By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs keep racking up the wins with a weekend sweep of the struggling Iowa Wild.
The first game of the weekend double-header was a close contest until the ‘Hogs pulled away in the third period.
Early in the first period it looked like Dennis Rasmussen put Rockford up 1-0, but after official review, it was determined that net became dislodged before the puck crossed the line.
A few minutes later, Vince Hinostroza connected with P.C. Labrie to score the first goal. The tap-in from Labrie was his fourth of the season. The Wild had two power play opportunities during the first 20 minutes but came up empty-handed. Rockford also held the edge in shots on goal at a 10-9 margin.
Ville Pokka tallied his second of the season 40 seconds into the period when he successfully converted on a wrap-around goal assisted by Jake Dowell, who threw the puck at the back boards.
Iowa cut the lead in half on their third power play opportunity with Michael Keranen scoring his third of the season, 3:06 into the second period.
With his second point of the night, Bryan Bickell extended the Rockford lead to two goals once again with a power play marker 14:02 into the period. Bickell was fed the puck from Ryan Hartman in transition in the neutral zone, and Bickeel carried it in on the left wing and sniped a rocket over the shoulder of Leland Irving for his second goal of the season.
A centering play from behind the net on a sweet no-look backhand pass from Brady Brassart to Kurtis Gabriel, who was right in front of the net, cut the Rockford lead back to one goal with 27 seconds left in the middle period.
Early in the third period, Rasmussen made a nice dangle around a Wild defender, but his shot was denied by Irving. The “Moose” picked up his own rebound and beat Irving to once extend Rockford’s lead.
Jeremy Morin found a loose puck in the left slot and fired a rocket past a sprawled out Irving to put Rockford comfortably ahead 5-2 with 11 minutes left in the game.
Michael Leighton and the Rockford defense locked the Wild out for the rest of the period, holding Iowa to seven shots in the period as Rockford came away with a point in their ninth straight game. With the win, Leighton earned his 200th AHL victory, placing him 13th overall in the league.
The following night the same teams hit the ice for the second game of the weekend series, and for the first time against Rockford this season, the Wild scored first. Keranen tallied his second goal of the weekend 7:19 into the game when his shot was deflected past Leighton for the 1-0 lead.
Rasmussen continued his strong play this weekend with the game-tying goal at 13:09. Nolan Valleau was the primary assist with Bickell factoring in as the second helper. Valleau threw a puck at the net which was tipped in by Rasumssen.
Iowa reclaimed the lead 1:48 into the second period when Grayson Downing earned his second point of the night.
Less than three minutes later, Bickell continued his torrid scoring pace with his third goal in four games since being sent back to Rockford. Bicks was playing back towards the blue line, and then pinched in closer to the left faceoff circle and fired a one-timer into the back of the net.
Just 19 seconds later it was Mark McNeill giving Rockford their first lead of the game. McNeill grabbed the puck in transition on the right side of the ice, then wristed a rocket for his third goal of the season.
Iowa knotted things up late in the second when Zack Mitchell beat Leighton for his third of the season 14:18 into the second period.
A late third period power play gave Rockford the lead once again. Hinostroza held the puck deep in the Iowa zone and found a streaking Kyle Cumiskey who ripped a shot past Jeremy Smith, who was partially screened by Ryan Hartman.
The IceHogs fought off a penalty kill with four minutes left in the game to preserve the win, 4-3. The victory gave Rockford points in 10 straight games, showing a record of 8-0-1-1 during that span, with four of the wins coming against the Wild.
Rockford plays three games this week with a road game on Wednesday against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Rockford will then head up to Milwaukee on Friday against the Admirals. Milwaukee was one of two teams to hand Rockford a loss in their 10-game streak, an overtime loss on Saturday, November 7. Rockford’s next home game takes place on Sunday when they host the Lake Erie Monsters.
This will also be the night where the Stanley Cup comes to town, as fans will have an opportunity to get their picture taken with the celebrated trophy.