AHL Central News: Wild Build an Early Lead

The eight teams of the American Hockey League’s Central Division crossed another week off the calendar with a very completive slate of games. The standings shifted quite a bit, as is the norm this early in such a long season.

Wild Remain Hot at the Top of the Heap

The Iowa Wild (5-0-0-1) flexed their offensive might in sweeping a weekend series at the Manitoba Moose to extend their point streak to six games. They have built up a three-point lead in the division and their 11 points are tops in the Western Conference.

Coming from behind to win is nothing new for the Wild this season. For the fifth consecutive game, they gave up the first goal of the contest on Friday night. Defenseman Louie Belpedio’s first goal of the season tied the game late in the opening frame.

The Moose reclaimed the lead early in the second period, but Matt Register’s first AHL goal even things up about three minutes later. Kyle Rau gave the Wild their first lead of the evening with his first goal of the season 10 minutes later.

Kyle Rau, Iowa Wild
Rau was one of many Wild players to light the lamp for the first time over the weekend. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Brennan Mennell was the fourth member of the Wild to find the back of the net for the first time, extending Iowa’s lead to 4-2 early in the third period. The Moose responded with a pair of quick goals to knot things up at 4-4.

Sam Anas broke the tie on the power play with just over five minutes to go in the third period. J.T. Brown capped off the scoring with a late empty-net goal. Colton Beck picked up his third assist of the game on the play.

Goaltender Kappo Kahlonen improved to 4-0-0-0 to start the season with a 28-save performance. He joined Steve Michalek as the only netminders in Wild history to win his first four starts of the season.

Before Saturday’s rematch, the Minnesota Wild recalled forward Gabriel Dumont. The 29-year-old veteran had three goals and five points in his five games with Iowa.

Later that evening, the Wild scored the opening goal for the first time this season. Anas capitalized on a turnover to give the Wild an early lead and become the all-time leading scorer in franchise history with 133 career points. Anas struck again, later in the period, to give the Wild a 2-1 lead shortly after the Moose tied the game.

Nico Sturm doubled the Wild’s lead in the second period before the Moose cut the advantage down to 3-2 in the final minute of the middle frame. Rau sealed the deal with an empty-net tally in the final seconds of the game to complete the two-game sweep of their rivals to the north.

Player of the Week: Anas led the way for the Wild this week with three goals and a pair of assists. He was one of 12 players to find the scoresheet versus the Moose and one of seven to have at least two points. He is currently tied for the team lead with three goals and is setting the pace with five assists and eight points.

Sam Anas, Iowa Wild
Anas is all smiles after a five-point weekend! (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 25 @ Tucson Roadrunners; Saturday, Oct. 26 @ Roadrunners

Rampage Struggle in First Road Trip

The San Antonio Rampage (3-1-1-1) enjoyed some home cooking by earning seven points in their first four games of the season; all at the AT&T Center. They took to the road for the first time with a weekend set in Tucson and returned home with just a single point to knock them down to second place in the Central.

They picked up that lone point in a 4-3 overtime loss on Friday night. Nolan Stevens made his season debut and wasted very little time in making an impact. He forced a turnover which led directly to Niko Mikko’s opening goal, six minutes into the second period.

The Roadrunners had a quick answer as they scored a pair of goals just 14 seconds apart moments later. Stevens evened things up by scoring a power-play goal with a redirection of a Mitch Reinke shot from the point. Tucson had another fast response as they regained the lead just over a minute later.

Nick Lappin fought to get to a rebound and sent the game to overtime with just 48 seconds remaining in regulation. However, the Roadrunners won the game in overtime to hand the Rampage their first loss of the young season.

The following night, the Ramage failed to earn a point for the first time as the Roadrunners knocked them off 4-2 in regulation. After a scoreless opening frame, Reinke scored on a 5-on-3 advantage, late in the second period, after the Rampage killed off two 5-on-3 disadvantages.

The Roadrunners dominated the play in the third period and built up a 3-1 lead midway through the frame. They extended the lead to 4-1 on their third 5-on-3 power play of the night. Tanner Kapsick added a power-play goal with just over a minute left in the game, but it was too little, too late for San Antonio.

Ville Husso started both games in goal and gave up six goals on 66 shots. The Rampage has lost three straight games but was able to earn two points with a shootout and overtime loss during this current streak.

Player of the Week: Last season, Reinke led all rookie defensemen with 45 points and he is off to good start this month. He had a goal and two assists against the Roadrunners. He currently leads the Rampage with four assists and is second in scoring with five points.

St. Louis Blues Mitch Reinke
Reinke continues to impress at the AHL level, hoping for a return to St. Louis. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 25 @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins; Saturday, Oct. 26 @ Penguins

Admirals Earn Points in a Rough Weekend

The Milwaukee Admirals (2-1-1-2) had a rough weekend as they lost all three of the games. However, they got each of those games past regulation to earn three points and find themselves in a tie for third place with seven points on the season.

The busy weekend began with the first of back-to-back home game against the Colorado Eagles. Troy Grosenick was on his game making 26 saves, including many of the highlight reel fashion. However, his antics were not good enough to pull off a victory as the Eagles won 3-2 in a shootout.

After surrendering a shorthanded goal in the first period, Freddy Gaudreau, who was playing in his first game for the Admirals since April of 2018, tied the game in the middle frame. Colin Blackwell, who had the assist on the opening tally, tied the game at 2-2 just three minutes after the Eagles took the lead early in the third period.

Frederick Gaudreau Nashville Predators
Gaudreau had a successful return to the AHL. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

As good as Grosenick was during regulation and overtime, he allowed goals on both shots he saw in the shootout. Gaudreau and Tommy Novak were stopped by goaltender Adam Werner.

The Admirals had to spend the rest of the weekend without a couple of key forwards. On Saturday morning, the Nashville Predators recalled both Mikka Salomaki and Yakov Trenin. In a corresponding move, 2019 AHL MVP Daniel Carr was reassigned to Milwaukee.

Carr was in the lineup for Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Eagles, who took a 1-0 lead into the second period. The middle frame was absolutely crazy and an early fight between A.J. Greer and Josh Healey. Before the puck was dropped to restart the action, Greer left the penalty box and attacked Admirals captain Jared Tinordi. This led to a line brawl and when the dust settled on the middle frame, 95 penalty minutes were dished out and five players were ejected. Greer earned a six-game suspension for his actions, while Tinordi will sit for three games.

Laurent Dauphin’s first goal of the season tied the game a couple of minutes after the craziness settled down. The Eagles regained the lead in the opening seconds of the final frame, but, late in the period, Gaudreau’s second tally in as many games sent the game into overtime.

However, Colorado grabbed the extra point just 45 seconds into the extra time. The goal spoiled Connor Ingram’s excellent evening as the young netminder made 32 saves in the losing effort.

The Admirals weekend finished off with a short trip down I-94 for a Sunday matinee at the Chicago Wolves. The afternoon started off great as Cole Schneider gave the Admirals a 1-0 lead with a redirection. Late in the period, defenseman Jeremy Davies fired a shot through heavy traffic and doubled the lead with his first career AHL goal.

The Wolves fought back to tie the game with a pair of second-period goals. After a scoreless third period and overtime, the game headed to a shootout. Carr and Schneider both missed their opportunities while Grosenick’s shootout struggles continued as he did not stop either attempt against him.

The Admirals lost all three games of the weekend, but they have earned at least one point in five straight games with their only regulation loss coming on opening night.

Player of the Week: Gaudreau missed the first three games of the season with a minor injury, but he looked like he hadn’t missed a step over the weekend. He led the way with two goals and added an assist to join Alexandre Carrier as the only two Admirals to score three points in their three games.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 23 @ Grand Rapids Griffins; Friday, Oct. 25 vs Texas Stars

Stars Surge up the Standings

The Stars (3-2-0-1) have recovered from their slow start and used an undefeated weekend to climb up the Central Division ladder. They have points in each of the last four games and are tied with the Admirals for third place with seven points.

Before the Stars took to the ice, they make a handful of roster changes. On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars reassigned forwards Nick Caamano and Joel L’Esperance back to the AHL. In a corresponding move, Dallas recalled Denis Gurianov after he scored a hat trick in his AHL debut last week.

The Stars spent their weekend hosting the Griffins and needed a shootout to get the job done on Friday night. After giving up a power-play goal in the first period, Conner Bleackley tied the game seven minutes into the second period. Just over a minute later, Brad McClure scored on the man-advantage to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.

Early in the third period, Reese Scarlett extended the lead to 3-1 with his first goal of the season. Unfortunately, the Griffins answered right back with another power-play goal. They tied the game just past the halfway point of the frame.

The Stars outshot the Griffins 5-2 in overtime, but the two teams needed a shootout to decide the victor. Tanner Kero scored the only goal in the three-round competition to lift the Stars to the win. Landon Bow earned his second straight win with 36 saves in regulation and overtime and three stops in the shootout.  The win was the first on home ice for the Stars this season and their 400th in franchise history.

Speaking of franchise history, plenty of it was made before and during Saturday night’s 3-0 win over the Griffins. Midway through the first period, Parker McKay dove head-first during a scramble in front of the net and pushed the puck across the goal line for his first career AHL goal.

During the first intermission, the Stars retired the number 23 worn by former captain Travis Morin, who retired during the offseason. Morin is the franchise leader in goals, assists, points and games played.

Travis Morin flanked by vets Toby Peterson and Max Fortunus (Ross Bonander / THW)
Morin was the greatest player to ever wear a Texas Stars uniform. (Ross Bonander / THW)

After a scoreless second period, Joel Kiviranta doubled the Stars’ lead with his first-ever AHL goal in the final frame. Gavin Bayreuther added an empty-net goal to cap off the scoring.

Player of the Week: Jake Oettinger made 28 saves on Saturday night to earn the first shutout of his professional career. The youngster was sensational in his third start of the season. He made three sprawling saves during the second period when his team was holding on to 1-0 lead and was excellent all night long.

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars
Oettinger picked up his first professional shutout. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 23 @ Wolves; Friday, Oct. 25 @ Admirals; Saturday, Oct. 26 @ Griffins

Griffins Stumble Back Home with One Point

Heading into the weekend, the Griffins (2-2-0-1) were undefeated on the road, but that streak ended with a pair of losses in Texas. Grand Rapids returned home with one point, which has them tied for fifth with five points.

The Griffins staged a third-period comeback on Friday night in 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars. Both teams came out firing early, but it was the Griffins who struck first midway through the opening frame. Matt Puempel scored on a power-play as fired a slapshot just under the bar for his first goal of the season.

The Stars scored twice in the second period and extended their lead to 3-1 early into the final stanza. Shortly after falling behind by a pair of goals, the Griffins answered with their second power-play tally of the night. This time it was Givani Smith who got to the rebound off a Puempel shot and knocked it home for his second goal of the season.

Givani Smith Grand Rapids Griffins
Smith scored a goal and earned a suspension last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

About five minutes later, Jarid Lukosevicius outworked a pair of defenders to get to the rebound and throw it back into the net to tie the game. Puempel had a breakaway chance in overtime, but he missed wide. In the shootout, Calvin Pickard gave up a goal on the opening chance while Joe Veleno, Puempel and Evgeny Svechnikov were all denied.

The offense could not do much of anything in Saturday’s rematch. They got 28 shots on goal but were kept off the board in a 3-0 shutout loss. Filip Larsson gave up a pair of goals on 20 shots in a battle of rookie goaltenders. This was also the first game of the 2019-20 season in which the Griffins failed to score a power-play goal.

After playing four of their first five games on the road, the Griffins will look to climb up the standings with three home games this week. They will be without the services of Smith for the first game, as he earned a one-game suspension for a clipping incident Saturday night.

Player of the Week:  The Griffins scored just three goals on the week. Puempel had the first one and also had the primary assist on the second one. The veteran of 299 regular-season games was off to a bit of a slow start, but the Griffins are hoping Friday’s output is a sign of things to come.

Matt Puempel Grand Rapids Griffins
Puempel led the way offensively for the Griffins last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 23 vs Admirals; Friday, Oct. 25 vs Moose; Saturday, Oct. 26 vs Stars

Wolves Still Looking to Hit Their Stride

The Wolves (2-3-1-0) have been struggling to score goals early on. Considering that they lost their top three scorers from last season, this should not come as a huge surprise. They salvaged three points in a busy three-game weekend to draw even with the Griffins for fifth place.

The weekend started with a home-and-home series with their in-state rivals, the Rockford IceHogs. Their short trip out west was not a fruitful one as they dropped a 3-2 decision. Despite getting essentially six straight minutes of power play time, the Wolves found themselves down 3-0 at the end of the first period and were outshot 17-4.

Things improved in the middle frame as Jaycob Megna’s first goal with the Wolves got them on the board early in the period. Gage Quinney scored on a power play with just under eight minutes to go in the third period, but they could not get the equalizer. Goaltender Garret Sparks shook off a slow start and made 30 saves on the night.

Gage Quinney Chicago Wolves
Quinney is doing some heavy lifting for the Wolves. (Sarah Avampato / The Hockey Writers)

The two teams headed east to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL for Saturday night’s rematch. For the second straight night, the IceHogs struck first, but the Wolves had a response less than three minutes later. A pair of rookies combined for the tally when defenseman Brayden Pachal found Lucas Elvenes open at the right circle, where he fired home his third goal of the season.

The IceHogs regained the lead early in the third period, but the Wolves got some puck luck to force overtime late in the frame. With under four minutes to play, Curtis McKenzie’s centering pass hit a Rockford defender and made its way to the back of the net to even things up.

Quinney had a couple of great looks late in the overtime period, but he could not convert. The IceHogs scored in the final seconds of the extra time to sweep the weekend set.

Wolves finished off the weekend by taking down the Admirals, 3-2, in a shootout.  They were plagued by another slow start as they found themselves down 2-0 after the first period. However, Patrick Brown put the team on his back with a pair of goals to get the game to overtime.

NHL Point system 2017
Brown, who won the Calder Cup with Charlotte last season, is fitting in well with his new team. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

His first game just seconds after a power-play expired as he dove into the crease and got enough of a loose puck to push it over the goal line. He struck again late in the period while the Wolves had an extra attacker on the ice during a delayed penalty.

Brown converted his shootout chance to finish off his big day. Quinney also scored in the shootout while goaltender Dylan Ferguson, who was making his first professional start, stop both shots he faced for the victory.

“Fergie played awesome,” Brown said after the game. “He kept us in the whole game. We were down early, but it could have been a lot worse than it was. For a guy to step in and get his first AHL win, it’s huge.”

Player of the Week: Elvenes continues to impress early in his first season playing in North America. The Wolves have scored 12 goals so far and the Swedish-born rookie has factored in nine of them. He led the Wolves with two goals and two assists last week. He is currently second in the entire AHL with nine points, one point behind Reid Boucher of the Utica Comets.

“I have been really impressed,” head coach Rocky Thompson said of Elvenes. “It’s a great start, which is good. That line has been really, really good. We’re really happy with the development so far.”

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Oct. 23 vs Stars; Saturday, Oct. 26 vs Moose

IceHogs Earn First Points of the Season

The IceHogs (2-3-0-0) entered the week as the only team in the Central Division without a point. The mood is much better in Rockford after they swept a home-and-home series with the Wolves to earn their first four points of the season.

Rockford’s blue line was missing a key member when they took the ice at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Friday night. 2018 first-round pick Adam Boqvist was nowhere to be found. We learned after the game that he took a puck to the mouth during the morning skate. The IceHogs also lost captain Kris Versteeg to a lower-body injury in the first period.

Despite all of that, the IceHogs played their best period of the season by putting up three goals on the Wolves. Dylan Sikura started the attack by redirecting a Brandon Hagel shot for his third goal of the season. John Quenneville scored his first goal as an IceHog with a shorthanded tally to double the lead. Before the end of the period, Anton Wedin scored the eventually game-winner goal with a wrist shot from the slot.

Dylan Sikura Blackhawks
Sikura is off to a red-hot start in the AHL this season. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Wolves began to fight back with an early second-period goal. They got to within one goal with a late third-period goal, but Collin Delia and the IceHogs held on for their first win of the season. Delia made 29 saves for the victory.

Shortly after the game, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled Kirby Dach, who was in Rockford for a conditioning pick. The third-overall pick from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft had no points in his three AHL contests.

“Obviously, any time you win it’s a good feeling in the locker room,” Delia said shortly after coming off the ice. “Personally, I didn’t feel great but it’s good to still come out on top when you’re not feeling your best. I was making sure my habits were strong. It was a huge win for the team. So, we’ll celebrate tonight, go to bed and wake up tomorrow to a new day.”

Delia watched from the bench as Matt Tomkins made 31 saves to lead the IceHogs to a 3-2 overtime win over the Wolves on Saturday night. For the fifth straight game, the IceHogs opened the scoring when the rebound from a Tyler Sikura shot hit the stick of a Wolves’ defender and went back into the net. Chicago responded with a quick goal to tie the game.

After a scoreless second period, Philip Holm received a nice pass from Aleksi Saarela and fired a wrist shot home from the high slot. The IceHogs penalty kill had some bad luck late in the period when a centering pass hit off a sliding Dennis Gilbert and went in between the legs of Tomkins to tie the game.

The game appeared to be heading to a shootout, but with just 11 seconds remaining in overtime, Joni Tuulola got to a loose puck and sent Sikura off on a breakaway for his second goal of the night.

The IceHogs are the only team in the AHL who have not scored a power-play goal yet. They are 0-for-18 on the man advantage, but they have scored two shorthanded goals.

Player of the Week: The IceHogs got points from 14 different players last week with the Sikura brothers being the only players who scored two. Tyler gets the nod for his two goals on Saturday night, including the game-winner in overtime. He has two goals and three points on the season, one goal and point behind Dylan for the team lead.

The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 25 @ Cleveland Monsters; Saturday, Oct. 26 @ Monsters

Moose Seem Stuck in the Mud

The Moose (1-5-0-0) are struggling since they split their pair of games on opening weekend. Since their lone victory of the season, they have lost four straight games and sit at the bottom of the division with just two points.

Things did not go as planned while hosting the first-place Wild over the weekend as they dropped both games. The Moose scored the first goal on Friday night when Jonathan Kovacevic lit the lamp just over a minute into the game. The Wild were able to tie things up before the first intermission.

J.C. Lipon put the Moose up 2-1 early in the second period, but the lead did not last very long. The Wild tied the game about three minutes later and took their first lead of the night before the final horn sounded in the second period.

JC Lipon, Manitoba Moose
Lipon found is way onto the scoresheet Friday night. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Moose fell behind 4-2 early in the third period but came storming back to tie the game. Michael Spacek scored on a power play to cut the lead to one before C.J. Suess evened things up with his first goal of the season. Unfortunately, the Moose surrendered a late power-play goal along with an empty netter and fell 6-4.

In Saturday’s spirited rematch, it was the Wild who struck early in the first period to start the scoring. Logan Shaw answered with his team-high third goal of the season, but the Wild held a 2-1 advantage after 20 minutes of play.

With the Moose down 3-1 and just 32 seconds left to play in the middle frame, defenseman Cameron Schilling trimmed the deficit to just one goal. The Moose had a hard time getting anything going in the third period as they had problems staying out of the penalty box with four minor penalties in the frame. The Wild added a fourth and final goal, of the empty-net variety, in the closing seconds to complete the 4-2 victory.

Player of the Week: The Moose scored six total goals against the Wild and Seth Griffith assisted on half of them. The veteran winger is off to a good start to the 2019-20 season. He leads the team with four assists and is tied with Shaw for the top spot in scoring with five points.

Seth Griffith Manitoba Moose
Griffith was an assist machine over the weekend. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 25 @ Griffins; Saturday, Oct. 26 @ Wolves