ROCKFORD, Ill. -- The notion of playoffs, let alone United Hockey League championship, seemed a pipe dream for the Rockford IceHogs as the 2006-07 season approached the winter holidays. The Hogs stumbled to a record of 12-12-2 through Dec. 22, before launching an improbable comeback and postseason push.
Beginning Dec. 23, Rockford won 36 of its final 50 games (36-9-5) to finish second in the Western Conference and secure a berth in the Colonial Cup Playoffs against longtime rival, the Quad City Mallards.
The red-hot IceHogs entered the postseason seeking to stamp an exclamation point on the all-time series against Quad City. Rockford, which previously announced it was joining the American Hockey League at the conclusion of the season, steamrolled through the opening round of the playoffs to dispatch the Mallards in five games during the teams’ final meeting in the UHL.
The Hogs hammered home their sendoff of Quad City with a combined total of 21 goals (4.1 goals/game) and 98 penalty minutes (19.6 PIM/game) in the five-game series.
Game 1 (April 13 at RFD): Rockford 6, Quad City 2
Forward Preston Mizzi quickly erased his goal-scoring demons from the previous year’s playoffs (no goals in nine games), scoring each of the IceHogs’ first two goals in Game 1. He also registered an assist on the game-winning goal to post a three-point night and help the IceHogs to a 6-2 victory over the Mallards.
Game 2 (April 15 at RFD): Rockford 3, Quad City 1
Mizzi continued his hot streak the following night in Game 2. The winger tallied a point on each of Rockford’s three goals in a 3-1 win at the Rockford MetroCentre, registering a pair of assists before potting an insurance tally late in the third period. Mizzi combined for six points in Game 1 and Game 2 and 10 total points (4g, 6a) in the first-round playoff series.
Jesse Bennefield netted the game-winning goal on a one-timer from Jason Ralph with just 4:32 remaining in the third period.
Game 3 (April 18 at QC): Rockford 1, Quad City 3
Quad City scored a goal in all three periods and goalie Jason Tapp turned away 38 of 39 shots in the Mallards’ 3-1 win against Rockford. The two clubs matched each other through nearly the entire first period, but Sean Starke took the air out of the IceHogs just before intermission when he beat netminder Frederic Cloutier with less than one minute remaining in the opening frame.
Chad Woolard scored for the Mallards midway through the second period and Matt Radoslovic sealed the game for Quad City with a goal 26 seconds into the final stanza.
Nicolas Corbeil scored the lone goal for the Hogs, who finished 0-for-10 on the power play.
Game 4 (April 20 at QC): Rockford 3, Quad City 1
The IceHogs finally cashed in on the man-advantage during a three-goal second period to cruise past the Mallards, 3-1. Rockford went 0 for its first 25 chances on the power play through three-plus games in the series before Corbeil snapped the skid during a 5-on-3 opportunity early in the second period. Benoit Doucet added a second power-play strike for the Hogs just 1:18 later in the frame, and Kevin Ulanski, who was second among Rockford skaters with 26 goals during the regular season, capped the middle stanza with only his second goal thus far in the playoffs.
The IceHogs were ultimately flummoxed by Quad City’s penalty kill throughout the series. The Mallards ranked last in the league on the PK during the 2006-07 regular season but held Rockford to just 2-for-38 (5.26%) on the power play in opening round of the postseason.
Game 5 (April 22 at RFD): Rockford 8, Quad City 4
The IceHogs punched their ticket to the second round of the playoffs with a definitive 8-4 thumping of Quad City in the teams’ final ever meeting in the UHL. Rockford erupted for six unanswered goals through the midway point of the second period, with Corbeil chasing opposing netminder Jason Tapp on his team-leading fifth goal of the postseason.
Hogs goalie Cloutier made 19 saves to improve to 4-1-0 with a .936 save percentage in the first round.
Following the series victory, Rockford enjoyed a well-deserved four-day respite from the postseason schedule before beginning its second-round series with Fort Wayne on April 27. Visit IceHogs.com tomorrow (Wednesday, May 10) for a recap of the Hogs’ second-round series of the Colonial Cup Playoffs.
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