📝 by Patrick Williams
Stockton Heat forward Jakob Pelletier and American Hockey League opponents have something in common ― neither side is particularly thrilled with his game at the moment.
But the Heat have plenty to be happy with from their self-demanding rookie, who went to the parent Calgary Flames as the 26th overall pick in the 2019 National Hockey League Draft. The 20-year-old is one point off the AHL rookie scoring lead with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) as Pelletier and the Pacific Division-leading Heat complete a two-game road stop with the Abbotsford Canucks in tonight’s AHLTV Free Game of the Week (10 ET/7 PT).
Second overall in the league at 25-7-3-1 (.750), the Heat put away Abbotsford, 7-3, in the teams’ series opener Thursday night. Pelletier contributed a goal and an assist, his eighth multi-point game of the season, to earn third-star honors. Linemate Matthew Phillips became the franchise’s career goal-scoring leader with a third-period hat trick that blew the game open. Adam Werner took the win on 26 saves for the Heat, and Luke Philp also tallied twice in becoming the seventh player on the team to hit double digits in goals this season.
But the creative, energetic Pelletier thinks he is capable of more as his rookie season progresses, which is a rather alarming thought for the rest of the Pacific Division.
“I think I can do a little bit better,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s just to come back to the small and simple details, and I think it’s gonna go [well] for the next stretch.
“I’ve just got to come back to the basics and then see what’s going to happen.”
Heat head coach Mitch Love has used Pelletier with Phillips and Glenn Gawdin, giving the club one of the AHL’s most dangerous lines. Pelletier appreciates that opportunity and trust from Love.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate in my first year to play such with good players,” Pelletier said. “I think it has helped me a lot to move from the [Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] to pro hockey. I think they’re a huge part of the success that I’ve had and we have, so it’s pretty good to play with them.
“Glenn, he’s a vet. He knows how to play the pro game. He can score goals and make plays. Matt Phillips is a small guy but quick and a smart player, and he can also score goals. To play with them, it’s been pretty fun.”
Stockton is trying to hold off the second-place Ontario Reign, who have a game in hand on the Heat and are 23-7-3-2 (.729) going into play tonight.
“I thought [the Heat] did a good job with the forecheck,” Abbotsford head coach Trent Cull said after Thursday’s loss. “They’re a pretty quick team. We had a plan coming in how we want to break the puck out the last couple days, trying to get everybody on the same page. But we can certainly be more efficient.”
The Canucks enter tonight’s rematch sixth in the Pacific Division (15-14-3-1, .515), with goaltenders Michael DiPietro and Spencer Martin, forward Justin Bailey, and defensemen Ashton Sautner and Noah Juulsen all returning as Vancouver hits the NHL All-Star break.
INGRAM AT THE HELM IN MILWAUKEE
Connor Ingram and the Milwaukee Admirals continue to rocket up the Central Division standings.
Ingram’s second consecutive shutout, a 2-0 road win against the Rockford IceHogs on Wednesday, gave the Admirals their seventh straight victory. The team also has a nine-game point streak (7-0-2-0), and Ingram has not surrendered a goal in 179:39. Now 20-18-2-2 (.544), the Admirals are fourth in the Central after overcoming a 3-9-1-0 beginning to the season.
Ingram, who has allowed one goal across his past four starts, was named the AHL Player of the Week after going 3-0-0 with a 0.33 GAA and .989 save percentage last week. The 24-year-old is 17-10-3 with a 2.49 GAA and .923 save percentage (fifth overall) and has a league-best five shutouts in 2021-22. He has played a league-high 1,735 minutes.
The Admirals host division-leading Chicago tonight and tomorrow.
HELP IN HARTFORD
Help arrived in time for the Hartford Wolf Pack in a battle for the Atlantic Division lead Wednesday night in Hershey.
Back from the New York Rangers, captain Jonny Brodzinski picked up a goal and had the shootout winner in a come-from-behind 3-2 win against the Bears. The Wolf Pack went into Hershey three times in 12 days and won twice, climbing into the division lead with a 21-12-3-2 record (.618) entering the weekend.
Brodzinski is on a seven-game goal streak, one shy of the Hartford franchise record. He has nine goals in his past 12 games and is up to 14 goals in 27 AHL contests this season.
In the middle of it all has been head coach Kris Knoblauch, who had his own NHL recall last month when Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant was unavailable due to NHL COVID-19 protocols. Along with Brodzinski, Knoblauch also had defensemen Nils Lundkvist and Tarmo Reunanen along with forwards Morgan Barron, Tim Gettinger, and Lauri Pajuniemi back from New York and in his lineup against Hershey.
“I know there hasn’t been very much consistency,” Knoblauch said of the ever-changing Hartford roster for the past six weeks. “It’s been a lot of challenges for the coaches around here, but [there have] also been challenges for the players.”
The cavalry also arrived for the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night.
With the parent Buffalo Sabres heading into the NHL All-Star break, Rochester’s reinforcements helped to set up a 5-1 win against the visiting Charlotte Checkers. Brandon Biro and Brett Murray each contributed a goal and an assist, while Aaron Dell provided 36 saves to go to 6-0-0 this season with the Amerks. Rochester reached the midway point of its 76-game schedule at 22-13-2-1 (.618) and remains second in the North Division.
“I think we’re a really hard-nosed team,” Dell told the Amerks website after the win, “and we just kind of grind. We really work for each other, and that’s part of our whole identity.”
Rochester and Charlotte stage a rematch tonight in downtown Rochester before the Amerks visit the Toronto Marlies on Saturday afternoon.
PROCESS-FIRST IN SAN DIEGO
San Diego Gulls head coach Joël Bouchard has always put a heavy emphasis on process.
That process, Bouchard expects, will eventually lead to results in his first season in San Diego. He went through a similar experience after taking over the Laval Rocket before 2018-19 and revamping that club’s development program across the next three seasons.
For now, the 13-19-2-0 Gulls (.412) host the Tucson Roadrunners tonight and Saturday. They lost their sixth game in a row on Wednesday night, falling 4-2 to a Colorado Eagles team that now rides a 13-game points streak (11-0-1-1).
“Honestly, that adversity right now is quite good,” Bouchard said before the Colorado game. “We have guys [who] are challenged in some positions, and then we’re not having the success we would like. I do see too that we’re not getting some of the bounces, either, to be honest.
“But I’m not looking for excuses. I’m just looking for a bunch of guys [who] are going to keep fighting through this adversity. That’s how we’re going to get out of it. As a coach, I think it’s kind of good a little bit that we’re going through it, and those kinds of moments, they pay when you get deep into the season [and the postseason], because you always remember where you were, where you can head.
“As much as we want to be supporting them, guiding them, there [are] times where you need to squeeze them a little bit, and then put them in an uncomfortable situation to see how they react and to ask for more. I think the guys are trying to do their best. Is it good enough? Sometimes no.
“But is it good enough sometimes? Yes, it is, and the results will come.”
The parent Anaheim Ducks named Pat Verbeek their new general manager Thursday. Verbeek had been general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins along with his post as assistant general manager for the Detroit Red Wings.
AROUND THE AHL
🏒 Before Wednesday’s game against Hartford, the Hershey Bears honored Mike Nykoluk, who passed away on Jan. 31 at age 87. Inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2007, Nykoluk’s 881 points rank sixth all-time in AHL history. He also is third in AHL history with 686 assists and fifth overall in games (1,069). After beginning his AHL career with Rochester, Nykoluk played 14 seasons for the Bears and led the team to Calder Cup championships in 1959 and 1969. The Bears will wear Nykoluk’s number 8 as a helmet decal for the rest of the season.
🏒 Playmaker Seth Griffith of the Bakersfield Condors was named the AHL Player of the Month for January after he amassed 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in nine games. He now has a 10-game point streak (seven goals, 13 assists) and previously also had a 13-game point streak, the longest in the AHL this season. He is in a tie for fifth in AHL scoring this season at 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) in just 28 games. Jakub Skarek of the Bridgeport Islanders won AHL Goaltender of the Month honors after he was 5-0-2 with a 1.98 GAA and .935 save percentage in eight games. Utica forward Alexander Holtz was named the AHL Rookie of the Month; the seventh overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft finished with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 10 games for the Comets.
🏒 With 21 points in his last 11 games, Ontario forward T.J. Tynan, last season’s Les Cunningham Award winner as the AHL’s most valuable player, continues to pursue Chicago’s Andrew Poturalski for the league scoring lead. Tynan is up to 46 points (eight goals, a league-best 38 assists) in 29 games while Poturalski’s 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 35 games pace the AHL. Those 20 goals also have Poturalski even with Wolves teammate Stefan Noesen for the AHL lead.
🏒 Chicago’s 25-7-4-2 mark (.737) is the team’s best first half since their Calder Cup championship 2007-08 season, when they had a 29-10-1-0 (.738) first-half record.
🏒 Springfield’s Nathan Walker has hat tricks in both the NHL and AHL this season. His natural hat trick last Friday night took the Thunderbirds past visiting Lehigh Valley, 6-2. Walker also picked up a hat trick for the parent St. Louis Blues on Dec. 11.
🏒 Utica forward Fabian Zetterlund posted a hat trick last Saturday in a home win against Rochester. On the same night, Iowa’s Mitchell Chafee put up a first-period natural hat trick as the Wild won 6-1 against visiting San Diego.
🏒 Charlotte forward Aleksi Heponiemi has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his past seven contests and is up to third in team scoring with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 27 games this season.
🏒 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Jamie Devane has signed a one-year extension on his AHL contract with the team that will extend through next season. The veteran has picked up nine points (four goals, five assists) in 36 games this season after returning to the club this past offseason. The Penguins have won eight of their past 10 games.
🏒 Toronto had forward Nick Robertson back in the lineup on Wednesday in a 4-3 win at Grand Rapids. Robertson, a 2019 second-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs, suffered a fractured leg in the team’s second game of the season Oct. 17 and had been out since then. The Marlies went 5-2-1-0 on their eight-game road swing, including three overtime wins.
🏒 Tonight in Belleville the Senators will once again have fans on hand at CAA Arena after a change to Ontario provincial regulations. The team hopes to be able to increase capacity to 50 percent Feb. 21. After playing Syracuse tonight, the B-Sens have Laval in on Saturday night.
🏒 Just back from the Colorado Avalanche, forward Dylan Sikura’s hat trick took the Eagles to the 4-2 win in San Diego on Wednesday.
🏒 Tucson named Hudson Fasching the team’s new captain on Thursday. The 26-year-old forward is in his fourth season in the Arizona Coyotes organization and has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 22 games for the Roadrunners this season.
🏒 Ontario finished 9-1-1-1 in January after an 8-5 win against the visiting San Jose Barracuda on Monday. Jaret Anderson-Dolan had his first pro hat trick in the win while rookie blueliner Jordan Spence pushed his scoring streak to 12 games (two goals, 13 assists). The Reign have won 14 of 20 home dates this season (14-2-2-2), but play nine of 10 on the road in February.
🏒 With the NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas this weekend, the Henderson Silver Knights have a rare weekend off. The team is back in action Feb. 11-12 in Bakersfield. San Jose is also off until a Feb. 11 game at San Diego.
🏒 Ontario’s 4.09 goals per game and 27.7 percent power play (39-for-141) both lead the AHL. Stockton tops the AHL at 2.44 goals-against per game and is first on the penalty kill at 89.5 percent (136-for-152).
🏒 AHL alumni Frans Nielsen (Denmark), Valtteri Filppula (Finland), Marek Hrivik (Slovakia), and Andres Ambuhl (Switzerland) were among the flag-bearers during the parade of nations at the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing today.
🏒 Tonight Milwaukee will host the team’s first Women in Sports Night. AHL vice president of hockey operations Hayley Moore and Charlotte chief operating officer Tera Black will be among the guest speakers.
🏒 Iowa will host its annual Pink in the Rink Night next Friday. The event will aim to raise awareness about breast cancer and raise funds for the MercyOne Des Moines Foundation. The Wild will don special pink jerseys for the night.
ON THE MOVE
🏒 With the NHL at its All-Star break, 342 players have played in both the NHL and the AHL already this season, including 115 AHL graduates who have made their NHL debuts.
Belleville’s Mark Kastelic, 22, continues his sharp ascension in the Ottawa Senators organization. He made his NHL debut last Saturday and dressed for three games. Back in Belleville, the 2019 fifth-round pick has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 32 games for the B-Sens.
Lehigh Valley forward Isaac Ratcliffe debuted with Philadelphia last weekend, playing two games before returning to the Phantoms this week. The 22-year-old, a 2017 second-rounder, has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 31 AHL games this season.
Henderson defenseman Kaedan Korczak’s NHL debut with the Vegas Golden Knights came on Tuesday against Buffalo. Korczak, who turned 21 last Saturday, played 16:37. The Golden Knights took him as a 2019 second-round selection.
🏒 Florida Panthers forward Noel Acciari is with Charlotte on a conditioning assignment and played his first game of the season Wednesday. Out with an upper-body injury since training camp, Acciari had two shots for the Checkers in his season debut. Charlotte also has goaltender Spencer Knight, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, on loan from Florida.
🏒 The Syracuse Crunch had a couple of roster shake-ups this week. Milwaukee forward Anthony Richard was acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning organization from the Nashville Predators in a deal for Crunch forward Jimmy Huntington. Richard, 25, had become a fixture with Milwaukee going back to his 2016-17 rookie season and has 152 points (79 goals, 73 assists) in 322 AHL regular-season games. Huntington, 23, has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 27 games so far this season. Tampa Bay also acquired Texas Stars forward Tye Felhaber from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Alexey Lipanov.
🏒 Forward Joe Veleno has rejoined Grand Rapids on assignment from Detroit after being on NHL recall since Nov. 15. He had six points (four goals, two assists) in 31 games for the Red Wings while also scoring three goals in seven games with Grand Rapids earlier this season.
Hershey starts a two-game visit to the Cleveland Monsters tonight… The Providence Bruins are in Pennsylvania this weekend with stops at Lehigh Valley tonight and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday… The Penguins have Bridgeport in town tonight… Utica will welcome Laval tonight and Springfield on Saturday… After tonight’s game in Rochester, Charlotte finishes up a swing through New York State in Syracuse on Saturday… Toronto plays its first home game since Jan. 12 when the Amerks drop in Saturday afternoon… Iowa and Rockford start a home-and-home series tonight in Des Moines before completing it Saturday… Manitoba and Texas meet four times in five days, Saturday and Sunday in Winnipeg and Tuesday and Wednesday in Cedar Park… Colorado sets up for two nights in Bakersfield beginning this evening.
“That guy has been unbelievable down here. His attitude, his work ethic, the leadership he provides for our young men in there, our guys all look up to him. He talks to our young prospects all the time about what it’s going to take [to reach the NHL], about things they need to do to get better.”
— Rochester head coach Seth Appert on goaltender Aaron Dell to the team website after Wednesday’s victory.
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.