Rockford hockey fights back, comes up just short of FHN

Rams battle past Eagles

Wednesday night, Jan. 26, Rockford took on the Forest Hills Northern/Eastern (FHN) hockey team as they tried to avenge an earlier season loss.

Keegan Knight blows past a Forest Hills skater. Photo by MICHELE VANDERVELDE

The first period of the game showed that these teams remembered well the battle that they had just six weeks earlier. Both teams came out hitting in what proved to be one of the more physical battles of the tier one season. Forest Hills was the first to get on the scoreboard as a shot from the high slot got through multiple players and, just before Rockford goaltender Jake Rekucki was able to get a pad on it, the puck was redirected into the net. Rockford had a couple golden opportunities on power plays with one of them giving them the two-man advantage, but the Forest Hills goaltender seemed to be there to stop anything on its way to the net. The first period ended with the score at 1-0 Forest Hills.

The second period was a great defensive battle on both sides with minimal scoring opportunities for either side, but entertaining hockey to watch either way. Both squads played solid defense with minimal penalties to kill off, which was great to see as well. As the buzzer sounded at the end of the second period, the score remained at 1-0 FHN.

The third period was filled with a lot of action but also plenty of trips to the penalty box as well. Less than two minutes into the period, FHN forward Sam Rennaker came out of the corner and put a blistering snap shot that went in just under the cross bar. After a flurry of penalties, including Rockford having to kill off a five-minute major, FHN put up what appeared to be the goal that would seal the deal with just 8:05 left in the third.

Rockford senior Mike VanderVelde sends the puck to the net for an assist. Photo by MICHELE VANDERVELDE

 

The Rams knew that in a game like this, if you put enough pucks on net eventually one will find the back. Just 20 seconds later, on a breakaway, Zach Schwandt converted to put the Rams on the board. Senior defenseman Mike VanderVelde got the assist with a quick outlet pass that got the breakaway started that hit Schwandt right on the tape of his stick in stride. Both teams battled for the next few minutes and, with Rockford pulling their goaltender for the extra attacker and peppering the Forest Hills goalie with shots, finally Eric Datema got one through to bring the margin to within one with 35 seconds left in the game.

For most of the final minute of the game, Rockford had their opponent on their heels as they tried to survive the Rams’ surging offense. Unfortunately for Rockford, time ran out and FHN was relieved to hear the final buzzer, as it was evident that if the game had gone any longer, it would likely have been tied up. The final score was Forest Hills 3, Rockford 1.

Rockford then hit the ice Friday night, Jan. 28, against the Grand Rapids Christian Eagles for a non-conference battle. It looked like it was going to be a lopsided affair when Rockford started the first minute completely controlling the play. In that first minute, Ben Glass converted on his own rebound to put the Rams up 1-0. The Eagles took advantage of one of their first runs into the Rockford zone to score an even strength goal to tie up the score at one.

Rams junior Justin Ullrey (#9) skates past a Forest Hills player. Photo by MICHELE VANDERVELDE

 

The Rams continued to dominate puck possession, putting more than a dozen shots on net along the way. Rockford was the victim of an unfortunate bounce when a deflected shot from Grand Rapids Christian (GRC) found the back of the Rockford net to put the Rams down a goal to end the period with the score 2-1.

Rockford began the second period by peppering the Eagles’ goalie as he continued to turn away multiple rushes. Both teams had scoring chances, but neither could get on the board. It seemed that Rockford was turning up the pressure, as it was apparent that they were wearing down the Eagles and eventually that pressure would pay off. GRC survived the rest of the second period to carry a 1-2 lead into the locker room for the second intermission.

Just 15 seconds into the third period, Datema scored after a great pass across the front of the net from Nate Hill to tie the game. Zach King also got an assist on the play.

It appeared that the Rams had completely worn down the Eagles as GRC took a series of penalties along the way. It was not until the third power play of the third period with 2:29 left in the game that Rockford finally got the go-ahead goal. King was fed a total of five passes to the high slot where each time he blasted his cannon shot toward the net. Each one was either blocked prior to getting to the Eagles’ net or stopped by their goaltender. Finally, King got the last one past them all to get the eventual game winner, putting the Rams up 3-2.

Rockford's Erik Datema outskates a Forest Hills player. Photo by MICHELE VANDERVELDE

 

Rockford took a couple penalties that made the final minute very tense. The final 15 seconds, the Rams looked out on the ice to see six Eagles and only three Rams, but the Rams were determined to hang on for the victory as the final buzzer went off to seal the win. Rockford out-shot the Eagles 45 to 20 for the game. Todd Millar got the win in net for the Rams, turning away 18 of 20 shots for the night.

The Rams’ next contest is a rematch conference contest against the Grandville Bulldogs in the opening game of the McMichigan Cup on Friday night, Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. at Georgetown Ice Arena.

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