It was an early morning and I was in dire need of coffee with a crowd of a few thousand screaming kids for Iowa’s annual “School Day Game.” Although the Rockford IceHogs had over double Iowa’s shots on goal total, the Wild were able to hold them off and come away with the win, 5-3.
Steve Michalek (1-0-0; 3.00 GAA/.917 SV%) made his first start of the season with Niklas Svedberg getting the emergency call up following the birth of Alex Stalock’s second kid. Fortunately, he had the opportunity to play five games in the ECHL to warm-up and was able to stop 31 of Rockford’s 34 shots in the win.
On the opposite end of the ice, Collin Delia (0-1-0; 4.16 GAA/.750 SV%) made his first career AHL start after being called up from the ECHL. The Rancho Cucamonga, Ca., native made 15 saves on 16 Iowa shots in the loss.
Power Play First
In the first period, Michalek had an answer for almost everything, flashing his glove skills and looking like the established back-up of 2016-17. It may have been an early start, but Iowa’s power play unit was wide awake in the first, capitalizing on their first two opportunities.
Following an Anthony Louis hooking call, Derek Lalonde decided to go with a new look on his PP1 group; stepping away from the increasingly popular 4F1D set-up and going with two veteran defensemen on the blueline.
It paid off.
Just thirty-seven seconds into the man advantage, a blast from Ryan Murphy turned into a juicy rebound from Delia in the slot. Newly minted captain, Cal O’Reilly, got the puck in the slot and beat the recent call-up glove side for the first goal of the game (Murphy, Grant; PP - 5:37).
The power play wasn’t done there.
David Kämpf also was called for a hook and Iowa went back to the power play. The PP1 wasn’t as successful early on, but the PP2 unit picked up the slack with time winding down. Justin Kloos sent a centering pass to Kyle Rau in Delia’s crease and chaos ensued. Fortunately for Iowa, the puck ended up on the stick of Zack Mitchell who buried it for his first of the year and a 2-0 lead in the first ten minutes (Rau, Kloos; PP - 9:19).
However, the law of averages finally caught up with Michalek and the Wild. With the IceHogs cycling the puck, Luc Snuggerud was able to launch one from the point that started low on the ice, but ended up popping Michalek’s water bottle following a tip in off of a Wild stick (Dahlstrom, Martinsen; 11:41).
Rockford had set the pace, out-shooting Iowa 14-6 to end the first, but the Wild maintained the lead, 2-1.
The second period started with the IceHogs getting the majority of time in Iowa’s defensive zone. Shots kept flying, but Michalek still held all the answers. Then Gerald Mayhew was called for hooking, sending Iowa on their first penalty kill of the morning.
Normally a feather in the cap for the Wild, Lalonde’s PK unit had killed off the last seven times they faced the four-on-five. With Laurent Dauphin screening Michalek, that streak came to a close. There was just :20 left in the kill when Vinnie Hinostroza let one loose from the blueline and Dauphin was able to tip it home to tie things up (Hinostroza, Martinsen; PP - 6:46).
The thing about aggressive teams, though, is that sometimes they leave themselves susceptible to odd man rushes, and that’s exactly what happened a little more than five minutes later. It looked like a broken play after Murphy was unable to control the puck a the point, but as he carried it back to set up the offense, he was able to draw in a few eager IceHogs.
Following a great blueline to blueline pass to Mitchell, the Orangeville, Ont., native was able to pass the sauce over a prone Ville Pokka and to the stick of Mario Lucia who got his first of the year (Mitchell, Murphy; 11:54). In post-game, he expressed that it was finally good to get that monkey off his back.
Rockford once again had the looks with 24 shots to Iowa’s 13, but the Wild maintained the edge where it counted, 3-2.
Holding down the Third
Although the IceHogs were dominating putting pucks on net, it didn’t seem to faze the Iowa Wild who were given another power play opportunity under three minutes into the third on a slash by Alexandre Fortin.
It took a little bit longer than the first time, but the PP1 unit was able to score :39 into the man-advantage on absolute bomb from Ryan Murphy that made a thud on Delia’s pads, but ended up in the back of the net (Grant, O’Reilly; PP - 3:37).
However, in playing such a shot crazy team, no lead is safe; even a 4-2 lead. In the back half of the third, Rockford got their opportunity.
With Alex Grant playing some great defense on Hinostroza, the ice monster crept in as Grant blew a tire and left Vinnie all alone with room to work. The former Notre Dame standout came in close before ripping a wrister that went near-side, bar down on Michalek (Highmore; 12:40).
With Delia pulled for Rockford, Carson Soucy showed some great stick work to dig the puck out of Michalek’s trapezoid to gain some momentum against the IceHog attack. Mitchell got his second assist of the day, getting the puck to Cannone who was able to get the empty-netter and seal it for Iowa (Mitchell, Soucy; EN - 18:54).
There was a tinge of trepidation as the Wild did finish the game with two in the box, but the horn sounded and Iowa skated off with two points.
Number of the day: 3. Today was the best the Iowa power play has looked all season. Maybe it was the 13,000+ screaming kids or having that added energy of playing so early. Either way, the Wild took advantage of the man-advantage opportunities against a team that outshot them 36-17 at the final whistle; improving their power play efficiency to 15.0%. A lot of credit goes to the net front play that accounted for two of the three goals and the blistering shots from Ryan Murphy that earned a goal and an assist.
In Lalonde’s words: Without a doubt, Rockford is one of the high tempo teams in the division, and with almost a week off between games, Iowa was able to prepare as such.
“We had three really hard practices, longer than we usually go,” coach said. “We wanted to be fast, we talked about tempo because we’re not going to have time to practice like that coming up [against Cleveland].”
Injury-wise, Landon Ferraro is still day-to-day but did practice this week. Lalonde explained that he was able to keep up with the tempo of practice and that if this was a playoff situation, it would’ve been hard to keep him off the ice.
Iowa gets to celebrate a win before dinner and will be back in action Saturday for a back-to-back against the Cleveland Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets). As always, it’s a scheduled 7:00 CST puck drop.