By Todd Reicher
February and March have not been kind to Rockford, as the IceHogs have dropped to third place in the competitive Central Division. Rockford is slightly behind Milwaukee, holding one game in-hand, and a few points behind Grand Rapids. The Lake Erie Monsters are also hot on Rockford’s tail, only four points behind.
Rockford’s first game of the week was a lethargic 4-1 loss against the Chicago Wolves. Rockford was able to muster a large number of shots against Jordan Binnington, but most of those shots came from the perimeter as the Wolves clogged up the middle, giving Rockford bad angles in which to shoot.
The Wolves struck early with Evan Trupp earning his fifth of the season at 2:40 into the game.
Chicago would score again 10 minutes later to cap the scoring for the first period. Despite being double in shot count, 15-7, the Wolves held a 2-0 lead.
Neither team managed to score in the second, with Rockford once again doubling up Chicago 12-6 in shots, and an early third period goal put the Wolves up 3-0.
With 3:05 remaining in the contest, Ville Pokka finally cracked Binnington to close Rockford to a 3-1 margin.
But Trupp tallied an empty net goal with 1:15 left in regulation to close out the ‘Hogs hopes of a comeback.
With Michael Leighton being recalled to the Chicago Blackhawks due to the injury to Corey Crawford, Drew MacIntyre is assuming starting goaltender duties and was handed the loss for Rockford.
The following night both teams headed back to Rockford for the second game of the home-and-home series where the same two netminders met again.
Once again, the Wolves scored first, although the first goal wasn’t until 10:59 of the second period.
Vinnie Hinostroza knotted the score at 1-1 with 1:28 left in the period when a redirected puck found its’ way behind Binnington.
Jordan Schmaltz broke the 1-1 tie 25 seconds into the final frame with a goal that slipped beneath MacIntyre to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.
Mark McNeill answered 2:30 later with his team-leading 21st goal of the season to even the score once again.
But the back-and-forth play continued with Chicago answering the call again 3:30 after the McNeill goal to reclaim the lead.
With time winding down and MacIntyre on the bench, Bryan Bickell played the hero, sliding a puck beneath Binnington with 8.9 remaining in regulation, sending the game to overtime.
The extra session only lasted 42 seconds when Danny Kristo fired a shot past a screened MacIntyre to give the Wolves the 4-3 overtime win.
Rockford played their third game in three days on Sunday with a matinee game against the Charlotte Checkers in Rockford’s annual Jersey Auction night, with the theme for this year being Star Wars.
There was not much scoring in the game, but there was plenty of action on both sides of the ice. Each goaltender, Mac Carruth for Rockford and John Muse for Charlotte, each made outstanding saves throughout the game to keep their respective teams in the contest. In the end, this game would turn out to be a goaltenders duel.
After a scoreless first period which saw each team accumulate 11 shots, Bickell would tally the game’s first goal 2:25 into the second period, assisted by Jake Dowell and McNeill.
With 52 seconds remaining the in the second, Carruth let out a juicy rebound into the slot where Derek Ryan slapped it into the back of the net, tying the score at 1-1 after 40 minutes.
Neither team managed to score in the third period, nor the overtime session, as each backstop played almost flawlessly through the first 65 minutes. Muse stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced and Carruth fended off 33 of the 34 fired his way.
The shootout would test the mettle of the goalies as the contest would go a staggering 13 rounds.
Labrie and Viktor Svedberg would score in the third and fourth rounds, as did Charlotte, but the next eight shooters for each team would be denied.
The 13th Rockford shooter, newcomer Matt Fraser, managed to beat Muse with a backhander, putting the game on the shoulders of Carruth and Patrick Brown. From the seat of his pants, Carruth made one final glove save to seal the win for Rockford, 2-1 in the shootout.
With only 12 games remaining in the regular season, Rockford heads down to Lake Erie for a two game series which will decide who sits in third and fourth place in the Division. With the Monsters only four points behind, a sweep of the IceHogs would send Rockford down to fourth if the IceHogs fail to earn a point.
Of the 12 games remaining, Rockford will only play four at home; an April 1 game against San Antonio, followed by a Sunday game against the Iowa Wild, and the last two games of the season when Rockford hosts Grand Rapids and Milwaukee.