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Griffins head to the heart of Texas

by Kyle Kujawa / Detroit Red Wings

After finishing their first three-in-three of the season with an overtime win on Sunday at Chicago, the Griffins will play another three-game set this weekend with a trip to Texas to take on members of the new South Division. The Griffins will visit San Antonio on Friday at 8:30 p.m. EDT, Texas on Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT and Houston on Sunday at 6:05 EST to begin a stretch that will the team play six games over a nine-day stretch in early November. Formerly known as the West Division, the South Division was renamed this summer as part of the AHL’s realignment that saw Abbotsford switch from the West/South to the North Division, Grand Rapids move out of the North and into the Midwest, and Charlotte slide into the open spot in the new South Division.

No Slowing Down: Any concerns that the Griffins would be worn out on Sunday, playing their third game in a 46-hour span, were answered when the team handed the Midwest Division-leading Chicago Wolves their first home loss of the season with a 3-2 overtime victory. Grand Rapids fired a season-high 37 shots at the Chicago net and earned the win when Tomas Tatar patiently deked goaltender Eddie Lack alone in front of the net and lifted a backhander over the goaltender’s glove at 1:58 of the extra session. Veterans Nathan Paetsch and Jeff Hoggan also scored for the Griffins, who were helped out by Tom McCollum’s 29 saves.

Rapid Starts: The Griffins got out to quick starts in both home games last weekend, as Tomas Tatar scored against the Charlotte Checkers just 33 seconds into Friday’s game and Francis Pare scored 1:03 into Saturday’s contest versus the Rockford IceHogs. The team extended its lead to 4-1 early in the second period versus Charlotte on Friday, thanks to goals by Pare, Louis-Marc Aubry and Gustav Nyquist, who tied his career-high of three points by the end of the first period. However, the red-hot Charlotte power play scored three goals in 1:13 on a five-minute boarding major, and Chris Terry added shorthanded and empty net goals to seal the win for the Checkers. The following night, Rockford scored three third-period goals after the Griffins got out to a 3-1 lead, and Brandon Pirri struck just 58 seconds into the extra session to help the IceHogs to their third straight win.

Working Overtime: The Griffins’ busy weekend was extended by consecutive overtime games versus Rockford on Saturday and at Chicago on Sunday. The Griffins are tied with the Wolves for the most overtime games in the league with four, as two of just four teams (along with Rockford and Syracuse) that have played more than two overtime games. The Griffins have a 2-2 record in extra-session games, going 1-1 in both overtime (a 3-2 OTW on Sunday at Chicago and a 6-5 OTL on Saturday versus Rockford) and shootouts (a 4-3 SOW on Oct. 21 at Toronto and a 4-3 SOL on Oct. 13 versus Hamilton).

Close Calls: In addition to its league-high four overtime games, Grand Rapids has only had one game this season decided by more than one goal, the fewest in the AHL. The lone exception was Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Charlotte Checkers, which ended in a two-goal margin only after Chris Terry added an empty net goal with 1:03 to play in the third period.

There’s No Place Like Road: The road team has won six of the Griffins’ seven games this year, which is good news for a Grand Rapids team that plays each of its next three and five of its next seven away from home. The Griffins have posted a 2-1 record away from Van Andel Arena this season and have earned points in two of their four home contests, sitting 0-2-1-1.

Very Special Teams: The Griffins enter this week with a power play that is tied for fifth in the league after starting the season 8-for-32 (25 percent) on the man advantage. Grand Rapids’ power play unit has scored in five of its seven games, tallying a season-high three times in a 6-5 overtime loss to Rockford on Saturday and once in a 3-2 overtime win at Chicago on Sunday. The team has also been dangerous when down a man, currently tied for third in the AHL with two shorthanded goals.

New Masked Man: The Detroit Red Wings on Monday reassigned goaltender Petr Mrazek to the Griffins from the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye and reassigned goaltender Jordan Pearce to the Walleye from the Griffins. The 20-year-old Mrazek appeared in three games with Toledo, ranking among the ECHL’s top goaltenders with a 2.02 goals against average (14th) and a 0.944 save percentage (T5th) alongside his 2-1 record. Pearce, one of the Griffins’ all-time goaltending leaders with 72 games played (8th), 3,804:40 minutes (9th) and 1,738 saves (8th), shows an 0-3 record with a 4.38 GAA and a 0.847 save percentage in three appearances with Grand Rapids this season.

Welcome, Spiros: The Griffins on Monday announced the addition of Spiros Anastas to their hockey operations staff as analytics and advance scouting coach. Anastas, 27, got his coaching start with Lebanon Valley College, where he served as captain from 2006-10 before transitioning to player/assistant coach in 2009-10 and a volunteer assistant coach in 2010-11. The Mississauga, Ontario, native spent the 2011-12 season as a volunteer assistant/video coach for Western Michigan University, helping the Broncos to their second-ever CCHA championship and was hired by Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill before Blashill departed for an assistant coaching job with Detroit. In his new role, Anastas will be responsible for analyzing statistics for the Griffins and Detroit Red Wings, pre-scouting Griffins opponents, video-scouting potential free agents for the Red Wings and assisting Blashill, assistant coach Jim Paek and video coach Bill LeRoy in all hockey operations matters.

Unfinished Business: Left wing Tomas Tatar has picked up where he left off last season, recording eight points (4-4—8) in the team’s first seven games with an active four-game point streak from Oct. 21-28. The Ilava, Slovakia, native ended last season on a career-best scoring streak, posting nine points (5-4—9) over the team’s final seven games. The fourth-year pro has found the scoresheet in 14 of his last 17 games with Grand Rapids dating back to last season, racking up 20 points (11-9—20) in that span.

Red-Hot Rookie: Tomas Tatar has points in each of the team’s last four games, but he’s not alone. Also holding a team-best four-game point streak, and tied with Tatar for second in team scoring, is rookie defenseman Chad Billins, who has racked up eight assists over the team’s last four games. The Marysville, Mich., native was pointless through his first three professional games before notching three assists in his fourth career game on Oct. 21 at Toronto. Billins tallied two assists in each of the team’s home games last weekend versus Charlotte and Rockford and earned the primary helper on Tatar’s overtime goal on Sunday. The 23-year-old defenseman is tied for 17th in the AHL in points and third in assists. He also ranks second among AHL rookie defenseman and is tied for fourth among all rookies and for sixth among all defensemen.

Not So Fast: Gustav Nyquist thought his three-game point streak was snapped after not seeing his name on the scoresheet after Sunday’s 3-2 win at Chicago, but the AHL reviewed two scoring plays and credited him with assists on the Griffins’ opening goal by Nathan Paetsch and Tomas Tatar’s overtime goal to equal Tatar and Chad Billins’ team-best four-game scoring streaks. Nyquist, who set a franchise rookie record with 58 points (22-36—58) in 56 contests last season, leads the Griffins with nine points (4-5—9) in seven games after racking up eight points (4-4—8) over the team’s last four games.

Mr. 300: When he stepped on the ice for Friday’s contest versus the Charlotte Checkers, Francis Pare became the sixth player in franchise history to reach 300 games. Pare, who also ranks second all time in goals (83), sixth in assists (113) and fifth in points (196), has spent his entire five-year professional career with Grand Rapids and finished in the Griffins’ top-five scoring leaders in each of his first four seasons with the team. Pare joins Travis Richards (655), Michel Picard (364), Jamie Tardif (316), Derek Meech (304) and Ryan Oulahen (302) as the only Griffins in the 300 club. Four more points will help Pare become the fifth-ever Griffin to reach 200 points, joining Picard (380), Richards (238), Kip Miller (208) and Derek King (203).

More Milestone Men: Tomas Tatar scored his 66th goal as a Griffin 33 seconds into Friday’s contest versus Charlotte, which moved him past Jiri Hudler and into eighth place in franchise history. After scoring on Saturday and Sunday as well, Tatar currently sits one goal behind Matt Ellis (64) for seventh place. Additionally, Tatar passed Ellis (84) in assists last week and is now tied for eighth all time with Jeff Nelson at 87. His two-point performance on Sunday both moved him past Ellis (153) and Jamie Tardif (154) and into sole possession of seventh place in Griffins history with 155 points and served as his 100th assist as a pro. The fourth-year Griffin also improved to a seventh-place tie (with Kip Miller and Francis Pare) with 11 career game-winning goals and surpassed Logan Pyett (503) and Ryan Oulahen (504) to take ninth all time in shots with 508. Finally, Tom McCollum moved up the Griffins’ all-time goaltending leaderboard on Sunday, breaking a tie with Mathieu Chouinard and entering into an eighth-place tie with Jani Hurme with his 29th career win and surpassing Mike Fountain with 2,073 saves after his 29-save victory. McCollum can tie Fountain for sixth all time in games played with two more appearances and in minutes in 131:32.

Brendan vs. Reilly, Take 1: This Saturday’s contest at Texas will mark the first-ever meeting between the Griffins’ Brendan Smith and the Stars’ Reilly Smith, brothers who hail from Mimico, Ontario. Brendan’s third and final season in college with the University of Wisconsin in 2009-10 was Reilly’s first at Miami University, but the two teams did not meet that season. The younger Smith is in his first professional season, currently showing two assists in Texas’ first seven games. The brothers both made their NHL debuts last season, Brendan with Detroit on Nov. 17 at San Jose and Reilly with Dallas on March 28 at Edmonton.

Walleye Watch: In addition to Petr Mrazek, who’s 0.944 save percentage ranked fifth in the ECHL before being reassigned to Grand Rapids on Monday, several familiar faces continue to perform well for the Toledo Walleye. Andrej Nestrasil leads Toledo in scoring with seven points (4-3—7) in six games after a pair of two-point games over the weekend. Nestrasil, Willie Coetzee and Luke Glendening all scored in Toledo’s 5-1 win over the Trenton Titans on Saturday, with Mrazek making 33 saves to record the win. Glendening’s goal was his first as a pro, and he added his second the following night at Reading.

Scouting Report

Fri., Nov. 2 at San Antonio Rampage (2-4-0-1) – AT&T Center – 8:30 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 8:10 p.m. EDT. Web Casts: Video web cast at, free audio available through All-Time Series: 33-17-1-3-0 Overall, 17-9-0-1-0 Road. Season Series: First of four meetings overall, first of two in San Antonio. NHL Affiliation: Florida Panthers. Head Coach: Chuck Weber (2nd season). Notes: San Antonio made the playoffs for the third time in its 10-year history in 2011-12, defeating Chicago in a five-game series before losing to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals … Rampage goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris ranks among the AHL’s leaders with a 1.49 goals against average and a 0.952 save percentage) … San Antonio’s penalty killing is third-best in the league at 91.9 percent … The Rampage have struggled to produce offense, ranking 28th in the AHL in goals per game (2.00) with just 14 through seven contests and 30th with 23.57 shots per game … San Antonio has had a league-high nine rookie skaters suit up for them this season, including Drew Shore, who leads the team with five points (2-3—5) in seven games.

Sat., Nov. 3 at Texas Stars (3-4-0-0) – Cedar Park Center – 8 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 7:40 p.m. EDT. Web Casts: Video web cast at, free audio available through All-Time Series: 8-5-1-2 Overall, 3-3-1-0 Road. Season Series: First of four meetings overall, first of two in Texas. NHL Affiliation: Dallas Stars. Head Coach: Willie Desjardins (1st season). Notes: Texas finished last in the Western Conference in 2011-12 with a 31-40-3-2 record … The Stars have struggled on special teams this season by ranking last in penalty killing at 63 percent and 26th in power play at 10 percent … Texas ranks third in the AHL, allowing an average of 25.14 shots per game … Stars forward Antoine Roussel ranks third in the AHL with 45 penalty minutes … Only Cody Eakin (4) and Travis Morin (2) have scored more than one goal for Texas this season … Ten Stars saw time in the NHL last season, including Toby Petersen and Cam Barker, who spent all of 2011-12 in the NHL … Former Griffin Mike Hedden has one assist in six games for Texas this season.

Sun., Nov. 4 at Houston Aeros (4-2-1-0) – Toyota Center – 6:05 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 5:40 p.m. EST. Web Casts: Video web cast at, free audio available through All-Time Series: 36-32-6-3-7 Overall, 16-18-4-2-3 Road. Season Series: First of six meetings overall, first of three in Houston. NHL Affiliation: Minnesota Wild. Head Coach: John Torchetti (2nd season). Notes: Houston finished 35-25-5-11 in 2011-12 and lost to Oklahoma City in the opening round of the playoffs … The Aeros have had eight rookies suit up for them this season, five of whom rank among the AHL’s top 20 rookie scorers: Mikael Granlund (2nd), Charlie Coyle (T7th), Jason Zucker (T11th), Johan Larsson (T11th) and Jonas Brodin (T19th). Granlund leads the team and is tied for fourth in the league with 10 points (3-7—10) in seven games … Houston’s Darcy Kuemper, also a rookie, ranks fourth in the AHL with a 1.47 goals against average and is off to a 3-0 start this season … Aeros defenseman Marco Scandella is tied for the AHL lead with nine assists … Houston boasts the AHL’s fourth-best power play at 25.7 percent.

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