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Nov. 23, 2011

by Kristi Page -
The Grand Rapids Griffins currently sit fifth in a tightly-contested North Division with a 6-9-1-0 record (13 pts), just six points behind second-place Rochester. Head coach Curt Fraser recently took some time to discuss how the team has been preparing to climb back up the standings, what he's seen his players improve on this season, the play of his red-hot top line, and the recently improved special team units.

What have you been working on during the last few weeks of practice?

For some reason, at home, we have a tendency to try to do too much. We have an expression around the locker room that we are trying to be a little too fancy. We have to simplify our game. We have good speed, good skill and good talent, but when we start turning the pucks over, we start chasing all night long. We’ve been trying to correct that. Also, we’ve been trying to add to our power play and penalty kill. Over the last six games, our power play has been at 26% and our penalty kill has been at 87%; you can’t ask for any better than that. We are losing games because we are making bad decisions with the puck and just trying to do a little too much, rather than being a little more patient and waiting for the opportunity to come to us.

How are you feeling about the play of your top line of Chris Conner, Jamie Johnson and Gustav Nyquist?

They had a tough job this weekend, because the other teams really keyed in on them, but that opened up space for [Joakim] Andersson’s line, which had an excellent weekend. We have to find a way to have both of our top lines contributing. We have to be patient, wait for our kids to mature a little bit more and get a little more experience at this level. That third and fourth line, are at minus-two or minus-three this weekend. It hurts us, but they have to find a way to be better. They will have to learn fast because it’s not going to get any easier these next three games.

Who else has stood out during games so far?

I think Doug Janik has been really good, and I think both of our goaltenders have played pretty good. I think Landon Ferraro has had some good games. We have done a lot of good things, but we are just not at the point yet to where we can play these bigger, more experienced teams and expect to come out on top if we are not at our very best. On the road, we are gold, we are terrific, but at home, we are trying to be a little too fancy instead of taking our white gloves off and getting our noses dirty. That’s what we are going to have to start to change around at home.

With Brendan Smith being recalled by the Red Wings, you were able to view Gleason Fournier, how has he impacted the team?

It’s his first time policing and playing at this level. We have all been waiting to see what he can do because he was hurt most of last year, but he had a really good camp. He’s another young guy with a chance, but what we really need is Smith back in the line-up, Joey MacDonald, Fabian Brunnstrom, Mitch Callahan, Travis Ehrhardt and Sebastien Piche. Those guys are all out and that would make a huge difference for our team. When stuff happens and you get call-ups and injuries, it gives other people opportunities to step in and show everybody what they can do. We just need our guys who are getting a chance here to contribute a little bit more.

How does playing five straight games at home change the team’s preparation?

I’d feel a lot better if we were homers, rather than being good on the road and not so good at home. We have to turn that around, but I think it is something that is fixable. Hamilton isn’t  going to be very happy with us the next time we play them because we beat them 8-0 (on Nov. 11), and then we beat them 3-0 (on Oct. 18) the game before that. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but that’s what this is all about. It’s rising to the occasion, answering the bell and learning how to compete in tough games. Once we do that and get on the same page here, I think it’ll give us a much better chance to have some success.

What do you hope to improve on for these next few games?

We have made a couple adjustments, like looking after the defensive of things a little bit better. We are committing to defense. When we are on the road, we are really good defensively and the offense just comes to us without really working at it. At home, we are trying to do all the offense first and forgetting about the defensively of things, so we are focusing on getting better back there. We are working on our specialty teams again, and hopefully they continue to improve. Also, getting a little bit more from our third and fourth lines would really help us.

What has the team improved on already this season?

Specialty teams have improved pretty good. Our goaltending is really good, when Joey MacDonald is healthy. He does something, because whoever is backing him up is better. Joey makes all the other goaltenders better. When he’s not here, it’s not fun for our young kids to be thrown into a game against the teams we are playing right now. We have to be better in front of them and help them until Joey gets back, then I think things will turn around. We have done a lot of good things – the guys are learning the system, they know what we expect, but we just have to find a way to win at home.

Are you glad to see your specialty teams improving?

Yes, everything is special about special teams, but for us, it’s not only the special teams having a good power play or a good penalty kill, I think we do a good job of that. For us, it’s more for the first minute and the last minute of periods. When a goal has been scored, it’s about coming out, reacting to it, and having a strong shift. It’s all the attention to detail that we have to get better at, and that’s just being young. It just comes with being inexperienced, but hopefully as the season goes on we will get much better at those things and it will turn into wins.

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