There were only two weekday games this week within the American Hockey League’s Central Division. The two teams tied for second place, the Grand Rapids and Texas Stars, both gained some ground on the Chicago Wolves, who lost a key part of their offense. There was plenty of news off the ice, including the possible sale of the Rockford IceHogs.
The biggest news to come out of the Central Division this week is the IceHogs’ potential sale. According to Scott Leber of WTVO in Rockford, the Chicago Blackhawks plan to purchase their AHL affiliate from the city, who currently owns the team. The IceHogs are among the few independent teams left in the league that their NHL partners don’t already own. Leber reports that the Blackhawks are committed to keeping the team in Rockford, which is about 75 miles west of the Windy City. They also want to make around $20 million in improvements to the BMO Harris Bank Center, where the team plays its home games. The IceHogs have been the Blackhawks’ affiliate since joining the AHL at the start of the 2007-08 season.
Just prior to the IceHogs’ game versus the Griffins on Wednesday, the Blackhawks reassigned two familiar faces in forward Brandon Pirri and defenseman Lucas Carlsson. Pirri is Rockford’s all-time leader with 200 points and 132 assists. Carlsson was named the team’s Defenseman of the Year in each of the last two seasons.
In a move that everyone knew was coming, Seth Jarvis of the Wolves returned to the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League on Tuesday. At the time of this transaction, the 19-year-old led the AHL with 11 points and was second with seven goals.
On Tuesday, the Detroit Red Wings recalled center Michael Rasmussen and defenseman Gustav Lindstrom. Rasmussen had three goals in eight games for the Griffins. The Red Wings reassigned goaltender Kaden Fulcher to Grand Rapids. Later in the week, they revealed that they would allow up to 750 fans into home games, starting with their two-game series against the IceHogs on March 13 and 16.
The Stars had a pair of announcements during the week. First, their Feb. 16 game against the San Jose Barracuda that was postponed due to winter storms has been rescheduled. The make-up game will take place on April 14 in San Jose, turning their three-game series at the Barracuda into a four-game set. Also, the team named both Josh Melnick and Nick Baptiste as alternate captains for the rest of the season.
“We definitely know we have a lot of leaders on this team. So, it was important for us to take our time and be thorough,” Stars head coach Neil Graham said of the additions. “I’m really happy with the conclusion of Josh Melnick and Nick Baptiste, and I think we have a nice complement between our three letters. We have a little bit of everything.”
Wednesday, March 3
Goaltender Collin Delia’s conditioning stint with the IceHogs has not exactly earned him any confidence. After giving six goals to the Cleveland Monsters in his first start on Saturday, he got a crack at the Griffins on Wednesday. He didn’t even make it out of the second period as he was yanked after allowing seven goals on 30 shots. In his two AHL games, he has a .783 save percentage and 8.85 goals-against average.
Things actually started well for the IceHogs as Pirri scored his first goal with the team since 2014, while on a power play, just 4:37 into the game. Less than four minutes later, Max Humitz started his big night with his first professional point when his shot was deflected past Delia by Dominik Shine to tie the game. Just 38 seconds later, he scored his first AHL goal to give the Griffins a lead. Patrick Curry added a third goal before the end of the period, his first in the professional ranks.
Humitz added a second goal 48 seconds into the middle frame, and that was quickly followed by Tyler Spezia’s first goal of the second to extend the lead to 5-1. Pirri answered with his second goal of the night before the Griffins scored four more times to give them a 9-2 lead after 40 minutes. Riley Barber and Turner Elson scored 1:24 apart to chase Delia from the game. Tom Auburn made his AHL debut in relief and quickly gave up goals to Barber and Spezia.
Rockford got goals from Carlsson and Chris Wilkie early in the third period. After giving up two goals early, Auburn settled in and stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced. This was Barber’s third straight two-point game, and he is now tied with Tyler Gaudet of the Toronto Marlies for the AHL lead in scoring with 12 points.
“I liked our start; I think we started on time,” IceHogs head coach Derek King said. “We’re a sensitive team right now. We let in a couple of quick ones in, and all of a sudden, we go back into a shell where we stop playing. You can’t do that against good hockey teams like that.”
The Stars began a three-game set in Arizona with their fifth victory of the season. Captain Cole Schneider started his big evening by scoring the only goal of the opening frame. Just over five minutes into the game, he scored a power-play goal from in close to give Texas a 1-0 lead.
Schneider struck again for his second goal of the night and fifth of the season on an early second-period power-play. Melnick scored the team’s first shorthanded goal, late in the frame, as he finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Schneider.
Baptiste’s third goal of the season gave the Stars a 4-0 lead early in the third period. The Roadrunners got a pair of quick goals from Lane Pederson and Kevin Roy to cut the lead down to 4-2, but that was as close as they got. Derek Branch added a fifth and final goal with about three minutes to play, his second on the season for the Stars. Schneider picked up his fourth point of the night with the secondary assist. Goaltender Tomas Sholl made 35 saves to earn his third victory in four starts this season.
Mid-Week Top Performer
The Griffins had seven different players pick up at least two points in Rockford, but nobody equaled Schneider’s four points for the Stars. The nine-year AHL veteran is up to five goals and eight points in eight games.
He leads the team in goals and is one point behind co-leading scorers Adam Mascherin and Riley Damiani. His two power-play goals have the Stars up to a 25.7% conversion rate, the third-best in the Central and fifth in the entire league.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 8-1-0-0, 16 pts
Griffins – 5-3-0-0, 10 pts
Stars – 5-3-0-0, 10 pts
Wild – 3-4-1, 7 pts
Monsters – 2-3-1-0, 5 pts
IceHogs – 1-7-1-0, 3 pts
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Friday, March 5: Monsters @ Wolves; Stars @ Roadrunners
Saturday, March 6: Monsters @ Wolves; Wild @ IceHogs, Stars @ Roadrunners
Sunday, March 7: Wild @ IceHogs