By Todd Reicher
The 2015-2016 season started this past weekend, and Rockford would start this one on the road. As usual, Rockford would see some new faces in the lineup, some include winger Michael Limabas, NHL veteran Daniel Paille, and Ryan Haggerty on the forward side of things, and Cameron Schilling, Erik Gustafsson, Nolan Valleau and Dennis Robertson on the back-end. Rockford also picked up goaltender Mark Visentin, who was injured for all of last season.
As always, some of the players on the roster right now managed to get some playing time in the preseason for the Chicago Blackhawks, and some of those included Tanner Kero, Ryan Hartman, Brandon Mashinter, Vince Hinostroza, Garrett Ross and Marko Dano (who was acquired in a trade which sent Brandon Saad to Columbus).
For the first time in team history, the Rockford IceHogs headed out to the West Coast as they played two games against two of the newest teams in the AHL; the San Jose Barracuda (relocated from Worchester, Massachusetts) and the Stockton Heat (relocated from Abbotsford, British Columbia).
The Barracuda, previously an Eastern Conference team, the Worcester Sharks, were a new opponent for the ‘Hogs, and would be the first opponent of the 2015-2016 season.
It didn’t take long for Rockford to net their first goal of the season, exactly 61 seconds into the season, when Kero, who finished last season on fire, netted the opening tally. Assisting on the goal was a familiar Rockford face, Jeremy Morin and newcomer Dano.
Kero picked up his second point of the night later in the first period when he assisted on Dennis Rasmussen’s first goal of the campaign. Kero and Rasmussen managed to grab the puck shorthanded and got into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1. Kero dished to Rasmussen who beat Barracuda ‘tender Troy Grosenick for the 2-0 lead.
Rockford looked to head into the end of the first period with a 2-0 lead, but Michael Haley tallied a power play marker with 13 seconds left in the period to cut the lead in half.
A second power play marker for San Jose tied the score at 2-2 6:34 into the second period. This time it was veteran and Captain Bryan Lerg who lit the lamp.
At 4:45 into the final frame, Kero struck again for Rockford’s first multi-goal game of the season, assisted once again by Morin, to give Rockford a 3-2 lead.
Just over four minutes later, Morin would light the lamp with a beauty of an assist from Hinostroza, to put Rockford up 4-2. Hinostroza was on the right side of the slot, and he fished the puck behind his back, past two Barracuda players, right on to the tape of Morin who buried the shot.
San Jose pulled Grosenick for the extra attacker, and with a Rockford player in the box for interference, the Barracuda had a 6-on-4 advantage for the rest of the game.
But Rockford’s penalty kill, which had faltered twice early, held on when it counted and kept the Barracuda off the board for the win.
The following night, Rockford faced the Stockton Heat. After a standout performance by the Morin/Kero/Dano line, the trio was held scoreless, along with the rest of the Rockford players, as the Heat pounded Rockford in a 7-0 loss.
Michael Leighton, who earned his first win of the season the previous night, was pulled 14:35 into the first period after surrendering four goals on 14 shots. His replacement, Mac Carruth, did not fare any better, giving up three goals on 17 shots in 45:25 of game play.
Rockford’s special teams unit hindered the team once again, giving up three goals on seven shorthanded opportunities, leaving Rockford surrendering five goals on 11 attempts over the weekend. This is one area of the game coach Ted Dent will certainly focus on as Rockford’s special teams unit was stellar last year.
Rockford will now play six of their next seven games at home, starting on Saturday against the Texas Stars. This is the first of four straight at home before Rockford will head to Milwaukee for one game, then play two more back at home to finish off the six game series.
After the Saturday game, Rockford will play the Stars again for a 4 p.m. matinee.