For the first time in what seemed like forever, the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division had a busy weekend with all six teams playing twice. We saw weekend splits between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Iowa Wild and the Texas Stars and Cleveland Monsters. The first-place Chicago Wolves took back-to-back games from the Rockford IceHogs as their offense keeps chugging along.
The Monsters’ front office was just as busy off the ice as the team was on it over the weekend. On Saturday, the Columbus Blue Jackets assigned goaltender Daniil Tarasov to the AHL. He was a third-round draft pick (86th overall) in 2017 and went 11-3-2 with two shutouts, a 2.07 goals-against average (GAA), and a .925 save percentage (SV%) in 16 KHL appearances for Salavat Yulaev Ufa this season.
The following morning, they signed forward Tristan Mullin to an amateur tryout (ATO) contract after his college career at the University of Vermont wrapped up. Also, Liam Foudy was recalled by the Blue Jackets and assigned to the taxi squad.
Just before their home-and-home series with the Wolves, the IceHogs continued to shuffle players up and down I-90. The Chicago Blackhawks re-assigned defensemen Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Lucas Carlsson and forwards Reese Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle to Rockford. Meanwhile, forwards Brandon Pirri, Mikael Hakkarainen and defenseman Alec Regula returned to the Blackhawks’ taxi squad.
Friday, March 26
The Griffins headed west for a weekend series in Iowa and their first look at the Wild this season. Dominic Turgeon had the lone goal of the opening frame while on the power play, as he went top shelf from the left circle for his second goal of the season.
Taro Hirose doubled the lead early in the second period as he jumped on an errant pass by Iowa defenseman Louie Belpedio and quickly slammed it past Hunter Jones for his second goal on the campaign. Keaton Thompson used his backhand to beat Kevin Boyle for his first goal and get the Wild on the scoreboard. Less than two minutes later, Riley Barber answered with his team-leading 10th goal as the Griffins took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Chase Pearson knocked home his own rebound on a power play to give the Griffins a 4-1 lead early in the third period. Less than four minutes later, Jarrett Burton’s first goal with the Wild got Iowa to within two goals. However, Hirose iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final minute. The Griffins have earned at least one point in each of their first six games in March and 10 of their last 11 games.
“We can’t blink first,” Wild head coach Tim Army said after the loss. “We’re playing good hockey, but, more often than not, we’re the ones blinking first and now we’re chasing the game. We really got to be, to a man, ready to execute. We’ve got to be consistent. We’ve got to make simple plays in certain situations and keep the game tight to see if we can get a lead.”
Saturday, March 27
Everything started great for the Monsters in their second of three straight games hosting the Stars. They built up a 3-0 lead before the wheels fell off in a 4-3 loss to the visitors from Texas.
Kyle Sherwood opened the scoring for Cleveland about eight minutes into the game by beating goaltender Colton Point from the left circle. Carson Meyer scored his third goal of the season off a rebound early in the second period. Just 35 seconds later, Foudy increased the Monsters’ lead to 3-0, scoring off a Texas turnover.
Shortly after killing off a penalty, Adam Mascherin finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Nick Baptiste to get Stars on the board with his team-leading ninth goal of the season. The assist extended Baptiste’s point streak to eight straight games. Josh Melnick cut the Cleveland to one in the final minute of the period. While on the power play, the puck bounced off the end boards and gave Melnick a wide-open cage to shoot into.
Baptiste tied the game early in the third period by getting to a Riley Damiani shot that hit off the post and firing it off the leg of a Monsters’ defender and into the net. Cleveland looked like they were going to regain control with a short 5-on-3 power play. Not only did the Stars kill off the two-man disadvantage, but they took the lead with a shorthanded goal. Former Monster Derek Barach blasted home a slap shot for the eventual game-winning goal. Point made 32 saves for his fourth win of the season as the Stars improved their road record to 6-2-0-0.
“They made a push, got a couple of breaks, and made it a closer game,” said Cleveland head coach Mike Eaves. “That happens. That’s part of sports. Even down to the last minute, I thought we played hard. They got some bounces tonight, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Wild had better luck in their Saturday night rematch against the Griffins. They treated a limited crowd of just over 4,000 fans to their fifth victory of the season.
Connor Dewar scored from the left circle to give Iowa a 1-0 just 42 seconds after the opening faceoff. The Griffins held a 13-3 shot advantage after 20 minutes but found themselves down a goal.
Rookie defenseman Calen Addison picked the top corner early in the second period to double the Wild’s lead. Patrick Curry’s one-timer finally got Grand Rapids on the board with a power-play goal. Tyler Spezia tied the game just 13 seconds later with his third goal of the season.
Ryan O’Rouke answered less than a minute later for the Wild as his shot from the point hit traffic in front and got in behind Pat Nagle for his first professional goal.
Gabriel Dumont doubled the lead after Gerry Mayhew’s shot hit him in the face and bounced into the net for his team-high eighth goal. Before the busy middle frame ended, Givani cut the lead down to 4-3 with a power-play goal from the right circle.
Spezia’s second goal of the night even the score midway through the third period with a backhand shot from close range. Dewar was the hero as his second tally of the contest proved to be the game-winner with less than four minutes to play. Goaltender Joel Rumpel made 36 saves for his first AHL win since March 6, 2016, with the San Jose Barracuda.
Goaltender Ivan Nalimov finally made his North American debut nearly seven years after being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. The transition from Russia’s KHL to the AHL was not a smooth one. He had to face the high-powered Wolves offense, who were chomping at the bit after a 13-day layoff due to COVID-19 protocol.
David Cotton scored off a rebound just 27 seconds into the game to open the scoring. Defenseman Max Lajoie snuck up the left side to give Chicago a 2-0 lead 17 seconds later. Cotton added another goal off a rebound, this time on the power play, late in the period to give the Wolves a three-goal advantage.
Dominik Bokk scored a power-play goal from the slot in the opening minute of the second period to increase the lead to four. This was the former first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues extended his goal-scoring streak to four straight games.
The IceHogs found some momentum about 90 seconds later when Cody Franson scored from the right point. Evan Barratt scored on a breakaway to get the IceHogs to within two later in the period. However, two minutes later, Nalimov miscommunicated with his defenseman behind his net. That left the puck laying for Anthony Richard to feed to Ryan Suzuki out front for his fourth AHL goal.
Tanner Jeannot made it three straight periods with a goal in the opening minute by scoring just 51 seconds into the final frame. Reese Johnson finished up the scoring by battling in front of the Wolves net and getting rewarded with his third goal with the IceHogs.
“Especially since we were off a week without being at the facility,” Cotton said of the importance of the Wolves’ fast start. “You could tell the guys were ready to get back into a game situation. Obviously, you want to get off to a fast start, but it just came naturally because everyone was excited to play.”
Sunday, March 28
Cleveland wrapped up their three-game home series with Texas the same way they started it, with a big victory.
The Monsters grabbed control of the game early on by building a 3-0 lead in the first 11 minutes. Tyler Sikura’s third goal of the season got the Monsters on the scoreboard for the third straight game in the series and the 10th time in their last 11 contests. Three minutes later, captain Nathan Gerbe scored from the high slot to double the lead. Evan Polei capped off the first-period surge with a backhand goal after Andrew Peeke’s initial shot was blocked.
It appeared that another comeback was in the cards when the Stars got two quick goals from Baptiste and Mascherin early in the second period. However, the Monsters tightened up for the second half of the game and kept the Stars at bay. Polei and Sikura each added insurance goals during the third period.
Former Texas defenseman Gavin Bayreuther had four assists against his old mates to double his season total to eight.
“It was awesome,” a smiling Bayreuther said of his performance. “It was bittersweet when I left that organization. They were very good to me. I have nothing but compliments for the organization. But, at the same time, it was awesome bringing it to them and winning two out of three this weekend.”
These intra-state rivals capped off their weekend series with a back-and-forth thriller in which no one-goal lead was safe. In the end, the Wolves improved to 5-0-0-0 against the IceHogs on the season and maintained their five-point lead over the Stars in the Central standings.
Late in the first period, Dylan McLaughlin scored the first of three power-play goals for Rockford to open the scoring. Jeannot tied the game with just 21 seconds left in the opening frame as his seventh goal of the season extended his goal-scoring streak to five straight games.
A crazy second period started with Sean Malone’s first AHL goal, scored off a deflection from a Matt Murphy shot. Less than two minutes later, Barratt played the redirect game himself by getting his stick on a shot from the point by Franson. A few moments later on the power play, Franson added another primary assist by setting up Kalynuk’s one-timer from the right circle. The Wolves quickly tied it up when Suzuki’s centering pass hit Kalynuk’s stick and got in behind goaltender Matt Tomkins. Jamieson Rees’ big individual effort in front of the net gave Chicago a 4-3 lead before the second intermission.
Josiah Slavin scored his first professional goal in his AHL debut just over a minute into the third period. He skated right to the front of the net and quickly found the puck, where he swept it home for the IceHogs’ third power-play goal of the day. Rees netted the eventual game-winning goal about three minutes later. Tomkins left his crease to try to play the puck behind the net, but Rees beat him to it then won the race to the near post for the wraparound goal, the fifth of his rookie season.
From there, the Wolves defense held the IceHogs to just two shots on goal in the final 15 minutes. Goaltender Devin Cooley made 20 saves for the victory in his AHL debut.
“I liked our response,” Rockford head coach Derek King said. “We started on time. We finished on time. They did all the little things we asked them to do. I thought we had opportunities to close them out. That’s a good hockey team. If the puck bounces one way on you and you have a little hiccup, they’re good enough to bury you, and they did.”
Weekend’s Top Performer
Jeannot remains to be the most valuable player on the first-place Wolves. He has spent some time up with the Nashville Predators this season, but he has been a one-man wrecking crew when he has been in Chicago. The third-year pro has always been known to play with a physical presence, but he has added a dynamic offensive game this season.
He had a goal in each game versus the IceHogs this weekend to go along with two assists on Saturday night. After being held off the scoresheet on opening night, Jeannot has at least one point in all of his nine AHL games since. He had multiple points in five of those nine games. He has seven goals and 17 points in 10 games this season. In his first two AHL seasons, he had 12 goals and 31 points in 94 games with the Milwaukee Admirals.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 12-2-0-1, 25 pts
Stars – 9-6-2-0, 20 pts
Griffins – 8-4-2-0, 18 pts
Monsters – 6-5-1-0, 13 pts
IceHogs – 6-11-1-0, 13 pts
Wild – 5-9-2-0, 12 pts
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Tuesday, March 30: Wild @ Stars
Wednesday, March 31: Monsters @ Rochester Americans, Wild @ Stars
Thursday, April 1: Griffins @ Wolves