The American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division had an exciting week with all of its games going beyond regulation. The Rockford IceHogs picked up their second straight overtime win over the Grand Rapids Griffins in nearly identical fashion. The second-place Texas Stars had a chance to gain serious ground on the Chicago Wolves but dropped a pair of overtime heartbreakers.
First and foremost, the weekend will look much different than originally planned as three games have been postponed due to COVID-19 protocol.
Friday night’s game between the Wolves and Griffins in Grand Rapids has been postponed. The teams are scheduled to play again on Tuesday, March 23, so the game could be made up in short order. The weekend set between the IceHogs and the Iowa Wild originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday has been pushed back until Sunday and Monday.
Tuesday was a very busy day for the Wolves as six different players were on the move. Goaltender Antoine Bibeau, defenseman Joakim Ryan and forward Stelio Mattheos were all reassigned to the AHL by the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenseman Joey Keane and goaltender Beck Warm were recalled and sent to the Hurricanes’ taxi squad. Finally, netminder Jeremy Helvig was reassigned to the Fort Wayne Komets in the ECHL.
The Cleveland Monsters signed goaltender Hayden Stewart to a professional tryout (PTO) contract on Thursday morning. The former Cornell University netminder has spent the last three seasons playing in both the ECHL and the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).
On Monday morning, the Detroit Red Wings reassigned goaltender Calvin Pickard to the Griffins. They also recalled forward Evgeny Svechnikov and goaltender Kaden Fulcher were recalled and placed them on the taxi squad.
The Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 seventh-round draft pick Josiah Slavin on Tuesday and quickly assigned him to the IceHogs. On Thursday morning, the offense got some help as Brandon Pirri returned to Rockford from the Blackhawks’ taxi squad.
Tuesday, March 16
Don’t look now, but the IceHogs are the hottest team in the Central with four wins in their last five games. They used the same formula from last Saturday, Matt Tomkins standing on his and an overtime goal by Dylan McLaughlin, for their second straight 2-1 win at Grand Rapids.
For the second straight game, the Griffins opened the scoring. This time, Chase Pearson’s second goal of the season put the home team up 1-0 midway through the first period. Gabriel Gagne evened the score early in the second period as McLaughlin found him open at the side of the net during a mad scramble in front.
The game headed to overtime after a scoreless third period and McLaughlin scored the game-winner just 19 seconds into the extra time. He found a loose puck in the right circle and fired it up and over Pickard. After making a career-high 42 saves on Saturday, Tomkins topped that with 46 saves on Tuesday. Pickard made 20 saves in his first game with the Griffins since March 11, 2020.
“I thought we had the puck all night,” Pickard said after the game. “Credit to them (Griffins), they blocked a lot of shots. We had good intensity and were opportunistic. It could have gone either way. Their goalie played awesome and he was dialed in right away.”
After splitting a pair of games over the weekend, Texas hosted the Eagles two more times to wrap up their four-game series. The Stars fell behind during a crazy first period but eventually coughed up a lead and fell in overtime.
Anthony Louis started a crazy sequence of seven combined goals in just over eight minutes when his shot through traffic found the back of the net. The Eagles responded a trio of goals in less than three minutes by Nick Henry, Jean-Luc Foudy and Shane Bowers. The goal for Foudy, the Colorado Avalanche’s 2020 third-round pick, was the first of his professional career.
Adam Mascherin answered 27 seconds after Bowers’ goal with his team-leading seventh goal of the season. Less than two minutes later, he scored again off a rebound to tie the game at 3-3. The first period ended the same way it began, with a goal by Louis to give the Stars a one-goal lead.
“When you find yourself in a hole like that early, the only thing you can really do is put your head down and go to work and try to dig yourself out of it,” Mascherin said after the game. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that in the first. Unfortunate ending, but I think if we play like we played in the first period tomorrow night, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Things calmed down a bit as there wasn’t another goal scored until Foudy forced overtime with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime, former first-round pick Martin Kaut’s first goal of the season won the game for the Eagles.
Wednesday, March 17
These two teams closed out their four-game set with another highly competitive contest. For the second straight game, Louis opened up the scoring with his sixth goal of the season less than three minutes in. He will miss playing the Eagles as he had three goals and five points in these last four games against them. Colorado took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission after back-to-back goals by Bowers and Sheldon Dries.
The second period belonged to Nick Baptiste, who scored a pair of goals to give Texas a 3-2 lead. The game-tying goal was scored on a breakaway set up by a stretch pass by Mascherin. Nearly six minutes later, Baptiste scored his fifth goal of the season on a power play to give the Stars the lead.
The Eagles staged another third-period comeback but didn’t wait nearly as long to even the score. With the Stars on another power play, captain T.J. Tynan tied the game by forcing a turnover and scoring a shorthanded goal. In overtime, goaltender Colton Point lost both his glove and stick during a scrum in front of the net and Tynan took advantage to score the game-winning goal from the left circle.
Colorado won three of the four games played in Texas. The Stars maintained second place in the Central by grabbing four points during the series.
“I think they are a hard-working team and they obviously don’t quit,” Baptiste said of the Eagles after four straight games against them. “For us, we have to better with our leads and our starts. Again, in the third period, we have a lead and we can’t hold it. It’s nice to get a point, but two late goals against in back-to-back games. We’ve got to clean that up.”
The Mid-Week’s Top Performer
Even though the Stars lost both games this week, you can point to the performance by Mascherin as one of the biggest reasons they still earned two points. He picked up two goals and added a pair of assists in the two overtime losses. The 22-year-old forward was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fourth round (100th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. After just four goals and 11 points in 30 games last season, he has become an offensive powerhouse. He leads the team with eight goals and is tied with Riley Damiani for the team-lead with 17 points. The Texas duo is tied for second in AHL scoring along with Tyler Benson of the Bakersfield Condors. They all trail Benson’s teammate Cooper Marody, who has 21 points.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 10-2-0-1, 21 pts
Stars – 8-4-2-0, 18 pts
Griffins – 6-3-2-0, 14 pts
IceHogs – 5-8-1-0, 11 pts
Monsters – 4-3-1-0, 9 pts
Iowa Wild – 3-5-2-0, 8 pts
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Saturday, March 20: Griffins @ Monsters
Sunday, March 21: Wild @ IceHogs