The Afternoon Shift – April 4

Preview of coming attractions?

The final weeks of a hockey team’s regular season have little in common with the holiday season, except in one respect: this is the time of year when teams like the Griffins get to peek under the paper and get a glimpse of the treasures they’ll be unwrapping for a future roster.

Players whose junior or college seasons end prematurely often sign amateur tryouts with AHL clubs to get their toes wet in the pro game. Not unlike Griffins who join the Detroit Red Wings as “black aces” during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, these young players are brought in to soak up everything about the game at this level, to help make their future transitions easier. And often times, they have their training wheels removed, get inserted into the lineup and are expected to contribute.

Several current Griffins got their first taste of pro hockey in this fashion, including Joakim Andersson, Willie Coetzee, Cory Emmerton, Brian Lashoff, Jan Mursak, Jordan Pearce and Brent Raedeke. More recently, two-time Hobey Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist left Maine to sign with the Griffins on March 25, and he promptly registered points in each of his first three games with Grand Rapids.

Today, the Griffins welcomed another such player in Petr Mrazek, a highly touted OHL goaltender who was Detroit’s fifth pick in the 2010 draft and has been praised as perhaps the best netminder in the history of the Ottawa 67’s franchise. With the Griffins’ playoff aspirations down to their final strike in the bottom of the ninth, it’s anyone’s guess whether the young phenom will get a chance to strut his stuff this week.

If he does, he’ll break Thomas McCollum’s record and become the youngest goalie to ever play for Grand Rapids (19 years, two months to McCollum’s 19 years, nine months in Oct. 2009). If he doesn’t, he’ll do his best impression of a sponge while whetting the appetites of coaches and fans for what the future has in store.

As a side note, way back during their affiliation with the Ottawa Senators (1999-2002), the Griffins made two of their most intriguing late-season additions ever. Jason Spezza, who as the No. 2 overall pick in 2001 still stands as the highest-drafted player in Grand Rapids history, made his pro debut during the 2002 Calder Cup Playoffs, scoring one goal in three appearances. He has since registered 190 goals and 525 points in a solid 523-game NHL career.

The other addition can’t be found on the Griffins’ official all-time roster, simply because he never played a game during his tryout. Before he began a star-crossed career that has included leading Ottawa to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals and spending the 2008-09 campaign in exile in the KHL, current Anaheim Duck Ray Emery signed an amateur tryout with Grand Rapids on April 10, 2002.

While Emery was days removed from being named the top goalie in all of junior hockey, he was relegated to the stands by the presence of First Team AHL All-Star Martin Prusek and understudy Simon Lajeunesse, who together with Mathieu Chouinard claimed the AHL’s award for outstanding team goaltending.

Today’s Griffins links:

AHL/opponent links:

Alumni news and notes:

Video – NHL alumni goals:

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