AHL Central News: IceHogs Sold, Wolves Lose & Stars Split

Even though there were only three games within the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division, it was still quite an eventful week. The sale of the Rockford IceHogs was made official and then they went out and finally beat the Chicago Wolves. The Texas Stars traveled northwest to start a four-game series in Loveland, CO.

Off-Ice Business

The biggest news of the week, without a doubt, was the Chicago Blackhawks officially purchasing the IceHogs. On Wednesday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker joined Blackhawks’ owner Rocky Wirtz at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford to make the announcement.

“The Rockford IceHogs have played a critical role in our franchise’s success, and today, the IceHogs officially become a part of the Chicago Blackhawks family,” Wirtz said. “Not only is this an exciting opportunity from a hockey perspective, but in partnership with the City of Rockford and the State of Illinois, we are reinvesting in Illinois to generate positive economic as well as philanthropic impact through our Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, further solidifying the team’s standing in the community.”

In addition to ownership of the team, the Blackhawks have committed $23 million to a multi-year project to renovate the BMO Harris Bank Center. Plus, they have agreed with the city of Rockford that the team will play in the building through 2036.

Per the official release:

The renovation, when combined with the sale of the team to the Blackhawks and their long-term commitment to the facility, will ultimately generate $382 million in net spending in Rockford and retain 358 jobs over the next 15 years.

After scoring two goals in a win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday, Kole Sherwood was recalled by the Columbus Blue Jackets and assigned to their taxi squad. In nine games for the Cleveland Monsters, he has three goals and four points.  

On Monday, Iowa Wild goaltender Hunter Jones was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week. He made three starts in a four-day span versus the Stars, going 3-0-0 with a .969 save percentage and 1.01 goals-against average. He stopped 93 of the 96 shots he faced and picked up his first career AHL shutout.

Mid-Week Recap

Tuesday, April 6

Colorado Eagles 5, Stars 4

After hosting the Iowa Wild for a four-game series last week, the Stars hit the road for their first of four games at the Eagles on Tuesday night. Texas had a pair of University of North Dakota teammates making their professional debuts in forward Jordan Kawaguchi and goaltender Adam Scheel.

Scheel was very busy in his first AHL period as Colorado peppered him with 18 shots. The only one he let past him came from Ryan Wagner shortly after the Stars killed off an extended 5-on-3 power play.

The second period saw a combined five goals between the two teams. Nikita Scherbak tied the game early in the frame by deflecting a shot by Jake Slater. Sheldon Dries gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead midway through the period with a power-play goal. Kawaguchi evened the score with his first professional goal just over a minute later.  

The back-and-forth period continued with Martin Kaut putting the Eagles back out in front 78 seconds after Kawaguchi’s tally. Shane Bowers doubled the lead with an unassisted goal off a turnover just before the intermission.

The Stars fought back late in the third period to draw even. Kawaguchi picked up the primary assist on Thomas Harley’s fourth goal of the season with just over six minutes to play. Less than two minutes later, Adam Mascherin tied the game by getting to a loose puck during a scramble in front of the net. Kuat struck again, on a power play, with just 1:23 left in regulation by blasting a one-timer past Scheel. Both goaltenders, Scheel and Adam Miska, made 32 saves in the first game of this extended set.

Wednesday, April 7

IceHogs 4, Wolves 3

The Wolves entered Wednesday’s game as the AHL’s top team, winners of six in a row and a perfect 5-0 record versus the IceHogs this season. Rockford used a big-time performance by a former Wolves sniper to finally beat their rival from the Windy City.

The IceHogs build an early lead with a pair of goals just 40 seconds apart seven minutes into the game. Morgan Entwistle’s third goal of the season, on a breakaway, opened the scoring. A few moments later, Brandon Pirri doubled the lead by firing a wrister from the high slot past Beck Warm.

Rookie Phil Tomasino cut the lead down to 2-1 early in the second period with his sixth goal of the season. He finished his night with three points by picking up assists on the Wolves’ other two goals. The rest of the period belonged to Pirri, who scored 62 goals for the Wolves between 2017 and 2020. He lit the lamp two more times before the end of the period to give the IceHogs a 4-1 lead. This was his first AHL hat trick since Dec. 8, 2018, in Rockford when he was with Chicago.

“It was an awesome game,” Pirri said. “First and foremost, I am so happy for those guys in the locker room. To get that win, guys were really excited about it. It hasn’t been an easy year for a lot of people. It’s a good feeling in the locker room.”

Tanner Jeannot started the Wolves’ comeback attempt with his 10th goal less than four minutes into the third period. This extended his AHL-leading point streak to 12 games and his personal goal streak to eight games. Dominik Bokk stayed hot, too, with a one-timer from the left circle to cut the deficit down to just one goal with about 12 minutes to play. The former first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues now has six goals on the season, all coming in the last eight games.

From there, goaltender Matt Tomkins took over as he made 10 of his 30 saves during the final frame for his third win of the season. He has nine career AHL victories, four of which have come at the expense of the Wolves. Rookie Josiah Slavin had two assists and now has two goals and four points in his first three pro games with the IceHogs since the end of his career at Colorado College.

Slavin has been impressive to start his pro career. (Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

“I feel pretty good,” admitted Slavin. “The first game was a bit of an adjustment because I hadn’t played a game in a month. The pro game fits my style well. It’s very structured and that’s the way I like to play. I think the transition has been pretty easy just because of how structured the game is nowadays.”

Stars 2, Eagles 1(SO)

After scoring nine combined goals in the series opener, the Stars and Eagles had just two in Wednesday night’s rematch.

Both goals came early in the first period, just 1:14 apart. Nick Baptiste redirected a Riley Damiani shot past Adam Werner to hit double digits on the season. Colorado went on the power play just 30 seconds later and they took full advantage of their opportunity. Sheldon Dries fed Kiefer Sherwood in the left circle, where he beat Colton Point to tie the game.

Riley Damiani Texas Stars
Damiani continued his big rookie season.(Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

Point stopped all 29 shots he faced after the Sherwood goal. The Eagles thought they took a 2-1 lead in the second period after Nick Henry followed up an Alex Fortin breakaway attempt, but the officials waved off the goal after a conference on the ice.

After a scoreless third period and overtime, the two teams headed to a shootout where Kawaguchi and Mascherin scored for the Stars while Points stopped all three Colorado attempts.

Mid-Week’s Top Performer

This has been a very tough season for Pirri and he is far from the only veteran in the same type of situation. He has played in just four games all season, one with the Blackhawks and three with the IceHogs, due to spending most of the time on the taxi squad. When he has gotten the chance to play in Rockford, he has made the most of it. After his hat trick on Wednesday, he has five goals and six points in his three AHL games.

Brandon Pirri Rockford IceHogs
Pirri has made the most of his playing time.(Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

The IceHogs had lost nine straight to the Wolves, including all five of their previous meetings this season. Pirri’s performance gave them a win they had been looking for since the puck dropped on the strange 2020-21 campaign.

Central Division Standings

Wolves – 14-3-0-1, 29 pts

Stars – 11-10-2-0, 24 pts

Wild – 8-9-3-0, 19 pts

Griffins – 8-6-2-0, 18 pts

Monsters – 8-5-1-0, 17 pts

IceHogs – 7-12-1-0, 15 pts

Upcoming Weekend Schedule

Friday, April 9: Griffins @ Monsters, Wolves @ Wild

Saturday, April 10: Monsters @ Rochester Americans, IceHogs @ Griffins, Wolves @ Wild, Stars @ Eagles

Sunday, April 11: Stars @ Eagles