May 132015

By Chris Block

Returning home for Games 3 through 5 of their best-of-seven series down 2-0 to Grand Rapids, the Rockford IceHogs took to the ice on Wednesday night with an automatic sense of urgency in an almost must-win situation.

The IceHogs exhibited that urgency and desperation before a crowd of just 1,780 at BMO Harris Bank Center in a fiery and physical opening twenty minutes in Game 3.

That dominant first period set the table for an eventual 4-1 IceHogs victory.

Mark McNeill scored his 2nd goal of the postseason just 25 seconds into Grand Rapids’ first power play of the game, a controversial five minute major assessed midway into the first period. The breakaway goal gave the IceHogs a 1-0 lead. Rockford’s penalty kill kept a consistent pressure on the Griffins’ power play throughout the 5 minute kill and prevented the visitor’s from tying the game.

Later, when Rockford got its first chance on the power play, Ryan Hartman banked a pass to himself at the Grand Rapids blue line and strode in alone the same way McNeill had earlier and beat Griffins’ starter Tom McCollum with 1:24 to play in the opening frame. Hartman’s goal would stand as the game-winner.

“We knew this was a must win for us and we came out in the first period and were a desperate hockey team,” said goaltender Michael Leighton, who made 23 saves in Rockford’s 4-1 win in Game 3.

Rockford’s penalty kill got a lot of work in the game, killing off 7 of 8 power plays awarded to the Griffins.

Cody Bass was assessed a 5-minute major for Charging at 11:56 of the first period after checking defenseman Nathan Paetsch hard into the boards in the corner to Tom McCollum’s left. Originally there was no penalty call coming on the play. But after Paetsch was slow to get up and looked like he was in some distress, the officials huddled to discuss the hit. Afterwards, the referees decided to send Bass to the box for five minutes. Paetsch returned minutes later in his typical defense position on the ensuing Griffins’ power play.

25 seconds into that IceHogs’ major penalty kill, Mark McNeill stole a puck after Phil Danault forced an ill-advised pass onto a Griffins’ defenseman.

“It all started with Danault pressuring the one guy at the point,” McNeill said after the game. “[Grand Rapids defenseman] threw it to the middle and I jumped on it.”

McNeill intercepted the puck and raced into the offensive zone. He got behind the Grand Rapids defense and strolled in on McCollum. McNeill faked like he was going to try a backhander, pulled back to his forehand and tucked the puck in behind the Grand Rapids netminder at 12:21 to give Rockford the game’s first lead.

The Hogs first power play came with 2:12 remaining in the first when Anthony Mantha was sent off for tripping.

Rockford’s second attempt to gain the Griffins’ zone quickly developed into a goal and a 2-0 IceHogs lead. Stephen Johns took the puck in his own end and accelerated toward the visitor’s end. Once at the Griffins’ blue line, Johns dished off to Ryan Hartman, who danced around the Griffins’ defense and beat McCollum, this time with a backhander by the goalie’s right stick side. Johns picked up the lone assist on Hartman’s power play marker at 18:36 of the first period.

“It’s something we’ve been running for the past couple months now,” Johns said, recalling the play. “[Hartman] saw an opportunity… he’s a great player. He chipped it to himself and found his opportunity and capitalized on it.”

Rockford led 2-0 after twenty minutes and amazingly led 10-7 in shots despite being short-handed more than seven minutes of the period.

Mark McNeill got called for kneeing at 8:20 of the second.

Off the ensuing draw, Teemu Pulkkinen got the puck and fired it from high over the left circle through some traffic and past Leighton to trim Rockford’s lead to 2-1. The goal was Pulkkinen’s 6th of the series, 12th of the postseason (8th game) and 35th in his past 29 American Hockey League contests overall.

The score remained that way until five minutes into the third when Stephen Johns jumped into the play and snapped a shot by McCollum at 4:50 of the third to give Rockford a 3-1 bulge. The unassisted goal was Johns’ 3rd of the postseason.

Rockford were short-handed once again a half minute after the Johns’ tally when Bass was sent off for running into McCollum after Bass had a scoring chance off a rush down the middle of the zone.

But the IceHogs penalty kill stymied an already flustered Grand Rapids power play unit in the most crucial two minute stretch of the contest, barely allowing the Griffins a sniff at their net.

Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill opted to pull his goalie, with a faceoff in Rockford’s end and down 3-1 with 3:40 to play in regulation.

37 seconds later, Spencer Abbott jumped on a puck just inside the Griffins’ zone along the wall and potted it into the empty Grand Rapids goal to give Rockford the commanding, late 4-1 lead.

“We just got back to playing our game (Wednesday),” said Johns, who was named the game’s 1st star.

“We pride ourselves on being really good on the PK and that came up huge tonight.”

Tom McCollum allowed 3 goals on 26 shots he faced. Michael Leighton was awarded the 3rd star of the game after a couple rough outings the veteran admitted to having in the two losses at Grand Rapids last week.

“I felt I let in the first goal in both games, I really felt I should have had. It put us in a bad situation,” Leighton said in speaking about the losses in games 1 and 2 after his 23 save victory on Wednesday night.

“You got to eliminate soft goals and give your team a chance to win. Tonight, no softies went in and we were taking it to them.”

It’s a quick turnaround for both teams. Game 4 comes Thursday night at the BMO at 7pm.

“I think we have the momentum right now after winning that game,” Mark McNeill said. “We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves, we’re staying positive.”

For Game 4, the focus will continue to be staying physical, but the IceHogs know they can’t continue to hand Grand Rapids power play chances time and time again.

“We just can’t do that in the future,” said Johns. “We all know that. But penalties are gonna happen and guys need to step up to kill penalties and guys did a great job tonight doing that.”

Other Notes

Stephen Johns on bringing even more physical play in the series

“I think we can be even more physical. This is the most physical we’ve been all year throughout a whole game. You could tell they were looking over their shoulders a few times, waiting for the big hit.”

Michael Leighton on bad ice in Grand Rapids and effect it had on the games there.

“The ice was a lot better (here). The ice was really slow and choppy (in Grand Rapids) and pucks were bouncing everywhere. We had good ice tonight.”


“It’s a completely new series. We got two more at home and anything can happen. We’re just looking forward to another good battle tomorrow night. But we can’t be too high after this win, just like we’ve been saying all year.”

Ted Dent on penalty calls

“I thought probably 3 or 4 of them were questionable calls. But our penalty killers did a great job and got it done.”

–Dent on Bass 5-minute Charging major

“Linesman have the ability here to call major penalties. The referee was standing right there but he didn’t make the call. That’s when linesmen get too involved, in my opinion at times and make calls that might be there (or) might not be there.”


–Ted Dent’s lines, pairs, scratches & specials for Game 3 in Rockford 5/13/15

Forwards [LW-C-RW]

26-Garret Ross / 18-Phillip Danault / 28-Mark McNeill

53-Brandon Mashinter / 11-Peter Regin / 13-Spencer Abbott

25-Alex Broadhurst / 16-Cody Bass / 24-Ryan Hartman

27-Matt Carey / 12-Dennis Rasmussen / 22-P-C Labrie


8-Viktor Svedberg / 4-Stephen Johns

2-Kirill Gotovets / 29-Ville Pokka

7-Robin Norell / 5-Keith Seabrook


49-Michael Leighton

35-Mac Carruth (backup)

X-No emergency 3rd goalie

Primary Scratches: D-3-Zach Miskovic… D-10-Calle Dahlstrom… LW-27-Matt Carey… RW-19-Dane Walters… C-32-Tanner Kero… D-36-Robin Press…

Other Scratches: D-34-Justin Holl… C-14-Drew LeBlanc… C-17-Vince Hinostroza… C-20-Jamie Wise…

Injuries: D-6-Trevor van Riemsdyk (right wrist surgery, est. return June 2nd {8 weeks})… D-9-Dillon Fournier (finger)… LW-38-Ryan Schnell (hand surgery)…

Special Teams

Power play I:  Hartman-Regin-Broadhurst w/ Abbott & Johns
Power play II:  Mashinter-Rasmussen-Ross w/ McNeill & Pokka

PK forwards: Danault-McNeill, Bass-Rasmussen, Regin-Abbott, Labrie
PK defense: Svedberg-Johns, Gotovets-Pokka

Lineup notes:

Robin Norell made his North American pro debut in the game.

-Norell becomes the 2nd player in franchise history to make his IceHogs’ debut in the Calder Cup playoffs. The first was Ben Smith in 2010 against Texas.


–Grand Rapids’ Griffins lineup May 13, 2015, Game 3, WCSF Calder Cup Playoffs

Forwards [LW-C-RW]

10-Jeff Hoggan / 19-Tomas Nosek / 6-Teemu Pulkkinen

39-Tyler Bertuzzi / 21-Andy Miele / 9-Mark Zengerle

8-Anthony Mantha / 23-Andreas Athanasiou / 12-Kevin Porter

13-Marek Tvrdon / 22-Louis-Marc Aubry / 32-Alden Hirschfeld


4-Nathan Paetsch / 3-Alexey Marchenko

18-Brian Lashoff / 14-Nick Jensen

44-Brennan Evans / 16-Xavier Ouellet


30-Tom McCollum

31-Jared Coreau (backup)

35-Jake Paterson (scratched)

Scratches: D-7-Ryan Sproul… LW-17-Colin Campbell… RW-55-Chris Bruton… D-5-Joe Hicketts… RW-11-Zach Nastasiuk… C-20-Dominic Turgeon…

Injuries: RW-15-Mitch Callahan (season-ending ACL surgery right knee)…

Special Teams

Power play I:  Hoggan-Miele-Zengerle w/ Paetsch & Pulkkinen
Power play II:  Athanasiou-Nosek-Tvrdon w/ Ouellet & Marchenko

*Later in the game, Jeff Blashill mixed up his power play units, going with 5 forwards on one unit.

Hoggan-Miele-Zengerle w/ Tvrdon & Pulkkinen
Mantha-Nosek-Porter w/ Ouellet & Marchenko

PK forwards: Nosek-Aubry, Athanasiou-Porter
PK defense: Lashoff-Jensen, Paetsch-Marchenko


2015 Calder Cup Western Conference Semifinals Series

Grand Rapids Griffins (#2) vs. Rockford IceHogs (#4)

Game 1: Wed May 6 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids [GR Win 5-3]
Game 2: Fri May 8 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids [GR Win 5-1]
Game 3: Wed May 13 – 7pm – BMO Harris Bank Center
Game 4: Thu May 14 – 7pm – BMO Harris Bank Center
Game 5: Sun May 17 – 4pm – BMO Harris Bank Center

Game 6: Tue May 19 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids
Game 7: Wed May 20 – 6pm – @ Grand Rapids

-All Times Central
–For those with tickets to the games in Rockford, Game 3 is “Game D”, Game 4 (E) and Game 5 (F).

Tickets for Games 3-5 are available through TicketMaster or the BMO Harris Bank Center Box Office at 815-968-5222.

If you live in the Rockford region, games are televised on digital channel 23.2 Antenna TV. That’s channel 436 on Comcast in the Rockford area only. 247 on Comcast in Rochelle; 101 on Mediacom Cable; 193 for Charter Communications.


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