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01/02/2006 12:31 AM - Open New Year by Visiting Ontario and Texas

This Week’s Games

Wed., Jan. 4 - GRIFFINS at Hamilton Bulldogs - 7:30 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM/B2 Networks

Fri., Jan. 6 - GRIFFINS at Houston Aeros - 8:35 p.m. - WOOD/B2

Sat., Jan. 7 - GRIFFINS at San Antonio Rampage - 8 p.m. - WOOD/B2

Last Week’s Results
Wed., Dec. 28 - Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights 4 at GRIFFINS 5 - 23-10-0-2, 48 pts. (1st, North Division)

Fri., Dec. 30 - Hamilton Bulldogs 2 at GRIFFINS 7 - 24-10-0-2, 50 pts. (1st)

Sat., Dec. 31 - Chicago Wolves 4 at GRIFFINS 3 OT - 24-10-1-2, 51 pts. (1st)

Both Ends of the Spectrum: The first-place Griffins, who wrapped up their five-game homestand with a 4-0-1-0 record on Saturday, have tied their season-high with points in seven straight games (6-0-1-0). They boast the second-best winning percentage in the Western Conference at 0.689 and currently own a four-point lead over Manitoba in the North Division. This week’s three-game road swing features a Friday visit to conference-leading Houston (0.743), sandwiched between contests against the grouping’s bottom two clubs on Wednesday in Hamilton (0.368) and Saturday in San Antonio (0.343).

Looking Ahead: Following this week’s road trip, the Griffins will return to Van Andel Arena for six straight games (Jan. 13-25), their longest homestand of the season.

Mac’s December to Remember: Donald MacLean’s team-high 20th goal of the season on Saturday against Chicago extended his point streak to seven games (8-4—12) and his goal streak to five games (7-2—9), one shy of the franchise record. He totaled 13 goals during December, the second-highest total ever for a Griffin during a calendar month (16, Michel Picard in Dec. 1996). He joined a murderers’ row of Griffins to hit double-digits in a single month: Picard (also 10 in Nov. 1997), Jiri Hudler (12 in Oct. 2005), Jason Williams (12 in Feb. 2003), Kip Miller (11 in Feb. 2001), Slava Butsayev (11 in Dec. 2000), Petr Schastlivy (10 in Nov. 2001) and Mark Greig (10 in Nov. 1997). MacLean’s 20 goals, which currently tie for second in the AHL, put him on pace for 43, posing a stiff challenge to Picard’s franchise-record 46 in 1996-97.

Half a Century: The Griffins posted their season-high for goals in Friday’s 7-2 win over Hamilton, in the process earning their 50th standings point in the season’s 36th game. Only the 2000-01 Griffins (33 games) reached 50 points faster, and last year’s club took 48 games – second-most all-time – to reach that plateau. Grand Rapids is on pace to ice the fourth squad in franchise history to eclipse 100 points in a season.

Oh Captain, My Captain: Matt Ellis enjoyed his most prolific performance in 178 games as a Griffin on Friday, scoring twice and adding two assists in the 7-2 rout of Hamilton. His four points matched his career-high – set as a member of the ECHL’s Toledo Storm on Nov. 8, 2002 – and doubled his previous high as a Griffin (two points, accomplished 17 times). After adding a goal Saturday versus Chicago, Ellis was nominated for the CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week award.

Working Overtime: Grand Rapids fell 4-3 in overtime to Chicago on Saturday, suffering a loss for the first time in its last five overtime decisions. The Griffins, 1-1 during the extra session this season, now show an all-time regular season mark of 23-9 in games decided during overtime.

Where’s Waldo?: The New Year’s Eve clash between Grand Rapids and Chicago was the 84th all-time meeting (regular season and playoffs) between the two rivals. Due to Travis Richards’ injury and Steve Maltais’ retirement, it marked just the second game in the storied series that neither legend played (Jan. 13, 2001).

Auld Lang Syne: The Griffins finished calendar year 2005 with a 47-32-2-3 (0.589) record, despite dropping their annual New Year’s Eve home game for the seventh time in nine tries (2-6-1-0). A crowd of 10,004 – the team’s largest year-end throng since 1998 – saw Grand Rapids debut its second special jersey commemorating its 10th anniversary season. The sweaters, which feature the Griffins’ secondary shield logo as a crest, will also be worn during home games on Jan. 21 and Feb. 4 before being auctioned to the public for charity.

Who’s Hot?: Eric Manlow has points in five of the last eight games (4-6—10). His power play tally on Wednesday versus Omaha was his 10th of the season, equaling his production from 2004-05 and marking just the ninth double-digit haul in franchise history.…Tomas Kopecky has points in five of eight games (2-5—7)…Kent McDonell saw a seven-game point streak (3-5—8) snapped on Saturday…Nate DiCasmirro has points in six of his last eight outings (1-7—8)…Valtteri Filppula owns a six-game point streak (2-6—8) and has points in 17 of his last 20 games with the Griffins (9-18—27)…Jiri Hudler’s four-game point streak (2-6—8) ended Saturday, but he still has points in five of the last seven affairs (2-8—10)…Darryl Bootland has enjoyed consecutive two-point outings (1-3—4).

Back Support: Jimmy Howard, who recently joined Joey MacDonald as the only goalies in franchise history to earn three wins in three nights, saw his four-game winning streak end with Saturday’s overtime loss to Chicago. Still, the Griffins have earned points in his last five starts (4-0-1-0) and seven of his last eight appearances (6-1-1-0).

Building a Legace: Detroit Red Wings goaltender Manny Legace, assigned to the Griffins on Friday for conditioning, made 20 saves and even earned an assist in his Grand Rapids debut that night. He backstopped the Griffins to their 7-2 win over Hamilton, appearing unconstrained by the left knee sprain he suffered in Anaheim on Nov. 25. After playing in his first minor league game since April 21, 2000 and his first AHL contest since March 6, 1998, Legace rejoined the Red Wings on Saturday.

Milestones: Jiri Hudler’s three assists last Wednesday versus Omaha gave him 127 points for his Griffins career, moving him past Ed Patterson (126) into eighth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Hudler, who now shows 129 points, notched the 47th goal of his Griffins career on Friday against Hamilton, tying him with Kevin Miller for tenth place all time.…Tomas Kopecky appeared in his 200th game as a Griffin on Wednesday, making him only the tenth player in team history to log as many games…Eric Manlow’s second assist on Friday marked the 500th point of his pro career (178-322—500 in 710 games)…Nate DiCasmirro’s second assist against Hamilton gave him 100 points as a pro (36-64—100).

If at First You Don’t Succeed: Grand Rapids has scored first in five of its last seven contests, something it accomplished in just 11 of its first 30 games this season. The Griffins are 13-1-0-2 when scoring the game’s opening goal, compared to 11-9-1-0 when falling behind 1-0.

Explosive Offense: Grand Rapids has scored an AHL-high 144 goals, its most ever through 37 games and 56 more than its 2004-05 edition – an increase of 64%. In addition, the Griffins have scored five or more goals 15 times, more than doubling their total of seven from last season. If they can maintain their current pace, the Griffins – who scored only 200 goals last year – would accumulate 311 goals, smashing their record of 279 from 2000-01.

League Leaders: Jiri Hudler stands near the top of the AHL with 18 goals (8th), 28 assists (2nd) and 46 points (T2nd)…Donald MacLean is tied for second on the circuit with 20 goals…Eric Manlow ranks among the leaders with 25 assists (T5th), 38 points (T8th) and 10 power play goals (T4th)…Valtteri Filppula’s 34 points tie for 12th…Jimmy Howard is 18th with a 2.76 GAA…Darryl Bootland’s 173 penalty minutes place third on the circuit.

This Week in Griffins History: Jan. 2: Slava Butsayev and Mike Fountain are named the IHL’s Player and Goaltender of the Week, respectively, after leading the Griffins to five victories in a six-day span (2001). Jan. 3: The Griffins drop a 7-0 stunner at Milwaukee, marking the worst shutout defeat in their history and tying their record for largest margin of defeat (2004). Jan. 4: Pokey Reddick makes 35 saves and Ben Hankinson scores with 4:31 left to give the Griffins a 3-2 win at Indianapolis (1997). Jan. 5: In a 4-1 win at Cincinnati, Michel Picard becomes just the 36th player in AHL history to record 250 goals (2003). Jan. 6: Griffins lose a two-goal lead but hang on for a 2-2 tie at Houston (2002). Jan. 7: Michel Picard returns to the Griffins from Edmonton and scores twice in a 3-1 win at Chicago (2000). Jan. 8: Record winless streak hits nine as the Griffins fall 2-0 at Cleveland (2005).

Scouting Report

Wed., Jan. 4 at Hamilton Bulldogs (13-23-0-2) – Copps Coliseum – 7:30 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 7:10 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 4-1-0-1 Overall, 2-1-0-0 Road. Seventh of eight meetings overall, fourth and final in Hamilton. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 12-6-1-0-1 Overall, 6-4-0-0-0 Road. NHL Affiliations: Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers. Head Coach: Don Lever (1st season). Dog Days: Grand Rapids has earned points in five of six meetings with Hamilton this season…The Bulldogs have lost six of their last eight…The Griffins scored a season-high seven goals against Hamilton on Friday.

Fri., Jan. 6 at Houston Aeros (25-8-1-1) – Toyota Center – 8:35 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 8:10 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 0-2-0-1 Overall, 0-1-0-0 Road. Fourth and final meeting overall, second of two in Houston. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 26-21-6-1-5 Overall, 11-12-4-0-3 Road. NHL Affiliation: Minnesota Wild. Head Coach: Rob Daum (1st season). Aero Dynamics: The Griffins are 0-2-0-1 (0.167) against the Aeros and 24-8-1-1 (0.735) versus the rest of the league…Houston has won seven straight both overall and at home…The Aeros’ 15-2-1-1 record at the Toyota Center is the best home mark in the AHL…The league’s top three scorers will play in this game: Houston’s Erik Westrum (49 pts.) and Kirby Law (46), and GR’s Jiri Hudler (46).

Sat., Jan. 7 at San Antonio Rampage (11-22-1-1) – SBC Center – 8 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 7:40 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 1-0-0-0 Overall, 1-0-0-0 Road. Second of four meetings overall, second and final in San Antonio. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 19-9-1-0-0 Overall, 11-4-0-0-0 Road. NHL Affiliation: Phoenix Coyotes. Head Coach: Pat Conacher (1st season). Stampede Stories: Grand Rapids is 7-2 against San Antonio the last two seasons, including a perfect 5-0 mark at the SBC Center…A Griffins player has recorded a hat trick in three of the team’s last four visits to San Antonio (Jiri Hudler, Oct. 19, 2005 and Oct. 24, 2004; Kip Miller, March 7, 2005).

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