📝 by Patrick Williams
One of the few reliables in today’s world is long road trips through the American Hockey League for the Manitoba Moose.
Another one of those patented journeys starts tonight when the Moose visit the Texas Stars in a Central Division match-up that will be the AHLTV Free Game of the Week (8 ET/7 CT).
At 16-9-1-1 (.630) after taking three of four points in a pair of home games with the Iowa Wild earlier this week, the Moose have a comfortable hold on the Central Division’s second-place spot. The Stars (8-11-3-1, .435) are sixth in the division and have been off the AHL slate since Dec. 18 because of postponements due to league COVID-19 protocols.
Recent roster losses have forced Moose head coach Mark Morrison to rely more heavily on his club’s substantial depth. The Moose are without goaltenders Mikhail Berdin, Philippe Desrosiers, and Arvid Holm (now with the parent Winnipeg Jets’ taxi squad). Up front, David Gustafsson, Cole Perfetti, Kristian Reichel, and C.J. Suess are with the Jets. In Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Iowa, Morrison dressed seven defensemen and used blueliner Nelson Nogier as a forward. However, Morrison reported on Thursday that defenseman Declan Chisholm has been lost to COVID-19 protocol.
Said Morrison after a long travel day from Winnipeg to Texas, “I think one of the things that I’ve liked about our team from the beginning was the depth. So, we’re running out of depth, but it’s still there for me. We still have [forwards] like [Cole] Maier, [Jeff] Malott, [Austin] Poganski, and I think we’re competitive.”
With the goaltending depleted, the Moose brought in former New Jersey Devils prospect Evan Cormier from Newfoundland of the ECHL, and he stopped 52 of 55 Iowa shots in his first two AHL games this season.
“He gave us a chance to win,” Morrison said. “He made big saves at key times. I think it’s a credit to him. When [goaltenders are] coming from the [ECHL], you do have better shooters [in the AHL]. It’s the same thing as you move up the ladder to the NHL. To [acclimate] yourself very quickly to what’s going on around you [is critical].”
The Moose also have a one of the top defense corps in the AHL, a mobile group that has held opponents to a league-best 24.3 shots per game this season. Defenseman Leon Gawanke, a 2017 fifth-round pick by Winnipeg, owns the Moose scoring lead with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 27 games. Ville Heinola has looked every bit the player that prompted the Jets to take him 20th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, rounding out the defensive side of his game and well on track to graduate to the Jets soon. Chisholm, Johnathan Kovacevic, and Dylan Samberg are capable of taking on heavy responsibilities as well.
Morrison also expects to use 2019 second-round pick Simon Lundmark more heavily in place of Chisholm.
Texas is without a pair of second-year top prospects in leading scorer Riley Damiani and defenseman Thomas Harley, who are both on recall to the Dallas Stars. Texas went into this recent hiatus having gone 2-3-2-0 in December. What would have been an 11-game homestand for the team has been sliced to seven games because of postponements. After again hosting the Moose on Saturday night, head coach Neil Graham’s club begins its own six-game road trip next weekend.
“I really like the group we have,” Texas captain Curtis McKenzie said before the hiatus. “We have a great team that gets along really well off the ice. In practices, we have a lot of fun, and guys work extremely hard on this team.
“I think we’re still kind of finding our identity and our way. It’s still early. I like where we’re going. It’s moving a little slowly right now, but I think guys are wanting to learn and wanting to get better, and they care a lot. We’re a work in progress, but we’re going on the right way.”
Tonight offers an opportunity to both teams to move back into the flow of a season with another divisional battle after the Moose took a pair of wins Nov. 27-28 at Canada Life Centre.
“I think it’ll just be nice to get back into the swing of the full season,” said Malott, who is up to 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 27 games after scoring Tuesday. “Things will work themselves out, as we continue to work hard and kind of get back up to speed. But I think if we’re going to have success on this road trip, it’s going to come from those details that might have been missed a little bit [Tuesday].”
RASK ON HOLD IN PROVIDENCE
Tuukka Rask’s AHL return is on hold.
Rask signed a tryout contract with the Providence Bruins on Thursday and had planned to start tonight against Lehigh Valley as part of his comeback from offseason surgery for a torn labrum in his right hip; however, COVID-19 protocols affecting the Phantoms have postponed the game as well as Sunday afternoon’s follow-up between the teams in Providence.
Rask, 34, has not played a game since the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Boston Bruins last June 9, and he has not signed an NHL contract so far. If Rask is to still rehabilitate in Providence, the P-Bruins next play Jan. 14 at home to the Hartford Wolf Pack.
In two seasons with Providence between 2007 and 2009, Rask played 102 regular-season games with a 60-33-0 record, 2.43 GAA, .911 save percentage, and five shutouts. He was an AHL All-Star in 2008, and helped the Bruins to the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. Rask’s teammates in Providence included Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Johnny Boychuk, Matt Hendricks, Nate Thompson, and Adam McQuaid.
“I think the favorite memories are just we had really tight groups of guys in my time [in Providence],” Rask recalled in a conference call Thursday. “We had a lot of fun together… so those were the most fun memories of [being] 20-something and coming in, and you’ve got a lot of veteran guys who have seen a lot of AHL games and NHL games.”
Even nearly 13 years later, Providence and Dunkin’ Donuts Center still represent familiar ground for Rask.
“Driving in, I didn’t get lost,” he joked. “That’s a start.”
MOULSON OUT FOR HERSHEY
The Hershey Bears have announced that captain Matt Moulson is out indefinitely after undergoing successful back surgery Dec. 30.
The 38-year-old forward has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 24 appearances with Hershey this season. He had not missed a game due to injury since returning to the AHL with Ontario in December 2017.
Forward Brian Pinho and versatile Eddie Wittchow both remain on Hershey injured list as well, but the Bears took a 4-3 win at Giant Center on Wednesday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, their fourth consecutive win and league-best sixth overtime victory. Going into a three-in-three weekend that begins tonight on the road against the Syracuse Crunch, the Bears have moved to 16-9-2-1 and are within striking distance of the Atlantic Division lead.
A NEW LOOK IN IOWA
Iowa is undergoing a 2022 makeover.
Top prospects Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi joined the parent Minnesota Wild on recall this week, making their NHL debuts at Boston on Thursday. Boldy, a Milford, Mass., native and the 12th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored the winning goal in a 3-2 Wild victory. Injuries have limited Boldy, 20, to 10 games this season with Iowa, but he has 10 points (four goals, six assists). The 20-year-old Rossi, who went ninth overall in the 2020 Draft to Minnesota, has 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 21 outings with Iowa this season.
Minnesota has also retooled Iowa in net by adding AHL veteran Zane McIntyre on a two-way deal that carries through the rest of this season. McIntyre had been on a tryout with the Tucson Roadrunners, where he had a 2-1-0 record, 2.73 GAA, and .904 save percentage in three games. In seven pro seasons, McIntyre has gone 114-57-25 in 205 career AHL appearances and owns a 2.51 GAA, .910 save percentage, and 14 shutouts. In 2016-17 with Providence, he was a Second Team AHL All-Star and participated in the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic.
McIntyre found himself in a crowded Tucson crease with prospects Ivan Prosvetov and Josef Korenar, but Iowa needed his help with veteran ace Andrew Hammond on recall to Minnesota following Cam Talbot’s injury last weekend. Iowa’s Hunter Jones has also joined Minnesota’s taxi squad, while Iowa graduate Kaapo Kahkonen is holding down Minnesota’s number-one job with Talbot out.
Iowa also shipped defenseman Doyle Somerby to Tucson, where he played last season, as part of the McIntyre signing. Last week Minnesota also sent Iowa forward Will Bitten to the St. Louis Blues organization for forward Nolan Stevens.
A CLASSIC ANNIVERSARY
Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the AHL’s Outdoor Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, host to the largest crowd in AHL history.
On Jan. 6, 2012, a league-record 45,653 fans watched the Adirondack Phantoms take a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win against the Hershey Bears. Ben Holmstrom tied the game with 20.8 seconds left in regulation before Shane Harper won it 58 seconds into OT. Bears goaltender Braden Holtby had 40 saves in a duel with Michael Leighton.
The crowd was more than double the previous single-game attendance record in the AHL, and made the city of Philadelphia home to both the regular-season and playoff records for single-game AHL attendance. In 2005, a capacity crowd of 20,103 fans saw the Phantoms clinch their second Calder Cup championship at Wells Fargo Arena.
BOUCHARD STAYING CALM IN SAN DIEGO
San Diego Gulls head coach Joël Bouchard is not sweating his team’s lengthy absence due to COVID-19 protocols.
Bouchard’s team is scheduled to host the division-leading Stockton Heat tonight, their first game since a 4-1 loss to San Jose on Dec. 18. On Saturday night the Gulls visit the archrival Ontario Reign.
“I’ll be very honest,” Bouchard began Thursday in describing his team’s state, “it’s very good. My personality’s a one-day-at-a-time kind of guy. I realize the big picture of this situation, and we all have personal situations or people affected, so I think we’re pretty lucky.
“We’re just keeping everybody safe in the organization as much as you can. So, from my standpoint, I will not say it’s been hard. In a way, I’ve been able to channel what’s going on, and I know that we’ll be back playing hockey soon. The guys have been the same way, to be honest. Everybody understands where we’re at, and we’re going to go that way for the rest of the season, one day at a time.”
AROUND THE AHL
🏒 Lehigh Valley’s point earned in Hershey on Wednesday took the team’s point streak to eight games (6-0-1-1), tying it for the longest since the team moved to Allentown in 2014. The Phantoms are 9-6-3-2 since going winless in October.
🏒 The Charlotte Checkers return to action Saturday night when they start a two-game road series at Bridgeport. Charlotte has been idle since splitting a pair of games with Bridgeport on home ice Dec. 18-19.
🏒 Syracuse returned to play Wednesday, defeating the Rochester Americans on the road, 2-1, in the team’s first game since Dec. 15 and fifth since Nov. 27. The Crunch, who will play 54 games in the regular season’s 114 days, host the Amerks Saturday.
🏒 An extended COVID-19 pause will continue through Saturday for the Rocket. Laval’s next scheduled game is next Wednesday against Syracuse. The team last played on December 17.
🏒 Rochester has top forward prospect Jack Quinn back after his bout with mononucleosis. Quinn, taken by the Buffalo Sabres eighth in the 2020 NHL Draft, played his first game Wednesday since Nov. 27. Despite the extended absence, he still ranks in a tie for seventh in AHL scoring with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 18 contests. The Amerks have managed to go 7-1-0-0 this season in games in which they have been outshot yet are 1-3-0-0 in games in which they outshot the opponent.
🏒 Idle since Dec. 17, the Cleveland Monsters resume play tonight on the road in Milwaukee. Cleveland has lost goaltenders Daniil Tarasov and Jean-Francois Berube on recall to the Columbus Blue Jackets; Tarasov subsequently was injured with Columbus. Those losses mean that Cleveland will go with Jet Greaves, Cam Johnson, and Evan Moyse in net.
🏒 The 20-4-1-1 Chicago Wolves will put their 13-game point streak (12-0-0-1) on the line when they visit Rockford tonight to begin a three-game weekend. The Wolves last played Dec. 18 when they tied a franchise record with their 12th consecutive victory. The Wolves (.808) rank second overall in the AHL. Rockford will be playing for the first time since Dec. 21.
🏒 Grand Rapids Griffins forward Kyle Criscuolo’s assist in a 7-2 win against Milwaukee on Wednesday took his point streak to 10 games; he has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) during the run.
🏒 Utica’s 2.26 goals-against per game ranks first in the AHL. Rochester remains first overall offensively at 3.78 goals per game.
🏒 The Rochester power play (25-for-96) has dipped to 26.0 percent but still tops the AHL. Stockton continues to own the AHL’s top-ranked penalty kill at 90.3 percent (102-for-113).
ON THE MOVE
🏒 In addition to Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi with Minnesota, Cleveland’s Jake Christiansen and Ontario’s Jacob Moverare also made their NHL debuts on Thursday night, bringing the total for the season up to 97 AHL graduates debuting in the NHL. Joining Moverare on the Los Angeles Kings’ blue line Thursday were fellow Reign products Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Sean Durzi, and Matt Roy. Defenseman Lucas Johansen became the seventh Hershey player this season to make his NHL debut with the parent Washington Capitals. Forward Cameron Hillis of the Laval Rocket played his first NHL game with the Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Day. Rockford IceHogs goaltender Arvid Soderblom debuted with the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year’s Day and stopped 37 Calgary Flames shots the following night. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Kasper Bjorkqvist and San Jose Barracuda netminder Zach Sawchenko each debuted in the San Jose Sharks-Pittsburgh Penguins match-up on Jan. 2; Bjorkqvist scored a goal, and Sawchenko’s 20 saves earned him Third Star honors. San Diego forward Bryce Kindopp made his NHL debut with the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.
🏒 Goaltender Logan Thompson made his first NHL start on Tuesday for the Vegas Golden Knights and had 23 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators at T-Mobile Arena. Thompson, 24, has gone 10-6-3 in 19 games with the Henderson Silver Knights in 2021-22, posting a 2.53 GAA and .929 save percentage. Last season with Henderson, Thompson won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award as the AHL’s top goaltender and also won spots on the AHL All-Rookie Team and Pacific Division All-Star Team.
🏒 NHL first-round picks Simon Holmstrom (Bridgeport Islanders) and Alexander Holtz (Utica Comets) have returned to their respective AHL clubs.
🏒 Milwaukee added forward Tommy Novak on loan from Nashville on Thursday. Novak returns to Milwaukee for the first time since he posted three assists on opening night. The 24-year-old made his NHL debut on Oct. 19 and registered seven points (one goal, six assists) in 27 games for Nashville.
Coming off just their second regulation loss of the season on Wednesday in Toronto, the Utica Comets are home for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tonight and Hartford on Saturday… The Wolf Pack first stop in Rochester tonight… The Springfield Thunderbirds hit the road for three games in four days, visiting Belleville tonight and Saturday before a date with Toronto on Monday afternoon… Grand Rapids will host Iowa tonight and welcome Cleveland on Saturday… The second of four consecutive games between the Bakersfield Condors and Abbotsford Canucks is tonight in Abbotsford; two of the games were rescheduled from November when flooding hit the Fraser Valley… The San Jose Barracuda play the first of two home games against Henderson tonight… Tucson hosts the Colorado Eagles on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon… After visiting San Diego tonight, Stockton will head to Ontario to play the Reign on Sunday afternoon to continue a seven-game road trip.
“From my standpoint, it’s one day at a time. I’m keeping a positive attitude because we know how many people are struggling right now with everything — jobs and health.”
— Gulls head coach Joël Bouchard on dealing with San Diego’s recent COVID-19 situation
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently the co-host of the Around the A Podcast.
Patrick was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.