By Todd Reicher
The IceHogs have finally fallen out of first place in the Central Division thanks to a weekend sweep from the Charlotte Checkers.
Rockford’s first loss was on Saturday, March 12 when the Checkers took home a 6-3 win. Charlotte’s offense exploded for four first period goals, chasing goaltender Michael Leighton who gave up all four goals on 11 shots.
Charlotte was up 2-0 2:31 into the game before Mark McNeill scored at 4:01 to bring the game to a 2-1 score. The Checkers would tally another two goals in a span of 2:15 later in the period with a power play marker at 15:10 and an even-strength goal at 17:25.
Ex-Checkers goaltender Drew MacIntyre came on in relief of Leighton and stopped 18 of 19 shots he faced.
After a miserable first period, you would have thought Rockford would have come out firing in the second, but the ‘Hogs only managed a total of three shots in the third period to Charlotte’s 16, giving the Checkers a 5-1 lead at the end of the second.
Rockford scored two late third period goals, a second from McNeill and one from Tanner Kero, to bring the game to 5-3, but an empty net tally with 1:36 left shattered all hopes of a comeback.
And it was not as if Rockford didn’t have chances – the power play unit was a dismal 0-for-8 with that advantage, and gave up one goal on six attempts.
The following afternoon, both teams met for the second game of the weekend series.
This time, it was Rockford scoring the first goal, and rather quickly. Kero scored only 50 seconds in to give Rockford the early 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately for Rockford, that was the only goal the team could muster as Charlotte rattled off four unanswered goals, including two late empty-netters, to skate off with a 4-1 win.
Leighton stopped 16 of 18 shots he faced, but opposing goaltender John Muse, who was named the goaltender of the week, stopped 26 of 27 Rockford shots to earn the win.
Rockford was only awarded two power play opportunities during the game, but failed to convert on either, and Rockford’s special teams unit held the Checkers scoreless on four attempts.
The two brightest spots of the weekend were Kero and McNeill, who potted two goals each, and accounted for all of Rockford’s offense.
With the two losses to Charlotte, Rockford now sits behind the Grand Rapids Griffins, who, as of March 14, have won 11 straight games to launch them into first place.
Rockford played Charlotte for a third straight game when the Checkers hit the BMO on Tuesday (results unavailable at press time).
The IceHogs will play three games in three days with a home-and-home series against the Chicago Wolves for the first two games. Friday’s game will take place in Rosemont with Saturday’s game in Rockford. Sunday’s game will be against, you guessed it, the Charlotte Checkers. Rockford will play Charlotte two more times after this week, with another weekend series on Charlotte the weekend of April 5.
With 16 games left in the regular season, and only four points separating the top four teams in the division, it is going to be an exciting race to the finish!