Photo by Steve Woltmann
Chicago, Ill. – Despite a 3-2 overtime loss to the Chicago Wolves on Saturday, the Rockford IceHogs head into the All-Star break atop the Central Division after capping off their best month of the season.
Entering the third period of a tie game, Rockford killed off a penalty before Ryan Hartman gave the IceHogs a 2-1 lead. Mark McNeill worked a puck around for Marko Dano to fire a slapshot on net. Wolves goalie Pheonix Copley kicked the shot aside but Hartman swept in the rebound at 9:45 of the third. The goal marked the ninth-straight game that McNeill earned a point (4g-6a).
Chicago eventually got the goal back force overtime. Eriah Hayes centered a pass from behind the net that found a crowd in front of the cage. Zach O’Brien dug the puck out and backhanded it over the shoulder of Michael Leighton to even the score at 2-2.
Rockford nearly emerged with a regulation win when Tanner Kero pulled a puck from a huge scramble in front of the Wolves net in the waning seconds of the game.
In the extra session, Ty Rattie sprung Andre Benoit on an odd-man rush and the defenseman fired his fifth goal of the season past Leighton at 1:02 to give Chicago the extra point.
Rockford goes into the All-Star break atop the Central Division having earned points in 10 of their last 11 contests (8-1-1-1). Leighton also finished off a spectacular month in which he didn’t lose in regulation (8-0-2) while sporting a 1.22 goals against average and .954 save percentage.
A night after getting shutout by Leighton and the IceHogs, Chicago wasted little time in breaking through. After the Hogs nearly struck first on an odd-man rush led by Kero and Vince Hinostroza, the Wolves quickly countered. Rattie sent Ivan Barbashev the other way and he rifled a shot top-shelf over the glove of Leighton and to the back of the net just 45 seconds into the game.
Hinostroza nearly jump started Rockford’s offense again as he found himself on another breakaway, this time with Bryan Bickell. Chicago’s defense raced back and forced Hinostroza to take a shot that Pheonix Copley was able to turn aside and keep the IceHogs off the board.
With under a minute left in the opening period the IceHogs once again upped their pressure looking for the equalizer. Hartman carried the puck in the Wolves zone patiently waiting before dishing a pass for McNeill, but his one-timer missed just wide of the cage.
Finally, the persistence paid off for the line combination of Bickell, Hinostroza, and Kero as they knotted the score at 1-1 at 8:38 of the second period. Hinostroza sent Kero into the Wolves zone and he snapped a shot from a sharp angle that beat Copley. The helper gave Hinostroza points in three-straight games and the rookie pivot shows 10 points (6g-4a) over his last seven outings.
Rockford finished 1-for-2 on the power play while holding the Wolves off the board on all four of their opportunities with the man-advantage.
Next Home Game: Friday, Feb. 5 vs. Grand Rapids Griffins at 7 p.m. The IceHogs return from the AHL All Star break with the first game in a home-and-home weekend series against the Griffins. It's "White Out" night at the BMO Harris Bank Center as fans are encouraged to wear white while the first 2,500 fans through the doors will receive a white IceHogs t-shirt courtesy of Toyota.