Make it three in a row for the Chicago Wolves. An overtime victory over the Rockford IceHogs at the Allstate Arena Friday continued the Wolves unbroken string. The game was notable due not only to the call-ups by the Atlanta Thrashers of Wolves rookie goalie Ondrej Pavelec, but also of American Hockey League MVP Darren Haydar.
Following the pre-game fireworks, Joel Kwiatkowski shot the puck past Corey Crawford for the first Wolves goal just past the four minute mark, followed in about a minute by Jordan LaVallee’s successful breakaway. However, the Wolves fireworks were silenced as Rockford went on the offence, pounding Wolves goalie Fred Brathwaite with fourteen shots, going 3 for 5 on the power play and gaining a 4-2 lead at the close of the frame.
The smaller IceHogs team refused to stand down when challenged, creating a total of 50 combined minutes of penalties in the first frame, including bouts between Evan Brophy and Andre Deveaux, a line brawl that put a number of players in the sin bin, including Martin St. Pierre, Troy Brouwer and Kevin Doell and finally a fight between Colin Fraser and Nathan Oystrick. This doesn’t even include several roughing penalties, including between Brophy and Kwiatkowski near the end of the period. That occurred when Kwiatkowski rushed into the paint after a loose puck that was smothered by Corey Crawford. Kwiatkowski pulled short of Crawford, but bumped him despite that. Brophy rushed into the paint and began roughing Kwiatkowski.
Despite the two early Wolves goals, the IceHogs ruled the first period, out shooting the Wolves 14 to 6 and outscoring them 4-2.
The second frame was marked by outstanding goal tending by both goalies, but particularly Brathwaite. Following a Power Play goal by Steve Martins at the eight-minute mark, Chicago was called for too many men on the ice. Whether it was skill or luck, Brathwaite turned aside a shot that sailed through the crease, keeping Chicago in the game. It is the big hit, the big save and the well timed fight that sometimes turns games around, and so it was on Friday, for the Wolves tied the game on another power play goal by Jordan LaVallee shortly after Brathwaite’s save.
The two unanswered Wolves goals and the lack of shooting on the part of the IceHogs were visible manifestations of the Wolves domination of the second frame which ended with the score tied 4-4. The third frame was marked by a lack of discipline on the part of the IceHogs. But the Wolves were unable to gain any traction with it.
Looking at the goal sheet, it may seem as though both teams had equal penalties. However the IceHogs penalties disrupted their play more, broke their momentum to a greater extent. Plus, the Wolves “got better as the game went on,” according to Wolves Coach John Anderson. Veteran Steve Martins had an outstanding game, often leading the Wolves on their charge across the IceHogs defensive line.
On the IceHogs Prestin Ryan was outstanding on the blue line and team captain Jim Fahey was punishing to any Chicagoan who dared to stand in front of the net.
But it was the goalies that stood out, Rockford turning away nine shots on goal in the period, and stopping three power plays, Chicago turning away five shots and three power plays. Plus the IceHogs speed deviled the Wolves, as the IceHogs broke away with the puck, making repeated surprise attacks on Brathwaite. In one, Brathwaite came out, nearly to the far circle, challenging the attacking IceHogs captain, Fahey. Sprawled on the ice, Brathwaite managed to poke the puck from Fahey’s grasp, an empty net yawning behind him, nearly 30 feet away.
Then, in another of the physical events that mark the turn of a game, Jordan LaVallee splattered Fahey against the glass. And Oystrick took a roughing call that created a 5:3 for the IceHogs. The older Martins threw himself in front of the puck, breaking up the power play and a goal against the Wolves was called back due to high-sticking. Finally the penalty kill ended when Brathwaite made a glove save on a Fahey slap shot from the blue line.
The wheels turned. The IceHogs had lost their best shot at winning in regulation. Now, it was the Wolves on the attack as the game neared its end, penalties were called on the IceHogs allowing a 5:3 for the Wolves in the closing seconds. But the third frame ended with the score still tied.
In overtime, the Wolves continued their 5:3 attacks. Oystrick broke up a breakaway with a beautiful hip check into the boards. The puck bounced loose. Matt Anderson of the Wolves, LaVallee, then Jesse Schultz and Karel Pilar all attack the IceHogs net. Still, Crawford held on and stopped all the Wolves attacks.
Then St. Pierre made a cross check. Now, it was a Wolves advantage again. With a 1:08 left, the Wolves go on the final attack. They had a man advantage through the end of overtime. Crawford and the IceHogs attempted to clear the puck after a shot. Kwiatkowski barely kept the puck in. He passed it to Deveaux on the far circle who shot. Crawford deflected it. Then Martins rebounds, again Crawford stops the puck. And finally, on the rebound again, Jason Krog puts it in the net, past Crawford with just 25 seconds on the clock.
Brathwaite got the win, giving up four goals on 23 shots. Crawford received a loss on five goals on 33 shots. The final score was 5-4 Wolves, an overtime win.