By Todd Reicher
After losing a tight game to the Milwaukee Admirals to start their five-game road trip, the Rockford IceHogs fired off three wins in the next three games in Texas.
Rockford’s first game of the Texas swing took place on Wednesday, December 2 against the Texas Stars. The Stars ravaged Rockford in two games at the BMO early in the season, outscoring Rockford 12-4 in those two games, including a 7-2 drubbing.
The Stars lit up Rockford and Michael Leighton for five goals, but it was Rockford taking home the win, getting six goals on Jack Campbell.
Neither team lead by more than one goal in the back-and-forth affair.
It was Ryan Hartman who opened the scoring, earning his seventh of the season 7:50 into the game.
Texas tied it up 1:10 later, and then took the lead two minutes after the first goal.
It took until their 21st game of the season, but Rockford finally managed to score more than 2 goals in the second period with a three goal outburst. Bryan Bickell and Garrett Ross scored 57 seconds apart to give Rockford a 3-2 lead early in the second.
The Stars would score the next two goals to reclaim then lead, but Hartman tied things up with his second of the game with 1:03 left in the period, sending the game tied at
the end of two.
Each team traded goals in the third period, leading to an overtime game.
Dennis Rasmussen ended things 3:03 into the extra session with a power play marker, giving Rockford the second point in the game.
Two days later, Rockford headed down to San Antonio for the first game of a two-game weekend series. The IceHogs would have their hands full with a team that plays a tight game, and that playstyle has served the Rampage well as they had only lost three games in regulation thus far. But that would change this weekend.
Rockford’s penalty kill, which has been excellent since the second week of the season, faltered early giving up two powerplay goals in two opportunities in the first and second periods.
Four minutes into the second period, the Rampage scored their second power play goal of the game to go ahead 2-0.
Just 1:36 later, Jake Dowell netted his third of the season, assisted by Bickell, to pull Rockford to within one.
Rockford answered with a power play goal of their own 10:48 into the period to even the score at 2-2 off the stick of Ville Pokka.
For the second time in as many games, Rockford would put three goals on the board in the middle period to take a 3-2 lead into the final period. Hartman would get his third goal in two games for what would be the game-winning goal. Rockford dominated in both the scoring and shooting as the ‘Hogs outshot the Rampage 15-3, and outscored them 3-1.
Bickell hit a wrister at 4:02 of the third period to cap the scoring at 4-2. Mark Visentin would earn his second win of the season, putting him at 2-2-2. The netminder stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced, including 11 in the third.
Rockford looked to complete the weekend sweep on Sunday with the second game of the weekend series against San Antonio.
This time it was Rockford getting on the board first with Phillip Danault earning his first goal of the season in only his third game of the season. Danault had off-season surgery which required four months of rehabilitation, and coach Ted Dent was limiting his time on ice in his return.
The Rampage tied the game at 13:10 of the period with a power play goal to tie the game at 1-1.
Then just 32 seconds later, the IceHogs would answer with a power play goal of the own as Pokka netted his fifth of the season to reclaim the lead for Rockford.
With 1:14 remaining in the period, the Rampage would tie it up, sending the game to a 2-2 tie at the end of one.
The IceHogs would score two quick goals early in the second to take a commanding 4-2 lead.
Hartman would score at 4:29 of the period and P.C. Labrie would redirect a shot into the net at 6:34 for a power play tally.
Scoring would come at a premium in the second half of play with Rockford getting the only goal in the second 30 minutes of the game. Veteran Daniel Paille found the net for the first time this season, putting the puck in an empty net with 2:49 left in the game, sealing a 5-2 win and giving the ‘Hogs an impressive road sweep of the Rampage.
Rockford finished off their road trip on Tuesday against the Texas Stars (results unavailable at press time). The ‘Hogs will come back home for two straight home games; a Friday matchup hosting the Iowa Wild, and then a Saturday game against the red-hot Grand Rapids Griffins, who have won eight straight and earned points in nine of their past 10. The IceHogs currently sit in first place in the Central Division, holding a 15-5-1-2 record, good for 33 points. The Ads are right behind them, with a game in hand, sitting on a 15-6-1-0 record and 31 points.