We are heading into the homestretch of the 2020-21 American Hockey League (AHL) season. It feels like this crazy run just began, but it will come to an end for the Central Division on May 15. Four of the six teams were in action this week. The Grand Rapids Griffins dropped a pair of tough games to the Rockford IceHogs and Cleveland Monsters. Meanwhile, the Texas Stars remained undefeated against their rivals from the desert.
The AHL Board of Governors held their annual spring meeting on Thursday. While this news likely won’t affect the Central Division, the league approved two relocations for the 2021-22 season. The Vancouver Canucks will be moving the Utica Comets to Abbotsford, British Columbia. Utica, NY, will remain in the league as the city will hook up with the New Jersey Devils, who are moving their affiliate out of Binghamton.
The AHL will return to their four divisions next season, and Abbotsford will head to the Pacific Division. There is a possibility that as the deck chairs get reshuffled, the Central could have a different look for the 2021-22 season.
The Iowa Wild did not have a game during the week, but they were still quite busy. On Tuesday, they signed goaltender Trevin Kozlowski to an amateur tryout agreement (ATO). He just wrapped up his senior season at Army, where he went 14-4-1 with a .922 save percentage (SV%) and 1.91 goals-against average (GAA).
Defenseman Daemon Hunt was signed to an ATO on Thursday. He played three games for the Wild before returning to the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. The next day, Hunt and Ryan O’Rouke were both signed to three-year, entry-level contracts by the Minnesota Wild.
The Texas Stars signed Mavrik Bourque to an ATO on Thursday. The 2020 first-round (30th overall) draft pick of the Dallas Stars had 19 goals and 43 points in 28 games for Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Monday, May 3
For the second time in 48 hours, the IceHogs beat the Griffins to earn a split in their eight-game regular-season series. The road team, once again, was superior as the visitors won for the sixth time in the series, with each team winning three games away from home.
Evan Barratt opened the scoring midway through the first period by chipping a pass from Chad Yetman past goaltender Kaden Fulcher. Yetman doubled the lead midway through the second period later by blasting home a shot off a nice drop pass from Andrei Altybarmakian.
The second half of the middle frame became the Chase Pearson show as he scored twice in a span of 1:58 to even up the score. His first goal came off a breakaway as he beat IceHogs Matt Tomkins netminder to the glove hand. He tied the game with a power-play goal off a rebound.
“The last three games, our starts have been crappy and slow,” Pearson set after the game. “That’s a big area of improvement for us. We have seven games left, so we have to find it pretty quick. It was too little, too late. We battle in the third most nights, but at this level, it’s not enough sometimes.”
Rockford held an 11-5 shot advantage during the third period, but Fulcher was up to the task and got the game to overtime. The Griffins had some great looks in overtime, with Dominic Turgeon and Jared McIsaac hitting the post. Tim Soderlund and Cody Franson both scored for the IceHogs in the shootout, while Tompkins stopped two of the three shooters he faced earning the extra point.
Wednesday, May 5
For the second straight game, the Griffins made a comeback after falling behind two goals, only to lose the game late. The Monsters’ special teams’ play came up huge as they scored two power-play goals and killed off all six penalties on the night.
The first of those power-play goals came midway through the opening frame when Tyler Angle notched his 11th tally of the season.
Justin Scott doubled the Cleveland early in the second period by beating Fulcher to the near post from the bottom of the left circle. Turner Elson answered less than four minutes later by finishing off a backdoor play with Riley Barber.
The Griffins drew even about four minutes into the third period. Justin Kapelmaster stopped Troy Loggins’ shot from the point. Seconds later, he was able to locate the puck during a mad scramble in front of the crease and swept it home for his fourth goal of 2020-21. Josh Dunne broke the tie with less than three minutes to play by knocking home a rebound while on the power play.
Kapelmaster made 26 saves to earn his second AHL win in as many career starts. The Griffins are 5-2 versus the Monsters this season and 7-8-3-1 against the rest of the Central Division. These two will play each other three more times before the end of the season.
“The penalties just killed the flow of the game,” Griffins’ head coach Ben Simon said. “We took three minor penalties in the first period and gave up a PK goal against. It’s just not smart hockey. We’ve got to make sure we’re channeling our energy in the right direction. We can’t take stick penalties.”
Thursday, May 6
After sweeping a three-game series in Arizona back in March, the Stars welcomed the Roadrunners for another trio of contests starting on Thursday night.
Texas scored early and often to win their fourth straight game over Tucson. Ty Dellandrea scored his first goal of the season off a deflection to open the scoring just 50 seconds after the opening draw. Two seconds after the midway point of the first period, Jalen Smereck even the score up, but this was the closest the Roadrunners would get. Captain Cole Schneider and Anthony Louis both scored their ninth goals of the season to give the Stars a 3-1 heading into the first intermission.
Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz scored to cut the Texas lead down to 3-2 early in the second period. Max Martin answered less than seven minutes later with his first professional goal to regain the two-goal advantage.
The Stars got third-period goals from Riley Damiani, Adam Mascherin, and Ben Gleason to pull away. Mascherin now has 16 goals to move into second place among all AHL players. Damiani added an assist on Mascherin’s goal to take over the AHL lead in rookie scoring with 31 points. Adam Scheel made 25 saves to improve to 4-4-1-0 with a .922 SV%, and 2.67 GAA since turning pro after his college career at North Dakota concluded.
The Mid-Week’s Top Performer
The Griffins had a rough week after getting just one point in their two games as their hopes for the Central Division crown begin to fade. Elson came up big in the two defeats with an assist against Rockford and goal and a helper versus the Monsters. The veteran of 390 AHL games is on a three-game point streak and has three goals and 16 points this season.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 18-6-1-2, 39 pts (.722 pts %)
Monsters – 15-8-1-1, 32 pts (.640 pts %)
Griffins – 12-10-3-0, 27 pts (.538 pts %)
Wild – 13-12-4-0, 28 pts (.517 pts %)
Stars – 15-15-3-0, 33 pts (.500 pts %)
IceHogs – 11-15-1-0, 21 pts (.426 pts %)
Upcoming Weekend Schedule
Friday, May 7: Wolves @ Griffins, IceHogs @ Wild
Saturday, May 8: Rochester Americans @ Monsters, Griffins @ Wolves, Roadrunners @ Stars
Sunday, May: Wild @ IceHogs, Roadrunners @ Stars
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.