By Todd Reicher
The IceHogs finished the week 2-0-1 and 8-2-1-1 in the month of January to remain in first place in the Central Division.
On Wednesday, January 27 the Charlotte Checkers came to town in a battle for first place in the Central Division.
Vinnie Hinostroza, who has had the hot hand recently for Rockford, put Rockford on the board first, scoring his eighth goal of the season 10:36 into the opening period. Tanner Kero and Bryan Bickell were credited with assists on the marker.
Charlotte tied the game up late in the first period with a nice snipe from Phil Di Giuseppe. The winger picked the top corner, ringing iron before the puck got behind Michael Leighton with 45 seconds left in the period. The power play goal, coming on the Checkers first opportunity of the game, was Charlotte’s only power play marker on seven attempts, as Rockford held the AHL’s second-ranked team to 1-for-7.
Defenseman Cameron Schilling put Rockford ahead with 3:18 left in the second period. Schilling’s second goal of the season came on a screen from Bickell as the puck eluded Checkers netminder Daniel Altshuller. Mark McNeill and Hinostroza had the assists for Rockford.
Early in the second period, Rockford extended their lead to 3-1 when P.C. Labrie got one past Altshuller at 2:04 of the period.
Charlotte was unable to solve Leighton a second time and Rockford came away with a 3-1 victory.
Friday was the last game of Rockford’s eight-game homestand as the ‘Hogs hosted the Chicago Wolves on the first of a home-and-home series.
The first period of the game could not have gone any better for Rockford as the ‘Hogs jumped out to a big 4-0 lead after the first 20 minutes. In fact, Hinostroza scored unassisted on Rockford’s first shot of the game after a turnover.
Marko Dano picked up a Labrie rebound for his third of the season 11:45 into the period to give Rockford a 2-0 lead.
Two late goals gave Rockford their highest one-period goal total of the game – Schilling scored his second goal in as many games at 18:01, and then Kiril Gotovets scored with 31 seconds left in the period for Rockford’s fourth goal. The ‘Hogs converted on four of their seven shots, chasing starting goaltender Jordan Binnington from the game.
Replacement Pheonix Copley kept the Wolves in contention by stopping 14 of 16 shots, but it was too little too late.
Hinostroza scored on the power play midway through the second period when Rockford controlled the game. The ‘Hogs held Chicago to only three shots on goal, tying a season high for Rockford in shots allowed in a period, while putting nine on Copley.
Kero scored on another power play with 4:51 left in the game to put the contest well out of reach.
Chicago tried desperately to get on the board, but could not get a puck past Leighton who earned his AHL-record-tying 45th career AHL shutout. Rockford finished 2-for-5 on the power play while holding Chicago to 0-for-9.
The following night Rockford headed to Chicago to play the Wolves in the second game of the home-and-home series.
Saturday’s game with much closer, with the Wolves coming out ahead 3-2 in overtime.
Chicago got on the board early, 45 seconds into the game, giving the Wolves the early lead.
Neither team scored until 8:38 into the second period when Kero knotted up the contest with his 10th of the season.
Midway through the third period, Ryan Hartman scored a power-play marker to give Rockford their first lead of the game. McNeill was credited with the secondary assist, giving him points in eight straight for Rockford.
The lead would not last as the Wolves scored with 5:28 remaining in the game, tying things back up.
Chicago would earn the second point 1:02 into overtime with a goal from Andre Benoit.
Rockford only plays two games this week – a home-and-home series against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Friday’s game takes place in Rockford at the BMO, then both teams turn around and head to Grand Rapids for the second game of the series. Rockford took it to the Griffins early in the season, but Rockford caught Grand Rapids in the midst of a big winning streak as Rockford dropped the two most recent contests. Since then, the Griffins have slowed down and have not won a game in their last six contests.