The Rockford IceHogs continue to do the cha-cha with the .500 mark in their pursuit of an AHL postseason berth.
Rockford finds themselves a game above the .500 mark for the 4th time in the last 16 days after a 3-1 victory over the visiting Texas Stars on Friday night.
Goals from Kyle Beach, Jeremy Morin and a late empty-netter by Ryan Potulny were enough to lead the IceHogs to victory against the Dallas Stars minor league affiliate.
38 games into the season (AHL season runs 80 games), Rockford is 17-16-1-4 and entrenched in last place (8th) in the AHL’s West Division.
Not all is lost, however. The IceHogs own games in hand on every team in their division and being that the West division will likely send five teams to the playoffs, Rockford need only climb over three teams to reach that coveted fifth spot.
Friday’s game against the Stars was absolutely essential for the IceHogs. Texas came into the game as the fourth-place team in the West and held an 11-point advantage on Rockford in the standings. But with only two games in hand on Texas, Rockford could basically cross Texas off the list of teams they could realistically leap-frog had they not won Friday’s contest in regulation.
Realizing this, Bill Peters’ IceHogs came out with a dominating first period. However, after twenty minutes the young Hogs had nothing to show for their efforts and went to the intermission deadlocked in a scoreless tie. Rockford held a 15-7 shot advantage and 8-2 prime scoring-chance edge by our estimation. A Shawn Lalonde roughing minor after the period expired meant Texas would have a power play and a clean sheet of ice to start the second set of twenty.
Kyle Beach, one of the best ‘Hogs on this night, gave Rockford the lead 2:10 into the middle period. Beach jumped off the IceHogs’ bench for Lalonde after time expired on his penalty. Beach was able to sneak behind both Texas defenders, Dan Spang and Philip Larsen, and stayed onside as he was sprung on long feed from Rob Klinkhammer. With Klinkhammer trailing the play and pounding his stick on the ice for a return pass, Beach beat Texas goalie Richard Bachman on a snap shot from the right faceoff dot.
With 3 goals and 6 points in his last 5 games, Beach is currently the hottest IceHog.
The rest of the second period went scoreless but another late penalty, this time by Ivan Vishnevskiy, gave the Stars opportunity once again.
Rockford’s Penalty Kill was a perfect 6 for 6 on the night. A very-much delayed and retroactive Jeff Taffe high-sticking call put the Hogs down for 4 consecutive minutes midway through the game after Taffe’s stick allegedly drew blood. With Taffe in the box the Hogs were short a penalty killer. Peters called on 19-year old Jeremy Morin, who rarely sees the ice during the PK. Morin had to be directed during play by forward partner Pete Leblanc but the Hogs did kill all four minutes.
Texas didn’t score off the Vishnevksiy minor, but did tie the game seconds later when Colton Sceviour managed to slide a puck through Hannu Toivonen’s five-hole. Toivonen was very good on the night, but that was one he’d like to have back.
Toivonen’s teammates wasted no time regaining the lead and taking their goaltender off the hook. A minute and nine seconds after Texas tied the game, Jeremy Morin scored his 8th of the season and 1st since returning from the World Junior Championships. Shawn Lalonde started the play with a nice drive up the right side of the ice, gained entry into the Stars’ zone and dished back pass to Mathis Olimb who threw a pass to the far side of the net. Both Morin and Brandon Pirri were there but Morin beat Pirri to the punch. But both were parked to Bachman’s right uncovered and either would have easily scored. Pirri is now without a goal over his last 15 games.
Per usual though, Rockford did make things interesting. Both Beach and Lalonde were cited for second penalties after regaining the lead.
With Lalonde in the box for a defensive zone hooking infraction and Texas holding a 6 on 4 after pulling their goaltender, Ryan Potulny sealed the game with a 120 foot empty net score. Jeff Taffe got the second assist for winning a board battle in the near corner. He advanced the puck with a short pass into the circle to Jassen Cullimore who made a quick backhand pass into the middle to Potulny who quickly fired down the center of the ice.
Dylan Olsen made his professional debut in this game after being held out on Wednesday night’s loss to Houston. Olsen dressed as the 7th defenseman and had only a handful of shifts, skating with veteran Garnet Exelby when Bill Peters and defensive coach Steve Poapst did call Olsen’s number.
Olsen appeared nervous which is understandable. It would be hard and unfair to judge Olsen off anything we saw in his first outing. His first shift didn’t come until near the 10 minute mark of the opening period. Olsen was taken off his skates when Luke Gazdic finished his check after Olsen dumped a puck in just over the red line. Not a hard hit, but Olsen did hit the ice. He had trouble on two separate occasions with Brandon Pirri passes that he let get by him. One eventually led to a Hogs’ turnover after Olsen retrieved the puck and returned it to Pirri. I imagine the next time he dresses he’ll get more shifts and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be just fine.
Hannu Toivonen was named the game’s first star. Toivonen didn’t see many difficult chances early but he did come up big on a couple of the Stars’ power plays and he made four or five solid saves in the third when things began to break down in front of him. Hard to argue with his selection.
Morin got the second star and Richard Bachman the third. Morin had the huge second goal to answer the Stars’ tying goal. That stood as the game-winner but Morin wasn’t the second best IceHog on Friday. Cullimore, Taffe, Beach all played very well. The penalty kill and Toivonen in the latter half of the game were the determining factors in victory.
Rockford is now in the midst of three games in four days as they’ll travel to All State Arena in Rosemont, Illinois on Saturday to face the Chicago Wolves. The IceHogs return home on Monday afternoon for a 3:05 start versus the San Antonio Rampage. Counting Wednesday’s loss to Houston, the IceHogs will play four games in six days in this stretch.
It’s a light month on travel for the Hogs. Between Jan 2nd and Jan 27th, Rockford doesn’t play a game that forces a night stay away from their homes. Games in Chicago and Peoria are day of game travels. They’ll bus to Grand Rapids on the 27th for a game the next night against the Griffins, then bus back to Rockford after that game to meet the Milwaukee Admirals on the 29th in their final game before a brief All-Star break.
-Bill Peters went with these lines Friday night. Starters in bold
Mathis Olimb – Brandon Pirri – Jeremy Morin
Hugh Jessiman – Ryan Potulny – Jeff Taffe
Rob Klinkhammer – Evan Brophey – Kyle Beach
Kyle Hagel – Pete Leblanc – X (Morin and Taffe mostly here)
-7 defenseman were dressed
Garnet Exelby – Ivan Vishnevskiy
Ryan Stanton – Brian Connelly
Jassen Cullimore – Shawn Lalonde
Scratches: Igor Makarov (healthy), Ben Smith (upper-body), Wade Brookban (healthy), Brandon Bollig (healthy)
Power play units: They were basically the top three forward units with the exception of Hagel skating a wing and Olimb working the point.
PP1: Jessiman-Potulny-Taffe w/ Connelly and Lalonde
PP2: Hagel-Pirri-Morin w/ Olimb and Vishnevksiy
PP3: Klinkhammer-Brophey-Beach w/Stanton and Cullimore
Penalty kill units: Klinkhammer-Brophey, Hagel-Potulny, Taffe-Leblanc
PK Def units: Stanton-Cullimore, Exelby-Vishnevskiy
After all that hullabaloo the other night from the assembled press at the UC about 25 scouts taking in the Hawks-Avalanche game, there were no pro scouts in attendance for Friday night’s IceHogs-Stars game.
Jassen Cullimore played in his 250th career regular season AHL game (812 NHL)
Assuming he does play, Rob Klinkhammer will dress for his 250th career professional regular season game Saturday night vs Chicago at All State Arena.
Texas Stars defenseman Jordie Benn is the older brother Dallas Stars’ winger Jamie Benn. Jordie is the less-talented older-brother. Jordie was a late-cut from the Texas Stars October 2009 training camp but made the team this year. Last year, he skated for the Dallas Stars’ CHL affiliate Allen Americans, helping that team reach the CHL Finals.
Beach does these things sometimes. With five minutes left in the 2nd, Beach didn’t realize he had a Stars’ player skating hard after a long dump in that Beach was retrieving nonchalantly. Beach did get there first and no harm was done. Its interesting to note though, because seconds later Beach’s hustle in the offensive zone cause Stars’ Travis Morin to trip Beach behind the Texas goal. That kind of effort in all zones is what the Hogs are looking for. Being said, Beach was very good otherwise on Friday.
Beach came to the defense of Dylan Olsen 8:10 into the middle period. Olsen was stride for stride with a driving Raymond Sawada. After a Toivonen cover and referee whistle, Sawada gave Olsen a stiff cross-check to the chest. Olsen showed no emotion and just skated away. Beach went right up to Sawada though and a minor scrum ensued.