AHL Central News: Monsters, IceHogs Come Up Big in Busy Weekend

The weekend went off as planned in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division with all six teams in action. The Grand Rapids Griffins and Iowa Wild split an entertaining two-game set. The Cleveland Monsters remained red hot. The Rockford IceHogs got the best of the Chicago Wolves for the second straight time, and the Texas Stars are stumbling back to the Lone Star State in desperate need of some home cooking.

Off-Ice Business

Due to numerous players recently being called up to the NHL ranks, the Wolves brought in some new faces this week. They signed former Northeastern University captain Zach Solow to an amateur tryout contract (ATO). They also signed forwards Matt Boudens and Diego Cuglietta to professional tryout contracts (PTO). Both players have been playing in the ECHL for the Fort Wayne Komets and Indy Fuel, respectively.

In between games with the Wild, goaltender Kaden Fulcher was reassigned to the Griffins from the Detroit Red Wings taxi squad. Also, goaltender Kevin Boyle and center Joe Veleno headed back to Detroit. Fulcher made his AHL debut versus Iowa on Saturday night.

Weekend Recap

Friday, April 16

Griffins 5, Wild 4

Iowa’s eight-game point streak came to an end on Friday night in Grand Rapids in one of the craziest third periods you will ever see.

Jarid Lukosevicius gave the Griffins a 1-0 midway through the first period as his wraparound attempt beat goaltender Hunter Jones to the left post for his first goal of the season. This was the only scoring until things got weird in the final frame.

The Griffins built up a 3-0 lead before the third period was four minutes old. Kyle Criscuolo redirected a Dylan McIlrath shot about a minute before Albin Grewe scored his first North American goal from above the circles.

The Wild came back to tie the game halfway through the period with a flurry of three goals in just 36 seconds. Gerry Mayhew began the comeback with a goal from the left corner assisted by rookie Matt Boldy. Brandon Duhaime scored off a rebound just 14 seconds later before Mason Shaw finished off a passing play to even things up and leave the Van Andel Arena in stunned silence. Mayhew returned the favor just over four minutes later to set up Boldy’s third professional goal, putting the Wild up 4-3.

Taro Hirose tied the game with a goal from the bottom of the left circle with less than three minutes to play. Dominic Turgeon gave Grand Rapids a 5-4 lead with just 41 ticks left on the clock after taking in a nice pass by Givani Smith.

“Obviously, the whole game is predicated on mistakes, and the less you make, usually, you have a better chance you have to win,” Griffins’ head coach Ben Simon said after the crazy third period. “We made mistakes at inopportune times, and they’re an opportunistic group with a lot of good goal scorers. Credit to our guys for digging in and having the resiliency.”

San Jose Barracuda 5, Stars 3

The Stars and Barracuda continued their four-game set in San Jose after splitting the first two games during the week. The Barracuda used a big third period to win their second straight over the visitors from Texas.

Lean Bergmann gave San Jose an early 1-0 lead finding the puck during a scramble in front of the net and sweeping it past Colton Point for his first goal of the season. Josh Melnick started his huge night by evening the score about 10 minutes later.

Just over three minutes into the second period, rookie Riley Damiani snapped his 13-game goalless streak by swatting the puck out of midair and batting it past goaltender Alexei Melnichuk.

Riley Damiani Texas Stars
Damian ended his goal drought. (Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

Melnick was credited with the secondary assist on the play. It took the Barracuda all of two minutes to tie the game with Steen Pasichnuk’s first AHL goal. Point was pulled at this point and replaced by Scheel for the rest of the game.

Melnick got the third period off to a good start for Texas by giving them a 3-2 lead after taking advantage of a fortunate bounce of the end boards. Evan Weinger evened things up later in the period by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush with a shot through the legs of Scheel. Scott Reedy picked up the eventual game-winning goal with less than five minutes to play before Alexander True added a late empty-netter for insurance.

Saturday, April 17

Monsters 6, Rochester Americans 3

The Monsters have been the hottest team within the Central Division of late, and they extended their winning streak with another win over the Americans.

Rochester had the fast start as Remi Elie scored his sixth goal of the season just 26 seconds after the opening faceoff. Luke Moncada tied the score six minutes later with his first professional goal. The Americans had a 9-3 shot advantage after 20 minutes, but the score was even at 1-1.

Tyler Angle gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead early in the second period before Zach Jordan doubled the lead about eight minutes later. Rochester had an answer as Elie scored his second goal of the day before the teams headed into the locker rooms for the second intermission.

Tyler Sikura scored the eventual game-winning goal while on the power play just 1:51 into the third period. His team-high ninth goal of the season gave the Monsters a 4-3 lead. Mattias Samuelsson got the Americans back to within a single goal 11 minutes to play, but they would not get closer.

Tyler Sikura Cleveland Monsters
Sikura is leading the way in Cleveland. (Courtesy Cleveland Monsters)

Thomas Schemitsch provided a big insurance goal less than five minutes later, and Wyatt Newpower tacked on an empty-net goal in the final minute of play.

Matiss Kivlenieks made 28 saves to improve to 5-0-0-0 on the season. The Monsters have won four out of the five games played between these two teams. They will meet one more time on May 8, in Cleveland.

“We were late to the party in terms of starting and have had a couple of stops,” Sikura said in his postgame media session. “Since then, we’ve been able to get into a groove. We’ve got our identity. We’ve got our system, and we know night in and night out what we have to do to be successful. The other part to that is executing, which we have been able to do.”

Wild 4, Griffins 3 (OT)

The rematch between Iowa and Grand Rapids was just as exciting as the first game, and this one needed extra time to decide a winner.

Criscuolo’s second goal in as many games opened the scoring early in the first period as he redirected a Joe Hicketts’ shot past Dereck Baribeau. The quick-strike Wild offense was at it again as they scored twice in 56 seconds to take a 2-1 lead before the end of the opening frame. Defenseman Matt Bartkowski one-timed a rebound past Fulcher to tie the game just before Mitch McLain intercepted a pass and quickly fired it home from the left circle.

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For the second straight game, the middle period saw both teams held off the scoreboard. Early in the third period, Connor Dewar gave Iowa a 3-1 lead with a rebound goal, his 10th of the season. Smith had a quick response about a minute later to get the Griffins back to within a goal. Riley Barber scored his team-leading 13th goal on the campaign while on the power play with just over six minutes to play.

Just like Friday night, the team that coughed up the lead ultimately won in the end. Two minutes into overtime, Duhaime made it back-to-back games with a goal by potting the game-winner from the left circle while on a 2-on-1 rush.

“I thought our compete level was excellent in both games,” Simon said after the loss. “We had some guys playing in different situations and different positions. I loved our resolve. A lot of good things out of the weekend.”

IceHogs 4, Wolves 3 (SO)

These two intrastate rivals faced off against each other for the seventh of 11 times this season. After the Wolves won the first five meetings, the IceHogs have bounced back to win the last two after Saturday night’s dramatic victory.

The IceHogs struck first, just six minutes into the game. Wolves’ defenseman Cavan Fitzgerald whiffed on a one-time attempt at the point that led a 2-on-1 rush going the other way, which saw D.J. Busdecker pass across to Reese Johnson who beat Connor Ingram to the glove side for his fourth goal of the season.

The Wolves came back with two quick goals later in the opening period. The first came when Cole Smith deflected a shot between the legs of goaltender Ivan Nalimov, who had lost his stick moments earlier. They took the lead 36 seconds later when David Cotton scored off a rebound shortly after a faceoff win to start a power play.

Andrei Altybarmakian tied the game late in the second period. He camped out in front of the net, and the puck found him after Busdecker’s shot was blocked, and he roofed it over Ingram for his fourth goal of the season. However, Smith struck again with just 11.5 seconds left in the middle frame by blasting home a one-timer from the high slot.

Andrei Altybarmakian Rockford IceHogs
Altybarmakian scored a huge goal on Saturday night. (Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

Rockford head coach Derek King decided to pull Nalimov for an extra attacker with three minutes left to play. The move paid off as Mackenzie Entwistle tied the game less than a minute later. He started the play by getting a close-range shot off from between his legs. The puck came back to him below the goal line, and he attempted to back it off of Ingram. Instead, it popped back out in front, where Smith batted it into his own net.

After a spirited overtime session, the game needed to be decided by a shootout. Tim Soderlund and Brandon Pirri scored for the IceHogs while both Patrick Harper and Cotton were denied by Nalimov, who earned his first North American win.

“We didn’t back down from them,” King said after the victory. “I liked our game. It wasn’t always pretty, but we stayed with it. Hats off to the guys for competing like that.

Barracuda 4, Stars 2

The Stars wrapped up a tough four-game set in San Jose and eight-game road trip with another loss to the Barracuda.

Five of the six combined goals came in the second period after neither team found the back of the net during the opening frame. Cole Schneider opened the scoring early in the middle stanza with a power-play goal by redirecting a Ben Gleason shot past Melnichuk. Three minutes later, Joe Cecconi doubled the lead as a blocked shot found him in the left circle, and he took advantage of a wide-open cage for his second goal of the season.

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The Barracuda took over from this point. Scott Reedy got San Jose on the board with a deflection on the power play with seven minutes left in the second period. Steenn Pasichnuk tied the game just 56 seconds later with a backhand shot from in close. Ivan Chekhovich finished off a three-goal explosion in 1:18 and gave the Barracuda a 3-2 lead with a shot through heavy traffic from the left circle.

Evan Weinger sealed the deal for San Jose with an empty-net goal with just over a minute to play in the third period. Both teams went 1-for-3 on the power play while Point made 18 saves in the losing effort.

Texas went 2-6-0-0 on their eight-game road trip at the Colorado Eagles and Barracuda. After playing 15 games over 24 days, they will get 11 days off before hosting the Monsters on April 29.

Weekend’s Top Performer

Duhaime is certainly not known for his offense during his young professional career. After six goals and 20 points in 2019-20, he entered this weekend’s series with the Griffins with zero points in 13 games. He picked a perfect time to finally get on the board. His first goal of the season was part of the huge four-goal outburst on Friday night. He followed that up with the overtime goal the following night.

He even put up six shots on goal after have 25 total through the first 13 games of his season. The Wild are hoping this will lead to bigger things for the second-year left winger.

Central Division Standings

Wolves – 15-4-0-2, 32 pts (.762 pts %)

Monsters – 11-5-1-0, 21 pts (.676 pts %)

Griffins – 9-6-3-0, 21 pts (.583 pts %)

Wild – 11-10-4-0, 24 pts (.520 pts %)

Stars – 12-15-2-0, 26 pts (.448 pts %)

IceHogs – 8-13-1-0, 17 pts (.386 pts %)

Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule

Tuesday, April 20: Monsters @ Griffins

Wednesday, April 21: Monsters @ Griffins, IceHogs @ Wolves