The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/19/13 at 02:46 AM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins captured what DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose notes is the first Wings AHL affiliate's championship since 1992 and the Griffins' first Calder Cup championship, period in what I'm still calling the tightest 5-2 win I've seen in ages--minus the empty-net goals, it was a 3-2 triumph--and the Griffins celebrated heartily (clicky for multimedia) before returning to Grand Rapids to take part on a Wednesday evening fan rally at Van Andel Arena.
The Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, New Holland Sentinel, Michigan Hockey's Michael Caples (with a spiffy "champs" picture from Jennifer Leigh) and the Crunch's website all provided narrative recaps; if you want to check the stats, the AHL's website provides the scoresheet, as well as a link to merchandise sales (the Griffins are selling championship merch, too), and in a slightly weird twist, the AHL's auctioning off the vast majority of game-used jerseys and game pucks from the Calder Cup Final, too.
The AHL's press-release style recap is where we'll start the discussion of "Series O"...
... The third time is the charm.
The Grand Rapids Griffins won their first Calder Cup on Tuesday night, defeating the Syracuse Crunch, 5-2, in Game 6 of the American Hockey League's championship series at the Onondaga County War Memorial at Oncenter.
The Griffins, who led the series 3-0 with two chances to close out the title on home ice, instead celebrated in front of a capacity crowd of 6,375 fans in Syracuse.
It is the first league title in the 17-year history of the Griffins franchise, including the last 12 as members of the AHL and the last 11 as the top development affiliate of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings.
Tomas Tatar, who scored twice in the Game 6 clincher, won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the Calder Cup Playoffs after totaling 21 points -- including a league-best 16 goals -- in 24 games.
Under first-year head coach Jeff Blashill, the Griffins eliminated the Houston Aeros (3-2), Toronto Marlies (4-2) and Oklahoma City Barons (4-3) before defeating Syarcuse in the Finals. Grand Rapids' 2013 playoff roster featured eight players who appeared in the NHL with the parent Red Wings this season.
After staving off elimination with road wins in Games 4 and 5, the Crunch got on the board first on Tuesday with 2:45 left in the first period as Richard Panik pounced on the rebound of Matt Taormina's shot at the top of the crease and buried it behind a fallen Petr Mrazek. It was Panik's fifth consecutive game with a goal, and his ninth goal of the postseason.
Grand Rapids made it 1-1 at 2:23 of the second period as Mitch Callahan got a couple of whacks at a pass from Landon Ferraro and finally chipped it past Cedrick Desjardins.
The Griffins grabbed the lead, 2-1, on a power play with 7:19 to go in the period as Tatar banged home the rebound of a Gustav Nyquist shot.
The third period opened at a furious pace, and with their season on the line the Crunch tied things up at 2-2 with 14:46 left as Andrej Sustr blasted a one-timer from the center point off a pass from Vladislav Namestnikov.
Brennan Evans' long shot from the left-wing point got through traffic and beat a screened Desjardins with 10:06 remaining, giving the Griffins a 3-2 lead. It would prove to be the Cup-winning goal.
Tatar and Joakim Andersson added empty-net goals in the final minute to seal the 5-2 victory and the first Calder Cup championship by a Red Wings affiliate since 1992.
Mrazek (15-9) stopped 24 of 26 shots in the victory, while Desjardins (13-5) finished with 20 saves on 23 shots in defeat.
Grand Rapids’ victory brings the curtain down on the AHL’s 77th season. In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marked the 12th consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans attended AHL games across North America.
And the Griffins provided a similar recap:
The Calder Cup belongs to the Calder City!
The first championship in the Griffins’ 17 seasons, as well as the 27-year history of professional hockey in Grand Rapids, was secured on Tuesday with a 5-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
Tomas Tatar, who scored twice in the Game 6 clincher, won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the Calder Cup Playoffs after totaling 21 points -- including a league-best 16 goals -- in 24 games.
All of West Michigan is invited to join in the Griffins’ championship rally on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Van Andel Arena. Doors open at 5, and the first 3,000 fans will receive a Griffins Calder Cup Champion t-shirt.
A tightly contested opening period that featured few scoring chances for either team saw the Crunch cash in once to take a lead into the intermission. At the 17:15 mark, Petr Mrazek moved to his right to make a save, but after he slid too far out of his crease, Brennan Evans tried in vain to keep a point-blank whack by Richard Panik out of the net.
The Griffins tied it 2:23 into the second period. Mitch Callahan took a pass from Landon Ferraro low in the left circle and, while being knocked to the ice, chipped the puck over Cedrick Desjardins and into the top of the net.
After Grand Rapids killed off back-to-back penalties to Jeff Hoggan and Evans, its own power play put the visitors ahead 2-1. The Griffins deftly passed the puck around the perimeter until Gustav Nyquist sent it on net from the top of the right circle. Desjardins managed to get his right pad on it, but Tatar was waiting to pop the rebound into the cage at 12:41.
A four-minute high-sticking penalty to Nathan Paetsch on Ondrej Palat with just 28 seconds left in the period presented the Crunch with a great opportunity to tie or take the lead, something they mostly squandered 1:09 into the first penalty when Brett Connolly tripped Ferraro early in the third.
Still, Syracuse soon knotted the score at two, when Andrej Sustr’s one-timer from the point sailed past a screened Mrazek at the 5:14 mark, igniting the overflow crowd of 6,375.
The partisan throng was decidedly less enthusiastic 4:40 later, when Evans’ wrist shot from the left point found its way through a sea of bodies and into the back of Desjardins’ net, putting the Griffins ahead once again at 3-2. Mrazek then made that lead hold with a pair of spectacular saves with less than eight minutes showing on the clock.
Tatar and Joakim Andersson added empty-net goals in the final minute to seal the 5-2 victory.
Mrazek won his 15th game of the postseason by stopping 24 shots. Desjardins made 20 saves.
Notes: Today’s game date marked the latest in the 77-year history of the AHL…Hoggan, Evans and Chad Billins each played in his 100th game of the season…The last Detroit Red Wings affiliate to win the Calder Cup was the 1991-92 Adirondack Red Wings.
We must address the Crunch's devastation after the vast majority of the Norfolk Admirals' roster were unable to defend their 2012 Calder Cup title, and CNY Central's Tom Eschen reports that the Crunch were indeed crushed by their loss...
"It kills you, this is what we trained for all year," Crunch captain Mike Angelidis said. "To come up to this moment and fall short like this is tough, especially in front of our fans. We wanted to give our fans something they can remember, and it's tough not only for us but for our community and this city."
Crunch head coach Rob Zettler said this Crunch team was the closest-knit group of guys he has coached, and that their family-like atmosphere helped their confidence, even after falling down 3-0 in the series.
"To win four seems like a daunting task, and to make history sounded like a daunting thing to say when we're down 3-0," Zettler said. "We just needed to try to chip away at it one game at a time. We were going about it the right way, we just ran out of steam and ran into a good team. They played well."
"First and foremost, they deserve congratulations. They did a lot of good things. They played well,'' said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "It's a shame we couldn't get it done for the city of Syracuse, and our organization.''
The Griffins again played a perfect road contest, jamming up the Crunch and making safe, smart plays. Most of all, Grand Rapids wears the crown because of its poise -- it shrugged off a 1-0 Syracuse lead and barely batted an eye when the Crunch tied the game at 2-2 in the third. They played better than us in the key games, and that's what hurt us,'' said Syracuse goalie Cedrick Desjardins.
"It's tough. It's really tough,'' said Syracuse captain Mike Angelidis. "You compete that long in the season, it kills you (to lose). We wanted to give them something to remember.''
Syracuse pushed the season until June 18, the latest calendar date an AHL game has ever been played, and through 94 regular season and playoff contest. The players themselves will, in time, likely remember the season in which they earned the Crunch's first Finals appearance with warmth.
But that feeling is a long ways off now. Crunch defenseman Mark Barberio was one of the many sobbing players in the team's locker room.
"They (Grand Rapids) are obviously a good team. It was a fitting final,'' Barberio said. "I'm so proud of these guys (the Crunch). They never gave up. Even tonight, we battled hard. It's a cruel game sometimes. It hurts.''
The Post-Standard's Bud Poliquin found Zettler to be particulary perplexed by how the game--and series--went down:
"It was weird," offered Rob Zettler, the Crunch coach who'd come awfully close to presiding over a sporting miracle. "The guys worked their tails off, but I just never felt like we played our best. That may be because of what Grand Rapids was doing. I'm talking overall. The feel of the series. We had our spurts, for sure. But, generally, I just didn't feel like we were at our top. There could be any number of reasons for that."
You must understand that before the puck was dropped on Tuesday, this had been nearly as strange as a series could be because the home team -- whether in Central New York or Michigan -- had lost four of the five contests played.
So for those who feared omens, who believed past often becomes prologue, there was a reason to gaze on between cracked fingers inside the creaking barn. Regardless, the Crunch, to a man, wouldn't have traded the circumstances of being in its own rickety joint before all those screamers who were hoping that the metaphorical winter would never end.
Down, three games to two, and facing the end of their campaign? Didn't matter to Zettler's boys, who'd been dangling off the Calder Cup Finals cliff by a dandelion almost since the best-of-seven match had begun nine days earlier. And on Tuesday, with some 10 minutes to play, Game No. 6 was tied at 2-2 . . . and the gritty Syracuse bunch had the Griffins right where it wanted them.
"We scored the second one," Zettler said of Andrej Sustr's laser from near the blue line that made it 2-2 in the third period, "and the vibe was good on the bench. The building was rocking. I thought we were good after that second goal, to be honest with you."
Turns out, they weren't. Grand Rapids' Brennan Evans tossed in a bomb right around that 10-minute mark to make it 3-2, which was awful. And a couple of empty-netters later, the Calder Cup was being hoisted right there on the War Memorial ice by those strangers from what was once Gerald Ford's hometown, which was worse.
"I wish," Zettler sighed, "that it could have been us out there."
But I'm not up at 2 AM to talk about the Crunch, and the Associated Press's recap serves as our pivot point, allowing us to shift from the Crunch's perspectives to those of the Griffins' players and coach:
"We'll do it wherever," Griffins coach Jeff Blashill told Time Warner Sports. "We knew it was going to be a real hard series. We knew Syracuse had the heart of a champion. Those are tough close-out games, for sure. Our fans will enjoy this just as much. I know our guys are obviously enjoying it. It's well deserved by our guys – just a great group of character guys."
The Crunch had the only goal of the first period, as Richard Panik beat Mrazek at 17:15 for his ninth goal of the playoffs to give the Crunch a 1-0 lead. But Grand Rapids, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, tallied a pair of goals in the second as Mitch Callahan scored at 2:23 off a feed from Landon Ferraro before Tomas Tatar beat Cedrick Desjardins (20 saves) via the power play at 12:41.
Syracuse, the top minor-league affiliate for the Tampa Bay Lightning, evened the score at 2-2 at 5:14 of the third period on Andrej Sustr's second goal of the postseason.
Tatar sealed the championship for Grand Rapids with an empty-net goal at 19:11 of the third. Joakim Andersson added another empty-net goal with six seconds left. Tatar, Detroit's second-round pick (No. 60) at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, finished the Calder Cup Playoffs with 16 goals and 21 points and was named the Most Valuable Player of the AHL's postseason.
Only three teams in AHL history have rallied to win a playoff series after losing the first three games. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins became the third when they did it against the Providence Bruins in the second round this year. It has never been done in the Calder Cup Final.
"There was definitely some scary moments, going home and not being able to close it out in front of the home fans," Evans said. "But this is the way we've done things all year – the hard way. It's just a testament to the character of these guys and the great job the coaches did."
Grand Rapids Press provided superb coverage of the Griffins' win. With some seriously dedicated fans cheering them on, the Griffins won in clutch fashion, as the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner notes in a quote-less recap, and afterward...
Things got weird in the best manner possible, as Wallner noted...
It was just after a rookie party at the beginning of the year when members of the Grand Rapids Griffins first sang the old song, "Hey, Baby."
On Tuesday, it became the celebration song of the team's first AHL championship to secure the Calder Cup.
"I don't know how it happened, but this has just become our song, and that just tells you something about this team," said defenseman Brennan Evans. "I've been on a lot of teams where something like this would never happen. It's special just to be a part of it."
Evans scored the go-ahead goal Tuesday as the Griffins defeated Syracuse 5-2 to win the series in six games.
And he pointed out that the Griffins won their championship via wild and woolly journey to the top:
“Excuse me,” Hoggan said, pausing an interview to just watch his teammates take turns on the ice with the trophy and exchange embraces. “This is what it’s all about. This is the best part.”
Then there was Tomas Tatar, named the series MVP, with 16 postseason goals. He drank champagne out of the cup in the locker room as teammates sang.
“This whole organization is just the best,” he said. “No one could have asked for a season like this.”
In typical fashion, the Griffins waited until the third period to win it. Brennan Evans, who didn’t have a goal in the regular season, got the eventual game-winner with 9:54 to play.
“Crazy game, isn’t it?” Evans said with a smile, drenched in champagne in the locker room.
You’d think they would have gotten tired. The Griffins played 24 out of a possible 26 postseason games to equal the highest percentage possible, set by the Portland Pirates in 1996. That’s just the postseason. As for the improbable, take a deep breath at this adventure:
The Griffins hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2009; had a first-year coach in Jeff Blashill; started the season 0-3-1; dealt with an embarrassing drunk driving arrest of first-year player Riley Sheahan that attracted international headlines; lost some of their best players to the Red Wings during the season … and still won the Midwest Division with the third best record in the Western Conference.
And then, in the playoffs (suck it in again): They needed all five first-round games to dispose of Houston, needed six of seven and a return bus ride to eliminate Toronto, endured a tornado and a seven-game series (plus a postponement) against Oklahoma City, all for the right to face Syracuse, a juggernaut that had won 11 of 12, hadn’t lost on the road and had 10 players who had won the trophy last year with Norfolk.
To make it Griffins-like, they lost twice over the weekend and headed back to Syracuse, this time by plane thanks to the Red Wings, and then eliminated the best from the Eastern Conference before a sellout crowd of 6,375. It wasn’t the most even ride, but it was completed just like you'd expect. It won’t soon be forgotten.
Somehow, Michigan Hockey's Matt Gajtka snagged some serious quotes from a jubilant Griffins locker room, noting that the Griffins are the first Grand Rapids pro sports team to EVER capture a championship...
“This is so fulfilling,” said team captain Jeff Hoggan amid a raucous celebration on the ice after the final buzzer sounded. “It’s a special group. We were tested throughout the year, but we were confident and persevered. Now we get to share this for a lifetime.”
“This has been such an enjoyable journey,” said first-year Griffins coach Jeff Blashill, a Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., native. “Life’s all about moments and I’m really excited for the players. All the games [in this series] were extremely close. We were able to put a couple plays together in the end to win it.”
Grand Rapids took the first three games against Syracuse, including a pair of wins in upstate New York to start the matchup, before the Crunch held off elimination twice at Van Andel Arena to bring the series back east.
“We were a little deflated to have to come back here, because Grand Rapids has been waiting so long for this,” said Hoggan, who also won an AHL title with Houston in 2003. “It would’ve been special to win at home, but in the end, people aren’t going to look back and wonder where we won it. This belongs to the city forever.”
21-year-old Griffins rookie goalie Petr Mrazek showed how much he’s grown by standing up to fierce Crunch pressure. The 6-foot-1 Czech, who started the year in the ECHL with Toledo before quickly ascending Detroit’s organizational depth chart, used his athleticism and poise to squelch multiple late scrambles around his crease.
“Petr’s been great all season with the game on the line,” said Blashill of Mrazek, who finished with 24 saves. “He’s been a huge part of our success.”
“Everybody played their role on the team this year,” said Tatar, Detroit’s second-round draft pick in 2009. “We have a great coaching staff and a great organization. I’m glad I could help do this.”
“I knew right from the start we had a lot of character on this team,” said Blashill, the former Ferris State goalie whose remarkable coaching career includes time as a Red Wings assistant, a head coaching spot at Western Michigan University and a previous championship in the USHL with the Indiana Ice. “I’m happy for the ownership of this team, all the employees who’ve put in so much work over a long period of time. It’s been unreal to have the opportunity to coach some great talent in a great city like Grand Rapids.”
And yes, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson spoke to Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom, who described the win as "sick." Amongst the highlights of his interview:
"It's completely, outrageously fantastic," said a cheering Gustav Nyquist when SportExpressen.se spoke with him on the bus, two hours after the final whistle.
"It's *#$%@& amazing," said Jocke [Andersson]
With a 5-2 win away from home in Syracuse, they took home the Calder Cup.
"We seem to like this rink, three wins in three games here during the final," said Gustav Nyquist.
The team's third Swede, the defenseman Adam Almquist, didn't play due to an injury.
"But Adam was awesome in the playoffs and a big part of this championship," said Gustav in a complimentary tone.
Grand Rapids could have closed this final series out a week ago when it had a 3-games-to-none lead. But the Syracuse Crunch came back strong and won two games in Grand Rapids.
"They were close games between two great teams. Gustav and I played in Grand Rapids during the lockout, of course, so it was easy to get back into the middle of things in the playoffs and be part o the team again. We belonged to the Griffins for more than half the season," said Joakim.
The sixth meeting in the finals was tied going into the third period, before the Griffins decided its outcome.
Brennan Evans gave the visitors a 3-2 lead at the 9:54 mark.
Then the "Swedish line" got to work:
• Slovak Tomas Tatar pushed the lead to 4-2 with an empty-net goal at the 19:11 mark.
• And Joakim Andersson set the final score with 6 seconds left, scoring into the empty net.
"It was great for Jocke and me to be involved and contribute points tonight. But this was a great team effort, and that's why we're bringing the Calder Cup back," says Gustav.
So it's a good way to end the season after all?
"Yes I think it'll take a while before I understand how big this is. Right now we'll just enjoy it. It's amazing how much fun this is," says Gustav.
Andersson and Nyquist came in and reinforced the Griffins after the Red wings were knockd out o the Stanley Cup playoffs against Chicago in the second round.
The Griffins trailed 2-1 in games to Edmonton's farm team, the Oklahoma City Barons. The Swedish duo gave the Griffins a boost and they turned the tide in the series.
Last night, they became AHL champions.
"It was a really tight game, so we had to work hard for our victory and Cup win, which makes it even more fun to celebrate now," says Nyquist in the bus on the way to the airport in Syracuse for the return trip to Michigan.
Is it worth the short holiday, and will you return to Sweden this summer?
"My God, yes. There's going to bea celebration in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, and then I'll go to Detroit, and will pack before the trip home to Sweden sometime this weekend," says Joakim.
Andersson spoke to Aftonbladet's Per Bjurman, too:
"It's sick," said Andersson to Sportbladet after the crucial 5-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch.
Yes, the Grand Rapids Griffins--Detroit's farm team--salvaged their AHL title last night.
And it was time, they kept on saying.
They had a 3-games-to-none lead in the final against the Syracuse Crunch--the affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning--and expected to decide it at home in Michigan last weekend.
They lost two games in a row, however, and fans began to fear that the Crunch would stage a historic comeback.
But in Syracuse last night, they finished it. The Griffins played a brillian game, won 5-2 and became the champions.
"It showed above all the remarkable character of our team. We didn't take the easy route, but we found ways to win. And right now it feels absolutely sick," a cheerful Jocke Andersson said when we reached him after the victory.
He and Gustav Nyquist had, as usual, a role in the decision. Andersson scored the last goal into an empty net and also registered an asist, and "Gus" had two assists. For the Swedish duo last night's triumph was also a revenge of sorts given what happened in the Stanley Cup playoffs with Detroit.
"Yes, absolutely. It was really hard when we lost with the Red Wings, but I played with Gustav and the Griffins for more than half of the season, so it was easy to get back into the team and go for it," says Jock.e
Defenseman Adam Almquist didn't play last night, but he can call himself a Calder Cup champion, too.
An AHL team's roster changes in a hurry.
We know that Nyquist, Andersson, Tatar and Danny DeKeyser will all play for Detroit next season, and that the Wings have to make a decision on Brian Lashoff and his one-way deal.
The Wings want to sign Luke Glendening and possibly Chad Billins to NHL contracts.
Jan Mursak is, for better or worse, headed to Khabarovsk, Russia, to play for Amur of the KHL.
Jeff Hoggan may retire, Triston Grant, Nathan Paetsch, Brennan Evans and Brett Skinner are all AHL-only signed veterans who may pursue better opportunities to play in the NHL elsewhere.
The Wings probably won't bring back UFA-to-be Francis Pare, and they're probably going to qualify Jordan Perace or Tom McCollum, cutting ties with a first-round draft pick as Jared Coreau and Mrazek will be the team's goalies next season.
Players like Trevor Parkes, Willie Coetzee, Andrej Nestrasil and Gleason Fournier, who spent the majority of the season with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye, have to establish themselves at the AHL level, or they'll be facing the same fates as Pare, Raedeke, Pearce and McCollum.
The Griffins' blueline is jam-packed with Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, Alexei Marchenko and Richard Nedomlel all turning pro, Max Nicastro returning and Billins possibly playing for the team, and they'll want to sign a veteran or two, too.
Up front, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Landon Ferraro are surely going to be called up next season as injury replacements, and they must step up as leaders with Tatar, Andersson and Nyquist graduating; Mitch Callahan needs to keep improving as a gritty Tootoo-style grinder, Louis-Marc Aubry needs to reestablish himself as a power center in the making, Brent Raedeke has one more chance to prove that his size won't hold him back as a gritty 4th line center, and while Teemu Pulkkinen's going to require an AHL internship, and we don't know whether the team will decide that Calle Jarnkrok's better-served as a first-line center at the AHL level or working his way up the Wings' roster as it's so crowded up front.
And we all know that Jeff Blashill will be speaking to Jim Nill regarding the Dallas Stars' vacancy soon. If he leaves, it's entirely possible that Jim Paek may replace him after half a decade of service as an assistant coach, and we may or may not see Chris Chelios eventually join the team's coaching staff, too.
It's June 19th, and starting on July 5th, NHL'ers and AHL'ers alike are free agents. Ryan Martin faces a huge challenge as the Griffins' general manager, attempting to deal with massive roster turnover and attempts to defend a championship going forward, all while balancing the Griffins' needs with the fact that their primary purpose is to develop the Wings' prospects while filling Van Andel Arena on a regular basis.
But the next couple of days are about celebrating and cherishing the Griffins' amazing accomplishments over this past season. They'll have time to worry about what happens later in a couple of days.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.