DES MOINES, Iowa – Lance Bouma redirected Chris DiDomenico’s centering pass into the back of the net with just under five minutes remaining in the game to push the Rockford IceHogs to a 5-3 victory over the Iowa Wild at Wells Fargo Arena Tuesday night. Rockford clinched a berth into the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs with its victory, marking the third time in the last four campaigns the team has earned trips to the postseason.
First-year Head Coach Jeremy Colliton praised his team’s steady performance through the last several contests, as they rallied from a sixth-place ranking in the Central Division to notch points in 16 of the last 19 games and force their way into the playoff picture.
“I’m proud of the group we have. They’ve played hard, especially in the last stretch…the second half (of the season), really and been quite consistent,” Colliton said. “We’ve been able to find ways to get results regardless of circumstances, so I’m really proud of the work these guys have put in.”
With the score knotted at two just past the 15-minute mark of the final frame, DiDomenico carried the puck down the wing and wired a hard pass to Bouma at the edge of the crease. Bouma converted the pass into a simple deflection past netminder Niklas Svedberg to seal Rockford’s comeback victory and clinch the IceHogs' spot in the playoffs.
But even though clinching is cause for some celebration, Colliton kept the win in perspective as the team primes for a potential run in the postseason.
“I don’t feel like we should throw a parade or anything – We want to be in (the playoffs), we’ve got a team that should be in. It’s nice to have (clinching) out of the way, but when I looked at this game, I didn’t put any big importance on it as far as saying 'we have to get a point, we have to clinch now.' It was more about using this week to prepare because we’re going to be in,” he said.
The IceHogs went ahead early in the contest when Henrik Samuelsson nabbed his ninth tally of the season, deflecting Gustav Forsling’s shot-pass into the net 3:16 into the affair, but Iowa responded with a pair of markers from Gerry Fitzgerald and Kyle Rau to head into the break with a 2-1 advantage.
In the middle frame, though, Rockford regained its advantage with goals from Anthony Louis and Cody Franson in quick succession. Louis entered the zone on a 2-on-1 with David Kampf and ripped a shot past Svedberg to level the score 4:22 into the period, and Franson blasted a one-timer home just over four minutes later.
The Wild again tied the game early in the final stanza with Rau's second lamplighter on the night, but Bouma’s late strike coupled with an empty-net sealer from Franson put Rockford’s victory on ice. Collin Delia stopped 20 of 23 shots in the IceHogs’ cage, while Svedberg turned aside 21 of 25 pucks for Iowa.
Now, as the IceHogs close out the regular season with a weekend doubleheader against a potential playoff opponent in the Chicago Wolves, Colliton has some personnel choices to make. But Rockford’s bench boss says there’s still plenty to play for through game 76.
“(Resting players) is an option we have. We could also potentially be playing for the division, so that’s something we have to consider. Home ice advantage would be nice, and if we don’t get home ice, it certainly won’t stop us from winning the series,” he said.
“The big thing for me is that we want to have the group playing well going in…I don’t think it’s a reset, I think we’ll continue to build.”