The Afternoon Shift – Dec. 9

Naughty or nice? / Photo by Getty Images

Peace on earth and goodwill to men? So much for that.

Former Griffins Matt Ellis, Ville Leino and Chris Neil were at the center of separate NHL incidents on Wednesday in which fists, elbows and sticks to the gut were exchanged in lieu of gifts. And our friends at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog give us a little insight into each.

Two occurred during Buffalo’s 5-4 overtime loss to Philadelphia. The Sabres’ Ville Leino put an elbow to the head of Matt Read while stealing the puck early in the third period, incurring no penalty on the play but since drawing a one-game suspension — the first of his career — from NHL warden Brendan Shanahan.

More surprising, perhaps, was a fight involving Ellis, who is obviously a gritty and hard-nosed player but who had not dropped the gloves since his rookie season with the Griffins, when he fought Utah’s Brett Draney on Jan. 9, 2004.

Ellis’ bout was not without cause, as he came to the defense of Nathan Gerbe, who was crushed into the boards from behind by the Flyers’ Marc-Andre Bourdon. The consummate teammate, Ellis immediately rushed in to deliver some retribution during his first NHL scrap.

Fighting, of course, is usually the province of Neil, a bruiser who led Grand Rapids in penalty minutes during both 1999-00 and 2000-01, and who still stands fourth on the club’s career chart with 655 PIM. During the Senators’ 5-3 home loss to Washington, Neil was on the receiving end of a subtle but unmistakable spear from Alex Ovechkin after delivering a hard check to the Caps’ star in the corner.

But in a referee’s decision no doubt influenced by their relative statures and reputations, it was only Neil who would receive a penalty. Despite the fact that he was forced to leave the game for a short time, Neil was assessed a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty for diving, while Ovechkin escaped punishment for his misdeed.

For all those kids fearful of receiving nothing but a stocking full of coal as a result of their behavior during the past year, perhaps that can serve as a ray of hope.

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The Afternoon Shift – Dec. 2

Yet another example of our impeccable timing...

Sports Illustrated and the Madden NFL video game have their infamous cover curses. By contrast, our beloved Griffiti magazine has a not-as-well-known cover blessing.

For one issue, at least.

Griffins leading scorer and Livonia native Chris Conner was called up by Detroit late Wednesday night and will make his Red Wings debut tonight when they visit Buffalo at 7:30 p.m.

Conner, a former member of the Pittsburgh Penguins whose 23 points (6-17–23) for Grand Rapids place him sixth in the AHL’s scoring race, will become the Griffins’ 122nd NHL alumnus on the same night that he debuts as the cover boy for this season’s second issue of Griffiti. Writer Mark Newman provides an intriguing profile of the undersized forward who has had an oversized impact on the Griffins this season.

For the uninitiated, there are several ways to experience Griffiti in addition to the print editions that are distributed free at every home game. Every issue since the start of the 2010-11 campaign is available in its entirety in digital form at issuu.com, and the feature articles from every issue dating back to 2001-02 can be found at griffinshockey.com. Also, smartphone users can access Griffiti video interviews and other YouTube content via QR codes found within the magazine.

Happy reading!

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The Afternoon Shift – Nov. 29

Gather 'round to honor the Griffins' top performers. / Photo by Bobby Pulte

Nineteen games — exactly a quarter of the AHL’s reduced 2011-12 schedule — have already passed for the Griffins, and based on production totals thus far, several players are on an early pace to make their marks among the franchise’s all-time single-season statistical leaders.

To no surprise, leading scorer Chris Conner is poised to stage the largest assault on the record books, with three team records and two other top-10 rankings in his sights. Most notably, Conner’s 16 assists put him on track for 64, which would break Jiri Hudler’s six-year-old standard of 60.

Jamie Johnson already has scored 10 goals, just two shy of his 78-game production last season. If he can sustain his lamp-lighting prowess, he would join Donald MacLean (56 in 2005-06) and Michel Picard (46 in 1996-97) as the only Griffins to tally 40 goals in a season. Along the way, he could also set a team record for shooting percentage, as his current 27.8 rate is a full seven percentage points north of MacLean’s 20.7 mark from his MVP campaign.

Goaltender Joey MacDonald has missed the last three and a half weeks with a concussion after being freight-trained by Charlotte’s Chris Terry on Nov. 5, and his return is still likely a couple of weeks away. The injury has forced an unfortunate intermission into one of MacDonald’s best seasons ever, as his 2.17 GAA and 0.930 save percentage each rank fifth in the AHL. If maintained, both figures would place within the Griffins’ top 10, while with two shutouts in just nine appearances, MacDonald could shatter the single-season record of six achieved by him and four others if he can get healthy and return soon.

Also worth mentioning is Gustav Nyquist, whose 56-goal and 80-point paces would each fall within the top 10 in team history. Nyquist’s 20 points tie him for second among AHL rookies and leave him only 12 points shy of cracking the Griffins’ top-10 single-season rookie scoring list. Even more incredible, his projected 80 points would obliterate the franchise record for a rookie (55), set by Glen Metropolit way back in 1997-98.

Without further ado, here’s the Griffins’ honor roll for the first quarter:

Player Current Total Projected Total Projected Rank
Chris Conner 16 assists 64 1st
  23 points 92 3rd
  2 shorthanded goals 8 1st
  2 first goals 8 T5th
  2 unassisted goals 8 1st
Garnet Exelby 89 penalty minutes 356 3rd
Jamie Johnson 10 goals 40 3rd
  3 power play goals 12 T7th
  3 first goals 12 1st
  27.8 shooting percentage 27.8 1st
Joey MacDonald 2.17 goals against average 2.17 7th
  0.930 save percentage 0.930 T2nd
  2 shutouts 8 1st
Gustav Nyquist 14 assists 56 2nd
  20 points 80 T9th
Tomas Tatar 65 shots 260 3rd

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The Afternoon Shift – Nov. 23

It's truly better to give than to receive. / Photo by Mark Newman

‘Tis the season of giving — Thanksgiving, to be specific, at least until the madness that is Black Friday begins — and the Griffins are asking all fans to consider giving generously to at least one of several fantastic causes that they’re supporting this holiday season. From soup cans to teddy bears, toys to moustaches, and bracelets to dining experiences, the team is making it fun and rewarding to give to some very deserving individuals and organizations.

Dinner With a Griffin – As a benefit for the family of fallen Walker Police Officer Trevor Slot, the Griffins are offering fans the chance to “Win Dinner with a Griffin,” an all-expenses-paid experience with two Griffins players at a downtown restaurant. During all November home games, fans can visit the Griffins Booster Club table on the Van Andel Arena concourse to purchase a $10 raffle ticket for a chance to win either of two unique dining experiences that will be awarded through separate raffles:

• Dinner for two with defensemen Greg Amadio and Doug Janik at Leo’s Restaurant on Monday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m., or;

• Dinner for two with forwards Mitch Callahan and Tomas Tatar at Big O’ Café on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.

The winning tickets will be drawn on Dec. 2 and the winners notified on Dec. 3. Thanks to generous donors who are paying for the meals, all proceeds from the raffle ticket sales will go directly to the family of Officer Slot, who was killed on the line of duty on Oct. 13 and is survived by his wife, Kim, and their two daughters, Katelyn and Abigail. To date, more than 120 raffle tickets have been sold.

A Movember to Remember – Griffins defenseman Greg Amadio and right wing Mitch Callahan have been going face-to-face in a month-long Movember moustache battle to help raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.

The two have joined numerous hockey players and thousands of men around the world in foregoing their clean-shaven ways, attempting instead to nurture a stylish moustache throughout November. And while the hirsute Amadio all but locked up victory over the fresh-faced Callahan on day 1 of that competition, he’s had to rally past the impressive rookie in their Internet fundraising battle.

Callahan, who was inspired to participate after his grandpa was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, jumped out to an early lead of several hundred dollars over Amadio and currently stands at $535. Not too shabby. But it’s been all Amadio over the last week, as the veteran is now at $910 and counting. Let’s not split hairs, though…both players have been fantastic in their support of this cause.

If you’d like to contribute,  visit Amadio’s fundraising page at mobro.co/gregamadio or Callahan’s at mobro.co/mitchcallahan.

Teddy Bear Toss – The annual tradition returns to Van Andel Arena this Friday when the Griffins take on the Oklahoma City Barons. Bring a new store-tagged teddy bear or stuffed animal to throw on the ice when the Griffins score their first goal. All stuffed animals — usually more than 1,000! — will be collected and donated to Hug-A-Bears of Kent County.

Let’s Can Hunger! – The Griffins and Cornerstone University’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program will be hosting a can drive this Sunday starting at 4:30 p.m. as part of Campbell’s Let’s Can Hunger Challenge. SIFE strives to raise awareness and translate awareness to action in the form of urgent hunger relief. Fans can donate canned goods in the lobby and at the SIFE table on the concourse through the second intermission. Donate a canned food item and you will receive a voucher good for $1 off an upper bowl or $2 off a lower bowl ticket.

Toys For Tots  – Now through Dec. 13, the Griffins’ office on the east side of Van Andel Arena is serving as an official drop-off site for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign. Through the gift of a new toy, Toys for Tots provides happiness and hope to children who might otherwise be overlooked during the holiday season. The toys and funds collected in West Michigan are used to purchase toys locally, and all toys are then distributed to needy children in our community.

Love for Lokomotiv – The wives and girlfriends of Griffins players – a.k.a the “Better Halves” – are selling $10 “Love for Lokomotiv” silicone memory bracelets on the concourse during all Saturday games this season. All proceeds benefit Love for Lokomotiv, a foundation established to support the families of the victims of the tragic Sept. 7 plane crash in Russia that claimed the lives of 44 people, including former Griffins Pavol Demitra, Karel Rachunek and Stefan Liv. Over 190 bracelets have been sold to date.

On behalf of the entire Griffins organization, best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Afternoon Shift – Nov. 1

Preview of coming attractions? / Photo by Getty Images

Should he make his Red Wings debut as expected tonight against Minnesota, Gustav Nyquist will become the 118th Griffins alumnus to play in the NHL. Detroit is looking for some offensive punch and, with enough ice time, the help of linemates Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, plus a little luck, Nyquist could certainly provide that. He could also accomplish something that precious few players in Griffins franchise history ever have.

Fifty-eight of Grand Rapids’ 117 NHL alumni made their NHL debut after first playing for the Griffins, including 47 skaters. Of those, only four tasted the sweet icing of their first NHL goal while taking their first bite of the NHL cake, and all of them did it as members of the Red Wings.

The Griffins began play in October 1996, but wasn’t until nine years later — Oct. 5, 2005 — that a Grand Rapids alum lit the lamp in his NHL debut, when Brett Lebda did the honors in Detroit’s 5-1 win over St. Louis. He accomplished what 22 skaters who preceded him could not.

By comparison, the other three occurrences have come in relatively lightning-quick fashion, starting with Ville Leino, who scored the first goal in 4-2 loss at Washington on Jan. 31, 2009.

Amazingly, the last two Griffins to score in their NHL debut were the last two Griffins skaters to make their NHL debut.

Last New Year’s Eve, Tomas Tatar’s third-period goal forced overtime in an eventual 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders. Three weeks later, on Jan. 22, Cory Emmerton scored the first goal — Detroit’s only tally — in a 4-1 setback against Chicago.

Nyquist’s chances of becoming No. 5 seem pretty strong given his fast start with the Griffins (four goals, five assists in nine games), his expected linemates and anticipated power play time tonight, and the fact he scored three goals and added two assists in five preseason games with Detroit. He authored two goals and an assist in a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh in the preseason finale on Oct. 2 — his last game with the Winged Wheel on his chest. 

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The Afternoon Shift – Oct. 27

"...114, 115, 116..." / Photo by Mark Newman

A Griffins franchise record that once switched hands every two years is on the cusp of being broken again — perhaps for the final time? — more than seven years since its last ownership change.

Grand Rapids’ 3-2 shootout win at Oklahoma City last Saturday marked Curt Fraser’s 116th victory as the Griffins’ head coach, tying him with Danton Cole for first place all time. Following Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Houston, he’ll get his second shot at breaking the deadlock tomorrow, when the Abbotsford Heat visit Van Andel Arena for a 7 p.m. start.

Once achieved, Fraser’s new standard should remain intact for a very long time, given the transient nature of AHL head coaching positions. Consider:

  • Fraser’s 247-game tenure with Grand Rapids is already unique, in that it is more than a half-season’s worth of games ahead of any other bench boss in Griffins history (Cole’s 208 games);
  • Only one other head coach, Greg Ireland (192 games), logged more than two seasons of service with the club;
  • The AHL has gone to a 76-game schedule, after the Griffins had played 80 games per season from 2001-11 and 82 per year while members of the IHL (1996-2001). Fewer games obviously mean fewer opportunities to earn wins.

For the record, here are the career numbers for all eight head coaches in Griffins franchise history:

Head Coach Tenure GC W L T OTL SOL PTS PCT Record Win
Dave Allison 6/27/96-3/3/98 144 70 55 19 159 0.552 (70) 3-2 W vs. IND 2/26/98
Bob McNamara 3/3/98-7/8/98 20 8 6 6 22 0.550 n/a
Guy Charron 7/8/98-6/29/00 164 85 62 17 187 0.570 (71) 4-3 SOW 
at Mich 3/10/00
Bruce Cassidy 7/17/00-6/25/02 162 95 49 11 4 3 208 0.642 (86) 2-1 W vs. UTA 2/16/02
Danton Cole 6/26/02-2/10/05 208 116 72 16 3 1 252 0.606 (96) 4-3 OTW at SA 10/24/04
Greg Ireland 2/10/05-6/15/07 192 109 65 8 10 236 0.615 n/a
Mike Stothers 7/18/07-6/18/08 80 31 41 2 6 70 0.438 n/a
Curt Fraser 7/23/08-Present 247 116 102 11 18 261 0.528 TBD

None of the four previous record-setting wins was by more than a single goal, including two that required extra time. But as they say, nothing worth having ever comes easy.

Good luck on getting No. 117 tomorrow, Fraz!

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The Afternoon Shift – Oct. 24

Forrest rests on the bench between shifts.

Seven games into the 2011-12 season, the Griffins are much like Forrest Gump’s famed box of chocolates. We don’t know what we’re gonna get.

This is partly to be expected, due to the season’s youth. But it is also a byproduct of two of the campaign’s early themes: suspense and suspensions.

Never before has a Griffins team gone so deep into a season — relatively speaking — with so few games at Van Andel Arena. The game this Friday, Oct. 28 against Abbotsford will mark the latest date ever for the Griffins’ second home appearance, and this is also the only season ever in which they played six of their first seven games in hostile territory.

The Griffins’ season will be 21 days old this Friday when they skate out for game No. 2 before the Grand Rapids faithful, having already returned from a season-high five-game road trip. Unless you’re a fanatic supporter who traveled to Rockford, Rochester, Hamilton, Oklahoma City or Houston, or you’ve watched any of the road games on AHLLive.com, you’ve seen less of your team at this point of the season than any Griffins fans ever. 

The wai-ai-tin’ is indeed the hardest part, but your patience has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated, and it will be rewarded as the Griffins play four of their next five, nine of their next 12, and 11 of their next 15 within friendly confines.

At 3-4-0-0, the Griffins have yet to post either a winning streak or a losing skid this season, as they’ve lost every odd-numbered game on their schedule but won every even-numbered contest…good news, no doubt, for anyone attending this Friday’s game. Of course, we can’t guarantee a victory, and neither can we promise that you’ll see the Griffins’ roster in its full glory, as they have yet to see all expected regulars in the lineup at the same time this season.

The AHL’s long arm of the law piggybacked Brendan Smith’s five-game NHL suspension with three games of its own, keeping the 2010-11 AHL All-Rookie Team defenseman in the stands for Grand Rapids’ first three games. Meanwhile, a Mitch Callahan hit in Hamilton last Tuesday earned the rookie four games in the clink, the last of which he’ll serve this Friday.

That 3-0 win against the Bulldogs was the only game so far this season during which a Griffins player was not serving a suspension, but they still skated at less than full strength due to injuries sustained by Travis Ehrhardt and Landon Ferraro on Oct. 16 at Rochester. That game will be remembered not just for two Amerks players who drew suspensions for their actions (Marcus Foligno and Jonathan Parker) but also for one who didn’t. Ferraro remains sidelined after being injured by Corey Tropp, who leveled Ferraro with a blindside hit in the slot but escaped suspension when the AHL ruled that the contact was accidental.

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