This past weekend in the American Hockey League’s Central Division was not the busiest we have ever seen, with just three games. The first-place Chicago Wolves remained perfect on their season and proved that they can win games even when they don’t have their best effort. Also, the Grand Rapids Griffins continued their winning ways in their first home game in nearly a year. Let’s get to it!
The Cleveland Monsters made three roster moves before heading north to Grand Rapids. The Columbus Blue Jackets reassigned defenseman Adam Clendening and Liam Foudy to the AHL while recalling blueliner Gavin Bayreuther to their Taxi Squad. Both players were in the lineup for Saturday’s game.
The Rockford IceHogs were off over the weekend, but they had an unfortunate medical update. The team announced that forward Cam Morrison will be out five to six months after reconstructive surgery on his right knee. The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2016 second-round pick (40th overall) suffered the injury during the Jan. 27 preseason game against the Wolves.
After just two games with the Texas Stars, forward Rhett Gardner was recalled by the Texas Stars on Saturday. He was assigned to the team’s Taxi Squad.
Saturday, Feb. 20
Grand Rapids finally returned home and played their first game at the Van Andel Arena for the first time in 11 months.
After both teams were held off the scoreboard through two periods, the Griffins finally broke through, while on the man advantage, early in the third period. Michael Rasmussen scored a power-play goal for the second straight game by pouncing on a rebound and sweeping it past goaltender Brad Theissen.
“The front of the net is where a lot of the goals are scored,” Rasmussen said after the win. “I just try to put myself there as much as possible. The guys are doing a good job of finding me there and getting the puck to the net.”
Just over five minutes later, Ryan MacInnis beat goaltender Pat Nagle with his backhand shot, on a breakaway, to draw the Monsters even.
Veteran Nathan Gerbe took an ill-advised penalty in the final minute of regulation, which spilled over into the start of overtime. While on a 4-on-3 power play, defenseman Dennis Cholowski fired home the game-winning goal from the right circle to give the Griffins their third straight victory.
The Wild had not played in a week, but for the first 7:26 of Saturday night’s game in Chicago, it looked as if they never even been on the ice before. The Wolves stormed out to a 4-0 lead before the game was even seven and a half minutes old.
Morgan Geekie, who was just reassigned to the AHL, scored his first goal with the Wolves on his first shot, just 19 seconds after the opening faceoff. Anthony Richard finished off a rush up the ice and scored after a nice feed by Tommy Novak to double the lead. Richard’s second goal of the season was the first of three Chicago goals in a span of 1:29. Ryan Suzuki made it 3-0 by winning a one-on-one battle in front of the net. Less than a minute later, Geekie set up Rem Pitlick’s power-play goal with a nice cross-ice pass.
“I just tried to come in and play my game,” said Geekie after a successful Wolves debut. “Knowing some of these guys definitely helped the situation. It was nice to see some familiar faces and get comfortable early.”
Somehow, the second period was even worse for Iowa as the Wolves piled on five more goals during the middle frame. Seth Jarvis and Geekie scored 25 seconds apart to give Chicago a 6-0 lead. From there, Pitlick scored his second of the game, followed by Cole Smith’s first AHL goal before Jarvis capped off the frame with a shorthanded breakaway goal.
Goaltender Hunter Jones gave up nine Chicago goals before he was replaced by Joel Rumpel at the start of the third period. Dmitry Sokolov scored his third goal of the season, with a wraparound, to get the Wild on the board early in the final frame. Mitch McLain added a second goal by beating Jeremy Helvig on a breakaway for his first of the season. Tom Novak added a power-play goal to give the Wolves double digits on the night and cap off the scoring.
Sunday, Feb. 21
The Wild were much better in Sunday afternoon’s rematch. They played a tighter game defensively, only allowing 14 shots on goal, and set a physical tone early. However, that wasn’t quite enough as the Wolves capitalized on their few chances and rode goaltender Beck Warm to their seventh straight victory to begin the season.
It was the Geekie show again during the first period, as he scored two more goals during the opening frame to give Chicago all the offense they would need. Pitlick increased the lead to 3-0 in the first minute of the middle frame. He tied Jarvis for both the team and AHL lead with his sixth goal.
Mason Shaw, playing in just his second game with Iowa, scored his first goal of the season later in the second period to get the Wild to within two. Tanner Jeannot scored an empty-net goal, his third of the season, to ice the game in the final seconds.
Iowa played well enough to win, but Warm made 40 shots for his third AHL win in as many starts this season. He now has a .958 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average. Rumpel had the net for the Wild, his first AHL start since the 2015-16 season when he was with the San Jose Barracuda.
“We were way too cute in the second period,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky admitted. “We got away from it, trying to do too much and make the pretty play. That’s not always really successful. It’s hard to get momentum when you are turning over pucks from trying to be too cute. We want to play in the offensive zone and we gave up a lot of that time today.”
Weekend’s Top Performer
Four goals on four shots and an assist in two games following a demotion to the AHL. That’s why Geekie is the easy pick for the weekend’s top performer. He fit in with the Wolves right away, giving an already stacked lineup yet another offensive weapon. However, with the way he played over the weekend, it likely won’t be too long before he is on a plane back to Raleigh.
“He’s been great and he’s had a great attitude,” Warsofsky said of Geekie on Saturday. “He knows what it means to be a pro and he understands what needs to be worked on to get back to that level (NHL). It’s a frustrating time in a player’s development and career, so our job here in the American League, as coaches, is to build him back up. He works really hard and cares about his craft. That’s all we can ask.”
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 7-0-0-0, 14 pts
Griffins – 3-2-0-0, 6 pts
Stars – 3-2-0-0, 6 pts
Wild – 2-3-1, 5 pts
Monsters – 0-2-1-0, 1 pt
IceHogs – 0-4-1-0, 1 pt
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Monday, Feb. 22: Monsters @ IceHogs
Tuesday, Feb. 23: Monsters @ IceHogs
Wednesday, Feb. 24: Stars @ Wild
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.