The Grand Rapids Griffins hosted the Cleveland Monsters for the only two games of the week. The Monsters were the hottest team in the Central Division of the American Hockey League (AHL), having won six games in a row. The Griffins used a pair of third-period comebacks to sweep the two-game set and move into second place.
The week’s biggest news came on Wednesday morning when the Central Division had to rearrange its schedule again due to COVID-19 protocol. The game between the Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Wolves was postponed as the Wolves continue to be affected by the league’s protocol. The game has been rescheduled for Monday, May 10. The Wolves were scheduled to play at the Monsters on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The Friday game has been moved back to Sunday afternoon as a precaution.
In other off-ice news, the Monsters made some roster moves before their two-game set at the Grand Rapids Griffins. On Monday, they signed forward Jake Gaudet to a professional tryout (PTO) contract for the remainder of the 2020-21 season and an AHL contract for 2021-22. He had five goals and 13 points in 28 games for the NCAA National Championship-winning UMass Minutemen. Later that day, forward Cliff Pu was reassigned to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ taxi squad.
In between their two games with Cleveland, the Griffins swapped goaltenders with the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday morning. Kevin Boyle headed to the Wings’ taxi squad while Kaden Fulcher returned to Grand Rapids.
Tuesday, April 20
The two-game set between these two rivals was the only show in town for the week, and the first contest did not disappoint.
Cleveland got on the scoreboard first, thanks to Carson Meyer’s power-play goal less than seven minutes into the game. This was the recently-signed rookie’s sixth goal of his first professional season. The Griffins answered with a pair of quick goals later in the first period. Troy Loggins tied the game by putting his own rebound in past goaltender Daniil Tarasov. Just over a minute later, Gregor MacLeod gave them a 2-1 lead by deflecting a shot by defenseman Joe Hicketts.
Liam Foudy evened the score with a shorthanded goal early in the middle frame. He forced a turnover at the right point then converted on a breakaway chance by beating Pat Nagle with a wrist shot. About 10 minutes later, Dillon Simpson scored the Monsters’ second power-play goal of the night to give them a 3-2 advantage.
The third period belonged to Grand Rapids. Dominic Turgeon finished off a rush by tapping home a pass from Taro Hirose to tie the score just 81 seconds into the final stanza. Riley Barber scored the game-winning goal shortly after that while on a power play. He fired a slap shot just inside the right post from the high slot for his team-high 14th goal of the season. Givani Smith iced the game with a late empty-net goal.
“Over the course of my career, I have always been a power-play guy, so to speak,” Barber said after the game. “There are a lot of options we can use, and we all feed off of each other. Obviously, we’re having some success, but that’s what happens when you’re up a man. You really have to take advantage. We’ve been working on certain plays in practice, and we have it dialed in as a group.”
Wednesday, April 21
Fulcher was the man of the hour in Wednesday night’s rematch as he made 27 saves for his first AHL victory and first won at any level since March 3, 2019.
“It was good to get back into the win column,” a smiling Fulcher said after the game. “The guys played so well in front of me. They made both of these last two games so much easier for me by blocking shots and getting into lanes. We played a really good team game out there and it was nice to get the two points.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the first period. Finally, nearly 13 minutes into the middle frame, Wyatt Newpower rang a shot off the post and in for the Monsters’ third power-play goal of the series.
Just like on Tuesday, the Griffins used a third-period outburst to take down Cleveland. Smith tied the game at the 5:30 mark of the final frame by beating Matiss Kivlenieks from the top of the right circle. This extended Smith’s AHL goal streak three games and his point streak to eight. Loggins scored 1:35 later for his second goal in as many nights. Kivlenieks made the save on Dylan McIlraht’s shot he couldn’t locate the puck behind before Loggins poked it home for the game-winning tally.
The Griffins had not won when trailing after two periods all season until this two-game set with the Monsters. They improved to 5-0-3-0 at the Van Andel Arena with their next three games on home ice.
“I don’t think anyone in that room – from the players to the coaching staff – were happy with the level of intensity and consistency in the first two periods,” Griffins’ head coach Ben Simon admitted. “I thought in the third period our best players were our best players, which wasn’t necessarily the case in the first two periods. I give credit to them for finding a way.”
Mid-Week’s Top Performer
Loggins is not known for his offensive prowess at the AHL level. Coming into the week, he had just two goals in his first 25 career games and just one in 16 games this season. He scored in each of Grand Rapids’ two wins with the opening tally on Tuesday and the game-winner on Wednesday.
He now has three goals in his last four games as the 25-year-old winger is enjoying the best stretch of his pro career.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 15-4-0-2, 32 pts (.762 pts %)
Griffins – 11-6-3-0, 25 pts (.625 pts %)
Monsters – 11-7-1-0, 23 pts (.605 pts %)
Iowa Wild – 11-10-4-0, 26 pts (.520 pts %)
Texas Stars – 12-15-2-0, 26 pts (.448 pts %)
IceHogs – 8-13-1-0, 17 pts (.386 pts %)
Friday, April 23: IceHogs @ Wild
Saturday, April 24: Wolves @ Monsters, IceHogs @ Wild
Sunday, April 25: Wolves @ Monsters