By Chris Block
Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to the visiting Lake Erie Monsters played out like a tale of two teams for this season’s Rockford IceHogs.
After an opening period which saw the IceHogs pepper Lake Erie’s veteran goaltender, and Chicago area product, Gerald Coleman with 17 shots, but not many second chance opportunities, Rockford went into the first intermission with nothing to show for their efforts. The IceHogs then came out flat for the second period and quickly found themselves down 2-0 after some unfortunate turnovers. Despite dominating the first period, Rockford reverted to its October through mid-December form in letting game get away from them on home ice. By the midway point of the third Rockford was in a 4-1 hole. But then, the IceHogs of the month of January suddenly reappeared and put up a challenge. Dylan Olsen unleashed a howitzer of a one-timer to get his team within two goals with less than two minutes to play and a late Lake Erie penalty allowed Rockford to pull within one with 18 seconds to go.
This was the second consecutive game in which Rockford greatly outshot its opponent and lost. Last Friday in Rosemont, the IceHogs out shot the Wolves 32-18, but lost the contest 4-2. They were also down three goals with a minute left in that game.
On Wednesday night, Rockford out shot Lake Erie 17-7 in the first period. None of those chances better than when Rostislav Olesz blew by two defenseman, Cameron Gaunce and Stefan Elliott, then wristed his shot too high over the glove of Coleman, who just got a piece of Olesz’s attempt as well. Chris DiDomenico later stole a puck from Elliott in the neutral zone and broke in but Coleman was there to keep the game scoreless.
Early in the middle period, an IceHogs’ turnover developed into a 3-on-1 for Lake Erie. Ryan Stoa stormed up the right side and with Brian Fahey the lone Rockford player back, Stoa waited for Fahey to go down, and then sent a feed across to Mark Olver who beat Carter Hutton to give Lake Erie a 1-0 lead just 1:31 into the period.
Later, Joe Lavin had trouble connecting with Pete Leblanc on an outlet pass. The puck came back to Lavin, under pressure, who banked the puck up the left half wall hoping to clear his zone. It didn’t. Brad Malone picked off Lavin’s clearing attempt. Malone then dished to Justin Mercier who beat both Jimmy Hayes and Shawn Lalonde to the centering pass. Mercier stick-handled to his backhand around Carter Hutton and gave Lake Erie the 2-0 advantage at 12:50 of the second period.
Ben Smith brought Rockford within a goal three minutes later with his 13th goal of the season. Smith snuck down from the point on an IceHogs’ power play and slipped a Pete Leblanc feed underneath Gerald Coleman at 15:52. It also marked Smith’s 6th power play tally of the season.
Early in the third period, Rockford had to face a minute and fifty-two seconds of a 5-on-3 Monsters’ power play after penalties by Ben Youds and Brian Fahey. Brandon Segal, Dylan Olsen and Ryan Stanton killed most of that time themselves. The IceHogs caught a break when Segal’s clearing attempt hit a linesman at center, preventing Olsen and Stanton from changing but the duo with Byron Froese were able to kill off the remainder of the 5-on-3.
However, Lake Erie quickly attacked Rockford’s group of changing players as Ben Youds exited the penalty box and the last seconds remained on Fahey’s minor. Former Blackhawks and IceHogs defenseman Danny Richmond fired a puck up to Patrick Rissmiller who sped around Ben Smith as he jumped onto the ice for Stanton. Rissmiller then fed former IceHog Evan Brophey for his 13th of the season. This goal coming on the power play just two seconds after the 5-on-3 had expired. Lake Erie’s power play tally also ended a string of 26-straight kills on home ice for the IceHogs.
Five minutes later Lake Erie increased its lead to 4-1 when Carter Hutton anticipated a pass getting across the slot to a pinching Danny Richmond. The pass did not and Hutton was too far off his left post to stop Brad Malone’s 7th goal of the season with 9:13 remaining in regulation.
Dylan Olsen’s one-timer from the top of the point with Leblanc in front at 18:13 of the period gave the IceHogs hope. The goal was Olsen’s 4th of the season and second in four games. Jimmy Hayes set up Olsen and Leblanc picked up the other assist.
The late bid continued as the IceHogs were buzzing around Coleman on a 6-on-4 advantage with Lake Erie’s Luke Walker in the box and Carter Hutton pulled for the extra attacker. First to a rebound off a Ben Smith chance, Jimmy Hayes potted his 6th of the season for the IceHogs to pull Rockford within one goal and where the final score would stand, 4-3 Lake Erie.
Rockford drifts back to three games below .500 with the loss. Wednesday also represented a chance to be a game over .500 at home for the first time since the IceHogs won on the opening night of the 2011-12 season at the BMO.
Gerald Coleman was the obvious first star of the contest, stopping 40 IceHogs’ shots. He made some big stops early and then again in the latter half of the second but Rockford didn’t get enough traffic to his crease area to challenge his rebounds.
Carter Hutton stopped 28 of 32 Lake Erie shots in the loss, Hutton’s second in consecutive starts.
Prior to those, the other coming in Rockford previous game at Chicago last Friday, Hutton had gone 6-1-0-1. In those eight starts, Hutton owned a 1.48 goals against average and 94.8% save percentage.
Ted Dent chose to stick with his workhorse Hutton over the returning Alexander Salak in this game. Hutton has now started 20 games for Rockford, all since December 3rd, 2 more than Alec Richards and 10 more than Salak.
Salak, out since December 2 with an ankle injury suffered in a game when Lake Erie last visited the BMO, dressed as the backup. Alec Richards was reassigned to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL on Sunday.
Before Wednesday’s game, Dent said it would be good for Salak to get a feel for the speed of the game while sitting on the bench after being out of action the past two months.
With Hutton leading Rockford to a 7-2-0-1 record (.924 sv%, 2.08 gaa) in his last ten starts coming into Wednesday’s game versus Lake Erie, Dent also probably felt inclined to roll with his hot hand.
Hutton is a favorite in the IceHogs locker room right now and was the catalyst for last month’s turnaround, but Salak will get one of the two starts this weekend against the Chicago Wolves. With Rockford on a two-game losing streak, that start is likely to come Friday night when the Wolves visit the BMO Harris Bank Center.
The IceHogs are 3-5-0-0 versus the Chicago Wolves this season. Two of those victories came at the BMO.
IceHogs’ lines, pairings and scratches vs Lake Erie
Rostislav Olesz – Pete Leblanc – Jimmy Hayes
Brandon Segal – Brandon Pirri – Jeremy Morin
Ben Smith – Byron Froese – Chris DiDomenico
Brandon Bollig – Rob Flick – Brandon Svendsen
Dylan Olsen – Ben Youds
Ryan Stanton – Brian Fahey
Joe Lavin – Shawn Lalonde
Carter Hutton (backup: Alexander Salak)
IceHogs’ scratches: Kyle Beach (shoulder)…. Philippe Paradis (healthy)… Wade Brookbank (healthy)
IceHogs PP-1: Olesz-Leblanc-Hayes w/ Smith and Lalonde (also Youds)
IceHogs PP-2: Segal-Pirri-Morin w/ Olsen and Fahey
IceHogs PK forwards: Froese-Segal, Leblanc-Bollig
IceHogs PK defense: Stanton-Fahey, Olsen-Lalonde
–On the IceHogs’ radio broadcast, Kyle Beach filled in on color and when asked for a timetable on his potential return this season responded, “Who knows?” Beach said there is hope now, as opposed to a couple of months ago, that he’ll return before the end of the season. So, there really hasn’t been a change since we reported here during the second week of January that the target for Beach was the end of March but that certainly isn’t a lock at this point. Beach has been skating but is obviously not near a point where he can handle contact.
–Five of Ben Smith’s initial seven goals in Rockford this season came via the power play. Wednesday’s PPG was his first since December 21, the lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Toronto. Smith has 4 goals-6 assists in his last 9 games.
–With the two helpers, Rostislav Olesz has 4 goals-8 assists in his last 10 games.
–Jeremy Morin is without a goal again in his last 8 games (3a). Morin has 9g-18a in 42 games in Rockford. He also has just 1 goal in 19 games at the BMO.
–Captain Brandon Segal doesn’t have a goal in 12 games (2a).
–In addition to Brophey and Richmond, former IceHogs Hugh Jessiman and Mike Brennan also played for the Monsters. Jessiman was injured most of last season with Rockford and a disappointment before getting dealt to the Panthers in the Skille-Frolik deal. Jessiman has 20 goals in 41 games this season with Lake Erie. Brennan was an undrafted signing by the Blackhawks in the spring of 2008 and spent two seasons in Rockford after finishing his career at Boston College where he was teammates with Ben Smith.
–Attendance was 2,983 – which is the fourth-lowest of the season.
Lake Erie’s lines and pairings
Patrick Rissmiller – Evan Brophey – Greg Mauldin
Ryan Stoa – Mark Olver – Hugh Jessiman
Justin Mercier – Brad Malone – Luke Walker
Zach Cohen – Eric Hunter – Dean Strong
David Liffiton – Danny Richmond
Cameron Gaunce – Stefan Elliott
Jake Newton – Mike Brennan
Gerald Coleman (backup: Cedrik Desjardins)