Rockford, Ill.- In front of a packed BMO Harris Bank Center, the Rockford IceHogs came from behind to defeat the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-2 in a Valentine’s Day showdown.
Martin Frk got the scoring started on the third shot of the night for Grand Rapids at 6:21 in the first period. The forward collected a pass from Nathan Paetsch, slapping it from the right wing side over Michael Leighton to notch his sixth goal against Rockford this season.
Five minutes later at 11:21, the Griffins struck again to double their lead. The initial shot from Mark Zengerle took a bad hop off a skate, and the rebound found the stick of Tomas Nosek, who tapped it in past Leighton’s opposite side.
Despite the sloppy opening, Rockford held Grand Rapids in check for the remainder of the night, rallying with four goals of their own.
The IceHogs took control of a two-man advantage, scoring a power-play goal a minute in to Louis-Marc Aubry’s sentence for cross-checking. Fielding a pass from defenseman Nick Mattson, Bryan Bickell rifled a hard one-timer from the right side near the blue line. The puck drove through the defenders and above Jared Coreau’s right shoulder to cut the Griffins lead in half, ultimately finishing the first period with a score of 2-1.
Halfway through the middle frame, Rockford upped the ante by putting heavy pressure on Coreau. Jake Dowell teamed up with Ryan Haggerty and Ville Pokka on two separate occasions to create opportunities to score. Although the trio was unable to produce a goal of their own, the efforts created enough momentum to get the IceHogs firing on all cylinders.
Moments later, the IceHogs consistent offensive efforts finally paid off. With Griffins defenders and IceHogs forwards scrambling in the crease, Ryan Hartman won the battle for the home team when he poked the puck in to a pocket to tie the game at two apiece halfway through the contest.
Eric Tangradi had a chance to pull the Griffins ahead once more, breaking away from the pack with a minute and half left in the second period. As he maneuvered the puck in an attempt to throw off Leighton, he lost control right before reaching the top of the crease to end any threat.
Coming in to the final period of regulation tied at two goals each, the IceHogs took the 3-2 lead five minutes in to the frame. Bickell scored his second goal of the night, redirecting a slapper from Pokka at the blue line. Kyle Baun notched his first professional point by providing the secondary assist on the eventual game-winning goal.
Rockford increased the score to 4-2 at 9:15 of the third period. Pokka took a shot from the right wing which was quickly gathered by Coreau, but remained loose enough to start a battle in front of the net. Mark McNeill found the loose puck and tapped it in to extend his goal streak to three games.
Leighton earned the victory, stopping 25 of 27 shots. Meanwhile, Coreau blocked 32 of 36 pucks that came his way.
Next Home Game: Wednesday, Feb. 17 vs. Manitoba Moose at 10:30 a.m. The IceHogs welcome the Moose to the BMO Harris Bank Center for the annual “School Day Game” in the first of four meetings on the season. Rockford is 7-8-1-0 all-time versus Manitoba.