GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The Griffins will commence their 2012-13 campaign at home this weekend by hosting the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday at 7 p.m. and the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday at 7 p.m., marking the first time the Griffins will begin their regular season slate with back-to-back home games since the 2002-03 season. Grand Rapids enters its 17th season overall, 12th in the AHL, and 11th as the primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
It All Starts Here: Fans attending the Griffins’ back-to-back home games this weekend will be treated to a full slate of promotions. The Griffins will open against Milwaukee on Friday at 7 p.m. in what is expected to be the team’s 17th consecutive home-opening sellout. The first 5,000 fans will receive LED Glow Stix, courtesy of Xfinity, and all fans who get to their seats early can experience the Griffins’ extended pre-game show and see the team introduced for the 2012-13 season. Post-game events include the return of the J&H Family Stores post-game open skate, and Brian Lashoff, Tom McCollum and Riley Sheahan will sign autographs from the Griffins bench during the Huntington Bank post-game autograph session. Popular Friday promotions returning for this season include Dollar Beers and Hot Dogs and College Night, which allows college students to purchase an upper bowl ticket for $13 (or $11 in advance at The Zone) and stop by the McFadden’s concourse table to receive a free pass to the post-game party at McFadden’s. Every Friday night is also a Griffins WGRD D-Zone night, where fans can have $1 beers and $1 hot dogs served directly to their seats, and Free Ride Friday, permitting any fan to enjoy complimentary fare on the Rapid busses by showing their ticket to that night’s game. Call (616) 774-4585 ext. 2 or visit griffinshockey.com/dzone to order D-Zone tickets, and visit ridetherapid.org for information on bus schedules, routes and maps.
Saturday Promotions: The first 2,500 fans on Saturday will receive a Griffins team calendar for the 2012-13 season, courtesy of Delta Imports. Following the game, Mitch Callahan, Landon Ferraro and Trevor Parkes will sign autographs from the Griffins bench during the Huntington Bank post-game autograph session. Finally, every home game this season will be a Military Night. Current members of our military can purchase up to four upper bowl tickets for $13 each (or $11 in advance at The Zone) with a valid military ID. The offer also extends to veterans who present a VA ID or discharge papers.
Shaking off the Rust: The Griffins played a pair of preseason games last weekend, marking their first official preseason contests since 2005. On Saturday, an early Lake Erie lead proved too much to overcome, as the Griffins fell to the Monsters 3-1 at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, home to the Griffins’ ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye. Grand Rapids rebounded strong the following night, skating away from Ann Arbor’s Yost Ice Arena with a 4-2 victory in a rematch against the Monsters. Chad Billins, Trevor Parkes, Willie Coetzee and Brendan Smith scored for the Griffins, while Jordan Pearce made 27 saves in the victory.
Good Starts: Grand Rapids is 10-3-2-1 all time in season openers, having earned points in eight straight debuts (5-0-2-1) before Rockford snapped that streak with a 3-2 win in last year’s opener. The Griffins hope to improve on their 10-5-0-1 record in home openers when Milwaukee comes to town on Friday. Grand Rapids is 10-4-2-0 all time in road openers and will look to improve on that mark when it plays its first road game of the season against Rochester on Friday, Oct. 19.
Pups and Pucks: This Monday, Oct. 15, the Griffins will host their fifth annual “Pups and Pucks” Fall Dog Walk-A-Thon presented by BeeneGarter L.L.P. The event will take place at Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary in Lake Odessa, Mich., and feature events ranging from live music and a BBQ dinner to hay rides and appearances by pet experts and vendors. Everyone is encouraged to join Griffins players, coaches and front office staff, who will attend and assist in raising funds and awareness for the sanctuary. The evening’s events will kick off at 5 p.m. For more information, visit Mackenzie’s FirstGiving page here.
What’s Old is New: One of the major announcements made by the AHL this summer was a slight division realignment that saw Grand Rapids shift from the North Division to the Midwest Division, joining Milwaukee along with the three Illinois teams: Chicago, Peoria and Rockford. In addition to reducing the number of miles the Griffins will log on the road, the move also restores the team’s rivalry with the two clubs it has played most: the Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Admirals. The Griffins will meet each team eight times this season, double the number of games they saw them last season.
At the Helm: The winningest coach in franchise history, Curt Fraser, left the Griffins this summer when he accepted a job with the Dallas Stars as an assistant coach. The Red Wings, who are in charge of all personnel decisions as per the teams’ new five-year affiliation agreement, looked down their own bench and tabbed Jeff Blashill, who served a Detroit assistant coach in 2011-12, as the ninth head coach of the Griffins. Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Blashill brings a wealth of Michigan experience to Grand Rapids, having made coaching stops at Ferris State and Western Michigan en route to joining the Red Wings organization. Blashill earned several national coach of the year honors in his lone season as head coach of the WMU Broncos after leading the USHL’s Indiana Ice to a franchise-record 39 wins and a Clark Cup championship in his first season as a head coach in 2008-09. Blashill is joined behind the bench by a familiar face to Griffins fans, as the longest-tenured coach in franchise history, Jim Paek, returns for his eight season as the Griffins’ assistant coach.
Offensive Reload: The Griffins begin the 2012-13 season without the services of six of their top 11 point producers from last season, including Jamie Johnson (21-37—58), who shared the team scoring lead with two other players, Chris Conner (16-37—53) and Chris Minard, who racked up 32 points (21-11—32) in 39 games after returning from injury. In their place, the Griffins will lean on a young forward grouped headlined by AHL All-Rookie Team forward Gustav Nyquist (22-36—58 in 56 games) and Tomas Tatar (24-34—58), who were the two players that shared the team scoring lead with Johnson, and Francis Pare (16-36—52), who has finished in the Griffins’ top-five scoring leaders in each of his four seasons with the club.
Defensive Shuffle: While the offense remains relatively consistent from 2011-12, drastic changes were made on the Griffins’ blueline, which sees only Brian Lashoff and Brendan Smith return from last year’s full-time defensive corps. The unit will see some familiarity as Gleason Fournier (13 games played) and Adam Almquist (3 games played) will assume more regular roles in the lineup. The group will also be reinforced by a pair of veterans in Brennan Evans and Nathan Paetsch and a pair of rookies in Chad Billins and Max Nicastro.
Detroit Exports: Eighteen Red Wings-contracted players are on the Griffins’ 23-man roster, including goaltenders Tom McCollum and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Adam Almquist, Gleason Fournier, Brian Lashoff, Max Nicastro and Brendan Smith; and forwards Joakim Andersson, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco, Gustav Nyquist, Francis Pare, Trevor Parkes, Brent Raedeke, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.
Signed and Sealed: Five players on the current roster are under contract to the Griffins, up from just two last season: forwards Triston Grant and Jeff Hoggan and defensemen Chad Billins, Brennan Evans and Nathan Paetsch. Additionally, the first Greater Grand Rapids native to sign with the Griffins, Luke Glendening, is under contract and currently skating with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.
Ready in Waiting: On Tuesday, the Red Wings reassigned three players from the Griffins to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye – goaltender Petr Mrazek and forwards Willie Coetzee and Andrej Nestrasil – while the Griffins assigned forward Luke Glendening to the Walleye. All four players skated for the team at training camp and could see time in Grand Rapids this season.
Fresh Faces: Nine members of the Griffins’ season-opening roster skated elsewhere in 2011-12. Here’s a brief look at each of the new arrivals:
• Adam Almquist – The second-to-last pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, Almquist rapidly ascended to Sweden’s highest league as an 18-year-old, racking up 34 points (5-29—34) in 15 games (the highest point-per-game average in league history) with HV 71’s under-20 team before joining the senior club full-time to help them capture the SEL championship. Now with two-and-a-half pro seasons under his belt, the Huskvarna, Sweden, native will try his skills in North America this season.
• Chad Billins – The Marysville, Mich., native played a large role on the blueline of a Ferris State team that made its way to the NCAA Frozen Four, where it was defeated in the championship game by Boston College. Billins racked up a handful of national honors along the way, winning CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year, All-CCHA First Team and Senior CLASS All-America Team honors and finishing as a finalist for the CCHA RBC Player of the Year and Best Offensive Defenseman awards.
• Brennan Evans – Evans is the largest player on the Griffins’ season-opening roster, checking in at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. The North Battleford, Saskatchewan, native has been a stable presence at the AHL level, suiting up in 636 AHL games for Lowell, Binghamton, Worcester, Iowa, Toronto and Peoria. The 10th year pro also has two NHL games on his record, both coming in the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings during the first round of Calgary’s run to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals.
• Triston Grant – The Neepawa, Manitoba, native is no stranger the penalty box, having logged 1,266 penalty minutes in his seven AHL seasons. However, Grant has scored 10 or more goals in three of those seasons, and was one of two players in the league last season (along with Norfolk’s Radko Gudas) to have more than 150 penalty minutes and a double-digit plus-minus rating. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound forward helped Oklahoma City win a Western Conference regular season championship in 2011-12.
• Jeff Hoggan – Signed on Tuesday, Hoggan will start the season with the Griffins after attending the team’s training camp on a tryout. The 34-year-old is a veteran of 412 AHL games and won a Calder Cup with Houston in 2003. The Hope, British Columbia, native has also made AHL stops in Worcester, Providence and San Antonio and has logged 107 NHL games for St. Louis, Boston and Phoenix.
• Tomas Jurco – Detroit’s first choice (35th overall) in the 2011 NHL entry draft, Jurco enters his first professional season after recording 68 points (30-38—68) in 48 regular season games with Saint John and adding 29 more (13-16—29) in 16 postseason contests. While Jurco was in Saint John, the team amassed a 161-34-2-7 record, appeared in the QMJHL finals in three consecutive seasons, won back-to-back league championships and won the CHL Memorial Cup in 2011.
• Max Nicastro – A 6-foot-3, 225-pound defenseman, Nicastro (Thousand Oaks) becomes the second California-born and trained player on the Griffins, joining Mitch Callahan (Whittier). Nicastro spent the past three seasons at Boston University, logging 33 points (11-22—33) in 102 contests. The 22-year-old blueliner earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team as a freshman in 2009-10.
• Nathan Paetsch – The LeRoy, Saskatchewan, native piled up 50 points (11-39—50) in his best AHL season in 2005-06 with Rochester, one that saw him earn a spot in the All-Star Classic. Paetsch spent four seasons in the NHL with Buffalo and Columbus, notching 42 points (7-35—42) in 167 games from 2005-10, including 24 points (2-22—24) as a rookie in 2006-07 for the President’s Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres. The veteran blueliner, who spent the 2011-12 season in Germany with Wolfsburg, signed with the Griffins this summer and is set for his first full AHL season since 2005-06.
• Riley Sheahan – The first-year pro joined the Griffins on a tryout last spring after finishing his junior year with Notre Dame, recording two points (1-1—2) in seven games before making his NHL debut with Detroit on April 7, 2012 versus Chicago. The St. Catharines, Ontario, native was a first round pick (21st overall) of the Red Wings and spent the past three seasons with the Fighting Irish, capping off his collegiate career by finishing runner-up for the CCHA Best Defensive Forward award.
Welcome Back: Sixteen players from the Griffins’ 2011-12 edition are on their season-opening roster: goaltenders Tom McCollum and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Adam Almquist, Gleason Fournier, Brian Lashoff and Brendan Smith; and forwards Joakim Andersson, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Landon Ferraro, Gustav Nyquist, Francis Pare, Trevor Parkes, Brent Raedeke, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.
Tell Me What It Takes: The Griffins’ quest to return to the playoffs in 2012-13 will be headlined by a multitude of players who have won championships in their careers. The team’s newest addition, Jeff Hoggan, captured a Calder Cup with Houston in 2003. Two of the team’s rookies are coming off championship seasons in Chad Billins, who helped Ferris State capture the CCHA regular season championship en route to an appearance in the NCAA national title game, and Tomas Jurco, who won his second straight QMJHL President’s Cup with Saint John last spring after winning the CHL Memorial Cup in 2011. Brennan Evans joins Jurco as the team’s other Memorial Cup winner, winning the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup and Memorial Cup in 2002 with the Kootenay Ice. Other cup winners include Mitch Callahan (WHL Chynoweth Cup – 2009 Kelowna) and Adam Almquist (SEL Championship – 2010 HV 71), as well as both of the team’s coaches: Jim Paek (Stanley Cup – 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh, IHL Turner Cup – 1989 Muskegon and 1999 Houston) and Jeff Blashill (USHL Clark Cup – 2009 in his debut season as a head coach). In addition, both Brian Lashoff won a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship with the United States, and Joakim Andersson won back-to-back championships at the junior level in Sweden.
Do You Feel a Draft?: Fifteen of the Griffins’ 23 players were once selected in the NHL entry draft, including 13 who were tabbed by the Red Wings. This season, the Griffins will employ the Red Wings’ top pick in each draft class from 2007-11: Brendan Smith (27th overall in 2007), Tom McCollum (30th overall in 2008), Landon Ferraro (32nd overall in 2009), Riley Sheahan (21st overall in 2010) and Tomas Jurco (35th overall in 2011). On the other end of the draft board, Adam Almquist (210th overall by Detroit in 2009) was taken with the second-to-last pick of the draft, and Triston Grant (286th overall by Philadelphia in 2004) was drafted before the NHL reduced the event from nine to seven rounds. In a rare draft oddity, Nathan Paetsch was actually drafted twice – first by the Washington Capitals with their first pick (58th overall) of the 2001 NHL draft, and then as an unsigned draft re-entry by Buffalo with its eighth choice (202nd overall) in 2003.
NHL Experience: Ten Griffins have seen time in the NHL, combining for 339 total games: Nathan Paetsch (167), Jeff Hoggan (107), Gustav Nyquist (22 games, including 4 postseason contests), Brendan Smith (14), Triston Grant (11), Tomas Tatar (9), Joakim Andersson (5), Brennan Evans (2 playoff games), Riley Sheahan (1) and Tom McCollum (1).
Veteran Roll Call: AHL clubs may dress up to five veteran skaters with more than 260 games of experience in the NHL, AHL or European Elite leagues, plus another with 320 or fewer games played. All veterans who suited up for the Griffins in 2011-12 departed this summer. Francis Pare is considered a veteran this season after surpassing 260 games last year, and he is joined by Brennan Evans, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan and Nathan Paetsch. Although Joakim Andersson (272) and Tomas Tatar (269) have played enough games to be considered veterans by the league, both are exempt due to the number of games they played professionally before the age of 20.
Newbies: The Griffins have five players that will be considered rookies this season, including four newcomers: Chad Billins, Tomas Jurco, Max Nicastro and Riley Sheahan. Gleason Fournier, who appeared in 13 games with the Griffins in 2011-12, will also be considered a rookie, having not met the AHL’s 25-game threshold last year. Adam Almquist, who logged three games with the Griffins last season, does not qualify as a rookie as he appeared in more than 100 professional games while playing in Sweden.
One for the Ages: The average age of the Griffins is 23 years and four months – nine months younger than the average for their 2011-12 roster (24 years and one month). This year marks the sixth consecutive season that the opening day lineup has been younger than the season that preceded it. Only Jeff Hoggan (34) and Brennan Evans (30) check into the over-30 club, while nearly half of the 23 players on the roster (12) were born in the ‘90s. Tomas Jurco (19 years, nine months) earns the title of youngest player on the roster, as he’s over a full year younger than the team’s second-youngest, Riley Sheahan (20 years, 10 months).
Where Are They Now?: Eight of the 26 players from the Griffins’ 2011-12 season-ending roster now find themselves in other locales, including AHL Connecticut (Logan Pyett), AHL Providence (Garnet Exelby), Finland (Travis Ehrhardt/TPS), Germany (Doug Janik/Adler Mannheim and Chris Minard/Kolner Haie), Latvia/KHL (Jamie Johnson/Dinamo Riga), Sweden (Fabian Brunnstrom/Frolunda) and OHL Peterborough (Alan Quine). Additionally, Chris Conner, who appeared in 57 games with Grand Rapids last season but finished the year with Detroit, will begin this season in AHL Portland. Ty Conklin and Mike Thomas are currently free agents.
Remembering Rufenach: The Griffins this summer mourned the death of defenseman Bryan Rufenach, who passed away on June 4 while traveling in Switzerland. He was 23 years old. A native of Barrie, Ontario, Rufenach was the Red Wings’ fifth choice (208th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He played four seasons (2007-11) at Clarkson University and earned a degree in financial information and analysis. Signed by the Griffins in September 2011, Rufenach made his AHL debut on Nov. 23, 2011 and appeared in 13 games with Grand Rapids as a rookie, as well as 54 contests with ECHL Toledo. To honor their fallen teammate and friend, the Griffins will wear a #44 sticker on the back of their helmets during the 2012-13 season.
Griffins’ Coaching Tree: Seven former players or coaches for the Griffins are currently involved in hockey operations with other AHL squads, including Abbotsford assistant coach Cail MacLean (2000-01), Lake Erie director of AHL operations/assistant coach David Oliver (2000-01), Oklahoma City head coach Todd Nelson (1996-98, 1999-00, 2001-02, AC 2002-03), Peoria head coach Dave Allison (HC 1996-98), Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy (HC 2000-02), Rockford assistant coach Ben Simon (2006-07), Springfield assistant coach Jared Bednar (1998-99) and Toronto assistant coach Derek King (1999-01, P/AC 2002-04). In addition, Curt Fraser (HC 2008-12) was named an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars in June.
Fri., Oct. 12 vs. Milwaukee Admirals – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 6:40 p.m. Web Casts: Video web cast at AHLLive.com, free audio available through woodradio.com. All-Time Series: 56-42-7-5-6 Overall, 32-19-2-1-2 Home. Season Series: First of eight meetings overall, first of four in Grand Rapids. NHL Affiliation: Nashville Predators. Head Coach: Dean Evason (1st season). Notes: The Griffins posted a 2-1-0-1 record against the Admirals last season … Milwaukee finished second in the Midwest Division but was swept by the Abbotsford Heat in the Western Conference Quarterfinals … Grand Rapids will host Milwaukee three times in its first eight home games … Dean Evason takes over as the Admirals’ head coach after serving as an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals for seven seasons (2005-12) … Milwaukee goaltender Jeremy Smith ranked among the AHL’s top goaltenders in 2011-12 with a 2.17 goals against average (4th), 31 wins (2nd) and 3,283 minutes (1st) … The Admirals last season were led in scoring by former Griffin Chris Mueller (32-28—60), who returns for his fourth season in Milwaukee…Griffins forward Triston Grant played two seasons in Milwaukee from 2008-10, setting career highs in all categories in 2009-10 with 25 points (12-13—15) and 236 penalty minutes in 74 games.
Sat., Oct. 13 vs. Hamilton Bulldogs – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.
Radio: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 7 p.m. WebCasts: Video web cast at AHLLive.com, free audio available through woodradio.com. All-Time Series: 32-32-1-0-3 Overall, 18-13-1-0-2 Home. Season Series: First of four meetings overall, first of two in Grand Rapids. NHL Affiliation: Montreal Canadiens. Head Coach: Sylvain Lefebvre (1st season). Notes: The Griffins won the 2011-12 season series with a 6-4 record, including a 4-1 mark at home … The Bulldogs are without four of their top five scorers from last season: Brian Willsie, Andreas Engqvist, Phil DeSimone and Garrett Stafford … Cedrick Desjardins, who played for Hamilton from 2006-10, rejoined the organization this summer after leading the AHL in save percentage (0.932) and finishing third in goals against average (2.11) for Lake Erie in 2011-12 … Hamilton’s defense will be bolstered by the addition of two Montreal first round picks in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.