AHL Central News: Admirals & Wild Move Up the Standings

Now that the NHL’s All-Star Break has come and gone, the taxi squads are no more! This means things will heat up across the American Hockey League (AHL) and within its Central Division. Teams can now count on having all their healthy players available as we embark on the stretch run heading towards the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Off-Ice Business

The first-place Chicago Wolves reacquired the services of veteran forward Josh Leivo as he was reassigned to the AHL following a two-week stint with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The biggest news for the Grand Rapids Griffins came out of the front office. General manager Pat Verbeek was named the new general manager for the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. The Detroit Red Wings quickly named Shawn Horcoff as his replacement. On the ice, Joe Veleno was returned to the Griffins on Wednesday, and Josh Dickinson was released from his professional tryout (PTO). Defenseman Blake Hillman was also released from his PTO on Saturday and returned to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.

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The Iowa Wild had a busy week off the ice. On Monday, the Minnesota Wild reassigned goaltender Andrew Hammond and forward Kyle Rau to the AHL. The following day, Minnesota recalled goaltender Zane McIntyre but returned him to Iowa on Thursday, along with defenseman Kevin Czuczman.

Kyle Rau Minnesota Wild
Rau was back in Iowa this week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Admirals lost a fixture in their lineup when the Nashville Predators traded forward Anthony Richard to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Jimmy Huntington. Richard played 294 games for the Admirals over six seasons, the third-most in franchise history. Huntington had six goals and 12 points in 27 games for the Syracuse Crunch this season.

When the Winnipeg Jets hit the All-Star Break on Wednesday, they returned seven players to the Manitoba Moose. Forwards Mikey Eyssimont and Kristian Reichel, defensemen Declan Chisholm, Leon Gawanke, Johnathan Kovacevic and Ville Heinola, as well as goaltender Mikhail Berdin were all reassigned to the Moose. In a corresponding move, Manitoba reassigned goaltender Philippe Desrosiers to the Trois-Rivieres Lions of the ECHL. On Friday, the Moose recalled forward Isaac Johnson from the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers.

Before hosting the Admirals on Wednesday, the Rockford IceHogs placed forward Michal Teply in COVID-19 protocol. They also declared forward Mike Hardman week-to-week with a left ankle injury. The team recalled Chad Yetman from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel to help fill the void. The Chicago Blackhawks reassigned defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk to Rockford the following day.

On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars traded forward Tye Felhaber to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Alexey Lipanov, who was reassigned to the Texas Stars. Felhaber had two goals in 14 games for Texas this season.

The Week in Review

Wednesday, Feb. 2

Toronto Marlies 4, Griffins 3

The Griffins started their busy week at home hosting non-divisional opponents by welcoming the Marlies on Wednesday. However, two late goals against extended their losing streak to six games.

After scoring just one goal in their three games the previous week, the Griffins’ offense opened up the scoring with two minutes left in the first period. Winger Jon Martin scored his second goal of the season by ripping home a one-timer off a Taro Hirose pass.

The Marlies stormed back with two goals in the opening 1:22 of the middle stanza to grab a 2-1 lead. Alex Steeves scored a power-play goal off a rebound just 27 seconds in. Filip Kral scored off his own rebound less than a minute later to break the tie. Ryan Murphy drew the Griffins even less than five minutes later by beating goaltender Erik Kallgren over the left shoulder. Brett McKenzie gave Grand Rapids a 3-2 lead with a wrist shot in the final minute of the period.

Toronto tied the game early in the third period when Semyon Der-Arguchintsev’s shot hit off Luke Witkowski’s skate and went between the legs of Calvin Pickard. Antti Suomela scored the game-winning goal with a wrister from the high slot with less than five minutes to play.

“We’ve been struggling with our third periods all year,” a frustrated Pickard said after the loss. “I want to get that goal back. I got ahead of the puck there. And then it’s just a little bit too late. That’s the story.”

Admirals 2, IceHogs 0

The IceHogs came into Wednesday’s game against the Admirals struggling to score goals while facing the hottest goaltender in the AHL.

The reigning AHL Player of the Week, Connor Ingram, and Arvid Soderblom put on a goaltending clinic through the first 40 minutes. The netminders combined for 38 saves as the game headed into the scoreless third period.

The Admirals scored the first goal of the night with just over five minutes left to play. Defenseman Marc Del Gaizo made a nice play to knock down the puck and keep it in the zone at the blue line. Seconds later, Mitch McLain was in behind the defense and used his backhand to beat Soderblom for his 11th goal of the season. Matt Luff added an empty netter to give the visitors a late insurance goal.

Ingram stopped all 26 shots he faced to become the first Admirals goaltender since Magnus Hellberg in 2013 to earn shutouts in back-to-back games. He hadn’t allowed a goal in his last 179:39 of game action had shutouts in three of his previous four starts. Meanwhile, after last Saturday’s 1-0 shootout win at the Wolves, the IceHogs extended their goal drought to 180:33.

“It’s tough when you don’t score goals,” said IceHogs forward Evan Barratt, who has four points against the Admirals this season. “But, I think we have a group that can shut teams down. We have a great defense and play a hard game. We’ve got to bear down in these games in February.”

Friday, Feb. 4

Ontario Reign 5, Griffins 2

The Griffins were back on the ice Friday night and welcomed in the Reign, the Los Angeles Kings’ farm club. This was the first game between these two teams since 2019 and Ontario’s first trip to Grand Rapids since 2018.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan’s power-play tally at the right post was the first period’s lone goal. The Reign doubled their lead less than four minutes into the middle frame when Austin Wagner beat Pickard cleanly with a backhand shot.

Less than a minute later, defenseman Dan Renouf got the home team on the board, scoring his first goal of the season off a turnover. Ontario regained its two-goal advantage later in the frame when former Griffins forward Martin Frk scored on the power play.

Martin Frk LA Kings
Frk came back to haunt his former team. (Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Samuel Fagemo beat Pickard through the five-hole early in the third period to give the Reign a 4-1 lead. Veleno got that goal back about three minutes later while on the power play. The visitors racked up their third goal on the man advantage to cap off the scoring when Alex Turcotte scored from the left circle midway through the final frame.

“We didn’t manage the puck well at the start of the game,” said Griffins’ head coach Ben Simon shortly after his team’s seventh straight loss. “They’ve got the number one power play in the league, and, at the end of the day, we can’t afford to take lazy penalties. It just came back to bite us in the ass.”

IceHogs 4, Wild 2

The Wild hosted the IceHogs on Friday in the first half of a weekend home-and-home series. Rockford used power-play success and solid goaltending to strike first in the set.

Defenseman Ian Mitchell started his big night late in the first period with a power-play tally from the left point. Just over a minute later, Barratt beat Hammond with a backhand shot to double the visitors’ lead.

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Mitchell’s second power-play goal of the night, this time from the left circle, was the lone tally of the middle frame. Lukas Reichel put Rockford up 4-0 early in the third period with his team-leading 13th goal.

Bryce Misley spoiled Soderblom’s shutout bid about five minutes later when he got to a loose puck in front of the net and pushed it over the goal line. Less than three minutes later, defenseman Dakota Meris scored off a faceoff win to get Iowa to within two goals, but that was as close as they would get. The two teams combined for a season-high 84 penalty minutes as the rivalry heats up.

Wolves 1, Admirals 0

The Admirals entered their weekend series with the Wolves as the hottest team with the hottest goaltender in AHL. Ingram kept up his high-end play by giving up just one goal on 28 shots, but the offense was held off the board, snapping Milwaukee’s seven-game winning streak and nine-game point streak.

Ingram’s shutout streak of 191:49 came to an end just over 12 minutes into the first period. The crazy sequence started when Ingram denied Jack Drury on a 2-on-1 rush, then stopped Jalen Chatfield from stuffing home the rebound. However, C.J. Smith put the second rebound up and over the sprawled-out goaltender for his 13th goal of the season.

The Admirals pulled Ingram for an extra attacker with 2:33 left in regulation but could only get two shots on goal. Wolves netminder Alex Lyon made 19 stops for his third shutout of the season and lowered his goals-against average (GAA) to an AHL-best 1.93.

Alex Lyon Chicago Wolves
Lyon snapped the Admirals winning streak. (photo courtesy of Chicago Wolves)

“We hung in there,” Admirals head coach Karl Taylor said. “We had a chance to win, and we’re proud of that. We didn’t get the result today. There was a challenge in front of us. That’s a really good team that works and skates. They compete and take ice away. So we have to learn how to play at the pace and challenge ourselves to match up tomorrow.”

Saturday, Feb. 5

Griffins 5, Reign 3

On Saturday night, the Grand Rapids offense got goals from five different players to snap their season-high seven-game losing streak in their rematch with Ontario.

The Reign opened the scoring at 12:58 of the first period when Gabriel Vilardi scored off a one-timer set up by Fagemo from behind the net. The Griffins stormed by with three straight goals in 1:37. Hirose set up Jonathan Berggren for the game-tying power-play goal at the right post. Wyatt Newpower gave the home team the lead 50 seconds later by beating goaltender Jacob Ingham with a tap-in shot.

Jonatan Berggren Grand Rapids Griffins
Berggren was one of five Griffins to score on Saturday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Defenseman Jared McIsaac quickly doubled the lead when his wrist shot from the point made it through heavy traffic. The Reign drew within one before the end of the frame, with Brett Sutter scoring off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush. The Griffins put up 23 shots on goal during the opening 20 minutes, one shy of the franchise record for the most in a single period.

The Griffins broke the game open with a pair of second-period shorthanded goals. Veleno scored for the second straight night seven minutes in. While on the penalty kill, he stole the puck and finished off his breakaway to increase the lead to 4-2. Later in the frame, he set up Tyler Spezia’s shorthanded goal from the slot for his first career three-point AHL game.

Frk beat Victor Brattstrom in the final minute of regulation, but it was far too late for the Reign to mount a serious comeback. After struggling with the penalty kill Friday night, the Griffins killed all seven of Ontario’s power plays while scoring those two shorthanded goals.

“It’s a big relief,” Simon said of finally ending the losing skid. “That’s a very good hockey team. I thought the adjustments (assistant coach) Matt McDonald made on the kill paid dividends. Credit to the killers and credit to the guys for making tweaks that were extremely effective.”

Admirals 7, Wolves 5

After just one goal on Friday, these old rivals exploded for 12 of Saturday, with the Admirals withstanding a late-game rally to earn a weekend split.

Half of the goals were scored in the opening periods, as Milwaukee built a 5-1 lead after 20 minutes. Del Gaizo’s fourth goal of the season opened the scoring, as he knocked home a rebound at 3:31. Less than a minute later, Rocco Grimaldi doubled the lead by beating Jack LaFontaine from the high slot through heavy traffic. The Wolves responded just over two minutes later when David Gust scored off a one-timer while on a power play.

The Admirals fired back for three more goals before the first intermission. Another blueliner, Josh Healy, scored his first goal with the team to increase the lead to 3-1. Four minutes later, Graham Knott netted his seventh goal, which ended LaFontaine’s evening, who surrendered four goals on 11 shots. Cole Smith finally figured out Lyon by scoring on a 2-on-1 rush before the end of the opening frame.

The Wolves showed no quit as Ryan Suzuki cashed in off a feed from Jamieson just over a minute into the second period. Chicago’s Smith scored off a rebound with 0.2 seconds left on the clock to cut the deficit to 5-3.

Luff regained the momentum for Milwaukee by scoring off a turnover just 40 seconds into the final stanza. However, Chicago stormed right back when Jesper Sellgren scored from the left circle just over five minutes later. Sellgren picked up an assist on Chatfield’s shorthanded goal that cut the lead down to 6-5 with 5:05 left in regulation. Del Gaizo sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.

“It’s good to see the guys work through some things,” Taylor said from a victorious locker room. “There was lots of adversity in the game. I like how we stayed with it. We were better as a group. It was team-first all the way through. We seemed to have an answer all night and found a way to win the game.”

Wild 4, IceHogs 2

Saturday’s rematch was a mirrored image of Friday’s contest, with the road team jumping out to a 4-0 lead, with the help of two power-play goals, to hang on for a 4-2 victory. The biggest difference was a step back in the physicality department, as just 10 total penalty minutes were given out.

Rau had the lone goal of the first period. With 5:30 left on the clock and while on the power play, he scored his 11th goal of the season off a rebound from a Meris shot.

IceHogs goaltender Cale Morris made his first start since Dec.11, and the rust showed during the second period where he surrendered three goals. The first came at 11:38 when Marco Rossi beat Morris with a wrist shot from the right circle. Five minutes later, Mason Shaw made it 3-0 by scoring off a rebound on the man advantage. The third and final goal came less than a minute later when Mitchell Chaffee scored from the slot. Dylan McLaughlin was awarded a penalty shot with 10 seconds left in the period, but McIntyre made one of his 35 saves to keep Rockford off the board.

Cale Morris Rockford Icehogs
Morris had a rough return to the crease. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The home team got a pair of third-period goals from defensemen to get back into the game. Isaak Phillips scored his fourth goal of the season with a one-timer at 10:40. Just over a minute later, Alec Regula scored from the left circle to bring the IceHogs to within two goals. However, McIntyre shut the door after this to give the Wild a weekend split.

“It was a tough loss,” a dejected Regula said. “Their goalie played well. We got a lot of rubber on him. We stayed strong and were able to get a couple by him in the third. We got a push there, but it wasn’t enough tonight.”

Sunday, Feb. 6

Moose 2, Stars 1 – SO

The Stars and Moose were supposed to play on Friday and Sunday in Winnipeg. Due to rare winter-like weather in Texas, Friday’s game was moved to Saturday. Eventually, it was outright postponed due to travel issues with no makeup date announced yet.

Once these two teams took to the ice on Sunday afternoon, they needed a 12-round shootout to determine the winner.

The Stars got the first power play of the game midway through the first period and quickly took advantage when Ty Dellandrea beat Mikhail Berdin over the blocker. Eyssimont evened the score halfway through the third period by tipping a Gawanke shot past Adam Scheel for his seventh goal of the season.

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Both teams got two shots on goal during the scoreless overtime session. The teams combined for nine shootout goals. Dellandrea, Anthony Louis, Jordan Kawaguchi, and Rhett Gardner scored for Texas before Berdin made five straight stops. The Moose answered with goals from Eyssimont, Reichel, Cole Maier, and Greg Meireles before Gwanake won the game in the 12th round. Despite the loss, the Stars still have at least one point in each of their last six road games.

“That game today pretty much shows our whole season,” Gawanke said after his game-winning shootout goal. “I don’t think we had a great game today, but we found a way to get out with two points at the end. That’s pretty much all that matters. We have some things to clean up when we play them again for the next two. Our coaching staff always stays positive, tells us to go back to work, to do what makes us successful. At the end of the second and third, we were the better team, and we managed to get the two points out of it.”

Who’s Hot

Cody Glass is still trying to find a way to stick on an NHL roster, but he has been making the most of his time with the Admirals. The first draft pick in Vegas Golden Knights history is doing well in his first season with the Nashville Predators organization. His playmaking skills have taken a jump of late. He has seven assists in his last eight games. His 24 helpers have him tied for 10th in the AHL.

Cody Glass Milwaukee Admirals
Glass has been racking up the assists. (photo courtesy of Milwaukee Admirals)

In early January, Lukas Reichel got his first taste of the NHL by appearing in two games with the Blackhawks. He has been producing at a point-per-game rate since returning to the IceHogs. In his last nine games, he has two goals and nine points. He currently leads Rockford in goals (13), assists (16), and points (29).

Player of the Week

When Veleno took to the ice on Friday night, it was his first AHL action with the Griffin since Nov. 13. He had an extended run with the Red Wings. After two goals and six points in 31 NHL games, the team decided to send the center back to Grand Rapids. He responded with a four-point weekend. He scored a goal on Friday night and followed that up with a goal and two assists in Saturday’s rematch with the Reign. He has five goals and seven points in his nine AHL games this season.

Joe Veleno Grand Rapids Griffins
Veleno had a triumphant return to the Griffins’ lineup. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“It’s nice to play big minutes and play in all situations,” Veleno said of his return to the AHL. “It’s always nice to get rewarded with ice time. Confidence was a big thing. I’m not saying I didn’t have it up there (Detroit). But, being more familiar with this league and playing with these guys before obviously helps.”

Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, Feb. 8
Wolves @ Cleveland Monsters
Moose @ Stars

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Moose @ Stars

Thursday, Feb. 10
Griffins @ Wild

Friday, Feb. 11
Griffins @ Wild
Wolves @ IceHogs
Admirals @ Stars
Moose @ Abbotsford Canucks

Saturday, Feb. 12
IceHogs @ Wolves
Admirals @ Stars
Moose @ Canucks

Central Division Standings

Wolves 26-8-4-2 (58 pts, .725%)
Moose 24-11-2-1 (51 pts, .671%)
Wild 19-17-2-2 (42 pts, .525%)
Admirals 21-19-2-2 (46 pts, .523%)
IceHogs 17-16-3-1 (38 pts, .514%)
Griffins 16-17-5-2 (39 pts, .488%)
Stars 12-15-4-3 (31 pts, .456%)
(Standings determined by points percentage, top five teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs)