The Afternoon Shift – Sept. 1

Steve Yzerman and Pavel Datsyuk take part in the puck drop prior to the 2003 Red & White Game at Van Andel Arena. / Photo by Mark Newman

The upcoming Labor Day weekend, the calendar’s turn to September and the return of the Afternoon Shift following a long summer’s slumber all mean one thing: another hockey season is rapidly approaching.

In just nine days, the puck will drop on the annual NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, while the Detroit Red Wings’ main training camp will commence there on Sept. 17. But more significant to West Michigan hockey fans, the Red & White Game — once a near-annual occurence at Van Andel Arena — will return to Grand Rapids on Sept. 27 for the first time in eight years.

In the event’s most recent edition, on Sept. 18, 2003, goals by Hugo Boisvert and Nathan Robinson led the Red Team to a 2-1 victory. A capacity crowd of 10,834 saw Red goalie Dominik Hasek return from his one-year retirement to stop all 15 shots he faced in a period and a half of work.

It’s no surprise that the Red Wings’ organizational depth chart looked a lot different back then. Gone from Detroit’s roster are names like Yzerman, Chelios, Hull, Shanahan, Draper, Maltby, McCarty, Legace and Hatcher, while the Griffins’ participants included franchise greats like Richards, Picard, King, Kopecky and Bootland. In fact, only seven players from the 2003 game are candidates to appear in the 2011 version: Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom, Joey MacDonald and Henrik Zetterberg.

That game, which followed versions in 2002 and 2000, preceded the start of the Griffins’ second season of affiliation with the Red Wings, their third year as members of the AHL, and their eighth season overall. Oh, to be young again.

Since that date — on which President George W. Bush had a 58% job approval rating and the average national price for a gallon of gas was a mere $1.64 — the Griffins have had four head coaches and have sent 62 players on to the NHL, while their fans have consumed enough dollar hot dogs on Fridays to stretch from Muskegon to Holland. (And on a personal note, that game was 15 days before the birth of this humble author’s son, who’s now a third-grader.)

Yes, to borrow from the great Boston song, it’s been such a long time since the Red Wings played an intrasquad game in our town, which is why you should secure your tickets as soon as possible. If you don’t already have or aren’t in the market for a Griffins full or partial season ticket package — both of which include an option to purchase Red & White Game tickets before the general public — don’t risk it and wait until the Red Wings put tickets on sale. Hockeytown West Packs start at just $109 and include either two or four tickets to both the Red & White Game and the Griffins’ Oct. 14 home opener, along with Griffins flex tickets. Visit griffinshockey.com for complete details.

Today’s Griffins links:

AHL link:

Alumni news and notes:

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