Weekend notebook: McGing, T-birds making it tough for opponents

Photo: Lucas Armstrong

📝 by Patrick Williams

American Hockey League teams have come to expect a relentless and unpleasant night from the Springfield Thunderbirds.

The Hershey Bears face one of those games when they visit Springfield in tonight’s AHLTV Free Game of the Week (7 ET/4 PT). First in the Atlantic Division, the Thunderbirds have won seven of their past eight dates at the MassMutual Center, where their 18 home wins (18-6-2-0) are tied for the most in the AHL this season.

In their first season with the parent St. Louis Blues, the Thunderbirds (28-15-5-2, .630) are 9-2-1-1 in their last 13 overall. Hershey arrived in Springfield with a 26-20-3-3 mark that has the Bears fifth in the Atlantic (.558), a whisker behind fourth-place Charlotte (.559).

“The identity at this point in the year is that we play a real fast and hard-nosed game,” forward Hugh McGing said. “Everyone on our team likes to throw our bodies around. That can make teams’ D not really want to go into the corner too much with us, because every time they’re going in, they’re going to get hit.”

But the Thunderbirds are more than just a physical team, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound McGing included. The 23-year-old forward has 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 50 games this season, his second pro campaign. Taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of the 2018 National Hockey League Draft, McGing played four seasons at Western Michigan University before turning pro last year with the Utica Comets.

“We have a lot of speed throughout our lineup, forwards and D,” McGing said. “A lot of guys can skate the puck really well, and that just helps us a lot.”

Skill is up and down the lineup for head coach Drew Bannister. Springfield’s 22.7 percent power-play efficiency (46-for-203) ranks fifth in the AHL, and the Thunderbirds have gotten key forward Nathan Todd back after he missed more than two months with an injury.

McGing recently had a chance to play with top-line forwards Sam Anas and Matthew Peca, two of the Thunderbirds’ leading scorers this season.

“I think we’re all smaller guys who like to make passes and stay in the [offensive] zone for a while,” McGing said. “I think I clicked really well with those guys.”

Now McGing is with Mackenzie MacEachern and Alexey Toropchenko on another dangerous line as part of the well-balanced Springfield offense. MacEachern has 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 45 games and has 101 NHL regular-season games to his name. Toropchenko has notched 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 40 contests this season.

“Both of those guys are really fun to play with,” McGing said, “because [when] we put [the puck] in the offensive zone, those guys can hold it down there for minutes just by themselves.”


What a run for San Diego Gulls goaltender Lukas Dostal.

Dostal was named the AHL Player of the Week after helping the Gulls to sweep a pair of road games against the Henderson Silver Knights last weekend. He was also with the parent Anaheim Ducks on recall last Sunday before returning to San Diego.

Then on Wednesday night against the Colorado Eagles, the 21-year-old Dostal put together one of the top single-game performances in the AHL this season. Along with a career-high 51 saves in a 5-2 win, he also became the 17th goaltender in AHL history to score a goal.

“What a night,” Gulls head coach Joël Bouchard said to the team website. “He’s on a roll. We put ourselves in trouble, but I felt that Lukas was the one [who] kept his emotion in check. As a goalie, that’s what we want. He stayed composed, and that’s why he was able to execute that play at the end.”

Taken in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft by Anaheim, Dostal ranks sixth in the AHL with a .919 save percentage in 22 games this season. He is also 12-8-0 with a 2.48 GAA.

What did Dostal see on his goal?

“I saw all the guys on the red line, so I just thought, ‘Yeah, let’s try it.’” he said.

With three consecutive wins to go to 19-22-2-0 (.465) and holding seventh place in the Pacific Division, the Gulls stay in Colorado to face the Eagles again tonight and Saturday.


The Eastern Conference-leading Utica Comets say they still have a few loose ends to handle as they prepare for the Calder Cup Playoffs in May.

Utica plays three games in the next six nights against the Syracuse Crunch, who defeated the Comets, 6-3, last Saturday. That starts a stretch of 13 games in 27 days, nine of them divisional contests.

The Comets (31-11-5-0, .713) built plenty of cushion into their late-season stretch by winning an AHL-record 13 consecutive games to begin the season. They enter the weekend coming off a 3-1 win at Hershey last Sunday; rookie Akira Schmid, who leads the AHL in both goals-against average (2.11) and save percentage (.929), made 32 saves.

“This building against a really quality team, that was a heck of a good game both ways,” Comets head coach Kevin Dineen said following the win.

“We want to stay healthy, and we want to keep that tone. There have been games this year that, whether it’s on an individual or team basis, have been a really good game. So now what we’ve said is that is the standard that you’ve set as a team.”

By jumping out to a 13-0-0-0 start, the Comets also made themselves a target for the rest of the AHL and face an opponent’s best on many nights.

“We kind of put ourselves in a situation where we do have a target on our back,” stated forward Chase De Leo, whose 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) in 34 games tie him with Fabian Zetterlund for the team scoring lead. “I feel like we are the team to beat most nights, and other teams are well aware of that. So there are no easy nights from here on out, and every point matters.”

De Leo wants to see the Comets tighten up details in their team game.

“I think execution is all about being dialed in,” De Leo said. “You know how it is when it comes to the [Calder Cup Playoffs], and it’s little plays that matter and make a difference. We’ve got a young team, but we also have some good veteran guys who can lead the way and know what it takes to play at the tough part of the season. We’ve got a good dynamic of young guys who are learning and older guys who have been through it before.

“So [we have] just got to all come together and get on the same page. We should be good.”


Several top AHL veterans have new contracts for next season and beyond.

Milwaukee Admirals captain Cole Schneider signed an AHL contract extension through the 2022-23 season with the team. Schneider’s 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 51 games place him second in team scoring, the sixth time in his AHL career that he has had 20 or more goals.

“He has been fantastic all year for us and has been great for the young guys,” said Admirals general manager Scott Nichol to the Admirals website. “He shows all the players how to be a professional, how to work both on and off the ice, and how to be a winner.”


Bakersfield forward Seth Griffith has signed a new two-year contract with the parent Edmonton Oilers. The 29-year-old is tied for fourth in AHL scoring at 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 40 games for the Condors this season.

Three other Condors also signed NHL contracts with Edmonton. Defenseman Dmitri Samorukov will stay with the organization through 2022-23 on a one-year extension, while defenseman Vincent Desharnais and forward James Hamblin have earned two-year NHL contracts after playing this season on AHL deals.

Hartford Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski will stay with the New York Rangers organization on a two-year contract extension as well. Brodzinski has collected 39 points, including a team-leading 18 goals, in 36 games for the Wolf Pack while also appearing in five games with the parent club this season.

Rounding out the signings, the Providence Bruins will keep forward Alex-Olivier Voyer on an AHL deal through next season. The 22-year-old has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 28 appearances in 2021-22.


Goaltender Michael McNiven is on his way to a new NHL organization.

The Calgary Flames acquired McNiven, 24, for future considerations in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. Calgary subsequently assigned McNiven to the Stockton Heat.

McNiven has played parts of five AHL seasons with the Laval Rocket and made his NHL debut earlier this season with the Canadiens. However, the play of top prospect Cayden Primeau and the resurgence of veteran Kevin Poulin made for limited playing time. Poulin was named the AHL Goaltender of the Month for February after going 5-0-1 with a 1.63 GAA and a .945 save percentage in six games for the Rocket.

McNiven will join a Stockton goaltending group that features standout rookie Dustin Wolf and the experienced Adam Werner. The AHL-leading Heat (30-9-3-1, .744) host Bakersfield tonight at Stockton Arena.


🏒 Fans can track the latest races for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs daily with the handy AHL Playoff Primer, which went live this week.

🏒 A furious run by forward T.J. Tynan of the Ontario Reign has allowed him to catch Chicago Wolves forward Andrew Poturalski for the AHL scoring lead at 66 points. Tynan, the reigning AHL MVP, has accumulated 14 points in his last six games and has tallied a league-leading 55 assists to go with his 11 goals in just 40 games.

🏒 Sheldon Dries of the Abbotsford Canucks, the AHL Player of the Month for February, has scored 13 goals in his last 10 games and has tied Chicago’s Stefan Noesen for the AHL lead at 29 goals.

🏒 Ontario continues to hold first place in the AHL with 4.09 goals scored per game along with the AHL’s top-ranked power play at 26.8 percent (51-for-190); the Reign are on a run of six goals in their past 24 power-play opportunities. Chicago has taken over sole control of first place in the league with 2.59 goals-against per game. Stockton is still first overall on the penalty kill at 87.0 percent (167-for-192). With 10 shorthanded goals, the Heat are tied with Laval for first in the league.

🏒 Wolves goaltending prospect Pyotr Kochetkov’s 31 saves Wednesday against Texas earned him his second AHL win. He also picked up an assist in the 5-3 decision. Kochetkov was a second-round draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019.

🏒 Charlotte Checkers goaltender Spencer Knight stopped 44 shots to shut out Hershey, 3-0, on Wednesday. Taken 13th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers, Knight is 6-3-0 with a 2.62 GAA and .917 save percentage along with two shutouts in nine games for the Checkers.

🏒 Lehigh Valley Phantoms captain Cal O’Reilly is expected to play his 800th AHL game tonight when Charlotte visits. O’Reilly would become just the 41st AHL player ever to reach that milestone.

🏒 Hartford netminder Keith Kinkaid’s 44 saves ― four of them on breakaways ― earned the Wolf Pack a 3-1 win at Springfield last Friday night. A game earlier, Springfield has amassed 135 shots on goal in its last three games.

🏒 Bridgeport Islanders goaltender Cory Schneider earned his 100th career AHL victory last Sunday. Schneider, who won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender with Manitoba back in 2008-09, also has 170 wins in the NHL.

🏒 Providence forward Justin Brazeau moved his point streak to seven games with his game-winning goal in a 5-3 decision at Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. Teammate Cameron Hughes owns a five-game point streak, scoring 10 points (two goals, eight assists) during the run. Hughes leads Providence with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 41 games.

🏒 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins captain Taylor Fedun’s 400th AHL game last Sunday finished with his overtime winner in a 4-3 home victory vs. Syracuse. A night earlier at Bridgeport, forward Filip Hallander’s first AHL hat trick sent the Pens past the Islanders, 5-3.

🏒 Syracuse Crunch forward Alex Barre-Boulet’s pair of goals and two assists set up a 6-3 road win against the Rochester Americans on Wednesday.

🏒 The Amerks will play their 5,000th regular-season AHL game tonight when they visit the Belleville Senators. Since joining the AHL in 1956, the Amerks have reached 16 Calder Cup Finals and won six championships.

🏒 Rochester rookie forward JJ Peterka has gone on a 24-point run (nine goals, 15 assists) in his past 22 games. The 20-year-old, a second-round pick in 2020 by the Buffalo Sabres, is second in AHL rookie scoring with 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) through 45 games.

🏒 Rookie forward Roby Jarventie scored twice for Belleville to key a comeback in a 4-3 win last Saturday at Laval. Chosen 33rd in the 2020 NHL Draft by the parent Ottawa Senators, the 19-year-old has 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 43 games for the B-Sens.

🏒 Cleveland Monsters rookie goaltender Jet Greaves, signed to a three-year entry-level contract by the parent Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 20, had 28 saves in a 4-2 win at Laval on Wednesday night. The 20-year-old began the season on an AHL contract with Cleveland and has gone 6-6-1 in 16 games with the Monsters, also posting a 2.70 GAA and .911 save percentage.

🏒 Rockford IceHogs rookie Mike Hardman’s two goals set up a 7-4 win against visiting Texas last Saturday night. The 22-year-old forward out of Boston College has scored 12 goals in 20 games to go with six assists.

🏒 Texas forward Josh Melnick set a new team record for fastest goal to start a game, striking eight seconds into Wednesday’s loss at Chicago.

🏒 Colorado swept a two-game set at Milwaukee last weekend. On Sunday, Kole Sherwood netted a goal for the Admirals, but his brother Kiefer Sherwood scored twice for the Eagles, including the tying goal with 28 seconds to go in regulation.

🏒 Forward Lias Andersson joined Ontario on a conditioning loan from the Los Angeles Kings and scored twice in the final two minutes of regulation to help the Reign to a 4-3 overtime win against Tucson on Wednesday night.


🏒 Bakersfield captain Brad Malone played his first NHL game since April 6, 2019, when he dressed for Edmonton on Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Malone signed a one-year two-way NHL deal with Edmonton on Feb. 10 after starting the season on an AHL contract with Bakersfield. He has 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 35 games with Bakersfield.

🏒 AHL goaltending legend Michael Leighton moved into the coaching world last week when Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League hired him as the team’s new goaltending coach.

🏒 Henderson’s new home opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday. The 6,000-seat Dollar Loan Center will stage its first AHL game April 2 when the Silver Knights host Bakersfield, one of nine home games to close the team’s regular-season schedule.

🏒 Springfield will hold its fifth annual Pink in the Rink night on Saturday against Providence. MassMutual Center’s ice will be tinted pink to honor those who are fighting or have survived breast cancer. The Thunderbirds will also wear special pink jerseys for the game and auction them afterward to benefit the Rays of Hope Foundation.

🏒 The San Jose Barracuda will hold Hockey Is For Everyone Night this Sunday. A pair of female officials, referee Samantha Hiller and linesperson Kirsten Welsh, will work the Tucson-San Jose contest along with Black referee Jordan Samuels-Thomas. Before the game, AHL vice president of hockey operations Hayley Moore will participate in the ceremonial face-off.


🏒 Tucson’s Matias Maccelli became the 118th AHL player this season to make his NHL debut. when he played 14:45 for the Arizona Coyotes in a 2-1 victory against Colorado on Thursday night. The 21-year-old Maccelli was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for the second time this season after finishing February with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 10 games with Tucson. In 42 AHL games this season, he has 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists) to rank third in league scoring and first among rookies.

🏒 Jaret Anderson-Dolan has been recalled from Ontario by Los Angeles. Anderson-Dolan has 10 goals and 14 points in his last 11 AHL games.

🏒 Morgan Frost, Philadelphia’s 2017 first-round pick, is back with Lehigh Valley after being assigned by the Flyers this week. The 22-year-old forward has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 21 games for the Phantoms while also dressing for 30 games with Philadelphia (two goals, five assists).

🏒 On recall to Columbus from Cleveland, defenseman Jake Christiansen scored his first NHL goal on Tuesday night in a 4-3 home win against New Jersey. Christiansen, 22, has 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 38 games with Cleveland.

🏒 Charlotte added forward Kole Lind from the Seattle Kraken, where he has a pair of assists in five NHL games. Lind, 23, is tied for Charlotte’s team lead in scoring with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 42 games and will take a seven-game point streak into the team’s date tonight at Lehigh Valley.

🏒 Goaltender Alex Stalock is back in the NHL after the San Jose Sharks acquired him from Edmonton for future considerations on Wednesday. Stalock, who had been with AHL Bakersfield, will team with Zach Sawchenko, on recall from the Barracuda, for the Sharks with James Reimer out with a lower-body injury.

🏒 Forward Riley Barber is again with the Grand Rapids Griffins after being out since Jan. 11 with a lower-body injury sustained while on recall to the Detroit Red Wings. Barber has 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 23 games for the Griffins, but has not played with the team since Jan. 1.

🏒 San Diego added forward experience with Buddy Robinson’s assignment from Anaheim on Thursday. Robinson chipped in four points (one goal, three assists) in 23 games with the Ducks. In 16 games with the Gulls, he has four points (two goals, two assists).

🏒 Edmonton returned former first-round draft picks Philip Broberg (8th overall in 2019) and Brendan Perlini (12th overall in 2014) to Bakersfield this week.


Charlotte’s eight-game road trip continues with games in Lehigh Valley tonight and tomorrow… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton plays tonight and Saturday in Bridgeport… Toronto visits Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday… Grand Rapids will host the Iowa Wild tonight and Saturday before visiting Milwaukee on Sunday; this is the Griffins’ first three-in-three weekend this season… Rockford completes a two-game trip to Manitoba on Saturday afternoon… Texas’s seven-game road swing concludes with games in Milwaukee tonight and Chicago on Saturday… Iowa’s game in Chicago on Sunday will air live on NHL Network… Abbotsford’s eastern swing heads to Laval for a pair of games at Place Bell starting tonight… Ontario is home to Henderson tonight and Saturday.


“You want a group of people who really enjoy being around each other. They enjoy going to the rink. That’s where they’re really [in their] happy place.”

―Utica head coach Kevin Dineen on the standard that the Comets have set this season