Dickie Dunn, the great hockey writer, once said, “I tried to capture the feel of it…” The feel of the United Hockey League game Saturday night at the Rockford MetroCentre can be established with a single stat: 56 minutes of penalties—in the first minute of play.
Now how in the world can two teams create such mayhem in the first sixty seconds of play that they have as many penalty minutes as most games have? A fight at three seconds, a fight at four seconds, another fight at six seconds, at which time you’re wondering one, did I actually get tickets to a hockey game? And, two, what took them so long to drop the gloves?
In addition, there was the slashing at nineteen seconds and the goalie interference at 49 seconds and the game misconduct which followed that.
“Ref you suck” is so seldom heard before the first minute of play anymore. Don’t you miss the Federal League?
Now, obviously these are two teams, the Quad City Mallards and the Rockford IceHogs, with a lot of love to express. And, fans nearby talked to me about the sadness they’ll feel as they move from the UHL to the American Hockey League next season. It is, I suppose, like a son-in-law entering the family. You know things will be different, that you’re supposed to be happy. But you’re not sure if you like it or not.
How can any AHL game compare to something like this eight year old rivalry that has pitted two proud communities at each others throats? Only the rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears exceeds the intensity of the two teams when they play.
What is remarkable too, is that the Hogs were down five players after that first minute, on a 15 person bench.
The game itself was actually marked by a high level of play. The intensity of the first minute injected the players, leading to some great back and forth play. This is why people become UHL fans. It was fast, there were some astounding checks and hard hitting action.
The first goal of the game was scored on a power play by Kevin Ulanski who shot one past Mallard goalie Jason Tapp at 9.20 left of the first frame. Tapp had a great game, stopping four IceHogs shots in the first period. The Mallards put nine shots onto Frederic Cloutier in the first period, scoring their first goal on their own power play with 2.13 left on the clock. Sergei Durdin opened up on Cloutier for the count of 1-1.
The second frame saw more back and forth action on the ice. Four minutes in Rockford went up 2-1 on a second power play goal by Matt Gens. Rockford had nine shots on goal in the period, with Tapp stopping eight Hogs shots. Cloutier stopped all seven Ducks shots as the period ended with the Hogs up.
The cheese is what happens in hockey games between periods. Perhaps the organist plays Lady of Spain… In Rockford they fully support chuck-a-puck. Usually a charity with a large prize for the person who throws a soft rubber puck onto a target at center ice. The Hogs also include perhaps a hundred children in the clean-up of the pucks on the ice surface. And new to this event apparently is the ceremonial stoning of the inflatable Hammer the Hog.
Yes, hockey fans, about twenty children started pelting the walking inflatable mascot on the ice with the pucks. A good time was had by all.
The third period of play continued the intensity. Both goalies and teams showed great work, defending their goals and attacking the opposition goals. Only three penalties were called in the period. Late in the period however, the Mallards took the last penalty opportunity and scored off of Cloutier when Andrei Lupandin was able to launch a puck into the net.
Now tied 2-2, with less than five minutes to play, the excitement and intensity actually increased. Mike Doyle was able to raise the score to 3-2, Hogs, with only 1:08 on the clock. Although the QC team pulled their goalie and put Cloutier under a lot of pressure, the Hogs held on for their ninth home win in a row.
The game attracted 5,882, the largest crowd of the season for the IceHogs. Cloutier stopped a total of 18 shots for the win, while the loser was Tapp, who stopped 23 shots. An outstanding effort by both goalies. The win puts the Hogs into a third place tie in the league at 67 points. They are in second in the Western Division, behind the Fort Wayne Komets, who have 72 points. The Mallards trail the Hogs with 56 points and third in the division.
Although the two rivals are slated to meet each other three more times in the regular season. The last regular game being at Rockford on Sunday, March 25th. They would probably play each other in the first round of the UHL Western Division playoffs for the Colonial Cup.