AHL Morning Skate: April 28, 2023

Photo: Jonathan Kozub


A1-Providence Bruins vs. A5-Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Tonight, 7:05 ET,

Game 1 - Fri., Apr. 28 - Hartford at Providence, 7:05
Game 2 - Sat., Apr. 29 - Hartford at Providence, 7:05
Game 3 - Wed., May 3 - Providence at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 5 - Providence at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 5 - Sun., May 7 - Hartford at Providence, 7:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Providence and Hartford renew their rivalry in Game 1 of the Atlantic Division semifinals tonight... This is the sixth postseason series all-time between the clubs, the last coming in 2015; four of the previous five series went the distance... The Wolf Pack finished 17 points behind the first-place Bruins in the standings in 2022-23, but won six of the teams’ 10 meetings head-to-head... Hartford is also coming off a decisive first-round sweep of Springfield, outscoring the Thunderbirds 13-2 in two games... Providence has been off since wrapping up the regular season on Apr. 16... The Bruins’ offense was paced by AHL All-Rookie forward Georgii Merkulov (24-31-55), who led the team in goals and points... Former Wolf Pack forward Vinni Lettieri tallied 23-26-49 for Providence this season, including seven points in six games against Hartford... Six of Hartford’s 13 goals in the first round came from defensemen, led by Ty Emberson (2-2-4) and Blake Hillman (2-1-3) with two apiece... Hillman had one career AHL goal in 126 regular-season and playoff games entering the postseason, and it came on Mar. 16, 2019, with Rockford... Tanner Fritz (1-5-6) is coming off back-to-back three-point games in the first round... The Bruins are looking for their first series win since reaching the conference finals in 2017.

A2-Hershey Bears vs. A3-Charlotte Checkers
Game 1 – Tonight, 7:00 ET,

Game 1 - Fri., Apr. 28 - Hershey at Charlotte, 7:00
Game 2 - Sat., Apr. 29 - Hershey at Charlotte, 6:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 3 - Charlotte at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 4 - Thu., May 4 - Charlotte at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 5 - Sun., May 7 - Charlotte at Hershey, 5:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Hershey and Charlotte collide in the Atlantic Division semifinals beginning tonight at Bojangles’ Coliseum... The Checkers survived a first-round series with Lehigh Valley, dropping Game 1 and taking Game 2 in double overtime before a 6-0 romp in the decisive Game 3 last Friday... The Bears earned a first-round bye with their second-place finish in the division, and have been off since their regular-season finale on Apr. 15... Charlotte won five of the eight meetings between the teams in the regular season, with Riley Nash leading all scorers with 4-7-11 in the eight games... Connor Bunnaman (2-3-5) and Aleksi Heponiemi (0-5-5) lead the Checkers in playoff scoring with five points apiece... After rookie Mack Guzda (1-1, 3.90, .864) started the first two games in the opening round for Charlotte, J.F. Berube got the call in Game 3 and made 31 saves for his second career Calder Cup Playoff shutout... Hershey’s Hunter Shepard (20-8-5, 2.18, .916) finished second in the AHL in goals-against average during the regular season... Ethen Frank (30-19-49) led all AHL rookies in goals in 2022-23, becoming the first Bear to score 30 as a rookie since Craig Fisher in 1990-91... Hershey and Charlotte have met twice previously in the postseason, with the Checkers winning best-of-seven series in 2011 (4-2) and 2019 (4-0).

N1-Toronto Marlies vs. N4-Utica Comets
Game 2 – Saturday, 4:00 ET,
(Toronto leads series, 1-0)

Game 1 - Thu., Apr. 27 - TORONTO 6, Utica 5 (OT) | Recap
Game 2 - Sat., Apr. 29 - Utica at Toronto, 4:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 3 - Toronto at Utica, 7:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 5 - Toronto at Utica, 7:00
*Game 5 - Sun., May 7 - Utica at Toronto, 4:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

N2-Syracuse Crunch vs. N3-Rochester Americans
Game 3 – Tonight, 7:05 ET,
(Syracuse leads series, 2-0)

Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 21 – SYRACUSE 3, Rochester 2 (OT) | Recap
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 22 – SYRACUSE 3, Rochester 0 | Recap
Game 3 - Fri., Apr. 28 - Syracuse at Rochester, 7:05
*Game 4 - Sun., Apr. 30 - Syracuse at Rochester, 3:05
*Game 5 - Sat., May 6 - Rochester at Syracuse, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Rochester’s season is on the line tonight as Syracuse visits the Blue Cross Arena for Game 3 of the teams’ North Division semifinal series... The Crunch took a 2-0 series lead with a pair of wins last weekend, including a 3-0 shutout in Game 2 on Saturday... Syracuse has held the Amerks to 41 shots on goal combined over the first two games, including none in the first period of Game 2... The Crunch have scored six goals in the series, with 12 different skaters contributing at least one point... Gage Goncalves (2-0-2) scored twice in Game 2, and Alex Barré-Boulet (0-2-2) tallied a pair of assists... Max Lagace (2-0, 0.98, .951) stopped 18 shots for his first career Calder Cup Playoff shutout... Malcolm Subban (0-2, 2.50, .930) made 29 saves on 31 shots in the Game 2 loss for Rochester.

C1-Texas Stars vs. C5-Rockford IceHogs
Game 1 – Tonight, 8:00 ET,

Game 1 - Fri., Apr. 28 - Texas at Rockford, 8:00
Game 2 - Sun., Apr. 30 - Texas at Rockford, 5:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 3 - Rockford at Texas, 8:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 5 - Rockford at Texas, 8:00
*Game 5 - Sat., May 6 - Rockford at Texas, 8:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Texas and Rockford begin their Central Division semifinal tonight, the fifth postseason meeting between the teams all-time... The Stars, division champions for the first time since 2014, earned a first-round bye while the IceHogs swept Iowa with a pair of overtime wins last week... Texas was the highest-scoring team in the AHL during the regular season, led by Riley Barber (32-32-64)... The Stars were also seventh in goals allowed, with Matt Murray (18-10-5, 2.37, .911) ranking fourth in the league in GAA... Texas defensemen Ryan Shea (+37) and Alex Petrovic (+34) finished 1-2 in the league in plus/minus rating... Rocco Grimaldi has 19 points in 18 games since joining Rockford, including the game-winning OT goal in Game 1 vs. Iowa last round... David Gust recorded 8-4-12 in eight games against Texas during the regular season... Arvid Soderblom (2-0, 2.38, .917) has made nine consecutive starts in net for the IceHogs.

C2-Milwaukee Admirals vs. C3-Manitoba Moose
Game 1 – Tonight, 8:00 ET,

Game 1 - Fri., Apr. 28 - Milwaukee at Manitoba, 8:00
Game 2 - Sun., Apr. 30 - Milwaukee at Manitoba, 3:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 3 - Manitoba at Milwaukee, 8:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 5 - Manitoba at Milwaukee, 8:00
*Game 5 - Sat., May 6 - Manitoba at Milwaukee, 7:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

Milwaukee and Manitoba open their postseason tonight in Winnipeg, 12 days after both teams played their respective regular-season finales... The Admirals and Moose are meeting in the Central Division semifinals for the second straight spring; Milwaukee prevailed in five games last year to secure their first playoff series victory since 2011... Both teams were top-10 in the league in both power play and penalty killing during the regular season, with the Admirals ranking first with the man advantage at 24.6 percent... Cole Schneider (25-26-51) was Milwaukee’s leading scorer this season, his seventh career 20-goal campaign... Alex Limoges (20-34-54) led the Moose in points, while Jansen Harkins (25-25-50) was first on the team in goals and Declan Chisholm (5-38-43) was tops in assists... The teams split their eight meetings during the regular season, but the Moose were 3-0-0-1 in the four games at Canada Life Centre.

P1-Calgary Wranglers vs. P4-Abbotsford Canucks
Game 2 – Tonight, 9:00 ET,
(Calgary leads series, 1-0)

Game 1 - Wed., Apr. 26 - CALGARY 3, Abbotsford 2 (OT) | Recap
Game 2 - Fri., Apr. 28 - Abbotsford at Calgary, 9:00
Game 3 - Wed., May 3 - Calgary at Abbotsford, 10:00
*Game 4 - Fri., May 5 - Calgary at Abbotsford, 10:00
*Game 5 - Sun., May 7 - Calgary at Abbotsford, 10:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Jakob Pelletier’s goal 11:52 into overtime on Wednesday night gave Calgary a 3-2 win and a 1-0 series lead heading into tonight’s Game 2 against Abbotsford... The Wranglers posted just three OT wins during the regular season; only Tucson (two) had fewer... Dryden Hunt and Adam Klapka also scored for Calgary in Game 1, and Dustin Wolf made 37 saves in net... The Canucks erased two separate one-goal deficits in the third period, getting tying goals from Marc Gatcomb and Aatu Räty... Spencer Martin (1-1, 1.37, .951) stopped 37 shots in defeat... Calgary was 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in Game 1 and has now killed off 53 of 61 chances against Abbotsford this season (86.9 percent).

P2-Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. P3-Colorado Eagles
Game 3 – Sunday, 6:00 ET,
(Series tied, 1-1)

Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 26 – Coachella Valley 6, COLORADO 2 | Recap
Game 2 – Thu., Apr. 27 – COLORADO 3, Coachella Valley 2 | Recap
Game 3 – Sun., Apr. 30 – Colorado at Coachella Valley, 6:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 3 – Colorado at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 5 – Fri., May 5 – Colorado at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Providence Bruins head coach Ryan Mougenel believes his team needed a mental break from hockey as much as anything related to bumps and bruises.

After a 72-game regular-season gauntlet that concluded with a three-in-three weekend, Mougenel and his players just got away from it all.

“I think it’s important to get away and just not think about hockey, and that’s from the players to the staff. I think it’s just healthy...to have a little reset, heal some injuries, and more importantly have a clear mind.”

Now a fully rested Bruins team returns to the ice for the first time since Apr. 16 with Game 1 of an Atlantic Division semifinal match-up at home to Hartford tonight. After some time off to heal and decompress from the regular-season grind before the club returned to practice, Mougenel and Providence management added a wrinkle to the club’s preparations: Eric Hoffberg, a leadership and training speaker, visited with the team this past Monday. Hoffberg has a hockey background as well from his time as head coach at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“We had a great meeting, and we have so many experiences to share with the Chris Wagners, the Anton Stralmans, and even some young guys that have been through playoffs in junior,” Mougenel said. “We just kind of thought outside the box a little bit.”

Back on the ice, the P-Bruins worked in scrimmage play and ratcheted up their practice intensity to face an opponent in the Wolf Pack that has gone on a 12-2-0-0 tear going back to March 18.

“Our competitive spirit’s been pretty evident in practice every day,” Mougenel said. “Kudos to our veterans. They bring it in every practice, every game. They’ve been amazing. Those are the guys that keep you sharp and keep the competitive juices going.”

Providence won the Atlantic Division regular-season title and finished first overall in the Eastern Conference. The club has strong Calder Cup hopes, but the Wolf Pack will present a tough early test.

“I think the challenge for us is understanding what we have to do longer and better,” Mougenel said of trying to handle Hartford. “We have a group up front [that] at times can be young, and that’s why we’re so blessed to have some of these veterans that show the way.”

The pursuit of a 12th Calder Cup championship opens tonight for the Hershey Bears in Charlotte.

While the Bears have been off since Apr. 15, they hardly concerned themselves with any potential opponent for this series. The Bears finished just one point behind Providence in the regular season.

“We’re going to have to play someone, so we weren’t too concerned about it,” Bears leading scorer Mike Sgarbossa said. “I mean, they’re a good team. They won for a reason. They finished where they did for a reason.

“They’re fast. They’re skilled. They have good veteran leadership that has been there and has played a lot of [NHL] games. We’ve had battles with them.”

But mostly the Bears are just excited to be back in the full swing of the Calder Cup Playoff mix. Last season they fell to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a best-of-three first-round series. They finished first overall in the AHL during the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign, but the Calder Cup Playoffs were not staged that season. Sgarbossa is hungry for a long playoff run; he was with the Bears when Charlotte eliminated them in a four-game sweep in the 2019 Atlantic Division finals.

“This is the goal,” Sgarbossa stated. “I think people are excited. The players are excited, the staff’s excited.”

Tonight the Rochester Americans will fight for their season.

If all goes well for the Amerks, they will have to do that at least two more times if they are to extract themselves from a 2-0 hole in their North Division semifinal series with the rival Syracuse Crunch.

“We know how good Syracuse is,” Amerks head coach Seth Appert said via the team website. “We have a lot of respect for them, their talent, their competitiveness, their structure. With that being said, I have confidence in this group. This group’s gone through a lot. There’s a lot of heart, a lot of character in that room, and we’ll need all that.”

Syracuse Crunch head coach Ben Groulx is never an easy person to satisfy.

But these days Groulx is feeling pretty good about his team as the Crunch could complete a sweep of Rochester with a Game 3 win tonight. Up 2-0, including a masterful Game 2 performance in a 3-0 shutout, there was not much for even Groulx to pick apart.

“We’re happy with our play,” said Groulx, who singled out rookie defensemen Declan Carlile, Max Crozier and Jack Thompson for their play, particularly with stalwart Darren Raddysh still on recall to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Sean Day injured. “I think the three of them brought us a lot of stability.”

“They compete, and what I like the most about them is they’re not perfect. But they play with their guts. For me, it’s a big quality when you have that on your team, you know you can count on people.”

Crozier, a 2019 fourth-round pick by the Lightning who joined the Crunch late in the regular season from Providence College, has made a quick impression on Groulx. After three assists in his first nine AHL games, Crozier pumped eight shots on net in Game 1.

“He’s a competitor,” Groulx said. “He’s mature. I think he’s fearless.”

The Crunch will be without captain Gabriel Dumont tonight as he serves the first of a two-game suspension for a kneeing incident in Game 2. Forward Jack Finley has missed the first two games of the series as well.

“We’re thin in the middle,” Groulx acknowledged, “but you know what? We’ve been having the same mentality here for years. It’s next man up. It’s an opportunity for somebody else to grab.

“We’re happy,” Groulx said, “but we know the toughest is in front of us.”

― Patrick Williams

In action around the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs last night, Akira Schmid made 23 saves to improve to 3-0 this postseason as New Jersey shut out the N.Y. Rangers, 4-0, to take a 3-2 series lead... Mikey Eyssimont tallied a goal and an assist as Tampa Bay extended their series with a 4-2 win at Toronto... Vegas got two goals from Chandler Stephenson and eliminated Winnipeg with a 4-1 victory.

Watch the Calder Cup Playoffs on AHLTV
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