The weekend was busy with all six teams of the American Hockey League’s Central Division in action. Despite yet another game being postponed, we got a very eventful slate of games. The Chicago Wolves’ perfect record finally got a blemish, the Iowa Wild and Texas Stars split a pair of spirited games and Cleveland Monsters beat the odds.
On Friday, the Nashville Predators recalled Tanner Jeannot from the Wolves and assigned him to the taxi squad. He had three goals and eight points in AHL games. They sent Sean Malone back to Chicago, who made his debut with the team on Sunday, in a corresponding move.
In between Iowa’s two games in Texas, forward Adam Beckman returned to the Spokane Chiefs as they prepare for the start of the Western Hockey League season. He had two goals and an assist in seven games with the Wild.
The Rockford IceHogs got some major reinforcements before making the trip to Cleveland. On Friday morning, the Chicago Blackhawks reassigned forward Reese Johnson, defensemen Nicolas Beaudin and Wyatt Kalynuk and goaltender Collin Delia, all of which were in the lineup Saturday night. Forwards Brad Morrison and Mikael Hakkarainen and goaltender Matt Tomkins were added to the Blackhawks’ taxi squad.
Friday, Feb. 26
The Griffins, winners of three in a row, hosted the undefeated Wolves in a battle between the two hottest teams in the Central. After losing twice to Chicago already this season, Grand Rapids dictated to play to keep their winning streak alive and hand their rivals a loss for the first time in 2020-21.
The Wolves found themselves trailing for the first time since the second game of the year after Riley Barber scored less than four minutes into the game. The Griffins added two more goals in the middle frame, with Dominik Shine scored off a rebound in the opening minute and Barber added his second tally just over a minute later. Barber now has four goals and eight points in his first six games with the Griffins.
Rem Pitlick scored his AHL-leading seventh goal of the season just 42 seconds into the third period to give the Wolves some life. Chicago played much better during the final 20 minutes but could not get any closer. Givani Smith’s first goal of the season, with less than two minutes to play, capped off the scoring.
“I think it shows a lot about the work we’ve put in over the past couple of weeks,” Barber said after the big win. “It’s getting familiar with your teammates and the coaches are doing a great job behind the scenes getting us ready. It’s great to produce and that’s kind of my job here.”
After the first game of this three-game series was postponed due to COVID protocol on Wednesday, the Stars and Wild took to the ice on Friday. This was Texas’ first game in 11 days after dealing with rare winter storms during the previous week.
Mitch McLain, playing in his 100th AHL game, opened the scoring in this back-and-forth affair 13 minutes in by knocking home a rebound for his second goal of the season. Two minutes later, Stars captain Cole Schneider netted his third goal front in close to even up the score.
Derek Branch gave Texas a 2-1 lead, two minutes into the middle frame, as he finished off a backdoor pass by Ryan Shea for his first goal with the Stars. Five minutes later, Connor Dewar converted on a 2-on-1 rush to tie the game with this third goal on the campaign. Adam Mascherin camped out in front of the net and was rewarded with a wide-open cage to give the Stars a 3-2 just before the second intermission.
The Wild took over the game in the third period, thanks to Calen Addison. He scored his first professional goal to tie the game just 24 seconds into the frame. Gabriel Dumont had the primary assist for his 300th career AHL point and extended his point streak to seven straight games. The young defenseman struck again, with nine minutes to play, with a power-play goal from the right circle. Mason Shaw iced the game with a late empty-net goal. Goaltender Dereck Baribeau made 33 saves to earn the win.
“When you have a 3-2 lead, you’re in the driver’s seat,” Stars head coach Neil Graham said. “If we play the right way through the remainder of the third period, you’re going to force them to press and that is when you probably score a fourth or fifth goal. At the end of the day, we were in a good situation and we failed to close it out.”
Saturday, Feb. 27
These two teams faced each other for the third time this week, with the series moving to Cleveland. The Monsters were shorthanded heading into the game and were only able to dress 10 healthy forwards.
Nick Lappin and Brett Gallant got the Monsters off to a fast start by giving them a 2-0 lead just seven minutes into the game. Shortly after his goal, Lappin had a breakaway attempt and took an awkward fall into the end boards after making contact with Delia. He did not return to the game. Defenseman Dillon Simpson was also injured and did not play after the first period. This left Cleveland with just 14 skaters (nine forwards, five defensemen) for the final 40 minutes of the game.
MacKenzie Entwistle scored his first goal of the season off a rebound to get the IceHogs on the board early in the second period.
The Monsters answered with two more goals to build a 4-1 lead heading into the second break. Zach Jordan scored on a breakaway right after stepping out of the penalty box, and Tyler Sikura was about to find a loose puck in the crease before Delia and swipe it home.
The two teams traded third-period goals, with Matej Chalupa and Alec Regula scoring their second goal of the season while Trey Fix-Wolansky scored twice on the power play. Monsters netminder Matiss Kivlenieks made 27 saves in his first game action in any leagues since March 11, 2020.
“The guys rose to the occasion,’ said Cleveland head coach Mike Eaves. “It’s really fun to be a part of that. The guys really deserve a lot of credit. They played an intelligent game. They played hard when they had to. We got some big saves from Kivy. All of those things are positive for us.”
Texas and Iowa had a quick turnaround with a rematch on Saturday night. For the second straight night, the Wild struck first. This time it was Joseph Cramarossa scoring the first goal of the night, his second. Texas tied the game four minutes later when Nick Baptiste’s shot trickled between the legs of Baribeau. With just eight seconds to go in the opening period, Dumont’s point streak continued with a power-play goal.
From there, the Stars shut down the Wild’s offense. They were held to 16 shots over the final 40 minutes, and goaltender Tomas Sholl stopped them all. Mascherin tied the game early in the second period before Tye Felhaber scored late in the frame. Neither team scored during the third period as the Felhaber tally stood as the game-winner. Stoll made 26 saves for his second win of the season.
“We’re not happy with losing any game, and that drove us today,” Felhaber said during his postgame video chat. “We kind of took this with a Game 7 approach. Every little series is kind of like a playoff, so when you drop one, you want to get the next one back.
Sunday, Feb. 28
For the third time this season, a game between these two teams gets postponed because of the leagues’ COVID-19 protocols affecting Cleveland. No make-up date has been announced. This was the IceHogs’ lone trip to Ohio this season.
The Wolves had revenge on their mind, and they wanted to respond after Friday night’s loss. They got exactly what they craved in an eventful and feisty win Sunday afternoon.
After missing the previous two games with an injury, Phil Tomasino scored his fourth goal of the season just 48 seconds after the opening draw. Midway through the period, Taro Hirose scored the first of three power-play goals for the Griffins. Rookie Jamieson Rees scored a pair of goals, less than three minutes apart, to give Chicago a 3-1 lead. Defenseman Dennis Cholowski cut the lead to one before the end of the period when his shot from the point got through a screen and in behind goaltender Beck Warm.
The second period saw the Wolves continue to the pressure and push their advantage to 6-3. Cavan Fitzgerald scored just before Seth Jarvis tied Pitlick for the league lead in goals. Less than a minute later, Kyle Criscuolo scored for the Griffins. He has three goals on the season; all of them have been on the power play and against Wolves. Pitlick regained the AHL goal lead three minutes later with his eighth tally of the season.
After Barber scored on the power play early in the third period, the Wolves got goals from Malone and David Cotton to close out the scoring. Warm made 29 saves to improve to 4-0-0 to start his AHL career.
“I thought it was a good response from our team,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said after his team bounced back. “We played a lot harder with more structure; a really a good effort. Obviously, to score the eight is nice, but to be honest, we were looking more for the response from really not skating, not showing up, the other night in Grand Rapids.”
The Weekend’s Top Performer
There were a lot of candidates to choose from for this honor over the weekend. Dumont extended his point streak to eight-game, Pitlick took over the league lead in goals and Fix-Wolansky was deadly on the power play.
However, the top performer was Barber of the Griffins. He scored two goals in Friday’s win over the Wolves, then followed that up with a goal and an assist on Sunday. The 27-year-old right winger now has five goals and 10 points in his first seven games with Grand Rapids.
He is no stranger to scoring at the AHL level. He had 31 goals and 60 points, in 64 games, during the 2018-19 season with the Hershey Bears. Last season, he had 16 goals and 37 points in 46 combined games with the Laval Rocket and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 8-1-0-0, 16 pts
Griffins – -4-3-0-0, 8 pts
Stars – 4-3-0-0, 8 pts
Wild – 3-4-1, 7 pts
Monsters – 2-3-1-0, 5 pts
IceHogs – 1-6-1-0, 3 pts
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Wednesday, March 3: Griffins @ IceHogs; Stars @ Tucson Roadrunners
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.