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High On The Hog: In The Pink

The Rockford IceHogs donned pink sweaters for breast cancer awareness Saturday night. The Blackhawks AHL affiliate also continued to be in the pink in terms of their position in the Western Conference standings.

With two wins in three home games this week, the Hogs regained the top spot in the Central Division as well as the conference. Those wins came courtesy of goalie Michael Leighton, who is also approaching a long-standing AHL record.

Leighton defeated Chicago Tuesday night, making 24 stops as the IceHogs won 5-2. Saturday, the veteran was back in net and blanked Stockton, stopping all 23 shots fired his way.

It was Leighton’s second shutout of the season and gives him 43 in 423 career AHL games. That puts him just two shutouts behind the all-time league record of 45, set by Johnny Bower from 1945-1958.

Also worth noting is that Saturday’s victory was number 19 on the season and the 212th of Leighton’s AHL career. That is second only to Charlotte’s Drew MacIntyre (221) among active goalies in that category.

In his 15th year of professional hockey, Leighton has 105 games in NHL nets and has seen his highs and lows, most notably his playoff run with the Flyers in 2009-10. There is no denying, however, that Leighton has been a very good AHL goalie.

In parts of eleven seasons in the AHL, Leighton has a career goals against average of 2.32 with a .919 save percentage. He’s posting even better numbers so far this season; a 2.23 GAA and a .927 save percentage to go with his 19-4-1-2 record.

 

Pink In The Rink A Donnybrook-less Affair

For the third consecutive season, the IceHogs managed to avoid a massive brawl at their annual Pink In The Rink Night. Of course, back in 2013 Rockford and Grand Rapids piled up 230 penalty minutes and 13 ejections whilst the Hogs donned the pink sweaters.

The following year, the ice crew had to scrape the pink off the rink during the first intermission because the ice surface was deemed unsafe because of the pink dye. This took well over an hour to do and made for a late night for the kiddies.

This year, the rink was pink for both weekend games…and it was a pretty dark shade of pink. In previous years, it looked like the dye was hastily thrown down, which gave the ice surface a blotchy appearance. Thank heavens the officials didn’t require the dye to be removed Saturday because the Hambonis might still be scraping it away.

The men in pink did get into a couple of altercations, albeit with the same guy-Stockton forward Hunter Smith. Squaring off with the 6’7″ Smith midway through the first period was 5’10” Mike Liambas, who peppered the bigger man with a series of rights before the two hit the deck.

Early in the third period, 5’9″ Chris DeSousa took offense to something Smith said and tossed down the gloves. It must have dawned on DeSousa that his opponent had a definite reach advantage. Nevertheless, he stayed right in Smith’s grill and survived the bout. Smith was then ushered off to the locker room for entering into his second fight.

In the seven years that the Hogs have held Pink In The Rink Night, they’ve gone 5-2. Rockford has won the last three in a row by a combined score of 8-1.

 

Roster Scuttlebut

With Bryan Bickell coming back to Rockford for what seems to be a more permanent basis than his stint earlier this season, there could well be some moves made in Rockford. I would imagine that Daniel Ciampini is headed back to Indianapolis, leaving the IceHogs with 13 healthy forwards.

Kyle Baun has been out two months with a arm injured by a skate against Iowa November 18. If Bickell is going to be used nightly, we may see DeSousa, who has injected a lot of energy into the lineup, sent down to Indy for a spell.

Nick Mattson has been serving as the seventh defenseman but has just one game under his belt since being recalled December 30. He was sent down to Indy January 7 but quickly recalled January 9.

UPDATE-Ciampini and Mattson were sent to Indy Monday afternoon after the Hogs 3-1 win over Lake Erie. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to see Mattson come back up before Friday’s game with Iowa.

 

A Look Back At The Past Week’s Games

Tuesday, January 12-Rockford 5, Chicago 2

The Hogs dominated action at even strength and boosted their chances to hoist the grail that is the Illinois Lottery Cup, besting the Wolves for their third straight win.

A strong Garret Ross fore check got the ball rolling for Rockford in the game’s sixth minute. Swiping the a puck from Petteri Lindbohm in the right corner, Ross weaved into the high slot and fired a shot that caught the stick of Ryan Haggerty. Chicago goalie Phoenix Copley couldn’t pick up the deflection and the Hogs took a 1-0 lead at the 5:17 mark.

Rockford doubled the advantage three minutes later, capping off an impressive shift on the power play. Viktor Svedberg one-timed a Ryan Hartman pass through the five-hole of Copley at 8:41.

Chicago converted on a 5-on-3 opportunity with a Jeremy Welsh goal at 14:23, but the IceHogs would restore a two-goal lead midway through the contest. P.C. Labrie chased down a loose puck sliding into the right circle and and made a deposit between Copley’s pads. Rubber and twine united for a 3-1 Rockford lead at 10:33 of the second period.

Chicago was able to parlay another power play chance into an Ivan Barbashev tally early in the third, but the Hogs stayed out of the box for the remainder of the game. The Wolves didn’t have an answer to Rockford at even strength.

Ross picked up an empty net goal with 1:44 remaining. Following that, Tanner Kero crashed the net and scored on a pass from Vinnie Hinostroza. This meant free Culvers for 3113 fans at the BMO Harris Bank Center, and there was much rejoicing.

Labrie, Haggerty and Svedberg were voted the game’s three stars. Michael Leighton picked up his 18th win of the season, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Marko Dano-Mark McNeill (A)-Ryan Hartman

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Jake Dowell (C)-Ryan Haggerty

Garret Ross-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Daniel Paille-Chris DeSousa-Mike Liambas

Viktor Svedberg-Ville Pokka

Cameron Schilling-Nolan Valleau

Dennis Robertson-Kirill Gotovets

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Nick Mattson, Kyle Cumiskey, Kyle Baun, Daniel Ciampini.

Power Play (1-2)

Labrie-Hartman-McNeill-Svedberg-Pokka

Ross-Kero-Hinostroza-Dano-Schilling

Penalty Kill (Wolves were 2-5)

Paille-McNeill-Robertson-Schilling

Dowell-Hartman-Svedberg-Pokka

Kero-Labrie-Schilling-Svedberg

 

Friday, January 15-San Jose 5, Rockford 2

Defensive breakdowns spelled disaster for the Hogs as San Jose came into the BMO Harris Bank Center and broke open a close game early in the third period.

Despite being on its heels in the early minutes, Rockford scored the first goal of this affair. The play was started by Kirill Gotovets, who held in a Barracuda clearing attempt along the right half boards skated out to the point. His pass attempt to Marko Dano glanced off Dano’s stick and bounced into open ice in the slot. Mark McNeill one-timed the free-spirited biscuit pas the stick of San Jose goalie Troy Grosenick for a 1-0 Hogs advantage 7:30 into the game.

That momentum went to waste, as the Cuda responded with a goal of their own 34 seconds later. Gotovets and Vinnie Hinostroza let Petter Emanuelsson unchecked at the right post and Barclay Goodrow found him from behind the Rockford net for the equalizer.

A few minutes later, Bryan Lerg took another pass from behind the IceHogs net and backhanded a shot that Mark Visentin kept out of the net. Despite a couple of Hogs on the scene in the crease, Lerg was able to get to the rebound and flip it into the vacated goal. San Jose took that 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

McNeill pulled Rockford even with the Barracuda early in the middle frame. This time, the one-timer came from the left circle off a pass from Garret Ross. The shot cruised inside the post before Grosenick could slide over to tie the game at two goals 1:01 into the second period.

San Jose broke the tie at the 5:39 mark after Vistentin had stopped a Trevor Parkes breakaway attempt. Rockford was unable to clear the defensive zone. The puck wound up along the right half boards, where Hinostroza was pressured into throwing it back to Scott Timmins (stop me if you’ve heard this one) behind the Hogs net. Timmins found Parkes driving the slot; the shot handcuffed Visentin and struck twine for a 3-2 Barracuda lead.

Rockford was able to get a lot of pucks to the net and Groesnick left many a juicy rebound. However, the Hogs were unable to get a stick on the host of loose pucks that wound up in the Cuda crease. Entering the third period, Rockford was looking at 1:50 of penalty to kill but was very much in this one.

The IceHogs made a nice shorthanded stand in the opening minute of the third period. McNeill laid out to block a shot and wound up with the puck on his stick a few seconds later coming up the right side. At the end of a lengthy shift, the forward lacked the giddy-up to drive to the net to complete the hat trick.

San Jose won a battle in its own zone, then caught the weary Hogs skaters in a 2-on-1 the other way. Michael Haley completed the rush by five-holing Visentin and Rockford trailed 4-2 1:19 in the third period. At this point, the starch went out of the Hogs game. The Barracuda added a fifth goal in the seventh minute to formally lock this one up for the visiting team.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Mike Liambas-Chris DeSousa-Daniel Paille

Marko Dano-Mark McNeill-Ryan Hartman

Garret Ross-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Jake Dowell (C)-Ryan Haggerty

Viktor Svedberg-Ville Pokka

Cameron Schilling-Nolan Valleau

Dennis Robertson-Kirill Gotovets

Mark Visentin

Scratches-Nick Mattson, Kyle Cumiskey, Kyle Baun, Daniel Ciampini

Power Play (0-3)

Dano-McNeill-Hartman-Labrie-Valleau

Ross-Kero-Hinostroza-Pokka-Gotovets

Penalty Kill (San Jose was 1-4)

Labrie-McNeill-Schilling-Pokka

Hartman-Kero-Robertson-Gotovets

Dowell-Paille-Schilling-Valleau

 

Saturday, January 16-Rockford 3, Stockton 0

The Hogs bounced back with a strong effort on the back end, spearheaded by Michael Leighton’s 29-save performance. The veteran goalie picked up his second shutout of the season in Rockford’s annual Pink In The Rink game.

In addition to the ice being pink, it had a lot of hop to it. Remaining upright and controlling the puck proved challenging for both squads. Both teams had strong chances early in the contest but it was Rockford that drew first blood after Tanner Kero won a defensive draw.

Viktor Svedberg collected the puck in the corner and flipped it out of the zone. The bouncing biscuit crossed the Heat blue line, where Garret Ross was able to chase it down. Ross had Vinnie Hinostroza entering the zone with him on the right side and bumped the puck the rookie’s way. Hinostroza deked Stockton goalie Kevin Poulin, bringing the puck back to his forehand side and sliding it between the right post and Poulin’s left pad into Twineburg.

Up 1-0 at the 13:38 mark, Leighton and the Hogs defense took it from there. Leighton got great support from his teammates, who blocked a lot of Stockton attempts and swept the front of the net clean for most of the remainder of the game. Daniel Paille led a very effective penalty kill unit, creating several shorthanded chances for Rockford.

An insurance goal proved elusive until the waning minutes of the contest. With just under three minutes remaining, Mark McNeill won a draw at the right dot. P.C. Labrie gathered the puck at the top of the right circle and snapped off a shot that nestled the ropes and cued the horn at 17:52 of the third period.

The Heat responded by sending Poulin to the bench in favor of an extra skater. However, Stockton was unable to generate any pressure on Leighton. Ville Pokka lifted a high clearing attempt that did the old slip-and-slide into the vacated net with just 51 seconds to play.

Leighton, Hinostroza and Paille were named the first, second and third stars, respectively.

Lines (Starters in italics)

Marko Dano-Mark McNeill-Ryan Hartman

Mike Liambas-Chris DeSousa-Daniel Paille

Garret Ross-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (A)-Jake Dowell (C)-Ryan Haggerty

Cameron Schilling-Nolan Valleau

Viktor Svedberg-Ville Pokka

Dennis Robertson-Kirill Gotovets

Michael Leighton

Scratches-Nick Mattson, Kyle Cumiskey, Kyle Baun, Daniel Ciampini

Power Play (0-3)

Dano-McNeill-Hartman-Labrie-Valleau

Ross-Kero-Hinostroza-Pokka-Gotovets

Penalty Kill (Stockton was 0-4)

Labrie-McNeill-Schilling-Pokka

Hartman-Kero-Robertson-Gotovets

Dowell-Paille-Schilling-Valleau

 

The Home Stand Continues

Rockford is in action in a Monday matinee with Lake Erie at the BMO at 1:00 p.m. The Hogs then host a Wild weekend with Iowa, who visit our neck of the woods on Friday and Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for periodic musings on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

 

 

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