Griffins Raise Banner, Open Calder Cup Defense Against Manitoba

This Week’s Games
Manitoba Moose at GRIFFINS // Fri., Oct. 6 // 7 p.m. // Van Andel Arena
Manitoba Moose at GRIFFINS // Sat., Oct. 7 // 7 p.m. // Van Andel Arena
Listen: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 6:35 p.m. on Friday, WBFX 101.3 FMat 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Watch: AHLLive.com    
Season Series: First and second of eight meetings overall, first and second of four at Van Andel Arena.
All-Time Series: 27-10-1-1-5 Home, 50-26-1-1-7 Overall. 
NHL Affiliation: Winnipeg Jets
Noteworthy: Since the Moose rejoined the AHL in 2015-16 following a four-year hiatus, the Griffins are 6-2 against their Central Division counterpart, including a 4-0 mark in games at Van Andel Arena.

22nd Season of Hockey: The Grand Rapids Griffins begin the franchise’s 22nd overall season of play, 17th as a member of the American Hockey League and 16th as the primary affiliate of the 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. They’ll open the campaign on Friday night when they welcome their Central Division rivals, the Manitoba Moose, to Van Andel Arena. Grand Rapids has competed in 1,666 games between the International Hockey League and AHL and has amassed an 885-604-27-49-101 (0.584) regular season record, to go along with seven division titles, 15 playoff appearances and two Calder Cups (2017, 2013).    

Season Openers: The Griffins own a 12-6-2-1 record (0.643) all time in season openers, including a 6-4-0-1 mark (0.591) when the season opener comes on home ice. Oct. 6 is the earliest date for a season opener since the 2009-10 campaign when Grand Rapids beat Peoria 3-1 on Oct. 3. The Griffins have played their season opener on Oct. 6 three times previously (2007, 2006, 2000). 

Home Openers: Grand Rapids has sold out 21 consecutive home openers and posts an 11-9-0-1 record (0.548) all time in those contests. Oct. 6 marks the earliest for a home opener since the 2001-02 season, the Griffins’ first in the AHL, when Grand Rapids lost to Utah 3-0 on Oct. 5. The Griffins have two consecutive home games to start a season for the third time ever (2012-13 and 2002-03). 

Sellouts: With a capacity crowd of 10,834 expected for Friday night’s opener, it will mark the 169th overall regular season sellout of Van Andel Arena. Over the course of their 21-year history at the “Freezer on Fulton,” the Griffins have enjoyed raucous crowd support, showing an 88-62-1-2-15 record (0.577) while outscoring opponents 506-452 (3.01-2.69 average per game) in sold-out home games. Grand Rapids has earned at least a point in all eight previous meetings against Manitoba at a sold-out Van Andel Arena, showing a 5-0-1-2 mark. 

Weekend Promotions: On Friday, the banner commemorating Grand Rapids’ 2017 Calder Cup championship will be raised to Van Andel Arena’s rafters in a pre-game ceremony. Also on Friday, the first 5,000 fans will receive a 2017-18 Griffins magnet schedule, courtesy of Huntington Bank. On Saturday, the first 5,000 fans will receive a 2018 Griffins calendar, thanks to Fox Motors. 

Friendly Confines: Friday will be the Griffins’ first home game since winning the Calder Cup on June 13. Grand Rapids won all 10 of its contests inside Van Andel Arena during its championship run, becoming the fourth team in AHL history to win at least 10 straight home games in the same postseason in addition to establishing franchise records for both most home wins overall in a single postseason and consecutive home playoff victories. The Griffins last suffered defeat on home ice on April 8, losing 4-0 to Cleveland. 

Championship Effects: Since 2001-02, the year Grand Rapids joined the AHL, nine Calder Cup champions have gone on to qualify for the postseason in the following season, including the Griffins, who reached the conference semifinals in 2014 after winning the franchise’s first championship in 2013. Only one team in this 16-year span has repeated as champions (Hershey in 2009 and 2010). 

Captains: After Jeff Hoggan held the captainship for four consecutive seasons (2012-16), the Griffins have a new captain for the second time in as many years. Matthew Ford has been named the 12th captain in Griffins history, succeeding Nathan Paetsch. A 10-year pro, Ford enters his second season in Grand Rapids after tallying 12 points (8-4—12) in 19 games during last spring’s Calder Cup run. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound winger served as an alternate captain last season. Ninth-year Griffin and two-time Calder Cup champion Brian Lashoff along with third-year Griffin Eric Tangradi and second-year Griffin Ben Street will serve as alternate captains for the 2017-18 campaign. 

Rookie Blueliners Debut: A pair of rookie defensemen drafted by Detroit in 2015 and 2016, Vili Saarijarvi and Filip Hronek, are set to begin their rookie campaigns in Grand Rapids. Detroit’s third-round draft pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the 5-foot-10, 178-pound Saarijarvi has spent the last two seasons in the OHL. He joined the Griffins as a black ace for part of their postseason runs in both 2016 and 2017 and scored four points in five games during his first taste of professional action with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye at the end of the 2016 campaign. Detroit’s second-round draft selection in 2016, Hronek debuted with the Griffins at the end of 2016-17 after his OHL season in Saginaw concluded. Hronek contributed a goal and an assist in 10 regular season games with the Griffins and skated in two Calder Cup Playoff games. The 6-foot, 178-pound Hronek was named an OHL Third Team All-Star after tying for fourth among league defensemen in scoring with 61 points (14-47—61) during his only junior campaign.   

Detroit Exports: Seventeen Red Wings-contracted players are on the Griffins’ 24-man roster, including goaltenders Jared Coreau, Matej Machovsky and Tom McCollum; defensemen Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, Brian Lashoff, Dylan McIlrath, Dan Renouf, Robbie Russo, Vili Saarijarvi and Ryan Sproul; and forwards Turner Elson, Axel Holmstrom, Zach Nastasiuk, Dylan Sadowy, Ben Streetand Dominic Turgeon. 

Starting on the Sideline: Tyler Bertuzzi, Matt Lorito, Evgeny Svechnikov and Eric Tangradi, four players who played a significant role in Grand Rapids winning the Calder Cup, begin the new campaign on Detroit’s injured reserve. 

Signed and Sealed: Of the nine players signed to Griffins contracts, seven will start the season with Grand Rapids: forwards Mike Borkowski, Colin Campbell, Luke Esposito, Corey Elkins, Dominik Shine, Matthew Ford and defensemen Patrick McCarron. 

New Kids on the Block: The Griffins have five players who are considered rookies this season, including defensemen Vili Saarijarvi, Patrick McCarron, Filip Hronek and forwards Luke Espositoand Dominik Shine. 

McCollum Returns: Grand Rapids’ all-time leader in goaltender games played (226), minutes (12737:53) and saves (5653), Tom McCollum returns for his eighth season in West Michigan after a one-year hiatus. Detroit’s first round draft choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, McCollum also ranks among the franchise’s all-time goalie leaders with 103 wins (2nd), seven shutouts (7th) and six shootout wins (T6th). A 2013 Calder Cup champion with Grand Rapids and the franchise’s only three-time AHL Man of the Year nominee, McCollum signed a two-year contract with Calgary last October. After logging one game with Heat’s AHL affiliate in Stockton and five with their ECHL affiliate in Adirondack, McCollum was reassigned to Charlotte on March 8. In 17 games with the Checkers, McCollum showed an 11-2-4 record, a 2.10 GAA and was named the AHL Goaltender of the Month for March 2017 while helping Charlotte reach the postseason. Detroit acquired the 6-foot-2, 215-pound netminder on July 1 from Calgary in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. 

GRG → DRW: Sixteen former Griffins players are on the Red Wings’ opening week roster, including: Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Martin Frk, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard, Nick Jensen, Niklas Kronwall, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist, Xavier Ouellet, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.

Manitoba Notes: Forward Eric Tangradi, who appeared in 91 games with the Winnipeg Jets between 2012-14, has feasted upon the Jets’ AHL affiliate…Skating in six games against the Moose as a member of the Griffins, Tangradi has produced 15 points (7-8—15) and a plus-11 rating…Grand Rapids and Manitoba have met 85 times since 1996-97 when both were members of the International Hockey League and the Griffins lead the series, 50-26-1-1-7…Since the Moose rejoined the AHL in 2015-16 following a four-year hiatus, the Griffins are 6-2 against their Central Division counterpart, including a 4-0 mark in games at Van Andel Arena…In those four games in West Michigan, Grand Rapids is outscoring Manitoba 23-9…In their return to the AHL, the Moose have finished seventh in the eight-team Central Division each of the last two seasons with a combined record of 55-78-9-10 (0.424)…Eleven players appeared in games for both the Moose and Jets last season. 

Third Time’s a Charm: After becoming the third person in AHL history to hoist the Calder Cup as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Todd Nelson begins his third season behind Grand Rapids’ bench. In his first two seasons, Nelson has established his name next to a number of significant team records including: longest and second-longest winning streak (15 games; Nov. 18-Dec. 26, 2015 and 13 games; Feb. 20-March 19, 2016), longest home winning streak (14 games; Nov. 11, 2015-Jan. 15, 2016), highest single-season power play percentage (24.4%, 2016-17) and tying for the longest power play streak (13 games, Nov. 9-Dec. 7, 2016). As an AHL head coach, Nelson owns a 267-164-14-40 (0.606) regular season record, including a 91-53-2-6 (0.625) mark during his two seasons in Grand Rapids. He has won a greater percentage of his games over his first two seasons than any other Griffins head coach (see chart below. Note that it is actual winning percentage, not points percentage). His 20 playoff wins are the second most in franchise history, trailing only Jeff Blashill’s 29, and posts the Griffins’ highest postseason winning percentage (0.714). The first player ever signed to a Griffins contract, Nelson is one of the most significant defensemen in franchise history. His 236 games played rank 23rd all time and eighth among defensemen, while his 56 assists place 15th and his 67 points are 16th among Grand Rapids blueliners. Following in the footsteps of Danton Cole (2002-05), whom he served under as an assistant coach, Nelson is the second former Griffins player to be employed at Grand Rapids’ head coach. 

 

Coach                  Years        Winning Percentage

Todd Nelson     2015-17     91 wins/152 games (0.599)

Greg Ireland     2004-07     94 wins/160 games (0.588) - includes last 32 games from 2004-05 through first 48 games of 2006-07

Bruce Cassidy  2000-02     95 wins/162 games (0.586)

Jeff Blashill      2012-14      88 wins/152 games (0.579)

Danton Cole      2002-04      92 wins/160 games (0.575)

Guy Charron     1999-00      85 wins/164 games (0.518)

Dave Allison      1996-98     70 wins/144 games (0.486) - fired with 20 games remaining in 1997-98

Curt Fraser        2008-10     77 wins/160 games (0.481)

 

Michigan Men: Two players signed by the Griffins for this season have roots in the Mitten State: rookie forward Dominik Shine was born in Pinckney and played four seasons at Northern Michigan University and veteran forward Corey Elkins is from West Bloomfield. 

New Teams on Schedule: While 54 of Grand Rapids’ 76 games will come against the Central Division, the Griffins schedule features the inaugural games against the Pacific Division’s Tucson Roadrunners and the return of two Eastern Conference opponents, the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Tucson, which began play in the AHL in 2016-17 and is the primary affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes, visits Van Andel Arena on Oct. 25 and Feb. 28, while Grand Rapids travels to the Cactus State on April 6-7. The Griffins and Bears, who last met during the 2005-06 campaign, will play a home-and-home set this season beginning Oct. 21 in West Michigan and concluding March 11 when Grand Rapids makes the return trip to Pennsylvania. After not playing since the 2008-09 season, Grand Rapids and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will meet twice in an eight-day span in early March, matching up at Van Andel Arena on March 2 and at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 10. 

One Less Problem Without You: During Todd Nelson’s two years behind the Grand Rapids bench, he has guided the Griffins to a 77-37-2-4 (0.667) record against Central Division teams. The Griffins’ lowest points percentage against any of the seven divisional foes during that span came against the Charlotte Checkers (0.563, 9-7), who moved to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division during this summer’s AHL realignment. 

Notes on Newcomers: 

Center Corey Elkins
Signed to a one-year contract, 5/2/17…Entering his ninth year pro…This year marks his first back in North America after playing in 223 games with HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League from 2013-17 and logging 129 points (42-87—129)…Native of West Bloomfield, Mich., and totaled 60 points (27-33—60) in 102 games at Ohio State from 2005-2009…Appeared in three games with the Los Angeles Kings and scored a goal during his rookie campaign in 2009-10…Won the 2011-12 Czech ExtraLiga championship with HC Pardubice.  

Forward Turner Elson
Signed to a one-year contract by Detroit, 7/1/17…Entering his fifth year pro…Limited to 13 games due to injury last season with San Antonio…Netted back-to-back 30-point seasons in his last two full AHL years (2014-15 and 2015-16)…Won the 2014 Kelly Cup with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces…Logged an assist during his lone NHL game with Calgary on April 9, 2016. 

Forward Luke Esposito
Signed to a one-year contract, 4/11/17…Entering his first year pro…Second time in as many seasons the Griffins have signed an undrafted forward from Harvard…Set career highs in goals (16), assists (20) and points (36) in 2016-17 and helped Harvard advance to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1994… Named the BCHL Rookie of the Year with the Chilliwack Chiefs in 2012-13.

Forward Axel Holmstrom
Detroit’s sixth choice, 196th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft…Entering his fourth year pro and first full season in North America…Helped Grand Rapids win the 2017 Calder Cup after joining the team at the end of the regular season…Compiled two points (1-1—2) in seven regular season games and one goal in four Calder Cup Playoff games…Appeared in 112 pro games with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Elite League from 2013-2017 and totaled 45 points (19-26—45)…Represented Sweden at the 2015 and 2016 World Junior Championships…Named Sweden’s junior player of the year in 2014-15.

Goaltender Matej Machovsky
Signed to a one-year contract by Detroit, 5/2/17…Entering his fifth year pro…Native of Opava, Czech Republic, and spent the last four seasons playing for Plzen HC of the Czech league…In 178 appearances since 2013-14 with Plzen, compiled a 94-84-0 record with a 2.23 GAA, a 0.923 save percentage and 14 shutouts…Played three seasons in the OHL with Guelph (2010-11) and Brampton (2010-13)…Represented the Czech Republic at the 2016 IIHF World Championship, 2013 World Junior Championship, 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship and 2010 World U17 Hockey Challenge. 

Defenseman Patrick McCarron
Signed to an amateur tryout for the remainder of the 2016-17 season and to a one-year contract for 2017-18, 3/28/17...Entering his first year pro…Appeared in one game with Grand Rapids at the end of last season, logging an assist in the season finale at Milwaukee…All-Ivy League Second Team selection in 2016-17 and helped Cornell reach the NCAA Tournament…Ranked second on Cornell in scoring (6-19—25) as a senior while leading the Big Red in assists (19), shots (86) and PIM (41)…Captained St. Michael’s in 2012-13 and helped the Buzzers win the OJHL Championship in addition to being named Defenseman of the Year and earning OJHL First Team All-Star accolades. 

Defenseman Vili Saarijarvi
Detroit’s second choice, 73rd overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft…Entering his first year pro…Served as a black ace with the Griffins during their 2016 and 2017 postseason runs…Represented Finland at the 2017 and 2016 World Junior Championships, winning a gold medal in 2016…Spent the last two seasons playing in the OHL, scoring 43 points (12-31—43) in 59 games with Flint in 2015-16 and 31 points (11-20—31) in 34 games with Mississauga last year… Debuted professionally with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye at the end of the 2015-16 season and totaled four points (1-3—4)…Named to the 2014-15 USHL All-Rookie Second Team with Green Bay during his first season in North America. 
    
Forward Dominik Shine
Signed to an amateur tryout for the remainder of the 2016-17 season and to a one-year contract for 2017-18, 3/14/17…Entering first year pro…Appeared in eight games with the Griffins at the end of the 2016-17 season, his first pro experience, totaling three assists and seven PIM…Native of Pinckney, Mich., and skated in 131 games for Northern Michigan while compiling 97 points (48-49—97)…Led the WCHA in goals with 20 in 2016-17 and was named an All-WCHA Third Team selection.

Familiar Faces in Different Places: A number of key contributors to last season’s 47-win, 100-point team now find themselves with new clubs for the 2017-18 campaign. Former captain Nathan Paetsch, who, along with Mitch Callahan and Brian Lashoff are the only three players to have won both Calder Cups with Grand Rapids and is the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason games played with 68, signed a one-year contract with the AHL’s Rochester Americans in September. Paetsch will be joined in Rochester by fellow blueliner Conor Allen, who signed with the Americans in August. Kyle Criscuolo, who finished ninth among the top single-season rookie scorers in team history with 41 points (17-24—41), signed a two-year contract with Rochester’s NHL affiliate, the Buffalo Sabres, in July. Six-year Griffin Mitch Callahan, who ranks among the franchise’s all-time regular season leaders with 365 games played (2nd) and 94 goals (3rd), along with goaltender Eddie Pasquale, who ranked in the AHL’s top-15 in both GAA and save percentage in 2016-17, both signed with the Edmonton Oilers in July. Goaltender Cal Heeter signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Marlies. Tomas Nosek, who led the Griffins with 22 postseason points, was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft.  

 

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