AHL Central News: Red Hot Wild Gain Ground

AHL, Chris Terry, Jake Oettinger, Long Read, Oscar Dansk, Sam Anas

The eight teams of the American Hockey League’s Central Division closed out 2019 and welcomed in the New Year with some exciting hockey last week. The gap between first and second place has closed a little bit, while the race for the third and fourth Calder Cup playoff spots as just as close as ever.

Admirals Have Rare Bad Week

The Milwaukee Admirals (24-6-4-2) got the new year off to a bumpy start with a pair of losses over the weekend. They earned one point with an overtime loss but still have a comfortable 10-point lead in the Central Division. Their 54 points are still the most in the entire AHL.

Before the Admirals took to the
ice on Friday, a
trio of players were selected
to represent the Central Division at the 2020
AHL All-Star Classic. Forward Yakov Trenin, defenseman Alex Carrier and
goaltender Connor Ingram will all join head coach Karl Taylor in Ontario, CA. Both
Carrier and Trenin are currently in the NHL with the Nashville Predators.

The weekend series at the Cleveland Monsters was a throwback to the old days of the IHL. Both teams wore retro uniforms; the Admirals in the green and blue uniforms from their inaugural season while the Monsters wore the same uniforms the old Cleveland Lumberjacks wore in the 1990s.

The Admirals trailed by a goal late into the second period when defenseman Matt Donovan got his team on the board. He blasted home a slap shot from the left circle, while on the power play, to tie the game with his third goal of the season.

Matt Donovan Milwaukee Admirals
Donovan found the back of the net on Friday night. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Monsters regained the lead about eight minutes into the third period with a power-play conversion of their own. Anthony Richard sent the game into overtime, with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, by scoring his 11th goal of the season from the right circle.

After trading chances in overtime,
Stefan Matteau won the game for Cleveland with just over two minutes left in
the extra time.

The two teams and their retro
uniforms were back on the ice on Saturday afternoon where the Monsters treated
over 11,000 fans to 5-4 victory.

Daniel Carr opened the scoring with his 13th goal of the season late in the opening period. The Monsters stormed out to a 2-1 lead with a pair of goals just over a minute apart early in the middle frame.

The Admirals took a 3-2 with two quick goals late in the period. Richard scored his second goal in as many days, on the power play, with two minutes left. Frederick Gaudreau broke the tie, with 11 seconds left in the period, by scoring a shorthanded, breakaway goal.

Frederick Gaudreau Milwaukee Admirals
Gaudreau scored a huge shorthanded goal on Saturday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Monsters evened the game up early in the third period before Rem Pitlick answered with a power-play to retake a one-goal advantage. Cleveland used some late-game magic to steal the win as Dillon Simpson scored at 16:22 to tie the game before Adam Clendening scored the winning goal less than two minutes later.

Player of the Week

Richard was the only Admiral to
score twice in Cleveland and he added an assist to lead the team with three
points. He is now third on the team with 12 goals, behind Carr (13) and Trenin
(14).

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Jan. 8 vs Grand Rapids Griffins; Friday, Jan. 10 vs Rockford IceHogs, Saturday, Jan. 11 vs IceHogs

Wild’s Top Line Explodes

The Iowa Wild (20-12-2-2) had a big six-point week after winning all three of their games. They shaved five points off Milwaukee’s lead in the division and sit comfortably in second place with 44 points.

Iowa’s offense has been humming right along of late and they
added some more firepower on Monday when Nico Sturm was reassigned
to the AHL by the Minnesota Wild
. Sturm was in the lineup and made an
impact in Tuesday afternoon’s 5-4 win over the visiting Texas Stars.

Sam Anas got things rolling before the game was even three minutes old by jumping on a mishandled puck behind the net and tucking it home. This ended up being the only full-strength goal the Wild scored all day. The Stars drew even about 10 minutes later, but Sturm answered with the Wild’s first of four power-play goals with two minutes to go in the opening frame.

About three minutes after the Stars tied the game in the second period, Gerry Mayhew converted on another man-advantage for his team-leading 19th goal of the season. Kyle Rau cashed in off of a rebound for a third power-play strike with just over five minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kyle Rau Minnesota Wild
Rau had a goal and five assists last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Stars cut the Wild’s lead down to a single goal before
the second period expired and tied the game midway through the third. With just
over a minute left to play, Brennan Menell scored the game-winning goal while
on a late-game power play.

Friday was a busy day off the ice before the Wild hosted the
IceHogs that evening. Defenseman Nick Seeler was sent down to Iowa
by the Minnesota Wild on a conditioning stint
. Later in the day, Mayhew and
Menell were both selected
to play in the AHL All-Star Classic
.

Once the puck dropped, the Wild’s red hot offense and power-play unit were on full display in a 5-1 victory over Rockford.

Mayhew got things going with two more power-play goals in the first eight minutes of the game to give the Wild a 2-0 lead. His 20th and 21st goals of the season marked six straight power-play conversations for the team. Mayhew also became the fastest player in franchise history to score 20 goals in a season.

Gerald Mayhew Minnesota Wild
Mayhew is on pace to have the greatest offensive season in Wild history. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Sturm increased the lead to 3-0 by redirecting a shot by
Mayhew for his eighth goal of the season before the end of the opening period.
He struck again for the Wild’s fourth goal of the game early in the second period.

Luke Johnson added a 5-on-3 goal versus his former team in the opening minute of the final frame. Anas picked up his 100th career AHL assist on the play. The IceHogs scored their lone goal of the game with a power-play goal midway through the final frame.

The Wild traveled to Chicago on Saturday and took down the
Wolves for their second straight 5-1 victory.

Late in the first period, Johnson scored another power-play goal with a one-time from the left circle off a great feed from Anas. Mayhew doubled the lead just 15 seconds later by scoring off a Wolves turnover just inside the blue line.

Luke Johnson Iowa Wild
Johnson has been deadly on the power play of late. (Courtesy Chicago Wolves)

Johnson added another power-play, about eight minutes into the
second period, on nearly the exact same play he lit the lamp on earlier. They
only difference was Rau sent the pass across to Johnson in the left circle
instead of Anas.

The Wolves finally got one past Mat Robson early in the
third period to pull within two goals. However, Mayhew stifled any momentum
gained with his second goal of the day just over a minute later. Connor Dewar
scored a fifth and final goal, late in the period, by firing the puck into an empty
net.

The team finished the week 9-for-12 on the power play and
they gained five points on the first-place Admirals. Mayhew now has nine goals
and 15 points during his current eight-game point streak.

Player of the Week

The Wild’s top line of Anas, Mayhew and Rau had a ridiculous week as they combined for seven goals and 22 points in three games. Anas led the way with eight assists and nine points. He is now third in the AHL in scoring with 37 points and his 103 career assists are the most in Iowa franchise history. On Monday, Anas was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for his efforts.

Sam Anas, Iowa Wild
Anas averaged three points per game last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Jan. 8 @ San Diego Gulls; Friday, Jan 10 @ Gulls; Saturday, Jan. 11 @ Bakersfield Condors

Wolves Split Busy Week

The Wolves (17-17-3-1) had a very busy week with a full four-game schedule. They took five out of a possible eight points to remain in third place. Their 38 points have them six points behind the Wild and two points ahead of fourth place.

Chicago spent the final day of the decade in Grand Rapids,
where they earned a big 2-0 victory over the Griffins.

Tye McGinn opened the scoring, about nine minutes into the
game, thanks to a fortunate bounce. Nicolas Roy’s initial shot was blocked and then
bounced off the end boards right to McGinn at the side of the net, where he put
it home for his eighth goal of the season.

Valentin Zykov gave the Wolves a big insurance goal with
four minutes left in regulation. Brandon Pirri led a 2-on-1 rush into the zone
and pass across to Zykov for his second goal in his three games since returning
from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Goaltender Oscar Dansk made 20 saves to hand the Griffins their second straight shutout on home ice. Dansk finished the month of December with a 7-0-0- record to go along with a 1.57 goals-against average (GAA) and .943 save percentage (SV%). He was named the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month for December on Thursday morning.

Oscar Dansk Chicago Wolves
Dansk was the best goaltender in the league during December. (Courtesy Chicago Wolves)

His personal winning streak came to an end later that
evening in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Texas Stars.

Curtis McKenzie scored against his former team to open up
the scoring as Gage Quinney made a great feed through the crease to set up an
easy tap-in goal. The Stars evened things up with just 33 seconds left in the second
period.

The Stars outplayed the Wolves for much of the third period
and eventually won about two minutes into overtime.

“We just decided not to work, plain and simple,” a visibly frustrated
head coach Rocky Thompson said after the game. “We just quit playing and I’m
really upset about this one. We played a really good game — a good 40 minutes —
and everything was going in the right direction. Then we did the exact opposite
in the third. I’m very disappointed”

On Friday, Lucas Elvenes was named a Central Division All-Star. The Swedish-born winger leads all AHL rookies with 31 points on the season.

Lucas Elvenes Hartford Wolf Pack
Elvenes is an All-Star in his first season in North America. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Wolves played much better, at least at 5-on-5, versus
the Wild on Saturday night, but they were let down by their special teams. They
went 0-for-2 on the penalty kill and 0-for-6 on the power play in a 5-1 loss.

The game was even through much of the first period before the Wild scored a pair of goals in 15 seconds late in the frame. After giving up a power-play goal, Iowa forced the Wolves into a turnover and the puck ended up in the back of the net before the announcement of the first goal was finished. The visitors went up 3-0 with another power-play conversion early in the second period.

McGinn breathed some life into the Allstate Arena by getting the Wolves on the board early in the third period. However, the feeling didn’t last long as Iowa got the goal back just over a minute later. They added an empty-net goal to cap off the scoring.

Tye McGinn Chicago Wolves
McGinn was a major key to the Wolves’ success last week. (Courtesy Chicago Wolves)

The Wolves finished their week with 3-2 to win at the IceHogs
on Sunday afternoon. It was their first win against their in-state rivals in
six tries this season.

After the IceHogs scored off a bit of a fluky goal in the
first period, Dylan Coghlan tied the game early in the middle from when his
shot from the right point made it through heavy traffic and into the back of the
net. About nine minutes later, Valentin Zykov broke the tie, while on a power
play, by slamming home the rebound off a Quinney shot.

McGinn’s third goal of the week gave the Wolves a 3-1 advantage early in the third period. It proved to be the game-winning goal as the IceHogs cut the lead in half with just under eight minutes to play. Dansk did not allow Rockford to get any closer as he got back into the win column with 27 saves for his first victory of 2020.

Player of the Week

McGinn is never going to wow you with highlight-reel goals, but he is the type of player that exceeds on winning teams. He does a lot of the dirty work by creating space for his linemates and winning board battles. His hard work was rewarded last week with goals in three of the four games. McGinn is now second on the team with 10 goals.

The Week Ahead

Friday, Jan. 10 @ San Antonio Rampage; Saturday, Jan 11 @ Rampage

Moose Back in a Playoff Spot

The Manitoba Moose (18-19-0-0) won
two out of their three games and have moved back into a playoff spot. Their 36
points are good enough for fourth place but they are just four points out of
last place.

The week began with a 4-3 victory over the IceHogs on New Year’s Eve to sweep a two-game set with them that began last Sunday. The Moose scored all four of their goals during a 4:16 span in the second period but had to hang on at the end.

C.J. Suess broke a scoreless tie about three minutes into the middle frame by cashing in off a rebound while on the power play. Kristian Vesalainen doubled the lead with another power-play goal just 50 seconds later.

C.J. Suess Manitoba Moose
Suess continues to bring offense to the Manitoba lineup. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Less than three minutes later, Emile Poirier blasted home a one-timer off a setup pass from Michael Spacek. Cole Maier completed the scoring barrage a minute later by getting to the rebound off a Vesalainen shot.

The IceHogs got back into the game
with a pair of goals during the second half of the period. They made things a
bit unconformable by making it a one-goal game nine minutes into the final stanza.
Mikhail Berdin made 34 saves to help lead to the Moose to victory.

On Thursday, the Winnipeg Jets recalled defenseman Sami Niku, who has three goals and 14 points in 18 AHL games this season. When the AHL All-Star teams were announced the following morning, Jansen Harkins was named to the Central Division team. He is tied for fifth in the league with 24 assists.

Jansen Harkins Manitoba Moose
Harkins is a first-time All-Star. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The offense was missing in action
of Friday night during a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Eagles. Colin Campbell scored
the only goal of the game late in the second period. The Moose got 30 shots on
goal, but they were all turned aside by Adam Werner. Eric Comrie, who was
making his first start for Manitoba this season, was the hard-luck loser with
22 saves.

The Moose exacted some revenge on Saturday night with a 4-3 overtime win over the Eagles. Both goaltenders, Werner and Berdin, were on their games early as they each made 11 saves in a scoreless opening frame.

Vesalainen set up the first goal of the night, about five minutes into the second period when his pass to Andrei Chibisov was fired into the back of the net. Three minutes later, Brent Pedersen doubled the lead by going top shelf on a breakaway for his second tally of the season. The Eagles cut the lead in half at the halfway point of the stanza.

Early in the third period, Vesalainen restored the Moose’s two-goal lead, but the Eagles responded with a pair of goals to force extra time. Berdin picked up an assist on Seth Griffith’s overtime goal by throwing a check behind the net and getting the puck up ice.

The goal was Griffith’s team-high 18th of the season as he became just the second AHL player to have more than one overtime goal so far.

“There are some games where you are
behind the bench and you have a feel for your team and you’re not sure,” head coach Pascal Vincent
explained
after the win. Tonight, the bench was right. They were saying all
the right things and they were staying focused.”

Player of the Week

Vesalainen has been finding his
offensive groove of late. He led the team with two goals and five points last
week. He has at least one point in five of his last six games. The second-year
Finnish winger has already set a new career-high with 20 points, which is tied
for fourth on the team.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Jan. 8 @ IceHogs; Friday, Jan. 10 @ Grand Rapids Griffins; Saturday, Jan. 11 @ Griffins

IceHogs’ Struggles Continue

The IceHogs (17-16-0-1) have had the deck stacked against them in the last couple of weeks. Between key players being called up to the NHL and injuries, the IceHogs’ losing streak grew to six straight games with three more defeats last week. They have fallen to fifth place with 35 points.

2019 ended on a sour note with the IceHogs dropping a 4-3
decision at the Moose on New Year’s Eve. The IceHogs found themselves down 4-0
after giving up four goals against in a span of just over four minutes during
the second period.

Brandon Hagel stopped the bleeding and got the IceHogs on the board with a wraparound goal. Defenseman Nicolas Beaudin added a second goal before the end of the middle frame as his shot from the high slot squeezed through the netminder and just got over the goal line.

Brandon Hagel Rockford Icehogs
Hagel leads the IceHogs in goals. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Anton Wedin tapped in a nice pass from Joseph Cramarossa, midway
through the third period, but the IceHogs were unable to score the equalizer. This
was their first regulation loss of the season where they scored at least three
goals.

On Friday morning, goaltender Kevin Lankinen was named to
the Central Division All-Star team
.

“I was really honored,” Lankinen said when he learned of the news.
“First of all, it is not easy to get into that game. It’s a good thing to get
that honor for a good start to the year. You always want to be part of that and
going to California for the All-Star Game sounds pretty good to me.”

He made the start later that evening in Iowa and was
bombarded in a 5-1 loss to the Wild.  The
Wild built a 5-0 lead before the IceHogs got on the board with three goals in the
first period and one in each of the next two periods. Three of those five goals
came on the power play.

Rockford’s lone goal came on the power play nine minutes
into the final frame. Cramarossa set up another goal by firing a crisp pass to
Dylan McLaughlin in the left corner, where he went upstairs for his first
career AHL goal.

The crazy week continued for Lankinen the following day when he was recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks after Robin Lehner suffered a knee injury.

Kevin Lankinen Rockford Icehogs
Lankinen had a very eventful week. (Nathan Vestal/Rockford IceHogs)

On Sunday morning, the IceHogs
signed forward Spencer Watson
to a professional tryout contract (PTO). He
has 20 goals and 39 points in 33 games for the ECHL’s Indy Fuel this season.  Watson was in the lineup that afternoon when the
IceHogs returned home to take on the Wolves, who they were 5-0-0-0 against this
season. Their luck ran out against their rivals in a hard-fought 3-2 loss.  

Jacob Nilsson drew first blood when he scored from below the goal line less than seven minutes into the game. He followed up his initial shot by getting to the puck and banking it off the back of the goaltender for his fifth goal of the season.

The Wolves scored the next three goals with two in the
second period and the eventual game-winner early in the third. McLaughlin
struck again to pull the IceHogs to within one with over seven minutes to play,
but they were unable to draw even before time expired.

 Player of the Week

With the AHL roster being a complete mess right now, the IceHogs are in dire need of some younger players to step up. McLaughlin was one of those guys who scored in back-to-back games after being recalled from the ECHL. An undrafted free agent out of Canisius College, McLaughlin has had success with the Fuel, scoring 13 goals and 22 points in his first 18 ECHL games. If he keeps producing, there is little doubt that he will stay in Rockford.

Dylan McLaughlin Rockford IceHogs
McLaughlin is making the best of his chance in Rockford. (Courtesy Rockford IceHogs)

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Jan. 8 vs Moose; Friday, Jan 10 @ Admirals; Saturday, Jan 11 @ Admirals

Rampage End Losing Ways

The Rampage (13-14-5-4) split their pair of games over the weekend to remain right in the thick of the playoff race. They are currently tied with the IceHogs and find themselves just one point out of the fourth and final Calder Cup playoff spot in the Central Division.

Their week began with defenseman Derrick Pouliot being selected for the AHL All-Star Classic on Friday. He is second among all AHL defensemen in scoring with 28 points. He is also second in the league with 17 power-play assists and 20 power-play points.

The Rampage started a two-game series on home ice with the
Griffins on Friday night and had their comeback efforts thwarted in a 5-3 loss.

Things got interesting with the Rampage trailing 2-0 in the third period. Nathan Walker got San Antonio on the board with his 16th goal of the season while on a 5-on-3 power play. He extended his goal-scoring streak to four straight games with the tally.

Nathan Walker San Antonio Rampage
Walker is San Antonio’s lead goal scorer. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins answered with back-to-back goals to take 3-1 lead halfway through the final stanza. Mike Vecchione scored just 27 seconds after Grand Rapids’ fourth goal. With goaltender Ville Husso on the bench for an extra attacker, Klim Kostin scored for the third time in as many games to draw the Rampage to within a single goal. The Griffins iced the game with an empty-netter in the final seconds.

The two teams were back on the ice at the AT&T Center on
Sunday afternoon. This time, the Rampage scored a 5-4 victory to snap their
six-game losing streak.

Dakota Joshua scored his first career AHL goal, on a breakaway, to give the Rampage a 1-0 lead just six minutes into the contest.

“It was a big one,” Joshua said of his memorable
goal
. “Obviously, it got the boys going and it was a big one for me as well,
getting that first AHL goal out of the way. It was a great feeling and I’m
happy it came with a win.”

The Griffins drew even later in the period and took a 2-1
lead less than a minute into the middle frame.

Nolan Stevens tied the game less than four minutes later by throwing a juicy rebound right back into the Griffins net. Defenseman Andreas Borgman gave the Rampage a 3-2 lead just 43 seconds later with a goal from the high slot. The Griffins answered right back a minute later.

Late in the third period, Kostin scored for the fourth straight game with a one-timer from the right circle. Once again, the Griffins had another quick response, this time evening up the score just 18 seconds later.

Stevens scored a second goal, from below the right dot, to
give the Rampage a 5-4 lead with less than four minutes to play. They hung on
the rest of the way and Husso made 24 saves to earn his ninth win of the
season.

Player of the Week

The Rampage’s offense works best when they are getting production out of their defensemen. Five blueliners found the score sheet over the weekend with Mitch Reinke leading the way with four assists. With helpers on half of the team’s goals last weekend, Reinke is now fourth on the team with 13 assists to go along with his three goals.

The Week Ahead

Friday, Jan. 10 vs Wolves, Saturday, Jan. 11 vs Wolves; Sunday, Jan. 12 vs Toronto Marlies

Stars Move Out of the Cellar

The Stars (15-17-2-2) are not in last place for the first
time in a long time. With wins in two out of their three games last week, they
have moved up to seventh place with 34 points. More importantly, they have
moved to within just two points of a postseason spot.

The week began with a New Year’s Eve matinee at the Wild. They went toe-to-toe with the red hot Wild but fell short in a 5-4 loss. The penalty kill unit let them down as the Stars gave up four power-play goals on four chances against.

The Wild struck first with their only even-strength goal of the day, early in the first period. Joel L’Esperance answered with his 15th goal of the season while on a delayed penalty. Iowa scored its first of four power-play goals before the end of the period to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Joel L’Esperance Texas Stars
L’ Esperance leads the way in Texas. (Todd Reicher)

Joel Kiviranta’s third goal in as many games drew the Stars even early in the middle frame. The Wild took a 4-2 lead with back-to-back power-play goals before Michael Mersch roofed his 11th goal of the season before time expired in the second period.

Emile Djuse helped the Stars tie game midway through the
third period by causing a turnover and then heading to the net on a 2-on-1 rush
and tapping in the return pass from Brad McClure. The Wild won the game with
yet another power-play strike with just over a minute to play.

Before the Stars returned to the ice on Thursday, Kiviranta was recalled by the Dallas Stars. He made his NHL debut versus the Detroit Red Wings on Friday before being reassigned to the AHL on Saturday and then recalled a second time on Monday.

The Stars got 2020 off on the right foot with a 2-1 overtime win at the Wolves on Thursday night. After giving up the first goal of the game in the opening period, Mersch, who grew up in nearby Park Ridge, IL, tied the game with just 33 seconds left in the second period.

Michael Mersch Texas Stars
Mersch loves terrorizing his hometown team. (Courtesy Chicago Wolves)

The game remained tied after regulation, despite the Stars
getting multiple scoring chances in the final period. Shortly after the Wolves
hit the post in overtime, Josh Melnick won the game with a shot from the right
circle.

The team returned home on Saturday night and jumped over the
Griffins in the standings by shutting them out 4-0.

The Stars came out of the gates firing as the built a 2-0
lead with 11 shots on goal during the first period. Jason Robertson cleaned up
Joel Hanley’s rebound to open the scoring five minutes into the game. Kiviranta,
who was back from Dallas, redirected a shot from L’Esperance to double the
lead.

L’ Esperance increased the lead to three goals in the second
period by scoring from his knees. Dillion Heatherington’s late empty-net goal
sealed the deal and got the Stars out of the Central Division cellar.

Jake Oettinger made 29 saves for his third shutout on the season in just 19 games.

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars
Oettinger gets better with every start. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“It felt great,” the young netminder said.
“We had such an awesome crowd for all of us to play really well in front of. We’ve
got a huge homestand coming up so it was nice to start that off on the right
foot. The guys just played so well in front of me. When everyone’s involved and
you get a result like that, it feels really good.”

Player of the Week

L’ Esperance was one of three players to score two goals
last week and he added an assist to share the team lead with three points. He
leads the Stars with 16 goals and 26 points and will be their
lone All-Star representative
at the end of the month.

The Week Ahead

Friday, Jan. 10 vs Marlies; Saturday, Jan. 11 vs Marlies

Nowhere to Go but up for Griffins

At the start of the year, the Griffins (14-19-2-2) had one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. But, with many of the young prospects making trips back and forth to Detroit, the team has struggled to find consistency. With just two points in four games last week, the Griffins have dropped to eighth place with 32 points. However, all is not lost as they are still just four points out of the final playoff spot.

On the last day of 2019, 2020 was the theme of the day for
the Griffins and not in a good way. They hosted their 20th
consecutive New Year’s Eve game and lost 2-0 to the Wolves with just a
season-low 20 shots on goal. The Wolves scored the only goal they would need
off a lucky bounce in the first period before adding an insurance goal late in
regulation.

The Griffins have been shutout in back-to-back home games
for the third time in franchise history. They have not scored a goal at the Van
Andel Arena since Dec. 6, spanning 160:36 of game time. The Griffins had just
four home games during the month of December and scored only three goals.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of confidence; it’s a matter of
scoring goals,” head
coach Ben Simon said
. “We haven’t scored a goal at home in seven periods.
We’ve got guys in this room who are more than capable of producing offense. We
need those guys to step up right now. It’s just that plain and simple.”

On Friday morning, Chris Terry earned his fourth straight trip to the AHL All-Star classic. He will join teammate Matthew Ford, who was named as a playing captain last month.

Chris Terry, Grand Rapids Griffins
Make it four straight AHL All-Star Classics for Terry. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Later that evening, the Griffins started a three-day trip
through the Lonestar State with a 5-3 win at the Rampage. This would be their
only win on the week.

Chase Pearson’s fourth goal of the season got the scoring
start just over three minutes into the game. They dictated much of the play in
the opening frame and had a 17-9 shot advantage through 20 minutes. Tyler
Spezia’s goal from the slot, very early in the second period, doubled the Griffins’
lead.

The action picked up in the final frame as the Rampage got on the board, while on a two-man advantage, just 41 seconds into the period. Spezia got that goal back about two minutes later with this second goal of the night and third of the season. Ryan Kuffner increased the lead to 4-1 with a backhand goal halfway through the period.

Tyler Spezia Grand Rapids Griffins
Spezia was a big part of Friday’s win. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

San Antonio came charging back as the scored 27 seconds
later and then cut the lead down to just one goal in the final minute of play. Turner
Elson iced the game empty-net goal with just .5 seconds left to play.

The Griffins made the trip to Cedar Park, TX on Saturday to
take on the Stars and they left their offense in San Antonio. They were shut
out for the second straight time versus Oettinger and the Stars despite getting
61 combined shots on goal in those two games.

The Stars scored twice in the first period, once in the middle and added a late empty-net goal to complete the 4-0 victory. Goaltender Kevin Poulin made 23 saves in his first AHL game since March 26, 2016 and his first start for the Griffins.

The road trip through Texas concluded with a rematch against the Rampage, back in San Antonio, on Sunday afternoon. They fell short in a 5-4 loss, despite Matt Puempel’s second career hat trick.

Puempel had gone nine straight games without lighting the lamp, but he ended that streak in the first period when he tied the game six minutes after the Rampage opened the scoring.

Matt Puempel Grand Rapids Griffins
The Griffins wasted a hat trick by Puempel on Sunday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Eric Tangradi started off a crazy second period when he gave
the Griffins a 2-1 with a power-play goal just 51 seconds into the frame. Less
than four minutes later, the Rampage scored a pair of goals 43 seconds apart to
retake the lead.

Puempel scored his second goal of the night to even the
score at 3-3 less than a minute after the Rampage went ahead. The game remained
tied until the late in the third period.

San Antonio jumped ahead by converting on a power-play with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation. The lead was short-lived as Puempel finished off his hat trick just 18 seconds later by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush with Elson. A Griffins’ turnover deep in their own zone led to the eventual game-winning goal for the Rampage with less than four minutes to play.

Goaltender Calvin Pickard made 39 saves as the Griffins
allowed a season-high 44 shots on goal.

Player of the Week

Usually, Terry makes his way to the section because of his goal-scoring abilities. However, he gets this honor this week for setting up his teammates. Terry picked up assists on four of the Griffins’ nine goals last week. The All-Star winger leads the Griffins with 13 goals, 21 assists and 34 points.

Chris Terry Grand Rapids Griffins
Terry does it all for Grand Rapids. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Jan. 8 @ Admirals; Friday, Jan 10 vs Moose;
Saturday, Jan. 11 vs Moose

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