DES MOINES, Iowa - Winning in the Central is hard enough, even more so when you’re playing your third game in as many nights against a team fighting for their playoff lives. Iowa has had the luxury of being in the top four since the All-Star break, but fending off the wolves is hard when the legs are giving way.
Niklas Svedberg (18-12-6; 2.56 GAA/.915 SV%) made the start for the Wild, his sixth start against the IceHogs this season. A few bad bounces, but a few great opportunities befell on the Sollentuna, Swe. native who stopped just 20 of 24 shots in the loss.
The well-traveled Jeff Glass made the start in lieu of rookie Collin Delia, stopping 31 of 33 shots that the Wild were able to produce - earning the win for the IceHogs that still sit at fifth in the division, but has a one point lead on Grand Rapids.
Despite everything running against the Wild - the roster, the timing, the schedule - Iowa head coach Derek Lalonde doesn’t feel that now is the time for excuses, especially with this squad that more or less “lost in the first 30 minutes”.
“It’s our first ‘three in three,’” Lalonde began, “we were definitely tired - (both) physically and mentally - but instead of simplifying our game, we actually complicated it. We looked very ‘slow twitch’...we had turnovers and mental mistakes we haven’t had all year and we got ourselves into a hole.”
Fatigue & Rhythm
The defense displayed in the opening frame could be described as “shaky” at best. Too many turnovers, too much defensive zone time to allow for Rockford’s streaking offense to get a pucks put on Svedberg.
With an ominous air in the arena, it didn’t take very long for the IceHogs to take the lead with a lot of traffic easily able to assemble in front of Iowa’s net. Darren Raddysh opened the scoring for the Chicago-affiliate with a blast from the blue line that was tipped by Rockford big man, Graham Knott (Snuggerud, Raddysh; 5:43).
As the period shifted to it’s latter half, things didn’t start out much better for the home side. Carson Soucy skated gingerly to the bench after receiving an uncalled and unnecessary trip from known pugilist, Lance Bouma.
To add insult to injury - literally - Rockford was awarded a power play following a hold on Iowa newcomer, Mitch McLain. Despite Rockford having the 2nd-worst power play unit in the league up against Iowa’s top-five penalty kill, the Wild continued to play a little too loose - not uncommon for a team playing their third game in as many nights.
Luke Johnson was able to receive a pass across the blue line from NHL-vet Cody Franson and had nothing by open ice to skate in on. Svedberg got the better of the Grand Forks native, but Rockford’s alternate captain was able to release an absolute snipe and double down for the visitors (Franson; PP - 12:33)
But Eden Prairie native Luc Snuggerud gave Iowa the opportunity to gasp some life back into this game with an errant pass off the boards that Andreas Martinsen was unable to handle. From Eden Prairie native to another, Kyle Rau was able to corral the puck , get it to Gerry Fitzgerald in the slot, who made a no-look pass to McLain who buried his first professional goal (Fitzgerald, Rau; 15:59).
Some life, but Rockford was able to deliver another punch to the gut of the Wild.
With a puck loose near the blueline, Rockford’s Chris DiDomenico took off with Anthony Louis and Bouma for a three-on-one. No passes were made, and a puck went off of Svedberg’s post, but unfortunately the puck went off the skate of Alex Grant who was just trying to break up the rush (unassisted; 17:19). The result was indicative of the overall pace of this one, and the first period wrapped up 3-1, Rockford.
Some Fight in the Tank
Though there was a break in the action to discuss some odds and ends, the woes continued for Derek Lalonde’s squad early on. Grant was called early on for checking Nathan Noel into Svedberg, and the IceHogs continued to not play like the IceHogs on the man advantage.
“We had a very good push in the last 30 minutes,” Lalonde said of his team’s performance tonight. “We had some physical and mental fatigue and we gave ourselves a chance, but Glass (didn’t) give us a chance to get that third goal.”
It had a similar feel to Rockford’s first power play goal as the puck was moved around near the blueline before it finally came to the blade of DiDomenico. The Woodbridge, Ont. native received a pass from Adam Clendening at the point, and just like Johnson, he had a lot of room to skate in and pick his spot. He buried a shot of his own, and the IceHogs were able to get this fourth goal of the evening - their second on the PP in as many chances (Clendening, Franson; PP - 3:18)
Near the halfway point of the period, Iowa got their own power play opportunity following coincidental minors on Grant and Bouma and then an interference call against Darren Raddysh. Iowa captain Cal O’Reilly made two great passes - one to Zach Palmquist who unleashed a blistering one-timer from the slot, and then the second to a waiting Kyle Rau on Glass’ far post.
The latter was the one that helped Iowa cut the lead in half as Rau unleashed a snipe of his own for his 17th goal of the season; cutting the deficit in half (O’Reilly, Palmquist; PP - 8:54).
Iowa would get a few more opportunities on the man advantage, regain the SOG lead, but the IceHogs were able to keep the Wild onslaught at bay as the second frame ended with Iowa trailing, 4-2.
A Hard Charge Comes up Short
With the Wild starting the final period of the game down a man, there was very little time to get momentum going from the jump. In the opening minutes of the final frame, it felt as if the IceHogs held all the cards along with the possession of the puck.
The home side was able to maintain the SOG lead within the first twelve minutes of the period as well as set up some decent scoring opportunities, but many pucks sailed high and passes just off target for would-be scorers.
What was not of wanting was clean passes from Cal O’Reilly - doing everything in his power to keep Iowa in the game and getting pucks on net. As always, Rau seemed to be the man with a second gear - consistently battling and keeping possession in the OZ, but to no avail.
Lalonde’s squad did their best to get things going, but costly turnovers negated some clean movement of the puck. Both sides played well-disciplined hockey, something expected between two playoff caliber teams, though the end was as indicative as the beginning.
It was one Svedberg to another as Rockford’s Viktor Svedberg wrapped a puck around the glass to clear out Iowa’s 6-on-5 empty net attack. The home side watched helplessly as the puck with eyes let physics take over and cross the line for the empty-netter.
Iowa ended the game on the penalty kill following a McLain trip - the only penalty of the final frame that ended 5-2 in favor of the visitors.
In this playoff race, there should be no surprise that the team with a day of rest and time to travel would look stronger than the squad compiled of ECHLers, the opening of ATO season, and playing in back-to-back nights while travelling in-between. There were plenty of missed calls, but there are no excuses at this time of the season. Some nights just don’t go your way - as the platitude goes.
“It’s challenging (to have three new guys in the line-up,” Lalonde said it post. “We’re at the point in the season where ‘the hay’s in the barn.’ We are what we are, but we’re having to re-teach these young guys....our wall work was sloppy, guys were diving at an F3...we don’t have time (to be teaching) now....We’re going to play like we’re not getting any of our injured guys (Ferraro and Mayhew) back.”
Sluggishness happens, but the buck does need to stop here with back-to-back regulation losses happening for only the third time all season. They haven’t dropped three in a row all year, and these three days of rest are critical as Iowa will battle the incoming Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit) for their final two contests of the season starting on Friday.
“We have another (‘three in three’) coming up this weekend, and we’ll handle it much better,” Lalonde professed. “We’ll be more simple and better.”
The guys will have the day off tomorrow before coming together for what should be two very spirited practices before facing off against the fourth place Griffins.