AHL Central News: Wolves Back in the Driver’s Seat

The American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division had a busy weekend with five of its six teams in action. The first-place Chicago Wolves bounced back to continue their dominance of the Iowa Wild. The Texas Stars had their winning streak snapped, and the Rockford IceHogs continued their improved play.

Off-Ice Business

The Wolves got some good news on Friday morning as Tanner Jeannot was returned from the Nashville Predators. He was able to join the team for their weekend series in Iowa, which turned out to be awful news for the Wild.

The Cleveland Monsters did not have a game after Friday’s tilt at the Rochester Americans was postponed. However, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed former Clarkson University captain Josh Dunne to a two-year entry-level contract. He was quickly assigned to the Monsters.

Before the weekend kicked off, the Detroit Red Wings reassigned forward Evgeny Svechnikov to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He appeared in four NHL games with the Red Wings and scored two goals and four points, so his return to the AHL was a bit of a surprise.

Evgeny Svechnikov Grand Rapids Griffins
Svechnikov returned to the Griffins. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Iowa signed forward Bryce Misley to an amateur tryout contract (ATO). He just closed out his college career at the University of Vermont, where is scored eight goals and 22 points in 109 games. The Minnesota Wild originally drafted him in the fourth round (116th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Weekend Recap

Friday, March 12

Stars 4, Colorado Eagles 2

The Stars started their four-game series with the Eagles by getting off to a fast start and making it last for their fifth straight win.

Josh Melnick opened the scoring just 34 seconds into the game as he beat goaltender Adam Werner to the glove side for his third goal of the season. Just over three minutes later, Cole Schneider and Joseph Cecconi completed a couple of nice passes to set up Tye Felhaber at the side of the net for an easy tap-in goal, his fourth. AHL veteran Mike Vecchione got Colorado on the board later in the period with a power-play goal off a deflection.

After a scoreless second period, rookie Jake Slaker intercepted a pass at center ice the fired home his second career AHL goal from the right circle to increase the Texas lead to 3-1. Less than three minutes later, the Eagles got back to within a goal as Mikka Salomaki scored on a breakaway. The scoring ended the same way it started, with a Melnick goal as his second of the night was of the empty-net variety in the final seconds.

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Goaltender Landon Bow made 25 saves for the victory in his first game action in any league since March 11, 2020. He had been up with the Dallas Stars on their taxi squad since the start of the AHL season.

“The first period was a big change,” Bow said after the game. “Everything at the beginning of the year has just been practices, so I didn’t know how that was going to correlate to a game. I’ve putting in the work, and I felt pretty good out there after the first couple of minutes and shaking the rust off my legs.”

Saturday, March 13

Rockford IceHogs 2, Griffins 1 (OT)

IceHogs goaltender Matt Tomkins entered this game coming off his best performance of the season and topped it by making a career-high 42 saves to give Rockford their third win in their last four games.

Tomkins made 30 of those saves through the first two periods to keep the game scoreless heading into the final frame. Just over two minutes into the third period, Kyle Criscuolo opened the scoring with his fifth goal by deflecting a Taro Hirose shot into the Rockford net. The IceHogs got their only power play of the night about five minutes later and took advantage of it when Matej Chalupa blasted home his fourth goal from the right circle.

Kyle Criscuolo Grand Rapids Griffins
Criscuolo has five goals on the season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins established some early pressure in overtime, but when Givani Smith’s shot went wide, it led to a 2-on-1 rush going the other way. Dylan McLaughlin, who assisted on Chalupa’s goal, and beat goaltender Kevin Boyle for the IceHogs’ first win over the Griffins in four tries this season. The goal was McLaughlin’s first of the season and third in 44 career AHL games.

“Tomkins was the best player on the ice tonight. Guys almost knew that Matt had their backs,” IceHogs head coach Derek King said. “Definitely gives us confidence when Matt plays like that. We don’t need to take chances. I thought we did a better job in the third period through the neutral zone to slow them down a bit. They are a very good team.”

Wolves 4, Wild 0

Chicago improved to 3-0 versus Iowa on the season thanks to a great performance by their special teams and goaltender Beck Warm.

After a scoreless first period, Dominik Bokk scored his second goal of the season with a wrist shot from the left circle, three minutes into the middle frame. Jeannot scored just 10 seconds into a power play to double the lead by redirecting a Tommy Novak shot behind goaltender Hunter Jones.

The Wolves needed just seven seconds of an early third-period power play to increase the lead to 3-0. This time, Novak scored from the left circle shortly after winning the initial faceoff of the power play. Sheldon Rempal finished the scoring by jumping out of the penalty box, deking around a defender, and depositing a backhand shot for his first Wolves goal.

Tommy Novak Chicago Wolves
Novak leads the Wolves in scoring. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Warm made 31 saves to earn his first professional shutout. The Wolves scored twice on five power-play opportunities and killed off all seven of their penalties.  

Eagles 5, Stars 3

Texas and Colorado had a quick turnaround as they were right back on the ice Saturday night. The Eagles returned the favor with a huge first period. Vecchione started the scoring with a power-play goal less than five minutes into the opening frame. This was followed up by goals from Ian Scheid and T.J. Tynan just over a minute apart. Miles Gendron scored his first AHL goal to cap off the four-goal onslaught before the first intermission.

Bow was pulled after the Gendron goal and was replaced by Tomas Sholl, but he returned for the second period and stopped all 17 shots he faced over the final 40 minutes.

Riley Damiani started his big night with his fourth goal of the season midway through the second period. He scored a second goal, with Bow on the bench for an extra attacker, with less than five minutes to play. He completed a natural hat trick in the final minute of the play. Nick Baptiste had the primary assist on all three of Damiani’s goals. However, three seconds after cutting the lead to 4-3, Liam O’Brien scored an empty-net goal to ice the game for the Eagles.

“It feels good to score a hat trick, but, at the same time, you want the win,” Damiani said in his postgame interview. “Spotting them four in the first is definitely a hole that you dig yourself. I thought in the second and third; we were pretty good. Their goalie stood on his head and made a lot of big saves. If we played with that same urgency we had in the last five minutes, the whole 60, I think we come out on top.”

Sunday, March 14

Wolves 6, Wild 2

The Wolves gave the Wild more of the same in Sunday’s rematch as they dictated play for much of the afternoon. Chicago has won the first four of eight scheduled games between these teams and outscored Iowa 24-5.

Bokk scored the Wolves’ opening goal for the third straight game with another power-play tally by getting to the front of the net and swiping home a rebound. Damien Giroux, who was in the penalty box for the Bokk goal, tied the game later in the period. He was able to locate a loose puck below the left circle and roofed a shot over Jeremy Helvig for his third goal of the season. The Wolves struck on another power play in the final minute of the opening period. David Warsofsky, the younger brother of head coach Ryan Warsofsky, blasted home a shot from the point for his first goal with Chicago.

Dominik Bokk Chicago Wolves
Bokk has goals in three straight games. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Wolves’ penalty-kill unit came up big again early in the second period. While killing off their first penalty of the day, Jeannot raced up the right boards before driving hard to the net and stuffing the puck past Hunter Jones for Chicago’s AHL-leading fourth shorthanded. The lead was increased to 4-1 three minutes later when Lukas Craggs spotted defenseman Max Lajoie joining the rush and scored his second goal of the season from the left circle.

Gerry Mayhew, last seasons’ AHL MVP, cut the Wolves lead down to 4-2 late in the second period. Playing in just his second AHL game of the season, he scored his first goal by entering the zone and firing a shot off the near post and in from the left faceoff dot.

Josh Healey was credited with his second career goal in 150 AHL games early in the third period. Jones had no clue his shot off the post was laying behind him, and he kicked it over the goal line while scrambling in the crease. Phil Tomasino scored Chicago’s third power-play goal of the day with a shot that hit off the crossbar then the back of Jones before going into the net.

Warsofsky became the fastest head coach in Wolves franchise history to get 10 wins, doing so in just 13 games. Also, Helvig became the sixth goaltender to start his Wolves career with four straight wins, something Warm accomplished earlier this season.

The Weekend’s Top Performer

The Wolves have had a lot of roster turnover the last couple of weeks between call-ups to the NHL and players returning to juniors. Jeannot’s absence while he was with Nashville, was probably the one that hurt the most. He has always been known for playing a gritty and physical style of hockey, and this season he has added high-level offensive production to his game.

In his return to the Chicago lineup, Jeannot had a pair of goals and five points in the two-game series at Iowa. He now has five goals and 13 points in eight AHL games this season. He had five goals and 20 points with the Milwaukee Admirals in 57 games in 2019-20.

Central Division Standings

Wolves – 10-2-0-1, 21 pts

Stars – 8-4-0-0, 16 pts

Griffins – 6-3-1-0, 13 pts

Monsters – 4-3-1-0, 9 pts

IceHogs – 4-8-1-0, 9 pts

Wild – 3-5-2-0, 8 pts

Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule

Tuesday, March 16: IceHogs @ Griffins, Eagles @ Stars

Wednesday, March 17: Eagles @ Stars

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