DES MOINES, Iowa – The 2019-20 AHL season got underway for the Iowa Wild on Friday night before an announced crowd of 8,540. Looking to build off their first trip to the postseason since moving to Des Moines, they gave the crowd everything they could have hoped for on opening night, scoring the game-winning goal with 15 seconds left to defeat that Rockford Icehogs, 3-2. JT Brown scored the game-winner, as three different Wild players lit the lamp.
The Iowa Wild kept the puck in the Rockford end for much for the first eight minutes of the contest, and that created a great opportunity at the 8:30 mark. Nico Sturm battled for the puck along the boards and made a great backhand pass out to Kyle Rau, who was sneaking down the slot. Rau corralled the puck and made a wrist shot up high to the right corner, but Kevin Lankinen was able to knock the shot away with his blocker.
The Icehogs did not generate much offense through the first 15 minutes, but a tripping penalty to Hunter Warner at the five-minute mark gave Rockford a chance to break the ice. Seconds after the power play began, Brandon Hagel skated toward the net from the point, sweeping across the goal. Kaapo Kahkonen saved his initial shot, but the rebound came right to Philipp Kurashev, who tried to redirect it on net, but a Wild defender was able to knock the puck out of harm’s way.
Iowa killed off their first short-handed situation of the year and would find themselves on the power play with four minutes left in the first period when Reese Johnson took a holding penalty for the Icehogs. The Wild moved the puck well in the Rockford end. The puck came back to the point to Matt Barkowski, who fired a wrist shot that beat Lankinen, but it hit off the post, falling to the right of the net. Strum was able to corral the puck, trying to redirect it right back in, but the Rockford goalie was able to slide over to knock it away and into the corner.
The Iowa Wild outshot Rockford in the first period, 8-6, and were back on the power-play a little less than two minutes into the second when Nicolas Beaudin took a slashing penalty. However, the Wild struggled to gain control to set up in the Icehogs end, and that came back to haunt them. Chad Krys knocked the puck out of the Rockford end, sending MacKenzie Entwistle and Matthew Highmore the other way on a 2-on-1 break. Entwistle kept control of the puck, firing a shot that Kahkonen saved, but the rebound deflected to the other side of the net where Highmore was able to knock it in for his first goal of the season.
With about seven seconds left in the second, the Wild nearly caught a break. Louis Belpedio’s blast from the point was saved, but the bouncing puck deflected off a Rockford defender and was headed for the goal before Lankinen was able to kick his leg out to make a save on the deflection.
The Iowa Wild were struggling to get much offense going, but a great individual play by Gabriel Dumont to start the third tied the score. Dumont fought for the puck just inside the Rockford blueline, taking control, then heading toward the net. The Icehogs goaltender saved his initial shot, but the puck trickled past him and across the goal line to tie the score at one.
That came just 24 seconds into the frame, sending the crowd into a frenzy, but that did not last for long as Rockford would tie the score less than a minute later. Kurashev was able to gain control of the puck in the neutral zone, then headed down the boards moving behind the Iowa goal. He then fired a pass out in front to Dylan Sikura, who blasted the one-timer in for his first goal of the year.
The Wild were not shaken whatsoever. At the 2:30 mark, the draw was in the Rockford end. The faceoff was won back to Keaton Thompson, who quickly passed it to Belpedio. Belpedio’s shot was saved, but the rebound came right to Gerald Mayhew, who moved to his backhand, tucking the puck just inside the post for his first goal of the year. That was also the 100th career AHL point for the forward.
The goal brought the Wild to life. They would take 11 of the next 13 shots, including generating several great scoring chances. Two of those came on shots by Mayhew during a man advantage, but Lankinen made great saves on each opportunity. The defense was stellar during this time as well, allowing Rockford no shots on net during a power play with about nine minutes left in the third.
With 2:07 left in the game, a faceoff violation would give the Iowa Wild the man advantage, and they would take advantage, scoring with just 15.3 seconds left in the contest. Sturm’s shot from the point was deflected by Brown, going through the legs of the Icehogs goalie and into the net to give the Iowa Wild a 3-2 lead. That power-play goal made them 1-5 on the night with the man advantage.
The Wild outshot Rockford 16-7 in the final frame, finishing with 33 shots to the Icehogs’ 26. Seven different players recorded points for the Wild. Kaapo Kahkonen made 24 saves. Iowa killed off all four power-play chances for Rockford.
The Iowa Wild (1-0-0) will take to the ice again on Sunday when they take on the Milwaukee Admirals. The puck drops at 3:00 pm CT.
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