Wallstedt Spurs Wild to OT Win over IceHogs
DES MOINES, IA – The Iowa Wild had struggled at home for much of December, beginning the month 1-5-0, but have come alive at Wells Fargo Arena of late, winning their third straight game on home ice thanks to a spectacular performance by goaltender Jesper Wallstedt and an overtime tally by Dakota Mermis that led Iowa to a 2-1 victory over the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday. Marco Rossi delivered the other goal, scoring a power-play tally in the first period, but it was Wallstedt who stole the show, making two outstanding saves that turned the tide of the contest.
The Wild got off to a quick start when Rossi scored 2:51 into the contest. With Iowa on the man advantage, Nic Petan made a fantastic saucer pass off the boards across the slot to Rossi just above the left face-off circle. He corralled the puck on his stick before lifting a wrist shot that caught the upper corner over Rockford netminder Mitchell Weeks for his fifth goal of the year.
It was a great start to the contest for Rossi, who Head Coach Tim Army explained “has a great game defensively, playing exceptionally well in all three zones, but we (the coaching staff) want to see him take charge more, be the guy who takes charge offensively.”
The IceHogs took advantage of a power-play opportunity for themselves 13:48 into the contest, as Michael Hardman tied the score with his second goal of the year. Luke Philp took a shot from the point that was knocked down by Wallstedt, but Hardman was right on the doorstep, knocking in the puck to make it 1-1.
Rockford controlled much of the remaining part of the first period and into the second, but the contest turned when Wallstedt made a spectacular save about five minutes into the frame. A shot by Filip Roos hit off the crossbar and off a player, deflecting it toward the goal line. Wallstedt was able to somehow locate the puck, diving backward so that he did not keep the momentum of the puck heading toward the goal while also being able to wrap his body around the puck and pull it in.
In the third, Rockford came out dominating early, and had dominated much of this contest, taking 18 of the first 30 shots in the game. However, it was Wallstedt coming up with another fantastic save, as a great feed by Philp put the puck right on the stick of Buddy Robinson as he was crashing the net. Wallstedt was able to slide over quickly, getting his pad in the way to knock down the deflection.
It was a big turning point in the contest, one that the Head Coach recognized. “Your goaltender is the most important player on the ice and it (the save) can have a big impact on the ice, like a fight or a goal. He made two big saves early in the second, early in the third, keeping this a 1-1 hockey game, allowing us to get our legs underneath us a little bit.”
From there, the Wild dominated, outshooting Rockford 11-3 over the remaining 17 minutes of the third period. However, Weeks played very well as well, keeping this game tied at one, sending the contest to overtime.
There, the Wild made short work of the extra session. Rossi won the opening draw of OT, and the Wild were eventually able to settle inside the IceHogs end. Petan was behind the net, waiting for his teammates to get in position before finding Mermis moving down the slot. The defenseman fired a laser wrist shot over the glove hand of Weeks for his fourth goal of the season, giving Iowa a 2-1 victory.
Rossi finished with a goal and an assist and Petan had two assists for the Wild. Wallstedt stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced, moving his record to 7-7-3 this season while lowering his goals-against average to 2.98.
These two teams will be back at it again on Sunday. The puck drops at 3:00.
by Robert Pannier