IceHogs go 3-1 in first half of homestand

Rockford IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton earned his 43 AHL shutout on Saturday night against the Stockton Heat, putting him in sole possession of second place all time amongst AHL goaltenders. Leighton only needs two more shutouts to tie Johnny Bower at 45. Leighton has only allowed four goals in his past four games and shows a 2.18 Goals Against Average to go along with a .928 save percentage in 28 games this season.
Rockford IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton earned his 43 AHL shutout on Saturday night against the Stockton Heat, putting him in sole possession of second place all-time amongst AHL goaltenders. Leighton only needs two more shutouts to tie Johnny Bower at 45. Leighton has only allowed four goals in his past four games and shows a 2.18 Goals Against Average to go along with a .928 save percentage in 28 games this season. | Todd Reicher, Photo

By Todd Reicher
Columnist

In the first four games of Rockford’s season-long eight game homestand, the IceHogs finished with a 3-1 record with their only loss coming against the San Jose Barracuda.

Rockford had their first win of the week on Tuesday, January 12 against the Chicago Wolves by a 5-2 margin. Garrett Ross and Ryan Haggerty led the charge with one goal and one assist each, and Ross sitting +3 for the game. The IceHogs carried a 2-1 lead into the second period off goals from Haggerty and Viktor Svedberg.

The IceHogs carried a 2-1 lead into the second period off goals from Haggerty and Viktor Svedberg. Pierre Cedric Labrie scored the only second period goal to give Rockford a little more breathing room to enter the third period. Rockford’s two-goal lead was cut in half 2:56 into the third period by a Chicago power play goal, bringing the score to 3-2.

Chicago was unable to tally the equalizing goal, and with 1:14 remaining in the contest, Ross put the puck in an empty net to secure Rockford’s lead. Rubbing salt in the wound was Tanner Kero who tallied a greasy goal in front of the net with 39 seconds left in the game to solidify a 5-2 Rockford win.

Friday’s game would be Rockford’s only loss of the week, coming at the hands of the San Jose Barracuda. Rockford’s Mark McNeill tallied the first goal of the game 7:30 into the contest, but the lead only lasted 34 seconds with San Jose tying things up quickly.

The Barracuda claimed their first lead at 11:33 of the opening frame to give the visitors a 2-1 edge after 20 minutes. McNeill tallied his second goal of the contest 61 seconds into the second period to even the score again, this time at 2-2. San Jose responded again with a goal at 5:39 to once again reclaim a one-goal lead.

That lead would be compounded in the third period with an early power play goal and a fifth goal on Mark Visentin 6:04 into the final period to cap the scoring at 5-2.

Rockford’s Saturday contest for Pink in the Rink night was a revenge match against another California-based opponent, the Stockton Heat. During the first week of the season the Heat embarrassed the ‘Hogs to the tune of 7-0 in Stockton.

The IceHogs responded to the shutout by pitching one of their own: a 3-0 shutout, Michael Leighton’s 43rd AHL shutout.

In a fast-paced first period, Rockford scored the lone goal, courtesy of Vinnie Hinostroza, who tallied his fifth of the season 13:38 into the opening stanza. The second period was also fast-paced, but far less shots were fired from each side with Rockford holding an 8-4 edge in the sandwich stanza.

Neither team was able to crack the others goalmouth and the score remained 1-0 in favor of Rockford after 40 minutes. With time winding down in the third, Labrie fired a quick shot off a faceoff win by McNeill over the shoulder of Kevin Poulin to give Rockford a big 2-0 lead with 2:08 remaining to play.

Ville Pokka found the empty net with 51 seconds left to play, putting out the Heat’s fire and giving Rockford the 3-0 win.

After a Sunday off, Rockford played the fourth game of their home stand against the Lake Erie Monsters in a rare Monday matinee matchup. The 1 p.m. start time is usually difficult for both teams, but you would not know it as each team came out flying around the ice in a scoreless first period.

Leighton would stop all seven first period shots and Anton Forsberg fended off all 10 Rockford shots. Rockford put two goals in the board in the second period, putting Rockford up 2-0 heading into the final 20.

Hinostroza was the recipient of a perfect slapshot/pass from Svedberg to give Rockford the first goal of the game eight seconds into Rockford’s second power play of the game.

Kiril Gotovets earned his first of the season with exactly 60 seconds on the clock to double the IceHogs lead to 2-0. The Monsters kept the shots close in the second, edging out Rockford 11-10, but Leighton continued his stellar play from Saturday, and stopped all 18 Lake Erie shots in the first two periods.

Oliver Bjorkstrand ended Leighton’s shutout streak at 128 minutes with an absolute snipe shot with 7:14 left in regulation to cut the lead to one.

Bjorkstrand came in on the right side with an IceHogs defender draped all over him, but the winger managed to fire a wicked wrist shot which picked the top right corners iron and behind Leighton.

The IceHogs fought off a late surge with the goaltender pulled, and recently reassigned forward Bryan Bickell found the empty net from the Rockford zone with 57 seconds left to play giving Rockford the 3-1 win, keeping them in first place in the Central Division.

Rockford continues their homestand with two games this upcoming week, both against the Iowa Wild. The IceHogs defeated the Wild 3-1 in their last meeting on January 10, with Leighton earning first star honors, stopping 33 of 34 Iowa shots.

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