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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Of all the birthday presents a player can give himself, a hat trick is pretty tough to beat. Donald MacLean celebrated his 29th birthday by scoring his third goal 35 seconds into overtime on Saturday, giving the Grand Rapids Griffins a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Admirals.

After twice bringing the Griffins (28-11-1-2) back from one-goal deficits during regulation, MacLean banged home a Bryan Helmer rebound from the left side to give his team its tenth win in the last 12 games (10-1-1-0). MacLean, now second in the AHL goal-scoring race with 24, set a Grand Rapids record with his third hat trick of the season, and he also became the first Griffin whose hat trick accounted for all of his team’s goals in a winning effort.

Grand Rapids, which improved its sparkling record at Van Andel Arena to 15-2-1-2, will continue its season-high six-game homestand with a visit by the Iowa Stars on Wednesday.

The Griffins’ season-long propensity for giving up early goals reared its head just 20 seconds in, as Milwaukee dented twine on the game’s first shot. From behind the Grand Rapids net, Scott Nichol sent a pass out front to Scottie Upshall, whose one-timer sailed over Joey MacDonald’s left shoulder.

Later in the period, less than a minute after an apparent goal by MacLean was disallowed due to a teammate’s interference with Milwaukee goaltender Pekka Rinne, he scored one that counted on the power play from the right side at 7:29.

The Admirals regained the lead deep in the second stanza, as Darren Haydar’s sharp-angle shot from the bottom of the left circle trickled through MacDonald at 15:33, but MacLean again answered with only 5.1 seconds remaining. After taking a great lead pass from Nate DiCasmirro that sprung him on a breakway, he drew Rinne out of position with a deke before pulling the puck back to his forehand for an easy goal.

After allowing 16 shots in the opening frame, Grand Rapids’ defense was spectacular over the final 40 minutes, limiting the Admirals to just five shots, including only one in the third period.

Milwaukee, which suffered its second straight overtime loss at Van Andel Arena (Dec. 3), lost its fifth straight visit to Grand Rapids to fall to 24-11-3-1 on the season. Despite the defeat, Rinne earned third-star honors with his 37-save performance, while MacDonald improved to 7-5-1 on the year by making 19 stops.

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