The American Hockey League’s Central Division had a much quieter weekend than originally scheduled due to COVID-19 protocol. The Grand Rapids Griffins stayed perfect against the Cleveland Monsters on the season and the Iowa Wild finally got back into the win column at the Rockford IceHogs.
The Chicago Wolves were supposed to play last Friday and this coming Tuesday night in Grand Rapids. After Friday’s game was postponed due to the COVID-19 protocol last Thursday, Tuesday’s game was pushed back on Sunday. Both games will be rescheduled, but no make-up dates have been announced yet.
After making his debut on Tuesday night for the Griffins, goaltender Calvin Pickard was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
On Sunday morning, the IceHogs and Chicago Blackhawks held a swap meet with a total of nine players switching leagues. Forwards John Quenneville, Brandon Pirri, Mikael Hakkarainen and defenseman Alec Regula have been re-assigned to the Blackhawks’ taxi squad. Defensemen Madison Bowey, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson and forward Reese Johnson were all re-assigned to Rockford and in the lineup on Sunday night.
Saturday, March 20
Cleveland took to the ice for the first time in two weeks as they haven’t seen game action since March 6 against the Wolves. The Griffins improved to 3-0 versus the Monsters this season and extended their point streak to fives with a big regulation win on Saturday night.
Cleveland had the lone goal of the first period, as Dillon Simpson put his own rebound past goaltender Pat Nagle for his third of the season.
Things picked up for the Griffins in the middle frame as Givani Smith tied the game just 51 seconds into the period. His shot from the left point made its way through heavy traffic and into the back of the net. The Monsters only had three shots in the period, but one of them went in as Wyatt Newpower’s first professional goal broke the tie at the three-minute mark.
Grand Rapids took over from here. Smith found a loose puck at the right side of the net and swatted it over Brad Thiessen for the third two-goal game of his AHL career. Turner Elson sprung Chase Pearson on a breakaway, who went glove side for the eventual game-winning goal late in the second period.
Pearson scored his second of the night and fourth of the season just over five minutes into the third period. Dominik Shine picked off a pass at center ice and got in all alone but was denied by Thiessen. Pearson followed him up and slammed home the rebound for a 4-2 advantage. Riley Barber scored a late empty-net tally to wrap up the scoring. The goal was his team-leading ninth of the season.
Nagle made 24 saves and is now 3-0-0-0 versus the Monsters with a 1.33 goals-against average (GAA) and a 0.947 save percentage (SV%)
“We have actually had some really good practices the last couple of weeks,” Cleveland head coach Mike Eaves said. “But, there is no substitute for play. I think we were ok with the pace; it was executing with the puck with the pace where we were behind. That was the problem for us tonight.”
Sunday, March 21
Iowa flipped the script on Rockford as the IceHogs outshot their opponent for just the second time this season, yet it was the Wild who came out on top to snap their five-game winless streak.
During a long shift in the offensive zone, IceHogs forward Reese Johnson took an interference penalty to kill all the momentum. Reigning AHL MVP Gerry Mayhew proceeded to put the Wild up 1-0 by locating a rebound in the slot and firing it home for his second goal of the season.
Defenseman Cody Franson got the IceHogs on the board early in the second period when his shot from center ice made its way behind goaltender Hunter Jones. Nine minutes later, he had the primary assist on MacKenzie Entwistle’s go-ahead power-play goal as he redirected Franson’s shot from the point up and over Jones. Iowa had a quick response as Mayhew scored again by putting home his own rebound less than two minutes later.
IceHogs’ captain Garrett Mitchell scored his first goal of the season, giving his team a 3-2 lead just 97 seconds into the third period. The Wild answered quickly again, this time a minute and a half later, when Tyler Sheehy scored his first AHL goal by banging home a rebound while falling down. Sheehy then set up Gabriel Dumont’s one-timer less than five minutes later. The veteran’s seventh goal of the season and third against the IceHogs turned out to be the game-winner. Mason Shaw iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“I thought that was probably our best game of the year,” Franson revealed in a postgame chat. “We did a good job managing the puck, for the most part. There were a couple of defensive-zone responsibility slip-ups that cost us. If you look at our year so far, it’s kind of funny how hockey works. I think you can say that was one of our better games that we just happened not to win and we’ve won some games that we probably didn’t deserve.”
Weekend’s Top Performer
While Smith and Pearson each netted two goals on Saturday, the nod goes to Jones for picking up his first professional win. The rookie goaltender has had a rough go of it to start his AHL career. Things could have easily fallen apart for him after allowing a goal from center ice, but he rebounded nicely and led the Wild to a big road win. The 33 saves were the third-most he’s made this season. He still has a 5.41 GAA and .837 SV%, so there is plenty of room for improvement. The Minnesota Wild drafted the former Peterborough Petes netminder in the second round (59th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Under normal circumstances, he would likely be playing with the Petes in the Ontario Hockey League.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 10-2-0-1, 21 pts
Texas Stars – 8-4-2-0, 18 pts
Griffins – 7-3-2-0, 16 pts
IceHogs – 5-9-1-0, 11 pts
Wild – 4-5-2-0, 10 pts
Monsters – 4-4-1-0, 9 pts
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Monday, March 22: Wild @ IceHogs
Thursday, March 25: Stars @ Monsters