Rockford, Ill. - Michael Leighton earned his 43rd career AHL shutout as the IceHogs blanked their opponent for the second consecutive year on Pink at the Rink Night in front of a crowd of 5,846 at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
The win gave the IceHogs a 23-10-2-3 mark through the halfway mark of the season, and they currently lead the Central Division with a .671 winning percentage.
Rockford opened the scoring at 13:38 of the opening period when Garret Ross and Vince Hinostroza combined on a two-on-one rush. Ross floated a saucer pass into the path of his linemate, who deked to his backhand before sliding the puck past the left leg of Heat goaltender Kevin Poulin for his fifth of the season.
Daniel Paille put together several quality scoring chances in the first, including a shorthanded breakaway with five minutes to play that Poulin turned away with his pads.
Leighton preserved the one-goal lead heading into the intermission by blockering away a bid by Turner Elson with under ten seconds to play.
Paille continued his inspired performance in the second, ringing another shorthanded effort off the post only a minute into the middle stanza. Marko Dano nearly made the score 2-0 three minutes later when Hinostroza dropped a pass between the circles on an odd-man rush, but Dano’s stick snapped on the one-time attempt.
Ryan Haggerty similarly threatened to double the one-goal lead with five minutes to play in the second, charging down the right wing only to see his forehand tuck attempt kicked away by a sprawling Poulin.
Rockford killed off two of their four penalties in the third period, as Viktor Svedberg found himself in the box twice in the first 10 minutes. The IceHogs continued the attack upon killing the second penalty, as Paille found himself sprung again 12 minutes in. Jakub Nakladal took a holding penalty in an attempt to deny the goal, and Paille's wrister caught the arm of Poulin before going wide.
Rockford sought desperately for an insurance goal in the final three minutes. Hinostroza found Tanner Kero on top of the crease from behind the goal, but Poulin swallowed the tip chance at 2:19. Poulin robbed Haggery with a windmill glove save on a one-time blast just nine seconds later.
The IceHogs determined pressure broke through on the ensuing faceoff. Mark McNeill won the draw back to Pierre-Cedric Labrie, who buried his team-leading 12th goal of the season to finally give the home squad some breathing room with just 2:08 to play.
Ville Pokka capped the scoring at 19:09, flipping a puck from his own end into the Stockton zone, where it trickled into the empty net.
Leighton turned aside all 29 Heat shots in the victory while Poulin stopped 26 in a losing effort.
Next Home Game: Monday, Jan. 18th vs. Lake Erie Monsters at 1 p.m. This is the second meeting between the two clubs this season, as Rockford beat the Monsters on Stanley Cup Night 3-1. The first 1,500 fans 14-and-under will take home a drawstring bag courtesy of Pepsi. It’s also another “Winning Weekday.” Every time the IceHogs win at home on a weekday, each fan in attendance will get a free ticket to the next weekday game. Fans can also enjoy $2 beers, sodas, hot dogs, and companion tickets.