By Todd Reicher
After getting blown out in three of the last four games, the Rockford IceHogs responded with three straight wins.
Rockford’s first win of the triad was on Wednesday, October 21 at home against the Iowa Wild.
The IceHogs carried the pace in the first 20 minutes and outshot the Wild 16-6, but former Boston Bruins prospect Jeremy Smith cut off all Rockford shots and Michael Leighton stopped six for a scoreless tie after the first.
Rockford struck first with a power play marker from team captain Brandon Mashinter 2:03 into the period to take a 1-0 lead. Ville Pokka and Tanner Kero were the assists on the marker.
Iowa converted on their first power play opportunity of the game when P.C. Labrie was flagged for boarding. But Rockford would respond later in the period when Kero struck again for his fourth marker in the young season, assisted by Jeremy Morin, to put Rockford up again by one goal. Once again, Rockford held Iowa down in shots, outshooting the Wild 9-4 in the middle frame.
The Wild started taking more chances and putting a more aggressive forecheck later in the third, and were rewarded when captain Maxime Fortunus found a loose puck in the slot to tie the score at 2-2 with 5:50 left in the game.
Fears of overtime were quickly squashed when Kero would tally his third point of the game exactly 59 seconds after the Fortunus marker to put Rockford up 3-2.
Morin was hit with a goaltender interference penalty shortly after they took the lead, but Rockford’s special teams held Iowa off the board and wound up keeping Iowa at bay en route to a 3-2 win.
Two days later Rockford played host to the Chicago Wolves for the first of six times this season.
Historically, Chicago has had a very strong power play unit, so one of the keys to the game was to stay out of the box. Unfortunately, Rockford never got the message as they were hit with nine penalties throughout the game. The good news, however, was the special teams unit only gave up one goal on those nine attempts, which happened on their eighth kill attempt.
Rockford struck twice in quick succession to take a 2-0 lead in the blink of an eye. Labrie lit the lamp for the first time this season with a deflected shot at 10:15 of the period, and then Ryan Hartman tallied his first of the campaign 1:02 later when he poked in a free puck from the goal mouth. Despite being outshot 13-7, Rockford held the advantage where it counted.
Chicago tallied the only marker of the second period 14:04 into the period and also outshot the ‘Hogs 9-6.
Mark McNeill sniped his second of the season 5:06 into the third period to take a 3-1 lead. Mashinter found McNeill in the right slot, and McNeill wristed a shot just off the crossbar behind Jordan Binnington.
Two quick strikes by the Wolves late in the period, 1:03 apart, tied the game at 3-3, leading to an overtime event. The new rules this season have the overtime session set to five minutes of three-on-three hockey, followed by a three round shootout if there is no score in the overtime session.
Both teams played a more defensive style with Rockford getting a bulk of the scoring chances in the extra session, outshooting the Wolves 5-0, but with no goals to show for the effort.
In the first shootout of the season it was Rockford prevailing 2-1 with goals from Morin and Garrett Ross. Leighton allowed only one goal to the first shooter in the skills competition as Rockford held on for a 4-3 shootout win.
The following night Rockford played their third game in four days with a road game against the Milwaukee Admirals.
Stevie Moses put the Ads up early in the first period with his first of the season despite being outshot 13-9.
Rockford got on the board 6:42 into the second to know things up with Mashinter’s second goal in as many games.
Three minutes later, Kero put in a deflected puck to give Rockford a 2-1 lead, their first of the game.
Early in the third period, while on the penalty kill, McNeill go open on a breakaway, but Ads backstop Juuse Saros read the forehand-backhand move, stopping McNeill and keeping the game to within one goal.
Midway through the period, Hartman was flagged for a light roughing penalty, giving the Ads another power play, their fifth of the game. Milwaukee finally found the new on the advantage, tying the game at 2-2 with half of the final period remaining.
Just 1:29 later, Hartman partially deflected a shot close to their defensive blue line, and the puck skittered out to center ice where Marko Dano picked up the puck for Rockford, unabated. Dano raced alone in on Saros and fired hard, low wrister to the left side of the net, which was blocked down. Dano alertly picked up his own rebound and quickly slid it into the back of the net for his first marker of the season to reclaim the lead for Rockford.
With Saros on the bench for Milwaukee, Hartman found the empty net with 25 seconds left a long shot from their own face-off circle to put Rockford up 4-2, giving the ‘Hogs their third straight win.
Rockford will play three games in week four with the first on Tuesday against the Charlotte Checkers (results unavailable at press time). The ‘Hogs will remain home for a Friday game against the Wild before hitting the road Sunday to face the Wild for the third time this season.
Photo: Michael Leighton stops Chicago Wolves forward Ivan Barbashev in the third round of the shootout during Friday’s game. Leighton stopped two of three Chicago shooters to give Rockford the win and the extra standings point. | Todd Reicher