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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Rockford loses home opener in SO

Rockford, Ill.--- The Rockford IceHogs started their home play, after a road trip of nine games, losing a shootout to the San Antonio Rampage 3-2. Despite the loss, the IceHogs are well positioned in the Western Division, with their entire home stand in front of them and almost a quarter of the road games complete, the team had 14 points on Sunday morning, with a 63.6 percent win ratio.

The sell out crowd at the Rockford MetroCentre was greeted to an opening video noting the history of Rockford sports championships, drawing a roar of crowd approval on the Colonial Cup victory of the IceHogs in the United Hockey League last season. Then the video announced: “that was then—this is now!” leading into a segment of Chicago Blackhawks legacy.

After several minutes of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and other ‘Hawks greats, the theme of the season was announced: “the road to Chicago starts in Rockford.” As the Indianhead logo was stitched together on the new jumbotron, a rock band started to play and the crowd saw their IceHogs and the Hawks become joined on screen with quick shots of Rockford players and Blackhawks.

Then the band came on for a video, playing in their IceHog sweaters.

An opening ceremony with American Hockey League President Dave Andrews and members of the Blackhawk front office came on ice followed by a moving rendition of the National Anthem played by a six-year-old.

But game on. The MetroCentre has lost the aisle that separated the lower bowl and the upper bowl to “luxury boxes.” Really, placed between row M and N, these represent a wide table height counter and office chairs placed in the old aisle. The concourse of the MetroCentre is that much more crowded now, and a sell-out crowd of just 6,500 people demonstrates the age and lack of amenities in the building.

Still, the Rockford crowd is among the best in hockey, and they did not allow that to dampen their spirits. The game featured two of the heavy weights in the AHL: the Rampage’s Peter Vandermeer and Rockford’s Colin Fraser. It was a disappointment to me that these two did not have a go at each other in the game, although Fraser did pick a fight with the Rampage’s Cam Paddock late in the second period.

The two teams seemed evenly matched in the first period, with San Antonio registering ten shots to just five for the IceHogs, and both teams coming out of the period tied 1-1 after a power play goal for the Hogs by Troy Brouwer, assisted by Cam Barker and Evan Brophy, and an answering score for San Antonio by Enver Lisin.

The second frame saw the Hogs keep the puck in the Rampage end for much of the period. Late in the period, the Rampage put pressure on the Hogs goalie, Corey Crawford. A breakout by the Hogs saw David Aebischer go post to post to stop Rockford rebounds before finally giving up the 2-1 goal by Kris Versteeg, assisted by Jack Skille and Brophey at 17.48.

San Antonio returned to the Hogs zone immediately after this, and after a collision involving Dustin Byfuglien, Byfuglien gets into a dance in front of the Hogs net. In jumps Vandermeer, a third man in! But it is Byfuglien, Vandermeer and another Hog, Jordan Hendry who get sent to the sin bin, all with minors. Apparently Nigel Pelletier, the referee, was not looking.

With the second frame ended, the Hogs are now up 2-1 in a tightly matched game. Mid-way through the period, Chris Durno gets sent to the box for two minutes, giving the IceHogs one of their five power plays of the night. But the puck is stolen, fed across the Rampage blue line by Freddy Meyer to the racing Bill Thomas who fakes Crawford out for a short handed goal, tieing the game at 2-2.

Two other important penalties take place, both against Rockford. At 19.15 Bryan Bickell is called for interference, giving the Rampage the power play for 1:15 of the overtime. Then, after that expires, Skille is called for hooking at 3.10 of the OT, giving the Rampage another 1:50 of power play in the OT.

Despite this, the Rampage are unable to convert their opportunities. In the shootout, Joel Perraul and Keith Yandle scored for San Antonio and Versteeg for the Hogs, allowing the Rampage to win. Crawford stopped 28 shots on goal. Aebischer received the win, stopping 15 shots on goal.

Hogs Squeels— Dustin Byfuglien was the first Hog called up since the home opener. He is the second Hog to move down I-90. The Hogs are averaging more than 30 minutes of penalties per game, more than any other team in the AHL.

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