The IceHogs, who are currently locked in a tight division race, came out blazing with two strikes in the first eight minutes on goalie Rasmus Tirronen, who was making his first professional start. The Checkers refused to roll over, however, roaring back with two goals 93 seconds apart to knot things up heading into the second.
The scoring evaporated in the middle frame, and the game proceeded to the third with the score even at two. The Checkers jumped back on top after Carolina first-round pick Haydn Fleury, also making his pro debut, sniped a wrist shot on the man advantage. The IceHogs hung in, however, again tying the game after taking advantage of a penalty shot awarded to Brandon Mashinter, who beat Tirronen five-hole with a shot that just trickled its way across the goal line, making the score 3-3 with just under six minutes to play.
Tirronen was thrown into his first AHL action against a dynamic Rockford team that has a lot riding on this last stretch of the season. But despite the worthy opponent, the native of Finland buckled down and put his team in a position to win.
“You need your goalies to need some big saves when there are breakdowns in front of him,” said Daniels. “I thought Rasmus kind of settled in for his first pro game and I’m sure he had some jitters early in the game, but after he got through it a little bit he settled in. Defensively we were real good in front of him to eliminate some of the chances and were able to score goals.”
The IceHogs tested Tirronen early, netting two goals before the midway point of the first period. While it would have been easy for the game to spiral out of control at that point, the young netminder was able to shake those off and improve as the game went on.
“As a coach and not really knowing him, it’s a good sign,” said Daniels. “It’s a good sign to see a goalie kind of be able to battle and move on from a couple of goals early, refocus and shut the door the rest of the way. It’s a good sign of a good goalie.”
Tirronen was quick to pass the credit of his first pro win onto his teammates in front of him.
“I enjoyed it and I’m happy to get a win because the guys in front of me played a hell of a game,” said Tirronen. “Scoring four should be a guaranteed win every time. They played really well. For my own part, I think the game is a little bit faster so it took some getting used to but settled in toward the end, so it felt pretty good.”
In front of Tirronen was a defensive corps just as inexperienced as he. Of the six defensemen in Charlotte’s lineup, five were rookies, while three of them were within the first five games of their pro careers. Thrown out there against a formidable Rockford team, the young group held their own.
“I thought they got stronger as the game went on,” said Daniels of Fleury and Roland McKeown, specifically. “Obviously Fleury scores a big goal there and Roland had an assist. The other guys, [Danny] Biega and Trevor [Carrick], who has played like a veteran player throughout the year, they really stepped up. I know we’re young back there but we’re not making any excuses. It’s a great opportunity to get those guys to play and they played well.”
In his debut, Fleury had somewhat of a bumpy start, but his goal was a reminder of why he was the the Hurricanes’ top pick, seventh overall, in last year’s draft.
“He got stronger as the game went on,” said Daniels. “He’s a young kid and still a year away from playing down here if he doesn’t make the big club, but he’s a confident kid. Once he settled in and got his legs under him and started skating, he was making plays and scored the big goal there. It was just a great sign to see from a young player.”
Fleury was unfortunately forced to leave the game with an injury, needing assistance to the locker room and not returning. Zach Boychuk also left the game due to injury in the first and did not return. Daniels did not have any updates regarding their status after the game.
With today being the last game that the team will play at Time Warner Cable Arena, Daniels acknowledged the five years of AHL history in the building, while keeping an eye toward a bright future at Bojangles’ Coliseum.
“Obviously it’s a good way to end it with a good crowd,” said Daniels. “It’s something that as players is out of their control with where they’re going to play, but for the guys who have been here for a few years, it’s a special building for us. We’ve had some good memories here and hopefully we can move on to Bojangles’ and create some better ones.”