Rockford, Ill. - With a playoff-like atmosphere and a sold out crowd at the BMO Harris Bank Center, the Rockford IceHogs (26-16-4-2) fell out of first place in the Midwest Division to the Milwaukee Admirals (27-15-4-2) Saturday night. The IceHogs dropped a wild high-scoring affair, 7-5, to cap off their home-and-home series with the Admirals.
Milwaukee’s Viktor Stalberg played a large role in dropping the IceHogs down the standings as he recorded a hat trick and now shows four goals over the last 48 hours against the IceHogs. The Hogs had been atop the Midwest Division for nearly three months, dating back to a win over the Texas Stars on Nov. 16. The loss slides Milwaukee to the top spot with 60 points and two games in hand on Rockford.
After taking six minor penalties last night, the IceHogs again found themselves in the box just 51 seconds into the contest. For the second consecutive tilt, the Ads made the Hogs pay as Brendan Leipsic fired a shot from the right circle beating Scott Darling 92 ticks into the contest.
A few minutes later, Milwaukee took an infraction penalty of their own but still were able to continue the momentum. Stalberg knocked down an errand Hogs pass near the far blueline and raced towards the Rockford cage all alone before firing a shot to make it 2-0. The marker put an early end to Darling’s night as Michael Leighton entered between the pipes just 4:11 into the contest.
The Hogs finally cashed in with the man advantage just under three minutes later to bring the score back within one. Mark McNeill fired a shot from in between the circles that snuck past Marek Mazanec to net his 14th goal of the season. Matt Carey and Garret Ross each picked up assists on the tally at the 6:54 mark of the first period.
The Hogs were unable to keep the energy from the McNeill goal for long though. Stalberg again found his way around an IceHogs defender and notched his second of the night with 2:58 left in the first 20 minutes of play.
Rockford again brought the score within one to start the middle frame with a shorthanded goal of their own. Phillip Danault pressured the puck behind the Milwaukee cage, poking it loose before pushing the disc off the back of Mazanec and in to make it a 3-2 game.
Again, Stalberg and the Admirals had an answer to extend their lead. With Milwaukee on a power play, Colton Sissons and Viktor Arvidsson fed Stalberg and he lit the lamp to complete the hat trick and bump the lead up to two.
Down a pair of tallies it looked like the IceHogs were about to make cut the lead once again but a bounce off the end boards sprung a Milwaukee attack. Triston Grant notched his sixth of the season from Anthony Bitetto and Ian White making it 5-2 with 11:47 left in regulation.
Rockford wasn’t done however as Jamie Wise brought the game within two goals 9:13 into the third period. Much like Danault’s strike earlier, Wise picked up a loose puck below the goal line and bounced it in off Mazanec.
After a Austin Watson tally for Milwaukee, the Hogs tallied twice more to bring the score back within one late in the game. Ryan Schnell scored his second of the season at 16:42 and Ryan Hartman recorded his eighth of the campaign with 15 seconds left and an extra attacker on.
The Hogs kept the goaltender on the bench in an attempt to gain the equalizer but the Admirals added an empty netter from Ian White to seal the 7-5 victory.
Next Home Game: Saturday, Feb. 14, vs. Oklahoma City Barons: Game begins at 7 p.m. Rockford hosts the Barons for the first time this season in a Valentine’s Day matchup at the BMO. The first 1,500 fans through the gates will also receive a limited edition IceHogs poster.