Rockford goaltender moves into second place in AHL history books after 4-0 win in Adirondack
Glens Falls, N.Y. - With their offense scoring four goals, the Rockford IceHogs (39-19-5-2) didn't necessarily need a standout performance from their goaltender to find success on Friday night. They still received one for the record books. Michael Leighton's 41st-career AHL shutout paved the way for a 4-0 IceHogs victory over the Adirondack Flames (31-26-6-2) at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
The 25-save performance moved Leighton into a second-place tie with Gil Mayer (1949-63) on the AHL's all-time shutout list. Picking up his fifth shutout of the season, the 33-year-old Leighton now sits just four shutouts shy of hockey legend Johnny Bower's league record mark of 45, set from 1945-58.
With the win Rockford additionally set a franchise record of their own with their ninth shutout of the season, eclipsing the previous mark of eight set in 2004-05, when the team was a member of the now-defunct United Hockey League.
Leighton's shutout effort was facilitated by a decisive performance by all his teammates in front of him, as the IceHogs controlled play from Friday's outset en route to picking up their sixth-straight victory. Rockford scored in each period to help complete a four-game season sweep of Adirondack; the win was their third victory over the Flames in the last 10 days.
The win keeps the surging IceHogs within a stone's throw away from the top of the Western Conference. Holding 85 points with 11 games left to play, Rockford could finish the night back on top of the Midwest Division, depending on the results of Friday night's matchup between Grand Rapids and Texas. The IceHogs' three-game road trip continues on Saturday with a showdown with the Utica Comets, who sit two points in front in the standings.
In a tight first period, Rockford grabbed the lead that they would not relinquish thanks to center Dennis Rasmussen and a quick transition attack. Right wing Dane Walters forced an Adirondack turnover in the neutral zone, and quickly sent an outlet pass toward defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk at the Rockford line. Baiting a Flames forechecker, van Riemsdyk advanced the puck up the ice to a wheeling Rasmussen, who hit the offensive zone with speed, stepped to the middle and sent a wrist shot through traffic, beating Flames goaltender Brad Thiessen to the blocker side. Rasmussen's 11th goal of the season came at 7:41 of the opening frame, which ended 1-0 in favor of the visitors.
Rockford elevated their play in the second, spending large amounts of time in the Adirondack zone and adding a pair of markers courtesy of Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Spencer Abbott.
After holding the Flames deep in their zone for over a minute, van Riemsdyk fired a shot on net that took a sharp hop off of Thiessen's left pad. Positioned right on top of the goal crease, Labrie popped the puck in the air with one swing of his stick and swatted it into the net with the second. The impressive display of hand-eye coordination doubled the IceHogs lead at 7:09 of the second. With the primary assists on Rockford's first two goals van Riemsdyk logged his first-multi point outing as a professional.
Labrie's goal wasn't the end of Rockford's second-period offense, as Spencer Abbott made it a 3-0 game just under six minutes later. Brandon Mashinter gained the Adirondack zone after receiving a crisp cross-ice feed from Peter Regin. Holding the puck along the left wall, Mashinter looked for a passing lane while evading a defender, then delivered a beautiful behind-the-back pass right to the trailing Abbott. The winger took a step unmarked toward the slot and snapped one inside the left post for his 13th of the season. The ex-Toronto Marlie now has six goals and three assists in nine games since coming to Rockford at the trade deadline.
With the Flames looking for anything that could spark a rally as the third period began, the IceHogs dealt one final blow with a goal just 2:55 into play. In just his third game back after missing the previous 41 with a broken arm, Alex Broadhurst made it 4-0 on a breakaway. Receiving a pinpoint stretch pass from Stephen Johns, Broadhurst walked in alone and fooled Thiessen with a quick move for what was the first goal of the season for Rockford's leading rookie scorer a year ago.
Thiessen finished with 30 saves, finding himself on the losing side against the IceHogs for the fourth time this season.
On the other side Leighton, while never overwhelmed by his opposition, was steady when called upon, as he has done all year for the IceHogs. Leighton was at his best in the second period, when he turned away 14 shots en route to picking up win number 18 on the season.
Special teams were hardly a factor Friday, as Rockford and Adirondack both finished 0-for-1 on the power play. It was only the second game in their last seven in which the IceHogs failed to find a goal with the man advantage.
Saturday's clash with the North Division-leading Comets is schedule for a 6 p.m. start from the Utica Memorial Auditorium. It will be the second and final time Rockford and Utica cross paths during the regular season, with the IceHogs taking game one in a 3-0 shootout win at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Jan. 24.
Next Home Game: Friday, April 3 vs. Grand Rapid Griffins: Face-off is at 7 p.m. It’s Golf Rockford Night at the BMO as the first 1,500 fans into the building will receive an IceHogs “Jeff Cap” thanks to Bud Light. Doors will open at 5:15 p.m. for fans 21 and older to enjoy another Blue Flame Lounge pre-game party with live music courtesy of Dan Phelps.