AHL Central News: Wolves Stay Red Hot

The American Hockey League (AHL) season is in full swing. The seven teams of the Central Division had themselves a pretty typical regular-season week. Everybody had a busy game schedule with plenty of players coming and going between the AHL and the NHL.

Off-Ice Business

The Chicago Wolves did not make any roster moves this week, but the AHL announced that two former players, defenseman Nolan Baumgartner and forward Keith Aucoin, will be part of the AHL’s 2022 Hall of Fame induction class. Dave Creighton and executive Bill Torrey round out the foursome.

On Saturday morning, the Grand Rapids Griffins lost some firepower when the Detroit Red Wings recalled center Joe Veleno. He scored a team-high three goals during his first five AHL games this season.

Joe Veleno Grand Rapids Griffins
Veleno is back in Detroit. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

No team had a busier week as far as transactions go than the Iowa Wild. The roster turnover began on Thursday when the Minnesota Wild recalled forwards Connor Dewar and Kyle Rau and defenseman Jon Lizotte after placing Rem Petlick and Mats Zuccarello in COVID protocol. Iowa then recalled forwards Ryan Kuffner and Kris Bennett, defenseman Riese Zmolek and goaltender Trevin Kozlowski from the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL. The team also announced it had assigned forward Alexander Khovanov to the Heartlanders. Finally, on Friday, Minnesota recalled defenseman Calen Addison and forward Adam Beckman and reassigned Lizotte back to Iowa.

The Chicago Blackhawks recalled defenseman Isaak Phillips and sent fellow blueliner Ian Mitchell back to the AHL on Thursday. Phillips made his NHL debut on Friday night versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

Related – IceHogs’ Slavin & Phillips Leading the Youth Movement

The Manitoba Moose made a pair of additions to the roster on Friday when they recalled forward Todd Burgess and defenseman Tristan Pomerleau from the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL.

The Week in Review

Wednesday, Oct. 27

Wolves 3, Griffins 0

The Wolves started their week on the road with their first trip of the season to Grand Rapids. The night belonged to rookie goaltender Eetu Makiniemi. He made 25 saves for his first North American shutout and second AHL win in as many starts.

Eetu Makiniemi Chicago Wolves
Makiniemi remains undefeated in AHL play. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Jack Drury got the Wolves on the board just over five minutes into the game with a power-play strike. C.J. Smith hit him with a pass at the side of the net that he tipped in for his first AHL goal. David Gust scored for the second straight game when he fired home a wrist shot off a faceoff late in the opening frame.

The Griffins outshot the Wolves 14-8 during the second period, but Makiniemi stood tall. Drury capped off the scoring with another goal with just over three minutes to play. Captain Andrew Poturalski assisted on both of his goals.

“They’re a very aggressive team in what they want to do,” Griffins head coach Ben Simon said of the Wolves. “They don’t mess around with pucks in their own end. They’ve got some big bodies. They establish body position and pressure and are quick to pounce. Whether or not they’re a fast team, a big team, or a heavy team, it doesn’t matter when you don’t compete. We were not competitive at all in the first period.”

Thursday, Oct. 28

Texas Stars 4, IceHogs 1

The Stars were back home after spending last weekend at the Tucson Roadrunners. They had a triumphant return in beating the IceHogs in the first of a two-game set.

Ty Dellandrea gave the home team a 1-0 lead by cashing in off a rebound eight minutes into the game. Riley Tufte doubled the lead about two minutes later when he beat Malcolm Subban on a breakaway for his second goal of the season.

Carson Gicewicz got Rockford on the board by scoring his first professional goal 26 seconds into the second period off a nice setup feed from D.J. Busdecker. Texas blueliner Andreas Borgman took advantage of a defensive breakdown to restore the Stars’ two-goal lead less than six minutes later.

Oscar Back, who picked up his first AHL assist on the opening goal, scored his first AHL goal just before the final horn sounded with an empty-net tally. Goaltender Jake Oettinger made 24 saves for his third win of the season.

Friday, Oct. 29

Wolves 4, Milwaukee Admirals 2

After the Wolves swept a home-and-home series with the Admirals last week, the two old rivals were back in Milwaukee for the second straight Friday night. The game featured both teams dressing seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

For the fifth straight game, Chicago scored the first goal of the night, less than five minutes into the game. Smith got behind the defense and drove hard to the near post before dropping the puck into the slot for Stefan Noesen to whack into the open cage.

Late in the opening frame, Grant Mismash, who was making his AHL debut, scored off a rebound on the power play to tie the score. Mismash’s successful debut continued when he scored on a breakaway midway through the second period. The Admirals carried their 2-1 lead into the third period.

Poturalski tied the game early in the third period by scoring from just above the goal line while on a 5-on-3 advantage. Less than five minutes later, Spencer Smallman scored the eventual game-winner goal from the top of the left circle. Defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald added an insurance goal 84 seconds after Stillman’s tally. Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 22 shots for his second win of the season.

“I thought he was good,” said Admirals’ head coach Karl Taylor about Mismash’s pro debut. “We lost (Michael) McCarron early in the game, so we were down to 10 forwards. There were some challenges with that. Grant probably played more than I’d like him to because it was his first game, but I thought he handled well.”

Saturday, Oct. 30

Moose 5, Wild 3

The new-look Wild traveled north of the border for a pair of games in Manitoba. The Moose used a balanced attack in Saturday afternoon’s win by getting goals from five different players, with 13 of the 18 skaters finding the scoresheet.

Veteran defenseman Joe Hicketts scored his first goal with the Wild, an unassisted backhander, less than two minutes into the game. Just minutes later, Thomas Caron blasted home a one-timer for his first AHL goal as the Moose drew even.

Manitoba took control of the game during an exciting second half of the middle frame. Cole Maier’s second goal of the season broke the tie. Over two minutes later, defenseman Leon Gawanke scored off a faceoff win to give the Moose a 3-1 lead. Mason Shaw drew the Wild back to within a goal just 55 seconds later. However, David Gustafsson finished a nice passing play with Cole Perfetti and Kristian Reichel to restore the two-goal advantage heading into the second intermission.

David Gustafsson Winnipeg Jets
Gustafsson had a big goal for the Moose. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mitchell Chaffe’s power-play goal just 37 seconds into the third period cut the lead to 4-3. That would be as close as Iowa would get as Simon Lundmark completed the scoring with a goal from the point midway through the third period.

Goaltender Mikhail Berdin made 32 saves to earn his 100th career AHL win and push the Moose’s winning streak to three games. Manitoba finished with 31 shots on goal, giving them four straight games with at least 30.

“We play a high-speed game,” said Gustafsson shortly after the win. “Heavy on the forecheck. We aim to cycle the puck low and not cough it up at the blueline. If we do that, we’re playing our game.”

Griffins 4, Admirals 1

Milwaukee’s losing streak climbed to four games as the Griffins avenged a 7-3 loss at the Admirals on opening weekend. The Admirals have been held to just six goals during this current skid.

David Farrance gave the Admirals an early 1-0 lead by scoring a power-play goal off a turnover 1:34 after the opening draw. Farrance’s first professional goal marked the first time in five games where Milwaukee scored the opening tally.

It was all Grand Rapids after this. Jonatan Berggren tied the game at the 8:59 mark of the opening frame. The rookie’s first AHL goal snapped the Griffins’ scoreless drought at 90:58. Two minutes later, Kyle Criscuolo gave the Griffins a lead with his first of the season. Chase Pearson finished off a run of three goals in 3:23 when he put a rebound off of Parker Gahagen to give his team a 3-1 lead. Pearson finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal late in the third period.

Goaltender Calvin Pickard was given First Star of the Game honors for his 37-save performance, including 20 in the second period alone.  

“Honestly, it didn’t feel like 20,” the veteran goaltender admitted. “They had a shooting mentality tonight. We took a lot of penalties, and when that happens, they’re going to have a lot of opportunities to shoot the puck. We did a good job. We had good energy, and we got rewarded for it.

IceHogs 4, Stars 3

Rockford wrapped up its six-game road trip to start the season in grand fashion with a victory in the Lone Star State. They will return home next weekend for their first game at the newly renovated BMO Harris Bank Center.

Alex Nylander gave the IceHogs an early 1-0 lead by beating Oettinger for his team-high fourth goal of the season. Later in the frame, Lukas Reichel doubled the lead when his shot deflected off a defender and found the back of the net.

Alex Nylander Rockford IceHogs
Nylander leads the IceHogs in goals. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Midway through the second period, Borgman scored his second goal in as many games to get Texas on the scoreboard. Dylan McLaughlin, who led Rockford in goals last season, scored his first of the season with less than a minute to go in the frame. They took a 3-1 lead into the break thanks to rookie goaltender Arvid Soderblom’s 20 saves in the second period.

Josiah Slavin extended the advantage early in the third period by finishing an excellent passing play with Busdecker and Gicewicz. Jacob Peterson, who was recalled from the ECHL earlier in the week, scored his first AHL goal three minutes later. He added a second tally while on a 6-on-4 power play with less than three minutes to play. Despite the late push, Texas was unable to score the equalizer.

Sunday, Oct. 31

Wild 4, Moose 1

Iowa used a combination of veteran experience and youth to bounce back and win Sunday’s rematch in Winnipeg.

Will Bitten scored the lone goal of the first period to give the Wild a 1-0 lead when his shot from the point found the back of the net. In the second period, Joseph Cramarossa scored his first of two goals to double the lead. He struck again in the final minute with Minnesota’s 2020 first-round pick, Marco Rossi, picking up the primary assist.

Rossi picked up another assist on Hicketts’ second goal of the weekend late in the third period. Perfetti, another first-rounder in 2020, spoiled Dereck Baribeau’s shutout bid with less than three minutes to play.

“I think we played a solid game,” Gawanke said of Manitoba’s effort. “The second half of the game, we were all over them. Unfortunately, they scored the goals. It’s tough to win two in a row against the same opponent. We would have loved the points to bump us up in the standings.”

Wolves 6, Griffins 3

The Wolves used their red-hot top line to win their fifth straight game and go a perfect 3-0-0-0 on the road for the week.

Late in the opening frame, the Wolves drew first blood again when Noesen found Poturalski on a back-door play. Defenseman Joey Keane jumped on the rush during 4-on-4 play early in the second period and doubled the lead with his first goal of the season.

Related – Wolves’ Poturalski, A Perfect Choice for Captain

The Griffins battled back to draw even. First, Berggren scored in back-to-back games when his shot hit off the post before hitting off a Chicago defender’s leg and crossing the goal line. Riley Barber tied the game with a power-play tally with three minutes left in the middle stanza. However, Jalen Chatfield gave the Wolves a 3-2 lead in the final minute by redirecting Smith’s shot past rookie goaltender Victor Brattstrom.

Jonatan Berggren Grand Rapids Griffins
Berggren scored his first two AHL goals over the weekend. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Three minutes into the third period, Smith tapped in a great backhand pass from Poturalski to increase the lead to 4-2. Four minutes later, Poturalski scored from the slot for his second goal of the day. Barber added another power-play tally to cut the lead to 5-3 with less than nine minutes to play. The Wolves captain completed his first professional hat trick with a power-play goal from the right circle less than two minutes later. Makiniemi made 24 saves to improve to 3-0-0 to start his AHL career.

Who’s Hot

Barber has always been an offensive force during his AHL career. In 322 games, he has 129 goals and 257 points. He led the Griffins with 20 goals last season. He had a big week with a pair of goals and four points in three games. He is now tied for the team lead in goals with three and second in overall scoring with six points.

Who’s Not

If you were to head out to a Milwaukee-area grocery store for a carton of milk this week, you might find a picture of the Admirals’ offense on it. They have just six goals in four games since scoring seven goals on opening night versus the Griffins. They had just three goals this week, and their 13 on the season are the fewest in the Central Division. Only the San Jose Barracuda (12) and Lehigh Valley Phantoms (10) have scored less.

The Week’s Top Performer

Nobody is hotter in the entire AHL than Poturalski. His huge week saw him score four goals, including his first professional hat trick, and nine points in three games.

Andrew Poturalski Chicago Wolves
Nobody is playing better than Poturalski right now. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The 2020-21 AHL scoring champ leads the league with 14 points and is tied for the league lead with nine assists and three power-play goals. Along with Noesen and Smith, his line combined for six goals and 21 points this past week.

Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, Nov. 2
Texas @ Colorado Eagles

Wednesday, Nov. 3
Texas @ Eagles

Friday, Nov. 5
Griffins @ Wild, Moose @ Admirals

Saturday, Nov. 6
Stars @ Barracuda, Wild @ Admirals, Griffins @ IceHogs, Moose @ Wolves

Sunday, Nov. 7
Admirals @ Wolves, Moose @ IceHogs, Stars @ Barracuda

Central Division Standings

Wolves 5-1-0-0 (10 pts, .833%)
Wild 4-2-0-0 (8 pts, .667%)
Moose 4-3-0-0 (8 pts, .571%)
Stars 3-3-0-0 (6 pts, .500%)
Griffins 2-4-0-1 (5 pts, .357%)
IceHogs 2-4-0-0 (4 pts, .333%)
Admirals 1-4-0-0 (2 pts, .200%)

(Standings determined by points percentage, top five teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs)

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