Weekend notebook: Knight time in Charlotte

Photo: Scott Thomas

📝 by Patrick Williams

Fresh off a 3-2-0-0 road trip, the Charlotte Checkers will have one of hockey’s top goaltending prospects to start their six-game homestand tonight.

Spencer Knight and the Checkers will battle the visiting Bridgeport Islanders twice this weekend, beginning with tonight’s AHLTV Free Game of the Week (7 ET/4 PT). Charlotte is fifth in the Atlantic Division at 22-17-2-2 (.561) while Bridgeport (16-19-4-4, .465) is 6-3-3-1 in its last 13 as it tries to climb back into the playoff picture.

Knight, a 20-year-old rookie, earned his first two AHL wins during the Checkers’ five-game trip. The Florida Panthers took him 13th in the 2019 NHL Draft before he went on to play two seasons at Boston College, where he dominated Hockey East in 2020-21 with a 16-4-1 record, a 2.18 goals-against average and .932 save percentage to win conference First All-Star Team, Goaltender of the Year, and Player of the Year honors. Knight was also a Hobey Baker Award finalist, and took the United States to a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as well.

After his season at Boston College, he signed with Florida and won his first four NHL games; he also got into two contests in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. Then coming out of training camp this past fall, he won a job with the Panthers in a tandem with veteran Sergei Bobrovsky.

Knight has made 18 appearances with Florida this season (9-6-2, 3.22, .898), but the Panthers added Jonas Johansson off waivers from the Colorado Avalanche in December, and they need a top prospect like Knight playing games rather than being in a crowded NHL crease.

Charlotte’s schedule can provide plenty of playing time for both Knight and Seattle Kraken prospect Joey Daccord. The Checkers play six games in 10 nights on this homestand, with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Cleveland Monsters coming to town after their two-game series with Bridgeport.

Knight has stopped 61 of 64 shots in his two starts since returning to Charlotte, defeating Syracuse on Jan. 29 and Rochester on Feb. 4. He saw the Islanders once this season, making 27 saves in a 5-1 loss in his AHL debut Dec. 18.

So far this season the clubs have split a pair of two-game series, a December set in Charlotte followed by a pair of January contests in Bridgeport. The Checkers are 3-2-0-0 against Bridgeport so far, one of those wins a 3-2 shootout win at Webster Bank Arena on Jan. 9.

The Charlotte blue line received a boost this week in picking up defenseman Dennis Cholowski on loan from Seattle. Cholowski, a first-round draft pick by Detroit in 2016, was claimed in the expansion draft by the Kraken but lost on waivers to the Washington Capitals at the start of the season before Seattle re-claimed him Wednesday. He had one assist in seven games for the Capitals this season.

This weekend Knight could face another standout goaltending prospect in Bridgeport’s Jakub Skarek, who won AHL Goaltender of the Month honors in January. He finished the month 5-0-2 with a 1.98 GAA and .935 save percentage in eight games.


The Bakersfield Condors packed plenty into their Thursday just ahead of a two-game home series with the Henderson Silver Knights that starts tonight.

First the Condors saw head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson promoted to the parent Edmonton Oilers for the rest of this season. Woodcroft is taking over for head coach Dave Tippett while Manson replaces associate coach Jim Playfair on the Edmonton bench. Condors assistant Colin Chaulk will assume interim head coaching duties with Bakersfield.

Woodcroft, 45, returns to Edmonton, where he spent three seasons as an assistant coach. He came to Bakersfield for the 2018-19 season and went 105-71-12-9 (.586) across parts of four seasons, winning the Pacific Division in 2018-19 and the division playoff title last season. The 55-year-old Manson accompanied Woodcroft to Bakersfield in 2018.

Condors captain Brad Malone also signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Oilers on Thursday. Malone had been on an AHL contract with Bakersfield, where he has notched 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 26 games this season.

To wrap up the day, the Condors lost defensemen Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen on recall to the Oilers. Broberg, 20, came to the Edmonton organization as the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and has 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 26 contests with Bakersfield. The 23-year-old Niemelainen has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 23 games.

Bakersfield is 18-9-4-3 (.632) to hold third place in the Pacific Division. The Condors have taken at least one point in 16 of their past 17 games (12-1-3-1). They are trying to fend off the fourth-place Silver Knights, who are 20-12-2-1 (.614).


The Laval Rocket have a new face on their blue line.

Sami Niku made his Laval debut Wednesday night in a pairing with Tobie Paquette-Bisson as the Rocket handled the visiting Syracuse Crunch, 6-2. He came to the club Jan. 30 on loan from the Montreal Canadiens, where he had six assists in 13 NHL games this season.

Niku burst into the AHL in 2017-18 with the Manitoba Moose and became the second-ever rookie to win the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman. That season he racked up 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 76 regular-season games and also took spots on the AHL First All-Star Team and All-Rookie Team.

But the Canadiens want Niku, 25, to round out his defensive game, and his arrival comes at a good time for a Laval club hit hard by injuries recently. Defenseman Gianni Fairbrother and forward Lukas Vejdemo are out, and the Rocket announced before Wednesday’s game that forward Alex Belzile will miss the next month.

The Rocket, whose 18-13-3-0 record (.574) has them fourth in the North Division, host the Crunch again tonight and Saturday.


Mired in a seven-game losing streak, the Grand Rapids Griffins had seen enough.

Joe Veleno and Tyler Spezia scored shorthanded goals to lift Grand Rapids to a 5-3 win over Ontario last Saturday. Then two goals from top prospect Jonatan Berggren pushed the Griffins to a 4-3 overtime road win against the Iowa Wild on Thursday. Down 3-1 in the third period, Grand Rapids struck twice to take the game to overtime, where Berggren’s goal 16 seconds in finished the win.

The Griffins (17-17-5-2, .500) continue their four-game road trip tonight at Iowa and are in a stretch of six of seven games on the road.


🏒 The AHL is represented by 155 current and former players at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

Bakersfield Condors forward Adam Cracknell picked up an assist for Canada in a 5-1 opening win against Germany on Thursday. Utica Comets defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon played 18:37 for Canada, third-most on the team. AHL alumni Alex Grant, Ben Street, Maxim Noreau, Jordan Weal, and Daniel Winnik all scored in the win.

Captained by AHL alumnus Andy Miele, the United States defeated China on Thursday, 8-0. At 17:37, defenseman Aaron Ness of the Providence Bruins also finished third among U.S. players in ice time. Ness is an alternate captain for the club.

🏒 The Stockton Heat re-taken first place in the AHL with a .757 points percentage (26-7-3-1). Right behind them at .756 are the Utica Comets (27-7-5-0). Utica and the Chicago Wolves each have a league-best 27 wins. The Wolves are playing .739 hockey on the road (16-5-2-0), tops in the AHL.

🏒 The scoring battle between Chicago’s Andrew Poturalski and T.J. Tynan of Ontario has yet to slow. Poturalski is up to 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) in 38 games while Tynan is chasing him at 48 points (eight goals, a league-high 40 assists) in 31 games. The Wolves have three players in the top-five of AHL scoring (Poturalski, Stefan Noesen, and C.J. Smith).

🏒 Noesen scored his league-high 21st goal in Chicago’s 3-2 victory at Cleveland on Tuesday. Carolina Hurricanes goaltending prospect Jack LaFontaine earned his first pro win with a 16-save night. Carolina signed LaFontaine, 24, to an entry-level deal out of the University of Minnesota on Jan. 9; last season, LaFontaine won the Mike Richter Award as the top goaltender in Division I college hockey.

🏒 Hartford Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski has a nine-game goal streak. It is a franchise record, and the longest such streak in the AHL since Tyler Johnson scored in nine straight games for Norfolk in 2011-12.

🏒 Seventh in AHL scoring this season at 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games, Hershey’s Joe Snively scored his first two NHL goals Thursday night for the Capitals in their 5-2 win at Montreal. The 26-year-old forward is from Herndon, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C.

🏒 Syracuse seems to suit Anthony Richard. The 25-year-old forward has a goal to go with a pair of assists in his three games since he joined the Tampa Bay Lightning organization last week in a trade with the Nashville Predators for forward Jimmy Huntington. Now the Crunch will see what their other acquisition last week, forward Tye Felhaber, can do. Syracuse recalled the 23-year-old Thursday from Orlando of the ECHL. He came to the Tampa Bay organization from the Dallas Stars in a deal for forward Alexey Lipanov. Felhaber had two goals in 14 games with the Texas Stars.

🏒 Crunch goaltender Corbin Kaczperski made a memorable AHL debut last Saturday against visiting Charlotte, handling 32 shots in a 3-1 win.

🏒 Don’t count out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Penguins have climbed to .500 (18-18-2-3) thanks to a 9-3-1-0 run since Jan. 15. That surge has helped to offset a stretch of more than two months in which they managed four wins in 21 tries (4-14-1-2).

🏒 Rochester added significant leadership this week, bringing in long-time AHL captain Ben Holmstrom on a professional tryout. A veteran of 586 AHL games, Holmstrom captained the Adirondack Phantoms (2011-14) and Bridgeport Sound Tigers (2015-19). He has 211 points (79 goals, 132 assists) in his AHL career.

🏒 Springfield Thunderbirds forward Alexei Toropchenko will be staying with the St. Louis Blues organization after signing one-year, two-way contract extension this week. Along with 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 33 appearances with the Thunderbirds, the 22-year-old forward made his NHL debut earlier this season and went on to play five games for St. Louis. His goal on Wednesday night took the Thunderbirds past visiting Utica, 3-2.

🏒 The Texas Stars finally defeated Manitoba on their seventh try this season, taking a 3-1 home decision on Wednesday night. Texas built a 2-0 advantage in the opening 4:47, forward Joel L’Esperance advanced his point streak to 10 games, and Adam Scheel contributed 35 saves.

🏒 The Colorado Eagles’ six-game homestand opens tonight when the Tucson Roadrunners visit. Tucson rookie Matias Maccelli has piled up 26 points (four goals, 22 assists) in his last 16 games.

🏒 Pacific Division-leading Stockton hosts second-place Ontario tonight and Saturday. The Reign are on a 10-2-1-1 run since the beginning of January. Ontario rookie defenseman Jordan Spence had his 13-game scoring streak (two goals, 16 assists) end last Saturday in the 5-3 road loss at Grand Rapids.

🏒 The Abbotsford Canucks defeating Tucson in back-to-back home games this week, 8-5 and 5-0. The Canucks can make their six-game homestand a winning one with games against Manitoba tonight and Saturday.

🏒 Ontario’s 4.09 goals per game and 27.6 percent power-play efficiency (42-for-152) both lead the AHL. Stockton continues to have the AHL’s best penalty kill at 89.3 percent (142-for-159).

🏒 Utica has gone 17-2-3-0 when outshot by opponents this season. Rochester is 18-5-1-1 when outshot. The Wolves have outshot opponents a league-high 36 times this season, going 25-6-3-2. They have only been outshot five times in their 41 games.

🏒 Quebec hockey coaches can take in a free Zoom session with Laval goaltending coach Marco Marciano as part of the Rocket Hockey Tour. The event will be held Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. ET. Assistant coaches Kelly Buchberger (March 1) and Martin Laperrière (March 15) will also have sessions.

🏒 Tonight Iowa hosts Pink in the Rink Night to raise awareness about breast cancer and raise funds for the MercyOne Des Moines Foundation. Iowa will wear special pink jerseys.

🏒 Grand Rapids will host Mental Health Awareness Night on Feb. 26 against Bakersfield, the first such event in team history. The late Rick Rypien inspired the Hockey Talks program, which addresses mental health concerns. Fans can use the hashtag #HockeyTalks for the event. That night’s game will also be a sensory-friendly event with decreased auditory and visual stimulations for fans with sensory sensitivities.

🏒 The Griffins will also retire the number 7 jersey worn by Michel Picard, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, on Feb. 19. Picard, who wrapped up his AHL career with the Griffins in 2004, had six AHL seasons with 31 or more goals, including a 56-goal output with Springfield in 1990-91. The two-time Calder Cup winner is now an amateur scout with the St. Louis Blues.


🏒 Cleveland forward Trey Fix-Wolansky became the 116th AHL player this season to debut in the NHL. Playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, his third-period goal helped to set up a 5-4 win at Washington. Columbus took Fix-Wolansky, 22, as a 2018 seventh-round pick. Since then, he has battled back from season-ending knee surgery in 2020-21 and has 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) through 22 games in Cleveland.

🏒 The Hershey Bears are without goaltender Pheonix Copley, who remains on recall to the Washington Capitals. Copley has gone 13-7-2 with a 2.43 GAA and .909 save percentage in 22 games for the Bears. With Copley in Washington, the Bears have incumbent Zach Fucale and recalled Hunter Shepard from their ECHL affiliate, South Carolina. Hershey also has forward Brett Leason back from the Capitals following his 33-game NHL run. He registered six points (three goals, three assists) with the Caps.

🏒 The Rochester Americans have goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen back from the Buffalo Sabres. The 22-year-old had missed the past month with a lower-body injury and has gone 2-5-0 with a 2.74 GAA and a .917 save percentage in nine games for Buffalo. With Rochester this season, he is 6-6-0 with a 3.42 GAA and .888 save percentage.


Belleville’s three-game tour through Pennsylvania this week continues tonight at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before the Senators head to Hershey on Saturday… Rochester is in New England this weekend, starting tonight at Providence and continuing Saturday in Hartford before visiting Bridgeport on Tuesday… The Atlantic Division-leading Wolf Pack welcome Springfield tonight… The Thunderbirds will wear Simpsons-themed Springfield Ice-O-Topes jerseys when they host Providence on Saturday… Cleveland visits Utica for games tonight and Saturday… Milwaukee goes south to Texas tonight and Saturday… The Rockford IceHogs have a home-and-home match-up with the Wolves, beginning tonight in Rockford… On the West Coast, the San Jose Barracuda are in San Diego tonight… Off since last Saturday, Toronto has the weekend off and does not play until next Wednesday..


“We try to keep it simple. We try to play a simple game. I really like the team spirit we have in Laval right now. We have a good thing going.”

— Laval Rocket head coach J-F Houle to local reporters via Laval social media after Wednesday’s win.