📝 by Patrick Williams
Conventional wisdom might say that the Manitoba Moose should not sit fifth overall in the American Hockey League standings.
After all, the Moose do not have a player ― not one player ― among the AHL’s top 125 scorers. Yet there they are, holding a stout 33-18-3-2 mark (.634).
Fans can see some of that conventional wisdom put to the test again when the Moose visit the Chicago Wolves tonight in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week (8 ET/7 CT). The Wolves are no slouches themselves with a robust 37-11-5-5 record (.724) that positions them second in the AHL.
Manitoba and Chicago both have shown that more than one path to AHL success exists. Chicago is fronted by elite talents in forwards Andrew Poturalski, Stefan Noesen, and CJ Smith and can overwhelm opponents on some nights. Poturalski’s 79 points (22 goals, 57 assists) in 55 games tie him for the AHL scoring lead, and Noesen’s 35 goals put him first in that category.
And then there are the Moose. With 29 points apiece, Cole Maier (15 goals, 14 assists) and Mikey Eyssimont (13 goals, 16 assists) hold the Moose scoring lead. To find the pair in the AHL scoring chart, one has to go to 128th place. Three of Eyssimont’s strikes have come in the past three games, and his point and goal totals each represent career bests for him.
Scoring depth is another story for the Moose, whose nine-game point streak (7-0-1-1) ended Wednesday night in a 5-3 road loss to the Rockford IceHogs. Ten Moose skaters have at least 20 points this season. Shutting down the Moose is like a game of whack-a-mole: Stop one player or one line, and more continue to pop up and create havoc.
Manitoba also can hold the puck. The team’s 25.9 shots-against per game rank second only to Chicago at 25.7. That team-above-everything mentality is what first-year head coach Mark Morrison credits for his club’s ongoing success.
“We had a bunch of injuries [recently],” Morrison said, “so it was really easy. Guys were playing up the lineup. These guys were getting more ice time, second power-play time. They started off as fourth-line guys and ended up as second or third.
“Now guys are starting to come back from injury and starting to come back from the [Winnipeg Jets]. We had a meeting about if you want to be a good team, you’re going to have to accept where you fit now and in the moment. And that might mean that it’s for today’s game, but not tomorrow’s game, and they’ve all bought into that.
“I don’t think that’s so much to do with the coaching staff as it is with the core group. They’re an excellent core group, they believe in each other, and they’re really a close group. Some of them have been here before I got here, and then the new ones that were added are just as good. So, the group is really tight.
“I had to cut [the leadership group] back so that it wasn’t three-quarters of the team.”
Morrison also liked how newly acquired center Morgan Barron fit into his rotation in his Moose debut Wednesday. The Jets acquired him from the New York Rangers at Monday’s National Hockey League trade deadline, and Barron offers Manitoba the potential of a breakthrough scorer, having generated 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 25 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack before the deal.
“[Barron is] a big body,” Morrison said. “I thought he was pretty physical. I think he’s going to play a lot like our style. We take pucks to the net. He did that. You could see that he would go to the net right away. I think he fits into how we play.”
Another one of those players, forward Jeff Malott, is back with the Moose after making his NHL debut with the Jets. The 25-year-old undrafted Malott, who played three NCAA seasons at Cornell with Barron, has a team-leading 18 goals.
Adding a big stick like Barron or bringing back Malott from the Jets necessarily means pushing another player or two further down the depth chart or out of this or that night’s lineup. Morrison does not expect any difficulties with that, and he has numerous examples to feel that way.
Said Morrison of his leadership group, “When one guy is [having difficulty with a role], I think they get together with [the player], and they have that conversation.”
NEXT STOP: 3,000
Can the Hershey Bears make AHL history tonight?
A victory tonight at Dunkin’ Donuts Center against the Providence Bruins would make the Bears the first AHL team to reach 3,000 regular-season wins. They will be facing a host trying to break a six-game winless streak (0-3-0-3).
Win number 2,999 came Wednesday night against the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms, a 5-1 decision.
Hershey’s first triumph also came against a Providence club, when the Bears took a 2-1 victory against the visiting Reds on Nov. 5, 1938. Reaching 3,000 wins would put the Bears in an elite class of pro hockey occupied by Original Six members as only the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Detroit Red Wings have reached that mark.
In their 84th AHL season, the Bears have played 6,135 regular-season games, going 2,999-2,426-105-87 with 518 ties. This year’s club holds down fifth in the Atlantic Division at 30-23-5-3 (.557). The Bears also have 11 Calder Cup championships, three of them during their current affiliation with the Washington Capitals, and have been a Cup finalist 12 other times.
Failing a win tonight, the Bears would have another crack at the milestone Saturday at Hartford. The Bears’ six-game road trip will keep them away from Giant Center until April 9.
GULLS TAKING OFF
The San Diego Gulls are on a 6-0-0-1 tear as they try to solidify their position in the Pacific Division.
A hat trick from Alex Limoges on Wednesday night sent the Gulls past visiting the Tucson Roadrunners, 4-3. Limoges, who has a five-game point streak (five goals, four assists), also has accumulated 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in his past nine contests.
Just 19 years old, Gulls second-year forward Jacob Perreault, a 2020 first-round selection by the parent Anaheim Ducks, also has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) across his past 13 games.
At 25-25-2-1 (.500), seventh-place San Diego has closed to within one point of the sixth-place Henderson Silver Knights (25-23-3-1, .519). The Gulls just played four consecutive games against Henderson, winning three and taking a point in a shootout defeat, but they do yield a game in hand to the Silver Knights.
San Diego’s run will receive a difficult test this weekend when second-place Ontario (Saturday) and first-place Stockton (Sunday) each visit Pechanga Arena.
New San Diego defenseman Drew Helleson also made his AHL debut this week against Henderson. The 20-year-old came to the Ducks organization as part of the Josh Manson trade with the Colorado Avalanche earlier this month. The Boston College product and 2022 U.S. Olympian had 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 32 collegiate games this season and was a second-round draft pick by Colorado in 2019.
PHANTOMS PRESSURED FOR POINTS
One of the many areas of development for young prospects comes with stretch-drive tension in the grind for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Well, Philadelphia Flyers prospects stationed with the Phantoms can consider themselves fully immersed in that pressure. In their visit to Hershey on Wednesday night, Wade Allison struck 20 seconds into the game for the Phantoms, but Hershey replied with five unanswered goals to deny Lehigh Valley desperately needed points.
That defeat left the Phantoms at 22-26-7-3 (.466) and still last in the Atlantic Division. To qualify for the postseason, the Phantoms are going to have to catch the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who are 27-25-4-4 (.517) and eight points ahead of Lehigh Valley for the closest available playoff spot. In between the two clubs are the seventh-place Bridgeport Islanders at 25-25-6-4 (.500); Bridgeport has gone on a five-game point streak (4-0-1-0) following an excellent 4-1 road performance against the Eastern Conference-leading Utica Comets on Wednesday night.
The Phantoms’ latest setback had captain Cal O’Reilly seeking answers for his club in an unforgiving league that tests its prospects continuously.
“We’ve just got to put it behind us,” said O’Reilly, who is expected to play his 1,000th pro game tonight when Lehigh Valley visits the Laval Rocket. “That’s all that you can do. We’ve got a tough building to go in with Laval. It’s going to be an intense game.
“If you’re not playing together in this game, you’re going to chase it all night. That’s been our battle all year, consistency. I wouldn’t say we’re a big or physical team, but you’ve got to compete.”
The Flyers brought in help before Wednesday’s loss, acquiring defenseman Brennan Menell from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for future considerations. Limited to 20 games with the Toronto Marlies this season, Menell was a First Team AHL All-Star with the Iowa Wild in 2019-20.
Wednesday’s loss came after the Phantoms had taken four of their previous five games.
“I thought we could build from [that run],” head coach Ian Laperriere said. “Hopefully, it’s just a hiccup and [we can] go to Laval and get two points.”
The development and learning process is not always pretty, but the AHL has a way of teaching prospects important lessons. Laperriere hopes that those difficult teachings can pay off soon.
“They took the physicality to us,” Laperriere said of the Bears, “and we didn’t respond. We were on our heels instead of being on our toes, and you can’t play in this league like that. You have to be aggressive, and if you make mistakes, make mistakes. But we’re waiting and watching to see what’s going to happen.”
AROUND THE AHL
🏒 Fans can track the latest races for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs daily with the handy AHL Playoff Primer.
🏒 The AHL’s trade/loan deadline is set for Monday, March 28, at 3 p.m. ET.
🏒 League-leading Stockton earned the first invitation to the Calder Cup Playoffs with a 10-3 road win against the Colorado Eagles last Saturday. Stockton (37-11-4-1, .745) possesses a league-best plus-52 goal differential. Heat forward Matthew Phillips (25 goals, 32 assists in 50 games) has matched the franchise single-season record of 57 points originally set by Kenny Agostino in 2015-16.
🏒 Ontario joined the Heat in the Calder Cup Playoff field, becoming the second team to clinch a berth by defeating the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins on Tuesday, 6-2.
🏒 Andrew Poturalski (Chicago) and T.J. Tynan (Ontario) have opened a 15-point lead in the AHL scoring race with each player at 79 points. Both are on pace to become the first AHL players to reach 100 points in a season since Hershey teammates Keith Aucoin (106 points) and Alexandre Giroux (103 points) during the team’s 2009-10 Calder Cup season.
🏒 With Stefan Noesen up to 35 goals, only Cory Conacher (2011-12 Norfolk Admirals) and Gerry Mayhew (2018-19 Iowa) have had more goals in a season since the AHL went to a 76-game format in 2011-12. They each had 39-goal campaigns. Noesen is also third in AHL scoring at 64 points in 53 contests.
🏒 Providence’s Troy Grosenick leads the league in both goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage (.926). Stockton rookie Dustin Wolf’s 28 wins rank first while Connor Ingram of the Milwaukee Admirals has league-bests in games (44) and shutouts (five).
🏒 Ontario’s 3.94 goals per game still rank first in the AHL. The Reign are also number-one on the power play (56-for-215) at 26.0 percent. Chicago’s 2.52 goals-against per game and 25.7 shots-against each best the AHL. On the penalty kill, Stockton holds first overall at 87.2 percent (198-for-227).
🏒 Stockton rookie Jakob Pelletier continued his standout season by becoming the newest AHL Player of the Week, ringing up seven points (five goals, two assists) in four games. The 2019 first-round pick by the Calgary Flames has inched to within two points of Tucson’s Matias Maccelli (on recall to the Arizona Coyotes) for the rookie scoring lead. With 53 points in 52 games, Pelletier’s 25 goals lead all rookies.
🏒 Chicago’s 12-game point streak (9-0-1-2) ended last Sunday with a 4-2 loss in Toronto. The Wolves also had a 13-game streak (12-0-0-1) earlier this season.
🏒 Utica has a three-game winless slide (0-2-0-1), the Comets’ longest this season. They host the Syracuse Crunch tonight.
🏒 Hartford’s four-game homestand, matching its longest of the season, started with a 3-1 loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds on Wednesday. The Wolf Pack, fourth in the Atlantic Division, are in a run of six of seven games on home ice.
🏒 In Toronto goaltender Keith Petruzzelli’s first three career AHL starts, he has denied 94 of 100 shots (3-0-0, 1.96, .940). On Wednesday, Petruzzelli made 32 saves and Nick Robertson collected his first four-point game in the AHL with a goal and three assists as the Marlies defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 6-1.
🏒 A pair of top Bridgeport prospects fueled a crucial 7-4 home win against Syracuse last Saturday. Goaltender Jakub Skarek made a career-high 42 saves while Simon Holmstrom matched his career-best three points with a goal and a pair of assists. Austin Czarnik also pitched in four assists for the Islanders.
🏒 Bakersfield Condors netminder Stuart Skinner is on another one of his tears. In his past five games, he has stopped 136 of 144 shots (1.58, .944), winning four of those starts. His 35-save night Wednesday pushed the Condors to a 4-2 win against visiting Colorado.
🏒 Rochester Americans captain Michael Mersch returned last Friday after an 11-game injury absence with his 20th goal and an assist. Rookie forwards Jack Quinn (one goal, two assists) and JJ Peterka (two goals) provided additional offense in a 5-4 win against the Cleveland Monsters.
🏒 Abbotsford Canucks forward Sheldon Rempal continued his resurgence with his career-high 25th goal in a 4-1 victory at San Jose on Thursday. Rempal, an AHL All-Star in 2019, came to the Vancouver Canucks organization in the offseason after managing eight goals in 81 games across the past two seasons with Chicago and Ontario. He also has a career-best 27 assists in just 43 games.
🏒 Ontario goaltender Garret Sparks returned last Friday for his first game after going out Jan. 8 with an injury, stopping 34 shots in a 3-2 loss to Bakersfield. Sparks won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s top goaltender in 2017-18, taking the Marlies to a Calder Cup, earning a spot as on the First All-Star Team, and leading the league in wins (31), GAA (1.79), and save percentage (.936) during the regular season.
🏒 The Syracuse Crunch are 7-1-0-1 in their last nine games after a 4-0 win over Cleveland on Wednesday. Max Lagace (21 saves) recorded his second shutout in his past three starts. Forward Alex Barre-Boulet has three multi-point games in a row (three goals, three assists). Half of forward Otto Somppi’s 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) have come in his past nine games (two goals, nine assists).
🏒 Rockford’s lineup should be stronger when the IceHogs visit Iowa tonight. The team announced Thursday that forward Dylan McLaughlin has been removed from concussion protocol. Last season McLaughlin’s 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 28 games led the IceHogs and landed him the team’s Most Improved Player award. Out since Feb. 20, he has added 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 37 games.
🏒 Laval might be getting healthier. Forward Lukas Vejdemo, who has only played one game since Dec. 17, has started to skate with an athletic therapist, the team announced this week. Defenseman Josh Brook and forward Alex Belzile are also skating. After returning from knee surgery, Brook played four games with the Rocket in February but has missed the past 11 games. Belzile has been out since Feb. 4.
🏒 Abbotsford defenseman Guillaume Brisebois returned to the lineup Thursday for the first time since Feb. 16.
🏒 The Henderson Silver Knights play their final games at Orleans Arena this weekend, hosting Tucson tonight and Saturday. On April 2, Henderson will move into the brand-new 6,000-seat Dollar Loan Center, part of a 10-game home slate in April.
🏒 The Colorado Eagles raised more than $115,000 last weekend for 5-year-old Jayce Vogel, who has fought stage-four metastatic neuroblastoma since he was 6 months old.
🏒 The Admirals welcomed their 10,000,000th fan last Saturday night against the Texas Stars.
ON THE MOVE
🏒 Check out a recap of the NHL trade deadline’s impact on the AHL here.
🏒 126 AHL players have now made their NHL debuts this season. Lehigh Valley forward Hayden Hodgson scored and picked up an assist in his debut to help Philadelphia defeat the host St. Louis Blues, 5-2, on Thursday night. In 44 games with the Phantoms, he has 29 points (18 goals, 11 assists). Hodgson went to training camp with the Phantoms as an invite this fall and signed with the Flyers this week.
After parts of four seasons with Grand Rapids, forward Chase Pearson debuted with the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders. Detroit selected Pearson in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, and he has 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 47 games for the Griffins.
Henderson defenseman Zack Hayes played his first two NHL games this week with the Golden Knights. The second-year pro owns eight points (two goals, six assists) in 40 AHL games.
Jeff Malott’s NHL debut came on Sunday with Winnipeg. The second-year pro has 18 goals and 28 points with Manitoba this season.
🏒 The Toronto Marlies brought in help Wednesday, receiving defenseman Philippe Myers on loan from the Nashville Predators. In 27 games with Nashville, the 25-year-old had a goal and three assists. He last played in the AHL in 2019-20 with Lehigh Valley. In 109 AHL games, he has 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists).
🏒 Springfield forward Matthew Peca has a new two-year contract extension with St. Louis. The 28-year-old has hit career-bests this season with 20 goals and 51 points in 53 appearances with the Thunderbirds.
🏒 Manitoba forward Kristian Reichel, 23, will remain with the Winnipeg organization on a new two-year deal that he agreed to this week. The fourth-year pro has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 26 games with the Moose and also has played his first 13 NHL games for the Jets.
🏒 Iowa added a key Minnesota Wild prospect this week with the signing of forward Vladislav Firstov. The 20-year-old signed a three-year entry-level contract with Minnesota that starts next season; he will play with Iowa on an amateur tryout deal. In 35 NCAA games this season with the University of Connecticut, the 2019 second-round pick finished with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists).
Following a two-game split at Toronto, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins move on to Belleville to face the Senators tonight. They finish their trip Saturday afternoon in Laval… The Charlotte Checkers’ two-game visit to Cleveland opens tonight while Rochester hosts Toronto… Providence has a three-game home weekend, entertaining Hershey, Springfield, and Utica… Syracuse is home Saturday night to battle Rochester… Springfield visits Hartford tonight and Providence on Saturday… Milwaukee is in Texas tonight and Saturday as the Stars fight to remain in the Central Division race… The Griffins continue their West Coast swing tonight at Bakersfield while Abbotsford will be in Stockton… After their win in Utica on Wednesday, Bridgeport heads west to take on Toronto on Saturday afternoon before stopping in Rochester on their way back home Sunday… Colorado remains on the road for a trip into San Jose on Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t know if it makes any sense, but it’s like not having the guy that’s in the top-20 scoring can sometimes work for you. We don’t have to look after [any egos].”
― Moose head coach Mark Morrison on his club’s scoring-by-committee approach.
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.