By Chris Block
The Rockford IceHogs began the 2013-14 regular season on Saturday night with a porous performance in San Antonio, Texas.
A re-stocked group of young IceHogs led by now AHL veterans Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin and Dylan Olsen committed one careless turnover after another in route to a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers minor league affiliate.
The loss was also costly in that the IceHogs lost two players to injury.
Annti Raanta left the game at the 5:36 mark of the first period. Raanta had taken an Eric Selleck 12-foot one-time attempt off the inside of his left knee at the 2:58 mark of the first. Raanta smothered Selleck’s shot, but crumpled to the ice in obvious discomfort, favoring his left leg. After consulting with IceHogs’ trainer D.J. Jones, Raanta opted to stay in the game. He would stop one more San Antonio shot before deciding he couldn’t continue and Kent Simpson entered the contest with 14:24 to go in the opening period.
IceHogs’ newcomer Jared Nightingale took a Bobby Butler shot to the face with 9:54 to go in the third period and also did not return. It’s not known for how long, or if either player will be out of action for an extended period of time. However, Mac Carruth was recalled from Toledo on Sunday to, at least temporarily, fill Raanta’s spot.
In relief of Raanta on Saturday night, rookie netminder Kent Simpson shined as the IceHogs star an Opening Night.
Simpson faced 17 shots over the remainder of the opening fourteen and a half minutes of the first period, after coming into the game for Raanta, and stopped them all.
In the loss, Simpson set the IceHogs AHL franchise record for saves in a game – 49, and Simpson was between the pipes for just over 54 minutes of the contest.
Simpson quickly got a taste of what he was in for on this night when Drew Leblanc drew a tripping penalty while battling San Antonio’s Jared Gomes inside the IceHogs’ zone. Rockford’s power play took to the ice three minutes after Simpson entered the game.
Rockford’s initial power play rush was turned away by the Rampage and speedy forward Quinton Howden took off with the puck one-on-one with Adam Clendening defending. The IceHogs’ blue liner backed off and allowed Howden to take a low-risk shot from the right circle on Simpson – but Clendening gave Howden too much time and space and Howden then beat a flat-footed Clendening to the rebound. Luckily for Clendening, Simpson shut to door on Howden once more. Clendening did redeem himself a bit later in the same power play when he hustled back to break up a Vince Trocheck partial breakaway.
After one period of play, the IceHogs and Rampage were scoreless but San Antonio had a lopsided edge in play and it showed in the Rampage outshooting Rockford 21 to 8.
The second period didn’t bring any change of pace to the game.
San Antonio broke the scoreless tie 47 seconds into the frame while on a power play. Jeremy Morin intercepted a pass inside his own zone but then failed to clear the puck when he tried to send the puck across the zone and hit Klas Dahlbeck in the back. Morin and his teammates then continued to scramble and chase that puck while the Rampage maintained zone control. San Antonio then struck when Jon Matsumoto snuck down and behind both Clendening and Dahlbeck and waited for a pass on the doorstep to Simpson’s left. With all four IceHogs skaters watching the puck, Matsumoto called for a pass and buried his shot into a wide open net on the weak side.
The action picked up in a different way five minutes later when Drew Leblanc was hit hard along the wall by Rampage defenseman Jonathan Racine. Leblanc had his head down, trying to elude a checker when Racine took advantage and lined Leblanc up for the collision. Leblanc immediately got up and was okay but Brad Winchester jumped in to Leblanc’s defense and tried to engage with Racine. The two received off-setting roughing minors but Winchester was hit with an additional minor for elbowing and the Rampage were able to keep the heat on the Hogs by way of the extra Winchester minor.
Simpson continued to answer the Rampage’s onslaught midway through the second period in the wake of more sloppy play by his own defense.
Simpson was able to make a stop and get a much needed whistle after Joe Gleason tried to force a puck through a maze of bodies while attempting to start a breakout. This, seconds after Dylan Olsen allowed Bobby Butler get in behind him. Olsen was fortunate though, as the puck bounced on Butler to negate what would have been another prime scoring chance for San Antonio.
Moments after that stoppage in play, Clendening picked up a puck along the half wall in the IceHogs zone, turned and inexplicably threw the puck blindly into the neutral zone, where it was intercepted by the Rampage.
The Rampage afforded the IceHogs a chance to tie the game a minute later when Jack Combs slashed the stick out of Dylan Olsen’s hands. Combs got two minutes for Slashing, but the IceHogs power play wasn’t able to get anything going on that power play chance. Seconds after the power play ended, the Rockford bench got confused as to who was changing for whom and got caught with playing with six guys on the ice, which is a violation of the rules.
Rockford’s penalty kill, 3 for 4 on the night, prevented San Antonio from scoring here as well. A minute after the Too Many Men penalty expired, the IceHogs got another power play chance of their own, but alternate captain Brad Winchester ended that after just 11 seconds when he was sent to the box for cross-checking.
San Antonio again mauled the IceHogs in scoring chances, outshooting Rockford 18-7 in the second period and 39 to 15 over two periods. Still, thanks to some spectacular play from Kent Simpson, after forty minutes, the Rampage only led Rockford 1-0.
The IceHogs finally broke through on Rampage goalie Scott Clemmensen at the 1:00 mark of the third when rookie Alex Broadhurst, playing in his first professional game, scored on a nice individual effort.
Broadhurst picked up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone. Gaining speed as he controlled over the San Antonio blue line, Broadhurst was able to break free of defenseman Colby Robak , cruise around the left post and snuck the puck by Clemmensen’s left skate to complete the wrap-around goal. Brad Mills and Clendening were given assists on the play. After the goal, Pirri went to the net to claim the puck for Alex Broadhurst’s first professional goal.
For Rockford, the line of Leblanc, Morin and Winchester provided the IceHogs with their best chances on this night. Leblanc set up Morin for a nice chance from the right circle with 12:30 to go, but Morin was off the mark.
With 8:13 to go, San Antonio reclaimed the lead when Jon Matsumoto, again, snuck behind every IceHogs defender to the back door and scored from behind the goal line to Simpson’s left. Simpson scrambled but was unable to get his left glove hand over in time. Quinton Howden noticed Matsumoto all alone again to the side of Simpson and fired a shot/pass on Simpson to that side. Joe Gleason was the closest to Matsumoto and that scoring chance but didn’t pick up Matsumoto nor was he able to prevent the rebound from getting to the Rampage scorer. Earlier in that shift, Simpson did make two big stops on Howden, whose speed the IceHogs had no answer for in this game.
There seemed to be a lack of communication among the Rockford players on this night.
Rockford allowed 53 shots against through the initial 53 minutes of the contest.
As the clock was winding down, IceHogs coach Ted Dent pulled Simpson for the extra-attacker in hopes of beating Clemmensen and getting the game to overtime.
But the Rockford third period heroics, a prominent factor in their late season playoff chase last season, were not to be in Game 1 of the 2013-14 campaign.
With 49.2 seconds to go, San Antonio was called for an icing. With some tired Rampage players on the ice, Dent chose not to take his time out.
Pirri lost the ensuing offensive zone draw to Vince Trocheck. Trocheck beat Pirri on the draw and forced the puck over to his right wing, where Rampage defenseman Jonathan Racine boxed Jeremy Morin off the puck, and allowing Alex Petrovic to gain possession. Petrovic , looking to clear the zone, immediately shot the puck off the glass along the half wall in the Rampage end. However, the puck took a fortunate bounce after careening off the glass and bounced down into the Rockford end and into the empty IceHogs’ net to all but seal a 3-1 victory for the Rampage.
Kent Simpson stopped 49 of the 51 shots he faced in the loss. Antti Raanta faced 4 shots before leaving the game with an apparent left leg injury. Raanta was ruled out of the game shortly after and did not return to the IceHogs bench.
Rockford (0-1-0-0) will be in Cedar Park, Texas, a suburb of Austin, on Sunday to face off with the Texas Stars. Game time will be 5pm central. We’ll have a full recap of that one here as well.
–IceHogs’ lines, pairings & scratches on Opening Night ’13-14
25-Alex Broadhurst / 27-Brandon Pirri / 16-Brad Mills
11-Brad Winchester / 14-Drew Leblanc / 19-Jeremy Morin
26-Garret Ross / 18-Phillip Danault / 28-Mark McNeill
20-Pat Mullane / 24-Byron Froese / 37-Terry Broadhurst
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 2-Adam Clendening
3-Dylan Olsen / 5-Joe Gleason
8-Viktor Svedberg / 6-Jared Nightingale
35-Antti Raanta (starter)
Scratches: LW-15-Wade Brookbank, D-22-Theo Peckham, RW-36-Maxim Shalunov
**A few sweater number changes from last season to this…. Brad Mills went from #36 to #16. Mill joined the IceHogs post-lockout last season and #16 was available at that time (Marcus Kruger wore it during the NHL lockout) but he wound up with 36 instead and 16 was sidelined for the rest of 2012-13…. #36 thus opens up and slips onto Maxim Shalunov for now… Viktor Svedberg takes the #8, which was worn by Nick Leddy and Steve Montador last season… Newcomer and AHL vet Jared Nightingale takes the #6 which was Joe Lavin’s number…. Phillip Danault has worn #10 (2011-12) and #29 (2012-13) in his two brief stints previously in Rockford and now takes the number formerly modeled by Brandon Bollig, number 18… Sweater number 5 had been assigned to Ben Youds since October of 2011 and now goes to Joe Gleason…. Garret Ross sticks with the #26, which had been Rob Flick’s number until he was dealt to the Bruins’ organization at last season’s trade deadline… Alex Broadhurst picks up the #25 that was Kenndal McArdle’s last season…. Number 11, worn by Philippe Paradis (April 2011 to Feb 2013) and Maxime Sauve last season, now goes to veteran Brad Winchester, who also wore #11 while a member of the Milwaukee Admirals last season…. Theo Peckham takes #22, worn by Brett Lebda and Mathieu Beaudoin during the 2012-13 campaign… Pat Mullane becomes the first IceHogs skater since Brandon Saad to done the number 20… Number 14, which was silent last season and last worn by former IceHogs captain Brandon Segal, was taken by last year’s NCAA Hobey Baker winner, Drew Leblanc. Kyle Hagel, Dan Bertram, Ben Smith and Dave Bolland all have also worn #14 at one time or another….
–Saturday night’s game in San Antonio marked the professional debuts of three IceHogs skaters – Alex Broadhurst, Pat Mullane and Joe Gleason
—Jeremy Morin extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one shot on goal to 129 in Saturday’s opener. He’s averaging 3.27 shots per game over that 129-game stretch. Morin posted 5 shots on the night but was held off the scoresheet. The last time Morin was held without a shot on goal in a game was back on November 6, 2011 – a 4-2 loss to Charlotte at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford. The streak of 129 games is AHL-only and does not figure in Morin’s regular season appearances with the Blackhawks. He also had shots in five of the six games he’s played with the Blackhawks during that two year span. The only game he did not being his recall on December 18, 2011, which was during the time Morin was serving a three-game suspension for a hit on Milwaukee’s Joel Champagne and Morin had not played a game in eight days prior to jumping into the Blackhawks’s lineup for a Sunday night game against Calgary.
–I get the feeling IceHogs’ play-by-play Mike Peck will be confusing brothers Alex and Terry Broadhurst for most of this season.
—Adam Clendening and Joe Gleason in particular were a complete mess in Saturday’s game. Not to say Olsen or some other guys were much better. Being it Gleason’s professional debut, it could be understood. Clendening, on the other hand, was an AHL all-star last season and is being counted on this season to drive the IceHogs offense from the blue line. But Clendening committed turnover after turnover and recklessly through the puck blindly into crowds of San Antonio players all night. Its one night, but that won’t help Rockford win any games.
—Drew Leblanc did a really good job of finding his linemates, Morin and Winchester, and feeding them with nice tape-to-tape passes. Leblanc can string a pass nicely from either his forehand or backhand while shielding off a checker. Leblanc’s wingers combined for 8 shots on goal on Saturday while Brandon Pirri’s linemates totaled just 3 shots. Its definitely something to keep track of when you consider Pirri and Leblanc are still ultimately competing for the job as center and setting up Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on a nightly basis.