bid has been accepted.
View Todd Reicher’s photos from Rockford IceHogs: reicherstudios.com/Sports/HockeyPhotos or Facebook.com/ReicherStudios.