By Rich Lindbloom
Okay, the lockout has gone on long enough. Normally this time a year I’d be watching Blackhawk games and parts of other NHL games throughout the week. While walking the dogs Tuesday night it dawned on me that I had just spent the previous hour watching a show called Swamp People. I’m not sure which is worse; my sudden affinity for the Rockford IceHogs, or watching the swampers yank 10 to 12 foot gators out of the pond. Pray for me as I’m quite certain Pawn Stars or Say Yes to the Dress, are not far in the offing.
In a way, now that the ‘Hogs have caught my interest, I wouldn’t be terribly upset with the cancellation of the rest of the NHL season. $10 to $20 dollars for a very good seat beats the hell out of paying $48 in the 300 section at the United Center. Don’t get me wrong – the NHL is certainly another step up the food chain. However, as I sat in the fourth row of the Van Andel arena in Grand Rapids, I realized I wanted the Hogs to win as much as I do the Blackhawks. The biggest drawback is that to get to any of the arenas the Hogs play at, it’s a 1:45 to 2 hour drive. Regrettably, the coverage and stats are woefully inadequate also – but hey, it’s the only game in town. Two statistics I really miss are how much ice time a player gets and the players +/-. Both of those stats entered my thoughts concerning Dylan Olsen’s playing time against the Wolves and Griffins.
Admittedly, I haven’t paid enough attention to question Dylan Olsen’s limited playing time. Yet, I can’t recall him playing at all during the third period against the Griffins. I didn’t notice if he was on the ice for Grand Rapid’s first goal, but I know he wasn’t on the second or third. I was in row 4 of the Hawks shooting end for two periods in Grand Rapids, so I “may” have missed something that Coach Ted Dent didn’t. While I didn’t think he was exactly ready to play in the NHL last season, (in my opinion his skating was noticeably inferior to Keith, Seabs, Hjarlmarrson, Leddy or Oduya.), I really liked the physical presence he brought to the front of our cage. Big is good when it comes to punishing loiterers in front of the crease. Dylan tallied the lone goal for the Hogs in this frustrating game. It was a nice slap shot from the point during an IceHogs’ power play.
Grand Rapid’s second goal was greatly abetted by an ill-advised retaliation penalty by Martin St. Pierre. I thought the refs let the Griffins get away with a few obvious interference calls, and I’m not one to normally complain about the refs. (yuk, yuk.) The first one was when St. Pierre was getting ready to corral a puck flying around the boards. About two seconds before the puck would have reached #39 (St. Pierre), a lumbering Griffin d-man crushed Martin’s head into the Plexiglas directly in front of me. St. Pierre had a word with the ref, moments before the Carcillo switch went off. Moments later, St. Pierre crushed Francis Pare behind the Griffin net, taking a terrible penalty in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, Pare left the game after that hit. You’d expect that from a player like Kyle Beach, but again, if the ref would have done his job, the Hogs would have been on the PP instead of the Grifs. All coach Dent could do was hum that Carly Simon song, “Retaliation…is making me crazy.”
It seemed the “Atomic Bomb Line,” Beach-Shaw and Bollig, logged a lot of ice time. For the most part they were matched against the Griffin’s muscle – Mitch Callahan – 51 PIM, Triston Grant – 53 PIM(you better be tough with a name like Triston), and Brennan Evans – 51 PIM. I would expect next Wednesday, when the Griffin’s visit Rockford, these six meatballs might once again exchange pleasantries. For the curious, before the Dec. 31 game, Bollig led the team with 130 PIMs, Beach has 95 PIMs, followed by Chicken Hawks 75 PIM. Actually, the Swamp People Line might be a good moniker for this hard working third line. A lot of those swampers are missing their teeth also.
I know a lot of people who know way more about hockey than me are getting tired of Brandon Bollig’s truculence, but I haven’t quite jumped on the “Bollig you suck” band wagon yet. Although it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on at the other end, when you sit in row four you notice the hard hits and elbows along the boards with much greater clarity. Bollig reminds me a bit of former Blackhawk, Ted “Wooly” Bulley. You know if you’re chasing down a loose puck in the corners, Bollig doesn’t care too much about the puck. He just wants to make sure that you realize a price will have to be paid for capturing the flag. Hesitation by defensemen can often lead to bad turnovers. In one of the most brutal, (yet clean hit), I’ve seen in many moons, Bollig and Brennan Evans, 6’3”, 230 lbs., were chasing down a loose puck directly in front of my section. From a row four vantage point, you could actually see the whites in Bollig’s eyes. Neither player paid much attention to the puck as they braced themselves for the massive collision. The section I was in let out a collective, “Ooooohhhh!” when the irresistible force met the immovable object. If nothing else, you can’t doubt Bollig’s work ethic.
As long as were on the “______ you suck” train of thought, in the third period during a quiet moment, a fan a few rows behind us hollered out, “Kruger, you suck.” Believe it or not, I suspect it was a Hawk fan who was growing impatient with the lack of good scoring chances. When all else fails, a loud “you suck” or “Get off the ice” always seems to make one feel better. Tough crowd, eh? I’m not exactly sure what Freddy did to arouse that fans ire, but it was obvious he had seen enough. It appears the Griffin’s play a much disciplined, defensive minded game, trying to spring the Nyquist’s, Pare’s, Ferraro and Tatar’s when the opportunity presents itself. Kruger centered a line that included Jimmy Hayes and St Pierre. I believe for the most part they were matched against Nyquist-Sheahan-Tatar, a very formidable trio. I would have been very surprised if Nyquist was not on the Wings roster this year if the NHL were to have a season. It appeared Hayes clanked a backhand off the post on one high speed rush – you had to be aiming at posts or crossbars to get one past Petr Mrazek that night. He was very solid between the pipes for the Griffins.
Tatar’s first goal came on the PP set up by St. Pierre’s “I’m gonna get you sucka,” retaliation penalty. It seemed like he had time to check for wind direction before he rifled a wrister high over Carter Hutton’s left shoulder from the top of the faceoff circle. His second goal came on a quick burst of speed along the left boards – if I’m not mistaken, Nick Leddy got caught behind the play after a good rush for the Hogs. How quickly the fortunes change in this high speed game. I thought Nick Leddy put in a very solid performance.
Saad/Pirri/Smith was probably the Hogs best line, but they were certainly battled toe to toe by Pare/Aubry/Jurco. The refs singled out Pirri for two infractions, which he vehemently denied to no avail.
By the way, the Van Andel Arena is a great place to watch hockey. Admittedly, it’s the first time I’ve seen “the wave” done at a hockey game, but stuff like that happens when you have a two goal lead in the waning moments of a hard fought contest with a division rival.
I’d highly recommend going to the rematch next Wednesday in Rockford. Something tells me they won’t be singing “Auld Lang Syne.” Great hockey, at a great price. I think you’ll find it beats flipping through 500 channels trying to find something on TV. It’s sort of a must win for the Hogs if they want to get back in the hunt for first place in the Midwest Division. It would be nice to have a boisterous crowd pining for blood to support these valiant Hogs. Just watch out for Smokey at mile marker # 57 on the way home.
Until then, I might have to check in to see if Bruce’s dog, Tyler, pull’s through whatever is ailing it.
“There’s a gator in the bushes, He’s a calling my name,
Saying c’mon boy you better make It back home again
There’s many roads of travel, they all kind of look the same,
There’s a gator in the bushes, Lord he’s calling my name.
Ah Gator Country, a little bit of that chomp, chomp – Molley Hatchet