📝 by Patrick Williams
Southern California black-and-silver versus Bay Area teal has been a West Coast fixture for more than 30 years.
The Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks rivalry has provided many memorable moments, but their American Hockey League affiliates have built a history of their own since the AHL’s Pacific Division formed in 2015.
Fans can get this season’s first taste of that AHL rivalry when the Reign welcome the Barracuda tonight in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week (10 ET/7 PT).
Expect two clubs with top-notch speed and formidable power-play talent. San Jose checks in second in the AHL at 23 percent on the man-advantage, and Ontario is third overall, a tick behind at 22.9 percent.
However, the Barracuda always present a strong challenge for Ontario, and San Jose swept the clubs’ 2020-21 season series. Legendary head coach Roy Sommer is in his 24th AHL season guiding Sharks prospects, and his name is all over the AHL record book with 796 victories and 1,694 games coached. He won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in 2016-17, and in all, he has sent more than 130 of his players to the NHL.
“Roy always has them ready to go,” Ontario assistant coach Chris Hajt began. “We always seem to have had really, really good games against them throughout the years.
“Excellent coach, and their staff is an excellent, excellent staff. They have a lot of talent on that team, a lot of speed. They tend to have teams that can really move the puck and skate well. Always really prepared.”
After missing the postseason in 2019, plus the truncated 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, the Reign are very much back in contention for the Calder Cup.
Los Angeles management undertook aggressive offseason free-agent work to buttress an outstanding group of prospects with a two more Calder Cup champions. The Kings brought in playmaking forward T.J. Tynan, who won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player last season with the Colorado Eagles. In net, Garret Sparks came over from the Stockton Heat; he was the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s top goaltender in 2017-18 in taking the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup. They joined a leadership group that already included captain Brett Sutter and Calder Cup champions in sniper Martin Frk and Cameron Gaunce, one of the AHL’s most savvy blueliners.
Those moves helped the Reign break out to a 9-0-0-1 start. A very brief stumble in November slowed some of that momentum, but the 13-5-0-1 Reign are still second in the very challenging Pacific Division.
“They’re quick,” Sommer said of the Reign. “I think those guys, they have gotten used to the league. They’re getting good goaltending, and they’ve got a lot of scoring up front. They’re fast.
“So, they’re a handful.”
With Ontario head coach John Wroblewski on personal leave, Hajt and fellow assistant coach Craig Johnson are running the bench.
And it is quite the bench.
Up front, there is Quinton Byfield, the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Samuel Fagemo was a 2019 second-round pick who is already in his fourth season of high-level pro experience at age 21. The Kings have Gabriel Vilardi in Ontario, the 11th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, to retool his game with the Reign staff. Alex Turcotte (out of the lineup since early December) was the 2019 NHL Draft’s fifth overall pick. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, a second-rounder in 2017, is back from Los Angeles.
The pro game has started to click as well for second-year forward Tyler Madden, the son of long-time NHL forward and former Cleveland Monsters head coach John Madden. Madden, 22, has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) after enduring injuries as a rookie.
“I think I’ve really started to find my game and be a little bit more consistent in the past probably 10 games or so,” Madden said. “And I’m getting rewarded for it, being able to score some goals and make some plays.”
Most young AHL players must master the art of consistency, and Madden is taking on that same fight.
“I think I found a routine,” Madden explained. “I think that’s why I’ve been able to be more consistent. And when I stick to that routine and take care of myself in that way, I feel like I just play better in general.
“And even if you’re tired, just knowing that you’ve got to do something tonight to help your team out… Right before the game, I kind of give myself a little talk and know that every game and every battle and everything like that are so important.”
CHARLOTTE CHECKS IN
Where does one start with the Charlotte Checkers’ work this past Tuesday night in an 11-1 win against the visiting Rochester Americans?
Charlotte’s 11 goals set a team record. The Checkers did not even need their power play, either, as all 11 markers came at even strength. Forward Kole Lind had an AHL career-best five points on two goals and three assists. Right behind Lind was Grigori Denisenko with his two goals and two assists. Defenseman Chase Priskie contributed a goal and three assists as well. Only five Charlotte skaters went without a point.
In a seven-goal second period, the Checkers rolled up six of those tallies in a 4:31 span. Charlotte was not up against a slouch, either; the Amerks had arrived in the Queen City for a two-game series on a five-game winning streak. Charlotte’s win was the first 11-goal game in the AHL since Rochester’s own 12-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Feb. 16, 2018. And no team had hung 11 goals on the Amerks since the Baltimore Skipjacks’ 12-0 victory on Nov. 23, 1984.
A night later, the Checkers finished the sweep, 4-2, behind two goals from forward Scott Wilson to give them their fifth win in the past six games. NHL veteran Devan Dubnyk made his second start for Charlotte and had a 21-save win.
Even losing the AHL’s leading scorer, the league’s fourth-ranked scorer, and a dynamic rookie cannot slow down the Chicago Wolves.
The Wolves earned their 10th consecutive win Thursday in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory against the Manitoba Moose at Allstate Arena, an effort that exacting head coach Ryan Warsofsky described to the team website as “resilient.”
They did so without AHL top scorer Andrew Poturalski (12 goals, 22 assists) and forward Stefan Noesen, who is tied for fourth in the AHL at 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists). With the parent Carolina Hurricanes facing a depleted line-up because of a COVID-19 outbreak, they recalled Poturalski, Noesen, and rookie Jack Drury, who has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 23 games for the 18-4-1-1 Wolves.
The Wolves’ two third-period goals included Josh Leivo’s toe-drag highlight goal with 1.1 seconds remaining in the game. Linemate C.J. Smith, second in AHL scoring, took his point streak to five games (four goals, five assists).
“It just goes to show how deep we are,” Leivo told the team website. “And how great our team really is.”
Third overall in the AHL, the Wolves (.792) are trying to chase down the Utica Comets (.900) and Stockton (.833). Utica (4-0-2-0) and Stockton (5-0-0-1) each enter the weekend with six-game points streaks.
ADMIRALS SET OFF FOR NASHVILLE
The Nashville Predators have always leaned heavily on the Milwaukee Admirals.
So when a COVID-19 outbreak hit the Predators this week, they again turned to the Milwaukee roster. But they went behind the Milwaukee bench as well. Nashville recalled Admirals forwards Cody Glass, Rocco Grimaldi, Mathieu Olivier, and Cole Smith, and also brought in Admirals head coach Karl Taylor and assistant coach Scott Ford to work the Nashville bench on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche. The reinforcements led the Predators to a 5-2 victory.
Milwaukee has won five consecutive games going into a home-and-home match-up with the Wolves this weekend.
MIROMANOV GOLDEN FOR SILVER KNIGHTS
Henderson Silver Knights defenseman Daniil Miromanov has a big fan in assistant coach Joel Ward.
Ward, the long-time NHL forward, praised Miromanov after a 4-3 win against the Tucson Roadrunners earlier this week.
“He’s a high-skilled guy, big body, good skater,” Ward said. “We’re [fortunate] to have this guy on our team, and he’s been a really good pro, just communicating [and] helping out here… A stand-up guy off the ice, willing to learn. I think that’s a key component for some of these kids.
“It’s just a process of staying with it every day, working at it. I think he’s going to be an exceptional hockey player.”
Miromanov is in an eighth-place tie among AHL blueliners at 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 17 games; the 24-year-old has a run of a goal and five assists in his past five outings, and his 47 shots also tie him for eighth among AHL defensemen. The parent Vegas Golden Knights signed him this past March, and he made his NHL debut on Oct. 24.
FINDING A WAY
AHL life means adapting quickly, so front offices have been working the phones.
With six Boston Bruins in COVID-19 protocol going into Thursday night’s game at the New York Islanders, they turned to the Providence Bruins and plucked forwards Jesper Froden, Oskar Steen, and Jack Studnicka along with goaltender Kyle Keyser. The P-Bruins have road contests with the Laval Rocket (Friday) and Belleville Senators (Saturday), so they brought in goaltender Jeremy Brodeur from Maine, their ECHL affiliate. Forward Alexis D’Aoust, who has 110 AHL regular-season games of experience, met the team in Laval on recall from Trois-Rivières of the ECHL.
Grigori Denisenko and Chase Priskie joined Charlotte defenseman Matt Kiersted and forward Cole Schwindt on recall to the Florida Panthers, while Charlotte received goaltender Spencer Knight, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, on loan from the Florida. The Checkers host the Bridgeport Islanders on Saturday and Sunday.
AROUND THE AHL
🏒 Rochester head coach Seth Appert told the club’s website that top prospect Jack Quinn is out with mononucleosis. Quinn, taken by the parent Buffalo Sabres as the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, has blossomed as a second-year pro this season with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 17 contests ― tying him for fourth in AHL scoring ― despite missing the club’s past four games.
🏒 The Milwaukee Admirals host their annual Charity Night tonight when the Wolves visit Panther Arena. The team will reduce $22 tickets to $8 while a $16 ticket will be cut to $5. The Admirals will then donate $3 from those discounted tickets as well as all regular-priced tickets to Children’s Wisconsin, the Milwaukee-area pediatric hospital.
🏒 New Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations and interim general manager Jim Rutherford announced Thursday that Ryan Johnson will remain in his current position as Abbotsford’s general manager. Johnson also serves as Vancouver’s senior director of player development.
🏒 Scoring six times in his last six games, Abbotsford’s Sheldon Dries has taken control of the AHL lead in goals (13).
🏒 Stockton Heat rookie Dustin Wolf is 12-0-2 (1.83, .941) in his 14 appearances this season, allowing two goals or fewer in 12 of them.
ON THE MOVE
🏒 Texas forwards Riley Damiani and Ty Dellandrea skated for Dallas against St. Louis on Tuesday night; for Damiani, the AHL’s rookie of the year in 2020-21, it was his NHL debut, and he scored the Stars’ only goal in a 4-1 defeat. Springfield Thunderbirds forward Alexey Toropchenko made his NHL debut with the Blues in the same game.
🏒 Dallas also assigned goaltender Anton Khudobin to the AHL Stars.
🏒 Tucson Roadrunners blueliner Janis Moser made his NHL debut with the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.
🏒 Four AHL skaters ― Chicago’s Jack Drury (Carolina Hurricanes), Charlotte’s Cole Schwindt (Florida Panthers), Providence’s Jesper Froden (Boston Bruins) and San Jose’s Jayden Halbgewachs (San Jose Sharks) ― made their NHL debuts on Thursday night. A total of 71 AHL players have made their NHL debuts so far in 2021-22.
🏒 Bridgeport forward Austin Czarnik, who has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 20 games, has been promoted to the parent Islanders.
🏒 Rochester Americans defenseman Casey Fitzgerald joined the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
🏒 Cayden Primeau was recalled from Laval and made 37 saves in the Montreal Canadiens’ 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia on Thursday night. Lehigh Valley call-ups Max Willman and Jackson Cates scored for the Flyers.
🏒 The Toronto Marlies have added forward Joseph Blandisi on a professional tryout. Blandisi notched 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 25 games for Laval in 2020-21.
🏒 Brendan Perlini scored for Edmonton on Thursday in his first game back from a stint with the Bakersfield Condors.
As the AHL continues to shuffle its schedule out of caution due to COVID-19 protocols, the Hershey Bears face a stretch of five games in six nights beginning tonight in Springfield… Hartford and Springfield, the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, stage a home-and-home series on Saturday and Sunday… Laval hosts Providence tonight before visiting Syracuse on Saturday, their last game before their Christmas break… Rockford visits Texas for games tonight and Saturday in a Central Division match-up… Manitoba and Iowa play twice in downtown Des Moines, with the Wild fighting an 0-6-1-1 slide… Colorado has a pair of games at Pacific Division-leading Stockton… Bakersfield looks to snap a six-game winless skid when it visits San Diego tonight… Abbotsford heads to Henderson for matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
“It was so cool getting to watch that first goal. We were jumping out of the seats for him. He will be a player [who] will have a great NHL career.”
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.