By Chris Block
Rockford continued its recent hot streak over the weekend in pumping out 13 goals over the 3-in-3 weekend set, all against division foes.
Jeremy Morin led the way, notching 2 goals and 4 helpers to extend his consecutive game point streak to 7 games, matching his career best streak set in February 2013 (2/13/13 – 3/1/13).
In those seven games last season, Morin tallied 3 goals and 7 assists and had a plus-3 rating.
Over his current 7-game point streak, Morin has 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points. He’s also a plus-7 in this stretch to go along with 27 shots (22% shooting).
The IceHogs picked up 5 of a possible 6 points over the weekend. The team extended its streak of consecutive games earning at least one point to seven (6-0-0-1). In that time, Rockford has averaged 4.85 goals per game while allowing 3.00 against.
The only bad news over the weekend is they gifted the visiting Chicago Wolves two points on Friday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
Rockford was trying to hold onto a 4-3 Valentine’s night lead on Friday when the Chicago Wolves tied the game with 3.5 seconds left in regulation. The ‘Hogs eventually lost the game in an 8-round shootout, with the Wolves earning two big points in the Western Conference playoff race.
Jeremy Morin got Rockford off to a fast start on Friday, scoring his 16th goal of the season on an impressive drive around Wolves’ defenseman Mark Cundari at the 1:27 mark of the opening period. Morin drove hard around Cundari on his backhand in the left circle and cut to the net where he switched to his forehand and beat Jake Allen’s left pad to the far post.
Five minutes later, Morin helped put Rockford up 2-0 when he danced around Wolves’ defender Joel Edmundson in the right circle and dished to a pinching Klas Dahlbeck for the Swedish rearguard’s 9th tally of the season. Dahlbeck made a nice read as Morin was side-stepping Edmundson and Dahlbeck slipped his check as well before easily beating an outstretched Allen at 6:54 of the first.
It was a big night for Morin, who later assisted on a third period Brandon Pirri goal that tied the game at 3-3 early in the third. Mark McNeill put the ‘Hogs ahead at 9:41 of the third when he followed his own shot and beat Jake Allen on the rebound opportunity for McNeill’s 14th goal of the season. That lead stood until Keith Aucoin sent the game to OT. The Wolves shooters bested Rockford’s 4 to 3 in the shootout competition with Alexandre Bolduc picking up the game-decider. Joakim Nordstrom, Brandon Pirri and Terry Broadhurst beat Jake Allen in the shootout. Garret Ross, Brandon Mashinter, Jeremy Morin, Viktor Svedberg and Alex Broadhurst chances were all stopped.
Kent Simpson, who was 32 for 36 against the Wolves over 65 minutes of hockey, was beat by Ty Rattie, Sebastien Wannstrom, Mark Mancari and Bolduc in the shootout.
–Morin’s hot streak continued into Des Moines on Saturday night when he assisted on goals by Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Adam Clendening’s game-winning tally. Morin set the table for Bouchard’s first goal as an IceHog with another strong individual drive to the opposition’s net. With a defender keeping stride, Morin drove past the net, put on the breaks, turned and dished a centering pass out front for Bouchard to chip by Iowa netminder Jonah Gustafsson.
Morin extended his personal point-streak to 6 games in this contest, one game shy of his career best set in February of 2013.
Rockford also received goals by Mark McNeill (15th) and Alex Broadhurst (12th) in route to a 5-3 win over the Iowa Wild. Brad Winchester capped off the night with an empty-netter at the 19:28 mark of the third period. The goal was Winchester’s 15th.
Jason LaBarbera returned to the crease in this game, stopping 33 of 36 Iowa shots.
–Sunday was a 4pm start in a rematch at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
LaBarbera was sharper in this one, turning 32 of 34 Iowa shots away. His counterpart, John Curry, stopped 26 of 29 shots he faced.
Jeremy Morin again got the ‘Hogs going, scoring at 14:53 of the opening period after stick-handling around an Iowa defenseman and beating Curry for his 17th goal on the campaign. Bouchard and Dahlbeck assisted.
Brandon Pirri gave Rockford a two-goal bulge less than four minutes later when Mashinter fed him after Garret Ross did some nice work to gain possession deep in the Iowa end.
Iowa narrowed the gap with just 12 seconds left on the first period clock when Curt Gogol slipped one by LaBarbera. The second period went scoreless. Midway into the third, Jonathan Blum took advantage of a Rockford penalty after Phillip Danault was cited for roughing Steven Kampfer after a whistle (Kampfer had just tried to throw an open ice hit on Brad Winchester in the Iowa zone but connected just with a glancing elbow).
The IceHogs won the initial draw and cleared but the Wild reset and cruised into Rockford’s zone where they moved the puck around for twenty seconds before Blum wristed his shot from the top of the right circle through traffic and by LaBarbera to tie the game 2-2.
Brandon Pirri regained the lead on a fortunate turn of events at 15:02 with his second goal of the night and 8th AHL goal of the season.
Pirri was battling down behind Curry’s net with Steven Kampfer. Pirri fought the puck away and got it to Pierre-Marc Bouchard directly behind the Iowa net. As Bouchard was skating the puck out to Curry’s left, Pirri screamed to Bouchard after realizing that Kampfer had taken a spill along the boards (Pirri either tripped him or Kampfer lost his footing in the scramble). Bouchard sent a no-look backhand pass back to Pirri, who went unchallenged to the post to Curry’s right and slammed it home to give the ‘Hogs a 3-2 lead with 4:58 remaining in the third.
Victory was later sealed when Brandon Mashinter sunk an empty-net try for his 9th goal of the season at the 19:34 mark to send the IceHogs back to Rockford with their third-straight road win.
Rockford is now 26-21-4-3 on the season.
It’s the second time this season they’ve been 5 games over the .500 mark. The IceHogs ascended to a 7-2-1-0 after an October 27th win over the Texas Stars at the BMO. Rockford lost their next game and hadn’t been more than four wins over .500 since.
–Brad Mills (broken foot) returned to action on Friday night for the first time since breaking a bone while he was up with the Blackhawks in late October.
The original plan was for Mills to only suit up for 2 of the 3 games on the weekend. However, Mills was feeling soreness after Friday’s contest and as a precaution sat out the games in Iowa.
–Viktor Svedberg suffered an apparent upper body injury during the second period of Friday night’s game in Rockford. He continued to play but missed the games Saturday and Sunday in Des Moines. At this point, the injury is not expected to keep him out of action too long.
–Pierre-Marc Bouchard has played in 4 games for the IceHogs since the Blackhawks acquired him from the New York Islanders on February 6th along with Peter Regin for a fourth round draft pick.
In those 4 games, Bouchard has 1 goal and 6 assists. He’s posted multi-point games in three of those contests.
–More IceHogs on fire…
Adam Clendening had a 5-game point streak (1g, 7a, +11) snapped on Sunday. That plus-11 over the 5-game streak catapults his plus/minus on the season to a plus-12.
Alex Broadhurst: last 9gp – 5g, 7a, +10 (gets him to even +0 on season)
Brandon Pirri: last 4gp – 4g, 2a, +2, 23sog (17%)
Mark McNeill: last 6gp – 3g, 3a, +4, 15sog (20%)
–Rockford’s lines over the weekend looked like this
96-Pierre-Marc Bouchard / 23-Joakim Nordstrom / 19-Jeremy Morin
26-Garret Ross / 27-Brandon Pirri / 12-Brandon Mashinter
37-Terry Broadhurst / 25-Alex Broadhurst / 28-Mark McNeill
18-Phillip Danault / 14-Drew LeBlanc / 11-Brad Winchester
10-Klas Dahlbeck / 3-Zach Miskovic
22-Theo Peckham / 2-Adam Clendening
7-Brett Skinner / 6-Jared Nightingale
-On Friday, Viktor Svedberg played with Clendening.
-On Friday, Brad Mills was on the fourth line and Winchester was up with Nordstrom and Morin with Pierre-Marc Bouchard unavailable due to travel issues.
–As someone who watches as much or more IceHogs hockey as I do noted to me following Friday night’s shootout loss to Chicago, the IceHogs “can’t make the playoffs with Kent Simpson in net.”
Now, no one expected the IceHogs to ride Simpson this year, so that’s not a total knock on Simpson as a prospect. Goaltenders typically take longer to evolve. Simpson is 21 (he’ll turn 22 on March 26th) and is a first year pro. He can make some incredible saves, but he’s had trouble making some stops goalies are expected to make in key situations.
Simpson has given up 3 goals or more in 15 of his last 17 appearances – all starts.
He’s 7-7-2-1 in that span with an 89.0% save percentage and 3.20 GAA.
The trouble for the IceHogs right now is Jason LaBarbera hasn’t come in and solidified the position as was anticipated he would.
LaBarbera has picked up the victory in 6 of his last 7 starts. Those wins, however, have been heavily aided by the IceHogs recent offensive outburst. Over those seven starts, Rockford has scored 27 goals for an average of 3.86 goals per game. That does not include the ‘Hogs 8-goal explosion versus Iowa at the BMO on Feb 8th, for which Simpson was between the pipes. And LaBarbera’s lone loss over those seven, he surrendered four goals in a 4-1 loss at Rochester.
The Hawks began looking for a goaltender to carry the workload in Rockford after deciding in early December that Antti Raanta would not be returning to the AHL. They eventually settled on LaBarbera, who prior to 2 games with Oklahoma City this season had not seen time in the AHL since 2006-07.
Now 34, the 6-foot-3 British Columbia native stands behind a Rockford defense with average to below average mobility and a mix of players who have proven to be prone to mental errors and unforced turnovers.
In 2 games with Oklahoma City earlier this season (while still a member of the Oilers organization), LaBarbera was 0-1-0-1 for the Barons with a 95.3% save and 1.93 GAA.
Over his last seven starts, LaBarbera is 6-1-0-0 with a 2.96 GAA and 90.0% save percentage. It’s been good enough to get by in what has been the team’s hottest goal scoring stretch of the year. If the IceHogs offense cools off and LaBarbera’s game doesn’t improve, wins will be harder for Rockford to come by.
–Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed Friday night’s game in Rockford vs the Wolves because he got caught in the storm out east. St. Louis Blues’ prospect Adam Cracknell missed Friday’s matchup as well. Cracknell had to catch a train to Chicago due to airline cancellations. Bouchard was back in New York visiting family during the All-Star break. His flight on Thursday, out of Newark, NJ, was cancelled. The airline rebooked him for later in the weekend, but the team was able to get him on a flight direct to Des Moines late on Friday. Bouchard met the IceHogs in Des Moines. The team’s bus arrived at the hotel around 3am. The IceHogs actually beat the Iowa Wild back into the Des Moines by about 45 minutes as the Wild played in Milwaukee on Friday. The bus trip from Rockford to Des Moines is about four and a half hours.
–Former Blackhawk and IceHogs player Jake Dowell missed both games against Rockford this weekend on bereavement leave from the team. Jake is the current captain of the Iowa Wild. Dowell’s father John, who has been battling Huntington’s Disease for twelve years, passed away this past Thursday, February 13, in Menomonie, Minnesota. He was 58 and is survived by his wife Vicki Dowell.
Jake’s brother Luke, who is only a few years older than Jake, is also in the late stages of HD, a progressive disease that destroys brain cells and deteriorates muscle and cognitive function. To date, there is no cure for Huntington’s. Jake Dowell talked about getting himself tested two summer’s ago to see if he is a carrier of the HD gene, but decided against it at the time and signed with the Wild organization. Jake has been putting off getting the blood test until he and his wife were ready to have a child. There is said to be a 50/50 chance that a child can inherit HD gene from a parent carrying the disease.
Dowell, who will turn 29 on March 4th, is now in the second of a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild. This year he’s on a one-way deal that pays him $700,000. After this season concludes, Jake has indicated he will have his blood tested for Huntington’s, a condition that most commonly doesn’t begin to show signs until a person reaches their mid-30’s or 40’s.
–One of the issues with officiating at the AHL level is that the referees here are afraid to NOT call a penalty. The IceHogs suffered from this in Des Moines on Saturday night when Brad Winchester was whistled for goaltender interference at 10:14 of the third period.
Rockford had gone without being whistled for a penalty in the game until that point. Winchester did make contact with Iowa goaltender Jonah Gustafsson, but it was hardly intentional. Winchester was pursuing a dump in when he fell over the top of Wild defenseman Kyle Medvec, who had lost his footing and fallen underneath the IceHogs alternate captain. The two slid into Gustafsson, with Winchester sideswiping the goaltender with his left leg as he was also sliding outside the right post. Referee David Banfield (the one of the two referees closest to the play) decided he was going to send Winchester off to the box for goaltender interference.
The IceHogs were lucky on Saturday, because on the ensuing penalty kill, the four IceHogs killers were stuck in their own zone for the entirety of the two minute Winchester infraction.
At moments, it was a comedy of errors as a couple of the IceHogs clearing attempts hit other teammates. Klas Dahlbeck, Zach Miskovic, Mark McNeill and Joakim Nordstrom found themselves stuck, pinned in their defensive zone unable to clear the puck out for the entire two minutes.
For Rockford’s luck, though, Iowa was conservative and indecisive enough that they didn’t muster more than two good chances during those two minutes and the game stayed tied 3-3.
On the very next shift after that kill, Adam Clendening beat Gustafsson with a bomb from the right point to give Rockford a lead they would not relinquish.
–The lone penalty of the 3rd period in Sunday’s game also went against the IceHogs. It came at 9:43 of the third frame. Rockford was up by a score of 2-1 at the time. Phillip Danault went off for roughing after he confronted Iowa defenseman Steven Kampfer for throwing a bit of an elbow at Brad Winchester in open ice. Kampfer had tried to line up the forward for a solid collision after Winchester released a shot from the slot in the Wild zone but didn’t connect fully.
Danault wound up behind the net, pushing and shoving against Kampfer and three other Wild players on his own. Despite that, Danault was the only player referee (alone for this game) David Banfield would send to the box.
35 seconds later, Jonathan Blum tied the game.
You may recall Steven Kampfer was the player Shawn Lalonde put out of action last season on a check to the head in a game the IceHogs played against the Houston Aeros in Rockford on Nov 16, 2012. Kampfer missed the next month and a half with a concussion.
–Rockford is now off until Friday when they host the Chicago Wolves again at the BMO. They’ll remain at the BMO on Saturday night to host Milwaukee. The IceHogs will return to Des Moines for their final regular season visit to Iowa on Tuesday Feb 25th.
The IceHogs record versus divisional opponents this season
Chicago: 2-2-0-2 (Six games remaining)
Grand Rapids: 2-5-1-0 (Two games remaining)
Iowa: 4-3-0-1 (Two games remaining)
Milwaukee: 3-3-0-0 (Six games remaining)