The American Hockey League has reached the All-Star break, and while the North Division can boast about their All-Star Classic win, it is the Central Division that can brag about how competitive it is. Just 14 points separate the eight teams as we get ready for the second half of the season to begin later this week.
Griffins Set Themselves Up for a Successful Second Half
Last season, the Grand Rapids Griffins (25-14-3-4) finished in second place with 93 points. They lead the pack at the All-Star break with 57 points and are on-pace to eclipse their point total from a season ago. They currently are the only team in Central Division with 25 wins and have a two-point lead on second place.
Just before the Griffins started their busy three-game week, they learned defenseman Filip Hronek was reassigned to Grand Rapids by the Detroit Red Wings. Even after playing 23 games in the NHL, Hronek still leads Griffins defensemen with 18 points.
On Wednesday night, Harri Sateri won a great goaltender battle in a 2-1 overtime win over the Manitoba Moose. The game saw 66 total shots on goal, but only three goals between the two teams.
The Moose scored the only goal of the opening period on a late power play with 1:06 left in the first period. Wade Megan stayed hot by picking up his sixth point in the last three games to even the score. Tyler Spezia centered a pass to Megan who rifled it home for his sixth goal of the season. Since returning to Grand Rapids from Detroit, Megan has factored in six of the Griffins’ last seven goals.
After a scoreless third period that saw 11 shots on goal by each team, the game headed to overtime. Carter Camper scored his second overtime goal against the Moose this season at the 3:37 mark of the extra time by firing a wrist shot into the net.
The Griffins welcomed the San Jose Barracuda to town on Friday night to open up a two-series between a pair of division leaders. The Barracuda got the upper hand in the first game with a 4-0 shutout victory.
The game featured a goaltending matchup between the second and third-ranked goaltenders when it comes to goals-against average (GAA) in Josef Koernar and Patrik Rybar. Koernar had the better night by denying all 29 shots he saw to pick up his third shutout of the season. Rybar made 22 saves in the losing effort.
Being down 2-0 to the AHL’s top team did not deter the Griffins on Saturday night as they rallied to win 3-2 in a shootout. The Barracuda scored on their first and last shot of the opening period to establish their two-goal lead after 20 minutes. Filip Zadina scored the Griffins’ first goal of the weekend, early in the second period, off a slick pass from Chris Terry. Colin Campbell tied the game just over a minute into the third period by one-timing a feed from Carter Camper from the left circle.
Even though the Griffins spent the second half of overtime on a power play, the game headed to a shootout. Matt Puempel scored the only goal of the skills challenge to send the Griffins into the All-Star break at the top of the division.
Player of the Week: The Griffins earned four points last week by only scoring four goals. Camper scored half of those goals proving his value over the three games. His 34 points have him third in scoring on the team behind Terry and Puempel.
The Week Ahead: Thursday, Jan. 31 @ Texas Stars; Friday, Feb. 1 @ San Antonio Rampage
Wild Claim 2nd Place as They Look for 1st Playoff Berth
The Iowa Wild (24-14-4-3) won two out of their three games last week to remain in second place with 55 points. When they return from the All-Star break, they will find themselves just two points out of the top spot.
The Wild closed out their four-game homestand with a 4-1 victory over the visiting Rockford IceHogs on Monday afternoon. Defenseman Hunter Warner opened the scoring just over two minutes into the game by cashing in on a rebound for his first goal of the season. Kyle Rau stayed red hot by doubling the score on the power play late in the first period by once again taking advantage of a rebound. The goal extended Rau’s point streak to four games.
The IceHogs got on the board early in the second period, ending Kaapo Kahkonen’s shutout streak against them at 234:30, which set a franchise record. Rau added another power-play goal to increase the lead to 3-1 midway through the third period as a Cal O’Reilly pass deflected off his skate and went into the Rockford net. Will Bitten capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal on the final minute of play.
The Wild were back on the road Friday night as they traveled to Milwaukee and shutout the Admirals 3-0. Goaltender Andrew Hammond stopped all 31 shots he saw to pick up his first shutout as a member of the Wild.
Bitten quickly opened the scoring, just 31 seconds into the game, as O’Reilly’s pass into the slot deflected off of him and bounced into the Admirals net. This marked the 29th time the Wild have scored first in a game this season, which leads the AHL. Despite being outshot 11-3 in the first period, they held a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.
After a scoreless middle frame, Sam Anas doubled Iowa’s lead about seven minutes into the third period with a power play goal. O’Reilly picked up another helper by finding Anas in the right circle where he went bar-down to extend his point streak to four games. Matt Read capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final seconds of the game to seal the victory.
They say that all good things come to an end and Kahkonen found that out Saturday night as his dominance over the IceHogs was put to a stop. He was still very good, but he was outdueled by Anton Forsberg at the other end in a 3-1 loss in Rockford. It was his first loss to Rockford in six starts this season.
After a scoreless first period that saw some big stops by both goaltenders, the IceHogs scored on a power play just shy of the seven-minute mark of the second period. Belpedio evened things up with just 20.5 seconds left in the middle frame as he was left all alone in the right circle and used the time and space to rocket the puck over Forsberg’s shoulder.
IceHogs responded quickly as they regained the lead less than two minutes into the third period. They iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final minute. The Wild got 34 pucks to the net, but they were unable to figure out Forsberg.
Player of the Week: The Wild had two players pick up four points last week in Anas (one goals, three assists) and O’Reilly (four assists). The nod will go to Anas because he found the back of the net. He had back-to-back two-point games before being held off the scoresheet in Rockford. His 22 points have him tied with Read for sixth on the team in scoring.
— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) January 26, 2019
The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 1 @ Bakersfield Condors; Saturday, Feb. 2 @ San Diego Gulls
Wolves in Position for a 3rd Straight Central Crown
The Chicago Wolves (24-14-5-1) took three out of a possible four points last week. They ended up losing ground to both the Griffins and Wild as they played one less game and now find themselves in third place was 54 points.
Before the Wolves hit the road, the Vegas Golden Knights decided to swap goaltenders. They recalled Oscar Dansk from Chicago while reassigning Max Lagace. Center Matthew Weis was also recalled from the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL for his second stint in the AHL.
The Wolves spent the end of their week in Cleveland with a two-game set at the Monsters on Thursday and Saturday nights. The Wolves flexed their offensive muscle in Thursday’s 5-1 victory. The Monsters struck first about 12 minutes into the second period before the floodgates opened for the Wolves.
Defenseman Dylan Coghlan’s ninth goal of the season put the Wolves on the board with 57 seconds left in the middle frame. Steffan Matteau scored the eventual game-winning goal, on a shorthanded rush, a blink of an eye before the final horn sounded on the period. The momentum carried over into the third period as Brooks Macek scored his 19th goal of the season two minutes into the frame.
Keegan Kolesar increased the lead to 4-0 just 10 seconds later to finish off a four-goal flurry in a span of 3:13. All-Star Daniel Carr finished off a two-on-one rush with Macek to finish off the scoring at the 13:39 mark. Goaltender Zach Fucale made 28 saves to pick up his first career win with the Wolves.
Lagace was back in goal for the Wolves in Saturday night’s rematch and he was the hard-luck loser in a 4-3 shootout defeat. The Monsters scored first for the second night in a row. In fact, they built a 2-0 lead heading into the third period before the Wolves began their comeback.
Defenseman Erik Brannstrom got the Wolves on the board with a power-play goal just 33 seconds into the final frame. The Monsters responded to regain their two-goal advantage less than three minutes later.
About a minute and a half later, Jake Bischoff became the second Wolves defender to light the lamp as his shot from the left circle found its way through heavy traffic. Tomas Hyka tied the game with just over five minutes left in regulation by taking advantage of the extra space, while the teams skated at four-on-four, to get to the front of the net and bury a backhand shot.
Unfortunately, Mark Letestu scored just 42 seconds into overtime to earn the extra point for the Monsters.
Player of the Week: Ever since Golden Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban went down with an injury on Jan. 8, Fucale has been back in the AHL with the Wolves. He played well in his previous two starts, but the offense in front of him could not help him out. That wasn’t the case on Thursday night as he made 28 saves to keep his team in the game before they scored four goals in just over three minutes. Fucale had to be excited about a fresh start in the Golden Knights organization after never living up to the pressure of being a second-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 2013.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 1 @ IceHogs; Saturday, Feb. 2 vs Moose
Offense Gets Admirals Back into Fourth Place
Just when it looked like the Admirals (22-17-6-1) were starting to fall out of the playoff race, they have won three out of their last four games. Their recent offensive resurgence has them back in fourth place with 51 points with a two-point cushion. The Admirals opened up their season-high nine-game homestand on Tuesday night by hosting the San Antonio Rampage, who have struggled mightily on the road this season. The offense led the way in a 7-3 blowout victory.
Cole Schneider scored his first goal as an Admiral by depositing a backhand shot into the Rampage net about three and a half minutes into the game. Anthony Richard and Yakov Trenin started their big nights just 1:22 later as Trenin’s pass hit the outside of the net and went right to Richard in front for a 2-0 lead. Richard scored again on a breakaway to give the Admirals a 3-0 lead before the game was even nine minutes old.
After the Rampage got on the board late in the first period, Trenin scored from the high slot seven minutes into the middle frame to restore their three-goal lead. Eeli Tolvanen made it 5-1 about seven minutes later, 20 seconds before Richard completed his first career hat trick from the right circle.
16 seconds after the Rampage scored an early third-period goal, Richard set up Trenin’s second goal of the night to make it 7-2. San Antonio added a third and final goal about two minutes later to finish off the scoring.
Thursday was a busy day as far as roster moves were concerned. The Nashville Predators announced that forward Colin Blackwood was reassigned to the Admirals. In addition, the Admirals announced that they signed defenseman Ben Danford for a professional tryout contract (PTO) while assigning Filip Pyrochta and Brian Cooper to the Atlanta Gladiators of the ECHL.
The Admirals’ offense went cold Friday night after scoring 11 goals in their previous two games as the Wild shut them out 3-0. They got 31 shots on goal, but they could not solve Hammond. All-Star Troy Grosenick made 24 saves but the rest of the team could not help him. The goals returned in a big way just hours later as the Admirals pounded the Moose 8-2 on Saturday afternoon. 14 different players picked up a point in the win, the first game in which the Admirals scored at least eight goals since Dec. 17, 2016.
Things were rather quiet in the first period as Tolvanen notched the only goal of the opening frame. He finished off a great “tic-tac-toe” scoring play while the Admirals were on a late period power play. Tolvanen struck again 1:20 into the second period to double the Admirals’ lead.
Milwaukee scored three more goals in the second period to take control of the game. Joe Pendenza increased the lead to 3-0. After the Moose got on the board, Emil Pettersson scored a pair of goals about four minutes apart to give the Admirals a 5-1 lead at the second intermission.
The Moose struck within the first minute of the third period, but the Admirals answered with three more goals to squash any ideas of a comeback. Jeremy Gregoire, Tyler Gaudet and Trenin all found the back of the net before the final horn.
Player of the Week: Both Richard and Trenin finished the week with three goals and five points. Trenin gets the honor because he scored in both of the Admirals wins while all three of Richard’s goals came against San Antonio. The 22-year-old, Russian-born winger has already set career-highs in games played (46), goals (7), assists (12) and points (19) this season.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 1 vs Moose; Saturday, Feb. 2 vs IceHogs
Struggles Have Stars Trending the Wrong Way
The Stars (22-17-3-2) have fallen down to fifth place after losing all five games of their road trip through the Pacific Division. Even with just two points in their last seven games, they are still just two points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central. The Stars finished their trip out west with back-to-back games at the Tucson Roadrunners on Monday and Wednesday. Much like their ventures in California the previous week, the Stars did not have much luck in Arizona.
Monday’s game saw the Stars take three separate one-goal leads, but they could not make any of them stick in a 6-3 loss. Gavin Bayreuther opened the scoring about three minutes into the game by following up his own shot and tipping in the rebound.
After the Roadrunners tied the game early in the second period, Denis Gurianov fired home a shot from the right circle to give Texas a 2-1 lead. Tucson tied the game again about three minutes later, but Michael Mersch broke the tie with a redirection while on the power play. The Roadrunners tied the game again before the end of the second period before scoring three more times to win going away.
Wednesday’s rematch did not go well for the Stars either as they fell 4-0 to the Roadrunners. Goaltender Landon Bow was pulled early from the game after he allowed three goals on six shots. His replacement, Phillippe Desrosiers, stopped all 23 shots he saw before the Roadrunners added an empty-net goal late in the game. Tucson netminder Aiden Hill was tremendous in making 39 saves for his second straight shutout while the Stars were blanked for the first time this season.
The Stars returned to the friendly confines of the H-E-B Center on Friday night and got back in the win column by getting past the Stockton Heat 5-4. Defenseman Connor Carrick got the scoring started about six minutes into the game by ripping home a shot off a faceoff win. The lead did not last long and the game headed to the first break tied at 1-1.
Adam Mascherin tipped a Joel Hanley shot into the Stockton net just 29 seconds into the second period to break the tie. The Heat eventually drew even again with a power-play goal about 12 minutes later. Gurianov got a late-period breakaway and gave the Stars a 3-2 lead by using his backhand go through Tyler Parsons’ five-hole.
The lead was extended to 4-2 in the third period when Roope Hintz was set off on another breakaway and also scored by going through the legs of Parsons. The Heat responded by tying the game with a pair of goals just 1:12 apart. Nicholas Caamano scored the game-winning goal just 30 seconds after the Heat tied the game.
The play started with Carrick getting a shot on goal from the blue line and Caamano getting to the rebound and scoring from his knees. Bow made 18 saves to earn the win, making it 12 straight home starts with at least a point for the young netminder.
The team’s 12-game home point streak was snapped the following night in a 4-1 loss to the Gulls.
Joel L’Esperance had the lone bright spot for the Stars midway through the second period. Shortly after the Gulls went ahead 3-0, L’Esperance scored from the top of the left circle to tie Terry of the Griffins for the league-lead with 23 goals.
Player of the Week: Gurianov showed why he was invited to play in the AHL All-Star Classic. He was the only player to score two goals last week and joined Hintz as the only Stars to register three points. Despite making multiple trips back-and-forth between Dallas, Hintz has still produced 34 points in 33 AHL games this season.
The Week Ahead: Thursday, Jan. 31 vs Griffins
Rampage’s Home Record Has Them in the Race
The Rampage (22-21-2-0) are hanging on to sixth place with 46 points after a three-point week. They hold the tiebreaker over the IceHogs because they have three more regulation wins on the year. The Rampage finished off their three-game road trip in Milwaukee on Tuesday night where the Admirals added to the Rampage’s road woes with a 7-3 beating.
After falling behind 3-0 in the first nine minutes of the game, Joey LaLeggia got the Rampage on the board late in the first period by finishing off a two-on-one rush. The Admirals took a 6-1 lead into the third period when Nolan Stevens scored on his own two-on-one rush to cut into the lead.
The Admirals responded just 16 seconds later for their seventh and final goal. LaLeggia redirected a Jake Walman shot for his second goal of the night, four minutes into the frame, to finish off the scoring on the night.
The following day, the Rampage got some good news as two of their top scorers headed back to San Antonio. The St. Louis Blues reassigned both All-Star Jordan Kyrou and former Stanley Cup winner Jordan Nolan. Kyrou still led the Rampage with 11 goals at the time of reassignment, despite playing in the NHL since Jan. 13.
The roster was further reinforced on Thursday as Sammy Blais and Mackenzie MacEachern were reassigned by the Blues. All four players made an impact as the Rampage returned home to host two former Pacific Division rivals over the weekend. The Rampage welcomed the Gulls on Friday night and goaltender Jared Coreau made 23 saves in 4-0 shutout of his former team, handing them just their second regulation loss in their last 18 games.
Nolan scored just eight minutes into his first game back with the Rampage by redirecting a Chris Butler shot from the point into the San Diego net. Bobby MacIntyre started his big second period by doubling the Rampage lead just over seven minutes into the frame. He was at the front of the net where he was able to sweep home a rebound given up by Jeff Glass.
Less than four minutes later, MacIntyre struck again when Tanner Kaspick found him all alone at the back post for the easy goal. Jakub Jerabek added a fourth and final tally with a late second period power-play goal.
The following night, the Rampage saw their franchise-record 12-game home winning snapped in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Heat. The game saw San Antonio have two separate third period leads but they could not hold on to either one of them. The teams headed into the first intermission in a scoreless tie despite the Rampage getting two five-on-three power plays in the opening period. Kyrou tied the game on a power play just past the midway part of the second period after the Heat took the lead early in the frame.
Ryan Olsen gave the Rampage their first lead of the night at 7:37 of the third period by redirecting a shot by Austin Poganski under the crossbar. Olsen had a chance for a second goal a few moments later, but he was denied on a breakaway attempt.
The Heat came back to tie the game less than seven minutes later, but Blais restored the San Antonio lead with just two and a half minutes left in regulation. However, Mitch Reinke took a penalty 10 seconds later and the Heat tied the game during the ensuing power play. Kerby Rychel, who opened the scoring for Stockton, won the game with just .7 seconds left in the overtime period.
Player of the Week: The Rampage were in need of someone to step up while their leading scorers Kyrou and Nolan were in St. Louis. Poganski was one of the players to do so by picking up an assist in all three games last week. He has two goals and six points during his current five-game point streak.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 1 vs Griffins
IceHogs Look to Build Off of Two Huge Wins
The IceHogs (19-19-3-5) nearly fell into last place, but they ended their week with back-to-back wins to stay ahead of the Moose. Their 46 points have them tied with the Rampage and they remain five points out of the final playoff spot. Rockford began their week with a holiday matinee at the Wild on Monday afternoon. Once again, they continued to struggle to mount any kind of consistent offensive attack in a 4-1 loss.
After the Wild built a 2-0 lead in the opening frame, Terry Broadhurst cut the lead in half in the second period. Dylan Sikura found him out front, from behind the net, where he beat the goaltender to the blocker side. It was his third goal of the season and first since October, snapping a 23-game goal drought. The Wild added two more goals in the third period to win going away as the IceHogs were only able to get 18 shots on goal.
The IceHogs returned home on Friday night to host the Moose and needed some late game heroics in order to pull off a stunning 4-3 shootout victory. After falling behind 2-0, Luke Johnson got the IceHogs on the board at the 11:33 of the second period with a power-play goal. Johnson was able to find a soft spot in the defense and he rifled home a one-timer from the slot for his sixth goal of the season. The Moose responded with another goal about four minutes later to take a 3-1 lead into the third period.
Sikura gave the IceHogs some life with just two minutes left in regulation. Seconds after killing off a penalty, Sikura entered the zone and fired a shot from just inside the blue line that found its way to the back of the Manitoba net. The team called a timeout for a key offensive zone faceoff in the final seconds. Head coach Derek King drew up the right play as the puck found Jordan Schroeder all alone at the left point where he blasted home the tying goal with just 3.2 seconds left on the clock.
We were down 3-1. There were two minutes left.
Then we ran the 'Hail Shredder' pic.twitter.com/nIktZVOlCM
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) January 26, 2019
Both goaltenders had to make multiple big saves in overtime to get the game to a shootout. Lucas Carlsson, who had the primary assist on the game-tying goal, and Schroeder scored in the shootout while Kevin Lankinen stopped both of the shots he saw.
The momentum carried over to the next night when the IceHogs finally beat Kahkonen and the Wild 3-1. This time around it was Jacob Nilsson’s turn to get the IceHogs on the board with a second period power-play goal.
The Wild tied the game with 20.5 seconds left in the middle frame but the IceHogs responded with one of their best periods of the season. Broadhurst scored the eventual game-winning goal by going bar-down in the early stages of the final period. Johnson added a late empty-net goal to ice the game. Forsberg was spectacular in net by making 33 saves and keeping the IceHogs in the game early when it could have very easily gotten out of hand.
Player of the Week: Ever since being reassigned by the Blackhawks on Jan. 5, Sikura has added some much-needed offense to the IceHogs lineup. He has three goals and eight points in his nine games since returning to the AHL. He picked up at least one point in all three games last week, including his goal and assist in their epic comeback versus Manitoba.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 1 vs Wolves; Saturday, Feb. 2 @ Admirals
Moose Back in the Cellar After a Promising Run
The Moose (19-19-3-2) looked like they were about to crawl out of Central Division cellar, but a rough week has them back down to eighth place. They were able to salvage two points in a three-loss week. Their 43 points have them three points behind the IceHogs and Rampage and eight points out of a playoff spot.
They began their week in Michigan for a Wednesday night date at the Griffins. Despite another excellent performance from goaltender Eric Comrie, they fell 2-1 in overtime. All-Star Logan Shaw scored the lone Moose goal to open the scoring with just over a minute left in the first period. While on the power play, Seth Griffith found Shaw all alone at the back door where he tapped home his 17th goal of the season.
The Griffins came back to tie the game midway through the second period. Both teams had breakaway chances in overtime but the goalies came up with big saves. The Griffins would eventually get another puck past Comrie to take the extra point.
Things were going well for the Moose in Rockford Friday night and they looked like they were about to jump the IceHogs in the standings, but then things fell apart late in a 4-3 shootout loss. Marko Dano got the scoring started with a late first period power-play goal by taking advantage of being left all alone in front of the net.
Defenseman Sami Niku doubled the lead early in the second period by joining the rush and deflecting a Kristian Reichel pass into the IceHogs net. About four minutes after surrendering a power-play goal, Michael Spacek increased the lead to 3-1 before the end of the second period.
Things fell apart late as the IceHogs scored a pair of goals in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime, including the game-tying goal with just 3.2 seconds left on the clock.
Comrie, who made 31 total saves on the night, stopped a breakaway chance in overtime to get the game to a shootout, but was unable to deny either chance from the IceHogs during the one-on-one contest.
Things went from bad to worse on Saturday afternoon as the Moose were throttled by the Admirals in an 8-2 loss. Ken Appleby took the brunt of the Milwaukee outburst, allowing all eight goals on 31 shots. The loss snapped their point streak at nine games.
With the Moose down 3-0 midway through the second period, Chris Collins got them on the board with a power-play goal by tipping a Cameron Schilling point shot into the Admirals net. Shaw scored on a shorthanded breakaway, in the opening minute of the third period, to cut the lead to 5-2 but the Admirals responded with three more goals.
While the rest of the team heading off to enjoy the All-Star break, Niku was heading back to Winnipeg to suit up for the Jets. This will be his second stint in the NHL season, where he has two assists in 10 games.
Player of the Week: Griffith picked up at least one assist in all three games last week and finished with four in total. He is currently riding a nine-game point streak which has seen him score one goal and rack up 12 helpers. With his recent hot streak, Griffith now leads the team with 24 assists.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 1 @ Admirals; Saturday, Feb. 2 @ Wolves
Each team has at least 30 games left on their schedules, so the second half of the season is going to be an intense one. With each passing game, the points become more important and harder to earn. This will be great to watch how things shake out over the next few weeks.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.