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FEAT OF CLAY

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Clay Wilson’s 4-on-4 goal with 2:08 remaining broke a 1-1 tie and sparked a late offensive explosion, as the Grand Rapids Griffins extended their winning streak to four with a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Barons.

Wilson’s goal from the top of the circles marked his fourth of the week and his fifth in the last five games. He became the first Grand Rapids defenseman to post a three-game goal streak since Philippe Plante in February 2003.

The Griffins (22-10-0-2) increased their North Division lead over Manitoba to three points and became the first squad in franchise history to earn 22 wins by Christmas, surpassing the totals of the 2000-01 (21-6-3) and 1999-00 (21-10-2) teams.

Griffins leading scorer Jiri Hudler got things underway 10:51 into the opening period. Greg Amadio wristed a 60-foot shot from along the left boards that Jamie Holden stepped in front of, but Hudler dug the puck out of the crease and popped a shot into the empty cage.

The otherwise uneventful frame was significant in one respect, as it was the first period played by the Griffins all season in which neither team incurred a penalty.

It remained a 1-0 contest into the third period, as Jimmy Howard stopped all 16 Cleveland shots through 40 minutes while Holden totaled 27 saves for the Barons. The visitors finally broke through at the 8:16 mark when Lukas Kaspar, left alone in the slot, took a pass from Steve Bernier and ripped a slapshot over Howard’s glove.

The game appeared headed to overtime until Wilson’s goal sparked a three-goal barrage for the Griffins over the final 2:08. Donald MacLean added a power play tally from nearly the same spot as Wilson’s goal at 18:32, and Kent McDonell scored a long-range empty-netter with 13 seconds left to complete the scoring.

Howard finished with 24 saves and improved his record to 7-2-1 with his third win in three nights. Joey MacDonald is the only other netminder in franchise history to boast such a feat (Feb. 25-27, 2005). Holden suffered the loss despite 34 stops.

Following their Christmas break, the Griffins will conclude their five-game homestand and ring out 2005 with three games next week. They’ll entertain the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights on Wednesday and the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday, before hosting the Chicago Wolves on Saturday for their annual New Year’s Eve affair. All games will start at 7 p.m.


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