The American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division had itself quite the busy weekend as the chase for the Sam Pollock Trophy heads into the stretch run. The Chicago Wolves split a testy weekend series with the Iowa Wild and remain the odds-on favorite to take home the hardware. The Cleveland Monsters split their two games in the Lonestar State against the Texas Stars, while the Rockford IceHogs welcomed in fans for the first time and treated them to win over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
On Saturday, the Griffins signed Russian forward Kirill Tyutyayev to a standard AHL contract for the 2021-22 season. The 20-year-old was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) by the Detroit Red Wings in 2019. He played professionally in Belarus this past season, scoring 11 goals and 32 points in 43 games with Yunost Minsk of the Belarusian Extraleague.
Prior to taking the ice against Grand Rapids, the IceHogs signed defenseman Cliff Watson to a professional tryout contract (PTO). This is his second go-round with Rockford this season. He is the captain of their ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel.
Friday, April 30
The penalty-kill units of both Wolves and Wild were very busy in Friday’s tilt as the teams combined for 80 penalty minutes, with each side getting six power-play opportunities.
Defenseman Turner Ottenbreit gave Iowa a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. After his teammates won a board battle, he fired a shot from the point through heavy traffic and past goaltender Beck Warm for his first goal of the season. The Wolves tied the game with just over a minute left in the opening frame, with Sheldon Rempal redirected a Max Lajoie shot in behind goaltender Joel Rumpel.
Phil Tomasino scored the only power-play goal of the night at 8:27 of the second period with a blistering shot from the right circle. Less than two minutes later, Sean Malone, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, scored a shorthanded goal off a turnover to double the Chicago lead.
Zach Solow redirected a Jamieson Rees shot midway through the third period to cap off the scoring. Of the 80 total penalty minutes handed out, 40 of them came in the final frame. Iowa veteran Cody McLeod was given an instigator penalty in the final minute of play. The AHL rule book says that any instigator penalty that occurs within the final five minutes of a game comes with an automatic one-game suspension, so he missed Saturday night’s rematch.
“I think that was one of our most complete games of the year,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “I thought our penalty kill was really good. That started with our goaltender. It was really good for our power play, and penalty kill to step up. They can win you hockey games, and they did that tonight.”
Saturday, May 1
Over 300 IceHogs season ticket holders got to take their seats at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford for the first time in 422 days. The energy of the small crowd affected the home team as they had a fast start and hung on for a big win over the visitors from Grand Rapids.
Special teams play helped the IceHogs build a two-goal lead late in the first period. Brandon Pirri scored from the right circle just six seconds into their first power play of the night. The veteran forward has six goals in just five AHL games this season. With a minute to go in the opening period, Dylan McLaughlin beat Kevin Boyle on a shorthanded breakaway to double the advantage. Four of his seven goals this season have come against the Griffins.
The IceHogs extended their lead to 3-0 by taking advantage of a tired group of Griffins at the end of an extended shift that included a penalty kill. Defenseman Alex Regula’s shot from the right point got through heavy traffic for his third goal of the season. Taro Hirose had a quick response for the Griffins by scoring just 13 seconds later.
Seven minutes into the third period, Dominic Turgeon drew Grand Rapids to within a goal by redirecting a Jared McIsaac shot into the net. The Griffins got a late power play and spent the final 1:07 of the game in the IceHogs zone with an extra attacker but could not draw even. Goaltender Ivan Nalimov made 17 saves for his third win of the season.
“It was great to have some fans in the building,” said IceHogs head coach Derek King. “They were loud. I think we fed off that energy and had a really good start to the game. I thought we played a solid three-period game. Ivan played well in net and gave us an opportunity to win, and we got the job done.”
“I think we’ll have some interesting games against these guys next year.” That’s what an obviously frustrated Warsofsky said after the Wild won the regular-season finale between these two teams. The rivals exchanged plenty of pleasantries on their way out as they combined for 102 penalty minutes.
For the second straight game, the Wild scored first, with Will Bitten scoring off a rebound just 30 seconds after the opening faceoff. Dominic Bokk evened the score with a pretty power-play goal late in the first period. David Warsofsky hit him stride with a pass as he entered the zone; he then danced around a defender before sliding a backhand shot past goaltender Robbie Beydoun. Just over a minute later, Mitch McLain put the Wild back on top with a redirection off a faceoff win.
Matt Boldy went forehand-backhand at the side of the net to slip the puck in behind goaltender Connor Ingram early in the second period to give Iowa a two-goal lead. David Gust got that goal back for the Wolves about three minutes later when he found a loose puck in the left circle, and he swept it home for his first goal of the season. The Wild scored two late second-period goals to build a three-goal cushion. Jarrett Burton scored off a rebound before Brandon Duhaime blasted home a one-timer.
Although the third period had no scoring, it still had plenty of action. Ingram had to leave the game with an apparent lower-body injury midway through the frame. Beck Warm came in to relieve and stopped all eight shots he faced. A total of 82 penalty minutes were dished out during the final frame, including five game misconducts stemming from the same incident that saw three separate fights on the ice. Beydoun, who was just recalled from the ECHL, made 25 saves to win his AHL debut.
The 48 shots on goal were a season-high for Iowa. The Wolves won six of the eight regular-season meetings between the two teams, as they combined for a total of 528 total penalties. Maybe Warsofsky is onto something.
After winning the first game of the three-game set against the Monsters, the Stars brought home game two of the series to win back-to-back games since their five-game win streak ended on March 12.
Riley Damiani opened the scoring with his eighth goal of the season from the right circle, just under four minutes into the game. Carson Meyer continued his terrific rookie season by tying the game later in the period. While on a power play, he deflected a shot from the point by Tomas Schemitsch for his eighth tally.
Defenseman Dawson Barteaux jumped up on the rush and scored his first professional goal to give Texas a 2-1 lead early in the second period.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief after getting the first one out of the way,” Barteaux said of his big moment. “I saw they had a few guys caught up there and I took my chance. I figured I might as well take it. I caught a lucky break, had a good shot there and it went into the back of the net.”
Anthony Louis doubled the lead four minutes before the intermission with a power-play tally. Cleveland answered just 26 seconds later when Josh Dunne scored his third goal of the season off a rebound.
Josh Melnick gave the Stars a 4-2 lead by sneaking a shot under the crossbar to finish off a nice give-and-go play with Riley Tufte. Nick Baptiste capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final minute of play.
Sunday, May 2
Cleveland took down the Stars in overtime to win Sunday’s rematch and salvage a victory out of the three-game series in Texas.
Following a scoreless opening frame, the Stars struck first when Damiani scored a power-play goal just over eight minutes into the second period.
Dunne had another quick response as he tied the game just 53 seconds later. Matthew Struthers scored just over five minutes later to give the Monsters their first lead of the series. The lead didn’t make it into the second intermission as Nikita Scherbak tied the game with just 19 seconds left in the period. After serving a hooking minor, he jumped out of the penalty box and finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Ty Dellandrea for his fifth goal of the season.
The game needed extra time to decide a winner after neither team could find the back of the net during the third period. Texas had three power-play chances during the final frame, including a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage, but could not pull ahead. Adam Helewka won the game for the Monsters by capitalizing on an odd-man rush to score his third goal of the season. Goaltender Justin Kapelmaster made 30 saves for the victory in his AHL debut.
“I thought we got better as each period progressed,” Stars head coach Neil Graham said of his team’s effort. “In the first, I didn’t really like our start. We had a good penalty kill and power play that kind of brought us some life. The second was back-and-forth. I thought in the third; we controlled most of the play and most of the chances and, unfortunately, we were unable to make good on our opportunities.”
Weekend’s Top Performers
This honor will get split between three AHL rookies who have impressed early on in their professional careers. The only skater of the group, Chicago defenseman Marc Del Gaizo, picked up his first AHL point with an assist in Saturday’s loss to Iowa. The 2019 fourth-round pick of the Nashville Predators signed his entry-level contract back on April 22 and is coming off winning the national championship with UMass.
In that same game, Beydoun earned his first AHL win for the Wild shortly after signing a PTO with the team. His AHL debut came just two weeks after a 29-save shutout in his professional debut with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL. Earlier this season, the young goaltender helped the University of Wisconsin with the Big 10 regular-season championship.
Finally, on Sunday, Kapelmaster was the second netminder to win in his AHL debut over the weekend after being inked to a PTO by the Monsters. After playing for both Ferris State and Robert Morris University during his college career, he made the first 16 starts of his professional career with the Allen Americans in the ECHL this season.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 18-6-1-2, 39 pts (.722 pts %)
Monsters – 14-8-1-1, 30 pts (.625 pts %)
Griffins – 12-9-3-0, 27 pts (.563 pts %)
Wild – 13-12-4-0, 28 pts (.517 pts %)
Stars – 14-15-3-0, 31 pts (.484 pts %)
IceHogs – 10-15-1-0, 21 pts (.404 pts %)
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Monday, May 3: IceHogs @ Griffins
Wednesday, May 5: Monsters @ Griffins
Thursday, May 6: Tucson Roadrunners @ Stars