? by Patrick Williams
The Grand Rapids Griffins and Iowa Wild endured several hard-fought American Hockey League battles with each other last season.
The teams split their four games, three of them one-goal decisions. Now the two sides meet again when Iowa hosts the Griffins tonight in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week (7 ET/6 CT).
The match-up starts a two-game Midwestern swing for the 2-4-0-1 Griffins, who had to contend with the powerful Chicago Wolves in a pair of home contests last week. The Wild have a one-game stopover at Wells Fargo Arena following a two-game trip last weekend that they split against the Manitoba Moose. Iowa (4-2-0-0) holds second place in the Central Division and also should have defenseman Calen Addison in the lineup after he returned from a stint with the Minnesota Wild.
Fans tuning into AHLTV will have plenty to see, including Iowa rookie forward Nick Swaney.
In the Wild’s most recent time on home ice, back-to-back wins against the Rockford IceHogs two weeks ago, Swaney bagged a pair of two-goal games. He picked up two more assists against Manitoba and has taken the team scoring lead with seven points (four goals, three assists) through six games.
Swaney, 24, earned a one-year entry-level contract with Minnesota in April following a standout four-season college career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he won a pair of national championships. Now the Burnsville, Minn., native is trying to position himself for a future job with his hometown NHL club, which selected him in the seventh round of the 2017 draft.
The creative forward has done plenty since that day to justify the Wild’s selection. Along with those two national championships, he led Minnesota-Duluth last season with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 28 games as the team advanced to the Frozen Four. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference took note as well, naming Swaney to its First All-Star Team.
By then Minnesota had seen enough to give Swaney that first pro contract and send him to Iowa, where he wrapped up last season with his first six AHL appearances. After playing a college schedule for four seasons, the busy AHL calendar should provide Swaney ample opportunity to accelerate his development.
“It’s been really good,” Swaney said. “I think just the pro lifestyle is a lot different than playing college and having the school aspect. For me, just being able to focus on playing hockey, I think it’s such a huge thing. It’s tough having that balance when you’re in school with hockey and everything. I think that’s the positive, just being able to focus on playing hockey and doing it every single day.”
That said, Swaney believes that he needed to play out his full college career.
“Just having those years of development… I was able to not only better certain aspects of my game, but just round out my full 200-foot play. I think being a senior last year, kind of having a leadership role, was also a huge thing for me, just knowing how to lead a locker room.
“I wouldn’t change anything about my four years. I think those are four of the best years of my life; everyone involved with the program is so special, and it helps for sure when you win.”
Those six AHL games last season provided Swaney an idea of the considerable adjustment that he would be dealing with this fall.
“Just how quickly plays need to be made,” Swaney explained. “I realized [the puck has] got to be on and off your stick, and you’ve got to know the next play before it happens.”
The Griffins will try to build on last weekend when they split a pair of games. Grand Rapids had to deal with an early-season four-game winless streak, but head coach Ben Simon welcomed back Kyle Criscuolo last week after an injury delayed the start of the veteran forward’s season.
Criscuolo, a member of the Griffins’ 2017 Calder Cup championship team, is a key addition, especially with forward Joe Veleno on recall to the Detroit Red Wings. Criscuolo contributed a goal in a win last Saturday along with an assist the following afternoon.
An alternate captain and proven winner, Criscuolo will be a key leader again this season as the Griffins work on the jelling process.
“The older guys, everyone in that room is going to have to just step up,” Criscuolo said after a difficult loss last week to the Wolves.
AMERKS LAND KREBS
Thursday’s NHL blockbuster deal between the Buffalo Sabres and Vegas Golden Knights has had immediate AHL ramifications.
Buffalo then assigned the 20-year-old Krebs, a Golden Knights first-round choice (17th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, to the Rochester Americans. Krebs made two appearances with the Henderson Silver Knights on opening weekend and had five assists before going on to play nine games with the Golden Knights.
Krebs could make his Rochester debut when the 5-2-0-0 Amerks welcome the Toronto Marlies tonight. The assignment adds yet another top prospect to the Rochester lineup, where Krebs will join forwards Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, and Linus Weissbach, among others. Quinn has a five-game run of multi-point efforts and was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for October.
Rochester has had a strong haul this week. Along with Krebs, the Amerks received defenseman Mattias Samuelsson from Buffalo. In his first game of the season Wednesday night, he contributed an assist in a 4-3 home win against the Belleville Senators while pairing with Casey Fitzgerald.
AROUND THE AHL
? The AHL is again joining the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association for their Hockey Fights Cancer™ initiative. The campaign supports people with cancer and their families. The Milwaukee Admirals will become the first of 22 AHL member clubs this season to host a Hockey Fights Cancer awareness night when Manitoba visits tonight.
? South Florida native Chase Priskie made his NHL debut Thursday night for the hometown Florida Panthers. The 25-year-old Charlotte Checkers defenseman is from Pembroke Pines, Fla., and has played 75 AHL regular-season games since the start of 2019-20, including three this season with Charlotte.
? On recall from Springfield to St. Louis, goaltender Joel Hofer packed plenty into his NHL debut Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks. Hofer (21 years, 97 days) became the youngest-ever Blues goaltender to win his NHL debut, surpassing Michel Plasse on March 30, 1971 (22 years, 302 days). He also picked up a third-period assist in the 5-3 win.
“You dream of it your whole life, and to get the win, in the first game, too, it’s the cherry on top,” Hofer told NHL.com.
A total of 31 AHL players have made their NHL debuts already this season.
? The Lehigh Valley Phantoms entered the win column Wednesday night, turning in a 4-0 masterpiece against the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Goaltending prospect Felix Sandstrom collected his first AHL shutout and Ian Laperriere earned his first victory as a head coach.
? While the Laval Rocket lost forwards Alex Belzile and Michael Pezzetta on recall to the Montreal Canadiens this week, they also gained a top prospect. Forward Cole Caufield, the 2021 Hobey Baker Award winner from the University of Wisconsin and the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, was assigned to the Rocket earlier this week. Along with two games with the Rocket last season, Caufield, 20, played 10 regular-season NHL games as well as 20 playoff games as the Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup Final. The Rocket visit Syracuse on Saturday and Utica on Sunday.
? Reigning AHL Player of the Week Andrew Poturalski can set his sights on November after a dominant October effort for the Wolves. Nine points (four goals, five assists) in three games last week earned the forward the award. Poturalski leads the AHL with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in six games and was also named the AHL Player of the Month for October. The Wolves are home this weekend against Manitoba (Saturday) and Milwaukee (Sunday) to start a run of 11 games in 22 days.
? Another Hobey Baker Award winner currently in the AHL is Springfield Thunderbirds rookie defenseman Scott Perunovich, who took the honor in 2020 at Minnesota-Duluth. After missing last season following shoulder surgery, the St. Louis Blues prospect will take a six-game point streak into play this weekend. His 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in those six games, the only six of his pro career, have him second in rookie scoring to Quinn.
? The Rockford IceHogs will become the final AHL team to open play at home this season. Rockford hosts Manitoba at the newly renovated BMO Harris Bank Center on Saturday night. Among the many changes are infrastructure upgrades and a new ice plant. The AHL Board of Governors approved the IceHogs’ sale to the parent Chicago Blackhawks this summer.
? A goal and an assist apiece from Colorado Avalanche prospects Mikhail Maltsev and Alex Newhook took the Colorado Eagles to a 4-1 win against the visiting Texas Stars on Wednesday, completing a two-game sweep. Maltsev, acquired in an offseason trade from the New Jersey Devils, has broken out with nine points (three goals, six assists) in nine AHL outings while Newhook has eight points (three goals, five assists) in eight games.
? Calgary Flames forward prospect Adam Ruzicka moved into a second-place AHL tie in goals (six) with two more goals in a 4-1 Stockton Heat road win against the San Jose Barracuda on Wednesday night. The 22-year-old power forward had 11 goals in 28 games last season. Ruzicka’s hat trick last Saturday night led the Heat to a 6-3 home defeat of Colorado.
ON THE MOVE
? Utica Comets forward Alexander Holtz has been recalled by New Jersey. The 2020 NHL Draft’s seventh overall pick broke out for five goals in four appearances with the Comets as a 19-year-old.
? Top blueline prospect Nicolas Beaudin is on his way to the Blackhawks from Rockford. Beaudin, 22, is a 2018 Blackhawks first-round pick who has three assists in five outings with Rockford this season. Forward Reese Johnson has joined Rockford.
? Goaltender Connor Ingram is back with Milwaukee after his making his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators on Oct. 24. Ingram was a Second Team AHL All-Star in 2019-20.
? Colorado Eagles forward Kiefer Sherwood, whose seven goals in eight games lead the AHL, is on recall to the Avalanche.
? Ontario Reign forward Alex Turcotte has joined the Los Angeles Kings, who took him as the fifth pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Turcotte is in his second AHL season and has five points (one goal, four assists) in eight games.
? Tucson added a pair of AHL veterans to help fortify one of the AHL’s youngest rosters, with goaltender Zane McIntyre, a North Division AHL All-Star last season with Lehigh Valley, and versatile forward Terry Broadhurst signing professional tryouts with the team.
After a week off, undefeated Utica (4-0-0-0) returns with a three-in-three weekend that begins Friday at rival Syracuse. The Comets return home for a Saturday-Sunday run against Toronto and Laval, respectively… Ontario, second in the AHL with a .938 points percentage going into weekend play (7-0-0-1), makes a quick trip north to meet Bakersfield on Saturday before returning to Toyota Arena against Colorado on Sunday…. Lehigh Valley will attempt to add to its win column with two contests at Charlotte… The always-intense Bridgeport Islanders-Hartford Wolf Pack rivalry resumes this weekend. Hartford hosts Friday night; the Islanders take their turn on Sunday afternoon… Providence begins a two-game Pennsylvania trip with stops at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday and Hershey on Saturday… Belleville visits the Cleveland Monsters in a Friday-Saturday set… The Texas Stars head to the West Coast for two meetings in San Jose… Henderson hosts Tucson on back-to-back nights starting Friday… The Abbotsford Canucks are back on the road with a pair of games against Stockton… Sunday (Nov. 7) marks the 85th anniversary of the first games played in league history; the Syracuse Stars, Pittsburgh Hornets, Philadelphia Ramblers and Springfield Indians were all victorious on the first opening night of what was then called the International-American Hockey League.
“I [have been] thinking a lot about the people tired on the front line, seeing people dying, and trying to find solutions to help people fight that [virus].”
— San Diego Gulls head coach Joel Bouchard via the team website on the work of first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gulls will honor first responders on “Heroes Night” when the Bakersfield Condors visit tonight.
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.