By Jim Hagerty
BMO HARRIS BANK CENTER — A win Sunday would have pushed the Rockford IceHogs above the Milwaukee Admirals in the Central Division standings.
The Ads made sure that didn’t happen though, as Bobby Butler hammered home the tying goal with under a minute left in the third period, and Harry Zolnierczyk provided the game winner in the shootout for the 5-4 victory.
Tomas Jurco scored a shootout goal for Rockford but Anthony Louis and Matthew Highmore were stoned by Anders Lindback.
Jurco started the scoring in regulation, putting Rockford up 1-0. Milwaukee answered with a shorthanded goal just 1:26 into the second period. Highmore answered that, putting the ‘Hogs ahead again when Viktor Svedberg raced into to the Milwaukee zone from his own slot and found him camped out in front of Lindback for the deflection. Highmore now has a team-high 17 goals.
A goal by former IceHog Cody Bass and Butler’s first of the game put Milwaukee up 3-2.
Rockford went to work from there with goals from Tanner Kero and Tyler Sikura to take back the lead. But it was a lead that would last only two minutes. After Rockford narrowly missed a late empty-netter, Milwaukee made one last rush with the extra skater, setting up Butler’s equalizer with 58 seconds left.
“We were in control, but we gave them life when there should have been none,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “And (we got) punished for it. We worked hard, and we competed. The work ethic was outstanding, but we gave them life and they put it in the back of the net.”
Along with Highmore’s consistent production, the IceHogs are starting to see more offense from Kero since he was assigned from Chicago Dec. 8. The forward logged a two-point night with his second goal of the year and a helper on Jurco’s power-play strike in the first.
Sikura’s goal was his fifth in seven games, a surge for the fourth-year pro out of Dartmouth. The ‘Hogs, however, are still without the missing ingredient to consistently outlast opponents down the stretch in multi-goal contests.
“For the majority of the game, we were really good,” Sikura said. “It was one of those deflating losses. We had a chance to close it out and not let them get any points and us get two. Instead they get two. We’ll take the one (point from the shootout), but we’ve got to find a way to get it done late in games.”
Rockford goaltender Matt Tomkins posted a career-high 33 saves. Lindback turned away 39 shots for his 17th win of the season.
The loss drops the IceHogs to 19-15-1-2 with 41 points in the Central Division, where they sit in fifth place. Milwaukee is holding onto to third with a record of 18-13-4-0. The teams clash again Feb. 9.
The IceHogs head to California Jan. 10 to visit the Ontario Reign, their first of six away dates before hosting the Bakersfield Condors Tuesday, Jan. 23. The contest marks another Fas Fuel Winning Weekday. Fans can enjoy $2 tacos, select beer, and companion tickets as part of Taco Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased at IceHogs.com, by calling 815-968-5222 or at the BMO Harris Bank Center Box Office. R.