All six teams of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division were in action over the weekend. The Iowa Wild won back-to-back games at the Texas Stars in a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Cleveland Monsters and their new addition took down the Grand Rapids Griffins, while the Chicago Wolves continued their dominance of the Rockford IceHogs.
On Friday, goaltender Petr Mrazek and forward Max McCormick were recalled by the Carolina Hurricanes after a one-game stint with the Wolves. Goaltender Beck Warm returned from the taxi squad and Chicago signed 2019 sixth-round pick Blake Murray to an amateur tryout contract (ATO).
Later that day, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Brad Morrison to the Florida Panthers for Vinnie Hinostroza. Morrison played in six games for the IceHogs this season and scored three goals and five points. This will be Hinostroza’s second stint with the Blackhawks.
In what seems to be a weekly move for the IceHogs, forwards Reese Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle and defensemen Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell and Lucas Carlsson were re-assigned to the Blackhawks’ taxi squad after all playing in Saturday’s game. Forwards Brandon Pirri and Mikael Hakkarainen and defenseman Alec Regula all returned to Rockford.
The Dallas Stars recalled goaltender Colton Point on Saturday and assigned him to their taxi squad. In addition, Texas released goaltender Matt Jurusik from his professional try-out contract.
Friday, April 2
Iowa had one of their best outings of the season on Friday night in the third contest of a four-game set at Texas. Goaltender Hunter Jones, who has been improving with each and every start, made 37 saves to pick up his first professional shutout.
The Stars had three power-play opportunities and outshot the Wild 18-3 during the opening period, but the teams headed into the first intermission in a scoreless tie. For their fourth straight game, Iowa scored the first goal. Early in the second period, Mason Shaw scored quickly after Gabriel Dumont forced a turnover. Less than three minutes later, Calen Addison’s wrist shot from the blue line got in behind Point to double the lead.
Connor Dewar increased the lead to 3-0 early in the final period with a goal from the slot. Just 35 seconds later, Jarrett Burton went upstairs from the right circle to cap off the scoring and gave Iowa a four-goal cushion. Bryce Misely had the lone assist on the play for his first professional point.
With these two teams playing four straight games, it was only a matter of time before emotions boiled over. There was a total of 88 penalty minutes dished out on Friday night, including 10 fighting majors in the third period. The Stars went 0-for-8 on the power play and have not scored in their last 17 chances on the man advantage.
“It frustrating when you see a similar result from a similar effort,” Texas head coach Neil Graham said. “You can’t blame the start or preparation from our group. They came out on time. The only thing we lacked was finish. I thought we created some Grade-A scoring chances and, again, we didn’t finish it through.”
Saturday, April 3
Goaltender Daniil Tarasov led the Monsters onto the ice Saturday night as he made his North American professional debut after a very successful season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). After a bit of a shaky start, he settled down to make 27 saves to win his first AHL start.
Riley Barber opened the scoring midway through the first period with a power-play goal from the right hash marks. His 12th goal of the season leads Grand Rapids and has him in a three-way tie for second in the league. Mathias Brome scored his first AHL goal to double the lead with just 43 seconds left in the opening frame. His centering pass from behind the net hit off the skate of Cleveland defenseman Gavin Bayreuther and snuck past Tarasov.
The final 40 minutes belonged to Tarasov and the Monsters. The Griffins did themselves no favors as they took four straight minor penalties during the second period. Carson Meyer and Tyler Sikura scored power-play goals just over three minutes apart to even the score at 2-2. Later in the stanza, a dump pass took a weird bounce into the slot where Kole Sherwood quickly shot it past an out-of-position Pat Nagle for the eventual game-winner goal.
Sherwood added his second of the game and third of the season by scoring off a rebound early in the third period. Tarasov stopped all 20 shots he faced in the final two periods to allow his team to make a comeback.
“Everyone is rolling,” Sherwood said after the big victory. “It was nice for Tarasov to get a win tonight in his first game in North America. We’re playing a good brand of hockey, keeping it simple, believing in ourselves and it’s taking us where we are today.
The Wolves took down their intra-state rival for their sixth straight victory. They have used five different goaltenders during this six-game stretch, with Saturday night’s starter, Devin Cooley, the only one to make two starts.
Dylan McLaughlin opened the scoring at 7:33 of the first period. Chicago defenseman Max Lajoie made an ill-advised pass to the middle of the ice where it was mishandled and turned over to McLaughlin in the slot and he snapped it past Cooley for his fourth goal of the season. Six minutes later, Dominik Bokk tied the game with a one-timer from the slot off a nice pass by Sean Malone. It was Bokk’s fifth goal in the last seven games.
David Cotton gave Chicago a 2-1 lead early in the second period just moments after a successful penalty kill with a goal from just below the right dot. Later in the frame, the Wolves got caught in a line change and it cost them the lead. Nicolas Beaudin made a stretch pass down the ice, then D.J. Busdecker forwarded the puck to Josiah Slavin, who tapped it over the goal line for his second tally in as many AHL games. Tanner Jeannot extended his goal-scoring streak to seven straight games with a power-play goal in the final minute to give the Wolves a 3-2 lead.
The IceHogs had quite a few quality looks during the third period, but Cooley came up huge to keep his team ahead. Cole Smith’s empty-net goal in the final minute wrapped up Chicago’s sixth straight victory.
“Obviously, the result is great,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said. “I thought our goaltender was outstanding and kept us in the game. We did some really good things, things we talked about throughout the week. But we also made some big-time mistakes that need to be corrected. Again, the result was good, but there is a lot of teaching to be done.”
Iowa traveled to Cedar Park, TX, for their four-game series with the Stars with just five wins in their first 16 games. They headed home with eight victories after winning their third straight game over their rivals from the Lone Star State.
Will Bitten got the Wild on the scoreboard first, midway through the opening frame, but cashing in off a Mitch McLain rebound. Addison had the secondary assist on Bitten’s first goal to extend his personal point streak to five games. Damien Giroux’s fifth goal of the season doubled the lead just 23 seconds later. However, the Stars had a quick response as Adam Mascherin scored his team-high 12th goal to cap off a three-goal surge in just 51 seconds.
The Wild scored three second-period goals to build a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes. In reverse roles from the game’s opening goal, McLain scored off a Bitten rebound to give Iowa a two-goal advantage. Later in the frame, Misely took advantage of another rebound for his first professional goal. Burton finished off the period with a goal from the top of the left circle, his third. Iowa outshot the Stars 25-4 during the middle frame.
Julius Honka scored his first goal of the season with just over five minutes to play, but it was far too late for Texas to mount a serious comeback. The Wild won the final three games of the series and earned seven out of a possible eight points.
“It was a tough series,” Honka said after another loss. “It wasn’t the result we wanted. It’s tough when you focus on the games, prepare and be ready to battle and then get a result like that. It’s good that we have a lot of games coming up and we can focus on being better.”
Weekend’s Top Performer
After a very tough start to his professional career, Jones is starting to settle in and show why the Minnesota Wild drafted him in the second round (59th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. A major factor of his early-season struggles was the team in front of him wasn’t the greatest due to a rash of injuries at the NHL level.
Jones came up huge over the weekend as Iowa took three out of four from the Stars. In his back-to-back starts, he gave up just two goals on 60 shots and picked up his first professional shutout on Friday night. While his overall numbers don’t look great, the former Peterborough Pete has a .969 save percentage over his last three starts.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 14-2-0-1, 29 pts
Stars – 10-9-2-0, 22 pts
Wild – 8-9-3-0, 19 pts
Griffins – 8-6-2-0, 18 pts
Monsters – 8-5-1-0, 17 pts
IceHogs – 6-12-1-0, 13 pts
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Tuesday, April 6: Stars @ Colorado Eagles
Wednesday, April 7: Wolves @ IceHogs, Stars @ Eagles