May 6, 2014
by Alan Cross – griffinshockey.com
Sometimes 95 points in a single season isn’t enough.
Such was the case for Andreas Athanasiou (ath-ehn-uh-SEE-you), Red Wings prospect and brand-new Grand Rapids Griffin, whose junior career came to a screeching halt when his Barrie Colts fell to the North Bay Battalion in four games during the second round of the 2014 OHL Playoffs.
During the regular season, Athanasiou enjoyed what was arguably the best campaign of his career, putting away a remarkable 49 goals and 46 assists in 66 games (1.44 points-per-game), while posting a plus-25 rating. He led the Colts in scoring by a clear 25 points and tied for fifth among OHL scorers. During the playoffs, he collected 12 additional points with three goals and nine assists through 11 games.
Still, Athanasiou had hoped to see his junior career end with the J. Ross Robertson Cup and, perhaps, the Memorial Cup hoisted above his head.
“It was tough losing this year, as it could have been my last season in the O. It’s tough to know that my junior career could be over, but when one door closes, another one opens,” said Athanasiou. “But it’s good to be back in a playoff setting. It’s the best time of the year.”
A second chance at playoff glory presented itself to Athanasiou, who was promptly assigned to the Griffins upon Barrie’s elimination from the OHL playoffs. Grand Rapids is currently competing in the AHL’s 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, looking to secure the Calder Cup for a second year in a row.
The Woodbridge, Ontario native made an immediate impact upon his arrival in Grand Rapids, despite playing in just the final two games of the regular season. In the team’s home finale on April 18 versus Lake Erie, Athanasiou earned his first professional assist in his first professional game. The next night, the Griffins closed out their regular season with a rematch against the Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena, where Athanasiou upped the ante and scored a goal and an assist.
The up-and-coming forward’s efforts were enough to earn the trust of Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill, who has opted to utilize Athanasiou in all four games of the Griffins’ playoff run thus far. The 19-year-old potted an assist in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Abbotsford Heat and finished the round with a plus-three rating, in addition to seeing a significant amount of ice time on a team already stacked in terms of experience and capability.
“I think just getting the opportunity from Blash has been great,” Athanasiou said. “Obviously, if he tells me to do something, I’m going to do it. He’s been teaching me a lot every day. He’s been giving me little things to work on. “
Detroit’s third choice, 110th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Athanasiou has been reunited with two other of Detroit’s 2012 draft picks, goaltender Jake Paterson and right wing Martin Frk. While Paterson was recently assigned to the Griffins following the conclusion of his season with the Saginaw Spirt, Frk has been in town for the duration of the season, save for a brief month-long foray into the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye in November.
“I’ve played against Jake my whole life, so I’ve always known him,” Athanasiou recalled. “He’s my age, and we played in the same minor hockey league system (OHL). Frky, I’ve been through the prospects stuff with him. I’ve always kept in touch with them.”
Paterson’s role has largely been one of observance, collecting valuable first-hand experience while Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum keep the Griffins’ cage locked down.
Frk has played in 50 regular season games with the team in his first professional season, and he collected three goals and nine assists along the way. After three highly-productive years with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads from 2010-13 in which he posted 163 points (73-90—163), Frk has endured an uphill battle in adjusting to the AHL. He didn’t earn his first point with Grand Rapids, an assist, until January 18 versus Abbotsford. From there, his contributions came more regularly as he began to find his groove.
Contrary to Frk, Athanasiou hasn’t seemed to experience any major-league jitters as indicated by his rapid productivity. His blazing-fast speed and creative stick-handling are things of marvel, and he’s assisted by a spirited personality that drives his passion to succeed.
“I have the speed, so I try to open up the ice for my linemates,” said Athanasiou. “I like to move pucks. I’m learning a lot from Blash about all three zones, so I’m taking my chances when I get them.”
After defeating Abbotsford in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Griffins gear up to take on the regular season champion Texas Stars in the conference semifinals. It’s the first time since 2000 (#1 Hartford vs. ’99 champ Providence) that the regular-season champion and defending Calder Cup champion are meeting in the playoffs.
Adding to the colorful series storyline, Blashill (2013-14) and Texas head coach Willie Desjardins (2012-13) are the last two recipients of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s Outstanding Coach. Furthermore, the Stars boasted the AHL’s second-ranked offense during the regular season with 274 goals, just two behind Binghamton, while the Griffins’ defense finished second in the league by allowing only 187 goals, two more than Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The two teams were among four in the league – including Chicago and Manchester – that finished in the top eight both offensively and defensively (TEX 197 GA, 7th; GR 238 GF, 8th).
Athanasiou will be along for the ride as he aims to accomplish what he wasn’t able to in the OHL this season: a championship.
“I think they’re a good team, as you can see from them winning the conference,” said Athanasiou. “I think it’s going to be a pretty even match.”