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05/18/2006 11:00 AM - Furniture City vs. Suds City: After battling 74 times over the last 10 regular seasons, the Griffins and Admirals tonight stage their first ever playoff meeting in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. North Division Champion Grand Rapids, two days removed from its thrilling Game 7 win over Manitoba, began its Calder Cup journey by knocking off Toronto by a 4-1 count in the first round. West Division Champion Milwaukee, which has been idle for nine days, got here by besting Iowa 4-3 in the division semis and sweeping Houston 4-0 in the division finals.

2006 Calder Cup Playoffs – Western Conference Finals – Best-of-Seven
Game 1 - Thu., May 18 - Admirals at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game G)
Game 2 - Sat., May 20 - Admirals at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game H)
Game 3 - Mon., May 22 - GRIFFINS at Admirals - 8 p.m.
Game 4 - Wed., May 24 - GRIFFINS at Admirals - 8 p.m.
*Game 5 - Fri., May 26 - Admirals at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game I)
*Game 6 - Sat., May 27 - GRIFFINS at Admirals - 8 p.m.
*Game 7 - Mon., May 29 - Admirals at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game J)

* If necessary. All times Eastern and subject to change. All games on WOOD 1300 AM and B2 Networks.

A Night to Remember: The Griffins staged the greatest comeback in their playoff history in Game 7 of the North Division Finals against Manitoba on Tuesday, rallying from a 4-1 deficit with four unanswered goals over the game’s final 20:01. Bryan Helmer scored with a half-second remaining in the middle period, Valtteri Filppula tallied twice in the third to tie it, and Darryl Bootland topped off a four-point night by scoring the game-winner with 2:06 left. Jiri Hudler established a Griffins playoff record with five assists and tied a mark with five points, setting up each Griffins goal.

What's Next?: The winner of this series will advance to the Calder Cup Finals to face the Eastern Conference Champions, either the Portland Pirates or the Hershey Bears. Hershey drew first blood with a 5-0 road win last night versus former Griffins netminder Jani Hurme. Grand Rapids went 2-0 against the Bears during the regular season and did not face the Pirates, while Milwaukee did not play either club.

Get This Party Started: Prior to Saturday’s Game 2, the Griffins will host a pre-game party from 5:30-7:10 p.m. on the plaza outside Van Andel Arena. The party will feature live music, food and beverages, face painting and sign making, a meet-and-greet with former Griffins players (including Joel Kwiatkowski and Bruce Ramsay), and hockey-related games and activities.

Battle of Lake Michigan, Part II: While the Griffins and Admirals have never met in the playoffs, their two cities clashed in an eventful IHL quarterfinal series back in 1979. In the Ads’ second season in Milwaukee, they fell to the eventual Turner Cup runner-up Grand Rapids Owls, four games to three. However, the Owls actually won five games on the ice during what became an eight-game series, as their 3-0 victory in Game 2 was protested by the Admirals and subsequently ruled a “no contest” by IHL commissioner Frank Gallagher, who determined that Grand Rapids had used an ineligible player. The contest was replayed, although individual player statistics from the game were recognized in league record books.

Facts and Figures: The Griffins have reached a conference final for the second time in four seasons and the fourth time in their last seven campaigns, while the Admirals have reached the AHL’s final four for the second time in three years…Grand Rapids is 6-0 in the postseason when scoring first and undefeated when leading at the end of any period (5-0 after the first, 3-0 after the second)…Seven of the Griffins’ eight playoff wins have been by a single goal, while each of their four losses has had a margin of at least two goals…Seven of the last eight AHL teams to win a best-of-seven series in a sweep were eliminated in the subsequent round, a fate Milwaukee will try to avoid… Tuesday’s win was the first Game 7 victory in Grand Rapids franchise history, and it allowed the Griffins to claim a playoff series on home ice for just the second time ever…The road team has won eight of the Griffins’ 12 playoff games in 2006…Grand Rapids has won six of the 10 best-of-seven playoff series in its history…The Griffins have won seven of 14 total playoff series all time.

Player Notes: Terry Virtue is set to appear in his 103rd career Calder Cup Playoff game tonight, which would give him sole possession of eighth place in league history…After their spectacular performances in Tuesday’s Game 7 against Manitoba, Jiri Hudler now ranks second on the Griffins’ all-time playoff scoring list with 27 points (7-20—27) in 16 games, while Darryl Bootland stands 10th with 15 points (7-8—15) in 31 contests…Hudler, who owns a seven-game point streak and already has seven multi-point games during the current playoffs, has factored in 10 of Grand Rapids’ last 11 goals. His 15 assists lead the Calder Cup Playoffs, and his 21 points tie Milwaukee’s Darren Haydar for second place…Drew MacIntyre leads all playoff netminders with a 1.20 GAA and a 0.954 save percentage.

The Coaches: Greg Ireland won an AHL regular season title in his first full season as the Griffins’ head coach, leading them to franchise records of 55 wins and 115 points. His career winning percentage of 0.674 (72-33-2-5) is the best in franchise history. While taking part in his first Calder Cup playoff as a head coach, Ireland is no stranger to the postseason. He was an assistant on the Griffins team that lost to Chicago in the 2004 West Division Semifinals, he joined the 2002-03 Hamilton Bulldogs as an assistant coach during their run to the Calder Cup Finals, and he guided the 2001-02 ECHL Dayton Bombers to the Kelly Cup Finals…Milwaukee’s Claude Noel led the Admirals to their second West Division crown in three seasons, helping them to their most wins (49) and points (108) since posting identical numbers during the 1992-93 IHL campaign. He guided the Ads to the Calder Cup in 2004, marking the only AHL or IHL championship in the franchise’s 29-year existence.

The Stories: The clash between Grand Rapids and Milwaukee presents numerous storylines:
• Division champions are meeting in the AHL conference finals for the first time since 2003, when Houston prevailed over Grand Rapids and Hamilton defeated Binghamton;
• Milwaukee head coach Claude Noel and nine current players helped the Admirals claim the 2004 Calder Cup: Greg Classen, Brian Finley, Simon Gamache, Darren Haydar, Nathan Lutz, Libor Pivko, Brandon Segal, Scottie Upshall and Greg Zanon;
• Admirals defenseman Sheldon Brookbank played parts of two seasons with the Griffins (2001-03), collecting 14 points (2-12—14) and 160 penalty minutes in 75 games;
• Grand Rapids and Milwaukee have been two of the AHL’s best road teams all year. During the regular season, the teams tied for fourth on the circuit with 51 road points apiece. In the playoffs, the Griffins are 5-1 on the road, while the Admirals are 4-1;
• The Griffins and Admirals ranked first and second, respectively, in power play percentage during the regular season. Grand Rapids converted 21.8% of its chances (120-for-550), while Milwaukee cashed in on 20% of its opportunities (109-for-545);
• Several players in this series spent significant time in the NHL this season: Grand Rapids’ Brett Lebda (3-9—12 in 46 GP) with Detroit, and Milwaukee’s Scottie Upshall (8-16—24 in 48 GP), Jordin Tootoo (4-6—10 in 34 GP) and Shea Weber (2-8—10 in 28 GP) with Nashville;
• The Griffins are attempting to join former IHL teams Chicago (2002), Houston (2003) and Milwaukee (2004) as Calder Cup champions.

Regular Season Series Notes: The Griffins won the season series against the Admirals with a 6-2-0-0 mark, with three of those wins coming in overtime…Grand Rapids’ special teams excelled against the Admirals, converting 28.4% of their power plays (19-67) while holding Milwaukee to 15.9% (10-63) and tallying three shorthanded goals…The Griffins outscored the Admirals 34-26 in the series…Jimmy Howard was 2-1 with a sparkling 1.53 GAA, a 0.935 save percentage and one shutout against Milwaukee…The Admirals’ Pekka Rinne was 1-5 with a 3.76 GAA and a 0.892 save percentage versus Grand Rapids…In the 10-year history of this rivalry, the Griffins show an overall record of 41-22-7-1-3 (W-L-T-OTL-SOL), including marks of 24-9-2-0-0 at Van Andel Arena and 17-13-5-1-3 at the Bradley Center.

2005-06 Griffins vs. Admirals

Griffins Records: 6-2-0-0 Overall, 3-1-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 3-1-0-0 in Milwaukee
Admirals Records: 2-3-3-0 Overall, 1-1-2-0 in Grand Rapids, 1-2-1-0 in Milwaukee

Oct. 8 – Griffins 6, Admirals 3 – Van Andel Arena
Grand Rapids christened its 10th anniversary campaign with a rousing triumph, sparked by four-point performances from Jiri Hudler (2-2—4) and Kent McDonell (0-4—4). Valtteri Filppula registered his first AHL goal with the eventual game-winner at 7:06 of the second period. The team’s six-goal outburst established a new franchise record for both a season-opening and home-opening game.

Dec. 3 – Griffins 5, Admirals 4 OT – Van Andel Arena
Jiri Hudler victimized the Admirals for a second time with a game-winning overtime goal and two assists. Eric Manlow added two helpers, lending a hand on Hudler’s deciding tally at 4:40 of the extra session. The Griffins stormed back to take the lead, overcoming an early 3-1 deficit, before Rich Peverley knotted the score at four with just 10 seconds remaining, setting up Hudler’s heroics.

Dec. 9 – Admirals 5, Griffins 2 – Bradley Center
Milwaukee took advantage of 13 power play opportunities – matching the Griffins’ record for an opponent – with three unanswered first period strikes and three goals with the man-advantage, en route to a decisive romp on home ice. Rookie Ryan Keller put the Griffins on the board at 7:39 of the second with his first AHL goal, and Valtteri Filppula added a late short-handed tally in defeat. The loss began a five-game slide for Grand Rapids, its longest drought of the season.

Dec. 21 – Griffins 5, Admirals 0 – Bradley Center
The Griffins atoned for their earlier road showing with a dominating display of force, keyed by rookie netminder Jimmy Howard’s first pro shutout, a 23-save performance. Rookie defenseman Clay Wilson led Grand Rapids with three points (2-1—3), including the game-winner just 9:57 into the contest. Veteran forward Jeff Nelson moonlighted for the Griffins with two helpers, while Darryl Bootland and Valtteri Filppula each added a goal and an assist.

Jan. 14 – Griffins 3, Admirals 2 OT – Van Andel Arena
Donald MacLean celebrated his 29th birthday with the first of his AHL record-tying consecutive hat tricks. Clay Wilson supplied assists on two of the markers, including MacLean’s game-winner just 35 seconds into overtime.

Feb. 3 – Griffins 5, Admirals 4 OT – Bradley Center
For the third time in 2005-06, the Griffins extinguished the Admirals in overtime, as Bryan Helmer ripped a blue line blast past Pekka Rinne for the victory. Darryl Bootland provided the dramatics in a stunning comeback, burying a power play shot with less than two seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra frame. Donald MacLean added a goal and an assist, extending his personal-best point streak to 12 games.

March 14 – Griffins 5, Admirals 3 – Bradley Center
In the midst of a team-record 11-game winning streak, the Griffins notched the fourth and most improbable victory in that string on the strength of four third-period goals. After Milwaukee had taken a 3-0 lead just 1:51 into the second period, Jimmy Howard replaced a struggling Joey MacDonald in net, and the comeback was on. Donald MacLean netted his 51st goal of the season, followed by strikes from Tomas Kopecky, Jiri Hudler, Eric Himelfarb and Bryan Helmer to complete the reversal of fortune.

April 15 – Admirals 5, Griffins 3 – Van Andel Arena
With nothing to play for and nothing left to prove in the regular season, the Griffins saw their nine-game home ice winning streak snapped in the absence of AHL leading goal scorer Donald MacLean, who was with Detroit. Grand Rapids completed a team-record 115-point campaign (55-20-1-4).

Tale of the Tape: Here’s how the two rivals stacked up in key categories during the regular season (*led league):

Grand Rapids Milwaukee
• Overall Record 55-20-1-4, 115 pts. (1st North, 1st AHL) 49-21-6-4, 108 pts. (1st West, 4th AHL)
• Home Record 30-6-1-3, 64 pts. (T1st) 27-10-2-1, 57 pts. (6th)
• Road Record 25-14-0-1, 51 pts. (T4th) 22-11-4-3, 51 pts. (T4th)
• Power Play: 120-for-550, 21.8% (1st) 109-for-545, 20.0% (2nd)
• Penalty Killing: 467-for-562, 83.1% (12th) 438-for-528, 83.0% (13th)
• Penalty Minutes: 23.60 avg. (14th) 23.46 avg. (15th)
• Goals For: 4.04 avg. (1st) 3.35 avg. (8th)
• Goals Against: 3.09 avg. (15th) 2.93 avg. (T9th)
• Shots For: 33.99 avg. (4th) 32.04 avg. (8th)
• Shots Against: 29.30 avg. (9th) 29.75 avg. (12th)
Team Leaders
• Games Played: Bryan Helmer/Eric Manlow (*80) Darren Haydar (*80)
• Goals: Donald MacLean (*56) Haydar (35)
• Assists: Jiri Hudler (60) Libor Pivko (58)
• Points: Hudler (96) Haydar (92)
• Plus/Minus: Nate DiCasmirro (+27) Greg Zanon (+17)
• Penalty Minutes: Darryl Bootland (390) Sheldon Brookbank (232)
• Power Play Goals: MacLean (21) Haydar (21)
• Shorthanded Goals: Matt Ellis/Clay Wilson (3) Kris Beech (3)
• Game-Winning Goals: MacLean (*9) Haydar (7)
• Wins: Jimmy Howard (27) Pekka Rinne (30)
• Shutouts: Howard/Joey MacDonald (2) Brian Finley (4)
• Goals Against Avg.: Howard (2.58) Finley (2.70)
• Save Percentage: Howard (0.910) Finley (0.908)

For the Record: Dozens of Griffins franchise playoff records were set or tied during the division semifinals and finals, including:

Most Overtime Wins, Season 3, 2006 (tied)
Most Road Overtime Wins, Season 2, 2006
Most Goals, Loss 3, 4/22/06 vs. TOR (3-6, G2-NDS) (tied)
Fewest Goals, Win 2, 4/28/06 at TOR (2-1 2OT, G5-NDS) (tied)
Most Goals Against, Home Game 6, 4/22/06 vs. TOR (3-6, G2-NDS)
Most Goals Against, Win 5, 4/21/06 vs. TOR (6-5, G1-NDS)
Most Goals Against, Home Period 3, 5/16/06 vs. MTB, 2nd period (G7-NDF); 5/15/06 vs. MTB, 1st period (G6-NDF); 4/21/06 vs. TOR, 2nd period (G1-NDS) (tied)
Most Power Play Goals For, Game 3, 5/6/06 vs. MTB (G2-NDF) (tied)
Most Power Play Goals Against, Season 15, 2006
Most Power Play Goals Against, Game 4, 5/11/06 at MTB (G4-NDF)
Most Power Play Opportunities, Game 11, 5/6/06 vs. MTB (G2-NDF)
Most Shots, Game 63, 4/21/06 vs. TOR (G1-NDS)
Most Shots, Home Game 63, 4/21/06 vs. TOR (G1-NDS)
Most Shots, Road Game 45, 4/28/06 at TOR (G5-NDS)
Most Shots, Period 20, 4/24/06 at TOR, 1st period (G3-NDS) (tied)
Most Shots, Road Period 20, 4/24/06 at TOR, 1st period (G3-NDS)
Most Shots Against, Period 19, 4/24/06 at TOR, 3rd period (G3-NDS) (tied)
Most Shots Against, Road Period 19, 4/24/06 at TOR, 3rd period (G3-NDS) (tied)
Fewest Shots Against, Period 1, 5/16/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G7-NDF); 5/15/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G6-NDF) (tied)
Fewest Shots Against, Home Period 1, 5/16/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G7-NDF); 5/15/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G6-NDF) (tied)
Fewest Shots Against, Road Period 3, 5/11/06 at MTB, 2nd period (G4-NDF) (tied)
Most Assists, Period 3, Jiri Hudler, 5/16/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G7-NDF) (tied)
Most Assists, Game 5, Jiri Hudler, 5/16/06 vs. MTB (G7-NDF)
Most Assists, Season 15, Jiri Hudler, 2006
Most Points, Game 5, Jiri Hudler, 5/16/06 vs. MTB (G7-NDF) (tied)
Most Points, Season 21, Jiri Hudler, 2006
Most Opponent Saves, Game 57, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 4/21/06 vs. TOR (G1-NDS)
Most Opponent Saves, Home Game 57, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 4/21/06 vs. TOR (G1-NDS)
Most Opponent Saves, Road Game 43, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 4/28/06 at TOR (G5-NDS)
Most Saves, Period 18, Jimmy Howard, 4/24/06 at TOR, 3rd period (G3-NDS) (tied)
Most Saves, Road Period 18, Jimmy Howard, 4/24/06 at TOR, 3rd period (G3-NDS) (tied)
Fewest Saves, Period 1, Drew MacIntyre, 5/16/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G7-NDF); Jimmy Howard, 5/15/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G6-NDF) (tied)
Fewest Saves, Home Period 1, Drew MacIntyre, 5/16/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G7-NDF); Jimmy Howard, 5/15/06 vs. MTB, 3rd period (G6-NDF) (tied)
Most Opponent Saves, Period 19, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 4/28/06 at TOR, 1st overtime (G5- NDS) (tied)
Most Opponent Saves, Road Period 19, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 4/28/06 at TOR, 1st overtime (G5-NDS)

Experience is a Virtue: Seven players and coaches for the Griffins have won major championships in North America at the pro, college or major junior level, including assistant coach Jim Paek (NHL Stanley Cup – 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh, IHL Turner Cup – 1989 Muskegon and 1999 Houston), Greg Amadio (CHL President’s Cup – 2003 Memphis), Bryan Helmer (AHL Calder Cup – 1995 Albany), Donald MacLean (CHL Memorial Cup – 1997 Hull), Derek Meech (CHL Memorial Cup – 2001 Red Deer), Terry Virtue (AHL Calder Cup – 1999 Providence, 2000 Hartford) and Clay Wilson (UHL Colonial Cup – 2005 Muskegon). Virtue, one of only 17 players in AHL history to win championships in consecutive seasons with two different teams, is tied for eighth on the league’s all-time list with 102 playoff appearances.

Hardware Haul: The Griffins’ record-setting regular season netted them the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy (regular season points champion), the Norman R. (Bud) Poile Trophy (Western Conference regular season champion) and the Sam Pollock Trophy (North Division champion). Their regular season title was their first in five AHL seasons; they also won the IHL’s regular season crown (Fred A. Huber Trophy) in 2000-01, their fifth – and final – campaign in that league. Meanwhile, the division crown was their fifth in the last seven years; since 1999, Grand Rapids has earned the most division titles, wins (334) and points (722) of any team at the triple-A level. Besides the Calder Cup, the only grail still up for grabs is the Robert W. Clarke Trophy (Western Conference playoff champion).

Get Your Tickets: Tickets for all four potential home playoff games during the Western Conference Finals are on sale. Single-game prices are $26, $21, $18, $16, $14 and $6 (advance purchase only). Playoff tickets may be purchased at The Zone at Van Andel Arena and all Star Tickets Plus locations (800-585-3737), or by clicking here.

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