📝 by Patrick Williams
The race for a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs is on in earnest for the Texas Stars.
Forward Ty Dellandrea called the Stars’ 7-1 home win against the Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday a good start. But the American Hockey League schedule has another test up next for the Stars in the Tucson Roadrunners when the teams meet on Texas home ice in tonight’s AHLTV Free Game of the Week (8 ET/7 CT).
“We wanted to come out and make sure we took care of our business,” Dellandrea said of knocking off a strong Charlotte team. “These are big points that we need.”
Indeed they are for the Stars (19-22-5-5, .471), who have three teams ― the Grand Rapids Griffins, Iowa Wild, and Rockford IceHogs ― within close sight in the tightening Central Division race. And the Roadrunners have their own concerns. At 17-26-3-1 (.404), Tucson is trying to fight off the surging San Jose Barracuda while tracking down the San Diego Gulls in a Pacific Division fight.
The 21-year-old Dellandrea has heated up lately with six points (three goals, three assists) in his past eight games and will be a critical part of the Stars’ playoff chase. Dellandrea, who has 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 47 games with Texas, is in his second pro season after being taken 13th overall in the 2018 National Hockey League Draft by the parent Dallas Stars. Last season Dellandrea earned 26 games with Dallas, contributing five points (three goals, two assists).
“I started slow,” Dellandrea said of his early-season play with Texas. “I didn’t have the start I wanted and struggled offensively to begin. As the year goes on in the second half, I’ve picked it up a little bit, so I think I can contribute a lot more offensively. I’m just trying to play a solid two-way game and contribute on the power play and penalty kill.
“I do think I can be more of a contributor offensively, and I think that’ll come.”
Dellandrea snagged two assists against the Checkers, finding quick chemistry with newcomer Marian Studenic on a line with Anthony Louis. Studenic, who jumped into the Texas lineup this week on a conditioning assignment from Dallas, scored once and nabbed two assists in Wednesday’s win as the line generated nine shots.
“Playing with those two was a lot of fun,” Dellandrea said. “[Studenic] has been a good addition for us. Brings a ton of speed and poise with the puck. Louis has been the same way all year. Super skilled, see the ice, makes plays, and can score, too.
“It’s just fun to play with guys like that.”
Tucson will have to do without two key pieces tonight. Standout rookie forward Matias Maccelli remains with the Arizona Coyotes, where he has tallied a goal and two assists in his first four NHL games, and Roadrunners captain Hudson Fasching also headed to Arizona on recall this week.
After the Roadrunners depart Texas, they tangle with the Barracuda in three critical games next week at Tucson Arena.
STAYING HOT IN STOCKTON
A 5-2 victory over San Diego on Wednesday kept the Stockton Heat ahead of the pack for first overall in the AHL (32-9-4-1, .750).
Rookie forward Jakob Pelletier’s hat trick keyed the win, two days after his 21st birthday. Pelletier, the 26th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is third in AHL rookie scoring with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 45 contests.
Another rookie, goaltender Dustin Wolf, fended off 31 San Diego shots for his league-best 24th win. He is 24-4-3 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 31 games.
What does Wolf see in the Heat from his perspective in net?
“I think just outworking teams [has been key],” Wolf said. “We’re really good at getting pucks deep, getting behind them, working toward chipping it in and getting the puck back, working it low to high, and getting pucks to the net. I think we’ve got a really good foundation coming into the last couple of months and going into the playoffs, hopefully.”
The Heat are back in action tonight in San Jose to open a home-and-home series versus the Barracuda.
WOLVES DEVOURING OPPONENTS
Young talent continues to help the Chicago Wolves take down opponents and remain in hot pursuit of the top of the overall league standings.
Chicago (34-10-4-4, .731) is second in the AHL, and their 34 wins lead the league. They will carry an eight-game point streak (7-0-0-1) into a road meeting with the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday night.
Rookie forward Jack Drury’s hat trick last Sunday set up a 5-3 win over Iowa. The 22-year-old Drury, a second-round draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2018, has climbed to 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists) in 49 games. Another top Hurricanes prospect, goaltender Jack LaFontaine, denied 25 Wild shots.
“[Drury is] really confident right now,” Wolves head coach Ryan Warsofsky told the team website. “He sets the tone for how we’re playing. He’s huge for the team because he takes the load off (Andrew) Poturalski and gives us another guy up the middle that we can rely on. He’s been really good all year.”
Another recent second-round draft pick, Pyotr Kochetkov, improved to 4-0-0 (2.27, .925) with the Wolves when he made 20 saves in a 4-2 win at Grand Rapids on Wednesday night. With the victory, Chicago improved to 8-0-0-0 this season against the Griffins this season.
A SPECIAL WEEK IN SPRINGFIELD
The Springfield Thunderbirds have had one of those memory-making weeks.
First, James Neal’s hat trick carried the Thunderbirds to a 4-3 overtime win over Hershey last Friday night. Twenty-four hours later against the Providence Bruins, Sam Anas scored a goal on Pink in the Rink Night; Anas lost his mother, Deme, to breast cancer in 2020.
Then on Monday, goaltender Charlie Lindgren made 31 saves and led Springfield to a 5-2 victory over Laval in his return to Place Bell; Lindgren spent parts of four seasons with the Rocket returned against his former club, the Laval Rocket, this past Monday and took a 31-save 5-2 decision. Lindgren spent parts of four seasons with the Rocket before signing with the St. Louis Blues last summer. Lindgren has gone 16-3-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .922 save percentage for the Thunderbirds this season, and has also assembled a 5-0-0 record, 1.22 GAA, and .958 save percentage in five NHL outings.
To cap it all off, captain Tommy Cross signed a one-year contract extension with the Thunderbirds on Thursday. Cross, a Springfield-area native, has contributed 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 46 games from the blue line this season.
BRUINS READY FOR HOME COOKING
With wins in nine of their last 11 games, the Providence Bruins begin the weekend in first place in the Atlantic Division (28-15-3-3, .633).
Helping to lead the way has been third-year forward Jack Studnicka, a 2017 second-round choice by the Boston Bruins. Playing on a line with Zach Senyshyn and Chris Wagner, Studnicka helped the P-Bruins to a pair of come-from-behind wins over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last Sunday and in Toronto on Tuesday. The line has generated 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in the past three games.
Providence will take a six-game home winning streak into a two-game set with the visiting Bridgeport Islanders this weekend. The teams start it off Saturday night at Dunkin’ Donuts Center, where the P-Bruins will play 15 of their final 23 games.
AROUND THE AHL
🏒 Fans can track the latest races for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs daily with the handy AHL Playoff Primer.
🏒 Ontario Reign forward T.J. Tynan has overtaken Chicago’s Andrew Poturalski for the AHL scoring lead with 74 points (11 goals, 63 assists) in just 44 games. Tynan, who captured the Les Cunningham Award as the league’s most valuable player last season with the Colorado Eagles, has gone on a 10-game tear with 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) during that streak. He is the first AHL skater in 10 years to reach 60 assists in a season.
🏒 Tynan’s linemate, sharpshooter Martin Frk, took over the AHL lead in goals (31), including goals in seven of his past eight games and back-to-back overtime winners on Mar. 2 vs. Tucson and Mar. 4 vs. Henderson. Frk also has his own point streak at eight games for 11 points (seven goals, four assists); Tynan has assisted on seven of Frk’s past 10 goals.
🏒 Ontario’s 4.06 goals per game continue to top the AHL. Twelve Reign skaters picked up at least a point in last Saturday’s 6-3 defeat of Henderson. A 5-for-15 run also has the Reign first on the power play (56-for-205) with a 27.3 conversion rate. At 2.56 goals against per game, the Chicago Wolves rank first overall. Stockton’s top-ranked penalty kill ticked up to 87.4 percent; Heat penalty killers have allowed only 25 power-play goals this season while scoring 10 times shorthanded. Laval’s 12 shorthanded tallies are most in the AHL.
🏒 San Jose forward John Leonard’s first career hat trick helped him become the latest AHL Player of the Week. Leonard finished with seven points (five goals, two assists) in a three-game week, including the hat trick in a 6-2 home win against Tucson.
🏒 Hartford Wolf Pack general manager Ryan Martin will hold that same position for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in Finland this May. Martin, who is also assistant general manager for the parent New York Rangers, came to the organization following 16 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. He also served as general manager in Grand Rapids for eight seasons.
🏒 Rockford standout rookie Mike Hardman has gone on a 12-point (eight goals, four assists) run in his past 11 games. The 23-year-old forward is up to 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 21 games with the IceHogs while also appearing in 21 games for the Chicago Blackhawks.
🏒 Last Saturday in Grand Rapids, Victor Brattstrom’s 35 saves in a 3-0 win against Iowa earned him his first AHL shutout. A night earlier, Iowa’s Zane McIntyre recorded his 15th career AHL shutout (and first with the Wild) with 40 saves to defeat the Griffins, 4-0.
🏒 Syracuse Crunch defenseman Darren Raddysh’s tally with 0.6 seconds remaining in overtime secured a 3-2 victory against the host Utica Comets on Wednesday. Last weekend the Comets had gone into Syracuse and swept the Crunch on back-to-back nights.
🏒 The Bears have a massive piece of their offense back, as forward Mike Sgarbossa returned this week for a 4-0 home win against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, his first contest since going out with an upper-body injury Jan. 29. In 17 games with Hershey, he has put up 14 points (eight goals, six assists). Bears netminder Zach Fucale also starred in the win with 26 saves while Beck Malenstyn’s three points (two goals, one assist) helped break a four-game losing streak. Hershey makes a quick jaunt to Bridgeport to meet the Islanders tonight before another home date with the Phantoms on Sunday.
🏒 Milwaukee captain Cole Schneider scored his 200th AHL goal last Sunday in a 3-2 win over Grand Rapids, then potted two more goals in another 3-2 win over Iowa on Wednesday. Schneider has 202 goals and 285 assists in 633 career AHL games with Milwaukee, Texas, Hartford, Rochester and Binghamton.
🏒 Bridgeport’s Chris Terry tied current Providence assistant coach Trent Whitfield for 50th place in AHL history with 595 points (252 goals, 343 assists). In his first season with the Islanders, the forward’s 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) lead the team.
🏒 Lehigh Valley captain Cal O’Reilly played his 800th AHL game last Friday night, becoming just the 40th player ever to reach that milestone. Rochester Americans forward Ben Holmstrom played his 600th AHL game Wednesday against Laval.
🏒 Back after missing 30 games, Amerks forward Sean Malone grabbed his 10th goal Wednesday.
🏒 Bridgeport now plays in the newly named Total Mortgage Arena after the team signed a 10-year naming-rights agreement with the local home financing company.
ON THE MOVE
Källgren came on in relief and stopped 10 of 11 shots as the Maple Leafs rallied to earn a point in a 5-4 overtime loss to Arizona. Källgren has gone 15-8-1 with a 3.02 GAA and .904 save percentage in 26 AHL games this season.
Spence has 42 points (four goals, 38 assists) for the Reign this season, placing him second among AHL blueliners and first for rookies at that position. He logged more than 14 minutes of ice time, including 2:35 on the power play, during Los Angeles’s 4-3 overtime loss to San Jose.
🏒 Tampa Bay Lightning forward Boris Katchouk has joined Syracuse on a conditioning assignment. The 23-year-old has picked up six points (two goals, four assists) in 37 NHL games this season after notching a team-leading 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 29 games last season for Syracuse. The Crunch visit Rochester tonight.
🏒 Lehigh Valley rookie defender Cam York is back with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he played 13 games during an earlier recall. The 21-year-old has 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 34 games for the Phantoms. He went to Philadelphia as the 14th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Lehigh Valley did pick up forward Wade Allison from the Flyers in his return from a knee injury. Allison, 24, has seven points (three goals, one assist) in seven contests for the Phantoms. Philadelphia took him in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
🏒 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton leading scorer Valtteri Puustinen has been recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Puustinen, 22, has a team-leading 17 goals to go with 17 assists in 53 games. Pittsburgh sent goaltender Louis Domingue back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
🏒 San Diego and the Anaheim Ducks continued to shuffle several players this week. Defenseman Brendan Guhle is back with the Gulls after a stint with the Ducks. This season Guhle, 24, has chipped in five points (two goals, three assists) in 28 games for San Diego while also appearing in five NHL contests. However, forwards Vinni Lettieri, Danny O’Regan, and Buddy Robinson all have gone to Anaheim on recall. O’Regan ranks second in San Diego scoring with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) through 37 games while Lettieri’s 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) across 24 games gives him the team’s highest points-per-game average (0.92). The Gulls finish an eight-game road stretch tonight against the Bakersfield Condors.
🏒 In other player moves, Bakersfield and Henderson each are without elite goaltenders, as Stuart Skinner departed the Condors for the Edmonton Oilers and Logan Thompson headed across town to the Vegas Golden Knights. Henderson defenseman Daniil Miromanov is also up with the Golden Knights.
🏒 Manitoba Moose defenseman Ville Heinola is back with the Winnipeg Jets. Springfield forwards Mackenzie MacEachern and Alexey Toropchenko went to St. Louis, while the Blues sent forwards Dakota Joshua and Klim Kostin to Springfield.
🏒 Cleveland Monsters defenseman Billy Sweezey earned a two-year contract from the Columbus Blue Jackets this week. Sweezey, who is currently on an AHL deal with Cleveland, has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 45 games.
🏒 Cleveland also added forward Roman Ahcan from the University of Wisconsin, where he finished with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 34 games. Ahcan is the younger brother of Providence blueliner Jack Ahcan, who scored his first career NHL goal for Boston on Thursday. Michigan State forward Mitch Lewandowski has signed a tryout deal with Tucson after compiling 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 21 games this season.
🏒 Former AHL forward Ryan Bourque has been named the new interim assistant coach for Hershey’s ECHL affiliate in South Carolina. Bourque, who retired after the 2019-20 season, played 585 AHL games with Hartford, Hershey, Bridgeport and Charlotte.
Back from an eight-game road trip, Charlotte is home to Springfield tonight and Saturday… After Wednesday’s 7-2 win in Rochester, Laval stops in Lehigh Valley tonight before moving on to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday… Hartford follows Laval, visiting the Phantoms on Saturday and the Penguins on Sunday… Belleville goes west for the first time this season for a pair of games at Manitoba tonight and Saturday; the Moose swept two meetings in Belleville back in December… Toronto swings through New York State, visiting Utica tonight and Syracuse on Saturday… Cleveland is in Grand Rapids tonight, then hosts Rockford on Sunday afternoon; the IceHogs stop first in Milwaukee tonight… Henderson looks to snap a five-game losing skid when it visits Iowa on Saturday and Sunday… Colorado, 8-2-1-1 in its last 12 road games, goes north to Abbotsford tonight and Sunday.
“I was always a smaller kid, so maybe one of the little Ewoks that would take everyone on. That’s probably who I would most compare myself to.”
― Grand Rapids head coach Ben Simon, joking after the team hosted Star Wars Night last weekend
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.
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.