The American Hockey League’s Central Division gave us a little bit of everything last week. We had some overtime thrillers, epic comebacks and even a forfeit. The top three teams have put some space between themselves and the rest of the division, but the remaining five teams continue to jockey for position.
Admirals Return to Winning Ways
The Milwaukee Admirals (26-7-4-2) won two of their three games last week to add to their lead in the Central Division. They now have an 11-point cushion on the rest of the division and have five points more than any other AHL team.
The Admirals were back home on Wednesday night where they lost a hard-fought 3-2 decision to the Grand Rapids Griffins. This marked the first time all season where they have lost back-to-back games in regulation. The Admirals have just seven regulation losses on the season and three of them have come at the hands of the Griffins.
Things started off well when Daniel Carr opened the scoring by taking a feed from Freddy Gaudreau in the slot and hammering it home for his 14th goal of the season. The Griffins tied the game in the final minute of the opening period as a shot from the point deflected off one of their defender’s stick and got in behind Connor Ingram.
The Admirals regained the lead early in the second period when Carr’s shot went wide and bounced right to Steven Santini in the right circle. His shot hit off the goaltender’s mask and rested on the goal line before it was pushed in by his skate. The Griffins tied the game about six minutes later and took a 3-2 lead with a shorthanded goal late in the middle frame.
The third period saw the Admirals outshoot the Griffins 10-5, but they could not tie the game, even with pulling Ingram with over two minutes to play for a 6-on-5 advantage.
The Rockford IceHogs made their first visit to the Panther Arena on Friday night and the Admirals got back into the win column with a 2-0 win.
Both of the Admirals’ goals were scored in a similar fashion as they were the first to get to a loose puck during a scramble in front of the IceHogs’ net. Rem Pitlick scored the only goal Milwaukee would need, late in the first period, by swatting home his 12th goal of the season. Tommy Novak finished off another mad scramble and gave the Admirals an insurance goal with less than three minutes to play.
Goaltender Troy Grosenick stopped all 24 shots he saw for his second shutout of the season. He is now 14-3-2 on the season.
“Their team plays hard,” head coach Karl Taylor said of the IceHogs. “They’re very aggressive. They put a lot of pressure on where the puck is and try to create turnovers. For the most part, we managed it. I didn’t like our second period, but I thought our first and third were decent.”
Saturday’s rematch with the IceHogs was supposed to take place at 6 p.m. local time, but the start time was moved up to 1 p.m. due to an incoming winter storm. The earlier start did not affect the Admirals as they swept the weekend series with a 2-1 overtime victory.
The IceHogs scored their lone goal of the week late in the first period to grab a 1-0 lead. They held on to their one-goal advantage until the Admirals struck on an early third-period power play. Novak fed the puck to Pitlick in the right circle where he blasted home a one-timer for his second goal in less than 24 hours.
In overtime, Gaudreau won the game on the first shift of overtime when his backhand shot hit off the back of an IceHogs player and bounced into the net. The win was the Admirals’ 26th on the season. They didn’t get their 26th win last season until March 13.
Player of the Week
As the Admirals have had to deal with some key players being called up to Nashville or injured, Gaudreau has picked up his game. He and Carr both finished the week with a goal and three assists, but his overtime winner gives him the edge. In his last eight games, Gaudreau has three goals and seven points, doubling his season total as of Dec. 20.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Jan. 14 @ IceHogs; Wednesday, Jan 15 vs Chicago Wolves; Saturday, Jan. 18 @ Wolves
Wild Split Week in California
The Iowa Wild (21-13-3-2) got to enjoy a week in southern California, but they did not find the Golden State to be very welcoming. They earned just three out of a possible six points and remain in second place, 11 points behind the Admirals.
Before the Wild headed out west for a few days in California, the Minnesota Wild recalled both goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and defenseman Matt Bartkowski. In a corresponding move, Iowa recalled goaltender Dereck Baribeau from the Allen Americans of the ECHL. Baribeau has a 1-2-0 record with a 3.44 goals-against average (GAA) and a .875 save percentage (SV%) in four AHL games this season.
Sam Anas and the Wild picked up right where they left off last week in a 3-2 victory at the San Diego Gulls on Wednesday night.
After a scoreless first period, the Gulls took a 1-0 lead early in the second period when Blake Pietila scored off a rebound. Anas scored his 10th goal of the season, less than two minutes later, to tie the game and extend his point streak to six games. Gerry Mayhew picked up an assist on the play to extend his point streak to nine games.
Anas struck again later the middle frame to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. Nico Sturm pushed his point streak to five straight games with an assist on the play. Sam Carrick evened things up a couple of minutes later to send the game into the third period tied at 2-2. The Wild had 24 shots on goal during the second period, setting a franchise for the most shots in a single period.
Mitch McLain scored the game-winning goal midway through the final frame by snapping a shot off the crossbar and in. Goaltender Mat Robson picked up his first career AHL assist on the play. The Wild outshot the Gulls 42-20 but failed to score a power-play goal for the first time since Dec. 28.
The Wild fell short in sweeping the two-game set in San Diego, but they earned a point in Friday night’s 4-3 overtime loss.
Mayhew scored his AHL-leading 24th goal of the season to give the Wild a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. The power-play goal extended his point streak to 10 games, tying a franchise record. Connor Dewar doubled the lead about six minutes later with his fifth goal of the season.
The Gulls stormed back to tie the game in the second period and took a 3-2 lead on Carrick’s second goal of the night just 17 seconds into the final frame. Five minutes later, Mayhew found Anas in the slot where he found paydirt with a wrist shot to even up the score.
Josh Mahura won the game for San Diego with a breakaway goal in overtime. Robson made 30 saves in the losing effort.
The Wild moved on to Bakersfield for a matchup with the Condors on Saturday night. The Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate scored a 5-2 victory to snap Iowa’s five-game point streak.
Penalties got the Wild in early trouble as they gave up a 5-on-3 power-play goal three minutes into the contest. Rau tied the game just 1:21 into the second period with his eighth goal of the season by putting home the rebound from Luke Johnson’s shot.
Dmitry Sokolov gave the Wild a 2-1 lead seven minutes later when he knocked home a pass from below the goal line from Brandon Duhaime. They held onto this advantage through the end of the middle frame.
Once the teams took the ice for the third period, the wheels began to fall off for the Wild. Markus Granlund and Jake Kulevich scored 40 seconds apart, early in the period, to give the Condors a 3-2 lead. They added two more goals, including an empty-netter, to win going away.
The Wild were held to season-low 16 shots on goal. Mayhew and Anas both had their point streaks snapped at 10 and seven games, respectively.
Player of the Week
Although Anas had his scoring streak ended on Saturday night, he still the way with three goals and finished the week tied with Mayhew with four points. Since Dec. 14, he has six goals and 21 points in 13 games. Anas leads the Wild with 29 assists and 41 points.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Jan 14 @ Condors; Friday, Jan. 17 vs San Jose Barracuda; Saturday, Jan. 18 vs Barracuda; Monday, Jan. 20 vs Texas Stars
Wolves Continue Road Success
The third-place Wolves (19-17-3-1) have enjoyed being on the road of late. After sweeping a weekend set down south, the Wolves have won five straight games away from the Windy City. They have put a four-point cushion between them and fourth place while trimming the Wild’s lead on them to five points.
The Wolves got to get away from the wintery weather in Chicago and spent the weekend in a much warmer climate with a pair of games at the San Antonio Rampage. The power play helped the Wolves roll to a 5-2 victory on Friday night.
Reid Duke set up both of Keegan Kolesar’s first-period, power-play tallies to get the scoring off and running. The first one came two minutes into the game when Kolesar received a pass from Duke and then worked his way through the defense before scoring his first goal of the season from close range.
The Rampage answered with a power-play tally of their own three minutes later. Kolesar struck again just past the halfway point of the opening frame. Duke made a great backhand pass to set him up right in front of the net. His initial shot was denied, but he followed up the rebound and banked it in off the goaltender’s skate.
Valentin Zykov scored Chicago’s third power-play goal of the night just over a minute into the second period by going top shelf from the bottom of the right circle. Brandon Pirri scored his ninth goal of the season to increase to the lead to 4-1 with an assist from the bench; where he was able to quickly get a new stick and light the lamp.
Patrick Brown capped off the scoring with a shorthanded goal, less than three minutes after the Rampage’s second goal, by jamming home the rebound off a Gage Quinney shot. After a crazy second period, the game settled down during a scoreless final frame.
Oscar Dansk made 33 saves for his 13th win of the season. The win put the Wolves over .500 for the first time since Nov. 9 thanks to a 7-2-1-1 record over their last 11 games.
Kolesar was recalled by the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday morning and made his NHL debut later that night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nicolas Roy was sent back down in a corresponding move, the 17th time he has gone between the NHL and AHL this season. Kolesar was reassigned back to Chicago following the contest.
The Wolves had to play the final 40 minutes of Saturday night’s rematch with just 15 skaters as both forward Tyrell Goulbourne and defenseman Jake Bischoff were injured in the first period. Despite being shorthanded, they found a way to grind out a 4-2 victory.
After the Rampage scored early, Curtis McKenzie even the score midway through the opening period by skating the length of the ice and scoring his team-high 13th goal of the season with a defender draped on his back.
The Wolves were outshot by 12 during the second period, yet they found a way to stay even. The Rampage took a 2-1 lead early in the frame before Gage Quinney jammed home a rebound to tie the game with less than three minutes to play.
Zykov was credited with the game-winning goal for the second straight night, midway through the third period, when his cross-ice saucer pass was batted into the goal by a San Antonio defender. The Rampage pulled their goalie during a late power-play for a 6-on-4 advantage but could not draw even. Jaycob Megna iced the game with an empty-netter with a minute to go in regulation.
Garret Sparks was great in net as he made 33 saves for his first win since Nov. 7.
Player of the Week
Zykov had the game-winning goals in both games against the Rampage, although he had a little help on the second one. He added an assist to lead the team with three points over the weekend. Zykov has been very effective in his time with the Wolves. He has six goals and 11 points in 13 AHL games.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Jan. 15 @ Admirals; Saturday, Jan. 18 vs Admirals; Sunday, Jan 19 vs IceHogs
IceHogs Hang on to Playoff Spot
The IceHogs (18-17-1-1) are still trying to find an identity with their roster in constant flux. Despite losing eight of their last nine games, they are still in a playoff spot. They are one of three teams tied with 38 points, but they have the most regulation wins so they have the tiebreaker.
The week began with the IceHogs learning they would be getting their All-Star goaltender back. On Wednesday morning, Kevin Lankinen was reassigned to the AHL by the Chicago Blackhawks.
While the overall team results have not been great of late, the IceHogs new top line of Brandon Hagel, Jacob Nilsson and MacKenzie Entwistle have been gelling of late. The trio was on fire in Wednesday’s 4-1 victory over the Moose, snapping the IceHogs’ six-game losing streak.
Hagel got the scoring started just over seven minutes into the game after Nilsson fired a pass to him, while on a partial breakaway, and he fired home a wrist shot. The Moose came back to tie the game later in the opening period.
Midway through the second period, Hagel struck again when Nilsson sprung him on a breakaway which he converted on for his 13th goal of the season. He is now sixth place among all AHL rookies in goals and has scored 11 of his 13 goals on home ice.
Nilsson added a goal of his own by skating the entire length of the ice, weaving in between Manitoba defenders, before burying his sixth goal of the season. The three-point effort was the third of Nilsson’s AHL career. Tyler Sikura capped off the scoring with his 10th goal of the season by finishing off a backdoor play with Dylan McLaughlin setting him up.
Matt Tomkins made 20 saves in his first start since returning from a successful run with Team Canada at the Spangler Cup. He also picked up a primary assist on Nilsson’s third-period goal. Tomkins has now won four out of his last four starts with a 2.02 GAA and .921 SV% in that span.
The IceHogs took the short trip northeast for a weekend series in Milwaukee against the first-place Admirals. The shorthanded squad could not muster up any offense in Friday night’s 2-0 loss.
Collin Delia made 24 saves in the losing effort as the Admirals scored late in the first and third periods by getting to a couple of loose pucks in front of the net. This was the IceHogs’ fourth straight road loss, the longest such streak of the season.
“It was kind of a weird game,” said head coach Derek King. “Both teams had their chances. Both goalies played well. They just capitalized when they had to and we just couldn’t get one. They throw pucks at the net. They do a really good job of hanging around the net. Any little rebound, they just whack it off to the side and usually, they have an extra body there.”
The road losing streak hit five the following afternoon in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Admirals. The start time of this game was moved up five hours due to some forecasted winter storms in the area.
Defenseman Lucas Carlsson scored the only goal of the weekend, late in the first period, as he finished off a nice passing play with Nilsson and Hagel for his fourth goal of the season. The Admirals tied the game in the second period. They tried everything they could to win in regulation, but Lankinen made 18 saves in the third period to get the game to overtime and earn an important point for the IceHogs.
Bad luck doomed the IceHogs in the first minute of the extra time. While boxing out an Admiral in front of his net, a shot hit off Nilsson’s back and got in behind Lankinen for the hard-luck, game-winning goal.
The IceHogs lineup will get a bit a boost this week as John Quenneville was reassigned by the Blackhawks on Sunday. He had four goals and eight points in his last five AHL games before being recalled.
Player of the Week
Nilsson scored a goal this past week and led the team with three assists and four points. He has played his best hockey of the season these past few games as he has become the team’s number one center. He is now third on the team in scoring with 17 points.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Jan. 14 vs Admirals; Wednesday, Jan. 15 @ Griffins; Friday, Jan. 17 @ Griffins; Sunday, Jan. 19 @ Wolves, Monday, Jan. 20 vs Belleville Senators
Another Perfect Week for Stars
The Stars (17-17-2-2) continue their incredible run up the Central Division standings. They are currently tied for fourth place with 38 points, which is pretty amazing when you consider they were the last team in the AHL to hit 10 points on the season.
Before the Stars started their weekend series against the Toronto Marlies, their defense got a boost. Stephen Johns was loaned by the Dallas Stars on a conditioning assignment. In addition, Joel Hanley was also reassigned back to the AHL.
Friday night went down as 1-0 win for the Stars, but it was not the way they would have wanted to earn two points. The game between the Stars and Toronto was canceled after the Marlies had to forfeit. Assistant coach Rob Davison suffered a prolonged seizure in the dressing room before the start of the game and was rushed to a local hospital. He was discharged on Saturday and returned to Toronto.
The two teams did return to the ice for Saturday’s game with Johns leading a massive comeback for a 5-3 Texas win.
The Stars took a 1-0 lead on their first power play of the game. Tanner Kero was the first to get to a rebound and he tapped it home for his second goal of the season. The Marlies tied the game before the end of the first period.
Johns scored his first goal since Feb. 2018, while on another power play, to give the Stars a 2-1 lead early in the middle frame. Nic Petan scored a pair of third-period, power-play tallies to give Toronto a 3-2 lead during the first half of the final frame.
With less than half a period to play, Jason Robertson stole the puck and then scored on a breakaway to even up the score.
Tye Felhaber scored the game-winning goal by cleaning up the rebound off of a Johns’ shot. Michael Mersch added an empty-net goal for good measure. Landon Bow made 29 saves for his ninth win of the season.
Player of the Week
Johns had not played a professional hockey game in 22 months, but you wouldn’t know that by his performance on Saturday. He finished the game with a goal, a career-high four points and led the team with seven shots on goal.
“I think he played well,” head coach Neil Graham said of Johns’ evening. “Obviously, it was a boost for us. I didn’t think there was a lot of rust in his game and he had a big night.”
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Jan. 15 vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins; Friday, Jan. 17 vs Penguins; Monday, Jan. 20 @ Wild
Griffins Surge Upward
What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, the Griffins (17-18-2-2) were in dead last, but after a three-win week, they are now tied for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. They will look to use some home cooking to get back into the postseason picture.
Wednesday night’s game in Milwaukee was the final game on the Griffins’ four-game road trip and ended a rough portion of the schedule in which they played 11 of their last 13 games away from home. They ended this stretch with a 3-2 victory over the Admirals.
Defenseman Joe Hicketts sent the game into the first intermission tied at 1-1 when his shot from the left point deflected off an Admirals’ defender with just 39 seconds left in the opening period.
The Admirals regained the lead, early in the second period, with the help of a gratuitous bounce off the end boards. Turner Elson tied the game, about six minutes later, by sending home a one-timer from the right circle for his second goal in as many games.
Dominic Turgeon scored the game-winning goal with less than five minutes remaining the second period. While on the penalty kill, Turgeon converted on a wraparound shot for his seventh goal of the season.
Goaltender Calvin Pickard stopped all 10 shots he made in the third period and made 29 saves on the night for his 11th victory on the campaign.
The Griffins returned to the Van Andel Arena on Friday night to be an eight-game homestand. The got the long stretch on home ice off on the right foot by beating the Moose 1-0.
Chris Terry snapped the Griffins’ home-ice scoreless streak at 174:13 with his 14th goal of the season midway through the first period. The All-Star’s tally was the only goal the Griffins would need. Pickard made 23 saves, including four in the last 68 seconds of the game, to pick up his second shutout of the season.
They finished off their successful week with a 6-2 whitewashing of the Moose on Saturday night. They used a five-goal second period to storm to their third straight win.
Manitoba finally scored its first goal against Pickard with just 11 seconds left in the first period. Their lead lasted for less than a minute of game time as Dominic Turgeon tied the game just 46 seconds into a crazy middle frame.
Less than two minutes later, Dennis Cholowski fired the puck into a wide-open net for his first career AHL goal to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead. The Moose answered with a tying goal about four minutes later, but from then on it was all Grand Rapids.
Terry took advantage of goaltender turnover over to feed Michael Rasmussen for an easy tap-in goal. Three minutes later, another blunder by the netminder led to a Moritz Seider wraparound goal and a 4-2 lead. The Moose swapped goaltenders at this point, but that didn’t stop Terry from scoring on the power play late in the period.
Rasmussen added a second goal in the third period as the Griffins scored on three straight power plays. The former first-round pick had two goals in just his second game back from an injury that cost him nearly two months of the season.
“Obviously, this is a big winning streak for us,” Terry said from a winning locker room. “To win three in a week is the goal we set out for every week and to achieve that means a lot. We’re kind of in playoff mode already. We leapfrogged a couple of teams and moved up the standings tonight. It’s going to be like that for the rest of the year.”
Player of the Week
Terry and Elson led the way offensively with a combined three goals and nine points, but Pickard was the star of the week. He started all three wins and gave up just four goals on 86 shots for a .953 save percentage (SV%). His big week ended with being recalled by the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday morning.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Jan. 15 vs Rockford; Friday, Jan. 17 vs Rockford; Saturday, Jan. 18 vs Senators
Moose Slide Down the Standings
A tough week for the Moose (18-22-0-0) dropped them from fourth to seventh place in just seven days. They are stuck at 36 points, which is two points out of a postseason berth. They scored just three goals last week, so they will need their offense to step up if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Moose started their busy week on the road with a trip to Rockford to take on the IceHogs Wednesday night. They came up short in a 4-1 loss in a matchup between two teams right in the middle of the battle for the final Central Division playoff spot.
After falling behind 1-0 about seven minutes into the game, Skyler McKenzie evened things up by cleaning up the rebound off a Leon Gawanke shot. McKenzie has at least one point in all five games against Rockford this season.
Rockford scored early in the middle before netting two more goals in the third period to build up an insurmountable 4-1 advantage. Eric Comrie made 28 saves in the losing effort as the Moose were outshot 32-21. It was hard for them to get into much of an offensive grove as they were hit with 34 penalty minutes over the course of the game.
On Thursday, David Gustafsson was returned to the Moose after helping Sweden win a bronze medal at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships. Forward Logan Shaw was also reassigned by the Winnipeg Jets.
The week on the road continued with a pair of games in Grand Rapids starting on Friday night. The Griffins got the upper hand in the first game with a 1-0 shutout win.
The Moose had 23 shots on goal, but they could not get one to go over the goal line. Comrie, once again, was the hard-luck loser with 27 saves. In his first three starts back with the Moose, Comrie has allowed just six goals on 73 shots.
Saturday’s rematch with the Griffins started off well, but a miserable second period led to a 6-2 defeat.
Logan Stanley scored the Moose’s first goal of the weekend by slamming home a one-time with just 11 seconds left in the opening frame. The Griffins responded with a pair of goals early in the second period to take a 2-1 lead.
Kristian Vesalainen had a pretty quick response when his shot from the boards was deflected into the Grand Rapids’ net. The Griffins went on to score three goals before the end of the second period. Their third and fourth goals of the game were direct results off of Mikhail Berdin’s turnovers. He was pulled after the Griffins went up 4-2 and replaced by Comrie.
The Griffins scored their third straight power-play goal early in the third period to cap off the scoring.
“Obviously, that is not the way we wanted it to go,” said Nelson Nogier, who led the Moose with five shots on goal. “When you give up chances like that and mismanage the puck, it gets pretty frustrating.”
Player of the Week
The Moose only scored three goals all week long and had just eight players find the score sheet. McKenzie was the only player to have multiple points with a goal and an assist. He is now sixth on the team in scoring with 19 points, which is already a career-high.
The Week Ahead
Monday, Jan. 13 vs Senators; Wednesday, Jan. 15 vs Senators; Saturday, Jan. 18 vs Laval Rocket; Sunday, Jan. 19 vs Rocket
Rampage Swept on Home Ice
The last-place Rampage (13-17-5-4) went winless in a three-game week and have fallen to the bottom of the standings. All is not lost as they are still just three points out of fourth place so things can change in a hurry.
The Rampage’s busy weekend started with a 5-2 loss to the Wolves on Friday night. Special teams were the difference as they allowed three power-play goals and one shorthanded tally.
Austin Poganski was a bright spot as he scored both of San Antonio’s goals. His first goal came on the power play, three minutes after the Wolves took a 1-0 lead. The Wolves built up a 4-1 lead before Poganski struck again with a backhander late in the second period.
Chicago added a shorthanded goal to cap off the scoring in the middle frame. Starting goaltender Ville Husso was pulled after this goal. He allowed five goals on 22 shots. Adam Wilcox did not see a lot of action in his relief appearance as he stopped all five shots he faced. The Rampage outshot the Wolves 16-3 in the third period, but could not draw any closer.
The Rampage outplayed the Wolves for much of Saturday’s rematch, but they wound up on the short end of the stick in a 4-2 loss.
Derrick Pouliot took advantage of an out of position netminder to put the Rampage up 1-0 just over four minutes into the game. The Wolves came back to tie the game midway through the opening frame.
Jordan Nolan scored his fifth goal of the season off a juicy rebound, early in the second period, to give the home team a 2-1 advantage. The Wolves once again forced a tie before the second intermission when Wilcox lost sight of the puck at the side of the net and it was swiped over the goal line.
An unfortunate shift for Jake Walman in the third period led to the eventual game-winning goal. First, he was knocked off of the puck at his own blue line and when he raced back into the play, he inadvertently put the puck in his own net trying to break up a pass. The Wolves added an empty-net goal to finish off the scoring.
The Rampage’s week ended with a 6-1 beating at the hands of the Marlies on Sunday afternoon.
Toronto opened up a 3-0 lead in the first period with the aid of two power-play tallies. They scored two more goals in the middle frame and a sixth and final goal early in the third period. Husso was pulled for the second game this week as he did not return to the ice for the final period after giving up five goals on 23 shots.
Mike Vecchione scored the lone Rampage goal midway through the third period, but it was far too late to mount a serious comeback.
“They’re a really a good hockey team,” a disappointed head coach Drew Bannister said. “They skate well. They’re highly-skilled. I thought we got caught up in that a little bit. We’re not a team that can play the same hockey as they do. We have to play more direct and play heavier and more physical. We didn’t do that.”
Player of the Week
Poganski was the only player last week to light the lamp more than once. He led the team with two goals and three points. He is the fourth player to score 20 points on the season and his second on the Rampage with 15 assists.
The Week Ahead
Thursday, Jan. 16 vs Marlies; Saturday, Jan. 18 vs Penguins