By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
Week 24 had Rockford start with a 3-2 win over the Lake Erie Monsters at home on Wednesday. Rockford stormed out to a 3-0 lead before the Monsters scored two in under two minutes to close the gap.
Rockford’s defense tightened up in the third, and despite allowing 13 final period shots Antti Raanta did not allow another goal. Rockford closed their four-game home stand with a perfect 4-0 record.
The IceHogs then traveled by bus all the way to Glens Falls, New York to face the Adirondack Flames for the third time in four games. Rockford handled the Flames in their last meeting, with the ‘Hogs winning 4-0 on the heels of Raanta’s first shutout in an IceHogs sweater.
A flat tire for the team bus on the way to New York didn’t faze the ‘Hogs as the team rolled to another 4-0 win over the Flames.
Dennis Rasmussen got the scoring underway for Rockford 7:41 into the game with his 11th marker of the season. Dane Walters and Trevor van Riemsdyk were the helpers on the marker.
An amazing display of hand-eye coordination from Pierre Cedric Labrie provided Rockford their second goal of the game. A shot on net by van Riemsdyk produced a rebound that trickled out to Labrie. With a swift move of his stick, Labrie popped the puck into the air and a second quick flick of the wrists saw Labrie swat the puck out of mid-air and into the back of the net.
Spencer Abbott was next in line as he scored his 13th of the season off a slick pass from Brandon Mashinter. Mash was carrying the puck on the left boards, and was about to be hit by a Flames defenseman, when he pulled up, and threaded a behind-the-back pass to Abbott who was streaking toward the slot. Abbott grabbed the puck, made a quick move right, and fired the puck to the left corner of the net for the tally.
Rockford put the game out of reach early in the third. After missing over 40 games with a broken arm, Alex Broadhurst was sprung on a breakaway by a pass from Stephen Johns. Broadhurst went to the backhand-forehand-backhand before lifting the puck in the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
Michael Leighton was solid in net for Rockford, stopping all 25 shots he faced in route to his 41st career shutout, placing him in a second place tie for the most shutouts in the American Hockey League with Gil Mayer, who played from 1949-1963. Leighton now sits four shutouts shy of tying the AHL record of 45 held by Johnny Bower.
The following night, Rockford headed north to Utica to face the North Division leading Comets. The IceHogs defeated the Comets earlier in the season by a 3-0 margin led by Leighton.
It was an ominous start for Rockford as halfway through the first period Raanta gave away the puck when he came way out of his crease to play the puck, which lead to the game’s first goal. An aggressive forecheck caused Raanta to fumble which tumbled towards the slot allowing Darren Archibald to tap it into an open net.
Archibald struck again very early in the second period to put the Comets up 2-0 just 26 seconds into the second frame. Ex-IceHogs defenseman Adam Clendening came back to haunt Rockford as the D-man factored in on the first two Utica goals.
Utica’s power play squad increased the lead to 3-0 on their only power play attempt of the game. Former AHL Rookie of the Year Cory Conacher tallied his eighth marker of the year at 4:07 of the frame. The goal also chased Raanta from the game as Leighton came on in relief.
Only 29 seconds after the power play expired, Alex Broadhurst put Rockford on the board. Ryan Hartman threw a puck at the net which lay in the crease. Both Broadhurst and Cody Bass poked at the puck, and Broadhurst put it across the line for the goal.
Rockford’s chance for a comeback was severely damaged when Hunter Shinkaruk potted his 12th marker of the season 9:14 into the final frame to put Utica up 4-1.
With Leighton sent to the bench, Abbott continued his torrid scoring pace with his 14th goal of the season, assisted by Peter Regin. The goal drew Rockford to a two-goal deficit with 2:49 left in regulation play. But the Rockford comeback fell short as Joe Cannata held strong for the Comets stopping the rest of the shots he faced in the third for the 4-2 win.
Cannata played well for the Comets, stopping 37 of 39 shots while Leighton stopped nine of the 10 shots he faced in relief of Raanta, who stopped 10 of the 13 shots he faced.
The four goals from Utica is the most Rockford has given up in one game since they were shut out 4-0 by the San Antonio Rampage on February 18, a span of 13 games.
The IceHogs wrap up their three game road trip tonight against the Grand Rapids Griffins for the first game of a home-and-home series with the current Midwest Division leaders. Both teams travel to Rockford on Friday for the second game of the series and the first of three straight home games for the ‘Hogs. The following night, Rockford will host the Rochester Americans with a 7:00 start time.
With the current standings, Rockford sits three points behind the Griffins with one game in hand. If Rockford can manage to take both games against the Griffins, Rockford will take over sole possession of first place in the Midwest Division with nine games remaining.