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CHASING CHAMPIONSHIPS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - It’s mid-May, already nearly four weeks since the Griffins’ 2004-05 campaign came to its conclusion. Yet the championship aspirations of almost two dozen players with Grand Rapids ties are just now being put to the ultimate test.

The quarterfinals of the IIHF World Championship get under way today in Austria. Niklas Kronwall leads 2004 silver medalist Sweden (5-1-0) into the single-elimination round at 2:15 p.m. ET, where it will face a Switzerland (3-2-1) team featuring former Ottawa Senators farmhand Julien Vauclair.

Meanwhile, Pavol Demitra and Slovakia (4-1-1) will attempt to take down defending champion Canada (4-1-1) at 10:15 a.m. In other quarterfinal action, the United States (3-1-2) faces a powerful squad from the Czech Republic (5-1-0) at 10:15 a.m., while impressive Russia (4-0-2) takes on Finland (2-1-3) at 2:15 p.m.

Back on this side of the pond, no fewer than 10 former Griffins will take part in the United Hockey League’s Colonial Cup finals. The Muskegon Fury and Fort Wayne Komets, the circuit’s top two teams during the regular season, will do battle in a best-of-seven series that starts with games this Friday and Saturday at the L.C. Walker Arena.

Muskegon head coach Todd Nelson will try to lead his charges to a repeat. Todd Robinson leads the Fury in playoff scoring with 15 points (4-11—15), and he enjoys a supporting cast featuring the likes of team co-MVPs Jeff Nelson and Dave Van Drunen, along with Robin Bouchard, Sylvain Daigle, Rustyn Dolyny and Jon Insana.

The Komets also boast a Griffins alum as their leading scorer in Colin Chaulk (7-9—16), while Shane Kenny provides blueline support. Fort Wayne posted a perfect 6-0 record against the defending champs during the regular season.

In the ECHL, the Florida Everblades stand one win away from a berth in the Kelly Cup finals, as they take a 3-2 series lead into Friday’s Game 6 at Charlotte. Ernie Hartlieb has notched five goals in nine playoff appearances, while erstwhile NHLer Shane Hnidy has added punch to Florida’s defense.

Finally, seven former Griffins are still competing in the division finals of the AHL playoffs, keeping alive their dreams of hoisting the Calder Cup. They include Manitoba’s Danny Groulx and Wade Brookbank, Cincinnati’s Sheldon Brookbank, Lowell’s Jim Henkel, Philadelphia’s Neil Little, Providence’s David Gove, and Rochester’s Jeff Hutchins.


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