This Week’s Game
Sat., Oct. 8 - GRIFFINS at Rockford IceHogs - 8:05 p.m. - ESPN 96.1 FM / AHLLive.com
It All Starts Here: The Griffins will commence their 2011-12 campaign on Saturday when they take on the Rockford IceHogs at 8:05 p.m. EDT at the BMO Harris Bank Center. Grand Rapids enters its 16th season overall, 11th in the AHL, and 10th as the primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
Limited Viewing: Fans looking to see the Griffins play at Van Andel Arena during October will need to move fast to secure tickets, as there are only two home dates during the month. Grand Rapids opens its home schedule next Friday, Oct. 14 vs. Toronto at 7 p.m. in what is expected to be the Griffins’ 16th consecutive home-opening sellout. Fans in attendance will enjoy the first Dollar Beers, Dollar Dogs promotion of the season, live music from Jaded 8 on the concourse prior to the game, and an indoor fireworks show following the game. Additionally, the first 5,000 fans will receive Griffins glow bams, courtesy of Xfinity. Following the opener, the Griffins’ only other home game of the month is Oct. 28 vs. Abbotsford. Tickets for those two contests, and for all 38 home games, are available for purchase at griffinshockey.com. For more promotional details, click here.
Good Starts: Grand Rapids is 10-2-2-1 all time in season openers, having earned points in eight straight debuts (5-0-2-1). The Griffins, who are 10-3-2-0 all time in road openers, are looking for payback against Rockford, the club that last year ended the Griffins’ 11-year point stretch in road openers (9-0-2-0). Grand Rapids is 9-5-0-1 in home openers, hoping to improve on that mark when Toronto comes to town on Oct. 14.
Pups and Pucks: This Monday, Oct. 10, the Griffins will host the fourth annual “Pups and Pucks” Fall Dog Walk-A-Thon presented by BeeneGarter L.L.P. The event will take place at Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary in Lake Odessa, Mich., and feature events ranging from live music and a BBQ dinner to hay rides and appearances by pet experts and vendors. Everyone is encouraged to attend and assist in raising funds and awareness for the sanctuary. For more information, visit pupsandpucks.com.
At the Helm: After 15 seasons with the club, general manager Bob McNamara stepped down this summer, leaving Grand Rapids without a general manager for the first time in its existence. Player personnel decisions are now being made solely by the Detroit Red Wings hockey operations staff…Curt Fraser starts his fourth season as head coach, showing a mark of 113-98-11-18 in 240 games as Grand Rapids’ bench boss. During the 2010-11 season, he passed Danton Cole (208) for most games coached in franchise history, and he sits just three wins shy of tying Cole’s mark of 116 wins. Fraser is one of just two AHL coaches (Craig MacTavish) with 200 games of NHL experience as both a head coach and a player on his resume…The longest-tenured coach in franchise history, Jim Paek returns for his seventh season as the Griffins’ assistant coach.
NHL Alumni: The NHL’s season-opening rosters contain the names of 24 former Griffins, who are playing for 12 of the league’s 30 teams: Anaheim (Sheldon Brookbank), Boston (Chris Kelly), Buffalo (Matt Ellis, Drew MacIntyre and Ville Leino), Colorado (Kyle Quincey), Detroit (Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Jonathan Ericsson, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard, Jiri Hudler, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall and Jan Mursak-IR), Florida (Tomas Kopecky), Los Angeles (Scott Parse), New York Islanders (Mark Eaton), Ottawa (Chris Neil and Jason Spezza), Philadelphia (Andreas Lilja), Tampa Bay (Mattias Ritola) and Winnipeg (Derek Meech).
Who Will Step Up?: The Griffins begin the 2011-12 season without the services of five of their top 10 point producers from last season, including leading scorer Ilari Filppula (20-44—64), top goal scorer Jamie Tardif (27-27—54), and top scoring defenseman Derek Meech (10-27—37). With Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak graduating to the NHL, Grand Rapids’ top three returning scorers are Tomas Tatar (24-33—57, second place), Francis Pare (24-30—54, tied for third place) and Jamie Johnson (12-26—38, sixth place).
Detroit Exports: Twenty-one Red Wings-contracted players are on the Griffins’ 23-man roster, including goaltenders Joey MacDonald and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Travis Ehrhardt, Garnet Exelby, Doug Janik, Brian Lashoff, Sebastien Piche, Logan Pyett and Brendan Smith; and forwards Joakim Andersson, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Willie Coetzee, Chris Conner, Landon Ferraro, Jamie Johnson, Gustav Nyquist, Francis Pare, Trevor Parkes, Brent Raedeke and Tomas Tatar.
Signed and Sealed: Only two players on the current roster are under contract to the Griffins: defensemen Greg Amadio and forward Adam Estoclet.
Ready in Waiting: On Wednesday, the Red Wings reassigned three players from the Griffins to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, goaltender Tom McCollum, defenseman Gleason Fournier and forward Andrej Nestrasil, while the Griffins assigned defenseman Bryan Rufenach and released camp tryout Nick Oslund. All five players are former draft picks of the Red Wings and could see playing time with Grand Rapids this season.
On the Mend: Grand Rapids will start the season without the services of forward Chris Minard, who is recovering from a concussion. He will be assigned by Detroit once he is healthy.
Fresh Faces: Seven members of the Griffins’ season-opening roster skated elsewhere in 2010-11. Here’s a brief look at each of the new arrivals:
• Louis-Marc Aubry – Detroit’s third-round choice (81st overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the 19-year-old son of former Red Wing Pierre Aubry will kick off his professional career with the Griffins after spending three seasons with the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL;
• Mitch Callahan – A California-born and trained player, Callahan helped the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL championship as a rookie in 2008-09 after making the team as an undrafted tryout. His role expanded as he progressed through his junior career, capped off by 54 points (23-31—54) in 62 games in 2010-11. He captured a bronze medal with the United States at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y;
• Chris Conner – A native of Livonia, Mich., Conner returns to play for a team in his home state for the first time in his professional career, after having attended college at Michigan Tech. The sixth-year pro has 139 NHL games under his belt, chipping in 16 points (7-9—16) in 60 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season;
• Adam Estoclet – The 22-year-old forward was signed to a contract by the Griffins after attending the Red Wings’ prospect camp over the summer. After pacing Dartmouth with 16 goals as a senior in 2010-11, he enjoyed a seven-game tryout with the Providence Bruins in 2010-11 to start his professional career;
• Garnet Exelby – A veteran of 408 NHL games with Atlanta and Toronto, the physical defenseman joins Grand Rapids with a resume that boasts over 1,100 penalty minutes as a pro. He suited up for Rockford in 2010-11, recording 13 points (3-10—13) and 128 penalty minutes while serving as the team’s captain;
• Landon Ferraro – The son of longtime NHLer Ray Ferraro, Detroit’s first pick from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (32nd overall) joins the Griffins full-time after seeing the ice during two games in 2009-10 in a late season tryout. He capped off a four-year major junior career with the Everett Silvertips after lighting the lamp 37 times during 2008-09 for the Red Deer Rebels;
• Trevor Parkes – After compiling 60 goals over two seasons with Montreal in the QMJHL, the 20-year-old winger begins his professional career. Parkes earned a contract with Detroit in Sept. 2010 after not being drafted into either the NHL or the QMJHL.
High Praise: “He's like Pav (Datsyuk) in that he skates faster with the puck than he does without it, creates space every time he's on the ice. He's professional with and without the puck. Looks like a hockey player. He's an NHL player.'' – Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on Gustav Nyquist. Coming off a spectacular collegiate career that earned him two Hobey Baker nominations for the top player in college hockey, Nyquist enters his first full season with Grand Rapids. He enjoyed an eight-game debut with the Griffins late in 2010-11, after signing a contract with the Red Wings following his junior year. The Swedish-born forward led the University of Maine in scoring in each of his three seasons and topped the entire NCAA in points as a sophomore in 2009-10 with 61 (19-42—61).
Welcome Back: Sixteen players from the Griffins’ 2010-11 edition are on their season-opening roster: goaltenders Joey MacDonald and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Greg Amadio, Travis Ehrhardt, Doug Janik, Brian Lashoff, Sebastien Piche, Logan Pyett and Brendan Smith; and forwards Joakim Andersson, Willie Coetzee, Jamie Johnson, Gustav Nyquist, Francis Pare, Brent Raedeke and Tomas Tatar.
Tell Me What It Takes: The Griffins’ charge back into playoff contention will be led by two veteran defenseman who have been there before: newcomer Garnet Exelby won a Calder Cup with Chicago in 2002, and Greg Amadio won back-to-back Calder Cups with Hershey in 2009 and 2010. Amadio also won the CHL President’s Cup with Memphis in 2003. Several other players and coaches for the Griffins have won major championships in North America at the pro, college or major junior level. Mitch Callahan won the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup with Kelowna in 2009 and Sebastien Piche was part of the 2006-07 Lewiston MAINEiacs, who won the QMJHL’s President’s Cup. Other cup winners include assistant coach Jim Paek (Stanley Cup – 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh, IHL Turner Cup – 1989 Muskegon and 1999 Houston) and Doug Janik (NCAA – 1999 Maine). In addition, both Brian Lashoff (U.S. in 2010) and Logan Pyett (Canada in 2008) won gold at the World Junior Championship.
Do You Feel a Draft?: Nine of the Griffins’ 23 players were once selected in the NHL Entry Draft, including eight who were tabbed by the Red Wings. Brendan Smith (27th overall by Detroit in 2007) is the team’s lone first-round pick, with Landon Ferraro being the second-highest pick, taken two picks into the second round (32nd overall by Detroit in 2009). At the other end of the spectrum, Garnet Exelby (217th overall by Atlanta in 1999) and Logan Pyett (212th overall by Detroit in 2006) were drafted in the seventh round.
NHL Experience: Five Griffins have seen time in the NHL, combining for 824 total games: Chris Conner (139), Garnet Exelby (408), Doug Janik (181), Joey MacDonald (87) and Tomas Tatar (9).
Veteran Roll Call: AHL clubs may dress up to five veteran skaters with more than 260 games of experience in the NHL, AHL or European Elite leagues, plus another with 320 or fewer games played. The Griffins return three of the veterans they used last season in Greg Amadio, Doug Janik and Jamie Johnson and add a pair of new veterans in Chris Conner and Garnet Exelby.
Newbies: The Griffins’ rookie class is above average this season, with six players – all forwards – entering their first professional seasons, accounting for almost half of the 13 forwards on the roster: Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Adam Estoclet, Landon Ferraro, Gustav Nyquist and Trevor Parkes.
One For the Ages: The average age of the Griffins is 24 years and one month, three months younger than the average for their 2010-11 roster -- the fifth consecutive season that the opening day lineup has been younger than the season that preceded it. Joey MacDonald (31), Doug Janik (31), Greg Amadio (30) and Garnet Exelby (30) check into the over-30 club, while six players have yet to reach their 21st birthday. Landon Ferraro (20 years, 1 month), Mitch Callahan (20 years, 1 month) and Louis-Marc Aubry (19 years, 10 months) are the youngest players on the roster.
Where Are They Now?: Nine of the 27 players from the Griffins’ 2010-11 season-ending roster now find themselves in other locales, including Detroit (Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak), Winnipeg (Derek Meech), AHL Providence (Jamie Tardif), AHL Connecticut (Jordan Owens), Finland (Ilari Filppula/Jokerit Helsinki), Belarus (Sergei Kolosov/Neman Grodno), Great Britain (Adam Keefe/Belfast) and OHL Ottawa (Petr Mrazek). Brandon Straub is currently a free agent.
Griffins’ Coaching Tree: Seven former players or coaches for the Griffins are currently involved in hockey operations with other AHL squads, including Peoria head coach Jared Bednar (1998-99), Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy (HC 2000-02), Toronto assistant coach Derek King (1999-01, P/AC 2002-04), Oklahoma City head coach Todd Nelson (1996-98, 1999-00, 2001-02, AC 2002-03), Lake Erie director of AHL operations/assistant coach David Oliver (2000-01), Texas head coach Jeff Pyle (AC 1997-98) and Rockford assistant coach Ben Simon (2006-07). In addition, Bob McNamara(GM 1996-2011) now oversees the business operations of the Hamilton Bulldogs as president.
Sat., Oct. 8 at Rockford IceHogs – BMO Harris Bank Center – 8:05 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 96.1 FM at 7:45 p.m.. Web Casts: Video web cast at AHLLive.com, free audio available through ESPN961.com. All-Time Series: 7-11-2-2 Overall, 2-6-2-1 Road. Season Series: First of four meetings overall, first of two in Rockford. NHL Affiliation: Chicago Blackhawks. Head Coach: Ted Dent (1st season). Notes: The Griffins lost the season series to the IceHogs last season, posting a 2-3-0-1 record overall and a 0-3 mark in Rockford, where they’ve lost six straight games (0-5-1-0)…Rockford finished eighth in the West Division and 12th in the Western Conference in 2010-11, posting a 38-33-4-5 record…Head coach Ted Dent steps behind the bench for the IceHogs after previously serving as an assistant for Bill Peters, who departed this summer to become an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings…Griffins defenseman Garnet Exelby served as captain for the IceHogs last season.