The American Hockey League returned from its All-Star break with a busy two days of hockey on Friday and Saturday. The eight teams of the Central Division began the stretch run to the Calder Cup playoffs with some intense matchups.
Admirals’ Power Play Flexes Muscles
The Milwaukee Admirals (33-8-4-2) remain the best team in the entire AHL and it’s not even close. This team is the deepest in the league and gets contributions up and down the lineup. They never stop playing their game; whether the game is tied or if they are up by four, they stick to the plan. The Admirals dominated their week with a pair of blowout victories to extend their lead in the Central Division to 12 points.
The Admirals got back to business on Friday night when they made the short trip down to take on the Chicago Wolves on Friday night. They got four-points nights out of Daniel Carr, Freddy Gaudreau and Cole Schneider to roll to a 7-3 win.
Gaudreau started the scoring early in the first period when a deflected shot found him all alone at the side of the net, where he fired it into a wide-open cage. Carr doubled the lead just 55 seconds later by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush with a great snapshot from the right circle for his 18th goal of the season. The Wolves scored before the first intermission to cut the lead in half.
The Admirals opened up a three-goal advantage with a pair of quick goals early in the second period. Tommy Novak finished off a great rush up the ice and passing play with a successful one-timer from the right circle. Carr picked up his 100th career AHL assist on the play. Schneider scored on the power play, off a Chicago defender, just 27 seconds later, with Carr earning his the 200th point of this AHL career with another assist.
The Wolves converted on a power play a few minutes later to cut the lead down to 4-2. However, the Admirals answered just eight seconds later when Eeli Tolvanen flew right to the crease off the ensuing faceoff and deposited the puck into the Chicago net. He has four goals in his last five games to bring his season total up to 11.
The home team scored their third and final goal, just as a power play expired, to make it 5-3 just past the halfway point of the second period. The Admirals had another quick response when Schneider scored another power-play goal exactly three minutes later.
Gaudreau added a second goal in the third period with Schneider and Carr picking up the assists. Schneider has absolutely owned the Wolves this season. He has seven goals and 13 points in seven games against Chicago this season.
It was more of the same in Saturday night’s 7-1 thumping of the Rockford IceHogs as the Admirals scored early and scored often.
Tolvanen got the onslaught going just 91 seconds into the game before Rem Pitlick’s 15th goal of the season, on the power play, doubled the lead less than three minutes later. Carr scored his team-high 19th goal of the season to give the Admirals a 3-0 advantage just eight minutes into the contest. The IceHogs scored their lone goal of the evening midway through the first period.
Schneider continued his big week by extending the lead to 4-1 late in the second period. Two minutes later, Matt Donovan scored another power-play tally.
The power play continued to dominate with two more goals in the third period. Tolvanen added his second goal of the night just over a minute into the frame. Jeremy Davies scored his first career AHL power-play goal four and a half minutes later to cap off the scoring. The Admirals scored seven power-play goals over the weekend.
Player of the Week
Schneider returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing the last nine games with an injury. He immediately made up for lost time with a huge six-point weekend. Both Schneider and Novak put up six points in Illinois, but Schneider gets the nod with his three goals and three assists. He is up to 13 goals in the season and is second on the team with 23 assists and 36 points.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 5 vs Grand Rapids Griffins; Friday, Feb. 7 vs Texas Stars
Wild Maintain Stranglehold on Second Place
If it wasn’t for the incredible season the Admirals are having, we would spend a lot more time talking about how good the Iowa Wild (24-14-3-3) have been these last couple of months. They are all alone in second place with 60 points, 11 ahead of third place. They are one of just five teams to have at least 60 points in the AHL and, yet, are 12 points behind Milwaukee for the division lead.
The All-Star break did not affect the Wild much as they picked up right where they left off on Friday. Their 4-1 victory over the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins extended their point streak to six straight games.
J.T. Brown got the scoring started nine minutes into the game when he picked off a pass and then scored his seventh goal of the season with a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot. Later in the period, Gerry Mayhew scored his league-leading 31st goal while on a power play. He now has points in six straight games with seven goals and two assists during the streak.
The Griffins cut the lead in half with the only goal of the middle period by scoring while the teams played at 4-on-4. Sam Anas picked up his second assist of the night by setting up defenseman Keaton Thompson’s one-timer in the third period. He capped off his three-point evening with an empty-net goal in the final minutes of play.
Goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen made 27 saves, 15 of which came in the second period, for the victory. The young netminder is currently tied for second in the league with 17 wins. He is fifth with a 2.39 goals-against average (GAA) and his .914 save percentage (SV%) is good enough for 11th among all qualified goaltenders.
Player of the Week
Anas had a goal and two helpers in the win over the Griffins on Friday night. He now leads the league with 34 assists and his 49 points are the second-most in the AHL. He trails Reid Boucher of the Utica Comets by just one point for the scoring title.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 5 vs San Antonio Rampage; Saturday, Feb. 8 vs Stockton Heat; Sunday, Feb. 9 vs Heat
Wolves Make News On and Off the Ice
The Chicago Wolves (22-20-3-2) split their two games over the weekend as the team made news both on and off of the ice. They remain in third place with 49 points and have a three-point cushion over the teams tied for fourth place.
The stretch run began on home ice with the first-place Admirals in town on Friday night. While the game was closer than the 7-3 final score may suggest, the Wolves just could not hang with the AHL’s top team.
The Admirals stormed out to a 2-0 lead by scoring a pair of goals just 55 seconds apart in the first half of the opening period. Tye McGinn’s 11th goal of the season cut the lead in half, late in the period, as he muscled his way to a rebound and swiped it home.
Milwaukee’s quick-strike offense increased their advantage to 4-1 early in the second period with two more goals just 27 seconds apart, including one on the power play. Brandon Pirri answered by with a power-play goal of his own by blasting home a one-timer from the top of the right circle. However, the Admirals scored right off the ensuing faceoff and restored their three-goal lead just eight seconds later.
All-Star Lucas Elvenes made it a 5-3 game when he put home the rebound off of McGinn’s wraparound shot for his ninth goal of the season. But, once again, the Admirals answered with another power-play tally before the end of the frame. They added a third and final goal on the power play in the third period to close out the scoring.
“They are a good team, especially on the power play,” Elvenes said. “We need to work more on special teams. That’s what cost us the game tonight. There were a lot of mistakes – a lot of turnovers. We’ve got to fix that.”
After the game, defenseman Zach Whitecloud was recalled by the Vegas Golden Knights. Goaltender Oscar Dansk was returned to Chicago as he was Malcolm Subban’s back up on Friday night while Marc-Andre Fleury served his one-game suspension for missing the NHL All-Star Game.
Dansk made it back for Saturday night’s game against the Manitoba Moose, which was also his bobblehead night.
“I think it’s cool,” Dansk said about fans taking him his likeness in bobblehead form. “I remember it for the rest of my life. It’s cool to have that kind of ‘merch’ with you. I really appreciate it.”
Despite not getting back from Las Vegas until after 10 a.m., Dansk was on his game and made 30 saves in a 5-2 win over the Moose, including 11 in a scoreless first period.
The Wolves took control of the game with three goals in a span of just over five minutes in the second period. The first came when the rebound of a Hague blast from the right point hit off of McGinn, who was camped out in front of the net, and bounced over the goal line.
Gage Quinney scored a power-play goal two and a half minutes later when Curtis McKenzie made a nice pass that found him all alone at the back door for the easy tap-in goal. Less than three minutes later, Pirri setup up Elvenes on nearly the exact same play.
The Moose made things interesting when they spoiled Dansk’s shutout bid seven minutes into the third period. They cut the deficit to just one goal with 1:39 left to play in regulation. However, both McGinn and Valentin Zykov added empty-net goals 16 seconds apart to seal the deal.
“We have a lot of very good leaders in our room,” head coach Rocky Thompson said about this team’s ability to bounce back. “I’m lucky, as a coach, to have so many guys in our locker room that lead by example. They respect the game. They respect other people and they are a great example for our younger players.”
The biggest news of the weekend came while the Wolves were building up that three-goal lead in the second period. During his All-Star Classic press conference, AHL President David Andrews said that the Golden Knights were looking to purchase a team and move them to Las Vegas, hopefully as soon as next season.
This statement got the rumor mill going, but the Wolves will not be the team to relocate. Wolves chairman Don Levin told Brian Sandalow of the Chicago Sun-Times that there is “no scenario at all” in which his team will be affiliated with the Golden Knights next season.
The Wolves are in their 26th season in suburban Rosemont and have had a long track record of success on the ice and at the box office. Levin also confirmed that the team is not for sale.
Asked whether the Wolves are for sale, Levin said, “Anything’s for sale at a price, but there’s no price that’s been ever discussed with me that I would even consider.
“I think Vegas has asked every independent team if they wanted to sell. I don’t know if they’ve found anybody or not, but it’s certainly not me.”
The Golden Knights declined to comment Saturday.From “Chairman Don Levin sees “no scenario at all” where Wolves, Golden Knights stay together after season” Chicago Sun-Times, 2/1/20
Considering the overwhelming majority of AHL teams are now owned by their NHL clubs, it will be very interesting to see how this all shakes before the start of the 2020-21 season.
Player of the Week
McGinn led the way with three goals and four points over the weekend. His goal on Friday night was the 200th point of his AHL career. The veteran forward’s 13 goals are tied with McKenzie for the most on the season. He is now sixth in overall scoring with 20 points.
The Week Ahead
Thursday, Feb. 6 @ Moose; Friday, Feb. 7 @ Moose
Stars Stay in Playoff Spot Despite Loss
The Stars (21-20-2-2) lost the only game they played on Friday night. However, they remain in the fourth and final playoff spot. They are tied with the Griffins at 46 points, but they have tiebreaker because they have a greater points percentage as they have two games in hand.
On Friday morning, the Dallas Stars recalled forward Joel Kiviranta. He has 20 points in the AHL this season and scored his first career NHL goal against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
The Stars returned from the All-Star break later that night with a road game at their biggest rival, the Ramage. San Antonio came out on the winning end of a hard-fought 3-2 decision.
Dillon Heatherington was called for slashing just 28 seconds into the game and the Rampage used the early power play to open the scoring. They doubled their lead less than three minutes later, but the Stars were not ready to call it a night just yet.
Jason Robertson got the Stars on the board with just a minute remaining in the opening period. While on the power play, Robertson got to the front of the net to push a loose puck over the goal line.
The Rampage put 16 shots on goal during the second period, but Landon Bow stopped them all to keep it a 2-1 game heading into the final 20 minutes. Robertson struck again to tie the game with seven minutes to play, but the Rampage answered with the game-winning goal about three minutes later.
Player of the Week
This was an easy one considering Robertson was the only player to score for the Stars on Friday night. He is now tied with Joel L’Esperance for the team lead with 17 goals and 29 points. He is tied for fourth in goals among all rookies. Josh Norris of the Belleville Senators paces all rookie skaters with 24 goals.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Feb. 4 @ IceHogs; Friday, Feb. 7 @ Admirals; Saturday, Feb. 8 @ Griffins; Sunday, Feb. 9 @ Griffins
Griffins Stand Pat
The Griffins (20-21-2-4) find themselves in the exact same spot they were in last week; tied for fourth place, but out of the playoffs due to the point percentage tie-breaker. That tiebreaker will not be a factor at the end of the season as everyone in the division will play 76 games.
Before the Griffins returned to game action, the Detroit Red Wings recalled defenseman Dennis Cholowski and forwards Givani Smith and Filip Zadina as they were coming off of their bye week.
The Griffins got back into the playoff race with a very successful eight-game homestand, but they left the friendly confines of the Van Andel Arena on Friday. They traveled to Des Moines and lost 4-1 to the Wild in their first road contest since Jan. 8.
The Wild scored a pair of goals in the second half of the opening period to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The Griffins were only able to get three shots on goal during the first period, but they put 16 pucks on net during the middle frame.
Dominic Turgeon scored his 10th goal of the season, off a rebound, to finally get his team on the scoreboard. Taro Hirose had the lone assist on the play to extend his assist streak to five straight games. He has eight helpers during this span.
This would be as close as the Griffins would get as the Wild added two more goals in the final period, including one of the empty-net variety. Goaltender Pat Nagle made 30 saves in the losing effort.
On Saturday, goaltender Calvin Pickard was reassigned to Grand Rapids by the Red Wings.
Player of the Week
Turgeon had the lone goal of the week, so the honor is his. He became the just the third member of the Griffins to hit double digits in goals this season. He is four goals shy of his career of 14 with 29 games left to play. Since Jan. 5, Turgeon has four goals and seven points in seven games.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 5 @ Admirals; Saturday, Feb. 8 vs Stars; Sunday, Feb. 9 vs Stars
Rampage Make a Move Upwards
The Rampage (16-18-6-5) won their lone game of the week to jump into a tie for sixth place with 43 points. They are currently three points behind the Stars and Griffins for a playoff spot.
They needed some late-game heroics, but the Rampage pulled out a 3-2 win on their 10th annual “Pink the Rink” night. The team wore special pink jerseys that are being auctioned off to raise money for Susan G. Komen of San Antonio.
The Rampage took advantage of an early power play to grab a 1-0 lead just 1:38 into the game. Klim Kostin made a great no-look pass, between his legs, to Nolan Stevens in the slot where he buried his eighth goal of the season.
Less than three minutes later, Stevens made a no-look pass from behind the Texas net to Jordan Nolan in the left circle. The Rampage captain doubled the lead with his seventh tally on the season.
The Stars fought back and cut the lead in half before the end of the period. The Rampage was unable to add to their lead in the middle frame despite getting 16 shots on goal. Texas evened up the score with just under seven minutes to play in regulation.
A few moments later, Dakota Joshua got the crowd of over 12,000 fans on their feet when he fired home a wrist shot through heavy traffic. The goal was the young defenseman’s second on the season and his first career game-winner.
Goaltender Ville Husso made 29 saves to pick up his 11th win of the season. The Rampage will now embark on their annual “rodeo road trip.” They will play their next 10 games on the road and will not return to the AT&T Center until Feb. 28.
Player of the Week
Stevens was the only player with multiple points on Friday night by scoring the Rampage’s first goal and getting the primary assist on their second. He is tied with Austin Poganski for the most assists by a San Antonio forward. His 25 points are the fourth-most on the team.
“The guys are starting to feel good and really buying into what we need to do to win,” Stevens said on Friday night. “We’re playing below the dots and heavy. We had a really big win going into the break and coming out of the break, it’s nice to start with a win too.”
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 5 @ Wild; Friday, Feb. 7 @ IceHogs; Saturday, Feb. 8 @ IceHogs
IceHogs Cannot Break Out of Funk
The struggling IceHogs earned their lone point of the week in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Moose on Friday night. Three goals in a game is a big offensive outburst for this team, of late, but it was not enough for a win.
Dylan Sikura broke the scoreless tie just over 13 minutes into the game when his seemingly harmless wrist shot from just inside the blue line found its way into the back of the net. The Moose drew even just 20 seconds before the first intermission after an IceHogs turnover.
John Quenneville scored the only goal of the middle frame by being the first to a loose puck in the slot and hammering it home for his ninth goal of the season. The Moose responded with a pair of goals in the third period to take a 3-2 lead.
The IceHogs went on the power play late in regulation and pulled goaltender Collin Delia for an extra attacker. With just over two minutes to play, Brandon Hagel scored off a Quenneville rebound to send the game in overtime. This was just the fourth time in the last 18 games where the IceHogs scored three goals.
Rockford controlled the play for much of the overtime session, but could not score the game-winning goal. In the shootout, Ben Youds converted on his chance, but Delia allowed goals on two of the three shots he saw.
The loss was a costly one as forwards Jacob Nilsson and Nick Moutrey both left with injuries. Neither was in the lineup the following evening, so the IceHogs recalled center Liam Coughlin from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL.
The shorthanded IceHogs were outclassed and outgunned in a 7-1 loss to the first-place Admirals on Saturday night. Milwaukee jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the game was even nine minutes old.
Hagel scored the IceHogs lone goal to gain some momentum midway through the opening frame. He and Sikura entered the zone on a 2-on-1 rush and he put home the rebound off of Sikura’s initial shot.
Milwaukee flat out dominated the game from that point on, scoring a pair of goals in both the second and third periods. The IceHogs allowed for power-play goals for the first time since early in the 2017-18 season.
Goaltender Matt Tomkins made a career-high 41 saves and still gave up seven goals. That just shows how dominating the Admirals were.
Player of the Week
Hagel was the only player to have multiple points as he scored two of the IceHogs’ four goals over the weekend. The former sixth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres leads Rockford with 16 goals this season. He is sixth among all AHL rookies in goals.
“Obviously, I wanted to get back on the board,” Hagel said after Friday’s shootout loss. “Our power play was good and did exactly what we drew up, so it worked perfectly. We wanted to win that one, but steps forward are really good.”
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Feb. 4 vs Stars; Friday, Feb. 7 vs Rampage; Saturday, Feb. 8 vs Rampage
Moose Split Weekend in Illinois
The Moose (21-27-0-0) spent their weekend after the All-Star break in the state of Illinois. After splitting their two games in the Land of Lincoln, they sit in eighth place of the Central Division with 42 points. They are still within striking distance of the postseason, but they need to start stringing some wins together sooner rather than later.
The Moose lost a couple of players before they headed out on the road as the Winnipeg Jets recalled defenseman Cameron Schilling and forward Logan Shaw.
The following evening the Moose were in the northwest corner of Illinois to take on the IceHogs, where the earned two points in a thrilling 4-3 shootout win. After the IceHogs opened the scoring late in the first period, JC Lipon evened things up with just 20 seconds left in the frame. C.J. Suess forced a turnover at the blue line and fed the puck to Lipon, who made a nice move from in close to tie the game.
Rockford took a 2-1 lead into the third period after scoring with three minutes to go in the sandwich stanza. The lead didn’t last long as Kristian Reichel knotted the game a 2-2 less than two minutes into the final frame. With just under seven minutes to play, Lipon struck again, off of a rebound, to give the Moose a 3-2 lead with his 11th goal of the season.
The IceHogs took advantage of a late power play to force overtime with about two minutes left in regulation. Both teams had their chances in overtime, but neither could convert.
Kristian Vesalainen and Lipon both scored during the shootout, while Eric Comrie stopped two out of the three shots he faced. Comrie made 35 saves as the Moose remains the only AHL team who hasn’t lost a game beyond regulation this season.
Manitoba was back at it the following night in Chicago but came up short in a 5-2 loss to the Wolves.
Things started off well as the Moose outshot the Wolves 11-6 during the first period, but they could not light the lamp. The Wolves grabbed a 3-0 lead, early in the second period, with a trio of goals in just over five minutes.
Seth Griffith’s team-high 19th goal of the season got the Moose on the board at the 7:26 mark of the third period. His shot from the blue line appeared to change direction off of a Chicago skate and found its way just under the crossbar.
With Mikhail Berdin on the bench for an extra attacker, Reichel roofed a loose puck into the Wolves’ net to cut their lead down to one goal with 1:39 left to play. Unfortunately, the Wolves scored a pair of the empty-net goals, just 16 seconds apart, in the final minute of play to regain their three-goal advantage.
Player of the Week
Reichel and Lipon both scored a pair of goals, but Reichel had one in each game, so he gets the honor. His seven goals and 11 points are both new career highs, reached in just 26 games. He had two goals and 10 points in 55 games last season.
The Week Ahead
Thursday, Feb. 7 vs Wolves; Friday, Feb. 8 vs Wolves
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.