AHL Morning Skate: 6.2.22

A2-Springfield Thunderbirds vs. N3-Laval Rocket
Game 1 – Saturday, 7:35 ET, AHLTV

Game 1 – Sat., June 4 – Laval at Springfield, 7:35
Game 2 – Sun., June 5 – Laval at Springfield, 5:05
Game 3 – Wed., June 8 – Springfield at Laval, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., June 10 – Springfield at Laval, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 11 – Springfield at Laval, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., June 13 – Laval at Springfield, 7:05
*Game 7 – Wed., June 15 – Laval at Springfield, 7:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern

C1-Chicago Wolves vs. P1-Stockton Heat
Game 1 – Friday, 8:00 ET, AHLTV

Game 1 – Fri., June 3 – Stockton at Chicago, 8:00
Game 2 – Mon., June 6 – Stockton at Chicago, 8:00
Game 3 – Wed., June 8 – Chicago at Stockton, 9:30
Game 4 – Fri., June 10 – Chicago at Stockton, 10:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 11 – Chicago at Stockton, 9:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 14 – Stockton at Chicago, 8:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 15 – Stockton at Chicago, 8:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Friday night will be something of a first date for the Stockton Heat and Chicago Wolves.

Despite never having gone head-to-head since Stockton joined the league in 2015, both teams have been well aware of each other throughout the 2021-22 season in their race for the American Hockey League’s top regular-season record. When he had a bit of extra time during the regular season, Heat head coach Mitch Love said that he enjoyed watching additional video to examine what has made Chicago so successful.

Now they finally meet.

“It’ll be a little different playing a team we haven’t played all year,” Heat forward Walker Duehr said yesterday following the team’s practice in Chicago.

“But it’s also going to be a pretty exciting challenge for us being able to see some new faces out there, and it’s going to be really exciting and energizing for our team.”

Heat forward Justin Kirkland does possess some familiarity with Chicago, or at least with Allstate Arena. Before joining the Calgary Flames organization in 2019, Kirkland spent his first three pro seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals, a perennial Wolves rival. The personnel in Chicago have changed since Kirkland’s regular trips there, but the atmosphere will be intense.

“We know that it’s going to be tough,” said Kirkland, who scored all three game-winning goals in Stockton’s division final victory over Colorado. “It’s going to be loud. They play well at home (25-7-3-3). We’re excited for the challenge. They finished in first place, just ahead of us, so we’ve got a little bit of fire in our belly to go after them.”

Defenseman Juuso Valimaki was among a contingent of talent that the Flames assigned to Stockton following the completion of their run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last week. Along with Valimaki, the Flames also sent defenseman Connor Mackey, forward Adam Ruzicka, and goaltender Adam Werner.

By assigning that talented foursome to boost an already powerhouse Stockton club’s chase for the Calder Cup, Calgary’s message was clear.

“Win eight more games,” Valimaki said, “and win a championship.”

When will Riley Kidney be in the lineup?

Not so surprisingly, Laval Rocket head coach J-F Houle had to field that question in a hockey market that dissects each and every move that the parent Montreal Canadiens make.

So when Kidney, a 19-year-old forward who went to the Canadiens as a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, came to Laval last month, that question arose quickly. Kidney joined the Rocket following the completion of his junior season with Acadie-Bathurst, where his 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) ranked seventh in the QMJHL in scoring.

Today the Rocket depart for Springfield, where they will continue preparations for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Thunderbirds on Saturday. Will Kidney be in Houle’s Game 1 lineup?

Quite unflappable as usual, Houle quelled some of that talk. The jump to the American Hockey League, particularly to the Calder Cup Playoffs, is a considerable one for young prospects, and the Montreal organization is moving slowly with Kidney.

“Riley is a very skilled player,” Houle opened. “Still a young player that’s trying to learn, but I think it’s a great experience for him to be here. It’s good for him to be in our meetings, good for him to be on the ice.

“We [will] keep monitoring it and see what happens moving on in the playoffs.”

However, Laval and Montreal fans could see another key prospect soon. Defenseman Gianni Fairbrother, out since March 4, is now “ready to play” and a lineup option, Houle said. Injury limited the 21-year-old rookie, a 2019 third-round pick by the Canadiens, to 25 games in the regular season.

“We’ll see here if we decide to go seven D or maybe take somebody out and insert Gianni,” Houle said. “Our D corps have been playing really well, but for sure, it’d be good to give him some playoff experience.”

Fairbrother’s return to health arrives at a particularly beneficial time for Laval, as Houle does not expect defenseman Mattias Norlinder (upper body) to be available for the Springfield series.

The Thunderbirds have more immediate business with Laval’s pending arrival, but the planning never stops for a National Hockey League club’s front office.

Yesterday the St. Louis Blues signed defenseman Calle Rosen to a two-year, two-way contract extension through the 2023-24 season. Rosen has had an excellent campaign in his first season with the St. Louis organization, posting 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) in 40 games with Springfield and adding seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 regular-season contests with the Blues.

Rosen then stuck with St. Louis and dressed for nine Stanley Cup Playoff games before being returned to the Thunderbirds earlier this week. Rosen is pursuing his second Calder Cup after winning it with the Toronto Marlies in 2018.

For the Thunderbirds, the signing further solidifies their defense corps for next season. Either Rosen returns to Springfield to help anchor the club’s blue line, or he sticks with St. Louis and instead pushes another talented player to the Thunderbirds.

Patrick Williams

In Stanley Cup Playoff action last night, Filip Chytil scored twice as the New York Rangers opened the Eastern Conference Final with a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay... Frank Vatrano, co-winner of the AHL Rookie of the Year award in 2015-16 (with Mikko Rantanen), had a goal and an assist, as did Mika Zibanejad... Igor Shesterkin finished with 37 saves... 2012 Calder Cup champion Ondrej Palat had a goal for the Lightning.

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