From The Big Orange Box: The IceHogs Take Us on a Rollercoaster Ride in Week 26

The MetroCentre

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

This sure has been a pretty crazy week for the IceHogs: there have been so many news updates that they warranted their own post last Thursday! (You can find said post here if you missed it and want to catch up.) Game-wise, the IceHogs extended their season-high win streak to five before being destroyed by the Oklahoma City Barons—and then bounced back to beat the Texas Stars. Aside from the aforementioned loss, for which I honestly believe they didn’t even show up, the IceHogs had a pretty solid showing, continuing last week’s trend of having pretty impressive stats. I will stop lamenting the lateness in the season for this improvement to show up, and will simply be content that they’ve decided to go out with a bang.

As the news post detailed, there have been a lot of moves going on with the IceHogs this week—and one of them was announced yesterday, April 3. David Gilbert (that’s Dah-VEEd Zhil-BAIR for those of you who are not francophones) from the Acadie-Bathrust Titans in the QMJHL signed an amateur try-out agreement with the IceHogs. He played in one game with the IceHogs last season, making his professional debut, and registered an assist. This season with the QMJHL, he notched 28 goals and 23 assists, a total of 51 points, in only 52 games. (In 209 career games in that league, he has a total of 70 goals and 86 assists—whoa!). I remember being impressed by him during prospect camp, especially because he didn’t disappear even when playing with others who were a lot more visible, but wondering about consistency and his ability to keep up with some of the others. His numbers with the Titans are looking pretty good, so here’s to hoping he’s ready to go and gets to stick around!

In the meantime, have the game-by-game for week 26:

Wednesday, March 30 at Lake Erie- The IceHogs entered this week riding on a four-game winning streak, the longest of the season—and the Monsters came in with a franchise-best eight-game streak of their own. One of the two streaks had to end by the end of the night, and it was the IceHogs who and proved that when they’re hot, they’re burning up as they defeated the Monsters. The IceHogs came into this game in control, and the first sixth minutes showed a team that has come into its own.  Even though Julian Talbot got the Monsters up on the scoreboard first, the IceHogs did not let this minor setback slow them down, and Brandon Pirri and Rob Klinkhammer collaborated on a shot that Garnet Exelby slapped past Jason Bacashihua at 16:23 in the first. After recharging during intermission, the Monsters came on the attack again, with Talbot assisting Matt Ford’s goal at 1:33 in the second period. Once again, it took the IceHogs a bit of time to respond, but they did so at 17:03 with some magic from Ben Smith, Rob Klinkhammer, and Jeff Taffe (who have some pretty impressive streaks of their own going on right now). The third period brought a refreshing change of pace, with the IceHogs acquiring their very first lead of the night at 4:57 with the Brian Connelly goal that would turn out to be the game winner. Not only did the IceHogs withstand the pressure during the remaining 15 minutes of the period, but they also ended up outshooting the Monsters 37-25, stayed out of the box for the most part (3 penalties compared to the Monsters’ 8), and converted in one out of their eight power play opportunities. Statistically speaking, this game looked good!

Friday, April 1 at Oklahoma City- And, indeed, the stats looked a little too good to be true. Not only did the Barons manage to snap the IceHogs’ winning streak—they matched the worst loss in Rockford’s AHL era, the beating taken at the hands of the Houston Aeros on March 2. While the scoring did not start until 12:05 in the first, it did not stop until the start of the third. Alexander Giroux picked up a loose puck courtesy of the IceHogs’ very own Brandon Pirri, achieving his 31st goal of the season. Colin McDonald followed suit a little over three minutes later, and again at 19:19 in the same period. Those two goals were his eighth and ninth goals of the season… against the IceHogs. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Tanner House made it 4-0 at 6:27 in the second with help from Milan Kytnar, then returned the favor so Kytnar could make it 5-0 a little over a minute later. The comfortable lead, which was met by very little resistance from the IceHogs, did not seem to satisfy the Barons—Alex Plante made it 6-0 a little over halfway in the second, and it wasn’t until Ben Ondrus sunk the seventh goal of the game at 1:39 in the third that they relented. Credit must also be given to the Barons’ Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, who denied the IceHogs on 33 tries. Aside from wreaking havoc on Hannu Toivonen’s newly-improved stats and necessitating Alec Richards’ appearance, this game reminded IceHogs fans why the team is currently in the basement. (And, for those of us who are Blackhawks fans, it reminded us of our raging about inconsistency, oy!)

Sunday, April 3 at Texas- The last of the sixth meetings between these teams, this game presented an opportunity for the IceHogs to bounce back—as well as a challenge, as their previous five games had resulted in a 2-1-1-1 record for the IceHogs. Coming off a brutal loss to the Oklahoma City Barons, it was clear that the IceHogs had quite a bit of work to do if they wanted to take this game. Ben Smith proved once again that he always comes in ready to work by assisting on the Peter LeBlanc opener at 6:46 in the first. Jeff Taffe once again worked his magic (as he does every time I think I should maybe stop calling him Magic Taffy), as he passed to Brian Connelly, who then scored on a power play with 1.2 seconds to go in the first. He kept the magic going into the second, this time passing to Brandon Pirri to get a 3-0 lead 36 seconds into the period. The Stars cut the lead back to two at 13:55 thanks to Aaron Gagnon’s pass to Travis Morin, and they went into the second intermission with the score 3-1. Magic Taffy scored his team-leading 27th goal with help from Rob Klinkhammer at 5:51 in the third, making it 4-1, and less than two minutes later Ben Smith redirected a Shawn Lalonde shot to make it 5-1, a score which would hold. It seems the embarrassing loss to the Barons got them back on track… and man, do I wish I could say the same about their NHL counterpart! Since shots for this game were pretty close (35-31 IceHogs), I will say that it was a solid performance by Toivonen that really kept the IceHogs in the game.

This week, the IceHogs will take on the San Antonio Rampage on Tuesday, April 5 to end their road trip, and will then return home to face the Lake Erie Monsters again on Friday, April 8 and then the Griffins on Saturday, April 9—and will close out the season with another visit to the Wolves on Sunday, April 10.

Considering how they have pulled it together at the last minute, I’m expecting something pretty spectacular from the IceHogs to close out the season on week 27… stay tuned!

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