By Todd Reicher
Despite a sluggish February and April, the IceHogs managed to secure a spot in the 2016 Calder Cup playoffs. Rockford managed to earn a berth after earning three of four points in Charlotte during the week. The IceHogs were handed a formidable opponent who were close to clinching a playoff spot themselves, so Rockford knew they were in for a battle.
In Tuesday’s game, Rockford was down 1-0 heading into the third frame, but Vinnie Hinostroza tied things up with his 15th goal of the season at 8:47.
Rockford’s overtime woes continued as Rockford gave up the game-winning goal with 1:00 left in overtime as Charlotte took the win 2-1.
The following night, both teams met again, but this time it was Rockford taking the game 2-1.
Hinostroza scored his second goal in as many games, an unassisted marker with 3:11 left in the first.
After a scoreless second period, Jake Dowell gave the IceHogs a one-goal cushion with his 11th goal of the season at 2:43 of the third frame.
Anthona Camara scored his second goal in as many nights for the Checkers, cutting the Rockford lead in half with a power play marker at 8:57, but that was all the offense Charlotte could muster as Rockford won the game, clinching a playoff spot.
Rockford then headed up to Manitoba to face the Moose. Despite having the worst record in the AHL, the IceHogs were unable to secure one point in two games.
The IceHogs offense sputtered in game one, only putting up one goal while allowing five, with the last goal coming on an empty net.
The game was close throughout the first two periods as both teams headed to the third period tied at 1-1, but Rockford’s defense collapsed, giving up three goals in short succession early in the period.
Game two was a different story, with Rockford scoring quickly, and on the first shot of the game. Playing in his second professional game, Tyler Motte (who joined the team after his collegiate season at University of Michigan) scored just 25 seconds into the game. The fourth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks was arguably the best player for Rockford in the previous game, but was not rewarded on the scoreboard for his hard work.
The IceHogs extended their lead a few minutes later when Motte registered his second point of the game on a nifty pass to Cameron Schilling, who tapped in the rubber to the open net for a 2-0 lead.
Manitoba stormed back with two goals of their own, and with five minutes left in the first we had a 2-2 tie.
Rockford once again doubled their lead with two goals in 36 seconds before the second period expired, courtesy of Ryan Haggerty and David Rundblad.
After that, the wheels of the offensive juggernaut came off for Rockford. Despite launching 29 shots on net in the final two periods, Rockford had nothing to show on the scoreboard other than the four in the first period.
Unfortunately, those were not enough as Rockford surrendered three unanswered goals to the Moose. A powerplay marker early in the second, and a second powerplay tally very early in the third tied up the contest at 4-4.
With 2:42 left in regulation, Manitoba sealed the win with a goal, sending Rockford home without a point in their visit up north.
The final week of the regular season is upon us as Rockford plays three games to close out the campaign. The ‘Hogs will travel to Iowa to face the Wild on Wednesday, then return home for the final two games – a Friday meeting against the Grand Rapids Griffins, and a Saturday finale against the Milwaukee Admirals.
The Ads have won the division, and it appears will be the first round opponent for Rockford, unless the Lake Erie Monsters or Griffins struggle down the stretch.
As an observer, I feel this is the best matchup Rockford could hope for. The Griffins have had Rockford’s number for the past few seasons, and I do not believe Rockford would win more than one game against the Red Wings affiliate. The Monsters may be a tough opponent, but the home team has won every game this season, which would give Lake Erie the edge as they would take home ice.
Milwaukee plays a very similar game to Rockford, and the IceHogs know this team better than any other. Also, Rockford has only lost to the Admirals twice in regulation, and holds the season advantage with a 5-2-3-1 record. A key to this battle would be goaltending, and if Michael Leighton returns from the Blackhawks, it will be a huge boost for Rockford on the backend. If not, it appears as of now the Mac Carruth will hold the net for Rockford.