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June 9, 2013

by Mark Newman -

Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan won a Calder Cup with the Houston Aeros during his first professional season. That was 10 years ago, and he has never had another crack at a championship until this season.

“You think it’s not easy, but you figure there will be more to come,” Hoggan said. “This is the one I’ve been waiting for. I’m 35 and there might not be many (chances) left.”

Fellow veterans Nathan Paetsch, Brennan Evans and Triston Grant can attest to the challenge.

“It’s never happened to me in my whole career – juniors and pros, so that’s 14 seasons that I’ve never made it to the finals,” Paetsch said. “It’s extremely special.”

“This is my 10th year (in the pros) and it’s my first crack at it,” Evans said. “That’s the one thing that we want the young guys to know. This definitely doesn’t come along every day. You don’t want a chance like this to slip away.”

“This is the farthest I’ve ever made it. I’ve never played in the finals,” said Grant, who has played 13 seasons in junior hockey and the pros combined. “It’s super exciting.”

All year long, the most experienced players on the squad have been the most confident that this year could be different in Grand Rapids. After missing the playoffs three consecutive seasons, there was a consensus that the franchise’s fortunes were about to change.

“There’s just something special about this team,” Paetsch said. “We could kind of tell it all along – there’s just something there. We’ve got the right mix of guys, the right attitude...everything just came together. You could see it progressing as the season went along. The confidence kept building and we’ve carried that into the playoffs.”

“We’ve stuck together, no matter what,” Hoggan said. “There’s a special feeling when you have a group of guys who have been through a lot together. We’ve got the pieces. We’ve just got to go out and complete the task.”

The task started with Grand Rapids knocking Houston, Toronto and Oklahoma City out of the playoffs. The Griffins veterans agree that the task won’t be complete until Syracuse meets the same fate.

“It gets harder every time,” Hoggan said. “Everything is a little more intense. There’s a little more pressure now because it’s right in front of us. This will be the final test, no question.”

“We’ve had to battle every single series. Not one round has been easy,” Paetsch agreed. “It’s gotten gradually harder and I think it’s prepared us for the battle that’s to come. We know this will be by far our toughest test, but we’re battle-tested and ready to go.”

“It’s been a bigger step and a bigger challenge every round,” Grant said. “We just finished off a really good team in Oklahoma City and we know Syracuse is going to be even better.”

Experience, however, is not enough. A team needs the kind of energy and enthusiasm that exudes from younger players. “It’s not just the vets. It’s everybody,” Grant said. “Everybody believes and everybody is sticking together.”

Truth be told, the Griffins – old and young – are having the time of their lives.

“It’s just been an amazing time and an amazing run,” Paetsch said.   “I’m enjoying every single minute of it.”

You’ve got to make the most of it,” Grant said. “You’ve got to enjoy it because you may never get back again.”

“You always want to win a championship,” Evans said. “You always want to win your last game, whether it’s junior hockey, the pros or street hockey with your buddies. That’s why we play the game and that’s to win.”

“It’s satisfying, but it’s not yet finished,” Hoggan said of reaching the Calder Cup Finals. “We’ve worked hard, we’ve earned this and now we want to make the most of it. We’re focused at the task at hand.

“We’re playing a great team, and we’ve got to be ready every night.”

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