The return of Kip Miller and Josh Langfeld to Grand Rapids is great news for Griffins fans
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Every hockey team needs a strong supporting cast to compete, and the Griffins are confident that they have assembled a winning team as the organization raises the curtain on its 11th season.
Certainly Kip Miller and Josh Langfeld will be more than bit players when the drama begins. In fact, the Griffins are figuring the ex-NHLers (and former linemates on Grand Rapids’ 2001-02 squad) will play major roles this year.
They come from rival schools in the state, but Miller (MSU) and Langfeld (Michigan) have more in common than it might appear.
One thing they definitely share is a desire to return to winning ways.
Both played for teams that missed the playoffs last season. They see their return to the Griffins as the first step in the process.
“When you’re playing well and you’re winning, it’s always fun,” says Miller, who played last season for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. “The last couple of years have been a struggle.”
“When you don’t make the playoffs, it’s a long summer,” says Langfeld, who finished last season with the NHL’s Boston Bruins after starting the campaign with the San Jose Sharks.
“I’m just itching to get the season started. It feels like I haven’t played a meaningful hockey game in a long time.”
Miller is no stranger to Griffins fans. This season marks the fourth go-round for the well-traveled veteran, whose 17-year career includes
449 games with seven NHL teams.
He would be the first to admit that he’s been around the block a few times. In fact, Miller was almost certain that he was going to retire after last season until Griffins general manager Bob McNamara called him at his home in Lansing.
“I was 98 point-whatever sure (I was going to retire), but ‘Mac’ hit me with one percent, which I didn’t expect,” he says. “It’s nice to know you’re still wanted somewhere.”
Miller has been a scene-stealer during his previous time with the Griffins, averaging better than a point per game. In 125 contests in Grand Rapids, he has 50 goals and 86 assists, giving him the highest scoring average in Griffins franchise history at 1.09 points.
At this stage in his career, Miller is only interested in one thing.
“I’m here to get to where I want to get and that’s a championship – that’s why we play,” he says. “You don’t have as much patience when you get older.”
For Langfeld, the return to Grand Rapids is “bittersweet,” since it means that he wasn’t able to crack the Red Wings’ lineup out of training camp.
“Obviously I’m disappointed because I played the whole season in the NHL last year,” he says. “But it could be worse, so I’m coming here with a great attitude, ready to play every day. I’m still playing hockey. There’s no reason to complain.”
Langfeld is excited to return to Grand Rapids, where he began his pro career five years ago.
“The last time here I may have taken it for granted,” he says, “but this is a great city with a great building and a great atmosphere.
There’s no better place to play in the American Hockey League.”
Langfeld bounced between Ottawa and the Senators’ top affiliate in Binghamton for a couple of seasons following his stay in Grand Rapids.
During the 2004-05 lockout, he scored 32 goals for the baby Sens in his only full AHL season since.
He started last season in San Jose, where he battled back from a knee injury suffered during training camp. He averaged about 12 minutes of ice time in 39 games with the Sharks, killing penalties and playing on the fourth line.
Midway through the season, he was claimed on waivers by Boston, where he struggled even more. His ice time was cut when it became clear that the Bruins were out of the playoff picture, and back spasms late in the season only added to his discomfort.
“It was a difficult season, moving from coast to coast,” he says. “My wife (Kellie) and I found a place in San Jose, then we had to find a place in Boston. At one point, we had three mortgages at the same time.”
Langfeld’s frustrations grew as the season progressed as he played his first 30 games without a goal.
Curiously, he got the proverbial monkey off his back by scoring twice in the same game for the Sharks at the TD Banknorth Garden (formely Fleet Center) in Boston, the site of his game-winning goal for Michigan in the 1998 NCAA title game.
“It’s funny because you’d think it would have worked the same when I played for Boston,” says Langeld, who went scoreless in 18 games with the Bruins. “I guess I’ve got to be a visitor in the building.”
Langfeld has no explanation for the frustration he felt last year in terms of finding his scoring touch.
“It was tough – I couldn’t put the puck into the net. There were a lot of posts, crossbars, and highlight-reel saves. You could say that anything that could happen to me happened last year. But I’ve put all that behind me and wiped the slate clean.”
Langfeld has obviously come a long way from the days when he had his share of skeptics, despite his raw skills. One upper-Midwest scout reportedly once said that he would streak naked from the Twin Cities tp Winnipeg if Langfeld ever played a game in the big league.
“If you would have said to me five years ago when I was here that I was going to play over 100 games in the NHL, I would have said you were crazy,” he says. “But hockey is a crazy game.
“Everything can change in a day or two, so you’ve got to be ready.
Life hands you a lot of different things, little adversities, and you have to learn to deal with them.
“You’ve always got to remember this is a game – you’ve got to have fun.”
Langfeld and Miller are looking forward to having fun together this season, hoping to rekindle the magic they experienced during the first half of the 2001-02 season, before their linemate Petr Schastlivy was recalled by Ottawa and Miller signed with the New York Islanders.
“We were a little different then,” Miller says, chuckling. “He was young and I could tell him what to do and he would do it. I don’t know if he’ll still listen.”
For his part, Langfeld is anxious for any ice time with Miller.
“Kip’s a great player – he obviously sees the ice really well. I just have to work to get open and create space for him. I’ll drive the net and get some ugly goals.”
Langfeld has great memories of his lone season in Grand Rapids.
“We had such a young team with guys like Alex Giroux, Chris Kelly and Julien Vauclair. But we also had experienced players like Travis Richards and John Gruden. We had so much fun that year.”
Whether Langfeld and Miller are paired together for the whole season or not, both players are excited about returning to an organization that is commited to create a winning atmosphere where young players can develop.
“I’ll leave the leadership to younger guys like Matt Ellis and I’ll just play,” Miller says. “I’ll contribute any way I can.”
“My attitude is that I’ve come here to work as hard as I can and help this team be successful,” Langfeld says. “I want to play well and get my confidence back. I can’t think of a better place than here to do it.
“It’s going to be a fun season, no question about it.”