The American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division had a very busy second week to their season. Each of the seven teams played at least two games and are starting to figure out what’s working and what’s not. As expected, the teams are pretty evenly matched, and there has yet to be one to establish itself as the clear-cut favorite to win the division. That may not happen at any point this season, either.
On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids Griffins began their week by signing center Josh Dickinson to a professional tryout (PTO). The 23-year-old has bounced between the AHL and ECHL over the last four seasons. He has two goals and 14 points in 47 AHL games.
The Manitoba Moose were very busy this past week with three games on the ice and plenty of moves off of it. Early in the week, forwards Todd Burgess and Isaac Johnson were assigned to the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL. In addition, Cole Perfetti, who finished second on the team with 26 points last season, was reassigned by the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. The following morning, the Jets recalled forward Dominic Toninato. He has one assist in two AHL games this season.
The Rockford IceHogs lost a couple of players to the NHL this past week. On Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled forward Reese Johnson. The next day, defenseman Ian Mitchell returned to the big club as they deal with multiple players being placed into COVID protocol.
On Thursday, the Texas Stars made a trio of roster moves. They reassigned forward Yauheni Aksiantsiuk, defenseman Dawson Barteaux, and goaltender Adam Scheel to the Idaho Steelheads, their ECHL affiliate.
The Week in Review
Wednesday, Oct. 20
The Moose finished up their three-game road trip against former Canadian Division foes with a trip to Quebec. After splitting their opening weekend games at the Toronto Marlies, they came up on the short end of an exciting affair against the Rocket.
Laurent Dauphin got the home team on the board first by scoring off a redirection just over six minutes into the game. Mikey Eyssimont answered with his third goal of the season 57 seconds later to tie the score. David Gustafsson, who had the primary assist on the opening tally, gave the Moose a 2-1 lead late in the first period by hammering home a cross-ice pass from Jeff Malott.
Laval took a 3-2 lead midway through the second period with two quick goals less than two minutes apart. The first was scored by Kevin Roy before Alex Belzile netted a power-play tally.
Defensive prospect Ville Heinola squared up the score with a power-play goal four minutes into the final stanza. However, the Rocket quickly responded with goals from Jean-Sebastien Dean and Brandon Baddock to go up 5-3. Luke Johnson scored his first goal with the Moose to draw within one, but it was too little, too late with just three seconds left on the clock.
Friday, Oct. 22
The Wild welcomed in the rival IceHogs for a set of home games starting Friday night. The first period looked as it would end in a scoreless tie before Jakub Pour scored his first AHL goal with just over two minutes remaining.
The offense picked up during the middle frame with six combined goals. The first went to Iowa’s Kyle Rau, who tied the game 32 seconds into the second period. Reese Johnson scored five minutes later to put the IceHogs back on top 2-1. Nick Swaney started his big weekend with a pair of goals to give the Wild a 3-2 lead just over two minutes apart. The IceHogs responded quickly with Lukas Reichel’s second goal in as many games to even things up. Damien Giroux put the Wild back in front with just over five minutes to play in the eventful stanza.
The Wild kept the pressure on with 20 shots on goal during the third period and extended their lead with goals from Mitchell Chaffee. They finished the night with 53 shots. Rau added three assists to go along with his goal. Goaltender Andrew Hammond made 16 saves to earn the win.
The Griffins headed north of the border for a weekend series in Winnipeg against the Moose. The goaltenders were on full display as Calvin Pickard made 37 saves for the visitors, while Mikhail Berdin stopped all 22 shots he faced for his sixth career AHL shutout.
Cole Maier had the only goal of the contest, 14:31 into the second period, when his shot from just inside the blue line found the back of the net. Berdin had to make some big saves to close out the middle frame and again early in the third period to preserve the win in the first home game of the season. The 37 saves were the most Pickard made in an AHL game since Jan. 5, 2020, against the old San Antonio Rampage.
“It was just a strange play,” Maier said of his goal. “We were looking for a (line) change. I was just looking to buy us an extra second to give our guys the time to get on the ice. I figured I’d put it on the net. A lot of guys thought it was going to be a dump in, so it ended up sliding in there.”
The first installment of the “2020-21 Wolves Civil War” took place in Milwaukee on Friday night. The Admirals have nine players on their roster who played for the Wolves last season, while Milwaukee opted out. Eight of those players dressed for the 3-2 loss.
David Cotton, who led Chicago in goals last season, broke the scoreless tie late in the opening frame with his first goal. They doubled their lead late in the second period when Andrew Poturalski set up Jalen Chatfield’s one-timer goal from the right dot. Poturalski picked up another assist in the third period when C.J. Smith’s power-play goal gave the Wolves a 3-0 lead with 11:40 left to play.
The Admirals didn’t roll over and play dead. Egor Afanasyev scored his first AHL goal with three minutes to play to get Milwaukee on the board. Matt Tennyson scored on a 6-on-4 power play to cut the lead to a goal, but with just 11 seconds remaining, there was not enough time to get the equalizer.
Finnish goaltender Eetu Makiniemi, drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the fourth round (104th overall) at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, was fantastic in his North American debut. He made 41 saves to pick up his first AHL victory.
“I thought we started fine, but then we got into penalty problems,” said Admirals’ head coach Karl Taylor. “At the halfway mark, we were three-to-one on shots and getting what we wanted out of the game. I thought we were going to wear them down. They started playing some ‘air mail’ hockey and skated us into the ground over the next 10 minutes.”
Saturday, Oct. 23
Iowa flexed their muscle again for the second straight night against the IceHogs. They rode their special teams’ play to another big win over their guests from Illinois.
Reichel was called for tripping just 15 seconds into the contest. Less than a minute later, Swaney struck for the third time in the weekend series. He doubled the Iowa lead 10 minutes later by finishing off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with veteran Cody McLeod.
Mason Shaw’s first goal of the season gave the Wild a 3-0 lead at 1:28 of the second period. The IceHogs showed some fight as Alex Nylander got his team on the board three minutes later with his third goal on the campaign.
Rau got that goal back for the Wild two and a half minutes later while on the power play. Pour cut the lead down to 4-3 with his second goal in as many nights, but Adam Beckman answered before the end of the frame to close out the scoring. Neither team found the back of the net in the final period.
Dereck Baribeau made 21 saves to earn the win. The Wild went 2-for-3 on the power play while killing off all six of their penalties.
After Friday night’s game, both the Wolves and Admirals made the quick ride back to the Windy City for a rematch 24 hours later. Chicago jumped out to another 3-0 lead, and this time, they kept up the pressure and did not allow Milwaukee to creep back into the game.
David Gust, a Chicago-area native, opened the scoring late in the first period when his wrist shot from the left dasher whistled over Devin Cooley’s shoulder. Just over a minute later, Stefan Noesen camped out in front of the crease and knocked home a rebound for his first goal on the season. The Wolves weren’t done as Maxim Letunov deposited a pass from Spencer Smallman into the net just 27 seconds later.
The onslaught continued early in the second period when Poturalski scored his first goal with the Wolves on the power play. Cooley was pulled from the game after this goal and replaced by Parker Gahagen.
Stelios Mattheos upped the advantage to 5-0 just over a minute into the third period before C.J. Smith scored later in the frame. Alex Lyon’s shutout bid was spoiled when Joseph LaBate scored with 69 seconds remaining. The late goal snapped the Wolves’ streak of 123:05 without allowing a 5-on-5 goal.
“That’s the way we’ve got to play,” said Chicago head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “When we play together, and we play the right way, the offense is going to come. We’ve done a good job of that the last two nights. Even though it was 6-0 there, we wanted to keep playing with our identity and our competitiveness and our consistency.”
The Stars’ first road game of the season turned out to be a dud as they failed to find the back of the net.
Liam Kirk knocked a rebound past goaltender Jake Oettinger with just 23 seconds left in the first period for the only goal the Roadrunners would need. Ben McCartney scored a pair of goals in the second period before completing his hat trick with an empty-netter late in the game.
Tucson goaltender Ivan Prosvetov made 19 saves for his third career AHL shutout. The Stars power-play unit let them down by going 0-for-7 on the night.
Sunday, Oct 24
The rematch between the Moose and Griffins gave us the first shootout of the new season in the Central Division.
Perfetti got the Moose on the board with a power-play goal nine minutes into the game. He received a feed from Declan Chisholm and went bar down on rookie netminder Victor Brattstrom. Eyssimont doubled the lead at 13:42 of the second period when he used a screen to score his fourth goal of the young season.
Just over a minute later, Dominik Shine won a board battle behind the net and set up Dennis Yan for his second goal of the season, cutting the lead to 2-1. Griffins’ defenseman Ryan Murphy evened up the score with a blast from the point, on the power play, three minutes into the final stanza.
Arvid Holm stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout while Gustafsson scored in the third round to give the Moose a 3-2 victory. Holm made 21 saves in his first AHL start and picked up an assist on Eyssimont’s goal.
“I got a good start,” Holm said shortly after his first North American start. “Didn’t get too many shots, and I got to play the puck a bit. So, I eased into it. It felt good.”
The Stars’ offense showed up on Sunday for their rematch against the Arizona Coyotes’ farm team. They got goals from five different players. Captain Curtis McKenzie led the way with three points, one of four players to have multiple points on the night.
After the power play struggled on Saturday, McKenzie came through on the man advantage to open the scoring midway through the opening period. This was McKenzie’s first goal for Texas since 2018. Joel L’Esperance scored his first goal of the season four and a half minutes later to double the advantage.
The Roadrunners quickly tied up the game early in the second period with goals from Jan Jenik and Janis Moser less than three minutes apart. Fredrik Karlsson got the momentum back for the Stars by beating two defenders to a loose puck before making a nice move to get the puck past Prosvetov for his first career AHL goal. L’Esperance provided some insurance with his second goal of the night less than two minutes later.
Josh Melnick and Riley Tufte scored empty-net goals late in the third period to cap off the scoring. Oettinger, who has started all four games this season, made 36 saves for the win.
Eyssimont has started his first season in Manitoba with a bang. He has four goals in four games, which is quite the outburst. He scored nine goals in 40 games for the Ontario Reign last season. The biggest output of his career came during the 2019-20 season with the Reign, when he scored 12 goals in 56 games.
The IceHogs’ special teams are a huge reason they are currently at the bottom of the standings. Their 6.7% power play rate and 68.4% penalty kill rate are both last in the Central Division. They are one of four teams with just one power-play goal. The Rochester Americans are the only team without a power-play goal through two weeks of the season. Only the Colorado Eagles have a lower PK%. Rockford has given up six power-play goals in four games, tied with the Eagles, Springfield Thunderbirds, and Henderson Silver Knights for the most allowed in the league.
The Week’s Top Performer
Swaney had a breakout weekend for the Wild, leading all Central Division players with four goals during the week. He scored twice in each of Iowa’s two wins over Rockford. He also has an assist on the season, so he has five points in four games.
He had one goal and two points in six AHL games last season. The 24-year-old winger was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round (209th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He had 46 goals and 101 points in 134 games during his college career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Wednesday, Oct. 27
Wolves @ Griffins
Thursday, Oct. 28
IceHogs @ Stars
Friday, Oct. 29
Wolves @ Admirals
Saturday, Oct. 30
Wild @ Moose, Admirals @ Griffins, IceHogs @ Stars
Sunday, Oct. 31
Wild @ Moose, Wolves @ Griffins
Central Division Standings
Wild 3-1-0-0 (6 pts, .750%)
Wolves 2-1-0-0 (4 pts, .667%)
Moose 3-2-0-0 (6 pts, .600%)
Stars 2-2-0-0 (4 pts, .500%)
Griffins 1-2-0-1 (3 pts, .375%)
Admirals 1-2-0-0 (2 pts, .333%)
IceHogs 1-3-0-0 (2 pts, .250%)
(Standings determined by points percentage, top five teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs)
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.