The eight teams of the American Hockey League’s Central Division had themselves a busy weekend, with every team taking the ice twice. A pair of teams who have benefitted from four-straight home games to start the season find themselves on top of the standings.
Rampage Stay Hot to Start the Season
The San Antonio Rampage (3-0-0-1) finished at the bottom of the Central Division standings last season. After picking up seven points in their first four games of the 2018-19 season, they now find themselves tied for first place.
They continued their winning ways over the Chicago Wolves on Friday night. Ville Husso made 26 saves to earn his seventh career AHL shutout in a 3-0 victory over his former team.
Nathan Walker scored the first of his two goals with a power-play tally midway through the opening period. The Rampage struck again on the man advantage, this time early in the second period when Derrick Pouliot’s shot found its way through traffic and into the back of the Chicago net. Walker added an empty-netter, late in the game, to complete the scoring.
The game was a bit of a sloppy affair and special teams made all the difference. Both teams were guilty of six minor penalties with the difference being the Rampage killing off all six of theirs and scoring twice on the power play.
The Wolves handed the Rampage their first loss of the season in Saturday night’s rematch, but they extended their point streak to four games by getting the contest into a shootout. Goaltender Adam Wilcox made 31 saves in his debut for the team, but is was not quite good enough.
Nick Lappin tied the game about four minutes after the Wolves scored the game’s opening goal, midway through the third period. Wilcox stopped two of the three shots he faced in the shootout, but Austin Poganski, Nathan Walker, and Lappin all failed on their attempts.
Things will get tougher for the Rampage as their next six games will be on the road after playing their first four on home ice. They lead the division with a plus-six goal differential as they have outscored their opponents 11-5 in four games.
Player of the Week: This honor goes to Walker for the second straight week. The 25-year-old native of Wales is pacing the Rampage with four goals and six points through the first four games of the season. He scored 17 goals and 39 points for the Hershey Bears last season and is off to a very good start to breaking both of those marks in 2019-20.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 19 @ Tucson Roadrunners; Saturday, Oct. 20 @ Roadrunners
Wild Love Playing at Home
The Iowa Wild (3-0-0-1) split a pair of games with the Texas Stars over the weekend to earn three out of a possible four points. Their fast start to the season has them tied with the Rampage for the Central lead with seven points.
In Friday night’s 5-4 shootout victory, the Wild had to overcome four separate one-goal deficits in order to force the extra time. Will Bitten’s second goal of the season, off a turnover, tied the game early in the second period. Nico Sturm’s first professional tally evened things up at 2-2 less than four minutes later. They had a third quick response in the middle frame when Mike Liambas tied the game at 3-3 with his first of the season.
After all the excitement in the second period, the Wild entered the final frame trailing 4-3. With less than a minute to go in regulation, and with goaltender Kappo Kahkonen on the bench for an extra attacker, Gerry Mayhew got to a rebound and tucked it into the Texas net.
In the shootout, Sam Anas and Mayhew scored while Kahkonen stopped two of the three shots he faced.
Saturday night’s rematch was not nearly as exciting, but it needed another shootout to decide the winner. This time it was the Stars who came out on top, 2-1. For the fourth straight game, the Wild surrendered the first goal of the game when the Stars took a 1-0 lead early in the second period.
Gabriel Dumont scored his third goal of the season to tie the game up midway through the third period. In the shootout, Mayhew scored for the Wild, but Mat Robson gave up a pair of goals. Robson, who was making his professional debut, made 32 saves on the night and the only goal he allowed came off the stick of one of his own defenders.
Much like the Rampage, the Wild opened the season with four straight home games. They will not play another home game until Nov. 7 as their next seven games are on the road.
Player of the Week: Mayhew gets the nod for the second straight week, but who knows when he will eligible for this honor again. He leads Iowa with six points and has at least one point in each of their four games. His performance earned him his first taste of the NHL as the Minnesota Wild recalled him on Sunday. He scored a goal in his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 @ Manitoba Moose; Saturday, Oct. 19 @ Moose
Admirals Sweep Weekend Set
The Milwaukee Admirals (2-1-0-0) enjoyed an offensive outburst this weekend in scoring eight total goals to pick up their first two wins of the new season. Their four points have them tied for third in the standings.
The Admirals headed to Grand Rapids on Friday night and spoiled the Griffins’ home opener with a 4-1 win. After leaving last Sunday’s game in Iowa with an early injury, goaltender Troy Grosenick was back in the crease for Milwaukee. The veteran made 38 saves to lead his team to their first win of the season.
Anthony Richard and Yakov Trenin both scored on the power play to give the Admirals a 2-0 lead at the first intermission. The Griffins got one of those back with a power-play tally of their own in the second period.
Shortly after the home team got on the board, Eeli Tolvanen restored Milwaukee’s two-lead lead. Mathieu Olivier’s empty-net goal late in the third period sealed the victory for the Admirals.
The Admirals were back in Beer Town on Saturday for their home opener against the Laval Rocket. They sent the faithful home with smiles on their faces after a 4-2 win.
Trenin opened the scoring early in the opening frame, but the Rocket scored twice to take a 2-1 lead into the second period. The Admirals reclaimed the lead with a pair of second-period goals from Josh Wilkins, his first career goal, and Cole Schneider. Trenin added an empty-netter in the final minute to ice the game.
The Admirals had nine different players pick up a point. Goaltender Connor Ingram made 28 saves to pick up his first win with his new team.
Player of the Week: Trenin was a big part of the Admirals success last week with three goals and an assist. He has scored at least one goal in each of his three games this season. The former second-round draft pick is looking to have that breakout year in North America and he is off to a great start.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 vs Colorado Eagles; Saturday, Oct. 19 vs Eagles; Sunday, Oct. 20 @ Wolves
Griffins Stay Undefeated on the Road
After splitting their weekend games, the Griffins (2-1-0-0) are tied with the Admirals with four points. When they haven’t run into a hot goaltender, they have been a very dangerous team early on.
The Griffins opened their home portion of their schedule in front of a full house at the Van Andel Arena, the 24th consecutive home-opener sellout. However, the massive crowd was sent home disappointed after the Admirals spoiled the party with a 4-1 win.
The Griffins outshot the Admirals 39-28 but had a hard time finding the back of the net. Chris Terry scored the lone Griffins goal, while on a power play, midway through the second period. Unfortunately, the Admirals scored twice in the first period and one time in each the second and third.
They improved to 2-0-0-0 on the road the following night by spoiling the Rockford IceHogs home opener with a 4-2 victory. Rookie goaltender Filip Larsson earned his first professional victory with 24 saves on the night.
After the IceHogs opened the scoring, Jarid Lukosevicius fought off two defenders to get to a loose puck in the crease and chip it into the net for his first professional goal.
Michael Rasmussen scored off a rebound to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead just a minute into the second period. Two minutes later, Filip Zadina fired an absolute laser into the back of the net after being set up in the slot by Terry.
The IceHogs responded late in the period to cut the lead to 3-2, but Dominik Shine scored in the final minute of the middle frame to reclaim the Griffins’ two-goal advantage and cap off the scoring on the night.
On Monday, the Griffins assigned defenseman Alec McCrea to the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL. He did not dress for any of the Griffins’first three games of the season.
Player of the Week: Both Rasmussen and Terry had a goal and two assists on the weekend. They both have three-game point streaks to start the season. And now they both have Player of the Week honors. The Detroit Red Wings have high hopes for Rasmussen and he is starting to live up to the expectations of being a first-round pick.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 @ Stars; Saturday, Oct. 19 @ Stars
Stars Grab Three Road Points
The Stars (1-2-0-1) headed out on the road for the first time this season with a weekend series in Iowa. They returned to the Lonestar State with their first three points in the standings.
Before the team hit the ice, the Stars learned they would be getting winger Denis Gurianov back from the big club in Dallas. He wasted no time in making his presence felt by scoring a hat trick in his 2019-20 AHL debut, leading the Stars to a 5-4 shootout win.
Michael Mersch got on the board, early in the first period, by scoring on a 5-on-3 power play. The two teams combined for six goals in the second period, with three of those coming from Garianov. The Wild forced extra time with a goal in the final minute of regulation.
In overtime, the Stars had to kill off a penalty, but they were up to the task. Gurianov scored in the shootout, but Tanner Kero and Jason Robertson could not. Jake Oettinger, who finished his night with 34 saves, allowed two goals in the shootout to give the extra point to Iowa.
The Stars got some revenge on Saturday night by returning the favor in a 2-1 shootout win over the Wild. After a scoreless first period, Robertson broke the tie with his second goal of the season, when his pass deflected off the stick of a Wild defender.
From there, Landon Bow took things over. He allowed just one goal on 35 shots. He stopped two of the three shots he faced in the shootout with Gurianov and Kero scoring to give Bow the 52nd win of career.
Player of the Week: Sometimes it is hard for a player to get back into the swing of things after being sent back down from the NHL. That wasn’t the case for Gurianov, who scored a hat trick on Friday night. He also scored a shootout goal in Saturday night’s win and there is no way the Stars earn three points last week without him.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 vs Griffins; Saturday, Oct. 19 vs Griffins
Wolves Struggling to Find Offense
The three-time defending Central Division champions are off to a bit of a slow start. The offense that led to much of the Wolves’ (1-2-0-0) success last season struggled to get much going against the Rampage. Despite only scoring one goal in two games, they were still able to come home with their first two points of the season.
Before the Wolves began their weekend series in San Antonio, the Vegas Golden Knights reassigned defenseman Jimmy Schuldt to the AHL. In a corresponding move, blueliner Jake Bischoff was recalled to take his place on the NHL roster.
The Wolves dropped their second straight game to start the new season with a sloppy 3-0 loss to the Rampage. Garrett Sparks made stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced in his Wolves debut, but his team could not convert on six power-play chances while surrendering a pair of power-play tallies in the defeat.
Sparks was back in the net on Saturday after the Golden Knights recalled goaltender Oscar Dansk due to a Malcolm Subban injury. In a corresponding move, Dylan Ferguson was moved up from the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL to take Dansk’s roster spot.
He was very good in stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced in a 2-1 shootout victory. Rookie Lucas Elvenes scored the lone Wolves goal. The 20-year-old Swedish born winger has been a standout offensively this season with two goals and five points through three games.
In the shootout, Gage Quinney was the only player to score as Dansk shut the door on all three shots he saw.
Player of the Week: When your offense scores just one goal all weekend and you still get two points, then your goaltender is the Player of the Week. Sparks stopped 56 of the 59 shots he faced, in his first two starts for the Wolves, for a .949 save percentage (save %).
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 @ IceHogs; Saturday, Oct. 19 vs IceHogs; Sunday, Oct. 20 vs Admirals
Moose Get Outclassed by Marlies
The Manitoba Moose (1-3-0-0) got to spend the weekend at home, but the Toronto Marlies were very rude house guests by sweeping the back-to-back games at the Bell MTS Place.
Before the puck dropped on the two-game set, the Winnipeg Jets announced that they reassigned defenseman Sami Niku to the Moose. He was in the lineup for their 3-2 loss to the Marlies on Friday night.
Andrei Chibisov scored his first career AHL, late in the first period, to even things up. However, the Marlies had a quick response and regained their lead before the first intermission. Early in the second period, Logan Shaw created a turnover, while on the penalty kill, and scored off a breakaway to tie the game at 2-2. The game remained knotted up until the Marlies scored early in the third period and made the lead hold up for the final 18-plus minutes of the game. Goaltender Mikhail Berdin made 20 stops in the losing effort.
Saturday afternoon was Adam Carlson’s turn to take on the high-powered Marlies’ offense. He gave up four goals on 33 shots in his first regular-season start for the Moose. Netminder Joseph Woll stopped all 23 shots he saw to become the first Marlies rookie to earn a shutout in his first start.
Player of the Week: The Moose only scored two goals over the weekend; one by Chibisov and one by Shaw. Scoring goals is nothing new for Shaw, but Chibisov’s was the first of his AHL career, so he’ll get the nod because of the milestone.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 vs Wild; Saturday, Oct. 19 vs Wild
IceHogs Looking to Gel Early On
The IceHogs (0-3-0-0) received a big influx of talent during the offseason, but they have yet to translate that into success on the ice. Through the first two weeks of the season, they are the only team in the Central Division yet to earn a point in the standings.
There was a buzz walking into the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford on Saturday. Not only because it was the IceHogs home opener, but also because third overall pick Kirby Dach was reassigned for a conditioning stint and was in the lineup.
Anton Wedin got the IceHogs on the scoreboard first by quickly firing home a slap shot off a big rebound. The Griffins tied the game before the end of the first period then scored a pair of quick goals early in the second period to build a 3-1 lead. Dylan Sikura cut the lead in half a few minutes by scoring his second goal in as many games from the high slot. The visitors added the final goal of the evening in the final minute of the middle frame.
The IceHogs were back on the ice Monday afternoon to take on the Rocket for the first time in franchise history. For the third straight game, the IceHogs struck first. This time it was defenseman Philip Holm scoring from the high slot about seven minutes into the game.
The Rocket came back to score a pair of goals in the second period and added the dagger with less than five minutes remaining to pick up their first win of the season.
“I think the big thing is, we look good on paper,” head coach Derek King said after the loss. “We’re not a good team right now. We’re not a team. ‘Team’ is the keyword there. I’d like to use the excuse that we don’t have a lot of game yet under our belts, but we’re just not quite yet there. We show signs of it and we practice hard, but then the game starts and we shy off a little bit.”
Player of the Week: Wedin and Holm both led the way with two points on the week, but the play of goaltender Collin Delia was the only reason the IceHogs were in either game. The first three games of the 2019-20 season have the feel of last season where the IceHogs struggled to score goals but were given a chance to win because of their goaltending. Delia made 64 saves in his two starts, including 40 against Laval on Monday.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Oct. 18 vs Wolves; Saturday, Oct. 19 @ Wolves
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.