From the Big Orange Box: IceHogs Split the Difference in Week 23

The MetroCentre

The MetroCentre (image: steeleman204/Flickr)

Hi, everyone! Leiram here, ready to report on this week’s goings-on for the Rockford IceHogs. Those of you who know me on Twitter (where I am @CaptainMVP) know that I love the Hawks but my AHL team is the Abbotsford Heat — so I don’t entirely go here. But I love the IceHogs and their fail as Baby Hawks and root for them whenever they’re not playing my team, so Kat figured that qualified me to do this.

I don’t know, okay. I’m just as surprised as you are.

What isn’t surprising, however, is that the IceHogs had a rather inconsistent week. They had ended week 22 with a 2-1-1-0 record at the start of their seven-game road trip, and were poised to get a couple more points as they went along. After all, week 22 showed Hannu Toivonen having a pretty solid start, stopping 80 of 86 shots faced, and Evan Brophey notching his third game-winning goal this season for a total of 10 during his career, which ties him with Jack Skille for most game-winners notched since the IceHogs have been in Rockford. Moreover, Rob Klinkhammer got put on a line with Jeff Taffe and managed to get 8 points over 7 games (5 goals and 3 assists) — and when Ben Smith got put on their line for the weekend he notched goals in both games. I’ll say it’s also thanks to Taffe and might have to start calling him Magic Taffy now. But even the Magic Taffy and Toivonen’s new-found confidence could not stop the IceHogs from losing half their games this week, and so we find them still securely in the last spot in the Western Conference.

Here’s the game-by-game for week 23:

Tuesday, March 8 at Toronto: Their second meeting of the season, as well as the only one in Ricoh Coliseum. The Marlies won their previous contest on January 7, so the IceHogs were looking to tie the series going in. They were off to a good start, with Ben Smith grabbing the lead just 28 seconds into the second period after remaining scoreless throughout the first. Toronto tied the game on a Mike Zigomanis goal at 18:08 of that same period, making the third period critical for both teams — and Toronto took it seriously, taking the lead for the first time at 4:20 in the third. Ben Smith struck again at 11:14 to tie the game and send both teams into a shootout that, much like the first period, remained scoreless. In their first shootout in almost three months, the IceHogs could not hold their own and thus fell to the Marlies 3-2 after giving up all three shootout goals and scoring none. They did, however, get to pick up a point, and their record for the road trip moved to 2-1-1-1.

Wednesday, March 9 at Hamilton: The first out of two meetings of the season, the IceHogs went to the Copps Coliseum looking to get a win and gain some momentum. For the fourth straight game, Rockford opened the scoring with Ben Smith on a 5-on-3 power play (we score on those?), making this also the fourth game in a row where Ben Smith scores. Aaron Pulushaj on a rebound of a Nigel Dawes shot (we miss you here in Chicago, Nigel!) tied early in the second period, but the IceHogs managed to stave off the assault and thus went into overtime still tied 1-1. The overtime was once again scoreless, and the Ice Hogs went to their second shootout in two games. Thankfully, Brandon Pirri ended it in the fifth round, giving the IceHogs their first win over the Bulldogs in five all-time contests. Although we’re definitely excited about this win, the question of officiating kind of rises: the IceHogs had four power plays in the first period and were then on the penalty kill four times during the second period, including a sixth-minute stretch with less than eight to go in the frame. We hope the luck will hold until next time when the Bulldogs come to the MetroCentre on March 25. In the meantime, the IceHogs got ready to go into the last game of their road trip with a 3-1-1-1 record.

Friday, March 11 at Milwaukee- The end of the road trip came in Milwaukee, with the IceHogs coming in with a 3-3-1-1 record against the Admirals. The first two periods showed no scoring, and it was only halfway through the third that Rockford’s Brian Connelly found the back of the net on a power play (no, for real, when did we start showing up on the PP?) On this play, Toivonen sent the puck to Connelly, who skated across the ice and scored his sixth goal of the season at 12:49 — giving Toivonen his first assist so far! Makarov scored an empty-netter at 19:39, getting his eighth this season and raising the score 2-0. That’s right, folks, Hannu Toivonen got an assist and a shutout at the Bradley Center! Cue me seal-clapping, and many other IceHogs fans scratching their heads. And so the IceHogs finished their road trip with a 4-1-1-1 record. Not bad for a basement team, eh?

Sunday, March 13 vs. Chicago- The highlight of this game, really, was the IceHogs’ 12th Annual Jersey Auction, where they wore special commemorating first responders — and the 2,500 Jersey Auction T-Shirts given away to fans. The rest of the game need not be committed to memory — nothing to see here, folks, move along. But for those of us masochistic enough to bestow the rest of the afternoon with a look, the IceHogs somehow managed to lose to the Wolves 5-1. The Wolves’s Postma scored on the power play at 5:37 in the first, a lead short-lived as the IceHogs’ Ben Smith redirected a puck and tied the game at 6:42. The Wolves regained their lead at 3:39 in the second period on a goal by Fredrik Pettersson, which was extended at 7:13 when Artus Kulda scored. With the score 3-1 at the start of the third, the IceHogs had a lot of work to do — but the Wolves did not even let them start. A little more than a minute and a half into the third period, Riley Holzapfel put the Wolves up 4-1, and exactly eleven minutes later at 12:39, Ryan Garbutt on a breakaway buried the game-ending goal. I guess we should have expected this, seeing as the IceHogs had lost both their previous auction games. Either way, I am not sure whether we can attribute this loss to Toivonen, Edward Pasquale (the Wolves goalie) being in spectacular form, or the IceHogs’ inability to capitalize on a power play rearing its ugly head again (we went 0-5 to the Wolves’ 1-2).

On a very bright side, today’s auction raised $34,156! Since the 1999-2000 season, the IceHogs and their awesome fans have raised $613,759, which makes me very happy and proud to love this team. The highest donation amount for a jersey was, interestingly enough, Kyle Hagel’s, with $2,800. The closest to that were Rob Klinkhammer ($1,600) and Kyle Beach and Ben Smith, both of whom went for $1,400. The baby #19, as I have come to know Jeremy Morin, went for $1,200. Aww! All the proceeds will go to the IceHogs Charitable Foundation, which will then distribute them among non-profits in the Rock River Valley area. In previous years, some of the beneficiaries have included the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Boy and Girl Scouts, Rockford area Boys and Girls Club, and the Junior IceHogs, among others.

Next up, the IceHogs will… kind of have the week off? They will only play three games this week, all on the weekend: Friday, March 18 vs. the Oklahoma City Barons; Saturday, March 19 vs. the Peoria Rivermen, and Sunday, March 20 at the Grand Rapids Griffins. God help us all, and good luck to the IceHogs!

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