The roller coaster that was the Milwaukee Admirals against the Rockford IceHogs in Rockford has just come to an end. The Admirals won the track meet 7-5 to claim sole possession of the Midwest Division on the road Saturday night. Viktor Stålberg scored a hat trick, Triston Grant recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick, and Marek Mazanec picked up his seventh straight win in net for the Admirals.
Before this game even started there was a standoff between the Admirals and IceHogs during pre-game skate. There are no officials on the ice for warm ups and shoving got started a half-hour before game time. They then piled up near the penalty box area in neutral ice before dispersing.
T.J. Brennan crushed Kevin Fiala in the game’s opening minute to put the Admirals on a very early power-play. The result saw Taylor Aronson pass over to Brendan Leipsic who hit a wicked one-timer through Scott Darling for his fifth goal of the season.
One of the major instigators in last night’s chippy instances on the ice, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, got his wish shortly after the opening goal. He engaged a fight with Triston Grant and the two hardly landed a blow to each other. They went down on the ice quick and it almost felt like they could have been given roughing calls over the fighting majors that they received.
Fiala and Brennan met yet again but this time the circumstances were flipped as it appeared the 18-year old was looking for a revenge hit of his own. The IceHogs were put to the power-play and Viktor Stålberg pounced on a fumbled puck by Ryan Hartman. The Swede was all alone for the shorthanded breakaway and buried a forehand to backhand deke past Darling for his fifth goal of the season.
Just like that, the Admirals were up 2-0 on the IceHogs off of two special teams play and the IceHogs decided to pull Darling from the net in favor of Michael Leighton. Darling was only in net for 4:11 of ice time in the game and made one save from three shots.
The first period would have another bout on the ice and it was one that almost started the night prior. Mike Liambas and Cody Bass locked up and they landed plenty of punches. This scrap was triggered in last night’s game when Liambas had a huge check along the penalty box boards to Mark McNeill. As Bass came over the boards for a change he went right after Liambas. It didn’t happen then and there. But it did take place in Rockford tonight.
Weirdly, Liambas was given an additional roughing call on his fight with Bass and it ended up biting the Admirals. A great tic-tac-toe passing play set up McNeill all alone in front of Marek Mazanec for an easy finish. The passes started with Matt Carey and Garret Ross along the right wing before setting up McNeill directly in front of goal to score his fourteenth goal of the season.
It seemed for a moment that the IceHogs had leveled the game up at 2-2. Ross faked a slap shot to turn Ian White inside out and cranked a wrister off the crossbar and down. The goal light went on, the players celebrated, but the video review went against all the commotion and it was ruled no goal.
Before you knew it the Admirals turned around and made it 3-1. Stålberg made an incredible play to fly past Dillon Fournier with speed, cut in front of Leighton with power, and finish it all off with a backhander top shelf for his second of the night and sixth goal scored with the Admirals this season.
In the second period the IceHogs scored a shorthanded goal of their own on an “Ugliest Goal of the Year” candidate. Mazanec didn’t catch that Phillip Danault was racing in down the left wing side. When Mazanec left the puck behind his net Danault was able to swoop in, swat at the puck before Aronson could get to it, and then the bounces came. The puck hit off Danault’s stick, Aronson’s leg, Mazanec’s back, and then the ice inside the net for Danault’s seventh goal of the season.
With 3:59 remaining in the second, Hartman was called for a roughing minor that sent the Admirals to the power-play and the IceHogs’ Ross to a temper tantrum. The forward was ejected after exchanging words with the officials following the call on the ice.
From that power-play Stålberg capped off his hat trick by scoring his seventh goal of the season. The Admirals power-play goal was almost identical to that of the IceHogs earlier in the game. It was a tic-tac-toe play between Viktor Arvidsson and Colton Sissons before laying off to the front of the net for Stålberg for the hat trick. Not a bad way to celebrate Swedish Heritage Night in Rockford if I do say so myself.
The third period brought about the third fight of the night. After a hit along the boards Brennan dropped his gloves and attempted to engage Liambas. It would have been Liambas’ second fight of the night and a game penalty as a result so he smartly declined and actually drew a penalty against Brennan for delay of game. Meanwhile, Hartman grappled Félix Girard and those two tussled themselves into the ice.
As Brennan’s penalty expired the Anthony Bitetto hit Grant with a picture perfect stretch pass that sent him loose on a breakaway. The veteran torched Leighton on a snapshot high glove side for his sixth goal of the season.
Less than a minute later the IceHogs got that goal right back. Some really solid work in front of the net by Ryan Schnell jarred a puck loose to the side of the net. Jamie Wise was quick to react, and picked up the puck behind the net and was able to bank a shot off of Mazanec and in for his third goal of the season.
The Admirals tallied their sixth goal of the night off of their third breakaway goal of the game. Grant was able to set Austin Watson free down the right wing and, after a faked slap shot, he cut in on Leighton and deposited his seventeenth goal of the season as a pair of IceHogs defensemen crashed him into the net. The assist on the play for Grant gave him a hat trick of his own – the Gordie Howe variety.
Rockford had their net emptied and the extra attacker on when Schnell scored his second goal of the season with fourteen seconds remaining in the game. Thankfully, the scoring wasn’t done there because Ian White decided to score his second empty netter with the Admirals this season to reach the game at its mind blowing 7-5 final.
Massive credit for this game must be given to Mazanec in net. The Admirals, especially in the second period, were actually quite over-matched on offense and resorted to quick-strike counter attacks to catch out the aggressive IceHogs. Mazanec made thirty-nine saves tonight in a thrill ride of a game that saw his counterparts on the opposite side get lit up like they haven’t in ages. The Admirals scored seven goals from only eighteen shots. That is simply scary when you consider the goalies they just did that to.
Ramblings: The Admirals lineup and line combinations were exactly the same as they were last night against the IceHogs. The difference though was that Rich Clune actually participated in pre-game skate today. I imagine that means he is cleared to play but was a game time decision and the team elected to roll the same group out as the night before and make sure Clune is 100% before going back at it. Perhaps he’ll return tomorrow afternoon? We’ll see. This game had a combined seventy-two penalty minutes. It’s the most goals that the IceHogs have allowed in a single game this season – the previous high was five goals allowed and came against the Iowa Wild.
Thoughts on this game? Putting aside technical aspects and thinking purely on entertainment – was this the game of the year so far? Will the Admirals have anything left in the tank for tomorrow?