AHL Central News: Griffins Gain Ground with Hot Week

The eight teams of the American Hockey League’s Central Division finished up the final full week of the month of October. With the teams spread out between Arizona and Pennsylvania, there was plenty of action to cover during the busy week.

Wild Struggle Out West, Yet Hang onto First Place

The Iowa Wild (5-1-1-1) headed out west this past weekend and struggled in a two-game set at the Tucson Roadrunners. Despite coming home with just one point, they still sit atop the Central Division with 12 points on the season.

Before they boarded the plane, the Wild learned they would be without their top goaltender. The Minnesota Wild recalled Kaapo Kahkonen after Devan Dubnyk was injured. Iowa signed Jake Paterson to a professional try-out (OTO) to take his place on the roster.

Kaapo Kahkonen Iowa Wild
Kahkonen was up in the NHL and not in Tucson over the weekend. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Roadrunners scored a 3-1 victory on Friday night, handing the Wild their first regulation loss of the season. Michael Chaput’s pair of first-period goals would be all the Roadrunners would need to secure the victory.

Kyle Rau deflected a slap shot by Brennan Menell into the Tucson net with just 22 seconds remaining in the first period to get the Wild on the board. The Roadrunners added a third and final goal early in the final frame.

Kyle Rau, Iowa Wild
Rau (42) found the back of the net for the Wild on Friday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Saturday’s rematch was another hotly contested game, but the Wild fell short in overtime. After a scoreless first period, Brandon Duhaime gave the Wild a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the middle stanza.

Tucson tied the game before the end of the second period and won the game by finishing off a 2-on-1 late in overtime. Both goaltenders were kept busy as the two teams combined for a total of 90 shots.

Player of the Week: With Kahkonen up in the NHL, Mat Robson started both games against the Roadrunners. The rookie goaltender gave up five goals on 76 shots for a .934 save percentage (SV%). The 23-year-old Toronto native has a 1.94 goals-against average (GAA) and .941 SV% through the first four games of his AHL career.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 30 @ Grand Rapids Griffins; Friday, Nov. 1 @ Milwaukee Admirals; Saturday, Nov. 2 @ Rockford IceHogs

Griffins Flex Their Muscle, Move up the Standings

The Griffins (5-2-0-1) swept a three-game week to move into second place with 11 points. They flexed their offensive muscle by outscoring their opponents 13-5 over their three games.

Before starting their three-game week, the Griffins lost talented forward Evgeny Svechnikov to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday morning. The following day, veteran defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was added to the Grand Rapids roster after being waived by the Red Wings.

Jonathan Ericsson Grand Rapids Griffins
Ericsson expectedly found himself back in the AHL last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins opened up a four-game homestand on Wednesday night after playing four out of their first five games of the season on the road. It was a successful return to the Van Andel Arena with goaltender Calvin Pickard leading the charge in a 3-0 shutout of the Admirals for their first home win of the season.

Pickard’s job was pretty easy early on as the Admirals didn’t get a shot on goal until the game was nearly 18 minutes old. Chris Terry went top shelf for his third goal of the season to give the Griffins a 1-0 lead with just 1.7 seconds left in the first period.

Ryan Kuffner doubled the lead midway through the second period by following up his own shot and putting home the rebound. Matt Puempel’s late empty-net goal capped off the scoring. Pickard made 26 saves for his first AHL shutout since Jan. 20, 2018.

On Friday morning, Red Wings recalled forward Givani Smith. At the time of his callup, Smith was tied for second on the team with two goals.

Givani Smith Grand Rapids Griffins
Smith got the call to Detroit on Friday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins’ offense did not skip a beat later that night with a 4-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose. The game remained scoreless through the first 20 minutes, but the Griffins took control of the game early in the second period. Puempel scored a pair of goals just 2:46 apart, with the second coming on the power play.

Pickard’s shutout streak of 125:21 came to an end early in the third period when a broken play ended up with the puck behind him. Joe Veleno gave the Griffins some insurance with a power-play goal, his first professional tally, late in the third period. Puempel added another empty-net goal a few moments later to complete his first career AHL hat trick.

The Griffins got off to a slow start on Saturday night, but they were able to erase a three-goal deficit to pull off a 6-4 win over the Texas Stars. The visitors scored just two minutes into the game and then built their 3-0 lead with a pair of goals just 16 seconds apart. However, Dominic Turgeon got things going for the Griffins with his first goal of the season less than a minute before the first intermission.

Oliwer Kaski kept the momentum rolling by cutting the Texas lead down to 3-2 in the opening minute of the second period. Shortly after the Stars regained a 4-2 advantage, Gregor MacLeod’s first AHL goal brought the Griffins to within one late in the stanza.

The Stars looked like they were going to hang on for the win, but Kuffner tied the game with less than six minutes to play. Terry scored on the power play, less than three minutes later, to give the Griffins their first lead of the night. Turner Elson added an empty netter to secure the 6-4 win. After a rough first period, Filip Larsson stopped for 14 of the 15 shots he faced in the final 40 minutes for his first home win.

Player of the Week: The Griffins showed why they are one of the teams to beat in the Central Division this season. They had 18 different players pick up at least one point in their three games last week. Puempel led the way with four goals and six points. His hat trick was the difference in Friday night’s victory. He now leads the team with five goals and is just two points behind Terry for the team lead in overall scoring.

Matt Puempel Grand Rapids Griffins
Puempel was a major factor in a three-win week for the Griffins. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 30 vs Iowa; Saturday, Nov. 2 @ Moose; Sunday, Nov. 3 @ Moose

Rampage Grab Three Points Out East

The San Antonio Rampage (4-1-2-1) made a rare trip out east for a weekend set at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They left Pennsylvania with three points after a successful weekend and are currently tied with the Griffins, just one point out of first place.

On Friday morning, the St. Louis Blues reassigned forward Jordan Kyrou to San Antonio. He scored 16 goals and 43 points in 47 AHL games last season. However, the 2019 AHL All-Star did not dress for either game against the Penguins.

Jordan Kyrou
Kyrou was reassigned back to the AHL over the weekend. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rampage had to make a comeback on Friday night in order to pick up their first road win of the season. The Penguins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead before the game was eight minutes old. Nathan Walker responded with a power-play goal just a few moments later. The Penguins had a quick answer to regain their two-goal lead, which they held into the first intermission.

Walker struck again with a breakaway goal just 13 seconds into the second period. He also had the primary assist on Klim Kostin’s game-tying power-play go about four minutes later. Mitch Reinke finished off three-goal barrage in less than seven minutes to give the Rampage a 4-3 advantage.

The power-play success continued late in the third period when Nick Lappin scored to give his team some well-needed insurance. The Rampage went 3-for-4 on the power play while successfully killing off both of their penalties.

The excellent special teams play carried over to Saturday night’s rematch after the Penguins opened the scoring for the second straight game. Both Lappin and Walker scored on the power play to give the Rampage a 2-1 lead after a period of play.

The Penguins fought back in the second period with a pair of power-play goals of their own to retake a 3-2 lead. Mike Vecchione scored late in the second period to tie the game and again in the opening seconds of the third period to give the Rampage a 4-3 lead.

The Penguins tied the game about six minutes later and looked like they were on their way to a regulation win. Late in the third period, Jake Dotchin was given a double-minor for head-butting, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for 33 seconds. The Rampage killed off the entire four minutes to send the game to overtime, where they gave up a late goal.

Player of the Week: Walker has been a huge addition to the Ramage lineup this season. He had another huge week with three goals and six points during the two-game set against the Penguins. His week was so good that he was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week on Monday morning. Walker leads the Rampage with seven goals and 12 points in eight games.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 30 @ IceHogs; Friday, Nov. 1 @ Stars; Saturday, Nov. 2 vs Stars

Wolves Claw Their Way into Fourth Place

The Chicago Wolves (4-3-1-0) have yet to hit their stride this season, but they have rattled off three straight wins. Their nine points are good enough to hold down the fourth and final playoff spot, but there is a very long way to go.

The Wolves learned they would be getting some reinforcements back from the Vegas Golden Knights when defensemen Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud were reassigned Wednesday morning.

“You never want to get sent down, obviously,” Hague said upon his return to Chicago. “You want to use it as motivation; to try to prove that you belong there. Come down and keep playing the game and go back to what makes me good and try to get back up as soon as possible.”

Nic Hague, Chicago Wolves
Hague made a quick cameo in Chicago. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Hague was in the lineup when the Wolves hosted the Texas Stars on Wednesday morning in a School-Day matinee. Whitecloud did not play as he is still working his way back from an injury he suffered during Golden Knights’ training camp.

The Wolves had another slow start as they gave up the opening goal of the game less than four minutes in. However, they responded quickly as Gage Quinney fired a backhander into the Texas net just over a minute later to even things up.

Just past the midway point of the first period, Patrick Brown gave the Wolves a 2-1 lead with a goal off a rebound; his fourth of the season and third in the last two games. Quinney added his second of the period, and team-high fifth of the season, six minutes later with a one-timer from the high slot.

Quinney’s second goal proved to be the game-winner as the Stars cut the lead to 3-2 early in the second. From there, Garret Sparks took over and made 39 saves en route to a 3-2 win, the Wolves first in regulation this season.

Hague was returned to Vegas the following day and the team also swapped out goaltenders with Sparks heading to the NHL and Oscar Dansk coming back to Chicago.

Whitecloud made his season debut and Dansk returned the net in Saturday night’s 4-0 victory over the Moose. The team’s top line stayed hot with Tye McGinn opening the scoring with his 100th AHL goal early in the first period.

Zach Whitecloud Chicago Wolves
Whitecloud made his season debut on Saturday. (Sarah Avampato / The Hockey Writers)

The Wolves doubled their lead on the power play, early in the middle frame, with Quinney finishing off a great passing play with Curtis McKenzie and Lucas Elvenes. With his two assists, Elvenes now leads the AHL in scoring with 13 points.

Related – Elvenes & Ferguson: Unexpected Heroes with Wolves

McGinn made an unselfish play late in the game by passing up an empty netter so Jake Leschynshyn could score his first professional goal. Patrick Brown scored an unassisted goal in the final minute to finish off the scoring.

Dansk had only appeared in two games this season; one for the Wolves and one for the Golden Knights and he gave up 11 goals in those starts. He made 25 saves for the big shutout in his return to Chicago.

“It was definitely nice to get that one,” Dansk said about his performance. “Just keep building on it, as a team. To get a win like that is always nice. It was a really solid team game for 60 minutes. Those are always really nice to get.”

Player of the Week: As we documented many times already this season, the Wolves were in dire need of someone to step up and fill a rather huge offensive void left by the turnover during the offseason. Quinney, who had 19 goals last season, has elevated his game and has been the driving force for the Wolves attack so far. He had three goals and an assist in their two victories last week and his five goals on the season are tied with Brown for the most on the team.

Gage Quinney Chicago Wolves
Quinney has stepped up in a major way this season. (Sarah Avampato / The Hockey Writers)

“He just makes his teammates better,” head coach Rocky Thompson said of Quinney. “He plays a 200-foot game and defends well. He’s very smart, so he can make adjustments. His offensive game has been good ever since he’s played for me and I think it’s even elevating to another level. I just see him getting better each day and I think he could play in the NHL.”

The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Oct. 29 @ Roadrunners; Wednesday, Oct 30 @ Roadrunners; Saturday, Nov. 2 @ Admirals; Sunday, Nov. 3 @ IceHogs

Admirals Use Goaltending to End Losing Streak

The fifth-place Admirals (3-2-1-2) haven’t been winning much of late, but they had been earning points to stay within striking distance of the Central’s top spot. After picking up a big shootout win on Friday night, the Admirals have nine points on the season.

The Admirals entered the week the losers of three straight games and the misery continued in Grand Rapids on Wednesday with a 3-0 loss to the Griffins. Connor Ingram was solid in goal in his first start against the Griffins by stopping 24 of the 26 shots he faced. The Admirals gave up a goal in the final seconds of the opening period, another midway through the second and an empty-netter late in the game.

Friday night saw a return to home ice and to their winning ways. Goaltender Troy Grosenick was on his game in leading the way in a 2-1 shootout win over the Stars. Laurent Dauphin opened the scoring late in the first period by cashing in off his own rebound.

The game needed extra time after the Stars drew even with a power-play goal in the second period. After overtime did not settle things, the teams headed to a five-round shootout. Colin Blackwell and Daniel Carr scored for the Admirals while Grosenick stopped four of the five Texas attempts.

Player of the Week: Anytime your offense only scores one goal in two games and you still walk away with two points, you have to credit your goaltender. Grosenick was calm and collected in the net of Friday night and carried the team to victory. The veteran netminder has a 1.40 goals-against average (GAA) and .955 save percentage (SV%) in his five games this season.

“We’ve got a pretty good mix of young guys and vets,” Grosenick said in a victorious Admirals locker room. “They’ve done a pretty good job all year of boxing guys out. I’ve been around a while, so I know what to expect. I’m not trying to change too much.”

The Week Ahead: Friday, Nov 1 vs Wild; Saturday, Nov. 2 vs Wolves

Stars Endure a Rough Week on the Road

The Stars (3-4-0-2) spent the week on the road and were only able to earn a single point in three games. They find themselves in sixth place with eight points.

On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars reassigned forward Rhett Gardner and defenseman Joel Hanley back to the AHL. Both players in the lineup for Wednesday’s School-Day game at the Wolves, which the Stars dropped 3-2.

Rhett Gardner Dallas Stars
Gardner returned to the Stars after starting the season in the NHL. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Joel L’Esperance opened the scoring early in the game as he got to a loose puck between the hash marks and quickly deposited it into the Wolves’ net. Chicago answered quickly to tie the game and built a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

Gardner made an immediate impact upon his return to the Stars by netting his first goal of the season three minutes into the middle frame. The Stars dictated the play for much of the afternoon, outshooting the Wolves 41-24, but they came up short, ending their three-game winning streak.

Hanley’s stay in the AHL only lasted the one game as he was recalled to Dallas on Thursday morning.

The Stars found themselves in Milwaukee on Friday night for a meeting with the Admirals. Jake Oettinger played great but was on the short of the stick in a 2-1 shootout loss.

Related – THW’s Goalie News: Outdoor History, Rask’s Revenge & More

After falling behind 1-0 late in the opening period, the Stars took advantage of an early second-period power play to draw even. Jason Robertson made a great cross-ice feed to L’Esperance in the left circle where he blasted home a slap shot for his second goal in as many games.

Oettinger made 34 saves in regulation and overtime, but his offense couldn’t help him out as they could only score one goal in a five-round shootout.

Oettinger has been impressive to start his first full professional season. (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

The Stars got off to a great start against the Griffins on Saturday night, but they were unable to make a 3-0 lead hold up. Defenseman Emile Djuse opened the scoring, just two minutes into the game, with his first career AHL goal. Brad McClure added power-play goal later in the period and Gardner extended the lead to three just 16 seconds later.

The Griffins fought back with goals in the final minute of the first period and the opening minute of the second. Djuse picked up an assist on Robertson’s power-play goal that gave the Stars a 4-2 lead. Grand Rapids cut the lead down to 4-3 before the end of the middle frame.

The Stars gave up the lead with less than six minutes left in regulation. The Griffins took advantage of a power play a couple of minutes later to take their first lead of the night before adding an empty-net goal to pull off the 6-4 comeback victory.

Player of the Week: Sometimes, when a young player gets demoted after his first taste of the NHL, he tends to struggle when he returns to the AHL. That was not the case for Gardner, who played in the first seven games of the season for Dallas before being reassigned. He scored two goals in his first three games back. He has six goals and an assist in his 14 career AHL games since his college career at the University of North Dakota ended last spring.

The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Oct. 29 @ Admirals; Friday, Nov. 1 vs Rampage; Saturday, Nov. 2 vs Rampage

IceHogs Embarrass Themselves in Cleveland

The IceHogs (2-5-0-0) came into the week riding the momentum of back-to-back wins over the Wolves. Apparently, they didn’t pack that momentum with their gear before leaving for Cleveland as they were beating soundly in a weekend set against the Monsters.

Tyler Sikura scored his third goal in the last two games to open the scoring on Friday night. It was all Monsters after that as they scored four quick goals shortly after the Sikura tally. They added two more goals in the second period and a final goal in the third for a 7-1 win.

It was more of the same on Saturday afternoon’s rematch as the Monsters roared to a 5-0 victory, scoring two goals in the opening frame and three more in the second period. The IceHogs remain the only team in the AHL to not have a power-play this season. They are 0-for-29 on the man advantage.

“The big thing is to compete for a full game,” said IceHogs head coach Derek King after the disappointing weekend. “We competed in certain areas at certain times, but we’ve got to do it for three periods.”

Player of the Week: When your team gets outscored 12-1, it is hard to come up with the best player in two clunkers. Sikura scored the only goal of the weekend, so he’ll get the nod by default. He is tied with his brother Dylan for the team lead in goals, with three. The Sikura brothers are responsible for half of the IceHogs’ 12 goals this season.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 30 vs Rampage; Saturday, Nov. 2 vs Wild; Sunday, Nov. 3 vs Wolves

Offensive Woes Continue for Moose

The Moose (1-7-0-0) endured another miserable week in scoring just one goal in back-to-back losses at the Griffins and Wolves. They are in the midst of a six-game losing streak and are in last place of the Central Division with just two points.

Things started off well as the Moose played a very good first period in Grand Rapids on Friday night. They outshot the Griffins 12-6 but were unable to find the back of the net. The Griffins struck for a couple of quick goals early in the second period.

Jansen Harkins cut the lead in half, early in the third period, with his second goal of the season. The Griffins iced the game with a late power-play goal followed by an empty netter to complete the 4-1 victory.

Jansen Harkins, Manitoba Moose
Harkins had the lone Moose goal last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The road trip took the team to Chicago, where the offense struggled again in a 4-0 loss. The Moose had 25 shots on goal but could not get any across the goal line. They had just one goal on 62 shots over the weekend.

To make matters worse for the division’s second-lowest scoring team, the Winnipeg Jets recalled Logan Shaw on Monday morning. Shaw leads the Moose with three goals.

Player of the Week: Much like in Rockford, it is hard to pick a standout after a lackluster weekend. Harkins had the lone goal for the Moose so he is the Player of the Week. He is second on the team with his two tallies and joins Shaw and defenseman Cameron Schilling as the only three Moose who have multiple goals through eight games.

The Week Ahead: Saturday, Nov. 2 vs Griffins; Sunday, Nov. 3 vs Griffins