AHL Central News: Crazy Week Ends With New Team on Top

The best part about doing these weekly recaps has been enjoying how close the teams within the AHL’s Central Division are. In what seems to be the theme of the season, we have a new team atop the Central after last week’s action. There is little doubt that the top teams will be unable to put any separation between themselves and it will come down to the final games of the season to see who advances to the Calder Cup playoffs.

The Griffins Fly to the Top of the Central

The Grand Rapids Griffins (21-12-3-4) took five out of six possible points last week to surge to the top of the Central Division. They are in first place for the first time this season and enter this week’s play with a one-point lead over the Chicago Wolves. The Griffins started their week at the Milwaukee Admirals, a team they entered the night tied with for third place.

Carter Camper got the scoring started just 55 seconds into the game as he put a rebound back into the Admirals net. Milwaukee drew even about seven minutes before Axel Holmstrom put the Griffins up for good. Holmstrom got to the front of the net and redirected Jake Chelios’ shot from the left point past Troy Grosenick for his ninth goal of the season. The Griffins held their 2-1 lead until the final minute of the game when Matt Puempel scored an empty goal from below his own goal line. Patrik Rybar made 28 saves for the victory.

The following day, veteran defenseman Brian Lashoff was reassigned to Grand Rapids by the Detroit Red Wings.

Top prospect Filip Zadina made his return to the Griffins’ lineup on Friday after playing for his native Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships. He made an immediate impact with a three-point performance, but it wasn’t enough in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Belleville Senators.

Zadina got the Griffins on the board four minutes into his first AHL game since Dec. 19. The young forward forced a turnover then powered his way around the defense on his way to his ninth goal of the season. The Senators tied the game with a power-play goal in the final minute of the first period.

Chelios found a wide-open Zadina at the side of the net where he slammed home his second goal of the night just over two minutes into the second period. The Senators responded about two minutes later and then went ahead 3-2 midway through the third period.

Zadina also factored in the late third-period goal that sent the game to overtime. While on the power play, Zadina fed Chris Terry at the top of the right circle where he blasted a one-timer into the Senators net for his league-leading 23rd goal of the season.

Filip Zadina Grand Rapids Griffins
Filip Zadina had a successful return from the WJC. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The teams headed to a shootout after a scoreless overtime period. The Senators won with a goal in the third round after Dominic Turgeon, Zadina and Terry were all denied by Filip Gustavsson.

The Griffins scored four power play goals to win Saturday’s rematch with the Senators 5-2 to surge to the top of the division. This was a pretty impressive feat considering the Griffins entered the night with the AHL’s worst power-play unit and hadn’t scored on the man advantage in consecutive games since October.

Turner Elson opened the scoring 15:28 into the first period by winning the race to a loose puck and flipping it past Gustavsson. Wade Megan doubled the lead with one second remaining on a power play less than three minutes later. Megan got to the front of the net and redirected a shot from Camper into the Belleville net.

The second period was full of fireworks including a pair of goals 2:30 apart by the Senators to tie the game early in the frame. The Griffins responded with three more power play goals before the second intermission to take control of the game.

Vili Saarijarvi scored the eventual game-winning goal with a wrist shot from the high slot 12 minutes into the second period. Less than two minutes later, Puempel fired a slap shot from the top of the left circle to increase the lead to 4-2. Holmstrom redirected another Camper shot to cap off the scoring two and a half minutes later.

Goaltender Harri Sateri came up huge in the third period by stopping all 24 shots he faced and finished the night with 41 saves.

Player of the Week: Camper played a big part in getting the Griffins into first place. He scored the opening goal in Wednesday’s win in Milwaukee and assisted on all four power play goals in Saturday’s victory over Belleville. He led all players with five points last week and is now third on the team in scoring with 31 points.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Jan. 16 @ Chicago Wolves; Friday, Jan. 18 @ Rockford IceHogs; Saturday, Jan. 19 vs Milwaukee Admirals

Late Slip-up Slides the Wolves into Second

The Chicago Wolves (22-13-3-1) have the most wins in the Central Division with 22, but they find themselves one point out of first place after splitting their weekend series at the Tucson Roadrunners.

The week started off with the announcement that goaltender Max Lagace was recalled by the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday. The Wolves recalled Zach Fucale from the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL to replace Lagace on the roster. They also loaned Matthew Weis to Fort Wayne.

Tomas Hyka had not seen the ice since he left with an injury late in the first period of the Dec. 29 game versus the IceHogs. He returned to the lineup with a vengeance on Friday night in Tucson.

The Wolves took control early with four first period goals versus a Roadrunners team how hadn’t allowed a goal in the opening 20 minutes of their last four games. Daniel Carr scored his team-high 19th goal of the season to open the scoring seven minutes into the game as Gage Quinney found him all alone at the side of the net.

Curtis McKenzie forced a turnover and fed it to Hyka, who made it 2-0 just eight seconds later. Two and a half minutes later, T.J. Tynan redirected a Jake Bischoff shot past Calvin Pickard to make it 3-0 and force a change in goal for the Roadrunners.

The Wolves added a fourth goal against new goalie Hunter Miska as Carr found defenseman Griffin Reinhart all alone in the slot for the tally. Tucson made things interesting and nearly pulled off an epic comeback. After scoring the lone goal of the second period, they had the Wolves’ lead down to 4-3 seven minutes into the third period.

Hyka answered just over a minute after the Roadrunners’ third goal by cashing in on a rebound out in front of the net. He capped off his hat trick and the scoring on the evening with a late empty-net goal.

The Wolves looked like they were going to pull off the weekend sweep on Saturday night, but another third-period surge led to a 3-2 win for Tucson. Hyka continued his big weekend by giving the Wolves a 1-0 lead on their first power play of the evening by tapping a pass from Brooks Macek in behind Pickard. Tucson tied things up before the end of the opening period.

The Wolves top line broke the tie late in the second period as Macek scored from the high slot with the assists going to Carr and Quinney. Adam Helewka scored a pair of goals in the final nine minutes of the game to complete the comeback and give the Roadrunners a hard-earned two points. Fucale made 27 saves in his Wolves debut, but it was not enough for a win.

Player of the Week: After missing the previous four games due to injury, Hyka had a huge weekend in Tucson. He scored half of the Wolves’ eight goals in the two-game set versus the Roadrunners. He registered the team’s fifth hat trick of the season on Friday night. Hyka has played in 19 games for the Wolves this season and has scored 23 points.

Tomas Hyka #38, Vegas Golden Knights
Tomas Hyka has been a force at the AHL this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Jan. 16 vs Grand Rapids Griffins; Saturday, Jan. 19 vs Rockford IceHogs; Sunday, Jan. 20 vs Milwaukee Admirals

Stars Shine Bright in Six-Point Week

The Texas Stars (21-11-3-2) continued their rise up the standings with a six-point performance last week. They are tied with the Iowa Wild but have the third-place tiebreaker because of a better points percentage. Despite a slow start to the season, the defending Western Conference champions find themselves just two points out of first place.

After having their seven-game home winning streak snapped with a shootout loss in their previous game, the Stars extended their home point streak to nine games with a 3-2 over the Bakersfield Condors on Wednesday night.

The Stars got off to the start they were looking for with a pair of first period goals. Ben Gleason struck on the power play, just two minutes into the game, by firing a rocket from the blue line into the Bakersfield net. Tony Calderone got to a rebound off an Adam Masherin shot a few minutes later and put it back into the net for his second goal of the season.

After a scoreless second period, the Condors got on the board two minutes into the final frame. Mashcherin responded with the eventually game-winning goal three and a half minutes later. Calderone picked up the lone assist by forcing a turnover at the blue line for his first career multi-point game in the AHL.

Bakersfield kept up the pressure and cut the lead to 3-2 in the final minute of play, but was unable to score the equalizer. Landon Bow made 28 saves and has earned a least one point in each of his last 10 starts on home ice.

The Stars welcomed the IceHogs to town on Friday night in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals. Joel L’Esperance opened the scoring just five seconds into the team’s first power play by getting his stick on a Gleason shot as it went by. After Rockford tied the game before the first intermission, All-Star Denis Gurianov gave the Stars a 2-1 lead. They went on to get back-to-back power plays late in the period, but they ended up giving up a shorthanded goal to send the game tied 2-2 into the third period.

Denis Gurianov
Denis Gurianov will be headed to the AHL All-Star classic later this month. (Photo: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

The IceHogs took an early third-period lead with their second power-play tally of the night. Gurianov struck again to even up the game with just over four minutes left in regulation. The game headed to a shootout after a scoreless overtime session in which Travis Morin scored the only goal to earn the extra point.

The Stars were back on the ice the following night hosting Iowa Wild. Colton Hargrove got the Stars off to a fast start by giving them a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the game.  The lead didn’t last long as Iowa tied the game 27 seconds later and then took the lead 21 seconds after that.

L’Esperance started the comeback and his big night by tying the game early into the second period by getting to a loose puck in front of the net and firing it home. About five minutes later, he picked up the primary assist on Michael Mersch’s game-winning goal. He capped off his evening with an empty netter to ensure the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Player of the Week: L’Esperance continued his huge rookie season with a five-point week, including three more goals. His 22 goals lead the Stars, all AHL rookies and have him just one goal behind Terry of the Griffins for the AHL lead. He is one of only three players who has scored at least 20 goals at this point of the season. Sam Carrick of the San Diego Gulls is the third.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Jan. 16 @ San Diego Gulls; Friday, Jan. 18 @ San Jose Barracuda; Saturday, Jan. 19 @ Stockton Heat

Losing Streak has the Wild Heading the Wrong Way

The Iowa Wild (20-12-4-3) learned the hard way about how easy it is to drop down the standings in the Central Division. They began the week in first place, but after losing all three of their games they have fallen all the way down to fourth place. However, they are still closer to first place (two points) than dropping down to fifth place (three points).

On Tuesday, Joel Eriksson Ek was recalled by the Minnesota Wild while defenseman Ryan Murphy was sent back to Iowa in a corresponding move. Eriksson Ek had registered at least one point in all five of his AHL games this season.

His departure did not seem to have an ill-effect on the Wild’s offense Wednesday night during a back-and-forth 5-4 loss at the San Antonio Rampage. Defenseman Brennan Menell’s first goal of the season opened the scoring over eight minutes into the opening frame.

Just over a minute after the Rampage tied the game, another blueliner restored the Wild’s one-goal lead. This time it was Carson Soucy who went glove side for his second goal of the season. The lead did not last long as the Rampage evened things up again just before the end of the first period.

San Antonio grabbed its first lead of the night less than a minute into the second period. Six minutes later, Sam Anas cashed in off a rebound from a Dmitry Sokolov shot for his fourth tally of the campaign. Unfortunately, the Rampage stormed right back to regain the lead just 22 seconds later and then extend the advantage to 5-3 just over a minute after that. Soucy scored his second goal of the night to cut the deficit to one goal midway through the third period, but they were unable to draw any closer.

The rematch with Rampage on Friday night did not provide the result the Wild were hoping for either. Gerry Mayhew got the Wild on the board first with his 10th goal of the season. Matt Read entered the zone and found Mayhew in the slot where he chipped the puck into the San Antonio net.

San Antonio had a quick response by tying the game just 29 seconds later. They would add a single goal in both the second and third periods to take home a 3-1 victory. Andrew Hammond made 23 saves in the Wild’s fourth-straight loss to the Rampage.

The miserable trip through Texas concluded with a 4-2 loss at the Stars on Saturday night. The game got off to a fast start with three combined goals in the first three minutes of play. After the Stars jumped out to a 1-0 lead, the Wild answered with two goals of their own just 21 seconds apart.

The first goal was provided by Anas. Soucy pinched in and forced a turnover at the blue line and set the puck towards the slot. After the pass hit off a couple of bodies, it found Anas who fired it past the Texas netminder.

Read’s 10th goal of the season gave the Wild a 2-1 lead a few seconds later as Justin Kloos found him all alone in front after skating the puck behind the net. This would be the only lead Iowa would have on the night as the Stars scored the final three goals of the game. Texas tied the game during the second period before netting a pair of goals in the third. This is the first time all season in which the Wild have lost four straight games in regulation.

Player of the Week: For the first time all season, the Wild are struggling to earn points. They scored just seven goals in their three games last week and Soucy factored in three of them, scoring twice and picking up an assist. He currently leads all Iowa defensemen with four goals.

The Week Ahead: Monday, Jan. 14 vs San Diego Gulls; Friday, Jan. 18 vs Ontario Reign; Saturday, Jan. 19 vs Ontario Reign

Admirals Offense Goes Missing in Winless Week

The Milwaukee Admirals (19-14-5-1) had another rough week when it came to scoring goals. After a pointless week, they have dropped to fifth place in the division and are three points out of a playoff spot.

Before the Admirals got back on the ice, they signed veteran defenseman Vince Pedrie to an AHL contract. The 24-year-old blueliner has split his season with the Hartford Wolfpack and the Maine Mariners of the ECHL.

The Admirals began the week undefeated in 2019 and tied for third place with the Griffins, who they hosted on Wednesday night. Both of those trends ended in a 3-1 loss on home ice.

Most of the scoring came in the first period as the Griffins grabbed an early 1-0 lead. Justin Kirkland evened things up eight minutes into the game. Yakov Trenin entered the zone up the left side and fed Kirkland in the slot where he ripped the puck home for his fifth goal of the season.

The Griffins went up for good late in the first period as Troy Grosenick was beaten by a redirected shot. The visitors added an empty-net goal in the final minute to ice the game. Grosenick made 28 saves in the losing effort.

On Friday night, the Admirals welcomed the Gulls to town, who extended their 13-game point streak with an impressive 5-2 win. Colin Blackwell netted both goals in the losing effort. He opened the scoring just over two minutes into the game by splitting a pair of Gulls defenders and deking goaltender Kevin Boyle for his fifth goal of the season. San Diego had a quick response as they tied the game just 15 seconds later.

Blackwell’s second goal of the night gave Milwaukee a 2-1 just over nine minutes into the first period. While on a power play, Blackwell was the recipient of a great no-look pass from Trenin and slammed home a one-timer from the slot.

Unfortunately for the Admirals, that was their final goal of the night as the Gulls went on to score four unanswered goals. They had yet another quick response, this time scoring just 16 seconds after Blackwell’s second goal. They went on to score two more goals in the second period before adding a fifth and final goal in the third.

Player of the Week: Blackwell returned to the lineup on Saturday night after missing the previous 17 games with an injury. He went on to score two of the three goals on the week for the Admirals. Blackwell, who has six goals in 12 games this season, scored 45 points for the Rochester Americans last season. There is no doubt that Milwaukee can use his offense these days.

The Week Ahead: Monday, Jan. 14 @ Manitoba Moose; Wednesday, Jan. 16 @ Manitoba Moose; Saturday, Jan. 19 @ Grand Rapids Griffins; Sunday, Jan. 20 @ Chicago Wolves

Scorching-Hot Rampage Jump into Sixth Place

The San Antonio Rampage (20-18-1-3) continued their turnaround with three wins last week, making it 10 wins in their last 13 games. They have now moved up to sixth place and continue to inch closer to the playoff picture. They find themselves just six points out of the fourth and final postseason spot in the Central.

San Antonio’s week began with a pair of roster moves. On Monday, the St. Louis Blues announced they recalled forward Sammy Blais while reassigning defenseman Jordan Schmaltz to the AHL. This will be Schmaltz’s first stint in the AHL this season after being an All-Star for the Rampage in 2017-18.

The Rampage extended their home winning streak to a franchise-record eight games with a thrilling 5-4 victory over the first place Wild on Wednesday night. The visitors scored first, but the Rampage had an answer less than five minutes later. Mackenzie MacEachern stayed red hot by one-timing a pass from Austin Poganski off the post and into the net.

The Wild tied the game a minute later to regain the lead, but the Rampage evened things up just before the first intermission. While on a power play, Mitch Reinke’s shot from the point was blocked and went right to the stick of Ryan Olsen who fired it home for his sixth goal of the year.

Joey LaLeggia gave the Rampage their first lead of the night just 50 seconds into the second period with a power-play goal from the left circle. The Wild answered to tie the game just over six minutes later.

Reinke picked up another primary assist to give the Rampage a 4-3 lead just 22 seconds later as his shot from the right point went off of Conner Bleackley and into the Wild net. He set up the Rampage’s fifth and final goal just 52 seconds later as another one of his point shots was redirected by MacEachern for his second tally of the evening.

The Wild scored to cut the lead in half midway through the third period, but could not draw even. Jared Coreau made 20 saves for his first win with the Rampage and 100th of this professional career.

The winning ways on home ice continued with a 3-1 victory over the Wild in Friday night’s rematch. Bleackley tied the game by going bar down just 29 seconds after the Wild jumped out to a lead midway through the first period.

Jordan Kyrou finished off a two-on-one rush with Trevor Smith to give the Rampage a 2-1 lead six and a half minutes into the middle frame. Jordan Nolan finished off the scoring about eight minutes into the third period by batting the puck out of mid-air and getting it past Hammond.

Coreau stopped all 22 shots he saw over the final 40 minutes for the win. This marked the first time the Rampage have been over .500 since their opening victory. The Rampage have won all four games against the Wild this season, but have yet to face them in Iowa.

They extended their home winning streak to 10 games with a 4-3 win over the IceHogs on Saturday night. The Rampage struck first when Nolan forced a turnover and set up Smith in the slot for his sixth goal of the season. After the IceHogs tied the game early in the second period, Tanner Kaspick’s second goal of the season, from the top of the left circle, gave the Rampage a 2-1 lead. Nolan doubled the lead late in the middle from with a rising shot from the right circle.

The IceHogs cut the lead to 3-2 early in the third period before Nolan capped off his big night 11 minutes into the frame. While on a 5-on-3 power play, he finished off a two-on-one rush from the left side. The Rampage needed the insurance as the IceHogs cut the lead to just one in the final minute, but were unable to draw even.

Their lineup took a big blow on Sunday when the Blues recalled both Kyrou and Nolan. The duo has combined for 21 goals and 44 points on the season.

Player of the Week: Smith had a goal and three assists to lead all players with four points last week. The secondary assist on Nolan’s first goal on Saturday was the 33-year-old veteran’s 500th professional point when you add up his time in the NHL, AHL, ECHL and Europe.

Veteran Trevor Smith has 500 career professional points under his belt. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Jan. 15 vs Rockford IceHogs; Saturday, Jan. 19 @ Manitoba Moose; Sunday, Jan. 20 @ Manitoba Moose

IceHogs Find the Back of the Net, But Just One Point

The Rockford IceHogs (16-16-3-5) had a much better week when it came to goal scoring as they lit the lamp six times in two games. However, they were only able to earn one point and have now fallen to seventh place. They enter this week one point out of sixth place and seven points out of a postseason spot.

Just a couple of hours before the IceHogs started their road trip through Texas, defenseman Jan Rutta was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for former first-round pick Slater Koekkoek.

Related – Koekkoek for Rutta, What Did the Blackhawks Get?

The trade of Rutta shortened an already-light roster as William Pelletier, Tyler Sikura, Terry Broadhurst and Joni Tuulola all missed Friday’s game at the Stars. Even with all the missing players, the IceHogs earned a point in a 4-3 shootout loss.

After giving up an early power-play goal, Dylan Sikura and the IceHogs tied things up late in the first period with a power-play goal of their own. Sikura received a nice backhand pass from Andreas Martinsen and quickly pushed the puck past Landon Bow for his 10th goal of the year.

The Stars took a 2-1 advantage midway through the second period but they couldn’t make it last. Nathan Noel scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal late in the frame to tie things up. Noel cut to the middle of the ice where he roofed the puck while falling down for his second career AHL goal.

Anthony Louis gave the IceHogs their first lead of the night with another power-play tally, from the high slot, early in the third period. Unfortunately, the Stars came back and forced overtime with less than five minutes remaining in regulation. After a fruitless overtime period, the Stars scored on their first shootout attempt. That would be all they needed as Victor Ejdsell, Sikura and Louis all came up empty on their attempts.

The IceHogs trip through Texas had them in San Antonio for a matchup with the Rampage on Saturday night. The home team struck first for the lone goal of the opening period. Sikura tied the game just 1:29 into the second period with a shot from the right circle. The Rampage answered with a pair of goals to take a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

Jordan Schroeder cut the deficit down to a single goal about four and a half minutes into the third period with a quick shot off a faceoff win. San Antonio extended their lead to 4-2 with a five-on-three goal about seven minutes later. Schroeder scored a second goal with 11 seconds remaining, but it was too little, too late for the IceHogs.

Player of the Week: While Sikura’s stint with the Blackhawks was a bit of a disappointment he has been nothing but solid with the IceHogs. He scored a goal in each of their games last week and now leads the team with 11 goals. He has at least one point in five of his last six AHL games.

The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Jan. 15 @ San Antonio Rampage; Friday, Jan. 18 vs Grand Rapids Griffins; Saturday, Jan. 19 @ Chicago Wolves

Moose Look to Build Off of Big Offensive Week

The Manitoba Moose (15-18-2-1) have the lowest scoring offense in the AHL. In fact, they and the IceHogs are the only two teams in the league who have yet to score 100 goals. The Moose had a big outburst this week with 10 goals while earning three points in a weekend series against the Laval Rocket.

The Moose have rarely gotten the combination of both goaltending and scoring in the same game for much of the season. However, they got plenty of both during Thursday night’s 4-0 win over the Rocket to open up a six-game homestand. Defenseman Cameron Schilling’s first goal of the season opened the scoring 3:33 into the opening period. Less than six minutes later, Jansen Harkins found Alexis D’Aoust in front of the net from below the goal line where he deposited a backhand shot into the Laval net.

After a scoreless second period, the Moose got two goals late in the game to secure the victory. Harkins notched his second multi-point game of the season with an empty-net goal with three minutes remaining in the game. Marko Dano capped off the scoring with his third goal on the season in the final minute of play. Goaltender Eric Comrie made 35 saves for his second shutout of the season and eight of his AHL career.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie now has eight career AHL shutouts. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Saturday’s rematch was a crazy, back-and-forth affair that saw the Rocket come away with a 6-5 shootout win. Brent Pedersen opened the scoring just 1:42 into the game as he waited for goaltender Charlie Lindgren to go down before scoring up top. The Rocket tied the game scoring off a defender’s helmet, but Harkins recovered the Moose’s lead on the power play less than two minutes later. However, the Rocket responded on their own power play with just 14 seconds left in the first period.

After Laval grabbed a 3-2 lead with an early second-period shorthanded goal, Michael Spacek tied the game with another tally on the man advantage. They took a 4-3 lead into the third period thanks to a Logan Shaw through heavy traffic late in the frame.

The Rocket came out firing in the third period and scored twice to take a 5-4 lead by the 4:36 mark. Marko Dano finished off a nice give-and-go play with JC Lipon to force overtime late in regulation. Neither team could score in overtime and Daniel Audette, who scored twice in regulation, picked up the lone goal in the shootout for a Laval win.

Player of the Week: For the second straight week, this honor goes to Harkins. He finished off his big weekend with a pair of goals and a team-high four points. He has four goals and six points in his last seven games after putting up just six points in his first 28 games on the season.

The Week Ahead: Monday, Jan. 14 vs Milwaukee Admirals; Wednesday, Jan. 16 vs Milwaukee Admirals; Saturday, Jan. 19 vs San Antonio Rampage; Sunday, Jan. 20 vs San Antonio Rampage