By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT
Down the stretch the Rockford IceHogs were as good as almost every team in the league with Rockford finishing up 7-3 to close out the 2014-15 regular season campaign.
And the ‘Hogs came into the final two games of the season against the Chicago Wolves and the Toronto Marlies only one point behind the Grand Rapids Griffins for first place in the Midwest Division.
Rockford needed to win out and have the Griffins drop one of their two contests against the Charlotte Checkers.
The first challenge this weekend was the Chicago Wolves who were still battling for position in the playoff race. Coming into the game, Chicago was two points ahead of Toronto and a win would assure them of the seventh seed.
Terry Broadhurst tallied the first goal of the game with a power play marker 18:16 into the opening period to give Rockford the first lead. For Broadhurst it was his sixth tally of the season.
Chicago came out in the second period and knotted up the game at 7:13 from Yannick Veilleux.
Rockford would reclaim the lead then add to late in the frame to give a little breathing room at 3-1.
Reigning as one of the hottest ‘Hogs, Tanner Kero put in his fourth goal in his fifth professional game followed by a Cody Bass marker with 1:27 left.
Rob Bordson pulled the Wolves back to within a goal 6:14 into the final frame.
Getting his first multi-goal game of the season, Bass banked a shot from behind the blue line off Jordan Binnington, to put Rockford back up by a pair.
But that advantage would only last 1:33 when Bordson struck again.
Rockford fought off the Wolves late surge as Rockford won their ninth straight home game. The Griffins defeated Charlotte that night so no ground was gained on the division lead.
The following night, Rockford hosted the Toronto Marlies for the final game of the regular season. Coming into the game, Rockford was sitting a number of regulars due to the upcoming opening playoff ties. Noticable absences were Phillip Danault, Zach Miskovic, Cody Bass and Ville Pokka.
Rockford was down before the first period was half way over and Toronto carried a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes of play. First round–eighth overall draft choice 18-year old William Nylander scored the first goal of the game 4:39 into the period and Connor Brown scored the other Marlies goal 9:45 in. Rockford held a 14-8 shots advantage.
The second period was dominated by Rockford, but the ‘Hogs were unable to solve netminder Christopher Gibson as Toronto carried a 2-0 lead to the final frame. Rockford now had a 29-14 lead on shots but zero goals on the scoreboard.
At the end of the second period the AHL scoreboard showed the Charlotte Checkers having defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins 7-3, meaning that a Rockford victory would give them their first ever Midwest Division title.
But it was not to be as ex IceHogs skater Byron Froese gave Toronto a 3-0 lead 4:53 into the third period. For Froese it was his 18th goal of the season all but stealing the hopes of a Rockford comeback.
Gibson’s shutout was finally ended on the 41st shot of the game for Rockford courtesy of Kero with five seconds remaining in the game.
The 3-1 loss put Rockford in a fourth place finish in the Conference behind first place Utica and third place San Antonio, despite Rockford finishing one point ahead of San Antonio. The reason being is each division winner is guaranteed one of the top three playoff seeds.
Rockford’s 99 points puts them fifth in the AHL overall, one point behind the Griffins and the Hershey Bears.
Rockford embarks on the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs beginning Friday in Cedar Park, Texas. Despite Rockford holding home-ice advantage, the first two games will be played in Texas while the following three games (as necessary) will all take place in Rockford.
The second game of the first round will be Saturday while the three home games are slated for Wednesday, April 29, Friday, May 1 (if necessary) and Saturday, May 2 (if necessary).