Blackhawks’ gain is Rockford’s pain as playoff hopes dwindle
By Todd Reicher
Just when things were turning around for the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks made some trades which in turn dismantled the ‘Hogs, sending the team’s top three scorers away..
Prior to Rockford’s February 28 game against the Manitoba Moose, Mark McNeill was a healthy scratch, usually signaling a trade is about to happen. Sure enough, it was later announced the former first-round draft pick was traded to the Dallas Stars, along with a conditional fourth round draft pick for former Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya.
Rockford played on, and was down 2-0 at the end of the first to the Manitoba Moose.
The Moose increased their lead to 3-0 with a power play marker at 3:36, putting Rockford on the ropes early. The goal also signaled the end of Lars Johansson who would be replaced by Jeff Glass.
Spencer Abbott answered under one minute later with an unassisted goal at 4:23 to put the ‘Hogs on the board.
Rockford was on their fourth power play of the period, which was a shortened 5-on-3, when Ville Pokka scored his fifth of the season at 15:05 to pull Rockford to within one goal. Fellow defenseman Erik Gustafsson earned his 20th assist of the season on the marker.
Gustafsson would grab his second point of the game at 6:52 of the third period with the game-tying goal – his fifth of the season, to even the score at 3-3.
A bad line change at 9:50 allowed Manitoba to reclaim the lead with Brendan Lemieux tallying his ninth of the year.
With Glass on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, Brian Strait tallied an empty net goal with 1:12 remaining to smash all hopes of a Rockford tie, ending the game 5-3.
The following day was the last day of the trade deadline, and one of the last moves of the day affected Rockford again. IT was announced Rockford’s leading scorer, Abbott and third-ranked scorer Sam Carrick were dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Kenton Helgeson and a seventh-round draft pick, effective removing Rockford’s top three scorers.
Making matters worse, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling suffered an upper-body injury, which has been said to sideline the netminder for four weeks. In turn, Chicago called up Glass as a backup, leaving Rockford with Johansson and Mac Carruth for the rest of the season.
IceHogs defensemen Ville Pokka and Erik Gustafsson celebrate after scoring during Friday’s game against the Manitoba Moose. With Rockford losing their top three scorers to trades, Gustafsson now leads the IceHogs in scoring with five goals and 22 assists for 27 points. Todd Reicher
Rockford would face the Moose again on Friday for the second game of the back-to-back series with their revamped team.
The IceHogs felt the sting of losing their top three players as the Moose went up 4-0, including scoring the first goal 11 seconds into the game on Carruth.
Carruth also gave up three goals in the first 3:36 of the second period, sending him to the bench for Johansson.
The IceHogs were unable to tally in the second, sending Rockford to the third down 4-0.
Rockford’s newly appointed leading scorer, Kyle Baun, scored on an early power play at 1:02 to give the ‘Hogs a spark of life.
A second power play would be earned 52 seconds later, and Luke Johnson would answer 2:41 into the period with his sixth of the year to cut the lead in half to 4-2.
A third straight power play exactly 1:30 after the last power play would be awarded to Rockford and for the third straight time, Rockford would tally on the power play to pull Rockford to within one goal with over 15 minutes of time left in the third. Tyler Motte scored his seventh of the season on a redirect from a shot by Pokka to set the score at 4-3.
The IceHogs were unable to score the equalizer and for the second straight game, an empty net goal put the score at 5-3 as the Moose won the second game of the series with another 5-3 win.
Rockford would play their last game of the week the following night, hosting the Iowa Wild on Autism Awareness night to a sellout crowd of 6304 fans.
Former Chicago Wolves skater Pat Cannone scored his eighth goal of the season on the power play at 13:26 of the first to put Iowa up 1-0. The Wild also outshot Rockford 14-9 in the opening frame.
Chris DeSousa redirected a Carl Dahlstrom shot at 1:14 into the second period to even the score at 1-1.
The tie would last until 13:57 of the period when Cannone struck again, getting behind the Rockford defense to put the Wild up 2-1. The Wild extended their shot lead by tacking on 16 second period shots to Rockford’s 13.
Rockford would finally catch up to the Wild by doubling Iowa in shots, 15-7 in the third period, but veteran goaltender Alex Stalock stopped all IceHogs shots in the third, giving the Wild a 2-1 victory.
Rockford only plays one game this week, a Friday matchup against the Milwaukee Admirals on the road. Rockford returns home briefly next Tuesday, March 14 for a home game against the Admirals before heading back up to Manitoba for a Friday/Saturday series against the Moose on March 17 and 18.