Grand Rapids will play its first two road games this weekend, both against former division rivals. Having moved to the Midwest Division this summer after playing in the North Division since 2005-06, the Griffins will make their only visit of the season to Rochester on Friday at 7:05 p.m. and the first of two trips to Toronto on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Close Calls: The Griffins opened the 2012-13 campaign with a 3-2 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals last Friday and a 4-3 shootout loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday. The Griffins got out to an early lead in their home opener thanks to goals by Joakim Andersson and Landon Ferraro, but Milwaukee cut into the lead before Patrick Cehlin scored his first two AHL goals in the third period to give the Admirals the win. The following night, it was the Griffins who bounced back, rallying from a two-goal deficit with second-period goals from Trevor Parkes and Francis Pare against Hamilton. The Bulldogs regained the lead early in the third period with a goal from Gabriel Dumont, but Jeff Hoggan tallied his first goal as a member of the Griffins to force extra time. Tom McCollum, who made 33 saves, stopped three of four shooters in the shootout, but Robert Mayer stopped all five Griffins as the Bulldogs skated away with the victory.
That Makes 17: A crowd of 10,834 took in the Griffins’ season-opening loss to the Milwaukee Admirals last Friday night, representing the 17th consecutive season that the team has sold out its home opener and serving as the AHL’s third-largest opening weekend crowd. Grand Rapids ranked 6th out of 30 teams in attendance in 2011-12 while achieving an average attendance increase for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Griffins will return to Van Andel Arena for back-to-back games versus Charlotte (Oct. 26) and Rockford (Oct. 27).
Hoggan’s Heroes: Prior to last Friday’s home opener versus Milwaukee, the Griffins announced that Jeff Hoggan will serve as the team’s captain for the 2012-13 season. A native of Hope, British Columbia, Hoggan signed with the Griffins on Tuesday after attending training camp on a tryout. A veteran of 413 AHL contests and 107 NHL games, Hoggan has made minor-league stops in Houston (where he won a Calder Cup in 2003), Worcester, Providence and San Antonio and NHL stops in St. Louis, Boston and Phoenix. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward spent the last two seasons in Germany with Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg and Hannover of the DEL. Veteran defensemen Nathan Paetsch and Brennan Evans will serve as alternate captains at home, while third-year Griffins Brian Lashoff and Joakim Andersson will wear that letter on the road.
For Starters: Grand Rapids is now 10-4-2-1 all time in season openers, having earned points in eight straight debuts (5-0-2-1) before dropping its second straight opener with a 3-2 loss to Milwaukee last night. The Griffins hope to improve on their 10-4-2-0 record in road openers when they play their first road game of the season against Rochester on Friday.
Pro Debuts: Three Griffins rookies appeared in their first professional games over the weekend. Defenseman Chad Billins and forward Tomas Jurco each played their first AHL contest on Friday versus Milwaukee, while defenseman Max Nicastro made his professional debut on Saturday versus Hamilton.
Francis’ Firsts: Only Michel Picard (158) has scored more goals with the Griffins than Francis Pare (81), who is in his fifth season with the franchise. If history has any say in it, Pare is in good shape to cut into Picard’s lead after scoring in the team’s second game of 2012-13 on Saturday. Whenever Pare has scored his first goal early in the season – his first game of 2008-09 and the third game of 2010-11 – he has ended up with 24 goals. The Lemoyne, Quebec, native had slow starts in his other two seasons, missing from the scoresheet until the 22nd game of 2009-10 and until the 13th of 2011-12, ending up with just 16 goals in each season.
Practice Makes Perfect: Jeff Blashill left an impression after his first two games as the Griffins’ head coach, making an immediate difference in the team’s specialty teams units. The Griffins finished 22nd in the AHL in power play efficiency (15.5%) and 21st in penalty killing (81.8%) last season, but both units got out to a good start in 2012-13. The team converted two of seven power play opportunities (28.6%), which ranks sixth in the AHL, and killed off 12 of 13 penalties (92.3%) – including 5-on-3 man advantages in each game – to place ninth in the league.
Shorthanded Advantage: Not only did the Griffins’ penalty killing unit start the season strong by killing off 12 of 13 opportunities (92.3%), but it contributed offensively by scoring a shorthanded goal in each game last weekend. Landon Ferraro capitalized on a breakaway to give the Griffins a two-goal lead on Friday, and Trevor Parkes got the Griffins on the board with a shorthanded tally on Saturday versus Hamilton. Ferraro earned an assist on Parkes’ goal to make him the only player in the AHL with two shorthanded points on the season, as the Griffins were the only team in the league to record two shorthanded goals.
Climbing the Ladder: Francis Pare is three games shy of becoming the sixth player in franchise history to play in 300 games and six points away from becoming the fifth Griffin to reach 200 career points. Pare will tie Jiri Hudler for fifth place with his first assist of the season, as he currently sits at 113 … Tomas Tatar can also move up the franchise’s all-time leaderboards, as he will move into an eighth-place tie with Hudler (65) with his next goal and surpass Matt Ellis (84) for sole possession of ninth place all time with his next assist
Walleye Watch: Last Tuesday, four players who skated with the Griffins during training camp joined the Toledo Walleye, as the Red Wings reassigned Petr Mrazek, Willie Coetzee and Andrej Nestrasil to their ECHL affiliate, while the Griffins assigned Luke Glendening. The foursome helped the Walleye skate away from their home opener with a 4-1 win over the Kalamazoo Wings on Saturday night. Mrazek was named the first star of the game, making 33 saves and coming within 3:16 of recording a shutout in his professional debut. He currently owns the ECHL’s top save percentage (0.971) and fourth-best goals against average (1.01). Nestrasil factored in on three of the four goals (1-2—3) to earn the third star of the game, and Coetzee recorded a goal of his own while piling up a team-high seven shots on goal.
Fri., Oct. 19 at Rochester Americans (1-1-0-0) – Blue Cross Arena – 7:05 p.m.
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsChannel (RCH/BUF) at 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: 32-21-1-1-3 Overall, 13-14-0-1-1 Road. Season Series: First of two meetings overall, only meeting in Rochester. NHL Affiliation: Buffalo Sabres. Head Coach: Ron Rolston (2nd season). Notes: The Griffins will meet the Americans only one other time this season (Dec. 19), having faced Rochester at least six times per year dating back to 2005-06 … Ten players who have suited up for the Amerks this season have NHL experience, including Cody Hodgson and Kevin Porter, who played the entirety of the 2011-12 season in the NHL…At 6-foot-8 and 249 pounds, Rochester defenseman Joe Finley is the tallest and heaviest player in the AHL … Amerks forward Zemgus Girgensons joins the team after becoming the highest drafted Latvian ever when Buffalo selected him 14th overall in June. The second-youngest player in the AHL, Girgensons (Jan. 5, 1994) is 15 days older than Norfolk’s Hampus Lindholm (Jan. 20, 1994) … Rochester forward Frederick Roy is the son of Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy … Griffins defenseman Nathan Paetsch was a member of the Americans from 2003-06 and briefly in 2010-11, having been a member of Buffalo’s organization from 2003-10 … Grand Rapids forward Triston Grant also played for Rochester in 2010-11, recording 13 points (7-6—13) and 144 penalty minutes in 56 games … Rochester forward Evan Rankin had two points (1-1—2) in 10 games for Grand Rapids in 2010-11.
Sun., Oct. 21 at Toronto Marlies (1-1-0-0) – Ricoh Coliseum – 3 p.m.
TV: Leafs TV at 3 p.m. Radio: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 2:40 p.m. Web Casts: Video web cast at AHLLive.com, free audio available through woodradio.com. All-Time Series: 26-21-2-1 Overall, 11-12-1-1 Road. Season Series: First of four meetings overall, first of two in Toronto. NHL Affiliation: Toronto Maple Leafs. Head Coach: Dallas Eakins (5th season). Notes: The Marlies went 11-2 in the 2012 postseason en route to capturing the Western Conference championship before being swept in the Calder Cup Finals by Norfolk … Toronto returns a large chunk of the offense that helped it reach the finals, including 11 of its top 15 regular season scorers, and signed Keith Aucoin, who tied for fourth in the AHL with 70 points (11-59—70) in 43 games with Hershey in 2011-12…The Marlies also return goaltender Ben Scrivens, who boasted an AHL-best 2.07 goals against average as well as a 0.926 save percentage (5th) last season … Defenseman Mike Kostka joined Toronto this summer after scoring an overtime goal against the Marlies with Norfolk in the Calder Cup finals … Grand Rapids was 4-3-1 against Toronto in 2011-12 … Griffins defenseman Brennan Evans had eight points (1-7—8) and 199 penalty minutes with Toronto in 2009-10.