AHL Central News: Wolves Continue Road Domination

We are sprinting towards the holiday season and turning over the calendar to 2022. In between shopping for loved ones, the seven teams of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central division kept themselves busy on the ice. The top team continues to prove to be the measuring stick of the division, while a pair of squads that started slowly are creeping back into contention. So, let’s get you caught up with all the happenings.

Off-Ice Business

On Monday, the first-place Chicago Wolves signed defenseman Eric Williams to a professional tryout (PTO). He has two goals and eight points in 20 games for the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL.

Monday was a busy day for the Grand Rapids Griffins. First, the Detroit Red Wings recalled defenseman Dan Renouf and reassigned blueliner Seth Barton to Grand Rapids. In addition, goaltender Kaden Fulcher was reassigned to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL, and netminder Victor Brattstrom was recalled to Grand Rapids.

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Later that day, defenseman Luke Witkowski was hit with a two-game suspension after a charging incident during the Dec. 4 game versus the Rockford IceHogs. However, he was recalled by the Red Wings on Tuesday. He was eventually returned to Grand Rapids on Friday.

Also, on Tuesday, leading scorer Kyle Criscuolo headed up to Detroit for the second time this season. He was reassigned back to the AHL on Saturday. On Wednesday, the Griffins signed forward Max Humitz to his third PTO of the season. They signed center Josh Dickinson and defenseman Randy Gazzola to PTOs on Friday.

Kyle Criscuolo Grand Rapids Griffins
Criscuolo traveled between Detroit and Grand Rapids. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Iowa Wild’s hectic week started on Monday when Mason Shaw was recalled by the Minnesota Wild. He was reassigned to the AHL on Sunday. Iowa recalled forward Kris Bennett from the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL to take Shaw’s roster spot. Defenseman Dakota Mermis missed Wednesday’s game in Rockford after earning a one-game suspension for actions in last Sunday’s game versus the Wolves.

After their successful weekend against the Griffins, the Manitoba Moose welcomed back defenseman Ville Heinola, who was reassigned by the Winnipeg Jets.

The Milwaukee Admirals lost some key players to the NHL this week. The Nashville Predators recalled forward Matt Luff and defenseman Ben Harpur, the latter on loan for a conditioning stint on Monday. They recalled goaltender Connor Ingram the following day. Finally, on Wednesday, the Admirals recalled goaltender Parker Gahagen from the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. Forward Zach Solow was loaned to Florida in a corresponding move.

The Rockford IceHogs have been slowly moving up the Central Division standings. They had plenty of action off the ice to go with their two wins. On Monday, they revealed goaltender Arvid Soderblom and defenseman Jakub Galvas had entered concussion protocol. The Chicago Blackhawks recalled forwards Mike Hardman and Philipp Kurashev on Wednesday.

Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks
Kurashev is back in Chicago. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In return, defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk and Ian Mitchell were reassigned to Rockford. On Saturday, the IceHogs required the services of forward Riley McKay and called him up from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Finally, the Blackhawks recalled forwards Brett Connolly and MacKenzie Entwistle on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Dallas Stars loaned goaltender Ben Bishop to the Texas Stars as he tried to make a comeback from a knee injury. On Friday, forward Yauheni Aksiantsiuk was reassigned to the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads.

The Week in Review

Monday, Dec. 6

Griffins 4, Cleveland Monsters 1

The Griffins made the trip to Cleveland to take on the Monsters in a rare Monday night game. For the second straight outing, Grand Rapids rode a big first period to victory, their fifth win in their last seven road games.

Criscuolo wasted little time in extending his point streak to seven games by scoring the games’ first goal at 4:26. He took a feed from Jonatan Berggren and beat veteran goaltender Jean-Francios Berube over the shoulder with a one-timer. Riley Barber doubled the lead just shy of the halfway point of the period by beating Berube to the far post while falling down. With less than five minutes left in the opening frame, defenseman Wyatt Newpower hit the post, but Turner Elson was perfectly positioned to put home the rebound.

The Monsters found their footing in the second period and threw 16 shots at goaltender Calvin Pickard. Late in the frame, Tyler Sikura got the home team on the board with a wrist shot from the slot. Newpower sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in the final minute of the game. Criscuolo had an assist to give him 14 points during his seven-game scoring streak. Pickard made 35 saves for his ninth win of the season.

Wednesday, Dec. 8

Laval Rocket 3, Moose 2

The Moose closed out their three-game trip through eastern Canada with a mid-week stop in Laval to take on the Montreal Canadiens‘ farm club.

They appeared to be heading into the first intermission in a scoreless tie, but the Rocket got on the board with 56 seconds left. Alex Belzile used a screen in front of Mikhail Berdin to score his third goal of the season.

In the middle frame, Jeff Malott evened things up with a power-play goal. Goaltender Cayden Primeau couldn’t hold onto Greg Meireles’ initial shot, and Malott was in the perfect spot to sweep home the puck for his sixth goal.

Jeff Malott Manitoba Moose
Malott has six goals on the season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Mattias Norlinder put Laval back on top with a power-play goal late in the period. His shot through heavy traffic found its way into the back of the net for his first career AHL goal.

Kevin Roy gave the Rocket a 3-1 lead by finishing a 2-on-1 rush less than six minutes into the third period. The Moose came on strong as the final stanza wound down. David Gustafsson scored his sixth goal of the season with 1:24 remaining, but that was as close as Manitoba would get. Primeau made 39 saves to snap the Moose’s four-game winning streak.

“They’re hard on the body,” forward Kristian Reichel said of the Rocket. “They skate and finish their checks. I think we have a good team to play with. We were just a little bit short. They scored one more goal than we did, that’s it. I think it was just a tough game for us. We have a Friday game against Grand Rapids, and we need to regroup and be ready.”

IceHogs 4, Wild 3 (SO)

Rockford opened a three-game homestand by hosting the Wild. They used some late-game heroics to get their first win in four tries over their rivals to the west.

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell got things going just 47 seconds after the opening faceoff. His third goal of the season was the fastest scored from the start of the game for Rockford this season. Nate Sucese tied the game late in the period with his first goal of the season from the right circle.

Just over a minute into the second period, Dominic Turgeon’s wraparound attempt was stopped by Collin Delia, but Nick Swaney pounded home the rebound to give Iowa a 2-1 lead. Defenseman Turner Ottenbriet’s first goal of the season doubled their advantage about six minutes later. DJ Busdecker drew the IceHogs to within a goal just before the second intermission to put some life back into the building.

The IceHogs got a lucky break to force overtime. With less than two minutes left in regulation, Kalynuk’s shot hit off two Iowa defenders before making its way in behind goaltender Dereck Baribeau. After a scoreless overtime session, Andrei Altybarmakian and Alexander Nylander scored for Rockford in the shootout, while Delia stopped all three Iowa attempts. Defenseman Ian Mitchell had an assist on all three IceHogs’ goals in regulation.

“It was nice to get the win,” Ian Mitchell said after the game. “We’re battling with that team in the standings and for playoff positioning. It was big to get the upper hand on those guys today.”

Thursday, Dec. 9

Wolves 8, Stars 4

The Stars were hoping to get a boost with Bishop in net for the first time in 15 months. However, the former three-time Vezina Trophy finalist was lit up for eight goals by the top team in the Central Division.

A fast and furious first period saw a flurry of goals right off the bat. C.J. Smith started his huge night by putting the Wolves up 1-0 just 33 seconds into the contest. Just over two minutes later, Josh Melnick scored a shorthanded breakaway goal to tie the game up. Chicago answered 18 seconds later, while still on the power play when captain Andrew Poturalski became the first Wolves player to score 10 goals this season. The Stars had another quick response as Riley Damiani finished off a 2-on-0 rush 31 seconds later. Jack Drury cashed in off a rebound for his fifth goal of the season to give the Wolves a 3-2 lead. Late in the period, Anthony Louis stayed hot by tying the game with a one-timer from the left circle.

Ben Bishop Dallas Stars
Bishop gave it one last shot on Thursday. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the second straight period, Smith scored in the opening minute. This time, he only needed 24 seconds to put Chicago up 4-3. However, the Stars erased another one-goal deficit when Ty Dellanadrea scored on the power play about 10 minutes later. The Wolves took the lead for good just over a minute later with Josh Leivo’s power-play tally. Less than two minutes after that, defenseman Joey Keane’s second goal of the season increased the lead to 6-4. Smith completed his second career AHL hat trick just before the second intermission by scoring on a backhand off a great wraparound feed from Dominik Bokk.

Leivo’s second goal of the night was the lone tally of the third period. He had three assists to cap off his first career five-point game. Poturalski, the AHL’s leading scorer, also had three assists to go with his goal.

“It was a lot of fun to be back out there,” the veteran Bishop said. “I would have liked a different result, but it’s been a long process to get back and play again. Obviously, there is still some work to be done. I was a little rusty, but it felt really nice to be back.”

Unfortunately, this was the final game of Bishop’s career as he announced his retirement on Saturday.

Friday, Dec. 10

Moose 4, Griffins 2

The Moose returned home to start a two-game set with Grand Rapids and used a huge third period to get back in the win column.

After a scoreless first period, Tyler Spezia scored on a breakaway 1:16 into the middle frame to give the Griffins a 1-0 lead. Ten minutes later, Dickinson made a nice first impression with a no-look pass to set up Elson’s seventh goal of the season. The Moose outshot the Griffins 20-6 during the second period but found themselves down a pair of goals.

Cole Maier started Manitoba’s comeback with a goal just over two minutes into the final frame. Mikey Eyssimont, who set up Maier’s goal, knocked home a rebound off a Maier shot to tie the game about five minutes later. Gustafsson’s seventh goal of the season gave the Moose their first lead of the night with less than four minutes to play. Reichel’s late empty-net goal iced the game. Rookie goaltender Arvid Holm made 14 saves to improve the Moose’s record following a loss to 6-0-1-0.

Mikey Eyssimont Manitoba Moose
Eyssimont had two points on Friday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“I think the nicest part of the comeback was that we didn’t need to make many adjustments,” said Maier during his postgame presser. “It was just sticking with what we knew. With the second period, there wasn’t any put this guy here or do anything crazy. We just had to stick with it, trust ourselves, and everything worked out for us.”

Admirals 4, Wild 3 (SO)

The Admirals hosted the Wild for the first of two games featuring two teams going in opposite directions. Milwaukee is finally trending in the right direction after a miserable start, while Iowa has been falling down the standings the last couple of weeks.

The home team jumped out to a 2-0 lead just after the midway point of the first period. Graham Knott got his second goal with the Admirals when his shot hit off a defender’s leg and got in behind goaltender Hunter Jones. Former Wild forward Mitch McLain doubled the lead less than a minute later. Kyle Rau got Iowa on the board shortly thereafter by scoring a power-play goal off a rebound from an Adam Beckman shot.

About six minutes into the middle period, Admirals netminder Devin Cooley served up another rebound that was put back by Joseph Cramarossa to tie the game. Cramasrossa then set up Alexander Khovanov’s first career AHL goal, which came on the power play, with just over five minutes to play.

Milwaukee used some late-game dramatics to force overtime and ultimately win the game. With less than two minutes to play, defenseman Matt Tennyson beat Jones over his left shoulder to even the score with his third goal of the season. Calen Addison and Jeremy Davies dropped the gloves early in overtime, but Addison was nailed with an instigating penalty that put Milwaukee on a 4-on-3 power play. A few moments later, Cody Glass fired a wrist shot through the legs of Jones to give the Admirals the come-from-behind victory.

Related – Glass & Predators Benefitting From Patience

“I think in the first period, we got everything we wanted out of it; we played a mature game,” Admirals’ head coach Karl Taylor said. “I thought we played an immature game in the second period. We started turning pucks over late in shifts, which is not a good recipe for success. We got what we deserved in both of those periods. I liked how resilient we were and how we were able to stay focused on the task at hand.”

Henderson Silver Knights 5, IceHogs 0

The IceHogs welcomed the Silver Knights for the first-ever meeting between these two teams. However, Henderson still has a few familiar faces from when the Vegas Golden Knights were paired with Chicago.

The Silver Knights had the lone goal of the opening frame after gaining momentum from two big penalty kills. A bouncing puck found defenseman Daniil Miromanov in the right circle, where he seemed to surprise Delia with a quick shot on net. Former Wolves Gage Quinney and Reid Duke had the assists on Miromanov’s third goal of the season.

Henderson doubled their advantage less than two minutes into the second period when Pavel Dorofeyev ripped a one-timer from the right dot home for his team-leading seventh goal of the season. The Silver Knights used a pair of special teams goals to blow the game wide open late in the stanza. First, Maxim Marushev converted on a penalty shot after being hooked on a shorthanded breakaway. Moments later, Paul Cotter scored his fifth goal of the season with just 16.9 seconds remaining while on a power play.

The physicality ramped up during the final 20 minutes. Jermaine Loewen’s third goal of the season was the lone tally of the period. A total of 30 penalty minutes were dished out, including a misconduct for abuse of officials to IceHogs defenseman Nicolas Beaudin, while Kalynuk received a match penalty for a check to the head.

“I thought we had a pretty good start,” said Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell. “That’s the frustrating thing; we played pretty well. We give up the power-play goal, and the penalty shot, and then it’s a whole different game. The best part of this is that we have the exact same team tomorrow.”

Saturday, Dec. 11

Moose 3, Griffins 2

The Moose won their fourth straight home game over the Griffins with a one-goal victory in Saturday’s rematch.

Late in the first period, Haralds Egle, who had two assists the previous night, started the scoring by dancing the puck around Pickard for his first goal of the season. Defenseman Leon Gawanke doubled the Manitoba lead just over a minute later with a goal from the high slot.

Eight minutes into the second period, Barber scored to cut the lead down to 2-1. The goal extended his point streak to three games and was his 50th career point with the Griffins.

Riley Barber Grand Rapids Griffins
Barber has points in three straight games. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The penalty-kill unit were the heroes for the Moose in the third period. They killed off a four-minute Austin Poganski high-sticking penalty early in the frame. While on that kill, Reichel scored his second shorthanded goal of the season in what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Just over a minute later, Elson scored a shorthanded goal of his own to draw the Griffins to within a goal, but they couldn’t get the equalizer.

“I think our team has really good chemistry,” Reichel said after the win. “We were rolling six, eight guys, and we all know what to expect from each other. We’re playing fast, we don’t extend our shifts. It’s really nice to get a game-winning goal on that play. We killed the big penalty, and it’s something that will help you for the next game and our confidence. I’m happy for the team that we scored that goal.”

Admirals 4, Wild 2

Milwaukee used another solid performance to sweep the weekend series with the rivals from Iowa to continue to dig out of the early season hole they put themselves in.

Michael McCarron scored off a rebound to give the Admirals a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the game. Less than six minutes late, Grant Mismash beat Baribeau with a wrist shot to double the advantage. Iowa had an answer as they tied the game before the first intermission. Marco Rossi scored a power-play goal off a one-timer to begin the comeback. In the final minute of the frame, Adam Beckman, who assisted on the Rossi tally, evened the score at 2-2 with his fourth goal of the season.

Rocco Grimaldi had the lone goal of the second period. The veteran winger used a spin-o-rama move at the bottom of the left circle to fire home a backhand shot for his eighth AHL goal this season.

Captain Cole Schneider gave the Admirals some breathing room with a goal about seven minutes into the third period. Ingram made 23 saves to push Milwaukee’s winning streak to a season-high four games.

“We’re a work in progress,” Taylor admitted postgame. “But I believe we’re heading in the right direction. From our perspective, we are going to enjoy this one.

IceHogs 2, Silver Knights 1

Rockford got their revenge in Saturday’s rematch with Henderson as they earned a hard-fought victory while brightening up the holiday season for kids across the community.

For the second straight night, the IceHogs got off to a good start, but it was the Silver Knights who struck first. Jake Leschyshyn beat netminder Cale Morris to the glove hand with less than two minutes remaining in the first period. However, Carson Gicewicz tied the game with his third goal of the season just 43 seconds later. A record 4,753 teddy bears and stuffed animals rained down onto the ice. They were collected and will be distributed to children’s hospitals and families in need in the Rockford area.  

The game remained even through the second period. Ian Mitchell broke the tie just 18 seconds into the third period with his third goal for the IceHogs. Silver Knights’ goaltender Logan Thompson was the hard-luck loser after making 40 saves. Morris stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced to earn his first AHL win of the season and third of his career.

Wolves 4, Stars 3 (OT)

The Stars had their best effort of the week on Saturday, but it was only good enough to earn a single point as the Wolves stayed scorching hot.

Fresh off his four-point night on Thursday, Poturalski opened the scoring early in the first period with his league-leading fifth power-play goal of the season. Dellandrea finished a 2-on-1 rush to even up the score with under four minutes to play in the opening frame.

Texas native Stefan Noesen put Chicago up 2-1 about five minutes into the second period. Damiani responded three minutes later by beating goaltender Alex Lyon with a one-timer to even up the score.

Andrew Poturalski Chicago Wolves
Poturalski leads the AHL in scoring. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Midway through the third period, Smith put the Wolves up 3-2 shortly after Poturalski forced a turnover. Once again, the Stars responded as captain Curtis McKenzie scored a power-play goal with less than three minutes to play. This was the veteran forward’s 500th professional, 132 of which came in a Wolves uniform.

“I had chills,” McKenzie said of the moment. “I just love it here so much, I’m so lucky to get back here and play another couple years. It’s just been a great time down in Texas, and we’re very happy to be here with our family.”

In overtime, Poturalski completed his second straight four-point effort by setting up Noesen’s game-winning one-timer. Lyon made 27 saves to win his fourth consecutive start.

Sunday, Dec. 12

Wolves 7, Stars 2

The Stars will be happy to see the Wolves get on a plane and leave the Lone Star state after they swept their three-game series this past week.

Texas took their first lead of the series against the Wolves just 46 seconds into the game. Defenseman Ben Gleason danced the puck around Noesen in the slot before firing a wrist shot home for his third goal of the season. Unfortunately, this was as good as it would get for the home squad.

When you’re hot, the bounces always seem to go your, way as we saw with the Wolves’ first goal. Late in the first period, Adam Scheel stopped Drury’s shot attempt, but Joseph Cecconi knocked the puck over the goal line while trying to put it back under his goaltender.

The contest remained tied until Noesen added two more goals in his home state late in the second period. His first goal came on a breakaway started by a pass from Poturalski. The second was scored off a rebound while on the power play.

Shortly after the Wolves killed off a 5-on-3 power play that lasted nearly two minutes, defenseman Josh Jacobs redirected Smith’s shot to go up 4-1. Drury finished a passing play with Leivo by depositing a backhand shot past Scheel about seven minutes later. Colton Point came into the contest to replace Scheel at this point.

Rhett Gardner cut the lead down to 5-2 by converting on a penalty shot. However, Poturalski scored on the power play just over a minute later. Spencer Smallman capped off the scoring 23 seconds later after Point mishandled the puck. Rookie netminder Eetu Makiniemi made 26 stops to improve his record to 10-2-1. He is just the second goaltender in the AHL to record at least 10 wins.

“We’re obviously not happy with the outcomes,” Dellandrea said after Sunday’s defeat. “If we can take anything out of the weekend, it’s last night’s (Saturday) game. There were a lot of positives, but we got away from that again tonight. So, we have to figure out how to keep playing like we did last night all the time.”

Who’s Hot

The Wolves are riding their nine-game winning streak to the top of the Central Division standings. Only the Stockton Heat and Utica Comets have a higher points percentage than Chicago does right now. A significant factor in this has been their success on the road. With their pair of wins in Iowa last week, the Wolves swept a five-game road trip for the first time in their 28-year franchise history. They are 12-1-0-0 away from the Allstate Arena and are in the midst of their second six-game road winning streak already this season.

The Moose are trying to keep pace with Chicago, which is not an easy task these days. Gawanke tied his career-high with his fourth goal of the season on Sunday. He also leads all Moose defensemen with 15 points (4G, 11A) in 23 games.

Leon Gawanke Manitoba Moose
Gawanke is producing from the blue line. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Damiani had a nine-game point streak before being held off the scoresheet on Sunday. He led Texas with 25 assists and 36 points as a rookie last season. He leads the team in goals (7), assists (11), and points (18) through the first 21 games this season.

The Week’s Top Performer

Poturalski will be hard to beat in the race for the AHL MVP. He just completed a 10-point week that saw him rack up three goals and seven assists in Texas. He was named the AHL’s Player of the Week on Monday, becoming the first Wolves player to ever win this honor twice in the same season, and it’s not even Christmas yet.

His 12 goals are tied with Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries and Rochester’s Michael Mersch for the most in the league. Poturalski is looking for his second straight AHL scoring title, and he leads all players with 22 assists and 34 points.

Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, Dec. 14
Admirals @ Wild

Thursday, Dec. 16
Moose @ Wolves

Friday, Dec. 17
Moose @ Wild, Wolves @ Admirals, IceHogs @ Stars

Saturday, Dec. 18
Toronto Marlies @ Griffins, Moose @ Wild, Admirals @ Wolves, IceHogs @ Stars

Sunday, Dec. 19
Marlies @ Griffins

Central Division Standings

Wolves 17-4-1-1 (36 pts, .783%)
Moose 15-7-1-0 (31 pts, .674%)
IceHogs 10-9-1-1 (22 pts, .524%)
Wild 9-9-2-0 (21 pts, .500%)
Griffins 9-10-2-1 (21 pts, .477%)
Admirals 9-12-1-0 (19 pts, .432%)
Stars 7-10-3-1 (18 pts, .429%)

(Standings determined by points percentage, top five teams qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs)

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