By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
It’s been five years since the IceHogs have made it to the postseason but Rockford is finally returning after winning both home games this past weekend.
After being trounced by the Grand Rapids Griffins 6-1 last Wednesday the IceHogs gave it right back to them on Friday with a 6-2 win.
Mark McNeill put Rockford on the board first with his 19th tally of the season, assisted by Garrett Ross and Viktor Svedberg.
McNeill’s goal was followed by six minutes later by Peter Regin, assisted by Spencer Abbott and Brandon Mashinter, to put Rockford up 2-0.
With 1:41 left in the period, Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan cut the Rockford lead in half with his 12th goal, unassisted. Despite being outshot 19-9, the Griffins were still very much in the game.
The second period started out for Rockford how it started for the Griffins the previous game – a goal within the first minute of the period. Ross, assisted by Kyle Cumsikey and Phillip Danault, gave Rockford another two-goal cushion.
Grand Rapids closed the shot gap throughout the period, and Nathan Paetsch scored at 17:11 of the period to once again cut the lead to a single goal.
Back-and-forth action highlighted the third period with Rockford getting that important next goal. Ryan Hartman, from Terry Broadhurst, gave Rockford yet another two-goal lead at 9:43 of the period.
Just 30 seconds later, Rockford drove a dagger into the Griffins with another goal, giving the IceHogs some more breathing room. Ross tallied his third point of the game with a goal assisted by McNeill.
With over six minutes left in the period, and down by three goals, Grand Rapids pulled goaltender Thomas McCollum to try to get a few goals with the extra attacker. Rockford, however, survived some pressure and Hartman iced the game with a 160 foot clearing attempt into the back of the Grand Rapids net for the 6-2 lead and eventual final score.
The win kept Rockford in the hunt for first place in the Midwest division.
Rockford followed up their Friday win with a dominating 7-2 win on Saturday against the Rochester Americans.
Rockford controlled pace early but it was Rochester getting on the board first. Dan Catenacci beat Michael Leighton on Rochester’s second shot of the game to take a 1-0 lead midway through the period.
A late tripping penalty gave Rockford an opportunity for their first power play goal and they took full advantage of the extra attacker. Broadhurst scored midway through the power play to even the score at 1-1.
For the second straight game, Rockford scored two goals in under one minute. McNeill corralled a loose puck from a rebound of a Danault shot for his 20th of the season, giving Rockford a 2-1 lead.
Rochester was only one goal behind on the scoreboard but were being outplayed by Rockford in all other aspects, including shots-on-goal, where Rockford held a 13-4 advantage.
Period two was more of the same with Rockford controlling the pace and play of the game. Hartman lit the lamp with his 13th of the season on Rockford’s third power play opportunity 6:51 into the frame.
Midway through the period, Rochester put their first shot on net, which was a goal from Evan Rankin. Despite only showing five shots on goal midway through the game, Rochester was only down by a 3-2 score.
Regin put Rockford ahead by two four minutes later as Rockford connected on yet another power play goal. Once again it was Abbott setting up the goal as Regin was alone in the slot and fired a shot uncontested to the back of the net.
Three minutes later, Dennis Rasmussen dove at a loose puck in the crease and poked home his 12th of the year to give Rockford a commanding 5-2 lead which would carry into the final frame. After two periods of play Rockford held a three goal lead as well as a whopping 29-9 shots-on-goal advantage.
Broadhurst tallied his second goal of the evening off a perfect feed from Danault, and Ross scored his 21st of the season, fed by Broadhurst to cap the scoring. The final assist by Broadhurst gave the second-year winger his fifth point of the game, tying an AHL season high.
The Americans were unable to create any additional offense in the third period and two third period goals from Rockford gave the ‘Hogs a dominating 7-2 win. The Americans 14 shots on goal were the lowest amount of shots Rockford has surrendered in a game this season.
Injuries are starting to take a toll on Rockford with a few key players out. Pierre Cedric Labrie has missed three straight games with a lower body injury and Trevor van Riemsdyk, who just returned a few weeks back from a major knee injury, will be out for eight weeks following wrist surgery. Labrie is expected to be ready for the IceHogs playoff run.
The IceHogs wrap up their three game home stand with a Tuesday matchup against the Milwaukee Admirals (results unavailable at press time). Rockford then embarks on their final road trip of the regular season, starting in Iowa against the Wild on Thursday, followed by a two game series against the Charlotte Checkers. Rockford then returns home for the final three games of the regular season – a third straight game against the Checkers, followed by a meeting against the Chicago Wolves and closing with the Toronto Marlies for the regular season finale.
As of the end of week 25, Rockford sits three points behind the Grand Rapids Griffins with one game in hand for the top seed in the Midwest Division.
Rockford has the easier road to the end of the season with only two of their final seven games against playoff-bound teams and four games at home, while the Griffins have three of their six against playoff teams, with a key two-game series against the San Antonio Rampage.
The Griffins play three of their last six at home.
Find more exclusive photos by Todd at his website, ReicherStudios.com.