Not even the IceHogs best collective effort of the season was enough to earn points before a crowd of 3,734 at BMO Harris Bank Center on Saturday night.
Twenty-four hours after getting recalled from ECHL Toledo, goaltender Carter Hutton was a minute and twenty seconds away from securing at least a point for his team when Abbotsford’s Ben Walter jabbed a rebound past Hutton to hand Rockford a heart-wrenching 2-1 defeat.
For the IceHogs, the loss ended a five-game home stand with a sour taste and 2-3-0-0 record to show for it. The team managed just one goal in each of its last three games, all losses. After starting the home stand with two wins – a 6-3 victory over San Antonio and another 7-3 clubbering of Peoria, Rockford’s home record now stands at a dismal 3-9-0-0.
Overall, Rockford is now four games below.500 at 8-12-1-0.
Losses on back-to-back nights at home certainly stings, but head coach Ted Dent wasn’t disappointed overall with his team’s performance against the Heat.
“Last night was a different game than tonight,” Dent explained. “Tonight was a playoff-type atmosphere. It was a fast game… hard-hitting. The only area of improvement I think we could have had there was scoring on the power play.”
That IceHogs’ power play was 0 for 7 on the night and 0 for 10 so far on the weekend. Rockford’s inability to capitalize just once, especially given two chances in the third period, was the difference between a win and the loss on Saturday night.
“It was a good hockey game, both ways,” Dent said.
“It’s a 1-1 game with under two minutes to go and they get a rebound goal there at the side of the net. But I thought it was a good hockey game, both ways.”
Abbotsford was first on the board twelve and a half minutes into the game when Krys Kolanos fired a quick wrister under Carter Hutton after a slick backhand feed from Ben Walter.
Brett McLean evened the score two minutes later, beating Heat goalie Leland Irving, after McLean’s wingers crashed a dump in and caused an Abbotsford turnover behind the goal line. Philippe Paradis was in on the chase first and got the puck over to IceHogs’ captain Brandon Segal, who made a quick pass to McLean at the left inside hash. McLean wasted no time and beat the AHL’s wins leader to the stick side.
“It was just a great forecheck by Paradis and Segal,” McLean said after the game. “They caused the turnover and the puck just squirted out front and I just put it on net and it got through.”
The score stayed 1-1 for the next 44 minutes as Rockford’s power play was held in check by the Heat’s 2nd-ranked penalty kill unit (87.6%). Abbotsford’s road record improved to 13-3-0-0 with this win and its due in large part to a 90.2% efficient penalty kill, tops in the AHL, on the road.
Rockford got a power play just four seconds after McLean’s tally thanks to a Jon Rheault high-sticking infraction. The IceHogs’ only scoring opportunity in that two minute advantage however came off a Brian Connelly shot from the top of the point. Irving easily stopped Connelly’s attempt and since Jeremy Morin had stepped to the side to allow his teammate’s shot through, he was in no position to force a screen, obstruct Irving’s vision or compete for the rebound and Abbotsford easily cleared the zone.
Rockford wasn’t without prime scoring chances in the middle frame.
2:40 into the second period Irving came up with a huge left arm save on a Brandon Pirri shot from the left circle. Morin missed the net on a point-blank opportunity at 4:25. Morin was likely thrown off and rushed his shot after the pass first wound up in his skates, but he missed the far right post by a couple feet. Later, on the power play, Rostislav Olesz hit Andrew Shaw in stride with a cross-ice feed but Shaw took too long to get his attempt off. Seconds later Joe Lavin beat Irving but hit the post on a bomb from the top of the point.
Then came the battle of the night. Brandon Bollig dropped the mitts with the player with the probably longest name in hockey, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. The two waged a test of jabs and looping right hands for well over a minute. Bolland scored 8 or 9 short jersey-collar clutch jabs early on before Leblond got his right hand free and scored some at the expense of Bollig’s cranium. The IceHogs’ enforcer turned the tables though and landed many rights of his own to earn a decisive decision victory as the pair mutually agreed exhaustion had set in.
Three minutes later Hutton came up with his biggest stop of the night as the Hogs got caught in a long change, causing a 4 on 1.
Rockford briefly thought they might have taken the lead five and half minutes into the third when a puck sprung free under Leland Irving and was poked home. However, referee Terry Koharski had lost sight of the puck and it was quickly ruled No-goal because the play had been whistled dead, much to the BMO crowd’s displeasure.
With five minutes to go in regulation, Dylan Olsen drove up the left side and tried to feed Brandon Pirri in the slot but sent the pass inches behind Pirri’s awaiting stick blade. The two were still talking about that missed opportunity in the locker room after the game. Had that pass connected, Pirri had a wide open right side of the net to shoot into.
Then, with the game still tied at 1-1 and time winding down in regulation, Abbotsford’s Ben Walter broke the IceHogs’ backs again.
Walter held possession in Rockford’s zone and dished to Guillaume Desbiens, who then pushed the puck down to Krys Kolanos driving along the IceHogs’ goal line. Kolanos put the puck on net and a mad scramble to the rebound ensued.
“[Kolanos] had an option in front, so I was sort of shading towards [Walter],” said Carter Hutton after the game describing the play. “[Kolanos] threw it at my leg and I made the save.
“First [Walter] batted [the puck] out of the air and I stopped it. He had a couple whacks at it and it ended up finding the back of the net.”
Hutton was pulled for the extra-attacker in attempt to tie the game but Rockford couldn’t keep possession long enough to fan the Heat.
In all, Hutton stopped 22 shots in the contest and was awarded the game’s 3rd star behind Walter (1st) and Leland Irving.
Ted Dent was so impressed with Hutton’s performance, he immediately named Hutton the starter for Sunday afternoons game in Peoria. That will be Hutton’s third game in as many days as well.
“He played excellent,” Dent said of Hutton’s performance. “He’s going to play tomorrow as well. If we can get that goaltending every night we’re going to have a chance to win.”
Hutton stopped 38 shots in Toledo on Friday night before getting word of his recall and driving to Rockford, arriving in Rockford and checking himself into a hotel in the wee hours Saturday morning. Hutton is coming off 12-consecutive starts with Toledo as well.
Peoria will be a bitter team too on Sunday. The Rivermen dropped a pair of games to Milwaukee this weekend. The Admirals pounded Peoria 5-1 in Milwaukee on Friday and eked out a 3-2 in Peoria on Saturday.
Game time for Rockford and Peoria at Carver Arena on Sunday is 5:05pm.
Last-place Rockford trails Peoria by five points in the standings with three games in hand on those Rivermen.
So, all things considered, Sunday is as must-win as those come for Rockford.
–IceHogs’ lines, combos and scratches on Saturday vs Abbotsford
Rostislav Olesz – Brandon Pirri – Andrew Shaw
Philippe Paradis – Brett McLean – Brandon Segal
Jeremy Morin – Pete Leblanc – Jimmy Hayes
Brandon Bollig – Rob Flick – David Gilbert
Dylan Olsen – Brian Connelly
Ryan Stanton – Brian Fahey
Joe Lavin – Shawn Lalonde
Scratches: Ben Youds… Kyle Beach (shoulder)… Alexander Salak (left leg sprain)
Power play 1: Morin-McLean-Segal, w/ Leblanc & Connelly
Power play 2: Olesz-Pirri-Hayes, w/ Lalonde & Connelly (Lavin if Connelly needed a rest)
—David Gilbert was benched for a large part of the first period. Segal and Hayes took his shifts when they did come up. Flick’s arrival pushed Gilbert to the right wing, from the center position. Rob Klinkhammer was previously in that spot on the wing.
–With the Klinkhammer trade going down late in the afternoon on Friday, there was no time to get a replacement for him (Toledo was playing at home on Friday night) and thus Rockford was forced to dress seven defenseman Friday night in the 4-1 loss to Lake Erie.
—Alec Richards gave up a goal on the first shot he faced in relief of Alexander Salak on Friday. That goal came twenty seconds after Salak left the game too. Richards gave up another couple bad ones later on as well.
When asked if Richards is currently struggling with his confidence, head coach Ted Dent responded, “I’d say that’s fair, yeah.”
–The Alexander Salak injury is not as bad as originally feared.
Salak was carried off the ice, putting no weight at all on his left leg, after 24 seconds of the second period. Asked for a status on Salak, coach Dent shared the good news.
“He’s just day-to-day. I don’t think it’s too serious.”
Salak’s injury is a sprain and he’ll be reevaluated on Tuesday. The Hogs have four days off after the game in Peoria today. They’ll next face the Chicago Wolves in Rockford on Friday.
–Dent on Shawn Lalonde’s weekend thus far after sitting out both home games last weekend:
“Yeah, he came back last night after being a healthy scratch for two games. And he got into two fights. He made a statement that he was not too happy about sitting out. I think his play has improved between now and a week ago.”
—Rob Flick got the recall late Friday night to fill the spot vacated via the Rob Klinkhammer trade to Ottawa.
“I thought he was good,” Dent said of Flick’s first game back. “He had some limited ice time because of the penalties but he was good on the forecheck. As long as he plays at a high pace, he should be fine.”
–Klinkhammer made his debut for the Binghamton Senators in Worcester on Saturday night. Klinkhammer wore number 14 (he wore 37 in Rockford and 59 in his one game as a Blackhawk last season) and was a minus-1 with a shot on goal.
–Scouts from the Capitals, Islanders, Canucks and Winnipeg Jets were on hand at the BMO on Saturday night watching the Blackhawks and Calgary Flames prospects.
—Wade Brookbank, who played on last year’s IceHogs squad, is now a scout for the Vancouver Canucks.
–Dent when asked if he expects another “playoff –like” atmosphere from the teams Sunday in Peoria:
“I don’t know. It’s tough – three in three. Hopefully we can play at the same pace and intensity as we did tonight.”
–Saturday was the annual “Teddy Bear Toss” night in Rockford. Fans were encouraged to bring brand-new teddy bears to the game to be distributed to children at Rockford area hospitals. And fans were instructed to toss the bears on the ice after the first IceHogs’ goal.
The official count was 1,221 teddy bears collected.
It was a fun moment, but the IceHogs staff may want to rethink fans throwing those teddys – during the game. Rockford had momentum, and obviously was looking to build off Brett McLean’s game-tying goal with 5:34 left in the opening period. And, in fact, they wound up with a subsequent power play just four game seconds later. But the stoppage to clear those 1,221 teddys may have give Abbotsford all the time they needed to collect themselves and refocus.
–McLean’s goal ended an 8-game drought… Jeremy Morin does not have a goal this season in 11 home games. He’s also a minus-5 with 5 helpers on home ice. Overall, Morin’s without a goal in his last 9 games… Abbotsford’s Ben Walter has 3 goals and 1 assist in the 3 games played against Rockford this season… Philippe Paradis gives the McLean line what the Pirri-Olesz tandem has in Andrew Shaw, an tough hustle/energy guy who skates hard on the forecheck and buzzes around the net. Paradis’ promotion came at the expense of Morin, who was dropped to the 3rd line for Friday night’s contest… They don’t keep hit counts in the AHL, but if they did, Paradis and Olsen would have had a bunch against the Heat. Olsen was making Heat forwards pay a price along the walls consistently on Saturday…