By Todd Reicher
The Rockford IceHogs continued their eight-game home stand this weekend hosting two straight games against the Iowa Wild. Despite the Wild’s record, Iowa has been playing much better hockey as of late due in part to players returning from injury or being reassigned from the Minnesota Wild.
The first of two games took place on Friday, January 22 with the Wild winning in a shootout 4-3.
Rockford got on the board first 6:47 into the game on a Mark McNeill tally. Marko Dano and Ryan Hartman were credited with the assists.
Just under six minutes later, Colton Beck knotted the game up at 1-1 with his third marker of the season.
After Iowa evened the score, Rockford would go on a four-minute power play when Dano took a double-minor high stick to the mouth from Brett Bulmer. The first half of the advantage was very lifeless as Rockford struggled to get the puck past center ice.
That all changed in the second half of the advantage when Vinnie Hinostroza carried the puck into the offensive zone with speed, flanked by Tanner Kero. Hinostroza slid the puck to Kero on his left and the rookie beat Leland Irving off his right side to put Rockford up 2-1.
An unfortunate turn of events occurred minutes later when IceHogs starting goaltender Mark Visentin was helped off the ice after an apparent injury. Visentin was sliding post-to-post to follow a sliding puck and fell down to the ice. Visentin was helped off by some players and trainer D.J. Jones, and was unable to put pressure on his leg. Michael Leighton came on in relief and did not allow a first period goal. After the game, the IceHogs recalled Mac Carruth from their ECHL affiliate Indy Fuel, signaling Visentin would be out for at least Saturday’s game.
At 6:01 of the second period, Iowa once again tied the game, but Rockford scored the final goal of the period with 1:07 remaining to regain the lead. Hinostroza was set up by Bryan Bickell as he showed patience waiting for Hinostroza on his right. At the last possible moment, Bickell slid the puck over leaving a mostly open net for Hinostroza’s seventh of the season.
Shy of the midway point of the third period, Iowa tied the game for the third time. A power play score by Gustav Olofsson at 7:35 put the score at 3-3. The score would hold through the remainder of the game and overtime, sending the contest to a shootout. The shootout would go to a fifth round before Iowa’s Michael Keranen would score, and Irving stopping Bickell to end the contest.
The following night both teams met again for the second game of the series in what would turn out to be another tight game.
Iowa’s defense played extremely strong, limiting Rockford’s chances throughout the first two periods, limiting the ‘Hogs to only 11 shots on goal after 40 minutes. Alternatively, the Wild were firing shots left and right, and put 22 shots on net through 40 minutes. Luckily for Rockford, Leighton was on point, stopping everything put in front of him. Jeremy Smith was also playing strong for the Wild, not allowing the puck past him despite some great chances from Rockford.
Early in the third period, Rockford had their first prime scoring opportunity. As Hartman came in on a breakaway, he was pulled down and awarded a penalty shot. Hartman came in went from the forehand to the backhand, but Smith denied the shot with his blocker, keeping the game scoreless.
Five minutes into the third period, Rockford found themselves on the short end of the stick, with Kiril Gotovets getting called for holding – the fifth straight penalty against Rockford. The ‘Hogs and Leighton fought off the penalty, keeping the score at zeroes.
Rockford’s offense started to come alive, and they exceeded their first two period shot attempts in the third period alone.
With time waning in the contest, Rockford was awarded their first power play of the game, a roughing call against Tyler Graovac. 1:15 into the penalty, Dano fired a shot at net with McNeill screening. McNeill got his stick on the puck and redirected it five-hole under Smiths’ pads for the first goal of the game.
Iowa pulled Smith in the last minute, but were unable to tally the equalizing goal, giving Rockford the win, and earning three of four points on the weekend. Leighton also earned his 44th career AHL shutout, putting him one behind the all-time leader, Johnny Bower, at 45.
Rockford wraps up their eight game home stand with three games this week. The seventh game of the stand starts on Wednesday against the Charlotte Checkers with the final game on Friday against the Chicago Wolves. Saturday, both teams get reacquainted with a game at the Allstate Arena with a 7 p.m. puck drop.