‘Hogs open series with a bang

Rockford jumps out to 2-0 lead in Texas, returns home tonight with chance to clinch

By Todd Reicher
Exclusive to TRRT

After a four-year hiatus the Rockford IceHogs have returned to the Calder Cup Playoffs and have returned as a team poised for a deep run.

Rockford took the first two games on the road in the best-of-five first round of the playoffs.

IceHogs AdvanceGame number one was on Friday, April 24 in Cedar Park, Texas, and it was a familiar face–Spencer Abbott–igniting the Rockford offense, scoring the first goal of the game.

Just 17 seconds after Rockford earned their first power play opportunity of the game Abbott scored on a perfect one-time feed from Ryan Hartman; 6:23 into the contest Rockford was up 1-0.

Midway through the period Rockford was ahead 8-1 on shots as the team carried the momentum through the early stages.

Texas took over the reins for a brief portion of the first but Michael Leighton and the Rockford defense would not allow any markers, giving the ‘Hogs a 1-0 lead after a physical first period.

The Stars tied up the contest late in the second period on a questionable non-call from the officiating crew. Earlier in the game the officials had been quick to blow a play dead around either goaltender but this time they swallowed their whistles allowing Curtis McKenzie to pot the first marker for Texas.

Leighton appeared to have the puck covered and McKenzie rushed toward the back side of the net slashing the stick away from Stephen Johns as the puck slipped out from under Leighton. McKenzie found the puck and lifted it over a sprawled Johns to knot the game at one.

Rookie defenseman Julius Honka gave Texas their first lead of the series 4:24 into the third period with a power play goal.

However, Rockford was quick to respond with a second Abbott goal just over four minutes later to even the score once again. The goal came with one second remaining on a 5-on-3 power play.

IceHogs defenseman Kirill Gotovets, with his seventh shot on goal of the game, pinched in deep towards the faceoff circles as Phillip Danault found him wide open to snap a shot past Jussi Rynnas to give Rockford the lead once again.

An empty net tally by Hartman with 1:04 remaining in regulation sealed a 4-2 win for Rockford. After the goal McKenzie was flagged for cross-checking and also handed a 10-minute game misconduct for unsportmanlike conduct.

The victory was Rockford’s first Calder Cup playoff win in almost seven years when Rockford beat the Chicago Wolves.

All game the Stars were trying to get under the skin of the IceHogs. Whether it was finishing checks, hacking at Leighton after the whistle, or just general pushing and shoving, the Stars were trying to agitate Rockford but the ‘Hogs were extremely disciplined and it showed on the scoreboard.

The following night both teams met for game two and once again Rockford came out of the gates hot.

Just shy of the halfway mark of the first period Garrett Ross gave Rockford a 1-0 lead. Ross flipped in a rebound from a Brandon Mashinter shot at 9:28 of the period.

With under two minutes remaining in the period Mashinter set a drop pass for Tanner Karo and the rookie winger kept his hot streak going, firing the rubber past Jack Campbell putting Rockford up by a pair after 20 minutes. Once again it was Rockford controlling the pace in the first period outshooting Texas 11-4 on top of the two goal lead.

Rockford killed off two second period penalties and were unable to convert on their own power play attempt in the middle frame, but the ‘Hogs worked hard to retain a two goal lead after two periods of play.

Texas laid 16 shots on Leighton compared to the IceHogs eight. Leighton remained solid and kept the Stars off the board.

Leighton’s only goal against in the game came just past the midway point of the final period to cut the Rockford lead in half.

A Brett Richie shot was caught underneath Leighton but the veteran netminder was unable to locate the loose change. Leighton lay on his back to cover it but the on-ice official ruled it as a goal. After a lengthy review the goal stood and Texas was on the board.

A Derek Meech high-sticking penalty proved costly as Peter Regin buried a perfect backdoor pass from Johns with 3:43 remaining in the game.

Campbell was pulled with over two minutes left in regulation but Mashinter tallied his third point of the night by chipping the puck into an empty net with 1:50 left in the game, giving Rockford the 4-1 win.

The series now shifts to Rockford where the IceHogs will have three chances to win one game and the series against the Stars, beginning tonight at 7 p.m. at the BMO Center.

The final two games of the first round, if necessary, are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

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