GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Two-goal nights by Riley Sheahan and Brendan Smith powered the Griffins to their fourth consecutive victory on Friday, a 5-3 triumph over the Rockford IceHogs at Van Andel Arena.
Trailing 2-1 early in the first period, the Griffins scored four of the game’s last five goals, and rookie netminder Petr Mrazek finished strong with 27 saves to improve to 4-0. Mrazek, who can tie the record for best start as a Griffin by winning his next decision, has backstopped Grand Rapids during every game of its current winning streak.
Now 6-4-1-1 overall and 2-2-1-1 at home, the Griffins will close out the week on the road against the Peoria Rivermen on Saturday in an 8:05 p.m. EST start at Carver Arena.
The Griffins struck just 2:10 into the game when Sheahan potted Francis Pare’s centering pass on the doorstep, but the IceHogs soon took the lead by scoring twice in a span of 36 seconds. Shawn Lalonde’s deflection beat Mrazek at the 5:40 mark, before Brandon Saad finished off a breakaway by unveiling an impressive deke to score his first pro goal.
Grand Rapids finished out the frame with two goals of its own to take a 3-2 advantage into the intermission. In a goal that was originally credited to Sheahan and later corrected, Smith’s shot from the left side caromed off a Rockford stick and past Carter Hutton at 12:40. Later, less than a minute after Gustav Nyquist sustained a hard hit from Philippe Paradis along the boards and left the game, the Griffins gained a measure of revenge on the second goal by Sheahan, who collected a loose puck atop the left circle and quickly whipped it into the back of the net at 16:42.
The teams exchanged long-range goals early in the second period, with Smith getting his second at 4:37 on a blast from the top of the right circle during a power play to put the Griffins ahead 4-2. Then, after Rockford’s Kyle Beach was assessed a match penalty for checking Smith in the head, it was the IceHogs (5-5-0-1) that scored shorthanded during Grand Rapids’ extended power play, as Jimmy Hayes seemed to surprise Mrazek on an innocent-looking shot at 7:50.
The remainder of the game was scoreless until Pare added an empty-netter at 19:52 of the third for the final margin, extending his goal-scoring streak on home ice to a team-high and AHL-leading five games. More impressive, his third point of the night gave him 200 points as a Griffin, a milestone previously reached by only four players: Michel Picard (380), Travis Richards (238), Kip Miller (208) and Derek King (203).
Mrazek is just the third goalie ever to start his Griffins career 4-0, standing one victory shy of the standard set by Mathieu Chouinard and Ty Conklin. The precocious 20-year-old puck-stopper boasts a 1.71 goals against average and a 0.940 save percentage, each of which ranks fifth in the AHL.
GAME NOTES: After notching another assist tonight, rookie defenseman Chad Billins now leads the entire league with 12 assists.
THREE STARS: 1. GR Smith (two goals); 2. GR Sheahan (two goals); 3. RFD Hayes (SH goal, two assists)