AHL Central News: COVID, Taxi Squads Cause More Headaches

The COVID-19 pandemic’s recent surge has thrown a monkey wrench into the sporting world’s plans, and the American Hockey League (AHL) is doing its best to navigate through these uncertain times. Only five of the originally scheduled 15 games within the Central Division took place this past week. In addition, the NHL has reinstated taxi squads through the All-Star break in early February. These situations present significant challenges to AHL front offices, coaches, and players.

COVID Postpones Majority of Games

The week’s postponements started on Monday when the contest between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Cleveland Monsters had to be pushed back due to COVID protocol affecting the Monsters. No make-up date has been announced.

The Rockford IceHogs were supposed to play at the Iowa Wild Monday, but they had far too many positive COVID cases to make the trip. The IceHogs announced that interim head coach Anders Sorensen, assistant coach Jared Nightingale, forwards Garrett Mitchell, Dmitri Osipov, Mike Hardman, Carson Gicewicz, and D.J. Busdeker, and defensemen Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell all entered COVID-19 protocol. This eventually led to the postponements of their game on Thursday at the Milwaukee Admirals and their weekend home-and-home series with the Chicago Wolves. 

Garrett Mitchell Rockford IceHogs
Mitchell was one of nine IceHogs to enter COVID-19 protocol. (Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

The Abbotsford Canucks were scheduled to make a rare trip to Winnipeg to take on the Manitoba Moose on Thursday and Friday, but those contests were pushed back to a later date to be determined.

The weekend series between the Charlotte Checkers and Texas Stars met the same fate as both teams were affected by the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

In addition to their set against the IceHogs being postponed, the Wolves also announced that their Sunday game against the Griffins would also be played on a later date. With the weekend wiped out, they finished December 9-0-0-0, their first undefeated month in franchise history.

Other Off-Ice Business

The most important news story this week broke on Saturday. The AHL Board of Governors announced that the regular season will extend six days until April 30, 2022.

“Nearly all of our 31 teams have seen their schedules impacted by COVID-related postponements,” said AHL President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Howson. “Adding time to the end of the regular season will give our clubs more opportunities to reschedule these games.”

The first-place Wolves lost goaltender Alex Lyon to the Carolina Hurricanes’ taxi squad on Tuesday. This led to fellow netminder Beck Warm being recalled to Chicago from the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL.

Alex Lyon Chicago Wolves
Lyon was back in Carolina this week. (photo courtesy of Chicago Wolves)

On Monday, the Detroit Red Wings recalled Griffins’ forward Riley Barber, defensemen Dan Renouf and Luke Witkowski, and goaltender Victor Brattstrom to their taxi squad. This led to the Griffins signing center Josh Dickinson, left wing Max Humitz and defenseman Gordi Myer to professional tryouts (PTO). Witkowski and Brattstrom returned from Detroit’s taxi squad on Wednesday, with Barber coming back on Thursday. Finally, Renouf returned from the taxi squad on Saturday.

The Wild had a hectic week of transactions, starting on Monday when they recalled goaltender Trevin Kozlowski from the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL. The following day, the team recalled defensemen Adrien Beraldo and Riese Zmolek from Heartlanders. They also signed goaltender Joel Rumpel to a PTO.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Wild recalled defenseman Calen Addison and added him to the taxi squad. They also acquired forward Nolan Stevens from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward Will Bitten. Stevens had three goals and 12 points in 20 games for the Springfield Falcons. Iowa signed defenseman Brendan Miller to a PTO on Thursday. In addition, forward Connor Dewar and defenseman Dakota Mermis were recalled by Minnesota. Finally, the club recalled forward Kris Bennett from the Heartlanders and signed defenseman Jake Linhart to a PTO on Saturday.

Shortly after the World Junior Championship was postponed, the Moose regained the services of Cole Perfetti on Wednesday. However, he was assigned to the Winnipeg Jets’ taxi squad the following day, with Mikey Eyssimont coming back to the Moose.

Related – 2022 World Juniors Cancelled Due to COVID-19

On Saturday, goaltender Arvid Holm was called up to the Jets’ taxi squad. In need of some help in net, on Sunday, the Moose recalled goaltender Philippe Desrosiers from the Trois-Rivieres Lions of the ECHL. They also signed Newfoundland Growlers netminder Evan Cormier to a PTO.

The Admirals recalled forward Bobo Carpenter and defensemen Jake McLaughlin and Xavier Bouchard from the Florida Everblades of the ECHL on Thursday.

There was plenty of movement within the IceHogs’ roster this week, even with no games. On Monday, goaltender Collin Delia was recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks. Later that day, Rockford recalled forward Riley McKay and goaltender Tom Aubrun from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Netminder Arvid Soderblom was called up to the taxi squad on Wednesday. He was then moved to the active roster, made his NHL debut on Saturday, and got his first NHL start on Sunday versus the Calgary Flames.

The Blackhawks weren’t done as they recalled defenseman Alec Regula and forward Josiah Slavin and assigned them to the taxis squad on Thursday. The following day, they signed goaltender Cale Morris to an entry-level contract and assigned him to the taxi squad. Finally, on Sunday morning, Chicago reassigned Delia to the IceHogs after Marc-Andre Fleury was activated from COVID protocol.

The Stars signed goaltender Matt Jurusik to a standard player contract on Tuesday. The Dallas Stars forwards Ty Dellandrea, Riley Damiani, and Rhett Gardner on Saturday and added them to their taxi squad. On Sunday, they reassigned defenseman Thomas Harley and goaltender Adam Scheel to the taxi squad. This led Texas to recall forward Yauheni Aksiantsiuk and Jurusik from the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. Additionally, they signed forward Will Merchant and defenseman Evan Wardley to PTOs.

The Week in Review

Monday, Dec. 27

Griffins @ Monsters – PPD
IceHogs @ Wild – PPD

Wednesday, Dec. 29

Wild 3, Colorado Eagles 2 (OT)

The Wild returned to the ice for the first time in 12 days when they hosted the Eagles Wednesday night. They used quality goaltending from a veteran and a big offensive performance from a top prospect to earn an overtime win.

Iowa scored the only goal of the opening period while on the power play. Matt Boldy got to his own rebound and passed the puck across the crease to Kyle Rau, who tapped it past goaltender Peyton Jones for his seventh goal.

Colorado defenseman Nate Clurman tied the game late in the second period by putting his own rebound past Andrew Hammond. Another Eagles defenseman, Rob Hamilton, broke the tie 38 seconds into the third period when his shot from the left point changed direction and got in behind Hammond.

The Wild got a late power play and pulled Hammond for a 6-on-4 advantage. With 1:07 left in regulation, Marco Rossi tied the game with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. Rossi was given a penalty shot early in overtime after being taken down on a breakaway. The young forward flipped the puck over Jones to win the game. He was credited with the secondary assist on Rau’s opening goal to finish the night with three points.

Thursday, Dec. 30

IceHogs @ Admirals – PPD
Canucks @ Moose – PPD

Friday, Dec. 31

Canucks @ Moose – PPD
Wolves @ IceHogs – PPD
Checkers @ Stars – PPD

Eagles 3, Wild 2 (SO)

The Wild and Eagles got back together for a New Year’s Eve matinee. This time, the visitors took home a 3-2 win past regulation.

Colorado struck first midway through the opening period when Dylan Sikura scored to finish a 3-on-1 rush. Joseph Cramarossa answered just over two minutes later by beating goaltender Hunter Miska with a wrister from the left circle. Zmolek was credited with the secondary assist for his first career AHL point.

Eagles forward Charle-Edouard D’Astous used his backhand to beat Hammond early in the second period, breaking the 1-1 tie. Rossi scored less than four minutes into the third period to draw even after Boldy caused a turnover in front of the Colorado net.

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Both teams were only able to get one shot on goal during the five-minute overtime sessions. Kiefer Sherwood beat Hammond in the third round of the shootout to give the Eagles the extra point. Cramarossa, Boldy and Rossi were all denied by Miska on their attempts.

Griffins 5, Admirals 4

The Griffins hosted the Admirals for their 24th annual New Year’s Eve game at the Van Andel Arena. Due to COVID-19 protocol, injuries, and the taxi squad, they could only dress 14 skaters: nine forwards and five defensemen. However, they got points from 10 of them and earned a hard-fought victory to close out 2021.

The home team built a 2-0 advantage during the first period. Less than a minute after goaltender Victor Brattstrom stoned Kole Shorewood on a breakaway, Dominik Shine gave the Griffins an early lead by scoring off a rebound. Late in the frame, a failed clearing attempt by the Admirals led directly to Seth Barton’s first goal with Grand Rapids.

Mitch McLain singlehandedly tied the game as he scored twice for Milwaukee in the first 3:16 of the second period. The first goal came just over a minute into the stanza when he scored from the left wall. He scored just two minutes later while shorthanded by redirecting a shot over the goal line. Dickinson scored his first Griffins goal with less than a minute left in the frame by tipping a Jared McIsaac shot past goaltender Connor Ingram.

Shine re-established a two-goal lead for the Griffins early in the third period by scoring on a shorthanded breakaway. However, Cody Class scored a power-play goal 14 seconds later to bring Milwaukee back to within a goal.

Cody Glass Milwaukee Admirals
Glass has been productive in Milwaukee. (photo courtesy of Milwaukee Admirals)

Less than two minutes later, Admirals’ captain Cole Schneider tied the game with a power-play goal off a rebound. Barber scored a power-play goal off a rebound of his own to give the Griffins a 5-4 lead with seven minutes to play. His eighth goal of the season proved to be the game-winner. Brattstrom made 29 saves to earn his first career AHL victory.

“You have to have a great support staff and players that buy-in and are willing to believe in themselves,” said Griffins head coach Ben Simon about the shorthanded win. “It was 45 minutes before the game when we learned we’d lose some guys to COVID-related stuff. It’s tough. I think they had a ton of fun with it. For all intents and purposes, they did a hell of a job. I am really proud of those guys.”

Saturday, Jan. 1

IceHogs @ Wolves – PPD
Checkers @ Stars – PPD

Griffins 4, Admirals 2

The Griffins had a little more of a regular lineup for Saturday’s rematch at Milwaukee but were still facing a challenging task with 16 skaters dressed. They used a second-period offensive explosion to sweep the weekend series and start 2022 with a bang.

McLain kept his big weekend going by scoring another shorthanded goal with about six minutes to play in the opening frame. He intercepted a pass, then looked off the pass on a 2-on-1 rush before flipping the puck over goaltender Calvin Pickard for his ninth tally of the season.

During the sandwich stanza, the Griffins brought the fireworks by lighting the lamp four times. Taro Hirose tied the game with a goal off a rebound just 58 seconds into the period. Three minutes later, he struck again by beating Devin Cooley for his sixth goal of the season, giving the Griffins a 2-1 lead.

Taro Hirose Grand Rapids Griffins
Hirose led the charge on Saturday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Hirose picked up a third point with the secondary assist on Donovan Sebrango’s goal seven minutes into the period. This was the young defenseman’s first AHL goal in his second game back since returning from Team Canada at the now postponed World Junior Championship. Ryan Murphy, another blueliner, ended the onslaught by blasting home a one-timer off a feed from Shine.

Egor Afanasyev cut the lead to 4-2 with 4:22 left in the third period, but that was as close as the Admirals would get.

“I thought our first was one of our better periods,” said Milwaukee head coach Karl Taylor. “But, we’ve done that a number of times this year, where we’ve come out of the blocks and couldn’t sustain it in the second. Even in the second, we gave up those rush goals, but they didn’t have much else other than that. They really capitalized on their chances today.”

Sunday, Jan. 2

Griffins @ Wolves – PPD

Moose 2, Wild 1

The Moose returned to action for the first time since Dec. 17 and were able to grind out a victory on home ice.

It took all of 90 seconds for Manitoba to get on the scoreboard Sunday afternoon when defenseman Declan Chisholm beat Kozlowski for his sixth goal on the campaign. Todd Burgess doubled the lead less than five minutes into the middle frame when he fired home a feed from Eyssimont for his third goal.

Iowa got on the board later in the second period. While on a 5-on-3 power play, Rau got to the front of the net, where he ticked Boldy’s shot on the way by to cut the lead to 2-1. That was the only power-play goal the Wild scored on five opportunities.

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Both young goaltenders kept the puck out of their respective nets during the final period of play. Cormier made 29 saves in his Moose debut to pick up his 11th career AHL win. Kozlowski was the hard-luck loser after making 28 saves. He is still searching for his first AHL victory after three career starts.

“Cormier was fantastic this afternoon,“ Moose defenseman and captain Jimmy Oligny said. “When we started the game, he made some big saves. He gave us confidence. When you have a goalie playing like that, it’s pretty easy to help him out. He was unbelievable on short notice. Super grateful to have him.”

Who’s Hot

While the Griffins roster has been changing by the minute, one constant has been the production of forward Kyle Criscuolo. His two assists on Saturday extended his career-high point streak to nine games. He has seven goals and 17 points during this stretch, including six multi-point efforts.

Kyle Criscuolo Grand Rapids Griffins
Criscuolo remains red hot. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

With his goal versus Iowa on Sunday, Burgess has two goals and four points in his last three games. The 25-year-old was a fourth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2016 and is enjoying his first professional season after a long college career. He has three goals and five points in 12 AHL games and three goals in three ECHL games with the Growlers.

The Week’s Top Performer

The Wild scored six goals this past week, and Rossi factored in on five of them, scoring three and assisting on two more. The ninth overall pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft now has points in six straight games.

He has seven goals and 23 points in 21 games this season. It is not a matter of if the Austrian-born forward will succeed at the NHL level, but rather when. His call-up to Minnesota may happen sooner than later.

Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, Jan. 4
Wild @ Moose

Wednesday, Jan. 5
Admirals @ Griffins

Friday, Jan. 7
Wild @ Griffins, Monsters @ Admirals, Wolves @ IceHogs, Moose @ Stars

Saturday, Jan. 8
Monsters @ Griffins, IceHogs @ Admirals, Wild @ Wolves, Moose @ Stars

Sunday, Jan. 9
Monsters @ Wolves

Central Division Standings

Wolves 20-4-1-1 (42 pts, .808%)
Moose 16-9-1-0 (31 pts, .635%)
Griffins 11-10-3-1 (26 pts, .520%)
Wild 11-11-2-2 (26 pts, .500%)
IceHogs 11-11-1-1 (24 pts, .500%)
Admirals 12-15-2-0 (26 pts, .448%)
Stars 8-11-3-1 (20 pts, .435%)
(Standings determined by points percentage, top five teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs)

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