MAYHEW, MENELL MORPH FROM UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS TO AHL ALL STARSJan 6, 2020
By Tom Witosky
When Gerry Mayhew and Brennan Menell arrived to play for the Iowa Wild for the 2017-18 season, the two of them already a lot in common.
Undrafted and unimpressive to NHL scouts, the two rookies spent much of the time in their early hockey development dealing with the same skepticism about their future. Too small and not fast enough is how Mayhew describes the “blah, blah, blah” lines he heard almost from the beginning of his career.
But now Mayhew and Menell have something else in common. They are AHL All-Stars, representing the Iowa Wild on Jan. 27 in Ontario, CA in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic. It is the first time for each player to get the AHL honor and only the second time in franchise history the Wild has had more than one representative at the All-Star Classic. (Last year, Cal O’Reilly and rookie goalie Kaapo Kahkonen were named to the team along with Head Coach Tim Army.)
Tom Kurvers, Iowa’s general manager and the Minnesota Wild’s assistant general manager, said the players deserve the recognition from a league that “is better than people know.”
“Even in the state of hockey, the American Hockey League is almost an unknown quantity,” Kurvers said. “But these players come here and are equally committed to the game as our NHL players. And they deal with tougher travel, tougher schedules, tougher everything.”
Statistically, it’s easy to see why the two players were named. Mayhew, the 27-year-old forward from Wyandotte MI, became the AHL’s top goal scorer last weekend with a nine-goal spurt in the Wild’s last eight games to give him 23 tallies on the year, including nine power-play goals, which ranks third in the league. In addition to his nine scores, Mayhew’s six assists pushed him up to fourth in the league with 35 points.
Meanwhile, Menell, 22, is tied for third place among all AHL defensemen in assists (22) and points (25).
In Iowa’s last three victories, Iowa’s power play, which also includes Sam Anas, Kyle Rau, and Luke Johnson, scored nine times out of 12 opportunities and rolled up a total of 23 individual points, with Anas recording seven, Rau recording six, Johnson recording four, and Mayhew and Menell with three each.
The three wins have provided the Wild an eight-point cushion in second place in the Central Division and the team is now within 10 points of the division-leading Milwaukee Admirals.
But Mayhew and Menell’s recognition also is emblematic of an AHL team that is playing at a high level despite having exactly zero first or second-round draft choices on the roster. Instead, the roster consists of a majority of players signed as undrafted free agents, and, right now, six of their top players are too injured to play.
Anas, who has been playing on the same line with Mayhew and Nico Sturm, another undrafted free-agent like himself, Mayhew and Menell, said the apparent lack of highly-rated talent has galvanized the team into a cohesive unit intent on helping each other make it to the NHL as well as play championship-level hockey in the AHL.
“I think about how great they've done or how any of us have done,” said Anas, who is now in his fourth year with the Wild and has had All-Star numbers this season. “We wouldn't be there without each other. It’s something that we've all kind of done together. We work hard, and we like it when each other succeeds.”
Army acknowledged the two players named to this year’s All-Star game have a lot in common with a number of the Wild players on this year’s team.
“We are a group that's put together in a little bit different way than most teams. We don’t have the first and second draft choices right now, but we do have some guys who played in college or played juniors and were unsigned, but got an opportunity here and have worked hard for it,” Army said.
As a group, Army called it a good fit.
“Those guys reflect Individually what we do collectively in how we play,” Army said. “That’s why we are so good because we have a lot of guys who come from the same situation and they are making the most of it.”
Menell and Mayhew agree.
“It’s been a hard road for a lot of us and that gives us something we share and work with hard for each other,” Mayhew said.
Menell credited his teammates and the Iowa coaching staff for his success.
“It shows how the coaching staff has helped me out,” he said. “My teammates and just the whole organization have given me the opportunity. I'm just so grateful. It's a real honor.”