AHL Central News: Monsters Sweep, Wild & IceHogs Split

Two-thirds of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division were in action over the weekend. The Iowa Wild and Rockford IceHogs split a pair of spirited games while the Cleveland Monsters finished off their season sweep of the first-place Chicago Wolves. Both the Grand Rapids Griffins and Texas Stars had the weekend off.

Off-Ice Business

Before heading to Cleveland for the weekend, the Wolves added defenseman Marc Del Gaizo on an amateur tryout contract (ATO) after he signed his entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators. The 21-year-old blueliner just wrapped up his college career at UMass that concluded with a national championship. He had 20 goals and 58 points in 90 career games and holds the school record for career plus-minus rating as a plus-61.

The Monsters made an addition to their roster before welcoming in the Wolves. On Friday, they signed forward Billy Moskal to an ATO. He spent the previous four seasons with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League, where he scored 34 goals and 91 points in 205 games.

Weekend Recap

Friday, April 23

Wild 3, IceHogs 2

The Wild have been the best team in the AHL Central over the past few weeks, and they kept up their hot streak on Friday night. They improved the 7-1-2 over their last 10 games with their 3-2 win over the visiting IceHogs.

Chris Wilkie gave the IceHogs an early 1-0 lead with his seventh goal of the season, assisted by his former Colorado College teammate, Josiah Slavin. The Wild tied the game just over four minutes later. Goaltender Cale Morris went to play the puck behind the net, but his clearing attempt was blocked by Matt Boldy. The puck bounced in front of the net, where Gerry Mayhew fired it into the empty cage. Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell restored the IceHogs lead less than a minute later by redirecting an Anton Lindholm shot past Dereck Baribeau.

While Wilkie’s night got off to a great start, it came to an end in the final minute of the first period. He made heavy contact with Baribeau in the crease and was given a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. Baribeau was a bit wobbly and was removed from the game. Hunter Jones came in and stopped all 20 shots he faced in relief.

Hunter Jones Texas Stars
Jones was perfect in relieve on Friday. (Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

Connor Dewar scored on the ensuing power play, early in the second period, to tie the game. Brandon Duhaime scored the eventual game-winning goal with five minutes to play in the middle frame. His spinning shot from the right faceoff dot held up as Jones kept the IceHogs off the scoreboard during the third period.

“I don’t think we had our best stuff,” Iowa head coach Tim Army admitted. “I thought they played very well. I think we got better. We look at stats and analytics, and there are lots of things we utilize to evaluate our game. But really, the only thing that matters when it’s all said a done is what’s the score on the scoreboard. Did you win, or did you lose? We came out with a big win.”

Saturday, April 24

Monsters 5, Wolves 4 (OT)

The game got off to a fast-paced start as nearly four minutes went by before the first whistle was blown. Tyler Angle started the scoring by beating the Beck Warm to the glove side to give the Monsters a 1-0 lead. It was his seventh goal of the season and third against Chicago. Just 58 seconds later, Phil Tomasino followed up his own shot and a 2-on-1 rush and hammered home the rebound to even the score.

Cleveland showed why they have the league’s top power-play unit late in the frame, as Carson Meyer scored with a quick one-timer from the slot for a 2-1 lead. The Monsters caught a break in the final minute of the first period as it appeared that the Wolves had tied the game, but the net was off its moorings when the puck crossed the line.

The Wolves were the better of the two teams during the middle frame, but they still found themselves down a goal at the second intermission. Nearly 12 minutes into the second period, Zach Solow evened up the score with his first professional goal in just his second AHL game. The Monsters gained back all the momentum when Tyler Sikura scored on an odd-man rush with just 20 seconds left in the period for a 3-2 lead.

Tyler Sikura Cleveland Monsters
Sikura came up huge against Chicago. (Courtesy Cleveland Monsters)

Sikura padded the lead early in the third period with a power-play goal from in between the hash marks. He now leads the team with 11 goals. The Wolves started their comeback less than seven minutes later when a Tommy Novak screen aided defenseman Josh Healey’s shot from the point. Three minutes later, Cole Smith’s wrist shot from the right boards squeaked between the legs of Daniil Tarasov to tie the score at 4-4.

The overtime session gave you just about everything you’d expect out of 3-on-3 hockey, with plenty of golden scoring chances for both teams. Angle ended the game by finishing off a 2-on-0 rush with Liam Foudy to give the Monsters the extra point.

“That overtime, I would have paid to see that,” Monsters’ head coach Mike Eaves said. “It was entertaining as all get out. In the third period, they scored a couple, but we didn’t hang our heads. We stayed with it and continued to play. We stayed with it and eventually found a way to win the game.”

IceHogs 5, Wild 3

Cody McLeod ended the IceHogs’ six-game streak of scoring first early in the first period, just over two minutes into Saturday’s rematch. He put his wraparound attempt underneath Ivan Nalimov’s pads for his second goal of the season; both coming against Rockford. The emotions from Friday night carried over as 40 total penalty minutes were handed out during a spirited opening frame.

Shortly after killing off a 5-on-3 power play to start the second period, the IceHogs drew even. D.J. Busdecker set up shop in front of the net to redirect a Dylan McLaughlin shot past Jones for his fourth goal of the season. Defenseman Dmitry Osipov’s first goal of 2020-21 gave the IceHogs a 2-1 lead when his shot hit off the right post then off the back of Jones before falling over the goal line. All the momentum gained in an excellent period was lost when Gabriel Dumont tied the game with just 31 seconds left in the middle stanza.

Dylan McLaughlin Rockford Icehogs
McLaughlin factored in all three IceHogs’ goals. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The McLaughlin-Busdecker struck again early in the third period to give the IceHogs a 3-2 lead. Jones kicked the rebound off a McLaughlin shot right to Busdecker’s stick, who quickly fired it back into the net. McLaughlin then added the eventual game-winning goal with a power-play goal from the high slot, snapped the IceHogs 0-for-15 power-play drought. Dewar scored off a juicy rebound with just 39 seconds left to get Iowa back into within a goal.

Nalimov and the IceHogs had to withstand a furious charge for the final 13 minutes, but they held on after Garrett Mitchell iced the game with an empty-net goal in the final seconds. The Russian-born netminder made 36 saves, including 13 in the third period, to pick up his second AHL victory. This was Rockford’s first win in Iowa since November of 2018.

Sunday, April 25

Monsters 4, Wolves 2

The Monsters got off to a quick start in Sunday’s rematch as Zach Jordan found Tristan Mullin at the left dot, where he quickly fired the puck past Connor Ingram just 5:38 into the game. Mullin’s second goal of the season was the first stoppage of play since the opening faceoff. Less than a minute later, Brett Gallant got behind the Chicago defense and scored with a shot that banked off the near post.

“It’s always fun to contribute on the scoresheet,” Gallant said of his goal. “I don’t always get that, but I want to do whatever I can to help this team win. I know there are no playoffs, but the boys on this team are young and hungry, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Being a leader with these young guys has been a lot of fun.”

Defenseman Max Lajoie got the Wolves on the board late in the opening frame by scoring from the high slot just as a power play expired.

Angle had the only goal of the second period. He was the trailer on a 4-on-3 rush was left all alone in the high slot where he put the Monsters up 3-1. This was his third goal of the weekend, the fifth of the season against the Wolves, and ninth overall in 2020-21. This was the first time all season where the Wolves failed to score in the middle frame.

Anthony Richard got Chicago to within a goal with just over four minutes to play. He finished off a 3-on-1 rush by beating Matiss Kivlenieks to the glove side for his fourth goal of the season. The Wolves pulled Ingram for an extra attack with under two minutes to play, but Angle iced the game with an empty-net goal moments later. Kivlenieks finished with 28 saves to improve to 6-1-0-0 on the season.

Weekend’s Top Performer

Angle has to be upset that the Monsters don’t see the Wolves again this season. He was a huge part of Cleveland’s four-game sweep of their rivals from the Windy City. Since making his AHL debut against the Wolves on March 5, he has 10 goals and 17 points in 15 games. He scored four goals over the weekend, including the game-winner in both contests. Five of his 10 goals this season have come at the expense of the Wolves.

Tyler Angle Cleveland Monsters
Angle is going to miss the Wolves. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“I think with the work I put in during the summer leading up to the season; I deserve the start I’ve had and the progress I’m having right now,” Angle said on Saturday. “Obviously, I didn’t really expect this as a 20-year-old and a first-year pro. I got put with two good linemates, and they are helping me, and I’m just trying to get open for them.”

Central Division Standings

Wolves – 15-5-1-2, 33 pts (.717 pts %)

Monsters – 13-7-1-0, 27 pts (.643 pts %)

Griffins – 11-6-3-0, 25 pts (.625 pts %)

Wild – 12-11-4-0, 28 pts (.519 pts %)

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

IceHogs – 9-14-1-0, 19 pts (.396 pts %)

Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule

Monday, April 26: Wolves @ Griffins

Wednesday, April 28: IceHogs @ Griffins

Thursday, April 29, Wolves @ Griffins, Monsters @ Stars