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October 27, 2010

by Karen Patterson

As the Griffins prepare for a four-game home stand beginning Friday, Oct. 29 against the Oklahoma City Barons, head coach Curt Fraser took a moment to share his thoughts on how he thinks the team has been able to get off to a strong 4-2-0-1 start.

What has been the key to success for the team starting the year 4-1 on the road?

Well, we’ve gotten off to a real good start on the road because of good goaltending combined with really strong defensive play. We’ve got a real good defensive core this year, led by Derek Meech, and our forwards have really done a nice job of helping about. You know, when you go on the road, you want to play tight and keep things simple and our guys have done a great job of that.

Goaltender Thomas McCollum is playing very well thus far. In what ways have you seen him improve since training camp and even last season?

Tommy looked really good last year at training camp and we expected some real big, good things out of him. But the combination of Larson and himself, two young players, made it difficult. When they faltered last season they weren’t able to get out of it quickly. Having Joey MacDonald now adds a lot of stability for the two of them. MacDonald is a great NHL goaltender and has come in here and provided us with some great play, and it’s taken some of the pressure off of Tommy. Tommy’s relaxed and now he’s playing like everybody thought he could.

What specific ways have you seen MacDonald positively impact McCollum?

Well, Tommy earned his starts the last two games. In Rochester he played very, very well and earned the start the next night in Toronto, which was important for him. Everybody wanted to see if he could deliver a strong performance, and then the next step to that is doing it every night. It was great to see him get back-to-back wins.

Do you see them continuing to build off each other as the season goes on?

Absolutely. They’re a great pair. You know, you usually say the guy who’s playing the best is the one that you’re going to go with [on game night], but we go more game-to-game. In Winnipeg, MacDonald played very well the first night and won the game, so he played the next night and won it again. It was the same with Tommy when he went in at Rochester. Played well, so he’s playing the next night. Joey has started our two home games we’ve played, so Tommy will start on Friday, and Joey will get the Saturday game. That would be the best case scenario for us: keep them both going all the time and hopefully through the season, both will be so strong that we’ll have a nice problem of choosing who is playing.

Goalies are getting great support from the defense, but some key players have been out (Janik in Detroit, Pyett and Lashoff injured). How have you been adjusting your defense?

Piche and Ehrhardt have stepped in and done a great job. It’s nice to have some depth this year in the back end and some strong performances from some of the young kids. Derek Meech, Greg Amadio – two great veterans – lead the defense and Smith has played very well as well. You could go down the list; they’ve all contributed and the nicest thing to see about our defense is that we’re not just moving the puck well – they’re very mobile back there – but we’re blocking a ton of shots and that’s really helping our goaltenders.

I know blocked shots made a big difference in the wins at Manitoba. Is that something that has been practiced or are the players taking the initiative?

As a player, you’ve got to really want to do that. When I played, like a million years ago, if I blocked a shot it was because I was in the wrong position on the ice. Now it’s much different. If you don’t block half the shots taken towards your net, you’re not going to win. The first year we were okay. Last year we weren’t very good at blocking shots at all. This year, we’ve really stepped up and it’s made a huge difference in having a good start for us this season.

Pare is off to a hot start. How have you seen his role change and how has he stepped into it?

Pare is in his third year and has had two years to really get going. Junior started off his first year real well. Scored a ton of goals. Last year, he stumbled a little bit and continued to work through it when we needed him and still ended up with a lot of goals at the end of the season, but less than the first year. This year, he knew he had to get off to a better start. It wasn’t like he was bad last year, but this year he’s playing really well. We’re using him on the point on the power play and getting him a little extra ice time and that’s making a huge difference, but he’s playing well and doing what he needs to.

The 4-1 start on the road is fantastic, but you haven’t found that first home win. How are you transitioning that momentum from the road games for this two-game stand this weekend?

These are two tough opponents coming up. Manitoba sure isn’t going to like what we did to them and Oklahoma City is a very good team, too. We’re just going to have to bring the same style of play that we’ve been using on the road to the home games here. I think that guys have been squeezing their sticks a little bit too tight here at home. You know, they want to put on a good performance here for all of their fans. The games haven’t been bad; we should have won both games, but I think that guys are working hard and they just haven’t gotten the results yet. The way that we work and compete I think that will change around quickly.

There are twelve players who have goals so far. Were you expecting a large spread this early in the season?

The way that our team plays, everybody needs to contribute. We don’t rely on one line or two lines. We rely on all four lines and our defense so you’ll see the large point spread. If you look at the last couple years, the scoring is spread out through the entire line up and it’s important that everybody realizes that, because a lot of nights it’s not going to the first, second, or third line. It’s going to be the fourth line that’s going to have to make the difference for us. Hopefully by taking the approach that anybody can score on any given night, it will help us through the year. It’s a long season and we need everybody’s hands on the rope pulling hard. If that happens we should be successful.

What have you thought of the AHL as a whole this year and where do you see the Griffins falling?

It’s a tough league this year and it’s hard to win. You’ve got to be at the top of your game. These next four games at home we’re looking to continue to climb in the standings and try to catch that first place Abbotsford and move forward from there.

The Griffins have had a lot of support this year from the Red Wings. What has that meant to you and what impact does it have on the players?

A lot of teams don’t ever see anybody from their parent team. Ever since I’ve been here, there’s always been someone here from Detroit. This year has been a little different, though. Fortunately we’re able to bring on Aaron Downey as a strength and conditioning trainer, which is something that we haven’t had before but is going to make a big difference in the long run. Chris Chelios will be coming around all the time, helping the guys out. He’s going to track five of our young players through the season and he’ll do a great job of working with those guys and all the advice that he brings to the table from years and years of playing. Fischer is still around here all the time and we get him on the ice as much as we can. He does a fantastic job and it’s also great to have Jimmy Bedard around all the time for our goalies. Detroit is doing a really good job of getting those guys down all the time, even though it’s early in the season. There is going to be times when they call a “lockdown” when their schedule gets hard so we won’t always have everybody. But right now there’s always somebody here and I know if I was a player I would love to see that somebody is watching me and somebody cares about me, and nobody does that better than the Detroit Red Wings.

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