The Rockford IceHogs were atop the AHL’s Central Division going into this weekend’s home and home with the Grand Rapids Griffins. They were coming off an 8-2-1-1 January record and were facing a Griffins team that had dropped five straight. Rockford was recharged following the All-Star break and had the hottest goalie in the league manning the pipes in font of a big home crowd at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
How, then, did that all add up to one of the worst losses in the history of the franchise? Submitted for your approval is a blow-by-blow account of a historic defeat.
(Trust me, readers…you’ll dig this…I think)
February 5, 5:53 p.m.
I park in my regular spot and quickly make my way to the season ticket holder entrance at the BMO Harris Bank Center. I’m hurrying because I left my jacket in the car. I left my jacket in the car for two reasons:
- I always leave my jacket in the car; I hate having one more thing to keep track of at the BMO and it’s a pretty short walk from where I park.
- No jacket speeds up your time at the new checkpoints.
The BMO staff has been conducting security searches for about a month now. On Friday, they posted their new security policy that outlined what they would and would not allow into the building.
Bad news; you still can’t bring in your own food to the game. The BMO continues to prohibit booze or weapons in the arena (which I’m going to file under good news). The difference now is that visitors to the building are going to be checked for these items.
When they posted the policy around 1:00 p.m. Friday, the rule of thumb was that you cannot bring in a bag larger than 12 inches by 12 inches by six inches. After taking a tape measure to my purple drawstring back pack, I deducted that it was outside of those parameters. Which sucks, because now I have to leave that in the car as well and carry my souvenir cup into the game like I’m trolling for spare change.
Folks with coats tend to have to open them up and get frisked. Sans jacket, all I have to do is show security my ticket to prove I deserve to pass through the season ticket entrance.
I quickly surmised that such bags were going to be allowed into the BMO after a quick look around the arena. Sure enough, I checked that same post Saturday and the dimensions had morphed to 17″x 13″x 6″ (ie., the size of the bags the IceHogs have given away on numerous occasions). I’m glad the BMO staff saw the logic in that move.
For the moment, though, I’m sans bag. I’m toting my cup, a program and my white-out giveaway T-shirt to my seat as I prepare to watch warm ups. Gee, I hope it isn’t one of those nights.
(To be clear, it is going to be one of those nights.)
Now in my seat checking out the pre-game skate, I’m chatting with my fellow regulars about the games I missed last week while I was in Peoria. They’re telling me how wonderful it was to sit and watch the 6-0 pasting Rockford delivered to the Wolves the week before. I’m sharing some stories from the Rivermen game I caught that night.
Here’s one I didn’t mention in last week’s post:
I was fortunate enough to be seated around several folks around my age/life experience, so we were talking (as I am wont to do) quite a bit around the action. Mid-game, a guy in front of me showed me a facebook post one of his friends (who apparently sat further up in Carver Arena) had sent him concerning me.
I’m paraphrasing, but the gist was this: the guy sitting behind you in the 28 sweater had better have (Steve) Larmer above it and not (Ben) Smith.
He did. However, I told him to reply with, “He says he was trying to get Ryan Garbutt, only the Hawks traded him.”
Back at the BMO, I begin to notice that despite it being a “Whiteout” evening, there really isn’t a predominance of that particular hue (or lack of hue to be more scientific). My concession was to wear my alternate sweater (cream), as I am lothe to buy a white sweater and have ketchup dropped on it.
The IceHogs are sending Mark Bernard down to award Michael Leighton with the AHL’s Goaltender Of The Month award for January. Leighton went 8-0-2 with a 1.22 goals against average. That enough foreshadowing? He also had three shutouts and a .954 save percentage. There. That should do it.
Grand Rapids had lost five straight coming into this game, so you had to feel good about getting a pair with them at the beginning of February instead of back in December when they were smoking everybody. The Hogs wind up having to kill a Jake Dowell boarding penalty. No fear; Mike Liambas makes a nifty play in the neutral zone to spring himself for a shorthanded attempt.
With Chris DeSousa streaking down the ice with him, Liambas beats Tom McCullom and the IceHogs are off to a 1-0 lead 3:11 into the contest. And we’re off and running!
Or quite possibly…not.
We’re treated to 27 seconds of feel-good when Rockford chases after a puck in the corner of their zone and leaves Mitch Callahan all by himself in front of Leighton. This game is tied at a goal apiece. Still, the euphoria of Liambas’ first goal of the season is coursing through our veins.
I am still not quite certain what it was about his play with Milwaukee the last few seasons that merited a two-way NHL contract from the Blackhawks this year. Since coming back from a foot injury in December, however, Liambas has played his role as an energy guy, penalty killer and pugilist. That goal was a result of his hard work, so kudos.
The Hogs kill their second penalty of the night after Dowell is called for tripping. Soon after, Xavier Ouellet brings the puck into the Rockford zone and pulls up for a slap shot. The attempt fools Leighton and gives the Griffins a 2-1 lead.
Unless the shot glanced off of the stick of Kirill Gotovets, Leighton had a real good look at that attempt and just whiffed on it.
With 11 seconds to go in the opening period, Martin Frk gets to a loose puck and knocks it past Leighton to put Grand Rapids up 3-1. The late goal really sucks the wind out of the building.
Even during the intermission, it seems like Rockford is still in this one. They had countless chances go by the wayside and put together some pretty decent shifts in the first 20 minutes. Chalk it up to a few bad bounces, right…right?
Well, it could be the fact that what was a pretty solid second pairing in Eric Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg is now in Chicago. Svedberg, who played some of his best hockey since coming to Rockford in this past few months, was called up this week and leaves the D a bit thin.
Nick Mattson was called up Thursday, as Kyle Cumiskey apparently isn’t quite ready to resume action with his lower body injury. As he usually does, Mattson skated the warm up then changed into street clothes. Ted Dent went with six defensemen and started Sam Jardine, who has toiled in Indianapolis for the bulk of the season.
You have to wonder if Jardine would have decided to forego his Senior season at Ohio State if he knew he was going to spend most of his first professional season in the ECHL. Signing an AHL contract with Rockford shortly before school began has been a gamble that has not worked out thus far.
Jardine looked a bit lost at times on the third pairing with Nolan Valleau. He certainly hasn’t had much opportunity to show the stuff that impressed the team at prospects camp this summer. Hopefully he gets a chance to turn things around in the coming months.
(Note: Svedberg was assigned to Rockford on Sunday afternoon. I would guess that either Mattson or Jardine will be sent to Indianapolis in the next day or two.)
It turns out that seven d-men would have been a good idea tonight. Gotovets is being sent off the ice after shoving Eric Tangradi into the end boards. Tangradi fell awkwardly after Gotovets made a play on him in the Hogs zone. He went head-first into the plexiglass, making contact with the crown of his helmet.
He’s down on the ice, play is stopped, and the trainers are tending to Tangradi. As things are just a bit too classy for some of the BMO meatheads, a few fans cheer Gotovets as they take him to the box. He isn’t there long, as he is handed a five-minute major as well as a game-misconduct for the play.
(For the record, it wasn’t a dirty play, just something that happens on occasion. I would guess that Gotovets could be subject to a one-game suspension for the transgression. Maybe not, though; Tangradi skated off to the locker room but would return to action.)
Of course, several fans had to yell out “Embellishment!” at the top of their lungs as the trainers help Tangradi up. This was in response to a play in the first period, when Tanner Kero was called for diving (didn’t agree) after being tripped on a potential breakaway attempt.
I just hope those fans would have held their tongues if Tangradi would have been taken off the ice on a neck board (I’m going to believe they would have). After he hit the glass like he did, it was fortunate that Tangradi skated off.
Of course, Grand Rapids scored on the resulting man advantage, with Callahan notching his second goal of the game. 4-1 Griffins.
Tangradi has returned to action just in time to take a stick to the face. Marko Dano earns a double-minor and Grand Rapids chase Leighton from the game with a third-chance tally. Frk flips the puck over the prone Hogs goalie for a 5-1 Griffins lead at 11:03 of the second.
The shot was the 21st seen by Leighton through 31 minutes. That includes at least two he normally handles with no issue. It’s easily his worst start of the season, though there wasn’t much in the way of help. Mac Carruth enters the fray, his first action since being recalled in the way of Mark Visentin’s injury.
Hey, folks! It’s time for the Dental Dimensions Kiss Cam! Maybe we can smooch the Hogs back into contention!
We get the normal parade of couples, uh, coupling on cue until the video board arrives at two couples who happen to be sitting in our section. Are we going to get a pair of kisses on the big screen tonight?
No…instead we get a slightly racier kind of Kiss Cam when the two ladies decide to throw a monkey wrench into the production crew’s plans. Not long after, Tomas Nosek maneuvers around Bryan Bickell and beats Carruth for Grand Rapids goal number six.
At this point, I asked the guy in front of me, “Wasn’t it 6-1 at Pink In The Rink?”. This is referring to the night Dent sent Kyle Beach to take a faceoff, starting the biggest melee in team history against these Griffins back in 2013.
It was actually 6-3. Besides, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of fight left in the IceHogs tonight.
The energy in the building is non-existent, to the tune of a double-fail at the air guitar game. Both contestants strum along pleasantly to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” before no winner is declared.
The host has the house cue up “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) before playing puppet master for one of the contestants (it’s his birthday). He manages to get a pulse from the birthday boy before telling the loser “Man, you suck.”
(In the defense of the people who have to rock out with the inflatable axes, a good strategy would be to play hard rock songs that actually have guitar solos in them. Then, play that solo so they have something with which to pantomime.)
The second period mercifully ends. The only thing preventing me from walking out of the BMO right now is the sweater raffle, which unlike the rest of my section I have never won. The single chance I have to win Valleau’s sweater keeps me in my seat for the time being.
At least one person is going home happy tonight; the guy who picked up 500 bucks on the chuck-a-puck when his toss winds up in the 12-inch dot at center ice.
I don’t ever recall seeing anyone actually win the big prize, and it appeared that there may have been a minuscule part of the puck outside of the circle. Possibly believing that a riot might ensure if they gypped the guy on a night the Hogs were down five goals, the winning toss is upheld. Best call all night.
At intermission, someone posted on the season ticket holder Facebook page that a five-goal lead is the hardest lead to maintain in hockey. In this case, that’s true; Jeff Hogan takes a stretch pass and beats Carruth five minutes into the final frame.
I have reached the end of my rope. Handing my raffle ticket to the gentleman in front of me (dude wins all the time so I figure it’s in good hands), I begin my ascent up the steps and prepare to depart for the evening.
I turn for one last look at the carnage below and am heartened to see some scuffling prior to the center ice faceoff. I stand in the entryway, not wanting to miss what could be a late outburst of testosterone. P.C. Labrie is instead ushered to the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct and the game continues.
As I walk down the steps to the entrance, Callahan completes his hat trick, making it 8-1 Grand Rapids. Tangradi exacts his vengeance for the beatings he took with a power play goal (the Griffins fourth of the night) for the seventh insurance goal of the evening. By that time, though, I am east-bound and down on Route 20.
This 9-1 loss is the worst-ever home loss for the IceHogs as the Hawks affiliate, as well as the biggest margin of defeat in the history of the AHL franchise in Rockford. The AHL Hogs had lost by seven goals on a number of occasions, most notably the 7-0 game they dropped in Stockton early this season.
In the AHL era, Rockford had been bested by five goals at home six times. Three of those whippings came at the hands of the AHL incarnation of the Rivermen. Going back to the UHL IceHogs, the BMO (excuse me, Metro Centre) crowd witnessed a 9-0 shellacking courtesy of the Quad City Mallards. In the inaugural 1999-2000 campaign, the Hogs went to Flint and lost 10-0 to the Generals.
Friday, the Griffins were given ten power play chances, converting on four. Poor Garret Ross was a minus-four on the night. Carruth was worse than Leighton, stopping just seven of the 11 shots he saw (though, like Leighton, he didn’t have’t much help).
There Was Another Game This Weekend. They Lost That One, Too.
Saturday, February 6-Grand Rapids 4, Rockford 3 (OT)
The Hogs battled hard in this one, coming back from a goal down three times, but could muster only a point as the Griffins completed the weekend sweep.
Martin Frk converted on a power play chance for Grand Rapids 3:36 into the game. His bullet from the slot beat Michael Leighton to the top left corner of the net and gave the Griffins a 1-0 advantage.
At the 8:15 mark, Nick Mattson picked up his first point with the IceHogs when his shot rebounded off of Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau. Mark McNeill was on hand to put back the loose puck to make it a 1-1 score. Two minutes later, Frk collected a turnover in front of the Rockford net and put the Griffins up 2-1.
In the ninth minute of the second period, Chris DeSousa led an odd-man rush into the Grand Rapids zone. His shot was knocked away by Coreau but Tanner Kero was there to deposit the puck into the piggy bank. At 8:13, it was 2-2.
That tie lasted 47 seconds, when Kero mishandled a pass from Sam Jardine in front of Leighton. Tyler Bertuzzi pounced on the turnover and made it 3-2 Griffins at the nine minute mark.
A Bertuzzi high-sticking penalty was the impetus for another equalizer for Rockford. Late in the resulting power play, Marko Dano got a piece of Ville Pokka’s blast from the point. The light went on and the Hogs had tied the score at three goals 13:59 into the second stanza.
Neither team could get a puck past Leighton or Coreau in the final 26 minutes of regulation. In Gus Macker Time, however, Leighton was bombarded with three shots in the opening minute of action. He stopped the first two before Tomas Nosek found the net to put an end to the contest.
Kyle Baun returned to the lineup after missing 31 games with a laceration of his arm. He nearly got his first goal of the season but his breakaway attempt was foiled by Coreau in the first period.
Lines (Starters in italics)
Mike Liambas-Chris DeSousa-Ryan Hartman
Garret Ross-Jake Dowell (C)-Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)
Bryan Bickell-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza
Kyle Baun-Mark McNeill-Marko Dano
Dennis Robertson-Ville Pokka
Cameron Schilling-Nick Mattson
Sam Jardine-Kirill Gotovets
Scratches-Nolan Valleau, Kyle Cumiskey, Dane Walters, Mark Visentin, Ryan Haggerty
Power Play (1-6)
Penalty Kill (Griffins were 1-5)
Rockford has until Friday to get the bad taste of the last two games out of its mouth. That’s when the Hogs travel to Milwaukee for a big game with the Admirals. Sunday afternoon, Rockford comes back to the BMO and tries to figure out the Griffins, who visit on Valentine’s Day.
Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts and game updates throughout the season.