By Chris Block
Over the initial ten games of this IceHogs’ season, on four occasions Rockford came back from 2-goal deficits to emerge victorious. In one of those games, their home opener against Grand Rapids on October 19th, Rockford actually trailed by 2 goals twice in the contest only to eventually attain the two points.
There is something to note about the character of a team when 4 of its 7 wins have come in dramatic comeback fashion. Although, it can also leave behind a trail of just as many questions as it does answers. And one thing is for sure – at this level, no team is going to maintain a .700 record for very long when the team is consistently falling behind early in games.
In Rockford, on Thursday night, the IceHogs afforded the Charlotte Checkers a 3-0 advantage before staging three unanswered tallies of their own, only to lose to the Checkers, 5-3.
On Friday night, Rockford bused north to Milwaukee for the first of twelve matches this season with the Nashville Predators AHL affiliate.
The IceHogs got goals from rookies Mark McNeill and Alex Broadhurst in Milwaukee. But the Admirals jumped out to an early lead and then stretched a two-goal gap on Rockford midway through the game that Rockford this time would not close.
Kent Simpson was in goal for the IceHogs. He was peppered early and often by Milwaukee.
Two minutes in, Alex Broadhurst tried a fancy move around an Admirals defenseman at the Milwaukee blue line and turned the puck over to the home team. Four passes later, Patrick Cehlin found himself looking at a wide open area to the glove side of Simpson, but Cehlin missed the net entirely.
At the 3:36 mark, Jared Nightingale was whistled off for cross-checking Milwaukee forward Mathieu Tousignant along the half board in the Rockford zone.
Milwaukee converted on its first opportunity on the man advantage. Simpson knocked Scott Valentine’s shot from the right circle down, but the puck fell in front of Rockford’s netminder and Milwaukee’s Josh Shalla was quicker to the rebound than Simpson and he smacked the puck by Simpson to give the Admirals the power play goal and a 1-0 lead.
Mark McNeill added another marker to his great rookie season start three minutes and nine seconds later to tie the game. McNeill started the play when he gained entry into the Admirals zone and got the puck deep. Phillip Danault eventually worked the puck back to the left point, where Klas Dahlbeck stood. Dahlbeck backpeddled towards the middle and sent a shot through a line of sticks. Garret Ross got his blade on Dahlbeck’s shot, redirecting it into Marek Mazanec’s midsection. This time, it was the Milwaukee netminder who gave a rebound and McNeill was right there for the rebound goal.
Midway through the opening frame, Taylor Beck tripped Byron Froese in the Admirals zone after Beck coughed up possession. The IceHogs power play was not up to matching Milwaukee’s earlier efforts, however.
At 14:53, Austin Watson led a 2-on-1 with Joonas Rask after Alex Broadhurst turned a puck over in the neutral zone. Rask got the pass but was in tight on Simpson, who turned the shot away. Unfortunately for the IceHogs, though, the rebound bounced out into the slot, eluding four Rockford skaters. Miikka Salomaki was able to settle the puck and his turnaround shot from the mid-slot whizzed by the glove of Kent Simpson to give Milwaukee a 2-1 lead.
Twenty seconds after Salomaki’s first career AHL goal, Klas Dahlbeck shot a puck over the glass while facing a forecheck inside the IceHogs end. After a brief discussion among the officials, it was determined no one else had touched the puck before it sailed over the glass. However, somehow it was Kyle Beach who was sent to the box for Delay of Game. Beach was thirty feet from the play at the time. Bobby Shea was cross by Dahlbeck at the time, which no doubt caused Dahlbeck some disturbance as well, but didn’t touch the puck on his way by. Regardless, Rockford’s penalty killers were successful in killing off this Milwaukee power play. You do have to wonder how Milwaukee coach Dean Evason would allow that Beach for Dahlbeck trade off, though. Beach is not a penalty killer and Dahbleck is one the IceHogs’ best.
With 5.6 seconds left to play in the opening period, Joonas Rask crashed the IceHogs net and fell on top of Simpson as he was trying to cover the puck. This sent Rask off for goaltender interference as also gave Rockford 1:54 of power play time on a fresh sheet of ice to start the second period.
Perhaps that ice was a little too clean and slick for the IceHogs power play to start the sandwich stanza. Rockford’s best chance came as time was expiring in the Rask minor. Alex Broadhurst picked up a Milwaukee turnover as the Admirals were trying to exit their own zone. But he and older brother Terry had trouble keeping the puck flat as Terry attempted to set Alex up for a chance from just inside the left circle.
Then, the IceHogs gave Milwaukee further opportunity to practice its power play. At 8:43 of the period, Ross stepped in front of Zach Budish in front of the Milwaukee bench and nearly put Budish through an unlatched door on the Admirals bench. Ross was sent off for interference but Milwaukee couldn’t increase their lead.
Later, Rockford had its best scoring opportunity in a while when Dylan Olsen hit Mark McNeill with a stretch pass. McNeill gained the Admirals zone with a 2-on-1, but his saucer pass didn’t connect with Garret Ross. 20 seconds later, Ross gained entry into Milwaukee’s zone and hit McNeill with a drop pass. McNeill’s blistering rising shot hit Marek Mazanec in the left shoulder.
Ross took another penalty with 6:38 left in the middle frame. This time, Ross was called for holding. He actually threw a shoulder check on Joonas Rask away from the play and Rask took a tumble. Rockford killed this penalty too. Their luck would run out soon, however.
A minute after Ross’s second penalty ended, Milwaukee gained possession after Joe Gleason’s clearing attempt clanked high off the glass and came down in front of Admirals’ defenseman Anthony Bitetto in the neutral zone. Milwaukee buzzed around the IceHogs end and had the Rockford skaters chasing. Finally, the puck went back to Bitetto, who used some slick stickhandling to dance down into the right circle. There, Bitetto released a backhand shot that appeared to be tipped in by Mathieu Tousignant, who was in front of Simpson’s crease. The goal was credited to Bitetto, though, and Milwaukee had taken the 3-1 lead.
The exchange of power plays continued when Joe Piskula hooked Joakim Nordstrom behind the Admirals net with 2:24 to go in the period. This came as a new-look line of Nordstrom and the Broadhurst brothers kept some good pressure inside Milwaukee’s zone. The Dahlbeck-Shea and then Olsen-Gleason defense pairings had a hand it that as well. But the IceHogs were unable to sustain that momentum and Rockford’s power play would be 0 for 3 after forty minutes of play.
Two minutes into the third, Rockford’s penalty kill was again put to the test when Anthony Bitetto rushed up the right side and around Jared Nightingale, forcing the veteran IceHogs blueliner to hook Bitetto on his way by. 1:28 later, Dylan Olsen was cited for illegal cross-checking, putting Rockford down 5-on-3 for 32 seconds. Nordstrom, Brad Winchester and Klas Dahlbeck were sent out to keep the IceHogs in the game, and they did. Froese came in for Winchester after a whistle to take a faceoff on the right side of the ice. Back only down one skater, Simpson and the Hogs dodged a huge bullet with 15:46 to go in regulation when Taylor Beck found Simon Moser for a point blank opportunity. But Moser shot the puck off the crossbar with Simpson down and out. With a little luck, Rockford stayed within two goals of a tie, and the IceHogs penalty killers improved to 5 for 6 on the night.
Rockford got a power play at 5:52 when Miikka Salomaki got caught setting a pick on Froese in the Milwaukee end.
Alex Broadhurst potted his 4th goal of the young campaign at 6:26 of the third period on the ensuing power play. Dylan Olsen set Alex up for the goal. The play started when Adam Clendening threw a centering pass through the middle that missed everyone. Olsen pinched down to retain possession. First, Olsen faked a shot. Then he stepped around Mark Van Guilder and carried behind the net before passing out to Alex, who one-timed a snap shot that just beat Mazanec’s glove. Mazanec buried his head to the ice in disbelief as the IceHogs power players celebrated.
Two and a half minutes later, Bitetto knocked Nordstrom down near the Admirals goal as the puck slid into the near corner. Bitetto went off for high-sticking but Rockford could not convert on this chance and remained down a goal.
Rockford got a sixth chance at the power play with 7:48 to go when Van Guilder slashed the stick out of Dylan Olsen’s hand behind the IceHogs’ goal. But the IceHogs power play had a tough time connecting on this chance.
With 4:25 to go, Olsen had a puck stolen in his own zone by a backchecking Josh Shalla. The Admirals forward pivoted back towards Simpson, who got his paddle out to stop Shalla’s chance. Seconds later, Olsen turned the puck over again. This time, he dropped a pass behind the IceHogs goal that didn’t go far enough. Patrick Cehlin picked it up and sent a centering pass to Van Guilder. Simpson came up with his biggest stop of the night here, making a stick-save on Van Guilder’s point blank chance.
With 2:29 to go, Alex Broadhurst was called for holding Scott Valentine behind the Milwaukee goal line. Broadhurst vehemently argued the call. Valentine had stuck out his arm to fend Broadhurst off. This happened about fifteen feet from the official. Broadhurst may have clamped his left arm down on Valentine’s right arm, but the call still seemed pretty weak.
Rockford was able to kill off the first minute of the Admirals’ seventh power play of the night. With 1:17 to go, Ted Dent called his timeout to rest his penalty killers a bit for the second half. Simpson was eventually pulled for an extra attacker to make it five skaters against five Milwaukee skaters and a goalie. With twenty seconds left in his younger brother’s penalty, Terry Broadhurst had a scoring attempt blocked. The Admirals took possession and moments later Taylor Beck scored an empty-net goal with 37 seconds left in regulation.
Milwaukee’s 4-2 lead stood as the final score.
Rockford’s record drops to 7-4-1-0 with the loss. The IceHogs remain atop the Western Conference standings after Friday night’s action. Three teams below them in the West have better percentages of points earned. No other team in the West has played as many games (12) as the IceHogs through Friday’s action.
The IceHogs next game is Sunday, when the Grand Rapids Griffins (6-2-1-1), the defending AHL Calder Cup champions, visit the BMO Harris Bank Center at 4pm.
–IceHogs lines, pairs, scratches & specials on Friday in Milwaukee…
26-Garret Ross / 18-Phillip Danault / 28-Mark McNeill
37-Terry Broadhurst / 25-Alex Broadhurst / 17-Jimmy Hayes
23-Joakim Nordstrom / 14-Drew Leblanc / 12-Kyle Beach
15-Wade Brookbank / 11-Brad Winchester / 24-Byron Froese
3-Dylan Olsen / 5-Joe Gleason
2-Adam Clendening / 6-Jared Nightingale
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 9-Bobby Shea
33-Kent Simpson (starter)
Scratches: D-8-Viktor Svedberg (injured)… D-22-Theo Peckham (injured)… RW-36-Maxim Shalunov (injured)… C/W-20-Pat Mullane (healthy)…
Power play I: Winchester-Leblanc-Hayes w/ Dahlbeck & Gleason
Power play II: T.Broadhurst-A.Broadhurst-McNeill w/ Olsen & Clendening
-Later in the game, Nordstrom replaced Leblanc on the one power play unit
PK forwards: Nordstrom-Froese, Danault-Hayes, Danault-Winchester
PK defense: Dahlbeck-Shea, Olsen-Clendening/Nightingale
Lineup notes: Kyle Beach’s first game since was returned to Rockford from his 3-week tryout agreement in Sweden with the HV71 club. Pat Mullane was taken out of the lineup to make room for Beach in this game. Beach was a coach’s decision scratch on Thursday night in Rockford, the first game he was available to play in for the IceHogs…
-This was the first time this season Rockford lost two consecutive games.
-Anthony Bitetto was named the game’s first star and was the standout player in this game. Bitetto, 23, is a New York native who was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft by Nashville. He split last season between a defense-rich Milwaukee team and the Predators’ ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati. The way he looked in this game, the Predators have yet another promising blue liner on their hands. Bitetto has good wheels and carries the puck with a lot of confidence.
-Talking about defenseman exhibiting confidence, aside from that shift late in the third period, there’s no question this is the most poised and confident we’ve seen Dylan Olsen as far as handling and moving the puck. He’s been a regular on the power play this season and perhaps that’s assisted in that area.
-Garret Ross has been a real hit and miss performer for the IceHogs so far. For every one good thing he does (and there have been plenty of impressive moments), he does one or two that make you want to throw your hands in the air.
-Kyle Beach was okay. This was a night Rockford needed more from their bigger bodies like Beach and Jimmy Hayes, but they didn’t get it. Since he doesn’t see the ice when special teams are on, Beach’s ice time in this one was probably around 9-10 minutes.
-Drew Leblanc does not shoot the puck.
-Rockford’s shot leaders in this game were Adam Clendening (6), Mark McNeill (5), Brad Winchester (5) and Klas Dahlbeck (4).
-Kent Simpson made 34 saves in the loss. All five of his appearances so far this year have come on the road. This was his second straight loss, dropping his record to 2-3-0-0 on the season. Simpson’s surrendered 14 goals in his past 4 appearances.