Weekend notebook: Big second half for Smith, Admirals

Photo: Scott Paulus

📝 by Patrick Williams

A date with the Manitoba Moose ― and a chance to avoid a dangerous best-of-three first-round Calder Cup Playoff series ― is at stake for the Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford IceHogs tonight when the Central Division rivals meet in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week (8 ET/7 CT).

Finishing third in the Central ensures a first-round bye before meeting the Moose in a best-of-five; the team that finishes fourth will meet the fifth-place Texas Stars next week in a best-of-three series. A win tonight by the host Admirals would lock up third place for Milwaukee. A win in regulation by the IceHogs would give them third place, while a Rockford victory in overtime or a shootout would send the race down to the season’s final day on Saturday, when Rockford hosts Chicago.

The Admirals have been dealing with some lineup hits lately, most notably losing star goaltender Connor Ingram on recall to the Nashville Predators in the wake of an injury to Juuse Saros. With Ingram (30-17-7, 2.70, .915 in a league-high 54 appearances) gone for the time being, the Admirals have turned to second-year pro Devin Cooley in net.

Amid perhaps his best season ever as a pro or amateur, Admirals forward Cole Smith also missed the club’s two games last weekend. A defensive standout and co-captain during his collegiate career at North Dakota, Smith has broken out with a 20-goal season for the Admirals while also adding 20 assists in 58 games with the club. He has also skated in eight games with Nashville this year.

Part of a winning tradition at North Dakota, the Brainerd, Minn., native ― along with the rest of the Milwaukee roster ― experienced a difficult start to the season. But Milwaukee, which started the season at 5-12-1-0, has not lost back-to-back games in regulation since Jan. 8-12 and is 25-10-3-4 in its last 42 contests.

“I think the start of the season was tough,” Smith acknowledged. “Finding that chemistry and finding that kind of trust in each other throughout the season, you could see that as we started to build as a team. Right now we’re a really close team, and everybody trusts each other, so I think that is what really helped us make a push here in the second half.”

At 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, Smith has down-low size that has helped his offensive game to blossom. As a senior in 2019-20, he was a finalist for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s top defensive player award. Even in his final season at North Dakota, his production was limited to 18 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 34 games, and he finished with 61 points (37 goals, 24 assists) during a 137-game NCAA career.

But coming to the Nashville organization has helped Smith to round out his game.

“I’ve been really pleased with my offensive production,” Smith said. “In the past, it hasn’t been exactly what I hang my hat on. But it’s been really good this year to be able to contribute in those ways, just working on my skills, doing extra work with our assistant coach, Greg Rallo.

“I feel like ever since my freshman year at UND, I probably came in a little under-skilled. Just being able to keep working on skills and keep trying to develop, I feel like this year has paid off.

“I’ve been really pleased with it and hopefully [I can] keep that production going.”


The Pacific Division champion Stockton Heat still have more work to do before they move into the postseason.

The Heat (45-15-5-2, .724) can clinch the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular-season champion with a victory in Bakersfield on Saturday night. They have already locked up the best record ever for a Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, and their 97 points are the most by a Pacific Division entry since the group was formed in 2015-16.


The race for the final invitation to the Calder Cup Playoffs has come down to the final weekend, with the Toronto Marlies and Rochester Americans vying to secure the fifth spot in the North Division.

The Amerks must defeat Utica at home tonight in order keep their playoff hopes alive, then hope for a Marlies regulation loss in Belleville on Saturday afternoon. Any other results would send Toronto to the postseason.


The scoring race between Andrew Poturalski and T.J. Tynan will come down to Saturday night.

Poturalski scored once and added an assist for Chicago in Thursday’s 6-3 win over Grand Rapids, bringing him to 99 points (28 goals, 71 assists) on the season. Poturalski, who won the AHL scoring title in 2020-21, is now one point ahead of Tynan, who sits at 98 points (14 goals, 84 assists) for Ontario.

Poturalski and the Wolves are in Rockford on Saturday evening; Tynan and the Reign visit Henderson later that night.

No AHL player has reached 100 points in a season since Keith Aucoin (106 points) and Alexandre Giroux (103) of the Hershey Bears did so in 2009-10. Poturalski can also become the league’s first back-to-back scoring champion since Peter White in 1996-97 and 1997-98.


🏒 Stefan Noesen scored his league-leading 46th goal for Chicago on Thursday night. Noesen, an eighth-year pro, had never scored more than 21 goals in a pro season before this year.

🏒 The Wolves, with an AHL resume that includes 10 division titles, four Finals appearances and two Calder Cup championships, will finish with its best regular-season record in 21 seasons since joining the AHL. Thursday’s win over Grand Rapids gave Chicago an 11-0-1-0 record against the Griffins in their season series.

🏒 Stuart Skinner made 22 saves last Saturday in Bakersfields 4-0 win over Stockton, tying him for the league lead with his fifth shutout of the season.

🏒 Ontario is poised to set an AHL record for power-play efficiency. The Reign are clicking at 27.8 percent with the man advantage this season; the Springfield Indians converted 26.8 percent of their power plays in 1993-94.

🏒 Reigning AHL Player of the Week Matt Murray of Texas carried his strong play into this week with a 31-save win at Manitoba on Tuesday that put the Stars into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Murray is 5-1-0 with a 1.68 GAA and a .947 save percentage in his first six pro starts.

🏒 The Charlotte Checkers have clinched back-to-back Atlantic Division titles with three different NHL parent clubs. In the Checkers’ 2018-19 Calder Cup championship season, they were affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes. They are now in a dual affiliation with the Florida Panthers and Seattle Kraken.

🏒 Syracuse matched a club record Wednesday night with its 11th consecutive home win, defeating Providence in overtime, 2-1. It is the longest such streak in the AHL this season. The Crunch are home tonight against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before hosting Laval, a potential playoff opponent, on Saturday.

🏒 Belleville is the first Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate to qualify for the postseason since 2014, when the Binghamton Senators did so. Belleville did win the North Division in the truncated 2019-20 season.

🏒 Make it two games, two shutouts for the Springfield Thunderbirds. Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves in a 4-0 win over Providence last Sunday, and Joel Hofer shut down Lehigh Valley, 5-0, with 26 stops on Tuesday.

🏒 The Abbotsford Canucks’ nine-game winning streak ended in Thursday night’s 7-1 loss at Manitoba.

🏒 Henderson has taken well to its new home, Dollar Loan Center. The Silver Knights, 7-0-1-0 overall in their last eight, have won five in a row on home ice entering their finale against Ontario on Saturday.

🏒 Texas is back in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since going to Game 7 of the 2018 Calder Cup Finals against the Marlies.

🏒 Vasili Ponomarev had a three-point afternoon (two goals, one assist) last Sunday in Chicago’s 6-2 win over Grand Rapids. A 2020 second-round selection by the Carolina Hurricanes, the 20-year-old Ponomarev has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his first 11 AHL contests.

🏒 Grand Rapids’ Riley Barber extended his scoring streak to 16 games with a goal at Chicago on Thursday night. Forward Jonatan Berggren added two assists, giving him points in 10 straight. Berggren (20-42-62) is the first rookie in Griffins history to eclipse 60 points in a season.

🏒 Colorado forward Kiefer Sherwood’s regular season ended with a 14-game point streak (nine goals, 15 assists). Sherwood was voted a Second Team AHL All-Star for 2021-22.

🏒 Kyle Rau of the Iowa Wild became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer when he netted two goals at Rockford on Sunday. Rau has 199 points (88 goals, 111 assists) to move past Sam Anas (197).

🏒 Newly signed Cleveland goaltender Linden Marshall earned his first AHL shutout with 38 saves in last Sunday’s 2-0 home win against Rochester. Marshall completed his senior season at RPI last month.

🏒 Marlies forward Bobby McMann’s 24th goal in Thursday’s overtime loss at Laval set a new club single-season rookie record.

🏒 Laval announced that forward Lukas Vejdemo had hamstring surgery for an injury sustained April 16 and is expected to miss seven months.

🏒 Milwaukee captain Cole Schneider is two points shy of 500 for his AHL career. Schneider established a career high with his 30th goal of the season last Sunday.


🏒 Four more AHL players made their NHL debuts in the last week, bringing the season total up to 140.

Boko Imama of the Tucson Roadrunners played in his first NHL game last Friday after five seasons and 207 games in the AHL. He then scored a goal on Saturday vs. St. Louis.

Pyotr Kochetkov made his debut with Carolina last Saturday and helped the Hurricanes to a three-game sweep of their trip to New Jersey, Long Island and New York, posting a .902 save percentage in two starts and a relief appearance. Tuesday’s win over the Rangers gave Carolina its second consecutive Metropolitan Division title

Defenseman Reilly Walsh debuted for New Jersey on Tuesday evening at Ottawa and picked up an assist. Walsh has 43 points in 69 AHL games with Utica this season.

San Diego’s Hunter Drew skated in his first NHL game on Tuesday, a 5-2 Anaheim Ducks win at San Jose.

🏒 The Detroit Red Wings rewarded Turner Elson with an NHL contract for the remainder of the season. Elson set career highs with 21 goals and 45 points with Grand Rapids this season, his fifth with the Griffins. Elson logged 13 minutes of ice time for the Red Wings on Tuesday at Toronto, his second career NHL game and first since Apr. 9, 2016.

🏒 Philip Broberg was recalled from Bakersfield this week and scored his first career NHL goal in Edmonton’s 5-4 overtime win over San Jose on Thursday. Broberg, the eighth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has 23 points in 31 games with the Condors this season.

🏒 Hershey received a major addition this week with forward Joe Snively’s assignment on an injury conditioning loan from the Washington Capitals. Snively had 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games for Hershey before settling in with the Capitals, and has been out of action since having wrist surgery in March.

🏒 Dryden McKay, this season’s Hobey Baker Award winner, has signed a two-year AHL deal with the Marlies. The 24-year-old goaltender went 38-5-0 with a 1.31 GAA and .931 save percentage in 43 games this season with Minnesota State.

🏒 Henderson has added forward Ivan Morozov, a 2018 second-round pick by the parent Vegas Golden Knights. The 21-year-old signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Golden Knights this week after finishing with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 22 games between SKA St. Petersburg and HK Sochi of the Kontinental Hockey League.

🏒 P-Bruins forward Eduards Tralmaks has a new AHL contract for next season with the club. The 25-year-old has been a pleasant surprise this season, posting 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 51 games as a rookie.


The AHL’s 86th regular season wraps up on Saturday… Providence hosts Springfield tonight and Utica on Saturday before opening their first-round playoff series against Bridgeport on Monday… Tucson hosts San Diego tonight following a 6-2 Roadrunners win on Thursday… Abbotsford will try to lock up third place in the Pacific Division when they visit Manitoba on Saturday afternoon… Grand Rapids and Cleveland wrap up their seasons at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Saturday… Lehigh Valley hosts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night.


“These are games that are going to be intense, they’re going to be fun, they’re going to be tough. But also these are the games that can propel your career as a young player.”

― Belleville forward Andrew Agozzino on what a trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs offers to his younger teammates.