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GROWING CONFIDENCE

10/10/2014 1:15 AM -
With a full season of pro hockey under his belt, Ryan Sproul is anxious to take the next step toward his dream of a regular spot in the NHL.

Ryan Sproul was not much different from most boys growing up in Mississauga, west of Toronto.
 
He played a lot of sports, trying his luck at soccer, baseball, basketball, golf, volleyball and, naturally, hockey.
 
His dream, of course, was to someday play in the National Hockey League.
 
Sproul was a bit unusual in one respect. His favorite NHL team was not the nearby Maple Leafs but the Tampa Bay Lightning, a result of his having a grandfather in Florida and the fact that his favorite player, Martin St. Louis, was a star on the team.
 
He watched the Leafs – they were always on TV – but, in his words, the hometown team wasn’t a big deal for him. He’d rather be playing hockey himself.
 
His parents, Phil and Paulette, were supportive of his athletic endeavors. His dad, an executive in the travel and tourism industry, was his coach for several years, and his brother Kyle, a year younger, served as his practice partner.
 
“My brother is a goalie so I had the opportunity to shoot on him whenever I could,” Sproul said. “A lot of parents want their kids to do stuff like that, but I just went along and did my thing, nothing special.”
 
Sproul was a forward growing up. He liked being on the offensive side of the puck. Scoring goals was fun – there was no way around that fact – and he was able to use his skating ability and his shot to put up his share of points.
 

GREECE’D LIGHTNING

10/10/2014 1:07 AM -
Andreas Athanasiou is quick. Really quick. His skating and playmaking ability could speed his path to the NHL.

“Ever to excel, to do better than others, and to bring glory to your forebears, who indeed were very great...This is my ancestry; this is the blood I am proud to inherit.”
– from Homer’s Iliad
 
 
In the ancient Olympic Games, a herald would announce the name of the winner, his father’s name and his homeland before the Hellanodikis (Greek judge) would place a sacred olive tree wreath, or kotinos, on the winner’s head.
 
Andreas Athanasiou wears a hockey helmet, not an olive branch, but he finds great peace in pursuing the same athletic ideals that once drove his ancestors.
 
It is not enough to be fast. One must be the fastest.
 
Indeed, Athanasiou (ath-ehn-uh-SEE-you) will tell you that his need for speed is in his blood.
 
His father, Stan, was born in Athens; his mother is from Guyana on the northern coast of South America. Living in Canada, they raised a family for which sport was almost second nature.

MICHIGAN MAN

10/10/2014 1:03 AM -
Kevin Porter is happy to be back in his home state, playing in the organization that he followed in his youth.
 
To Griffins fans, Kevin Porter may seem like the new kid on the block, but it’s a block that he’s been around a few times.
 
At the age of 28, Porter admits he is “one of the older guys now,” although it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was starting his pro career in the Phoenix Coyotes organization after four years of college hockey at the University of Michigan.
 
He still remembers how it felt to be a fresh-faced first-year pro back in 2008-09 and what it meant when a certain veteran went out of his way to make him feel welcome.
 
The fact that the player just happened to be the Coyotes’ captain made an even bigger impression on the rookie.
 
“Shane Doan had me come for dinner, had me over just to hang out,” Porter said. “He didn’t need to do that. He was much older, had his family, had his kids, but he took it upon himself to hang out with the rookies and just be nice.
 
“Pro hockey is tough, so when the captain shows you support like that by being friendly and taking you under his wing, it’s nice. You feel more comfortable and it becomes easier to play.”
 
With his arrival in the Red Wings organization – which happens to be his fourth in the past six years – Porter is embracing the opportunity to pay it forward, to extend a hand to guys who are breaking into the pro ranks.

 


CONFIDENT CONFIDANTS

10/10/2014 12:57 AM -
Pat Ferschweiler and Dave Noel-Bernier are excited to join head coach Jeff Blashill behind the bench as the new assistant coaches for the Griffins.

Birds of a feather flock together.
 
Recently hired as assistant coaches to support Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill, Pat Ferschweiler and Dave Noel-Bernier are new to the organization, but they are not unfamiliar faces in West Michigan.
 
Ferschweiler has been an assistant and associate head coach at Western Michigan University since being hired by Blashill as an assistant coach for the school in 2010. A 1993 WMU graduate, Ferschweiler spent three seasons with the Broncos before turning pro, later playing six seasons with the Kansas City Blades when the IHL team was owned by Dan DeVos.
 
Noel-Bernier has served as the director of hockey for the Eagles Ice Center (formerly Jolly Roger) and the Grand Rapids Blades youth program since 2013. Noel-Bernier, who was also an assistant coach for the Grand Rapids Christian High School varsity team last season, played six seasons at the minor professional level, including two stints with the United Hockey League’s Muskegon Fury.
 
Ferschweiler replaces longtime Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, who left after nine seasons to become director of the Korea Ice Hockey Association and head coach of the Korean Men’s National Team. Noel-Bernier steps in for Spiros Anastas, who accepted the head coaching position at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.
 

THE QUEST TO REPEAT

03/29/2014 2:12 PM -
Defending a Calder Cup championship presents a major challenge. After first qualifying for the playoffs, the Griffins will be poised to pursue the goal of winning the Cup a second time.
 
Winning a championship is never easy. Doing it a second time may be even harder.
 
Since the Calder Cup was first presented in 1938, there have been only nine instances where a team has successfully defended its title. The Grand Rapids Griffins are ready to face the challenge and become the 10th team to repeat.
 
Competing in the American Hockey League complicates the challenge. In its developmental role for the NHL, the AHL serves as a revolving door for talent, with players often traveling back and forth between the two leagues. Rosters change from one year to the next, making the quest to defend a championship all the more difficult.
 
The Griffins said goodbye to some key contributors after raising the Cup – Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson graduated to the Detroit Red Wings, Jan Mursak and Francis Pare are now playing in the KHL in Russia – but the organization welcomed the arrival of a number of promising prospects, including several young defensemen in Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen.
 
Some faces have changed, but the team is not materially different.


REMAKE/REMODEL
March 29, 2014 2:02 PM

RADIO MVP
March 29, 2014 1:56 PM

POSITIVE ATTITUDE
January 30, 2014 10:28 AM

TAKING FLIGHT
January 30, 2014 10:22 AM

MAKING THE GRADE
January 30, 2014 10:17 AM

MEDAL WINNER
January 30, 2014 10:11 AM

NO BUS FOR GUS
December 13, 2013 1:34 AM

BANNER ACHIEVEMENT
December 13, 2013 1:29 AM

HAVE ICE, WILL TRAVEL
December 13, 2013 12:55 AM

FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS
December 13, 2013 12:51 AM

PUCK HAPPY
December 13, 2013 12:41 AM

FRANK'S TRAVELS
October 18, 2013 12:03 AM

GROWTH POTENTIAL
October 18, 2013 12:02 AM

HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS
October 18, 2013 12:01 AM

GOOD HEAD START
March 13, 2013 12:05 AM

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