This was a pretty slow week for the American Hockey League’s Central Division, with just one game played between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Rockford IceHogs. The Chicago Wolves remain atop the standings as we head into a busy weekend with five out of the six teams taking to the ice.
The Cleveland Monsters had a rather busy week off the ice. First, on Monday, the Columbus Blue Jackets reassigned goaltender Veini Vehvilainen from their taxi squad. He made his NHL debut with a relief appearance at the Dallas Stars on March 6 and allowed one goal on four shots. On Wednesday, the Monsters signed defenseman Ole Bjorgvik-Holm to an amateur tryout (ATO) contract. He was a fifth-round pick (145th overall) by the Blue Jackets this past October and just wrapped up his season in Norway’s top professional league.
The Monsters were supposed to travel to the Rochester Americans on Friday, but that game was postponed yesterday due to COVID-19 protocols affecting the Americans. This is the fourth game Cleveland has had postponed due to the COVID-19 protocols and the first time because of their opponent. The game has been rescheduled for Saturday, April 10.
The IceHogs lost a trio of players to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday. Forward Reese Johnson and defenseman Nicolas Beaudin were promoted to the active roster, while goaltender Collin Delia was assigned to the taxi squad. In a corresponding move, goaltender Matt Tompkins was returned to Rockford from the taxi squad.
On Thursday morning, the IceHogs received some bad news on the injury front. The team announced that Chad Krys will miss the next 5-7 months after surgery to “repair a chronically unstable right shoulder.”
“It’s a loss for us, and it hurts for him,” IceHogs head coach Derek King said about Krys. “He had his first year, and then you want to see how he’s improved with his strength and everything. Going into this year, you hope that second-year player has gained some confidence and takes the next step. There wasn’t an opportunity to see him too much, so that’s going to hurt us.”
The Texas Stars had a couple of roster moves during the week as well. On Wednesday, the Dallas Stars recalled goaltender Colton Point with fellow netminder Landon Bow coming back down. Point had started five of the 10 games for Texas this season. Then, defenseman Jerad Rosburg was the next to be recalled and assigned to the taxi squad, with Taylor Fedun returning to the AHL.
Thursday, March 11
The IceHogs wrapped up their four-game homestand the same way they started it; by hosting Grand Rapids. Although they had a must better effort than the 9-4 loss back on March 3, they still fell short in a 3-1 loss. The Griffins snapped Rockford’s brief two-game winning streak with their 1000th regular-season win in franchise history. Over their 25 seasons of play, the Griffins have a regular-season record of 1,000-686-27-61-116 for a .583 points percentage.
After a scoreless opening frame, Riley Barber stayed hot by opening the scoring early in the second period. He fired a wrist shot home from the high slot to extend his personal point streak to nine straight games. Four of his eight goals on the season have been at the expense of the IceHogs.
The Griffins doubled their lead about six minutes into the third period. Gustav Lindstrom had his shot from the right circle partially blocked, and it went right to Kyle Criscuolo at the side of the net, who tapped it home for his fourth goal of the season. Three minutes later, defenseman Brian Lashoff extended the advantage to 3-0 by finishing off a nice passing play with his first goal of the season from the right out in front of the net.
Late in the third period, the IceHogs denied Pat Nagle his first AHL shutout with the help of a lucky bounce. Defenseman Michael Krutil took a shot from the right point, and it hit off the skate of D.J. Busdecker and deflected into the net. This was Busdecker’s third goal of the season and second in as many games. Both Krutil and Riley McKay picked up their first professional points with the assists. Unfortunately for the IceHogs, this was as close as they’d get.
Mid-Week’s Top Performer
Although he was on the losing side, Rockford goaltender Matt Tomkins had an excellent night against Grand Rapids. He kept his team in the game with multiple big stops, including quite a few in the second period while they were only down a goal. He made 29 saves in his first game since Feb. 22 after a brief stint on the Blackhawks’ taxi squad. He has played better than his overall numbers suggest with a 3.90 goals-against average, and .885 save percentage, as the team in front of him has struggled mightily.
“He was solid,” King said of the performance. “That’s the Matty we know. Good for him. You always try to take some positives out of a loss, whether it’s 9-4 or 3-1. I think the positive here was Matt Tomkins for me. We were lucky he was on his game because if he wasn’t, it might have turned into an ugly game again.”
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 8-2-0-1, 17 pts
Stars – 7-3-0-0, 14 pts
Griffins – 6-3-0-0, 12 pts
Monsters – 4-3-1-0, 9 pts
Wild – 3-5-2-0, 8 pts
IceHogs – 3-8-1-0, 7 pts
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Friday, March 12: Colorado Eagles @ Texas Stars
Saturday, March 13: IceHogs @ Griffins, Chicago Wolves @ Iowa Wild, Eagles @ Stars
Sunday, March 14: Wolves @ Wild