It was a rather quiet week for the American Hockey League’s Central Division, with just two of the originally scheduled three games being played. The games were played between the two teams who had yet to pick up a win on the season; the Cleveland Monsters and Rockford IceHogs. The two-game set was originally scheduled for opening weekend, but the Monsters had to postpone the trip due to the league’s COVID protocol.
Before we head to western Illinois, let’s take a quick look at what the front offices of the Central Division were up to.
Just a couple of hours after being named the AHL’s Player of the Week on Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes recalled Morgan Geekie, who scored four goals and added an assist in his two games with the Chicago Wolves. In addition, goaltender Antoine Bibeau, who started the season opener for the Wolves, was reassigned to the AHL.
The Monsters made a handful of roster moves during the week. On Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets sent defenseman Andrew Peeke back down to Cleveland. The following day forwards Zac Dalpe and Ryan MacInnis were both recalled to the Blue Jackets’ taxi squad.
Goaltender Kaden Fulcher spent 24 hours on the Detroit Red Wings’ taxi squad. After being recalled on Tuesday, he returned to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Iowa Wild signed forward Turner Ottenbreit to a professional tryout contract (PTO) and reassigned Josh Maser to the Allen Americans in the ECHL. Ottenbreit has two goals and eight points in 23 games with the Americans. He appeared in 30 games for the Wild last season, where he picked up a goal and an assist.
Monday, Feb. 22
The first game between the two winless in the division got off to a very fast start. Former IceHogs captain Tyler Sikura picked up assists on a pair of goals by Dalpe just 11 seconds apart. Less than two minutes later, Carson Meyer, a Columbus-area prospect making his professional debut, gave the Monsters a 3-0 lead just 6:24 into the game.
The IceHogs had a quick response as Chris Wilkie got Rockford on the board with a shorthanded goal 1:40 later. Brad Morrison scored his third goal of the season less than three minutes later to cut the Cleveland lead down to 3-2.
The second period belonged to the Monsters. Trey Fix-Wolansky started a three-goal middle frame with the power-play tally. Shortly after that, Meyer scored his second goal of the night right off a faceoff. Justin Scott’s shorthanded breakaway goal gave the Monsters a 6-2 lead.
Mitchell Fossier scored his first professional goal nine seconds into the third period.
“Anytime you get your first goal is nice,” Fossier said of his big moment after the game. “It takes a weight off your shoulders and allows you to play with more confidence. Obviously, that wasn’t a game you would have liked, but you try to takes some positives away from it.”
Nathan Gerbe added a late power-play goal to finished off the scoring. Goaltender Brad Thiessen made 29 saves for his and the Monsters’ first win on the season.
Tuesday, Feb. 23
Sikura had another big game against the team he spent the last three seasons with. In Tuesday’s rematch, he opened the scoring with an early second-period power-play goal, his first with the Monsters. Late in the frame, Evan Barratt, the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017 third-round pick, evened up the score with his first professional goal off a set faceoff play.
The game remained tied until the 12:27 mark of the third period when Evan Polei put Cleveland up by a goal. Andrei Altybarmakyan, another 2017 third-rounder, scored his first AHL goal to tie the game with just over three minutes two play. Defenseman Isaak Phillips took a pass from Barratt at the left point and rifled home the game-winning goal with just 1:33 left to play. Goaltender Cale Morris made his first professional start and made 35 saves to finally get Rockford into the win column.
“We battled for three periods,” which is something head coach Derek King has wanted to see all season. “You are always going to have some hiccups, but those hiccups didn’t destroy us tonight. I loved the way we continued to battle and stay the course.”
Wednesday, Feb. 24
Wild @ Texas Stars, POSTPONED
After having their game against the San Jose Barracuda last Tuesday postponed due to a winter storm, the Stars had to push back Wednesday’s game against Iowa because of the COVID protocol. Texas announced this game will be made up on Tuesday, March 30.
The Mid-Week’s Top Performer
Morris had to wait five games and two periods to finally see his first professional action and the 24-year-old netminder did not disappoint. He was called into relief duty of Matt Tomkins on Monday night after the IceHogs’ starter surrendered six goals on 23 shots. Morris was bombarded with 14 shots during the final period stopped all but one. The following night, he made his first AHL start and made 35 saves to get the IceHogs’ first win of the season. He now has a .941 save percentage (SV%) through four periods. This comes after a very successful college career that saw him post a .931 SV% and 2.18 goals-against average in four seasons at the University of Notre Dame.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 7-0-0-0, 14 pts
Griffins – 3-2-0-0, 6 pts
Stars – 3-2-0-0, 6 pts
Wild – 2-3-1, 5 pts
Monsters – 1-3-1-0, 3 pts
IceHogs – 1-5-1-0, 3 pts
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Friday, Feb. 26: Wolves @ Griffins, Wild @ Stars
Saturday, Feb. 27: IceHogs @ Monsters, Wild @ Stars
Sunday, Feb. 28: IceHogs @ Monsters, Griffins @ Wolves