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High On The Hog: Here Come The Bears?

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The Rockford IceHogs had a week of highs and lows against division opponents. The Hogs turned in an impressive performance in Milwaukee before dropping less than stellar efforts at home against Grand Rapids and Lake Erie, the two bottom teams of the AHL’s Midwest Division.

If Rockford is content to do its best work on the road for the time being, this is a good stretch for them. The IceHogs play their next six games away from the BMO, starting Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

The Hogs are now 16-6-2-1 and lead the Midwest Divison with 35 points. That total also puts Rockford in a tie for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Ross Scores ‘Em In Bunches

Garret Ross took over the team lead in goals with his second hat trick of the season Sunday. He now has ten goals, one more than Mark McNeill, who has been out of action nearly a month.

With a goal Thursday in Milwaukee, Ross had four tallies on just six shots in the last three games. Ross also has seven helpers for 17 points, good for second on the team behind T.J. Brennan’s 20 points (5 G, 15 A). He also now leads the team with a plus-15 rating, which is the AHL’s fourth highest such rating.

Ross is a pretty opportunistic scorer who uses his speed to get into high-percentage areas. He also isn’t afraid to go dig out a puck. With McNeill’s return still not a given as Rockford hits the road, Ross and his ability to finish plays has been an important part of the team’s success.

 

Goalies May Take A Hit On The Road

Through 25 games, Rockford goal tenders have a .925 save percentage to go with a 2.15 goals against average. Michael Leighton, who played in all three games in net this week, posted the team’s fourth shutout of the campaign Wednesday in Milwaukee. He will be expected to carry the load with Scott Darling in Chicago for the next few weeks.

The depth in the system in goal is far and away the biggest reason for the terrific start by the IceHogs. Rockford has given up two goals or less in 14 of its 25 contests.

I was a bit surprised that Hogs coach Ted Dent didn’t give Mac Carruth a chance to play Sunday. Carruth shut out Chicago in his only start this season for Rockford November 23, which seems to merit another chance to man the crease. Perhaps he’ll get that chance to spell Leighton a couple of times on the road.

Those shiny goalie numbers may rise a bit over the next few weeks. With Klas Dahlbeck now getting his look in Chicago and Stephen Johns missing from the lineup since taking a hit to the back against Iowa November 26, the Hogs lack their best defensive blue liner and one of their more physical ones.

Rockford has given up four goals just five times this season. Two came in this weekend’s games minus Dahlbeck and Johns. The penalty kill has been more than solid, stopping 12 of 13 opponents chances last week. The PK unit has been great on the road this season as well (stopping opponents at an 89.8 percent rate), so hopefully that can translate to continued success on the defensive end.

Week In Review

Thursday, December 4-Rockford 4, Milwaukee 0

The Hogs just plain dominated their hosts, limiting Milwaukee to just 19 shots on the evening and picking up an impressive Midwest Division victory.

Garret Ross got the scoring started with a shot goalie Magnus Hellberg probably wants back midway through the opening frame. Rockford doubled its advantage in the third minute of the second period. T.J. Brennan zipped a pass to Matt Carey at the right post and Carey one-timed it past Hellberg to make it 2-0 at the 2:42 mark.

The IceHogs killed four penalties, including 25 seconds of 5-on-3 time, over the rest of the period to remain up two goals. Rockford put the game away early in the third when Cody Bass stole a puck and set up Drew LeBlanc. LeBlanc was denied by Hellberg but persistence paid off and he ignited the lamp with 1:08 gone in the period.

The exclamation point was put on by Brennan, who took a pass from Phillip Danault and sent a laser into the Admirals net with 3:49 left.

Lines (Starters in italics)
Garret Ross-Phillip Danault-Pierre-Cedric Labrie
Brandon Mashinter (A)-Dennis Rasmussen-Peter Regin (A)
Matt Carey-Teuvo Teravainen-Ryan Hartman
Ryan Schnell-Drew LeBlanc-Cody Bass (A)

T.J. Brennan-Ville Pokka
Adam Clendening (A)-Viktor Svedberg
Kyle Cumiskey-Zach Miskovic

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Stephen Johns, Dillon Fournier, Jamie Wise, Mark McNeill

Power Play-scoreless on three attempts.
Mashinter-Teravainen-Regin-Brennan-Pokka
Ross-Rasmussen-Carey-Clendening-Cumiskey

Penalty Kill-held Milwaukee without a goal on five tries.
Danault-Bass-Brennan-Pokka
Rasmussen-Hartman-Miskovic-Svedberg

 

Saturday, December 6-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 0

So…this was the Ice Hogs annual Teddy Bear Toss promotion, in which fans bring stuffed animals to throw to the ice surface following the first Rockford goal. Let me reiterate…the FIRST ROCKFORD GOAL. I arrived at the BMO, took my seat and sat my stuffed frog and dog in the empty seat to my left.

Former Hawks bust (it’s more than safe to call him that now as he is playing in Austria last I heard) Kyle Beach had started the animal avalanche the past two seasons. Last year he scored in the opening minute (and wound up with a hat trick in his penultimate Rockford appearance). I sat and waited for the FIRST ROCKFORD GOAL…

By the middle of the third period, my companions had names (Freddie and Bosco for those keeping score) and even they were growing impatient with the Hogs, who tossed up what was really their first real stinker of the season against the visiting Griffins.

The IceHogs offense was like my friend Jimmy at the bar (or anywhere, really). They just couldn’t hook up. They always seemed to be a pass away or one pass too many to beat Jared Coreau, who stopped all 31 shots he faced.

Michael Leighton (who made 29 saves on 32 shots) was nearly as good Saturday as he had been two days prior. He just didn’t have much to work with. Grand Rapids scored on a Kevin Porter put back midway through the first after the veteran stopped the first two shots on his butt.

In the last minute of the first, T.J. Brennan failed to impede the progress of Anthony Mantha at the blue line and Leighton had Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou bearing down on him. The Griffins scored to go up 2-0 going into the intermission.

Mantha scored 6:59 into the middle stanza on a two-man advantage and the score remained 3-0 Grand Rapids until coach Ted Dent pulled Leighton with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the contest. Was he ordered to do so by the promotions department? Probably not, but Dent really had nothing to lose.

Landon Ferraro sealed Rockford’s fate with an empty net goal with 3:14 remaining. This, of course, was the cue for a host of stuffed animals to cascade out of the stands. It took a moment or two for the public address announcer to successfully quell what could have been a Teddy Bear Riot.

I calmed Freddie and Bosco, who became frightened when the beanie babies started flying. I then waited for the game to conclude so I could hurl my donations to sick children (so it was worth waiting for the game to end) over the glass and head to the parking lot.

Lines (Starters in italics)
Garret Ross-Phillip Danault-Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)
Brandon Mashinter (A)-Dennis Rasmussen-Peter Regin (A)
Matt Carey-Teuvo Teravainen-Ryan Hartman
Ryan Schnell-Drew LeBlanc-Cody Bass

T.J. Brennan-Ville Pokka
Adam Clendening-Viktor Svedberg
Kyle Cumiskey-Zach Miskovic

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Stephen Johns, Dillon Fournier, Jamie Wise, Mark McNeill

Power Play-scoreless in five attempts
Mashinter-Teravainen-Regin-Brennan-Pokka
Ross-Rasmussen-Carey-Clendening-Cumiskey

Penalty Kill-Grand Rapids scored on the aforementioned 5-on-3, Hogs stopped the other four chances. The regular gang of forwards (Danault, Labrie, Rasmussen, Hartman) rotated on the kill. Dent sent Clendening and Brennan out together on at least three occasions. Didn’t think we’d see those two killing penalties together.

 

Sunday, December 7-Lake Erie 4, Rockford 3 (OT)

The Hogs closed out the weekend by wasting a Garret Ross hat trick. Rockford picked up a point but dropped its second straight game after the overtime period went to 3-on-3 action.

Ross was in front of the Lake Erie net in the fifth minute when Ville Pokka, who had taken a fine pass from Teuvo Teravainen, came around the goal and attempted to finish a wraparound. The puck rebounded off Calvin Pickard and into the paint, where Ross cued the horn at the 4:59 mark.

Ross made it 2-0 Hogs less than three minutes later when T.J. Brennan took the puck from Phillip Danault and made a sweet feed to Ross coming toward the right post. Ross settled the puck and backhanded one into a wide open net 7:46 into period one.

The second half of the period belonged to the Monsters Paul Carey, who scored twice in the last eight minutes to enter the intermission even with the Hogs. Rockford regained the lead 17:03 into the middle frame, once again off the stick of Ross.

Shortly after a Trevor Cheek goal was disallowed because it was knocked it with a high stick, the IceHogs took advantage. Teravainen set Ross up for a one-timer from the top of the right circle. The shot got the best of Pickard and stuck cord on the far side of the goal.

Once again, the lead didn’t take. The Monsters returned fire just minutes later, getting a back door rebound on the part of Maxim Noreau with just 18 seconds left in the second period. The teams went back and forth through the final 20 minutes of regulation and out came the Zambonis for the dry scrape.

Teravainen, Pokka and Ryan Hartman were among several Hogs who had great looks at the net to no avail. Shortly after the teams went to 3-man hockey, the Monsters generated an odd-man rush that ended with Joey Hishon beating Leighton to end the game.

Lines (Starters in italics)-Ted Dent went with 11 forwards, so the combinations varied throughout the night.
Cody Bass-Dennis Rasmussen-Phillip Danault
Ryan Hartman-Teuvo Teravainen-Peter Regin (A)
Brandon Mashinter (A)-Matt Carey-Garret Ross
Ryan Schnell-Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)

Adam Clendening-Kyle Cumiskey
T.J. Brennan-Ville Pokka
Zach Miskovic-Viktor Stalberg
Dillon Fournier (Fournier played very sparingly in the first two periods and I don’t remember seeing him in the third.)

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Stephen Johns, Drew LeBlanc, Jamie Wise, Mark McNeill

Power Play-scoreless in three attempts.
Labrie-Ross-Teravainen-Carey-Clendening
Mashinter-Hartman-Regin-Brennan-Pokka

Penalty Kill-negated all three Monster power plays.
Regin-Danault-Miskovic-Svedberg
Regin-Bass-Brennan-Pokka
Regin-Labrie-Clendening-Cumiskey

 

Up Next
Rockford goes back up to Milwaukee Wednesday before a pair of games in Lake Erie Friday and Saturday nights.

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