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AHL Notebook: Torchetti guides Iowa in tough times

by Patrick Williams

A debate surrounding player development in the American Hockey League long has centered on the role that winning plays in preparing young players for an NHL future.

Different organizations have applied various approaches, with some opting to rely heavily on a young roster even if it means the win-loss column may suffer. Putting top prospects in key roles to learn through trial and error is at the heart of that philosophy. Other organizations believe a strong core of AHL veterans can produce a winning environment and the chance to experience a deep run through the Calder Cup playoffs that is optimal for up-and-coming talent.

Seth Griffith won the CCM/AHL Player of the Month honor for December with six goals and 11 assists in 11 games. (Team Shred Photography)

Losing also can play a role. It can build up or break down young players, and how the prospects inside the Iowa Wild dressing room handle this season will go a long way toward determining their NHL futures.

Iowa has experienced nearly non-stop frustration through 36 games. Last in the AHL with 21 points, the 8-23-2-3 Wild have endured a 13-game losing streak lasting close to five weeks, a 12-game home losing streak that stretched nearly two months and 16 one-goal losses. They play in the Central Division, perhaps the toughest in the AHL, and have had to deal with a stream of recalls to the parent Minnesota Wild.

Iowa also dealt with the loss of its three top centers early in the season. Zac Dalpe, a high-end AHL scorer, sustained a season-ending hip injury in the first game of the season. Tyler Graovac and Grayson Downing missed time early.

With 2.03 goals per game, last in the AHL, goal production has been a season-long issue. Leading scorer Christoph Bertschy has four goals and 15 assists in 33 games. Veteran Brett Sutter has scored twice in 36 games. Jordan Schroeder has been limited to 20 games.

Iowa added experienced goaltending in Leland Irving and Jeremy Smith before the season. The tandem has held the Wild in games, but it has had to cope with the pressure of playing with minimal margin for error nightly.

Leading them through it all has been no-nonsense hockey lifer John Torchetti, who brings a Boston-flavored tough-love approach heavy on blunt talk.

Torchetti has coached in the NHL, AHL, Kontinental Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League among other circuits. He won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. However, the 51-year-old has also endured losing seasons, young teams, veteran teams and has seen just about everything there is to see in pro hockey.

"I love developing NHL players," said Torchetti, whose list of AHL alumni now in Minnesota include Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Justin Fontaine, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Darcy Kuemper, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella and Jason Zucker.

"My whole job with our coaching staff is to develop them to be a pro," Torchetti said. "Our job is to get them there quicker, better, faster.

"I've told [players], 'You have to be consistent at what you do. If you can't be consistent in the American League, don't get upset when you don't get called up because you're not a consistent guy.'"

Torchetti and Minnesota management held off on shipping out players, but they opted to send forward Brady Brassart and defenseman Guillaume Gelinas to the ECHL last week. Forward Matt Carey was sent to the ECHL on Dec. 3 and has remained there.

"We've made a lot of moves where we're holding guys accountable," Torchetti said. "You don't [produce], you're going to the [ECHL]. That's it. It's just consequences.

"You have to earn your ice. It's the second-greatest league in the world, and you just can't keep getting ice and repeating the same [mistakes] and expect to get ice. There have to be consequences."

Of late, Iowa has started to see rewards for sticking with Torchetti's process. The Wild ended their home losing streak Dec. 27 against the powerful Rockford IceHogs. This past weekend, they split a two-game series on the road with the Manitoba Moose. They overcame a 3-1 second-period deficit in the second game to win 4-3 in the shootout, the third victory in their past five games.

"Good things are happening with our team because we're buying into the simpler things," Torchetti said.

"I like our team. We don't grip our sticks, we have fun and we compete. That's all I ask them to do, and they have been doing a good job.

"We haven't had the season that we've wanted, but we're starting to have the identity that we've been building on."

Changes in net: The Lake Erie Monsters could be without their top two goaltenders for the near future because of injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney with the parent Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus recalled Joonas Korpisalo from the Monsters on Monday to replace McElhinney, who was injured this past weekend. Korpisalo will join the Blue Jackets for his second NHL stint and team with his Lake Erie partner Anton Forsberg, who won his first NHL game in relief Saturday.

Providence center Alexander Khokhlachev was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week after scoring three goals and three assists in two games. (Alan Sullivan)

Korpisalo, 21, has a 5-6-2 record with a 2.34 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts in 13 games with Lake Erie. Forsberg, 23, has gone 12-6-0 with the Monsters to go with a 2.60 GAA and .900 save percentage.

Veteran Brad Thiessen is likely to take over the No. 1 job in Lake Erie for now. Thiessen, 29, won the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL's top goaltender in 2010-11 with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

With honors: Providence Bruins right wing Seth Griffith won the CCM/AHL Player of the Month honor for December with six goals and 11 assists in 11 games.

Milwaukee Admirals right wing Max Gortz won the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month award. He had five goals and 10 assists in 13 games.

Jared Coreau of the Grand Rapids Griffins was selected as the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month. In 11 starts, he was 9-2-0 with a 1.92 GAA and .938 save percentage.

Statistically speaking: Texas Stars captain Travis Morin passed William Nylander of the Toronto Marlies for the AHL scoring lead. Morin has 35 points (10 goals and 25 assists) in 36 games. … Petr Straka of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms still holds the AHL goal-scoring lead at 17 goals. … Ontario Reign veteran Peter Budaj's 1.68 GAA tops all AHL goaltenders. He has started 14 consecutive games and is tied with Michael Leighton (Rockford) with a league-high 16 wins. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender Matthew Murray, who returned to the AHL this past week, leads the league in save percentage at .940. … Toronto defenseman TJ Brennan has 13 goals and 18 points in 31 games, most among AHL defensemen.

Around the AHL: Providence center Alexander Khokhlachev was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending this past Sunday. He had three goals and three assists in two games. … The league announced its coaches for the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic that will be hosted by the Syracuse Crunch on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton associate coach Jay Leach will coach the Atlantic Division. Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe will coach the North Division. In the Western Conference, Dean Evason of Milwaukee will represent the Central Division. Ontario's Mike Stothers will lead the Pacific Division. … Six AHL players won the Spengler Cup for Canada this past week in Davos, Switzerland. Defensemen Trevor Carrick (Charlotte), Mark Cundari (San Jose Barracuda) and Aaron Johnson (Stockton Heat) played on the Canadian blue line. Veteran forwards Manny Malhotra (Lake Erie) and Daniel Paille (Rockford) also participated. Charlotte goaltender Drew MacIntyre was injured early in the tournament. … Grand Rapids has won 17 of its past 19 games. … Charlotte has a 10-game point streak (8-0-1-1). In the middle of a six-game road trip, the Checkers' 12 road wins are the second-most in the AHL. … The Binghamton Senators' five-game winning streak ended this past Saturday at Hershey when they surrendered a 5-1 lead and lost 6-5 in overtime. They have points in their past six games (5-0-1-0) but remain last in the North Division. … Four more AHL players made their NHL debut this past week, bringing the season total to 73.

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