This past week saw plenty of action in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division. The Iowa Wild and Texas Stars started a very competitive four-game series. The Cleveland Monsters showed off their offense and the Chicago Wolves got a visitor from the National Hockey League to help them maintain their lead in the division.
The Carolina Hurricanes loaned goaltender Petr Mrazek to the Wolves on Thursday morning for a conditioning stint as he hasn’t played since Jan. 30. They also reassigned forward Max McCormick to Chicago after appearing in two games for the big club in the same move.
The Grand Rapids Griffins started their week by adding a couple of talented youngsters to their roster. On Monday, the Detroit Red Wings reassigned left wing Mathias Brome and defenseman Dennis Cholowski to the AHL. Givani Smith returned to Detroit and was put on the taxi squad. Both Brome and Cholowski were in the lineup for Thursday’s tilt in Chicago.
The Minnesota Wild signed forward Matt Boldy to an entry-level contract after deciding to leave Boston College following his sophomore season. He will begin his professional career with Iowa once his quarantine period is completed.
The Rockford IceHogs didn’t have any mid-week games, but the front office was busy. On Monday, forwards Brad Morrison and Chad Yetman and defenseman Dmitry Osipov were all back in Rockford after spending time with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL. On Wednesday, IceHogs defenseman Isaak Phillips signed his first NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Stars had an eventful week both on and off the ice. On Wednesday, the Dallas Stars signed undrafted free-agent forward Jordan Kawaguchi to a one-year, entry-level contract for the 2021-22 season. He will finish out the season with Texas once his quarantine period is finished. Dallas wasn’t done there, as they signed Kawaguchi’s teammate at North Dakota, goaltender Adam Scheel, the very next day. He, too, will play the remainder of the in the AHL.
Riley Damiani was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Month on Thursday. He scored four goals and 15 points in 15 games during March. His impressive month included a stretch of five-straight multi-point games.
Tuesday, March 30
The Wild traveled to the Lone Star State to open up a four-game series and earned a point in a disappointing overtime loss thanks to so some late heroics by the Stars.
The game got off to a quick start as Damien Giroux scored off a rebound to give Iowa a 1-0 lead just 1:33 into the game. Texas answered 19 seconds later when Riley Tufte redirected a shot by Ben Gleason past goaltender Joel Rumple.
Rookie defenseman Thomas Harley scored his third goal of the season from the right circle to give the Stars a 2-1 lead early in the second period. Fellow first-year blueliner Calen Addison evened the score up late in the frame by getting to a loose puck and slamming into the net.
Gabriel Dumont’s team-leading ninth goal of the season gave the Wild a 3-2 lead with just over four minutes to play. While on the power play, Addison’s initial shot hit the post, but Dumont was in the perfect place to tap the rebound home. With just two seconds left in the game, captain Cole Schneider redirected a Riley Damiani shot into the Iowa net to force overtime.
“We knew we were running out of time and we had to get the puck to the net,” Schneider said of his game-tying goal. “Damer made a nice play knowing the clock and I got a stick on it.”
In the extra session, Nick Baptiste got the extra point for the Stars by scoring his ninth goal of the season on a breakaway.
Wednesday, March 31
Cleveland’s offense was on full display in New York on Wednesday night as they cruised to victory over the Americans.
Jake Christiansen gave the Monsters a 1-0 lead early in the opening frame with his first professional goal. Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther put his team up by two at the eight-minute mark with his first goal with Cleveland.
After a scoreless second period, Tyler Sikura scored his fifth goal of the season just over four minutes into the final frame, with Christiansen picking up the primary assist. Halfway through the third period, Josh Dunne scored his first professional goal while on the power play to build the lead to 4-0. Christiansen continued his huge night with another assist.
Michael Mersch, formerly of the Stars, got the Americans on the board with just less than four minutes to play, but it was too little, too late to mount a serious comeback. Zach Jordan capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal. Goaltender Brad Thiessen made 23 saves for the victory.
Goaltending was on display during Wednesday’s rematch between the Wild and Stars as the two teams combined for 59 shots on goal, but just three total goals.
Defenseman Louie Belpedio’s first goal of the season opened the scoring 11 minutes into the game. While on the power play, Dumont won the draw at the right dot and Addison got the puck over to Belpedio, who beat goaltender Tomas Sholl to the glove side. Texas has a 19-2 lead in shots after the first period but trailed 1-0 in the only category that matters.
The Stars had five power-play opportunities through the first 40 minutes but could not get one past Hunter Jones in the net. Early in the third period, reigning AHL MVP Gerry Mayhew doubled Iowa’s lead with a wrist shot from the slot.
Adam Mascherin set a franchise record with 12 shots on goal. One of those went in the net, midway through the final frame, when he tipped a shot by Harley for his team-leading 11th goal of the season. Baptiste was credited with the secondary assist to extend his personal point streak to 11 games, tying the team record. Texas kept the pressure on, but Jones made 35 saves for his second AHL victory.
“I thought we played a good game,” Mascherin said shortly after the loss. “This is just one of those days where you don’t come out on the right side. You can look yourself in the mirror and realize you gave a solid effort, from top to bottom, and it is what it is.
Thursday, April 1
Many thought seeing Mrazek’s name in the starting lineup was an April Fool’s Day prank. However, with the Hurricanes in town to play the Blackhawks, it was the perfect chance to get him some game action. He looked ready to go by making 43 saves after missing the last eight weeks due to a broken thumb.
“He was really good,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said of Mrazek’s start. “I think he was fighting through traffic, which is something that his goalie coach was interested to see. I think he did a good job because it’s hard to emulate in practice — five or six guys in front of you.”
While Warsofsky was pleased with his temporary goaltender, he wasn’t happy with his team giving up 45 shots on goal, including 23 in the second period. In the end, the Wolves’ high-powered offense kept them atop the Central Division standings.
The Griffins struck first with Turner Elson’s third goal of the season before the game was three minutes old. Defenseman Frederic Allard tied the game up midway through the first period. Luke Evangelista, the Nashville Predators’ 2020 second-round pick, picked up his first professional point with the primary assist. David Warsofsky, Ryan’s younger brother, scored a power-play goal from the right point less than a minute later to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.
After a scoreless second period, Tanner Jeannot scored his eighth goal of the season early in the final frame to double the lead. The Griffins weren’t going down without a fight as Riley Barber answered with his 11th goal on the campaign less than three minutes later. That was as close as Grand Rapids would get as Anthony Richard scored twice, including an empty-net goal, to put the game out of reach.
The Mid-Week’s Top Performer
Addison is proving why he was the main piece of the return in Minnesota’s trade of Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After playing three games in the NHL early in the season, he is starting to find his grove with Iowa.
He had a goal and two assists in helping the Wild earn three out of possible four points this week. He now has points in each of his last three games. The young defender has four goals and 12 points in 15 AHL games with an even plus/minus rating.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 13-2-0-1, 27 pts
Stars – 10-7-2-0, 22 pts
Griffins – 8-5-2-0, 18 pts
Monsters – 7-5-1-0, 15 pts
Wild – 6-9-3-0, 15 pts
IceHogs – 6-11-1-0, 13 pts
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Friday, April 2: Wild @ Stars
Saturday, April 3: Griffins @ Monsters, IceHogs @ Wolves, Wild @ Stars
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.