AHL Central News: Top Two Teams Stay Red Hot

This past week was a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, as 11 games were postponed across the American Hockey League (AHL) due to protocol. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case in the Central Division, as all of its games went off as scheduled. The Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose stayed hot and put a little space between themselves and the rest of the division.

Off-Ice Business

As the Carolina Hurricanes deal with some of their blueliners in COVID-19 protocol, they recalled defensemen Jalen Chatfield and Max Lajoie from the Wolves on Monday. This caused Chicago to recall Daniel Brickley from the Norfolk Admirals on Wednesday. He has three goals and 11 points, ranking him fifth among all ECHL defensemen.

The Grand Rapids Griffins started their week by sending forward Kyle Criscuolo to the Detroit Red Wings on Monday. The following day, the Griffins released winger Max Humitz from his professional tryout. He returned to the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL, where he has a goal and six points in six games. Criscuolo’s time in Motown did not last long as he and defenseman Dan Renouf were reassigned to Grand Rapids on Thursday.

Kyle Criscuolo Grand Rapids Griffins
Criscuolo spent a brief time in Detroit. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Shortly after returning home from their first-ever trip to Nevada, the Iowa Wild recalled forward Bryce Gervais and goaltender Hunter Jones from the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL. They also reassigned defenseman Adrien Beraldo to the Heartlanders. The Minnesota Wild recalled defenseman Kevin Czuczman and reassigned Calen Addison on Friday.

The Manitoba Moose learned on Wednesday that their leading scorer, Cole Perfetti, was invited to Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp. He should be a shoo-in to make the team for the 2022 World Junior Championship, which begins on Dec. 26.

Related – 2022 Guide To the World Junior Championship

The following day, the Moose named defenseman Jimmy Oligny the 11th team captain in franchise history. Forwards David Gustafsson and Cole Maier were named alternate captains.

The Milwaukee Admirals made a pair of roster moves before heading into their busy week. First, on Tuesday, the Nashville Predators acquired forward Kole Sherwood from the Ottawa Senators for future considerations and sent him to the Admirals. He had a goal and four points in 13 games for the Belleville Senators before the trade. The following day, the Predators reassigned Michael McCarron to Milwaukee after playing in six NHL games. He has a goal and three points in nine AHL games this season.

The Rockford IceHogs had the busiest off-ice week within the Central Division. On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks called up forward Josiah Slavin and sent Phillip Kurashev down to the AHL. The Blackhawks traded goaltender Malcolm Subban to the Buffalo Sabres for future considerations on Thursday. He was 2-2-1 with a 3.39 goals-against average and .893 save percentage (SV%) for the IceHogs this season. They also recalled forward Chad Yetman from the Indy Fuel, who has five goals and a team-leading 14 points in 15 ECHL games.

Slavin made his NHL debut this week. (Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs)

Next, on Friday, the IceHogs recalled goaltender Cale Morris from the Fuel as Arvid Soderblom did not make the trip to Grand Rapids for the weekend. Their busy week of transactions continued on Saturday, in between their pair of games at the Griffins. First, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Ian Mitchell before Rockford revealed that Dylan McLaughlin entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol.

While the Texas Stars continued their road trip through Canada, they recalled forward Yauheni Aksiantsiuk from the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. He has eight goals this season and leads the Steelheads with 15 points in 13 games.

The Week in Review

Wednesday, Dec. 1

Stars 4, Laval Rocket 3 (OT)

After spending last weekend in Manitoba, the Stars headed east to Quebec for their first-ever meeting with the Laval Rocket, the farm club for the Montreal Canadiens.

Texas wasted little time to open the scoring as Nicholas Caamano struck less than four minutes into the game. Alex Petrovic’s shot hit Caamano on its way past goaltender Cayden Primeau for his third goal of the season. Laval drew even midway through the frame when former Wild standout defenseman Louie Belpedio beat Adam Scheel with a wrist shot. Late in the period, Jean-Sebastian Dea was given a penalty shot, but Scheel came up with the big stop.

Early in the second period, Anthony Louis forced a turnover and gave the Stars a 2-1 lead with the 50th AHL goal of his career. He struck again just over a minute before the intermission to double the advantage. His third goal of the season came off a one-timer while Texas was on a 5-on-3 power play.

Anthony Louis Texas Stars
Louis had a big week in Laval. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Rafael Harvey-Pinard found himself all alone in front of the crease early in the third period and flipped the puck over Scheel to cut the lead down to 3-2. With just over two minutes left in regulation, Laurent Dauphin forced overtime by scoring off a rebound.

Overtime ended almost as quickly as it began. Just 50 seconds after the opening faceoff, Ben Gleason sprung Ty Dellandrea on a breakaway, who buried his shot for the game-winner. Scheel made a season-high 32 saves to earn his second victory of the season.

IceHogs 3, Admirals 1

On Wednesday, the Admirals took the ice for the third straight time against the IceHogs. This was the first meeting at home after splitting a pair of games in Rockford last weekend.

Nearly all the scoring took place in the opening frame. Evan Barratt got the ball rolling with his fourth goal of the season just over three minutes into the game. The second-year IceHogs forward finished a nifty passing play with Carson Gicewicz and Cam Morrison, who played his first game since Nov. 12.

Related – Blackhawks’ Prospect Barratt Stepping Up When Needed Most

Defenseman Matt Donovan tied the game with a goal from the top of the right circle midway through the opening period. With less than two minutes before the teams headed to the locker rooms, Isaak Phillips gave the IceHogs a 2-1 lead by following his own shot and tucking home the rebound. Morrison picked up his second helper of the night on the play.

After a scoreless middle stanza, the Admirals pushed hard to start the third period. They had 11 of the first 12 shots on goal, but Subban stood tall in what would be his final game for the IceHogs. Barratt scored a big insurance goal while on the power play with about seven minutes to go. McLaughlin was credited with an assist to extend his point streak to six games.

Thursday, Dec. 2

Wolves 2, Wild 0

The Wolves and Wild entered the week in first and third place, respectively, in the Central Division standings. Chicago hosted Iowa in the first of three straight games between two teams that had a heated rivalry last season. In their eight games against each, they averaged over 66 combined penalty minutes per contest, so it’s safe to say they don’t like each other.

However, the penalty minutes were down on Thursday night, and so were the goals. Defenseman Jesper Sellgren scored the only goal the Wolves needed just 1:57 into the opening period. He blasted home a one-timer off a pass from David Gust for his first North American professional goal. The Wolves had a 15-1 shot advantage through 20 minutes and could have easily had a bigger lead if it wasn’t for the play of Wild netminder Dereck Baribeau.  

Wolves goalie Alex Lyon got his fair share of action during the sandwich stanza as he faced 13 shots and stopped them all. Iowa hit him with another 16 shots in the third period, but he kept all of those out to earn his seventh career AHL shutout and first with Chicago. Sam Miletic added an insurance goal early in the third period by beating a pair of defensemen to a loose puck and shooting it past Baribeau for his second goal on the season.

Alex Lyon Chicago Wolves
Lyon owned the Wild this past week. (photo courtesy of Chicago Wolves)

“I have a couple of opportunities to get one, and they’ve kind of slipped by,” Lyon said of his first shutout. “I’ve always felt that a shutout is a team statistic. I have to give credit to the guys, they played awesome tonight.”

Friday, Dec. 3

Admirals 4, Cleveland Monsters 1

The Admirals made their first trip to Cleveland since Jan. 4, 2020, for the first of two games on Friday night. They used some timely scoring and solid goaltending to snap their two-game losing streak.

Milwaukee set the tone with just 1:25 into the contest. Cody Glass won an offensive zone faceoff, then headed to the front of the net, where he redirected Jeremy Davies’ shot into the Monsters’ net for his second goal of the season.

They turned the game into a blowout with three goals in the first 4:59 of the second period. Rocco Grimaldi continued to be an offensive leader by scoring his sixth goal of the season while on a 5-on-3 power play in the opening minute of the frame.

About two minutes later, McCarron put the Admirals up 3-0 with a backhand goal past Jean-Francois Berube. Grimaldi finished the scoring outburst by converting on a breakaway that was sprung with a long pass by Glass.

The Monsters pulled Berube after the second Grimaldi goal and relaced him with Jet Greaves, who stopped all 11 shots he faced. Tyler Angle ruined Connor Ingram’s shutout bid with his second goal of the season with just six minutes left to play. Ingram made 28 saves to claim Second Star honors and his fifth win of the season.

IceHogs 4, Griffins 1

Collin Delia was a forgotten goaltender after spending much of last season on the Blackhawks’ taxi squad. This season didn’t get off to an ideal start with a three-goalie rotation in Rockford and a stint in the AHL COVID-19 protocol. Now, Subban has been traded to Buffalo, and Delia is healthy. He was the difference-maker in the IceHogs’ first win over the Griffins in three tries this season.

Criscuolo remained hot as he extended his point streak to five games with the contest’s opening goal. He beat Delia with a wrist shot from the left side just over five minutes into the game. The Griffins took a 1-0 lead and 14-7 shot advantage into the second period.

Mitchell tied the game early in the second period with a power-play tally. The young defenseman ripped a shot past Calvin Pickard from the left circle for his second AHL goal of the season. Another blueliner, Alec Regula, doubled the lead just over there minutes later with his first goal on the campaign. He took advantage of Pickard sliding out of position during a crazy sequence in front of the net to fire in a one-timer.

Kurashev, in his second game since being reassigned, scored twice in the third period to ice the victory for the IceHogs. His first goal came on the power play when his shot from just inside the blue line found its way to the back of the net. He added an empty-net goal in the closing seconds of the game to cap off the scoring. Delia made 16 saves in the third period and a season-high 40 on the night to grab his second win.

“I think we deserved to win, but hockey is tricky,” said Griffins forward Dennis Yan. “Sometimes you play good, and you lose. We’re going to come back hard. We have back-to-back games against the same team, so we’re looking forward to the next game.”

Rocket 4, Stars 3 OT

For the second straight game, the Stars and Rocket headed to overtime knotted at 3-3. In a reversal of fortune from Wednesday night, Laval scored in overtime for the extra point and to split the two-game set.

This time out, the Rocket scored first when Cameron Hillis scored off a redirect just over two minutes into the game. After killing three penalties, the Stars got their first power play late in the opening frame. Gleason evened up the score by beating Primeau with a shot from the right circle.

Scheel’s lack of rebound control put Laval back on top early in the middle period as Kevin Roy cashed in on a third opportunity from in close. Louis scored his third goal of the series to tie the game, another power-play tally, 90 seconds later. Curtis McKenzie won a board battle and got the puck a wide-open Louis in the slot, where he didn’t miss. Eight minutes later, Dea put Laval back in front by going bar-down on Scheel.

The Stars brought the pressure in the third period and outshot the Rocket 13-3. However, when Primeau gave a rebound off Riley Damiani’s shot with seven seconds left in regulation, Louis pounced on it to tie the game. Late in overtime, Brandon Gignac’s second goal of the season gave the home team the extra point. Scheel faced 35 shots for the second straight night but made one fewer save.

Saturday, Dec. 4

Moose 3, Senators 1

The Moose headed east to Ontario for a two-game weekend series in Belleville against the Senators and renewed their rivalry from last season’s Canadian Division.

The Senators had the lone goal of the first period. With less than three minutes before the intermission, Cole Reinhardt took advantage of a Manitoba turnover to deke Mikhail Berdin for his third goal of the season. The Moose outshot the Senators 13-8, but Matt Murray stood tall for the home team.

Maier scored his second goal in as many games to even the score early in the second period. Late in the frame, Austin Poganski scored on the power play to give the Moose a 2-1 lead heading into the second break.

Jeff Malot added his fifth goal of the season just 14 seconds into the third period to give the Moose an important insurance goal.

Jeff Malott Manitoba Moose
Malot has five goals on the season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Senators pressured with 11 shots during the final stanza, but Berdin shut the door for his eighth win of the season.

“Maybe a little bit of a slow start,” Malott said after Manitoba’s third straight win. “They came out with some good pace there. They’re a hard-working team who finishes their checks and forechecks hard. I think once we kind of got up to speed and figured out it was going to be more of a possession in-zone game, not so much a neutral zone possession game, we got up to speed quickly and made the best of it.”

Admirals 5, Monsters 4

Milwaukee’s offense showed up for the second straight night as they swept the Monsters in their building. They got goals from five different players, with 11 skaters finding the scoresheet.

The Admirals exploded for three goals in a span of 4:02 just past the midway point of the opening frame. Matt Luff got things going when he redirected a Cole Schneider shot past Greaves for his seventh goal of the season. Just over a minute later, Sherwood doubled the lead against his former team with his first goal with the Admirals. Mitch McLain joined the party by scoring off the rebound from an Egor Afanasyev shot. Schneider had an assist on all three first-period goals. The Monsters got on board late in the period when Trey Fix-Wolansky forced a turnover and beat Ingram with a backhand shot.

Cleveland cut the deficit to 3-2 just 24 seconds into the middle frame when Emil Bemstrom converted on a 5-on-3 power play. Justin Scott made it three straight tallies for the Monsters to tie the score two minutes later. Milwaukee regained the lead about 10 minutes later with a power-play goal. Cole Smith got his stick on Jeremy Davies’ shot from the point, and it got behind Greaves for his fifth goal of the season and third on the man advantage.

Schneider picked up his fourth assist of the night early in the third period on Joseph LaBate’s goal, his third of the season and 50th in his AHL career.

The Monsters were all over the Admirals in the final frame, putting up 17 shots on goal. However, Josh Dunne’s shot midway through was the only one that got behind Ingram, who made 37 saves in the victory.

This was just the second time all season where the Admirals won back-to-back games. They had a balanced offensive attack this week, with their 10 goals coming from nine different players. Eighteen players had at least one point during the three-game week.

Griffins 6, IceHogs 2

The Griffins’ offense has been feast or famine of late. Heading into Saturday’s rematch with the IceHogs, they had scored just five goals in their last three games after scoring 14 in their previous three. They feasted as they exploded for five first-period goals to quickly turn the contest into a laugher.

The onslaught started on an early power play as Criscuolo was in the right place at the right time to put home a fortunate bounce off the end boards. Brian Lashoff doubled the lead 26 seconds later when his shot from just inside the blue line beat Delia. Yan made it 3-0 when he scored off a rebound on a 2-on-1 rush. Dominik Shine made it 4-0 four seconds past the halfway mark when he forced a turnover and converted on a 1-on-1 chance. Delia was pulled and replaced by Morris, who was making his AHL season debut. He allowed his first goal late in the frame when defenseman Ryan Murphy beat him.

Brian Lashoff Grand Rapids Griffins
Lashoff found the back of the net Saturday night. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The IceHogs finally got on the board at 5:32 of the second period after Gicewicz beat Pickard on a breakaway. Late in the period, Alex Nylander scored from the high slot to get Rockford to within three goals. He is now tied with the injured Lukas Reichel for the team lead in goals with seven. Jonathan Berggren scored off a nice feed from Criscuolo with just 35 seconds left in the middle frame.

After eight goals in the first 40 minutes, neither team lit the lamp in the third period. Pickard made 30 saves to snap the Griffins’ four-game home losing streak. He also picked up his third assist on Yan’s goal, setting a new career-high for a single season.

Wolves 2, Wild 1

Saturday night, the three-game series between the Wolves and Wild moved to Iowa. Chicago used secondary scoring and more solid goaltending to push their winning streak to five games.

The Wolves gave Iowa four power-play chances within the first 13 minutes of the game. When you play with fire, you eventually get burnt, and Matt Boldy finally scored for the Wild while on a 5-on-3 advantage.

Maxim Letunov tied the game at 6:25 of the second period by slamming home a feed from Dominik Bokk for his sixth goal of the season. Jack Drury scored the eventual game-winning goal in the opening minute of the third frame. After breaking up an odd-man rush in their own end, Andrew Poturalski led the attack the other way. Once he was in the Iowa zone, he dropped the puck at the left faceoff dot, where Drury fired it past Jones, who was making his AHL season debut.

Rookie netminder Eetu Makiniemi made 23 saves to earn his eighth win of the season, which is tied for second-most in the AHL.

Sunday, Dec. 5

Moose 2, Senators 0

The Moose used a couple of AHL firsts to sweep their weekend series in Belleville to extend their season-long winning streak to four games.

Manitoba scored the only goal they needed on a late first-period power play. With just under three minutes to go in the opening frame, Leon Gawanke found a wide-open Declan Chisholm in the slot, where he scored his fifth goal of the season.

Todd Burgess scored his first career AHL goal midway through the second period to give the Moose a 2-0 advantage. Jonathan Kovacevic had the primary assist to become the 10th Moose player to have at least 10 points this season. Rookie goaltender Arvid Holm made 22 saves for his first AHL shutout in his sixth career start. He is 4-1-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average (GAA) and .905 SV%.

“It was a tight game, I’d say,” said Holm after blanking Belleville. “They’re a good team that plays hard. Yesterday I got a good look at them, which is nice for me not knowing the league very well. Today was going out there and having fun.”

Wolves 4, Wild 0

The Wolves finished their dominating week over the Wild by knocking them off 4-0 in a rather testy Sunday matinee.

After a relatively uneventful opening 14 minutes, the Wolves scored a pair of goals in 46 seconds to take control of the contest. Bokk made a nice cross-ice pass to David Cotton at the left dot, where he fired the puck past Baribeau. The Wolves have now scored first in 15 of their 20 games. Cotton, who led the Wolves in goals last season, missed the previous nine games with an injury. Drury’s second goal in as many games quickly doubled the lead. His fourth goal of the season was set up by a beautiful lead pass by Josh Leivo.

Josh Leivo Chicago Wolves
Leivo is heating up in Chicago. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Stefan Noesen had the lone goal of the second period to give Chicago a 3-0. Just 51 seconds into the middle stanza, Noesen redirected a Cavin Fitzgerald shot into the Iowa net to tie Letunov and C.J. Smith for second on the team with six goals.

The Wolves received two 5-on-3 power plays for a full two minutes, one late in the second period and another at the start of the third period. Leivo scored on the second one by firing a one-timer from the top of the right circle set up by Drury.

The Wild racked up 57 penalty minutes and only had 13 skaters left on the bench at the end of the game. Boldy left with an apparent lower-body injury early in the first period. Dakota Mermis and Mason Shaw received match penalties, while Cody McLeod and Joe Hicketts were slapped with misconducts for abuse of officials and unsportsmanlike conduct, respectively.

Who’s Hot

Dellandrea had just one goal in his first eight games of the season but has been very productive of late. He has points in six of the last seven games with two goals and seven points in this span. He has already set AHL career highs in goals, assists, points, and games played this season.

While the Griffins search for consistency, as a whole, Criscuolo has been as hot as anybody in the league right now. Our Top Performer from last week extended his point streak to six games. He is averaging two points per game during his run with six goals and 12 points. Criscuolo has at least one point in 14 of his 19 AHL games this season. He now leads the Griffins with eight goals and is second in overall scoring with 15 points.

The Week’s Top Performer

We head to the blue paint for the Top Performer honors this week. Lyon started two games against the Wild this past week and stopped all 50 shots he faced in back-to-back shutouts. He became the seventh goaltender in Wolves franchise history to earn shutouts in back-to-back starts and the second to do it against the same team.

Lyon has allowed just 12 goals this season, the fewest among all qualified goaltenders. His 1.47 GAA and .935 SV% are second only to Akira Schmid of the Utica Comets.

Upcoming Schedule

Monday, Dec. 6
Griffins @ Monsters

Wednesday, Dec. 8
Moose @ Rocket, Wild @ IceHogs

Thursday, Dec. 9
Wolves @ Stars

Friday, Dec. 10
Griffins @ Moose, Wild @ Admirals, Henderson Silver Knights @ IceHogs

Saturday, Dec. 11
Griffins @ Moose, Wild @ Admirals, Silver Knights @ IceHogs, Wolves @ Stars

Sunday, Dec. 12
Wolves @ Stars

Central Division Standings

Wolves 14-4-1-1 (30 pts, .750%)
Moose 13-6-1-0 (27 pts, .675%)
Wild 9-8-1-0 (19 pts, .628%)
Griffins 8-8-2-1 (19 pts, .500%)
IceHogs 8-8-1-1 (18 pts, .500%)
Stars 7-8-2-1 (17 pts, .472%)
Admirals 7-12-1-0 (15 pts, .375%)

(Standings determined by points percentage, top five teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs)

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