STURM, ANAS, MAYHEW HELP LEAD IOWA TO WEEKEND SWEEP OF HIGHLY-RATED HEATFeb 10, 2020
By Tom Witosky
When Nico Sturm picked up the puck with an empty net about 110 feet away Sunday, he knew immediately the Iowa Wild would soon be defeating the Stockton Heat 7-4.
He also knew his linemate for the past 16 games, Gerry Mayhew, would be scoring the goal.
“It’s what I do, I pass the puck,” Sturm said matter-of-factly and with a smile. “Besides, Gerry is setting records and I’m very happy to help him.”
In that explanation, Wild fans will understand why the Iowa Wild’s top line – Sturm, Mayhew, and forward Sam Anas – have combined to become one of the most effective groups in the AHL this season.
That effectiveness couldn’t have been clearer Saturday and Sunday when the Wild systematically rallied from first period deficits to extend its current winning streak to a season-best six games and a record eight consecutive home wins. The Wild outskated the Heat to a 5-2 win Saturday and Sunday’s 7-4 victory was highlighted by 50 minutes of penalties, a penalty shot, and a key shorthanded goal by veteran J.T. Brown, set-up by Mayhew.
Combined, the three players scored seven of the team’s 12 goals, two coming on the power play, and had nine assists in the two games, coming in all facets of the game.
Since the line was put together in late December, goals and assists have surged at an extraordinary rate – 70 points (31 goals, 39 assists) from the three players in a combined 48 games. As a result, Mayhew is the first AHL player to have scored 35 goals at this point in the season since 2009; Anas is the first player to have 40 assists at this point in the season since 2017, and combined, it’s the first time 2014 since the league’s top goal scorer and top assist leader were playing for the same team.
“They've been good together because a good line has a little bit of everything,” Head Coach Tim Army said. “You've got Gerry, who is more of a pure scorer and can make plays; Sam, who is more the distributor but can score. And, Sturmy, who is big and powerful and can play with them offensively and defensively.”
Sturm explained that when he and Mayhew returned to Iowa after brief stints with Minnesota, the two players were intent on continuing to show they belong in the NHL.
“Coach Army thought that I would have a lot of energy coming back down and you know, he was right,” Sturm said. “I wanted to keep playing up there and he thought that it might be a good, nice boost for that line and for Gerry and Sammy. And, you know, it just clicked right away.”
Mayhew, who was named CCM/AHL Player of the Month for January, agreed the chemistry between the three players was evident nearly immediately.
“It was just one of those things that you put us together and it just clicked right away,” Mayhew said. “We know the game because Sammy and I have been playing together a lot over the last two years. Nico just fit in right where we needed him.”
Following the team’s 5-2 win Saturday night, when Anas got to the locker room after a career-high five-point night, veteran Mike Liambas was waiting for him with some news.
“Bus informed me after the game,” the 26-year-old right winger disclosed with a shy smile after being asked if he knew that, for at least one night, he was leading the American Hockey League in total points.
“It’s definitely an individual achievement, but it’s not something to focus on,” he said.
Anas made it clear immediately that while his night was special, particularly with his parents Pete and Demetra sitting in the stands, what was really important to him was the win over a very tough and talented Stockton Heat team.
“We have a lot of guys who are having great years,” Anas said. “But we are focusing on the Iowa Wild and what we have a lot to do if we want to get where we want to be.”
For a team that has struggled offensively for much of its seven-year history in central Iowa, the team’s ability to score has been the result of a maturing of players like Mayhew and Anas into formidable offensive-minded working in a structure Army describes as “five-players connected.”
“Everything we do is five players connected and we play inside the puck,” Army said. “Once we get possession, we're going hard the other way. And we push the pace, then we press the puck in the opponent’s zone. That is how you have to play this game these days.”
Army puts that goal quite simply.
“We want to go out and outscore the opponent. To do so we got to do things right and these guys are doing a lot of the right things,” Army said.