Up 2-0, IceHogs look to stay hot against Moose
Every hockey coach in the world emphasizes the importance of strong starts -- especially in the postseason.
The reason is simple: Teams scoring the first goal in these Stanley Cup playoffs have won 70 percent of the time.
Yet, that hasn't been the case when it comes to the AHL's Rockford IceHogs, who will host Manitoba for Game 3 of their best-of-seven Calder Cup series Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Rockford, which is up 2-0 on the Moose and swept the Chicago Wolves in the first round, has trailed in four straight games but has somehow come out victorious each time.
The reason, according to coach Jeremy Colliton, is that his team is relentless in wearing down opponents. Yes, there are the obvious names such as 6-foot-3, 223-pound John Hayden, 6-3, 229-pound Andreas Martinsen and 6-2, 208-pound Lance Bouma. But Colliton also said other "pesky forwards" such as David Kampf, Matthew Highmore, William Pelletier and Luke Johnson never give an inch and make it difficult for opponents all over the ice.
"We're an excellent second- and third-period team," Colliton said. "It's not like we don't want have a great start -- we talk about the start all the time. … But we're aggressive, we're relentless, we forecheck hard, we have pressure on the puck.
"So whether we're down or tied or up after one (period), it's a 60-minute game -- maybe more. And we're just going to keep playing."
Coming back is easier when you have plenty of scoring depth, and Rockford's goals are coming from everywhere. Twelve players have scored in the postseason, with Tyler Sikura, Chris DiDomenico and Victor Ejdsell leading the way with 3 each.
It was Ejdsell and Sikura who erased a 1-0 deficit in Game 1 at Manitoba, and Sikura and DiDomenico who did the same in Game 2.
But Rockford's MVP so far might be goalie Collin Delia, who played in two games for the Blackhawks in late March as a reward for his solid play with the IceHogs.
He continues to shine since being sent down, recording a .949 save percentage and 1.51 goals-against average in the postseason. His steady hand -- and pads -- are a big reason Rockford didn't fall further behind in the two games at Manitoba.
"He's made key saves at the right time, and he's making a lot of saves," Colliton said. "He makes a couple saves to keep it 1-0 instead of going down 2-0. What a difference that makes."
One of the big keys to Game 3 might be whether Rockford can maintain its edge. When you sweep your first opponent then start the next series with 2 wins on the road, it's human nature to let down your guard.
Colliton, though, isn't worried.
"The series can turn at any moment," he said. "It's a seven-game journey and we want to be better than them for seven. So we shouldn't put any more importance on one game or the other.
"Game 1 was important, too. But whether we won or lost, it's not over. It's more about can we be better than them for seven games?
"Because if we are then we'll probably get through."
Calder Cup playoffsRockford IceHogs vs. Manitoba Moose
(best-of-seven AHL series)
Game 1: IceHogs win, 4-2
Game 2: IceHogs win, 4-1
Game 3: Manitoba at Rockford, 7 p.m. Wednesday
Game 4: Manitoba at Rockford, 7 p.m. Friday
* Game 5: Manitoba at Rockford, 6 p.m. Saturday
* Game 6: Rockford at Manitoba, 7 p.m. May 15
* Game 7: Rockford at Manitoba, 7 p.m. May 16
* if necessary