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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chicago, Rockford remain locked in division battle

Grand Rapids, MI—The Chicago Wolves took two points this weekend in matches, winning one of two matches and putting greater pressure on the division leading Rockford IceHogs. However, it was an IceHogs win over the Wolves on Friday night in Rockford, which prevented the Wolves from going into the lead of the division.

Tudor Floru again had a disportionate influence in a 4-3 Rockford win over the Wolves Friday night, awarding 78 minutes of penalties in the match. Rockford laid 41 shots on Wolves goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. A scoreless first period was followed by six goals in the second period of play and left the IceHogs in control of the game going into the final period.

The Hogs dominated the offensive effort of the game out shooting the Wolves in each period of play. Nevertheless the Wolves managed to put 30 shots on Chicago Blackhawk prospect net minder Corey Crawford. The two teams, which have been locked in a battle for first place in the division through the first half of the season, remain just points apart, with the Wolves having an edge in games to be played and the Hogs having an edge in points.

The Hogs failed to gain traction on the Wolves defense during a 5:3 early in the second frame, but then, on a second 5:3 were able to score twice in 12 seconds, giving them a 2-0 lead. However, the middle frame saw four more goals, as the game momentum zigged and zagged with the Chicagoans evening up the score, then the Hogs again taking a two-goal advantage. That advantage was threatened by a Chicago 5:3 power play in the final two minutes of the game, but the IceHogs held onto the lead into the final 20 minutes of play.

Wolves blue liner Nathan Oystrick scored early in the third period, bringing the game to 4-3. However, Rockford held out for the win. Ryan Stokes, who scored a goal in the game, told the Rockford Register Star’s Matt Trowbridge, “You have to establish yourself on your own ice. Getting a win here is always big.”

From Rockford, the Wolves traveled to Grand Rapids to face old International Hockey League foe the Grand Rapids Griffins Saturday at the Van Andel Arena. The Griffins have struggled at home, particularly in the early part of the season. A disappointing on-ice officiating by Jaime Koharski too, marked this game.

Koharski called six unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on players in the match, creating as many power play opportunities. Fortunately, none of these was converted by either team into a goal. Instead it was a game dominated by the a lack of defense on the side of the Griffins, who gave up an empty net goal, a short handed goal and four different scoring opportunities to the Wolves in the final 24 minutes of play.

Griffins players were out of position, were beaten to the rebound, were outskated and just didn’t look well versed in playing the puck in a defensive way in the final frame of the game. From a 3-2 lead, following a successful penalty shot, the Griffins seemed unable to keep up with the Wolves assault and pressure. Only the veteran goal tender for the Griffins, Jimmy Howard, was able to keep the Griffins in the game.

From the view of the Wolves, it was probably one of the best defensive performances on ice this season, despite the three goals given up. The Wolves outshot the Griffins with 20 shots alone in the final period of play and a decisive win of 5-3.

Pavelec stopped 29 shots in the win.

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