Rockford, Ill. – Despite a shootout loss to the Iowa Wild (11-26-2-3), the Rockford IceHogs (24-10-2-4) matched their best-ever winning percentage (.675) at the 40-game mark in franchise history by picking up the extra point in a 4-3 defeat.
The Wild never held a lead, but emerged victorious thanks to a third period tally from Gustav Olofsson and a shootout marker from Michael Keranen. The IceHogs finally dropped a game in which they led entering the third period. The team had previously gone 20-0-0-0 when leading after two.
While on the power play, the Wild tied the game for the third time at 7:35 of the final period. Olofsson jumped on a loose puck in front and saw his deflected shot float high over the shoulder of Michael Leighton and in.
Each team nearly finished the other off in regulation. Iowa picked up another man advantage that saw Keranen hit the left goalpost as time ran down. Rockford almost earned a goal of their own with just over a minute to play, but a down-and-out Leland Irving managed to sprawl in front of Hartman and block away his backhand to force overtime.
Jake Dowell appeared to have beaten Irving with under 30 seconds to play in the overtime period, but the Wild goaltender managed to keep the low shot from crossing the goal line while falling into his own net.
Leighton provided his team with two chances to win in the skills competition, stopping Wild shooters in the third and fourth rounds before surrendering the game-winning shootout goal to Keranen in the fifth.
Rockford got on the board first at 6:47 of the opening frame courtesy of a lethal passing play by the starting forwards. Stationed in the corner, Ryan Hartman whipped a pass behind the net to Marko Dano, who returned a feed to Mark McNeill in front of the net. The pass caught Irving sliding the wrong direction, and McNeill buried his eighth of the season with ease.
Colton Beck answered for the Wild at 12:21 of the first by bursting through the IceHogs defense, sliding the puck to his backhand, and beating Mark Visentin along the ice to tie the contest at a goal apiece.
A high-sticking penalty to Brett Bulmer only six seconds later drew a four minute power play for Rockford. Late in the man advantage, Tanner Kero burst out of his own end before finding Vince Hinostroza along the right wing. Hinostroza tucked the puck back across the middle to Kero, who slammed it home to regain the lead at 15:10.
The IceHogs were forced to substitute Leighton for Visentin only 16:49 into the game when the starting goaltender fell awkwardly trying to make the save and retired to the dressing room.
The see-saw battle continued when Iowa equalized again at 6:01 of the second period. After the Wild won the a draw in the offensive zone, Maxime Fortunus went point-to-point to his defensive partner in Olofsson, who found Rob Bordson at the top of the right circle. Bordson settled the bouncing puck and ripped a wrister over the glove and shoulder of Leighton to tie the contest at two apiece.
Rockford had two chances to reclaim the one-goal lead with just over eight minutes to go in the middle stanza. Ville Pokka appeared to score his seventh goal of the season, but the officials waved off the tally due to goaltender interference. McNeill found Schilling at the point seconds later, but his try landed just wide of the open cage before being sticked away by a diving Irving.
The attack broke through once more with 1:07 to play in the second. After Hinostroza forced a turnover to defenseman Mike Reilly in the Wild zone, Kero hopped on the loose puck and tipped it down the middle to a streaking Bryan Bickell. Instead of shooting, Bickell held on for an extra moment, allowing Hinostroza to emerge on the backdoor and tap in the third goal of the evening for Rockford. The goal extended Hinostroza’s goal streak to three consecutive games.
Irving stopped 34 shots in regulation and overtime before denying four-of-five Rockford shooters. Leighton made 22 saves in relief while allowing two goals in the shootout.
Next Home Game: Saturday, Jan. 23 versus Iowa Wild at 7 p.m. Rockford plays host to Iowa for the second consecutive night. After the game, fans are invited to come down to center ice to take their chance at scoring a goal in the Papa John’s Pizza Shootout. Any fan that gets the puck in to the net from center ice will win a free pizza, while all participants will receive a prize compliments of Papa John’s.