By Todd Reicher
Despite some acquisitions through recent transactions between the Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs, Rockford continues to struggle defensively as Rockford gives up 15 goals in three games this week.
Nick Schmaltz returned from injury recently to give Rockford some much needed offensive firepower, and just this week, the Blackhawks sent forward Tyler Motte and defenseman Gustav Forsling down while calling up Tanner Kero.
The IceHogs lost their first game of a three-in-three against the Chicago Wolves by a score of 7-2 before failing the following night to the Grand Rapids Griffins by a count of 6-1. Coincidentally, all of Rockford’s offense came from their highly touted first line additions of Motte and Schmaltz with each earning a goal and assist over both games.
The aforementioned Motte scored his first goal of the season for the ‘Hogs 13:34 into the opening frame to give Rockford a nice 1-0 lead.
Rockford’s lead would last just over three minutes. Samuel Blais scored his seventh of the season at 16:36. The power play goal knotted the score at 1-1.
Chicago, riding a six-game winning streak, would take the lead just over a minute later. Alex Friesen scored his first of the season at 17:50, giving Chicago a 2-1 lead heading into the second period.
Schmaltz would tie the game again at 11:35 of the second period with his fifth of the season, assisted by Motte, to bring the score to 2-2.
Once again, the score was short lived as Connor Bleackley potted his first of the season less than a minute later, putting Chicago up again by a goal.
Rockford caught a break with two seconds remaining in the period when Schmaltz was awarded a penalty shot. Schmaltz made a nice move, but Pheonix Copley stopped the young forward as Chicago headed to the third with a 3-2 lead.
The Wolves broke the game open with four goals in the period (three in the first half of the period) to squash a Rockford comeback, and take home a 7-2 win.
Rockford drove up to Grand Rapids the following day for a Saturday meeting against the Griffins. Rockford won the first meeting against the Grifs at Van Andel arena, but have not fared well since, and would suffer the same fate.
The IceHogs were never in this game as Grand Rapids scored the first four goals, and held Rockford off the scoresheet until early in the third period.
Ben Street score two goals in the first four minutes of play, including one 92 seconds into the game, to give Grand Rapids a 2-0 lead.
A Kyle Criscuolo goal with seven seconds remaining in the period put a dagger in Rockford to the tune of 3-0.
Despite Rockford outshooting the Grifs 12-10, it was Grand Rapids scoring the only marker in the period. Just shy of the midway point of the game, Martin Frk lit the lamp for the 11th time this season, putting Grand Rapids up with a commanding 4-0 lead.
Schmaltz scored his sixth of the season at 5:43 of the third period, but by then it was too little too late for Rockford to mount any sort of a comeback.
Rockford was awarded four minutes of power play time late in the game when Street was flagged for a double high-sticking infraction, but Grand Rapids would tally two empty net goals in that span to seal a 6-1 win.
Sunday, the IceHogs would break their four-game losing streak, along with the Wolves eight-game win streak, to salvage one win the week.
The first 20 minutes was another see-saw affair which saw both teams trading goals throughout the period.
Chicago’s Blais would score an unassisted goal off a clumsy Rockford turnover in their own end to put Chicago up 1-0.
Motte would score just under two minutes later to even the score at 1-1, but Blais would strike again at 11:37 to give Chicago the lead again. Blais took advantage of a miscue by Forsling, who tried to play the puck with his hand, but missed, allowing Blais to get behind him alone for a one-on-one against Mac Carruth.
Mark McNeill scored only his sixth of the season with five seconds left on the power play to knot the score for the third time. After a fairly poor power play up to this point, McNeill took the puck from end to end and wristed a shot from between the top of the circles past Ville Husso.
Ivan Barbashev scored with 1:51 left in the period to give Chicago their third lead of the game, but Brandon Mashinter, playing in his first game in a month, tied the score yet again with 18 seconds left in the period to even it up for the last time at 3-3.
After a scoreless second period, Rockford broke the game open early in the third with a pair of goals from Motte and Mashinter, their second goals of the game, to take a 5-3 lead. Motte, who scored on the power play 48 seconds into the third, recorded his third of the season while Mashinter picked up a loose puck in front of the net 18 seconds later and backhanded it over the glove of Husso for his sixth of the season.
Tyler Branes sealed the game with an empty netter 17:32 into the period to get Rockford back on track with a 6-3 win. After a very flakey first, Rockford showed they are capable of playing a good defensive game by holding one of the highest scoring teams in the league off the board for 40 minutes while allowing only 15 shots in the same span.
Rockford only plays two games in week 14, with the first on Friday, January 13 when Rockford hosts the San Diego Gulls for the first time. The Griffins come in to town on Saturday for the second game of the weekend, followed by another meeting on Monday, January 16 for an early day game at 1:00.