From the Big Orange Box: The IceHogs Streak Through Week 25

The MetroCentre

The MetroCentre, home of the Rockford IceHogs (image: steeleman204/Flickr)

Happy Tuesday, everyone! You will be getting a whole lot of AHL info this week, since last week was pretty spectacular and this week has started off on a high note. Hope you’re ready!

This post will revel in the atmosphere of celebration as this week was outrageously good for the IceHogs. And I do mean outrageous, as I am raging because this is the longest winning streak all season, and these four games showed a team that we should have been seeing way before this—and consistently! I may be a little (okay, a lot) biased, but I definitely think that Ben Smith’s reassignment to Rockford at the start of this week played a role in how well they did. He and Magic Taffy are seriously unstoppable right now! Jassen Cullimore has been a last-minute surprise scorer, and Rob Klinkhammer’s got a bit of a streak going as well. Chris DiDomenico was also called up from the Toledo Walleye. And the best part? Other people showed up to work too! These games were a serious team effort, especially Sunday’s game against the Wolves, where the IceHogs showed impressive pressure and control. The bad part is that we are most certainly the basement team, and this streak does nothing to change that. Sigh. Also, all four teams defeated by the IceHogs this week are vying for playoff spots in the Western Conference, which just goes to show that this team is pretty much trolling everybody right now, myself included!

Let’s take a deep breath, think happy thoughts about next season, and check out the game-by-game for week 25:

Wednesday, March 23 vs. San Antonio- The fifth of six games against the Rampage this season, this game was an unexpected delight for IceHogs fans as the IceHogs pulled out a solid win. It’s thanks to Magic Taffy once again, getting the IceHogs up on the board first at 11:07 in the first with help from Jassen Cullimore and Brandon Pirri. This was Jeff Taffe’s 24th goal of the year, which marks him as the team leader for goals! Exactly two minutes later, Ryan Stanton’s slap shot extended the lead, putting the IceHogs up 2-0. They would carry this lead into the second period, and it wasn’t until halfway through that frame that Matt Watkins’s patience would result in a rebound from a Garrett Stafford shot that cut the lead in half and put the Rampage on the board. At 18:16, Brian Connelly and Mathis Olimb collaborated on a Ben Smith goal to put the IceHogs up 3-1. As a Blackhawks fan, I started freaking out right here. Well-played 40 minutes, but what would happen in the last 20? As if to assuage my fears, Peter LeBlanc got the puck to Igor Makarov early in the third period, getting a bit of padding for the lead at 2:50. Stanton got another slap shot in at 4:38, and the game became a very comfortable 5-1, which held throughout the rest of the period despite the Rampage’s attempts to get more goals. Aside from being a win, this game was important for two reasons. First, goaltending: Hannu Toivonen was solid, stopping 39 shots out of 40. Second, special teams: the Rampage came in with the top power play in the AHL, and the IceHogs’ penalty kill shut them down six out of seven times, including a 5-on-3. Even better, the IceHogs actually showed up on the power play and converted on one out of their two opportunities! Good things to see, if a little late in the season, eh?

Friday, March 25 vs. Hamilton- The IceHogs have only met the Bulldogs once before this season, on March 9, and they managed to overcome then in a shootout, so the Bulldogs came into the Metro Centre hungry for a series tie that they would not get. They started off right, with Neil Petruic getting his first goal of the season less than six minutes into the first period to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. It wasn’t until 7:30 in the second period that Igor Makarov finally tied up the game, with a great read on a play from Evan Brophey to Kyle Hagel that he then completed. As time began to run out in the second, Jeff Taffe struck, getting the puck to Rob Klinkhammer for his 13th goal of the season at 18:53. Makarov and Brophey collaborated again on an early goal in the third period, this time sunk by Brophey, and the IceHogs saw their lead extend 3-1. Their NHL counterpart’s issue with leads manifested itself this time, and the IceHogs found their lead erased with two goals less than a minute apart three-quarters of the way through the third period. Nigel Dawes redirected a shot from Frederic St. Danis at 14:09, and 43 seconds later Andreas Engquist took advantage of a Dustin Boyd rebound to tie the game at 3. Once again we find Magic Taffy saving the day, this time with a goal less than two minutes into the overtime session to give the IceHogs the win. While neither team converted on a single power play, the fact that the IceHogs had three chances and then gave double that amount to the Bulldogs points to one very important thing: the IceHogs need to stay out of the box! But at least Toivonen was solid in net again, stopping 28 out of 31 shots and having a strong performance during the overtime session.

Saturday, March 26 vs. Milwaukee- Two games (and WINS!) into this week, the IceHogs got one last chance to defeat the Milwaukee Admirals, their division rivals, on their tenth meeting of the season. The Admirals haven’t lost in regulation since January 17, so the IceHogs had a mighty task ahead of them. The Admirals came prepared, and started the game off strong—but the IceHogs managed to both stave off the attack and draw first blood on a Brandon Pirri wrap-around goal at 8:10 in the first. A little over a minute later, the Admirals converted on a power play and tied the game on a shot by Andreas Thuresson, a tie which would hold into the first intermission. At 3:47 in the second, Pirri struck again, this time on a pass by Dylan Olsen. The Admirals struggled during the rest of that period and the start of the next to even out the score again, but a sharp Thuresson caught the puck as it was being batted back and forth in the crease and got it past Toivonen at 11:41. With the IceHogs unable to regain their lead before the final buzzer, they went to overtime for the second night in a row. Three minutes into the overtime, Brian Connelly beat Atte Engren five-hole, and the IceHogs took the game, 3-2. Once again Toivonen was solid in net, this time stopping a season-high 46 shots as the Admirals literally doubled the IceHogs’ own shots on goal. The Admirals’ Engren, who made his professional debut that night, stopped 20 shots.

Sunday, March 27 vs. Chicago- Coming off a three-game winning streak, the IceHogs were looking to extend the streak to a season-high four games. Coming off a rather unhappy loss, the Wolves were in a precarious position just outside the playoffs, and they should have come in ready to take the game from the IceHogs, as their previous eight meetings had resulted in three wins and five losses for the IceHogs. Good odds, right? But ‘should’ turned out to be the operative word, and the Wolves let the IceHogs control the game and take away the victory. (For a more thorough review of this match-up, you can read the special presentation post here.) There is still one last game in this series, so the Wolves will be looking to regain their series lead—and the IceHogs will be looking to tie it. I, for one, am looking forward to that game!

This week will signal the start of a five-game, twelve-day road trip. The three games played during week 26 will be Wednesday, March 30 at the Lake Erie Monsters, Friday, April 1 at the Oklahoma City Barons, and Sunday, April 3 at the Texas Stars.


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