The American Hockey League’s Central Division had itself another quiet mid-week schedule with just two games. The Rockford IceHogs continued their improved play with another win over the Iowa Wild. The Cleveland Monsters have not played much of late, but when they have, they usually win, as they did versus the Texas Stars. Things will pick up this weekend with all six Central Division teams in action and playing twice.
The Chicago Wolves and Grand Rapids Griffins were supposed to play last Saturday and again on Tuesday but had both games postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 protocol. The AHL announced the make-up dates for both games as the Wolves with travel to Michigan on Tuesday, April 13, and Monday, April 26.
The Cleveland Monsters were supposed to play host to the IceHogs on Feb. 28, but COVID-19 protocol wiped it out. That game will not be made up as Rockford does not return to Cleveland this season. However, the AHL added a game in its place as the Monsters will host the Griffins on Friday, April 9. The two teams will also meet again in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, April 20.
The Griffins’ front office was busy signing two players to amateur tryout (ATO) contract. On Monday, they signed forward Albin Grewe to an ATO, who was the Detroit Red Wings’ third-round (66th overall) pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The next day, defenseman Patrick Holway was added via an ATO. Originally drafted by the Red Wings in the sixth round (170th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, he just finished his college career at the University of Maine.
On Tuesday morning, forwards Reese Johnson and Mackenzie Entwistle and defensemen Nicolas Beaudin, Madison Bowey, Lucas Carlsson, and Wyatt Kalynuk were all recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks. Entwistle made his NHL debut versus the Florida Panthers later that night. Forwards Mikael Hakkarainen, Brandon Pirri and John Quenneville and defenseman Alec Regula were all re-assigned to the IceHogs in a corresponding move.
Monday, March 22
The IceHogs haven’t had too many big offensive explosions this season, but they got on in Monday night’s rematch with the Wild. Johnson, Chris Wilke and Beaudin all scored twice, while rookie goaltender Cale Morris made 38 saves for his second AHL win.
Rockford jumped out to an early 3-0 lead by putting three of their first four shots behind goaltender Hunter Jones. Wilke set up Johnson’s first goal of the season and three minutes later, the roles were reversed as Johnson made the pass that Wilkie deposited into the Iowa net. Wilkie then added his AHL-leading third shorthanded goal of the season by finishing off a 2-on-0 rush with Dylan McLaughlin.
Reigning league MVP Gerry Mayhew scored his third goal of the two-game set late in the period to get the Wild on the board. He took advantage of the extra space on the ice during a 5-on-3 power play to score his fourth goal of the season.
Beaudin’s first AHL goal, to go along with his two in the NHL this season, was the only scoring of the second period. Both Johnson and Beadin scored again, 30 seconds apart, late in the third period, to cap off the IceHogs’ fifth win in their last seven games.
“It was a great start,” Wilkie said after the game. “Our line, with (Evan) Barratt and Johnson, were good tonight and had a lot of energy. Reese just works so hard and is such a good skater. He creates a lot with his speed and is strong down low. Barratt is an unbelievable playmaker and is really smart. We were able to read off each other tonight and it was fun.”
Thursday, March 25
March has not been very busy for the Monsters, as Thursday night’s tilt with the Stars was just their fourth game of the month. However, they have won three of those four games after winning the first of a three-game set with Texas.
The Monsters came out firing with 15 shots during the first period, but they were all turned away by goaltender Tomas Sholl. Defenseman Adam Clendening finally opened the scoring and gave Cleveland a 1-0 lead midway through the second period.
Nick Baptiste tied the game halfway through the third period while the Stars were on their third power play of the night. His sixth goal of the season extended his personal point streak to seven straight games. Tyler Angle answered less than four minutes later with a breakaway shorthanded goal, which proved to be the game-winner. Angle added a late empty-netter and now has four goals in four AHL games this season.
“I was battling the whole game to get the puck in the net,” Angle said after the victory. “When I got that opportunity on the breakaway I was thinking ‘third time is the charm’ and I better get this one in.”
Mid-Week’s Top Performer
Prior to Monday’s two-goal game, Wilkie had been a healthy scratch the previous two contests, but not necessarily because of his play.
“I just finished talking to him, saying he’s not going to play the next two games and then I’ll put him back in the lineup,” head coach Derek King said with a sly smile on Monday night. “Sometimes, a step back and a breather can do some good. I don’t want to keep taking these guys out, but we have so many bodies here, I’ve got to find ice time for guys. Sometimes you get pegged for no reason. I was happy for Wilks to come in like that.”
Wilkie set the tone by getting the primary assist in the team’s opening goal then scoring the next two himself, the first of which was the eventual game-winner. He leads the IceHogs with six goals and his fourth in points with eight. He scored 23 goals in 34 games for Colorado College last season. The Florida Panthers originally drafted the 24-year-old winger in the sixth round (162nd overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He is with Rockford on an AHL contract.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 10-2-0-1, 21 pts
Stars – 8-5-2-0, 18 pts
Griffins – 7-3-2-0, 16 pts
IceHogs – 6-9-1-0, 13 pts
Monsters – 5-4-1-0, 11 pts
Wild – 4-5-2-0, 10 pts
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Friday, March 26: Griffins @ Wild
Saturday, March 27: Stars @ Monsters, Griffins @ Wild, IceHogs @ Wolves
Sunday, March 28: Stars @ Monsters, Wolves @ IceHogs