Weekend notebook: Firebirds migrate north

Photo: Candice Ward

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Coachella Valley Firebirds are heading home.

Well, sort of. Call it a home away from home for the American Hockey League’s newest club.

The Firebirds are opening their first season with 22 games on the road while construction of Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., winds down. But the new affiliate of the Seattle Kraken engineered a solution to lighten some of that challenge: The Kraken are hosting the Firebirds this fall in Seattle, allowing the organization’s AHL prospects to have a set home base and practice regularly at the state-of-the-art Kraken Community Iceplex.

And four of those 22 games will be “home” games in the Pacific Northwest, where Seattle hockey fans will be able to see their prospects up close. The Firebirds battle the Abbotsford Canucks today at KCI and Sunday at Climate Pledge Arena, the National Hockey League club’s home building. Next weekend features a two-game series with the Wranglers that opens in nearby Everett, Wash., on Oct. 28 before a trip back to the Iceplex the following afternoon.

The Firebirds opened their inaugural season by putting on a show against the host Calgary Wranglers, winning 6-5 on Sunday and 3-1 on Monday. In the first game in team history, Coachella Valley chased reigning AHL goaltender of the year Dustin Wolf with five goals on 26 shots in a period and a half.

Hockey will at last arrive at Acrisure Arena on Dec. 18 when the Firebirds welcome the Tucson Roadrunners for the building’s first-ever AHL contest. The road-heavy early schedule will enable the Firebirds to play 32 of their final 50 games on home ice. In the meantime, however, the Firebirds face trips to Abbotsford, Tucson, Colorado, Calgary, and San Diego in November alone.


The AHLTV Free Game of the Week returns this weekend when the Cleveland Monsters visit the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in a Saturday night battle (7 ET/4 PT).

After finishing at the bottom of the Atlantic Division last season, the Phantoms have had an eventful start to their 2022-23 campaign. In their opener last Saturday, Lehigh Valley got a goal from newcomer Louie Belpedio with 1.4 seconds to go in overtime ― the latest OT goal in team history ― to secure a 3-2 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Then on Sunday, Samuel Ersson had a strong 26-save outing in a 2-1 loss at Hershey. Ersson, 23, played only five games last season while battling a lower-body injury; he had offseason surgery and competed well in camp with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Following several offseason changes and the hiring of new head coach Trent Vogelhuber, the Monsters are off to a 2-0 start after sweeping the Syracuse Crunch in a pair of home games last weekend. Rookie winger Kirill Marchenko, a second-round pick by Columbus in the 2018 NHL Draft, led Cleveland with three goals and an assist in his first two career AHL games.


When will the Toronto Marlies see Nick Robertson again?

Will they at all?

Injuries have limited Robertson to 49 games with the Marlies across the past two seasons, but he did notch 28 points in 28 games in 2021-22 despite missing more than three months after breaking his leg last October.

Taken in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Robertson stuck with the Leafs deep into training camp this year before returning to the Marlies, where he tallied a goal and an assist during an opening weekend home-and-home with Rochester.

That play earned Robertson a call-up to the Maple Leafs for their game Thursday night against the Dallas Stars. Head coach Sheldon Keefe planted Robertson on a line with captain John Tavares and William Nylander, and Robertson took it from there. He served up a third-period go-ahead goal before winning it in overtime, ripping a Tavares pass past Stars goaltender Scott Wedgewood. It was his first career multi-goal game in the NHL.


A number of faces have changed since the Laval Rocket and Springfield Thunderbirds waged a seven-game struggle in the Eastern Conference Finals four months ago.

The teams met for the first time this season on Wednesday night in a goaltending classic at Place Bell. A force in Laval’s playoff run last spring, Cayden Primeau shut out the Thunderbirds, 2-0, with a 34-save night. Primeau, 23, is back with the Rocket for more seasoning after he was 9-5 with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in 14 playoff appearances last spring.

Primeau’s counterpart Wednesday was Joel Hofer, who holds the number-one job in Springfield after Charlie Lindgren signed with the Washington Capitals in the offseason. Hofer, a 22-year-old beginning his second full AHL season, fended off early Laval pressure with 14 first-period stops and finished with 28 saves.

Hofer and the Thunderbirds look to get in the win column this weekend as they visit Belleville for two games. Laval hits the road for games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Bridgeport.


🏒 The AHL’s 500-point club has its 97th member – Milwaukee Admirals captain Cole Schneider. A veteran of 652 AHL games with Milwaukee, Texas, Hartford, Rochester and Binghamton, Schneider reached the milestone with an assist in the Admirals’ 3-2 loss at Grand Rapids on Wednesday.

🏒 Long-time AHL sniper Austin Czarnik has taken quickly to his new home with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Czarnik, a Michigan native who came to the Detroit Red Wings organization over the summer, bagged a hat trick in his second game with the Griffins, an 8-5 victory against the visiting San Diego Gulls last Saturday. With five points in two games, Czarnik was named the season’s first winner of the Howies Hockey Tape/AHL Player of the Week award.

🏒 Syracuse Crunch teammates Cole Koepke and Nick Perbix, Jakub Lauko of the Providence Bruins, and Laval alum Kaiden Guhle became the first four AHL players to make their NHL debuts this season.

🏒 An already-experienced Bakersfield Condors team added even more of that ingredient this week when captain Brad Malone returned from the Edmonton Oilers. Malone, a sixth-year Condor who had played two games with Edmonton before his reassignment, made his AHL season debut Wednesday night against the Henderson Silver Knights.

🏒 The Belleville Senators are off to a 2-0-1-0 start despite losing goaltender Mads Sogaard to injury four minutes into their season opener at Laval last Friday. Kevin Mandolese stepped in with 26 saves to take a 5-4 overtime win, and a night later in the home opener Antoine Bibeau supplied 32 saves for a 6-3 victory over the Rocket.

🏒 Last weekend the Chicago Wolves had one final chance to celebrate their third Calder Cup championship, raising their championship banner on opening night against the rival Milwaukee Admirals before 11,415 fans. However, the visiting Admirals handed Chicago a 5-2 loss.

Several high-profile pieces from last season’s championship club departed in the offseason for opportunities elsewhere, including head coach Ryan Warsofsky. Brock Sheahan is now behind the Chicago bench, coming over to the team from Chicago of the United States Hockey League. Only eight players in Chicago’s opening-night lineup were with the team last season.

🏒 In a goaltending battle of NHL first-round picks Wednesday at Van Andel Arena, the Griffins’ Sebastian Cossa outdueled Milwaukee’s Yaroslav Askarov as each made their AHL debuts. Cossa, 19, made 21 saves in the 3-2 victory; he was selected 15th overall by Detroit in the 2021 NHL Draft. The 20-year-old Askarov, who finished with 22 stops, went to the Nashville Predators with the 11th overall pick in 2020.

🏒 The NHL waiver wire hit the Hershey Bears hard coming out of the preseason as the Washington organization lost forwards Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (Winnipeg) and Brett Leason (Anaheim). So the Capitals brought in help, signing free-agent forward Sonny Milano and assigning him to the Bears, who visit the Charlotte Checkers for games tonight and Saturday. Milano, a Calder Cup champion with Lake Erie in 2016, was a first-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014 and had 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 66 NHL games last season with Anaheim.

🏒 Iowa Wild rookie forward Michael Milne has himself a new three-year entry-level contract with the parent Minnesota Wild. Milne, 20, earned a spot on the Iowa roster after spending last season with Winnipeg of the WHL, where he had 81 points (38 goals, 43 assists) while playing all 68 games before tacking on 13 goals and six assists in 15 playoff games. Minnesota liked what they saw of Milne and took him in the third round of the NHL Draft this past July.

🏒 After being limited to 25 games as a rookie last season, Laval Rocket defenseman Gianni Fairbrother received more bad news: a knee injury in a preseason game Oct. 9 at Belleville is season-ending, the Rocket announced. Chosen in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, the 22-year-old had been expected to play a key role on a retooled Laval blue line this season. He was injured going into the Calder Cup Playoffs last spring, but recovered in time to play three games for the Rocket in the Eastern Conference Finals.

🏒 Signed in the offseason out of Finland by the Winnipeg Jets, goaltender Oskari Salminen had a memorable first AHL start, shutting out Rockford on Sunday with a 32-save performance. Salminen was a workhorse last season in Finland with Liiga club Jukurit Mikkeli, leading the league with 55 appearances and going 29-14-11 with a 2.07 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

🏒 It appears that once again the Ontario Reign will be able to dominate offensively.

Last season the Reign led the AHL with 3.81 goals scored per game, as well as a power play that ran at a record-setting 27.5 percent. On opening night last Friday, the Reign buried the visiting Abbotsford Canucks with eight goals, three of them on the power play, in an 8-2 victory. Newly named captain T.J. Tynan, the AHL’s two-time reigning MVP, has begun the season with a league-leading seven points (one goal, six assists) through three games, and Samuel Fagemo, a top Los Angeles Kings forward prospect, had three goals last weekend.

🏒 A key piece of the Boston’s future, 19-year-old forward Fabian Lysell had an impressive first weekend with the Providence Bruins. He picked up his first AHL goal last Friday to help Providence defeat Bridgeport, 3-1, and followed that up with three assists in a 4-3 win at Springfield on Saturday. Lysell was taken by Boston with the 21st overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and had an excellent season with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League in 2021-22, with 62 points in the regular season (22 goals, 40 assists) before leading the WHL with 17 playoff assists in 12 games.

🏒 The Rochester Americans had the AHL’s third-best power play last season (23.5 percent) and is off to a hot start at 5-for-15 (33.3 percent) through three games in 2022-23. The Amerks scored three times with the man advantage and once shorthanded in their 4-2 win over Toronto last Friday.

Rochester benefited from the assignment of forward Anders Bjork from the Buffalo Sabres this week. Bjork, a veteran of 211 NHL games with Buffalo and Boston, scored 3:29 into overtime to give the Amerks a 4-3 win over Belleville on Wednesday night.

🏒 A 3-0 hole coming out of the second intermission last Saturday afternoon at Manitoba apparently did not rattle the Rockford IceHogs.

Three Rockford goals in a 6:37 span undid that Manitoba lead, then Luke Philp tied it again at 4-4 with just 2:04 to play before offseason addition Brett Seney won the game in overtime, 5-4.

Selected 17th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft by the parent Chicago Blackhawks, Lukas Reichel began his second AHL campaign with a goal and two assists; his cousin Kristian Reichel had a goal for the Moose in the contest.

🏒 After a trying 2021-22 season and a summer makeover, the San Jose Barracuda swept a two-game stop in Iowa to begin their season. Forward William Eklund, the seventh overall choice in the 2021 NHL Draft, picked up his first pro goal ― the game-winner in Saturday’s 3-1 3-1 victory.

This weekend, the Barracuda will open the brand-new Tech CU Arena, their new home after playing their first seven seasons at SAP Center. They have the Henderson Silver Knights in town Saturday night and Sunday afternoon as part of a five-game homestand.


“It’s a tough league. It can be a humbling league at times.”

― Utica Comets head coach Kevin Dineen, who played NHL 19 seasons, on the test that top prospects face in the AHL.