The American Hockey League’s Central Division put the finishing touches on their abbreviated 2020-21 season over the weekend. With the Sam Pollock Trophy already clinched, the six teams played for pride and contracts as they all split their weekend sets. The Cleveland Monsters and Grand Rapids Griffins alternated wins on home ice. The same can be said of the Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Wolves. Meanwhile, the Texas Stars salvaged a win in their season-ended road trip at the Iowa Wild.
Friday, May 14
The Monsters gave its fans their money’s worth during the final home game of the season as the game kicked off with an action-packed opening period.
Tristan Mullin went upstairs to beat Kaden Fulcher just six minutes into the game, giving Cleveland an early 1-0 lead. Carson Meyer doubled the advantage with a power-play goal just over two minutes later. Chase Pearson got Grand Rapids on the by deflecting a Seth Barton shot past Daniil Tarasov to give the young forward his first professional point with the assist.
Cliff Pu got that goal back for the Monsters less than a minute later, which got Fulcher pulled from the game and replaced by Pat Nagle after allowing three goals on eight shots. The goaltending switch seemed to spark the Griffins as Max Humitz and Givani Smith scored 50 seconds apart before the end of the period to tie the score at 3-3.
The Monsters got a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes early in the second period. Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther cashed in with a one-timer from the right circle for the only goal of the middle frame.
Josh Dunne doubled Cleveland’s lead early in the third period by cleaning up a rebound. Riley Barber scored his team-high 19th goal of the season while on a power play to draw the Griffins to within a goal with over seven minutes to play. Dunne finished off Grand Rapids with a late empty-net goal.
The IceHogs closed out the home portion of their 2020-21 schedule by picking up a win over their archrival and the reigning Central Division champs.
The game’s opening goal came from an unlikely source as defenseman Dmitry Osipov’s second goal of the season gave the IceHogs a 1-0 lead over his former team. Mitch Fossier doubled the lead with 16 seconds left in the first period with his fourth goal in as many games.
Dylan McLaughlin had the lone goal of the second period to give Rockford a three-goal cushion. His eighth goal of the season, a shorthanded tally, put him in a tie for the team lead with Chris Wilkie.
In the third period, Andrei Altybarmakian beat goaltender Beck Warm to the glove side for his fifth goal of the season, giving Rockford a 4-0 lead. The Wolves did not roll over and play dead as they racked up a season-high 17 shots on goal during the final frame. The only one that found the back of the net came from Tommy Novak with five minutes to play and hit off a defender’s skate on the way over the goal line. Netminder Matt Tomkins made 36 saves to give the IceHogs their third straight win over the Wolves.
“It was a slow start for me, but good for the team,” Tomkins said after his fifth win of the season. “We were putting a lot of pressure on them and had a lot of opportunities. I got more and more opportunities as the game went on. That’s good for a goalie. You get some momentum. It was a good win overall for our team.”
Iowa came out on top in a back-and-forth contest to win their second straight game over Texas and their fifth straight overall.
Defenseman Thomas Harley gave the Stars a 1-0 lead, less than seven minutes into the game when his shot slipped through Hunter Jones. Six minutes later, Matt Boldy hit the post, but Mason Shaw was in the perfect position to bang home the rebound and tie the game.
The second period saw five combined goals, with the first one by Anthony Louis, giving the Stars a 2-1 lead just over three minutes in. Will Bitten evened things up with a goal off of a Connor Dewar shot. A minute later, Brandon Duhaime gave the Wild their first lead after finding the puck from Boldy’s blocked shot and depositing it into the Texas net.
The Stars came back to score a pair of goals within two minutes of each other to take a 4-3 lead into the third period. The first was scored off a rebound by captain Cole Schneider with Harley following up with his second of the night from the left circle.
Adam Beckman tied the game on an early third-period power play when his shot from the right circle deflected in off a Texas stick. Three minutes later, Duhaime picked up another huge tally for the eventual game-winning goal. He fired a shot past goaltender Adam Scheel directly off a Gabriel Dumont faceoff win for his third point of the game.
“There is no panic in our team,” Shaw said after the win. “We know that when we are down in situations like that, we are going have our opportunities to tie the game. I think we do things right and stick with it, and at the end of 60 minutes, it works out for us.”
Saturday, May 15
These two rivals changed venues for their season finale. The Griffins wrapped up their hectic end of the season with their sixth game in nine days. They played their final 12 games of this crazy campaign in 20 days.
Kyle Criscuolo got the Griffins on the board just 46 seconds into the game by scoring his 11th goal of the season right off a faceoff win. This was the only goal of the game until the final frame.
Bayreuther scored his second goal of the weekend to tie the score four minutes into the third period. While on a power play, the defenseman beat goaltender Calvin Pickard with a one-timer from the point. Barber scored his 20th goal in just 32 games while on a power play to break the tie with just over five minutes to play. Dominic Turgeon and Smith iced the game with a pair of late empty-net goals.
Barber finished the season with a team-high 20 goals and 34 points. Those numbers projected over a standard 76-game season equal 47 goals and 80 points.
“I am pretty confident in myself and in my abilities,” he admitted following the game. “I’m definitely not giving up on my dream of playing in the NHL. But, at the same time, I am enjoying it down here. I can’t thank the staff enough here. I am really excited to be here for another year.”
Texas finished their up-and-down season by winning another tight game in Iowa. For the second straight night, Harley opened the scoring. This time, he scored from the right circle while on a 5-on-3 power play. Just like on Friday as well, Shaw evened the game at 1-1 by firing a one-time past Colton Point.
Duhaime thought he had his third goal of the weekend early in the second period, but the goal was quickly waved for being played by a high stick. Mitchell Chaffee scored a goal off his backhand that stayed on the scoreboard, but it turned out to be the final one on the season for the Wild.
Rookie Mavrik Bourque tied the game before the end of the middle frame by scoring off a rebound. Five minutes into the third period, Adam Macherin scored the game-winning goal with a rocket from the right circle that beat Trevin Kozlowski. He finished the season as the Stars’ leading goal-scorer with 18.
Antoine Bibeau got the start in goal for Chicago as they capped off their division-winning season with their eighth win of the season over their intrastate rivals.
Sean Malone’s power-play goal with 17 seconds left in the first period was the only goal of the frame. He redirected a Phil Tomasino shot past Tom Aubrun for his fifth goal of the season.
Jamieson Rees closed out his rookie season with his eighth goal to double Chicago’s lead just five minutes into the second period. Defenseman Cole Moberg got the IceHogs on the board late in the stanza with a wrist shot from the left point. He became the 12th IceHog to score his first professional goal during the 2020-21 season.
David Gust scored a big insurance goal off a feed from Rees with just over two minutes to play. Novak picked up two assists on the night to finish the season with at least one point in each of his last 10 AHL games. Bibeau made 27 saves to earn his fifth win of the season. He is one of six netminders who won a game for the Wolves on the season.
“We did some really good things tonight,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “We played a lot harder than last night. That’s something that we talked about this morning. To end the season this way is a real positive.”
The Weekend’s Top Performer
The Dallas Stars have high hopes for Harley after drafting him in the first round (18th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He had a big weekend in Iowa with three goals, including the opening tallies in each game. The 19-year-old should have played in the Ontario Hockey League this season but got to play in the AHL due to the pandemic. He finished his first professional season with eight goals and 25 points in 38 games.
Final Central Division Standings
Wolves – 21-9-1-2, 45 pts (.682 pts %)
Monsters – 16-10-1-2, 35 pts (.603 pts %)
Griffins – 16-12-3-0, 34 pts (.563 pts %)
Wild – 17-13-4-0, 38 pts (.559 pts %)
Stars – 17-18-3-0, 35 pts (.487 pts %)
IceHogs – 12-19-1-0, 25 pts (.391 pts %)