GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Time will tell if 2013 truly becomes a happy new year for the first-place Grand Rapids Griffins, but they closed out 2012 in celebratory style on Monday with a 3-1 win over the Rockford IceHogs in their 16th annual New Year’s Eve affair at Van Andel Arena.
Tomas Tatar scored twice and Petr Mrazek was nearly perfect with 28 saves to help the Griffins (18-10-1-1) break their standings deadlock with Rockford (17-14-1-1) and reclaim sole possession of the top spot in the Midwest Division.
With their third straight New Year’s Eve victory, the Griffins finished December with an 8-4 mark and improved to 5-1 on their season-high seven-game home stand, which they’ll conclude by hosting the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday at 7 p.m.
A hard-hitting first period featured 21 penalty minutes for each team but a goal for only the Griffins, who scored within the game’s first 2:16 for the fourth time in as many meetings with the IceHogs this season. On a rush into the Rockford zone, Jeff Hoggan launched a rocket from the top of the right circle that Carter Hutton turned aside, but Luke Glendening got a stick on the rebound in the slot before Landon Ferraro put it home at the 2:01 mark for his 10th goal of the season.
Rockford tied it with a power play goal 6:14 into the second period, as Dylan Olsen collected an errant Adam Almquist clearing attempt above the right circle and ripped a shot low to the ice that eluded Mrazek’s glove.
The Griffins pulled ahead 2-1 during their own advantage with 3:58 left before intermission, when Tatar fired a wrister from the top of the right circle that found its way through traffic and into the top of the cage. Tatar’s 76th career goal as a Griffin moved him past Kip Miller into sole possession of fourth place all time.
Exactly 10 minutes into the third period, Tatar tallied again to make it a 3-1 lead for Grand Rapids. He chipped the puck off the boards in his zone and sped down the left side, crossing over the IceHogs’ blue line on a 2-on-1 before unleashing a slap shot from the top of the circle that blew past Hutton, sending the crowd of 10,004 into a frenzy.
Any last-ditch chance for the IceHogs to pull closer in the waning minutes was snuffed by a tripping penalty to Kyle Beach with 1:55 remaining, enabling the Griffins to finish out the game on the power play.
Mrazek claimed his fourth consecutive win – a span during which he’s allowed only six goals – to improve to 11-3-0 on the season. Hutton fell to 13-12-1 with a 25-save effort.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Tatar (two goals); 2. GR Mrazek (W, 28 saves); 3. GR Ferraro (goal)