AHL Central News: Wolves Stay in First Place

The past week was quite the eventful one for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division. We saw the first coaching change of the young season as one head coach gets his first chance at NHL success. There wasn’t much movement within the standings after a busy week of hockey. The Chicago Wolves remain atop the division, with everyone else still sorting themselves out.

Off-Ice Business

The biggest off-ice news this week came from the Rockford IceHogs. On Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks fired head coach Jeremy Colliton and promoted Derek King to interim head coach. Assistant Anders Sorensen was named the interim head coach of the IceHogs to fill in for King. Earlier in the week, the IceHogs recalled defenseman Cliff Watson from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL and assigned defenseman Jake LeGuerrier to Indy. Rockford also received defenseman Nicolas Beaudin back from the Blackhawks after one game in the NHL.

The Wolves week started with captain Andrew Poturalski being named the AHL’s Player of the Week and the Player of the Month for October. He scored five goals and picked up a league-leading 14 points in the Wolves’ six games during October.

On Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Griffins signed left wing Max Humitz and defenseman D.J. King to professional tryouts. King made his AHL debut in Rockford on Saturday, a game that was originally supposed to have his dad, Derek, behind the bench for the IceHogs, but he was on his way to Chicago. Also, defenseman Luke Witkowski earned a two-game suspension for a cross-checking incident during the Oct. 30 game against the Milwaukee Admirals. He missed both games over the weekend at the Iowa Wild and IceHogs.

On Thursday, Matthew Ford announced his retirement after 12 seasons in the AHL. He had 206 goals and 430 points in 716 AHL games for eight different teams. The final four seasons of his career were spent with the Griffins, where he scored 57 goals and 124 points.

The Wild had a busy week off the ice, starting on Tuesday when they recalled forward Alexander Khovanov from the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL. Goaltender Trevin Kozlowski was sent down in a corresponding move. On Thursday, defensive prospect Calen Addison was reassigned to the AHL by the Minnesota Wild. Finally, on Sunday, Minnesota reassigned forwards Adam Beckman and Connor Dewar back to Iowa.

The Manitoba Moose reassigned defenseman Tristan Pomerleau to the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL on Wednesday. The next day, the recalled goaltender Philippe Desrosiers from the Trois-Rivieres Lions of the ECHL.

Before the Texas Stars left for their week on the road, the Dallas Stars recalled defenseman Thomas Harley. On Wednesday, defenseman Dawson Barteaux was recalled by Texas from the Idaho Steelheads on the ECHL and joined the team in Colorado.

The Week in Review

Tuesday, Nov. 2

Colorado Eagles 2, Stars 1

The Stars kicked off their two-game set in Colorado with a tough loss at the Eagles. Goaltender Colton Point made his first start of the season and was a hard-luck loser after stopping 30 of the 32 shots he faced.

After a scoreless first period, Texas took a 1-0 lead early in the middle frame while on the power play. Ben Gleason set up Joel L’Esperance for a one-timer to put the Stars up a goal. Point stole the show with 25 saves through 40 minutes.

Joel L'Esperance Texas Stars
L’Esperance had a productive week for Texas. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Dylan Sikura, who was in the box for the Texas goal, evened up the score early in the third period. Shortly after, Nick Caamano was given a double-minor for high-sticking, and Jean-Luc Foudy scored the eventual game-winning goal about a minute later. The Stars had two third-period power-play chances but were unable to draw even. Eagles’ goaltender Justus Annunen made 28 saves to earn his second win of the season.

Wednesday, Nov. 3

Eagles 4, Stars 1

The Stars and Eagles were right back on the ice the following night to wrap up their pair of mid-week contests. Texas struck first for the second straight night but could not convert the opening goal into a win.

Just past the halfway point of the opening frame, Riley Tufte stuffed home a rebound off an Oskar Back shot to give the Stars a 1-0 advantage. Colorado took advantage of the Stars’ special teams troubles in the second period when Rob Hamilton tied the game with a power-play tally early in the frame. Alex Newhook gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead by finishing off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush. Sikura added another power-play goal to extend the lead to 3-1 before the end of the stanza.

The third period was a chippy affair with 49 total penalty minutes dished out. Mikail Maltsev finished off the scoring with just over two minutes to play. Jake Oettinger suffered his fourth loss of the season after allowing four goals on 28 shots. In his first start of the season, Trent Minor only needed to make 15 saves for the win.

Friday, Nov. 5

Admirals 2, Moose 1 (OT)

Milwaukee started their busy three-game weekend by hosting the Moose on Friday night. They were able to treat the home crowd to an overtime victory, snapping their four-game losing streak in the process.

Defenseman Marc Del Gaizo gave the Admirals a 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the game by scoring on a breakaway. Goaltender Connor Ingram was tested often in the first period but stopped all 12 shots he faced. Jonathan Kovacevic became the second blueliner to light the lamp when his shot made it through a screen and tied the game in the middle period.

Connor Ingram Milwaukee Admirals
Ingram picked up two wins last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The teams headed to overtime after a scoreless third period. The Moose dictated much of the play until Cole Smith was awarded a penalty shot at 2:06 of extra time and converted to give the home team the victory. Ingram made 31 saves to earn his first AHL win of the season. This marked the sixth straight game in which Manitoba registered at least 30 shots on goal.

“We tried to get as much to the net as we could,” Moose forward Cole Maier said. “When it comes down to it, we need to get bodies to the net as well. Things that goalies can see, they can stop. Even our goal had to do with guys at the front of the net. We need to keep that theme if we’re going to keep scoring goals.”

Griffins 6, Wild 5 (OT)

Both games on Friday night needed more than 60 minutes to decide a winner. The Griffins got an offensive boost to earn their first road win of the season at Iowa.

Grand Rapids defenseman Ryan Murphy opened the scoring midway through the first period by scoring off a redirection from a Hayden Verbeek shot. Less than five minutes later, Jon Lizotte beat Calvin Pickard with a one-timer for the game-tying power-play goal.

The Wild took a 2-1 lead thanks to another power-play tally by Mason Shaw in the opening minute of the second period. A few minutes later, Shaw was given a penalty shot after he was taken down on a breakaway, but Pickard denied the chance. Late in the stanza, Chase Pearson set up Taro Hirose at the left post to even up the score.

Taro Hirose Grand Rapids Griffins
Hirose continued his productive season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins were given a five-minute power play early in the third period, thanks to a Cody McLeod boarding penalty. However, Shaw quickly scored a shorthanded goal to give Iowa a 3-2 lead. Riley Barber eventually scored during the extended power-play time to draw the Griffins even. Turner Elson gave Grand Rapids a 4-3 lead midway through the frame before Verbeek finished a 2-on-1 rush to double the advantage about two minutes later.

Former Griffin Joe Hicketts set up Marco Rossi’s power-play goal that got Iowa to within a goal with less than five minutes to play.

Related – Wild 2021-22 Roster Could Really Use a Healthy Marco Rossi

Hicketts assisted on the game-tying goal from another former Griffin, Dominic Turgeon, just a few moments later. In overtime, rookie Jonathan Berggren scored his third goal in as many games to give Grand Rapids the victory.

Saturday, Nov. 6

Stars 7, San Jose Barracuda 3

The Stars continued their week out west with a big win in San Jose. Texas got goals from seven different players and at least one point from 13 of the 18 skaters dressed.

The Barracuda opened the scoring midway through the first period when Noah Gregor beat Oettinger with a snap shot from the slot. The Stars drew even less than four minutes later when defenseman Andrews Borgman blasted home a one-timer while on the power play. Back gave Texas a 2-1 lead with just over a minute left to play in the opening frame when he scored off a San Jose turnover.

Josh Melnick finished a 2-on-1 rush to give the Stars a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Jayden Halbgewachs’ power-play goal for the Barracuda cut the lead down to one a few moments later. Fredrik Karlstrom netted a goal for the visitors before Mark Alt answered for the home team. L’Esperance showed off some gifted hands by deking the puck around goaltender Alexei Melnichuk just before the end of the period.

The Stars got third-period goals from Alex Petrovic and captain Curtis McKenzie to close out the scoring. Oettinger made 16 saves to earn the victory in net.

Admirals 5, Wild 2

The Admirals have had their problems producing offense in the early stages of the season, but their captain gave them a well-needed boost to earn their second straight win of the weekend.

The game remained in a scoreless tie until the 8:50 mark of the second period when Cole Schneider deflected a Matt Donovan shot past goaltender Dereck Baribeau to give the Admirals a 1-0 advantage. He scored a second goal in a very similar fashion about four minutes later to double the lead. However, Iowa was quick to respond with a pair of goals before the end of the middle frame. Will Bitten scored on a breakaway to get the Wild on the scoreboard, and Nick Swaney tied the game with just over a minute before the second intermission.

In the third period, Donovan’s cross-ice pass attempt hit off Bitten and went into the Wild net. A few minutes later, Schneider got his stick on Egor Asanasyev’s shot to complete his second career AHL hat trick and first with the Admirals. Former Wild, Mitch McLain, capped the scoring with a late empty-net goal.

Griffins 2, IceHogs 1

Due to renovations at the BMO Harris Bank Center, the IceHogs had yet to play a home game on the season. Unfortunately for their loyal fan base, the Griffins were bad house guests for the first game back.

Midway through the first period, the Griffins struck twice within 10 seconds to provide the only scoring they would need. Dominik Shine found Tyler Spezia on a shorthanded rush to break the scoreless tie. Hirose redirected a pass from Berggren past goaltender Arvid Soderblom to double the lead in the blink of an eye.

The IceHogs cut in the lead in half with a power-play goal in the final minute of the second period. Soderblom started the rush up ice with a pass to Evan Barratt, who found Brent Connolly alone at the right post for the tap-in goal. Rockford dominated the third period, outshooting the Griffins 10-3, but they were unable to draw even. Pickard stood tall and made 21 saves to earn the win.

Moose 5, Wolves 1

After losing in overtime in Milwaukee on Friday, the Moose made the short trip to Chicago, where they got back to their winning ways versus the Wolves.

Manitoba got on the board first, seven minutes into the game, when Jeff Malott scored on the power play. Three minutes later, Nicolas Jones found himself alone in front of the net and beat goaltender Eetu Makiniemi to double the lead. Less than two minutes after that, Jonathan Kovacevic dangled his way to the net and tucked the puck just inside the post to give the Moose a 3-0 advantage.

Related – Hurricanes Prospects: Jarvis, Mäkiniemi, Koivunen & More

The Wolves came out firing to start the second period, with Jalen Chatfield finding the back of the net just 1:07 into the middle frame. Former Wolves defenseman, Jimmy Oligny, restored Manitoba’s three-goal cushion with a goal from the slot with just six seconds remaining in the period.

The only goal of the third period was of the empty-net variety off the stick of Maier. It came while the Wolves pulled Makiniemi while on the power play for the Moose’s first shorthanded goal of the season. Goaltender Philippe Desrosiers made 22 saves to earn his first career win with the Moose.

“Great game. I thought the guys played well in front of me,” Desrosiers said after the victory. “We knew it was going to be a good challenge. We knew they had a good team. The guys came out strong, and we had a 3-0 lead after the first. Great game overall.”

Sunday, Nov. 7

Wolves 4, Admirals 2

The Wolves and Admirals got together for the fourth time already this season on Sunday afternoon. Milwaukee’s quest for a three-win weekend got off to a great start but fell short in the end.

The Admirals took advantage of the Wolves’ early penalty troubles by scoring a pair of power-play goals in the first six minutes of the game. Matt Luff gave the visitors a 1-0 lead, which Cole Smith doubled just 46 seconds later. However, the Wolves stormed back in the second half of the period to draw even. Defenseman Artyom Serikov scored his first North American goal right off a faceoff win to get Chicago on the scoreboard. Max Lajoie, another defenseman, used a fortunate bounce off the end boards to net his first goal of the year and tie the game less than two minutes later.

The game remained tied until 3:25 of the third period when a third blueliner scored for the Wolves. C.J. Smith sent the puck across the zone where Chatfield rifled home a one-timer from the left faceoff dot. David Gust iced the game with a late empty-net tally. Makiniemi made 25 saves to improve the Wolves’ record against the Admirals this season to a perfect 4-0-0-0.

Eetu Makiniemi Chicago Wolves
Makiniemi and the Wolves remain perfect against the Admirals. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“We have to be a resilient group, and I think we showed that tonight,” said Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “There was no panic. We met this afternoon before the game and (talked about) what we needed to do. Credit to the guys for sticking with it.”

IceHogs 4, Moose 3

The Moose made another short trip, this time from Chicago to Rockford, to complete their busy weekend. However, it was the IceHogs that came out ahead to earn their first home win of the season and first victory under the guidance of Sorensen.

Manitoba dictated the play for much of the opening period, outshooting the IceHogs 15-6, but they found themselves down a pair of goals after 20 minutes. Rookie Lukas Reichel was credited with the game’s first goal when his pass from behind the net hit off a Moose defender and got in behind goaltender Arvid Holm. Four minutes later, captain Garrett Mitchell doubled the lead by cashing in off a rebound for his first goal of the season.

Lukas Reichel Rockford IceHogs
Reichel is living up to the hype in Rockford. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Reichel had the second period’s lone goal by scoring off a breakaway with just 40 seconds remaining. The Moose mounted a comeback in the final frame. Malott scored just over three minutes into the period to cut the lead to 3-1. Just over a minute later, Reichel completed his first AHL hat trick to give the IceHogs a 4-1 lead. Manitoba made things interesting when defenseman Ville Heinola answered less than two minutes later with his second goal of the season. With Holm on the bench for an extra attacker, Evan Polei made it a one-game with just 20 seconds to play. The IceHogs held on for the victory, with Malcolm Subban making 34 saves for his first win of the season.

“That was the biggest thing; the guys getting back on the right track and playing the right win,” Sorensen said after his first win. “We knew it was going to be a challenge coming in, and we did a good job of responding. In the first period, we got pushed back a bit, and he (Subban) had to make some big saves. I think the guys in front of him did a good job of making sure there were no rebounds left around him.”

Barracuda 7, Stars 5

The Stars closed out their busy week on the road with just one win in four chances. In their rematch with San Jose, the offense showed up again, but the defense let them down in the high-scoring affair.

Kyrstof Harbik gave the Barracuda an early 1-0 lead by taking advantage of a sloppy Stars turnover. Oskar Back scored for Texas just three minutes later to tie the score. Less than a minute later. Dillion Hamaliuk scored off a rebound on a 2-on-1 rush to reclaim the lead for San Jose. Texas scored the next two goals to go up 3-2. L’Esperance tied the game by tipping home a pass from Anthony Louis before McKenzie scored off a rebound a minute later. However, the Barracuda answered once again with a power-play goal by Sasha Chmelvski before the end of a wild opening period.

The Stars had the lone goal of the second period to take a 4-3 advantage in the final frame. Tufte scored his fifth goal of the season by using his backhand to beat goaltender Zachary Emond.

The Barracuda took control of the game early in the third period. Joachim Blichfeld tied the game with an early power-play goal. Shortly after that, another failed zone exit ended up behind Oettinger, with Jake McGrew scoring to put the home team in front. Back scored his second goal of the night when Ryan Shea found him at the backdoor to tie the game. Joel Kellman finished an excellent passing play to score the eventual game-winning goal while on the power play. Moments later, Evan Weinger sealed the deal for the Barracuda with an empty-net goal. Emond made 28 saves to earn the win in his first start of the season.

Who’s Hot

We have a few players to mention in this section this week. Even though the Stars pick up just one win in four tries, they had four players score four points this week: Tufte (3 G, 1 A), Back (3 G, 1 A), Caamano (4 A), and Karlstrom (1 G, 3 A). Cody Glass had five assists in three games for the Admirals, and a trio of Griffins have three-game point streaks in Barber, Berggren, and Hirose.

Who’s Not

It’s hard to believe that the reigning AHL Player of the Month is in this category, but here we are. After a scorching hot start to the season, Poturalski cooled off over the weekend. He did not pick up any points and was held to just a single shot on goal against the Moose and Admirals. Expect a big bounce back this week with Chicago having three games on the schedule.

The Week’s Top Performer

The Admirals offense struggled heading to the week, scoring the fewest goals within the Central Division. The return of Schneider did wonders for the offensive attack in Milwaukee this past week.

In addition to his hat trick on Saturday night, the captain picked up three assists to lead the division with six points last week. Milwaukee hopes this is just the sign of things to come as they look to jump back into the thick of the title race.

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, Nov. 10
Moose @ Admirals, Wild @ IceHogs

Friday, Nov. 12
Moose @ Griffins, Wolves @ IceHogs, Eagles @ Stars

Saturday, Nov. 13
Moose @ Griffins, Admirals @ Wild, Toronto Marlies @ Wolves, Eagles @ Stars

Sunday, Nov. 14
Marlies @ Wolves, Admirals @ Wild

Central Division Standings

Wolves 6-2-0-0 (12 pts, .750%)
Wild 4-3-1-0 (9 pts, .562%)
Moose 5-4-1-0 (11 pts, .550%)
Griffins 4-4-0-1 (9 pts, .500%)
Stars 4-6-0-0 (8 pts, .400%)
IceHogs 3-5-0-0 (6 pts, .375%)
Admirals 3-5-0-0 (6 pts, .375%)

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