By Todd Reicher
Going into week nine, the IceHogs were riding a season-long five game losing streak with one game at home before heading off to Texas.
The IceHogs only home game of the week was Wednesday, December 7 against the San Antonio Rampage. After coming on in relief of Mac Carruth in their previous outing, Jake Hildebrand would get the nod for his first official start.
The team didn’t help him out much in the first period as Rockford got into penalty trouble early in the game with two penalties in the first six minutes of the game.
Mike Sislo tallied for the Rampage on their second opportunity to give the Rampage the first lead of the game.
The IceHogs were victimized once again in the first period with two more penalties before the 10 minute mark, and a total of six minor penalties in the opening period.
San Antonio once again capitalized late in the frame with a Matt Lashoff 5-on-3 power play goal to give the Rampage a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Rockford fought back in the second and recently re-assigned for Nick Schmaltz found the back of the net on his first AHL shot – a breakaway score at 10:43 to pull Rockford to within one.
Shortly after, Brandon Mashinter would get into a scuffle with Mason Geertsen and the two were handed down 10-minute misconducts for fighting at puck drop.
With 19 second left on the clock in the middle frame, Schmaltz tallied his second of the game after he went bar-down on a shot from the right side to even the score at 2-2 going into the final 20 minutes of play.
The officials kept the whistles in their pockets for the most part, but neither team was able to tally the game winner in regulation, so we would head to extra hockey.
Joe Whitney would cap the scoring and the game with 1:33 left in overtime to give San Antonio the win. With overtime play set to 3-on-3, Whitney carried the puck around the left side of the net where Spencer Abbott looked like he was cemented to the ice as Whitney casually skated around him. Whitney slid the puck past Hildebrand, who stopped 36 of 39 shots, for the game-ending goal. The loss was Rockford’s sixth straight, and third straight post-regulation loss and third in six games.
Friday had Rockford traveling down to Texas for a two game series against the Texas Stars in Cedar Park where the IceHogs have had some recent success in the past few seasons.
Unfortunately, luck would run out and the IceHogs were washed with an 8-4 drubbing.
Texas got out to a quick 3-0 lead, but Rockford managed to storm back quickly and tie the game up at 3-3.
Despite two Andrew Bodnarchuk penalties against Texas in the first period, It was Texas outshooting and outscoring Rockford 9-5 on shots and 3-0 in goals, in the first 20.
One of the Texas penalties extended to the second period, and Cameron Schilling tallied with less than 30 seconds on the power play to give Rockford their first goal.
Luke Johnson and Robin Norrell each scored their first goals of the season within 1:07 of each other to knot the score at 3-3.
Just over a minute later, Texas would score two goals in 1:30 to bring the Stars back ahead by two goals for a lead they would not relinquish.
Two more Texas goals in the third would give the Stars an insurmountable 7-3 lead before Kyle Baun tallied his third of the season to once again close Rockford to within three goals.
But Justin Dowling would put an end to any sort of a comeback with his fourth of the season at 15:41 to cap the scoring for an 8-4 Texas win.
Both teams would face off the following night for the second game of the series, and one would wonder if it was the exact same teams that played less than 24 hours ago.
Once again, Texas would hop out to the early 1-0 lead, but that was all the scoring we would see in the first. In fact, Rockford outshot the Stars 9-6 and Carruth seemed to settle in quite nicely.
Abbott would provide the only scoring in the second frame as Schilling and Schmaltz would get credit with assists in the game-tying goal. Rockford would once again hold court in shots taken with a 14-11 advantage.
For the third straight period Rockford would hold a shot advantage, but neither team would find the back of the net, and we would once again go to extra hockey.
Another scoreless period would send the game to overtime with Texas winning 2-0 in the shootout round. Neither Abbot or Schmaltz were able to tally a marker whereas Brendan Ranford and Travis Morin would score in the shootout to earn the extra point, handing Rockford their eighth straight loss.
The IceHogs now sit in last place in the Central with a 7-13-2-3 record and a dismal 1-5-1-3 record in their last 10.
Rockford looks to get back on track as they play only two games in week nine with a home game against the Manitoba Moose on Saturday the 17th and a trip to Rosemont to face the Wolves on Saturday the 18th. In fact, five of the last six games in December come against either the Wolves or the Iowa Wild with three against Chicago (two of them at home) and two against the Wild. Rockford’s final game of 2016 will be in Grand Rapids against the Griffins on Saturday, December 31.