Rockford, Ill. – A new season brought a familiar result for the Rockford IceHogs (0-1-0-0), at least against their divisional rivals to the west. The IceHogs fell to the Milwaukee Admirals (2-0-0-0) 3-2 on Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bank Center to open the 2014-15 season.
Milwaukee picked up their sixth-straight victory over the IceHogs dating back to the 2013-14 season, and their third-consecutive in Rockford. The IceHogs last victory over the Admirals came back on Feb. 22 during a 4-1 triumph in Rockford.
In a fast-paced, wide-open affair that was tied at two entering the third period, the Admirals picked up the game-winning goal thanks to a costly turnover behind the Rockford cage. Center Frederick Gaudreau won a puck battle below the goal line and found Joe Pendenza right off of the left post, who beat IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton over the shoulder, giving the visitors the lead which would hold for the rest of the contest.
While Rockford was unable to find the equalizer down the stretch, it was not for a lack of quality chances. The IceHogs, despite a 31-23 edge in shots and an even greater advantage in zone time, could not solve Milwaukee netminder Marek Mazanec late, who picked up his second win of the season thanks to a 29-save effort. Mazanec saved his best stop for last, as he robbed IceHogs forward Garret Ross on the doorstep with under a minute remaining as Rockford was pressing with the extra attacker.
The IceHogs struck first when they tacked an exclamation point on what was a fast-paced opening 20 minutes. Forward Ryan Hartman scored the first goal of the game and the season for the IceHogs at the 18:33 mark of the first period, on a play that started 180 feet from the Milwaukee net.
A diving poke check by Adam Clendening negated a Milwaukee breakaway and sent the IceHogs the other way in transition. Rockford didn’t waste the opportunity, as a driving Hartman found a Matt Carey rebound and knocked it home for the 1-0 lead.
Milwaukee answered the IceHogs late tally in the first period with a quick one of the their own in the opening minute of the second. Mark Van Guilder won an offensive draw clean and set up Austin Watson, who snapped his second of the season past Leighton to tie the game at one.
Tensions began to mount between the two teams in middle frame as contest took on a more physical tone, highlighted by a spirited scrap between Milwaukee’s Triston Grant and the Hogs’ Joakim Nordstrom, who responded to a hit Grant dished to defenseman T.J. Brennan.
The Admirals’ physical play gave them the lead when Van Guilder fought his way to the front of the Rockford net, cashing in on a loose rebound in front of Leighton at 5:59 of the second.
Milwaukee’s lead would last just over 10 minutes before the IceHogs evened things up on Hartman’s second of the contest. The West Dundee, Ill. native fired a seeing-eye shot from the above the right circle which beat Mazanec to the far side.
Leighton takes the loss in his IceHogs debut, stopping 20 of 23. Both goaltenders had to be sharp, as the game’s freewheeling pace resulted in several odd-man opportunities for both sides.
Both squads also came up empty with the extra man, as the IceHogs and Admirals each finished 0-for-5 on the power play. Rockford was able to mount plenty of pressure with the man advantage, but a few timely saves by Mazanek and Milwaukee’s team effort blocking shots kept them off the board.
The IceHogs will look to rebound as they embark on a season-long road trip. Rockford will play their first of four away from the BMO on Thursday, Oct. 16 when they visit Glens Falls, New York to take on the Adirondack Flames. The puck is scheduled to drop at 6 p.m. at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Next Home Game: Saturday, Oct. 25 vs. Chicago Wolves, Puck drop is 7 p.m. The IceHogs will kick off the next installment of the Illinois Lottery Cup when the Wolves visit the BMO Harris Bank Center. The first 5,000 fans through the gate will leave with an IceHogs magnetic schedule courtesy of T6 Broadband.