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03/13/2006 10:32 AM - Griffins Can Tighten Their Grip on North Division Race

This Week’s Games

Tue., March 14 - GRIFFINS at Milwaukee Admirals - 8 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM

Wed., March 15 - Manitoba Moose at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - WOOD/B2 Networks

Fri., March 17 - Cleveland Barons at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - WOOD/B2

Sat., March 18 - Toronto Marlies at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - WOOD/B2

Last Week’s Results
Wed., March 8 - Peoria Rivermen 4 at GRIFFINS 5 OTW - 44-16-1-4, 93 pts. (1st, North Division)

Sun., March 12 - GRIFFINS 7 at Chicago Wolves 3 - 45-16-1-4, 95 pts. (1st)

It’s Great to be Back: Sunday’s 7-3 win in Chicago enabled Grand Rapids to become the first Western Conference team to qualify for the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs, as it earned a postseason bid for the eighth time in 10 seasons. The Griffins, who pace the AHL with 45 wins, 95 points and a 0.720 winning percentage, now own an 11-point lead over Syracuse in the North Division race, as they take aim at their third division title in five AHL seasons (Central in 2003, West in 2002). Their magic numbers for securing the division crown stand at 19 points over Manitoba, 18 over Syracuse and 10 over Toronto.

Tough Test: The victory in Chicago on Sunday began a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch for the Griffins. Three of their four remaining games will be contested against Western Conference powers Milwaukee (87 pts., 2nd West) on Tuesday, Manitoba (83 pts., 3rd North) on Wednesday, and Toronto (72 pts., 4th North) on Saturday. In fact, Saturday’s game against the Marlies at Van Andel Arena will present a likely preview of the North Division semifinals.

Weekly Promotions: Tickets are going fast for the Griffins’ home games this Friday versus Cleveland (3,000 remaining) and Saturday against Toronto (600). The promotional lineup for the week includes:
• Wednesday – Visit for a coupon offering a lower bowl ticket for $10;
• Friday – St. Patty’s celebration includes Irish food specials, half-price green beer, and music from funkadelic classic rock group Mo Biggsley. It’s Student Night, and all high school and college students showing their I.D. at the box office the night of the game can purchase a $10 lower bowl ticket;
• Saturday - “American Idol” and country music star Josh Gracin will sing the national anthem and perform one of his hits during each intermission, presented by Chemical Bank and B-93.7 FM. Gracin will also sign autographs for fans from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Back End Alignment: The Griffins have made two valuable additions to their defense in the last four days, receiving Brett Lebda on assignment from the Detroit Red Wings (Friday) and signing Terry Virtue (Monday). In 43 games with the Red Wings this season, Lebda tallied 12 points (3-9—12) along with a plus-9 rating that ties for fifth among NHL rookies. After recording a goal and an assist in his return on Sunday, he shows nine points (3-6—9) in 12 games with the Griffins this year. Virtue, a 15-year veteran, two-time Calder Cup champion and two-time AHL All-Star, is expected to make his debut with Grand Rapids this Friday.

Scoring Binge Continues: The Griffins’ 18 goals over the past three games, their most for any such stretch this season, have pushed their AHL-leading total to 268, 11 short of the franchise record of 279 set in 2000-01.

Rare Combination: Darryl Bootland netted his first hat trick as a Griffin last Wednesday versus Peoria, then increased his career-best goal total to 23 on Sunday against Chicago. Currently among the league leaders in both goals (T30th) and penalty minutes (290, 2nd), he has become the first AHL player in eight years to record 20 goals and 200 penalty minutes in the same season. Now, he is poised to become the first AHL player in 11 years to post 20 goals/300 PIM. Former Griffin Matt Ruchty was the last of eight players in league history to accomplish the feat, notching 26 goals and 348 PIM for Albany in 1994-95.

Nobody Does it Better: After breaking Michel Picard’s nine-year-old franchise record for goals (46) on March 5 versus Rochester, Donald MacLean hit the 50-goal plateau with two lamplighters on Sunday at Chicago. He became the first player in five seasons (Hartford’s Brad Smyth in 2000-01) and the 46th player in AHL history to reach the golden milestone. Already the owner of the longest point streak in Griffins history (19 games) from earlier this season, MacLean extended his goal-scoring streak to seven games, eclipsing the record of six held by Jiri Hudler, Kip Miller and Pavol Demitra. His unprecedented success can further be seen in the following numbers:

0 – Griffins players who have led the league in goals (Binghamton’s Denis Hamel currently stands second with 44);
0.61 – MacLean’s goals-per-game average for his Griffins career (previous franchise record = 0.45, Mark Mowers);
0.78 – MacLean’s goals-per-game average this season (franchise record = 0.56, Michel Picard in 1996-97);
4 – Points needed to reach 400 for his 435-game AHL career;
27 – Games, out of the last 28, in which MacLean has recorded a point (30-16—46);
33 – Players in AHL history who have scored at least 51 goals, his next increment;
34 – Games, out of the last 36, in which he has recorded a point (38-20—58);
49 – Goals scored by MacLean in his last 55 outings (0.89 per game);
52 – Grand Rapids pro hockey record for goals scored in a single season (George Parker, 1950-51 IHL Rockets);
60 – MacLean’s current goal-scoring pace, a total that would tie for fourth in AHL history;
75 – Points by MacLean this season, fourth (tied) in the AHL and eighth on the Griffins’ single-season chart.

Helmer’s Helpers: Sunday’s game in Chicago was one to remember for Bryan Helmer. He notched a pair of assists to give him 300 for his AHL career and 40 for the season, equaling the franchise record for a defenseman set just last season by Niklas Kronwall. In the process, he extended his assist streak to seven games, tying the Griffins’ mark set by Derek King and Michel Picard. Helmer, who is also on the verge of career AHL milestones for games played (698), goals (98) and points (398), has points in 14 of the last 18 games (1-19—21) and 20 of the last 25 contests (2-27—29).

“C” Notes: One hundred was the theme of the day for the Griffins on Sunday in Chicago. Darryl Bootland and Eric Manlow recorded their 100th points as Griffins, Joey MacDonald earned his 100th pro win, and Kent McDonell notched his 100th AHL assist. Looking ahead, Matt Ellis (one point) and Donald MacLean (six points) are also within striking distance of their 100th points as Griffins.

Hundred for Hudler?: Only 94 players in AHL history have eclipsed the 100-point plateau, but Jiri Hudler is attempting to join that exclusive club. Hudler’s 83 points – currently third in the league and just eight off the leader, Houston’s Kirby Law – put him on track for 100, which would fall one shy of the franchise mark set by Michel Picard in 1996-97. Just the fifth player in franchise history to reach 83 points and the sixth to bag 50 assists, Hudler could join Derek King (83 points in 2000-01) as the only Griffins to win a scoring title. His game-winner last Wednesday versus Peoria was the team-record fourth overtime goal of his career and his 62nd overall goal as a Griffin, moving him past Slava Butsayev into third place on the team’s all-time list.

Smashing Debut: Goaltender Jimmy Howard continues a marvelous rookie season, entering the week with a four-game winning streak and a sparkling 17-4-2 record. He has led the team to points in 15 of his last 16 decisions (13-1-1-1), and his 17 wins tie the Griffins’ rookie record set by Mathieu Chouinard (17-7-1) in 2000-01.

Drop of the Hat: Darryl Bootland’s hat trick last Wednesday was the team’s record eighth of the season. Five different players - including Donald MacLean (4), Jiri Hudler, Kent McDonell and Tomas Kopecky – have turned the trick this year, tying another franchise mark set in 2001-02.

Working Overtime: Wednesday’s 5-4 victory marked the Griffins’ seventh win in their last eight overtime decisions, dating to the 2004-05 campaign. Grand Rapids, 4-1 during the extra session this season, now shows an all-time regular season mark of 26-9 in games decided during overtime.

Spread the Wealth: The Griffins’ offense has been incredibly balanced this season. Grand Rapids has set franchise records for the number of players with 20 assists (12), 40 assists (4), 30 points (11), 40 points (10) and 50 goals (1), while tying the marks for players with 20 goals (5), 30 goals (2), 40 goals (1) and 50 points (5).

League Leaders: Jiri Hudler: 33 goals (6th), 50 assists (3rd), 83 points (3rd) and seven game-winning goals (T2nd); Donald MacLean: 50 goals (1st), 75 points (T4th), 19 power play goals (T2nd), seven game-winning goals (T2nd) and a plus-17 rating (T9th); Eric Manlow: 42 assists (T12th) and 59 points (T19th); Valtteri Filppula: 41 assists (T15th) and a plus-17 rating (T9th); Tomas Kopecky: Plus-16 rating (T14th); Kent McDonell: 14 power play goals (T14th) and five game-winning goals (T9th); Matt Ellis: Two shorthanded goals (T17th) and a plus-17 rating (T9th); Bryan Helmer: 40 assists (T17th), a plus-24 rating (3rd) and 49 points (7th among defensemen); Darryl Bootland: 290 penalty minutes (2nd); Nate DiCasmirro: Plus-25 rating (2nd); Clay Wilson: Two shorthanded goals (T17th); Jimmy Howard: 17 wins (T13th) and a 2.88 GAA (T19th); Joey MacDonald: 17 wins (T13th) and two shutouts (T13th).

Who’s Hot?: Eric Manlow has points in three of the last four games (1-3—4)…Tomas Kopecky has points in five of his last eight games (3-4—7)…Nate DiCasmirro has five points in the last three games (2-3—5), including a career-high four-point outing (1-3—4) on Sunday against the Wolves…Valtteri Filppula has assists in four straight appearances (0-5—5) and in six of his last eight outings (0-8—8)…Jiri Hudler has five points in his last three games (3-2—5), and has registered points in seven of nine games (7-5—12) and nine of 13 games (8-10—18)…Darryl Bootland has goals in three straight contests (5-1—6) and in six of the last eight games (8-2—10).

This Week in Griffins History: March 13: Despite yielding a regular season team-record 53 shots and firing an all-time franchise-low 14 attempts of their own, the Griffins escape Houston with an improbable 2-1 win. Marc Lamothe’s 52 saves destroy a regular season franchise record, and his 24 saves during the third period alone set an overall team mark for most in a frame (2003). March 14: In the eighth game in a string of 11 straight one-goal decisions, the Griffins suffer a 2-1 loss to Fort Wayne (1998). March 15: Griffins don St. Patrick’s Day jerseys in a 4-1 win against Orlando. A subsequent auction raises $11,305 for Big Brothers Big Sisters (2001). March 16: Yves Sarault sets a franchise record for fastest goal to start a game by scoring 15 seconds into a 6-1 win over Michigan (2000). March 17: Former Grand Rapids goalie Tyler Moss makes 23 saves to lead Toronto to a 6-0 thumping of the Griffins at Van Andel Arena. The loss is the team’s worst at home since the 12th game of its existence, a 6-0 defeat to the San Antonio Dragons on Nov. 2, 1996 (2004). March 18: Griffins pound Houston, 7-3, becoming the first IHL team to clinch a playoff berth (2001). March 19: Griffins overcome 2-0 deficit to earn a 4-3 win at Chicago (2005).

Scouting Report

Tue., March 14 at Milwaukee Admirals (40-18-5-2) – Bradley Center – 8 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 7:59 p.m. Web Cast: Audio available through Season Series: 5-1-0-0 Overall, 2-1-0-0 Road. Seventh of eight meetings overall, fourth and final in Milwaukee. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 40-21-7-1-3 Overall, 16-13-5-1-3 Road. NHL Affiliation: Nashville Predators. Head Coach: Claude Noel (3rd season). Ships Ahoy: Three of the Griffins’ five series wins, including each of the last two, have come in overtime. Most recently, Grand Rapids won 5-4 in O.T. at the Bradley Center on Feb. 3...Donald MacLean and Valtteri Filppula each has five goals against the Admirals this season.

Wed., March 15 vs. Manitoba Moose (37-19-6-3) – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:59 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 3-1-0-1 Overall, 1-1-0-1 Home. Sixth of eight meetings overall, fourth and final in Grand Rapids. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 28-13-1-0-4 Overall, 14-6-1-0-4 Home. NHL Affiliation: Vancouver Canucks. Head Coach: Alain Vigneault (1st season). Got You ‘Pegged: Two of Grand Rapids’ three series wins, as well as one of its two losses, came via shootouts…Manitoba begins the week in third place in the North Division, 12 points behind the Griffins.

Fri., March 17 vs. Cleveland Barons (23-41-2-2) – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:59 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 6-1-0-0 Overall, 3-1-0-0 Home. Eighth of 10 meetings overall, fifth and final in Grand Rapids. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 19-9-0-0-1 Overall, 11-4-0-0-0 Home. NHL Affiliation: San Jose Sharks. Head Coach: Roy Sommer (5th season). Spy Glass: Since suffering a 4-2 home loss to the Barons on Dec. 10, the Griffins have outscored Cleveland by an 18-4 count while winning three straight meetings…This will mark the Barons’ final visit to Van Andel Arena, as the franchise moves to Worcester next season under the moniker of “Sharks,” reflecting its San Jose affiliation.

Sat., March 18 vs. Toronto Marlies (33-25-4-2) – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:40 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 2-3-0-0 Overall, 1-1-0-0 Home. Sixth and final meeting overall, third of three in Grand Rapids. NHL Affiliation: Toronto Maple Leafs. Head Coach: Paul Maurice (1st season). Fire One Up: If the playoffs were to start today, the Griffins would begin their Calder Cup chase against Toronto, the only North Division foe against whom they own a losing record…The Marlies have scored at least five goals in each of their last four clashes with Grand Rapids.

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