Five of the six teams in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Central Division were in action over a busy weekend. The first-place Chicago Wolves are on a losing streak for the first time this season, allowing the hot Texas Stars to pull closer to them in the standings. Plus, the Rockford IceHogs recovered from an embarrassing mid-week loss by winning back-to-back games for the first time since the season began.
The Wolves lost two of their top-point producers before the weekend kicked off as the Nashville Predators recalled forward Rem Pitlick and defenseman Jeremy Davies. Pitlick was named the AHL’s Player of the Month for February for leading the league with eight goals. Davies shared the AHL lead in assists with nine at the time of his call-up. Tanner Jeannot was reassigned to Chicago in a corresponding move after making his NHL debut on Tuesday.
On Friday, goaltender Beck Warm signed an entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. He has been terrific with the Wolves, winning each of his first four starts to go with a .940 save percentage (SV%) and 2.25 goals-against average (GAA).
Just before the IceHogs’ two games with the Iowa Wild, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk and Lucas Carlsson. Both were in the lineup for Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was Kalynuk’s NHL debut. In between the first and second game, Brad Morrison and Mikael Hakkarainen returned from the Blackhawks’ taxi squad while Brandon Pirri headed back to Chicago.
Friday, March 5
The Wolves outshout the visiting Monsters 39-24, however, they were on the short end of the stick in a 4-3 shootout loss.
Tyler Angle opened the scoring for Cleveland with his first professional goal but was answered by defenseman Max Lajoie just 12 seconds later. The Monsters added two more goals before the end of the opening period, with Zach Jordan scored on the power play and an even-strength tally from Adam Helewka.
Frederic Allard scored 19 seconds into the middle frame to cut the Monsters’ lead down to 3-2. Ryan Suzuki tied the game early in the third period off a rebound from a David Cotton shot. Both goaltenders, Antoine Bibeau and Matiss Kivlenieks, came up with big saves in overtime. In the shootout, Justin Scott led things off with the only goal by either team to give Cleveland the extra point.
“We played a good hockey game and battled back,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky said, “We had a really good start and I thought we got away from it at times. Our play away from the puck probably isn’t what we want. But we got a big point and battled back with a big goal in the third period and I thought we had some chances to win the game.”
Rookie goaltender Tomas Sholl came up huge with 40 saves on Friday night, including 25 in the third period alone.
The Roadrunners struck first as Ryan McGregor finished off a rare 4-on-1 rush for his first goal of the season. Less than three minutes later, Jake Slaker beat out icing the fed to puck to Riley Tufte, who tied the game with his first goal. Adam Mascherin gave Texas a 2-1 lead with his fifth goal just 19 seconds later. Nikita Scherback added the game’s eventual game-winning goal while on a power play before the opening period expired.
After a scoreless second period, Anthony Louis scored his third goal of the season just 30 seconds into the final frame. Scherbak scored his second goal of the night with a wrist shot from the right circle to give the Stars a 5-1 lead. Kevin Roy scored his sixth goal of the lead with less than five minutes to play, but it was far too late for Tucson to mount a serious comeback.
Sholl’s 25-save third period broke Richard Bachman’s team record for saves in one period. Texas killed off all seven power-play chances by the Roadrunners, including four in the final period.
Saturday, March 6
Cleveland pulled off the weekend sweep as they and Chicago wasted little time getting back on the ice Saturday afternoon. Kivlenieks had another big game between the pipes as he made 42 saves to win his third start in a row after going nearly a full year between AHL games.
The Monsters scored a pair of goals less than two minutes apart, midway through the first period, to open up a 2-0. Helewka scored off a great pass from Trey Fix-Wolansky, while Dillon Simpson doubled the lead with his second goal of the season.
Former first-round pick Dominik Bokk scored the second period’s lone goal to get the Wolves on the board. Sean Malone made the play by weaving through traffic then finding Bokk at the side of the net for the first and likely easiest goal of his AHL career. Angle made it two goals in two pro games to give Cleveland some insurance early in the third period. He also had the primary assist on Simpson’s game-winning goal.
“We had some stretches where we had some good energy and good looks, but it just wasn’t enough,” a disappointed Warsofsky said after the game. “You can kind of see tonight that we were just a little off. Even when we were winning games, I didn’t think our effort was there for 60 minutes; it comes and goes. I think we need more desperation in our game.”
Rockford used three-points nights from defensemen Cody Franson and Nicolas Beaudin to take down Iowa for their second win of the season.
Veteran Gabriel Dumont gave the Wild an early 1-0 lead with his sixth goal of the season to extend his personal point streak to six games. Less than three minutes later, Beaudin picked up his first assist by passing to Franson, who blasted home his first goal with a slap shot from the right point. Matej Chalupa gave the IceHogs a lead before the end of the period with a rocket from the left circle. Beaudin and Franson had the helpers on Chalupa’s third goal of the season.
Franson scored the eventual game-winning goal, midway through the second period, with a one-timer on the power play. Cody McLeod pushed home a rebound to get Iowa to within a goal late in the middle frame. Collin Delia and the Rockford defense took over from there. The Wild were limited to just seven shots on goal in the third period after putting up 30 through 40 minutes.
“It was one of those things where a felt snake-bitten for awhile there,” Franson said of his offensive output. “Tonight was one of those nights where it just happened to go in. That last game was humbling for our guys. Sometimes when you have a night like that, it almost is a good thing. The video is embarrassing, and that sits with you. You don’t want to be the guy on the film doing the wrong thing.”
The Stars stayed red hot by sweeping their three-game series in Tucson and pulled to within just three points of the first-place Wolves.
Mascherin’s second goal of the weekend gave the Stars a 1-0 lead late in the first period. This was the fourth time this season in which Texas struck first. Mascherin has five goals and two assists in his current six-game point streak.
Nick Moutrey finished off a 3-on-1 rush to double the lead at 12:57 of the second period. Riley Damiani’s power-play goal less than three minutes pushed the advantage to 3-0. Kevin Hancock’s first goal of the season got the Roadrunners on the board with just over a minute left in the sandwich stanza.
Hancock scored a second goal just over five minutes into the third period to make things interesting and get the home team within a lone goal. Goaltender Colton Point made 16 of his 40 saves in the third period to keep the Stars ahead. Slaker scored his first professional goal into an empty net with just 10 seconds to play to ice the game. Texas has now won four games in a row and has jumped into second place in the Central Division.
Sunday, March 7
Rockford used another solid performance from Deila to take down Iowa in overtime to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Andrei Altybarmakian opened the scoring nine minutes in with a backhanded goal for his second of the season. Connor Dewar scored a power-play goal to tie the game with just over a minute to play in the first period.
Evan Barratt put the IceHogs back on top by going bar down from the left dot early in the second period. Less than two minutes later, Dewar even things up for the second time by diving for a loose puck and pushing it over the goal line. Damien Giroux scored his second goal of the season, both against the IceHogs, to give Iowa a 3-2 lead while on a 5-on-3 power play.
D.J. Busdecker, who missed a wide-open net late in the second period got some redemption eight minutes into the final frame. MacKenzie Entwistle got to rebound from a Cole Moberg shot and made a spinning backhanded pass to Busdecker at the side of the net for the tap-in goal.
In overtime, Altybarmakian skated around the zone until he got himself in the slot where he buried the game-winning goal. Delia made 27 saves to pick up his second win in less than 24 hours have two rough starts against Cleveland and the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“Going into the third period, we talked a lot in the locker room about sticking to our identity and being relentless,” Busdecker said on a postgame video call. “Down 3-2, nothing to lose. Last night we played a great game. We kind of let of off that in the second period, so we just wanted to get back to that.”
Top Performer of the Weekend
There were plenty of great offensive performances over the weekend, but Top Performer honors go to a netminder this time around. Kivlenieks was nothing short of spectacular in his back-to-back wins at the Wolves. He limited one of the AHL’s top offenses to just four goals on 82 shots.
He has started the last three games for Cleveland and has won them all while posting a .938 SV% and 2.27 GAA. Not bad for a guy who had not seen game action at any level since March 11, 2020, before starting against the IceHogs on Feb. 27.
Central Division Standings
Wolves – 8-2-0-1, 17 pts
Stars – 7-3-0-0, 14 pts
Griffins – 5-3-0-0, 10 pts
Monsters – 4-3-1-0, 9 pts
Wild – 3-5-2-0, 8 pts
IceHogs – 3-7-1-0, 7 pts
Upcoming Mid-Week Schedule
Thursday, March 11: Griffins @ IceHogs
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.