Itâ€™s Monday, so itâ€™s IceHogs time! Complete with Alvin the Chipm–er, Niklas Hjalmarsson bobblehead, the third bobblehead of the season chosen by fans to commemorate a grown-up IceHog who is now a full-fledged Blackhawk. Go Hjammer, you’re all grown up!
â€¦and, really, thatâ€™s about all the excitement I can muster up for the entirety of this post. After having the week off, the IceHogs managed to sandwich one win between two losses this weekend due to something they seem to have inherited from their NHL counterpart: an inability to play 60.
And, well, the Hawks recalling Ben I-Actually-Show-Up-To-Work Smith might have had something to do with it.
Aside from Ben Smith, two more players were (sort of) moved this weekâ€”except they were exiled, er, reassigned to the ECHLâ€™s Toledo Walleye: defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin and center Zack Torquato. Danis-Pepin, who played for 38 games last season with the IceHogs and had a plus/minus rating of +9 before playing 23 games this season was sent down, and Torquato was returned, as he had been on loan. Torquato currently leads the Walleye with assists at 33 for a total of 44 points, and they were probably very glad to have him back. Too bad for them he got called back up the next day!
Hereâ€™s the game-by-game for week 24:
Friday, March 18 vs. Oklahoma City- The Barons came to the MetroCentre for the first time this seasonâ€”and probably found quite a surprise as Faith Night happened, with a food drive co-sponsored with the Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries and intermissions performance by Christian rock band Time of Worship. Only in Rockford, yâ€™all. Despite the faith from many fans,Â the IceHogs watched the Barons walk away with a win that began when they got on the board first at 5:13 in the first period on a rebound from Alex Plante that Mark Arcobello buried. The IceHogs did a good job of stopping them from scoring through the rest of the period, but then the second period came around. Brad Moran won a faceoff and dished the puck to Colin McDonald to make it 2-0 at 4:32. The IceHogs were still in the game until two penalties put the Barons on a 5-on-3 penalty and McDonald scored his second of the night at 11:04. Barely 33 seconds later, Alex Plante set up another goal, this time with the help of Colten Teubert. Phillipe Cornet finished the play and flipped the puck in at 11:37, putting up the Barons 4-0. One would think that, after knowing the weakness of their penalty kill and the strength of the Baronsâ€™ power play the IceHogs would manage to stay out of the box, but instead Garnet Exelby went in for roughing and McDonald got his hat trick at 12:20. Not only did the Barons get a 5-0 lead, but three of those goals happened within a minute and sixteen seconds. Pretty embarrassing, especially when you consider that Toivonen got chased from the game. I donâ€™t even know. The silver lining is that Kyle Beach picked up a rebound from Dylan Olsen on a power play (!!!) at 3:57 in the third period, so at least Drouin-Deslauriers did not get a shutout. However, he did stop the other 40 shots, so I take off my proverbial hat in his direction (especially as Toivonen only stopped 16 out of 21 shots before Alec Richards came in to stop all 14 shots he faced). Overall, this game was kind of a mess, from unnecessary penalties to failing to capitalize on five out of their six power play opportunities.
Saturday, March 19 vs. Peoria- The tenth and final matchup for these two teams, this game was not looking like a likely win for the IceHogs, particularly since theyâ€™ve gone 3-5-0-1 this season against the Rivermen. As a matter of fact, I was looking at the Hjalmarsson bobblehead to be the highlight of the eveningâ€”or maybe the Girl Scout cookies being sold there.Â However, the IceHogs were 2-2-0-0 at home against the Rivermen, and they took advantage of this 50/50 chance to take the Rivermen by surprise, with three goals tallied in the last period. The IceHogs opened scoring at 2:48, with Brandon Pirriâ€™s shot hitting Brian Connelly and deflecting past (giant) goalie Ben Bishop. Less than six minutes later, the Rivermen responded when Graham Mink caught Daryl Boyleâ€™s rebound to tie the game. The second period contained several chances but neither team was able to score, taking them still tied 1-1 into the third period. The Rivermen struck quickly into the third period on a goal by Dave Scatchard, but the IceHogs converted on a 5-on-3 power play (thank God!) and tied the game again thanks to Jeff Taffe blasting the puck past Bishop. Good to see Magic Taffyâ€™s effect still in place. Akim Aliu (former Blackhawks prospect!) showed some nice passing skills before giving the Rivermen a 3-2 lead at 8:12, but the IceHogs were not discouragedâ€”and they took advantage of a Rivermen turnover to tie the game yet again, this time on a wrap-around goal from Peter LeBlanc at 8:46. As time began to run out, Ivan Vishnevskiy went for it with a wrist shot, and Igor Makarov was there to bury the rebound at 17:22 to give the IceHogs the 4-3 victory. Alec Richards had a pretty strong showing (blocking 29 shots), as did the penalty kill, stopping both Rivermen power plays. A nice recovering from the night before! This was also their sixth sellout of the season, so at least there were lots of fans there to celebrate!
Sunday, March 20 at Grand Rapids- Still kind of high on last nightâ€™s win, the IceHogs came into Grand Rapids for the fifth out of sixth games this season. The first period was a solid attempt from both teams even though neither scored, but the second period set the tone for the rest of the game. The IceHogs failed to clear the puck and pretty much handed it to Doug Janik, who then sent it to Jamie Johnson to put the Griffins on the board at 9:59 in the second. Nine seconds later, Joakim Anderson scored to put the Griffins up 2-0. Jassen Cullimore decided to put the IceHogs back in the game and scored his first goal of the season at 9:59 in the third period, but the Griffins barely gave him 18 seconds to regain his breath before reclaiming their two-goal lead as Ilari Filppula took advantage of yet another loose puck and fed it to Tomas Tater. At 16:05, that same pair made it a 4-1 game, capitalizing on a power play. Jan Mursak made it 5-1 at 18:38, and Rockford got fired up from the score and scored twice in less than a minute. Kyle Hagel redirected a Brian Connelly shot at 19:02 with the help of Jassen Cullimore, who then scored for the second time in the game (and the season) at 19:30. The rush was appreciated, but it was too little too late, and the IceHogs fell to the Griffins 5-3.
Despite a less-than-stellar week, there were several milestones reached by the IceHogs. Here are some of them!
- Igor Makarov tied with Evan Brophey and Peter LeBlanc for game-winning goals, as he now has threeâ€”all of which have come in one-goal games. Way to go, Makarov!
- Garnet Exelby appeared in his 600th professional game on Friday, and Wade Brookbank appeared in his 700th on Saturday.
- Kyle Hagel became the first IceHog during the AHL era to have more than 200 penalty minutes in one season.
- Rob Klinkhammer has matched his career-high 33 points with his assist on Sunday, which was his 21st assist of the season, a career-high as well!
Next up, the IceHogs will have a four-game week: Wednesday, March 23 vs. the San Antonio Rampage; Friday, March 25 vs the Hamilton Bulldogs; Saturday, March 26 vs. the Milwaukee Admirals, and Sunday, March 27 at the Chicago Wolves.
One of the greatest things happening this week is the IceHogsâ€™ contribution to the Winnebago County 9/11 Emergency Responders Memorial. Two pieces of steel from the World Trade Center towers will be on display along with their honor guard at the MetroCentre beginning on Saturday, March 26. These pieces will be part of the monument built in downtown Rockford to honor both falling first responders and victims from the September 11, 2001 attacks. Not only will emergency responders who show their ID when buying tickets get $9.11 donated to the memorial fund, but IceHogs fans who donate during the final three home games will have their names listed on a donor wall in the MetroCentre. It is a great initiative to be a part of, and yet another reason to be a proud IceHogs fan!