The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/08/13 at 01:58 PM ET
Updated 3x at 3:39 PM: As Paul noted, the Calder Cup Final between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Lake Erie Monsters begins tonight (7 PM EDT, AHLLive.com; Game 2 takes place tomorrow at 6 PM EDT), and the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner reports that no gnus is good gnus (with Gary Gnu) from the Griffins' morning skate...
The Grand Rapids Griffins held a final late-morning skate at War Memorial Arena before tonight’s start of the Calder Cup Finals against Syracuse. The routine game-day light skate went for about an hour, and followed a similar short workout by the Crunch.
The teams meet in Game 1 at 7 p.m. Game 2 will be 6 p.m. Sunday before the series moves to Grand Rapids.
“I think guys are feeling a little better getting a chance to just get out there today, work up a little sweat, get the toxins out of the body,” said Griffins center and captain Jeff Hoggan. “I think we’re prepared. We had good meetings yesterday, guys are excited and I think everyone’s just itching to get started.”
Most of the players last night when back to the hotel after afternoon practice, went to a movie or went to the mall, Hoggan said.
“Everyone took it easy,” he said.
But there's bad news on the Syracuse Crunch's injury front, as the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer noted:
Syracuse Crunch coach Rob Zettler confirmed the obvious on Saturday morning when he said that battering ram defenseman Radko Gudas will not play in tonight's Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals in the War Memorial.
Zettler indicated that Gudas is also likely out for Game 2 on Sunday. Gudas suffered a leg or knee injury in the closing minutes of the Crunch's Eastern Conference series-clinching win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday. Gudas has not skated all week, although as he watched practices in workout clothes he didn't show any signs of a wrap or splint on the injured area.
"We'd prefer to have him in the lineup. I'm sure the other team would prefer to not have him in the lineup,'' Zettler said. "We have a lot of guys who can do the job. I'm very confident of the guys who can step in there.''
Zettler said he's leaning toward dressing 12 forwards and six defensemen, instead of the 11-7 breakdown he's been using.
The 12th forward would likely by rookie grinder Cedric Paquette, who would team up with Philippe Paradis and Philip-Michael Devos on a sandpaper fourth line.
Many of the Griffins have never played in the War Memorial, a smaller rink that often vexes skill teams who come in and try to navigate its quirky dimensions.
The Griffins are 11-7 in this postseason, having played the equivalent of a full series more than the Crunch (11-1). Syracuse is the first team to reach the Finals with just one loss since Rochester (11-1) in 1996.
Update #1: The Grifins' YouTube Channel posted a game-day preview:
Update #2: The Griffins posted a series preview as well...
If you're interested, the Syracuse Post-Standard's Katrina Culloch discussed the finer points of the Calder Cup itself, the Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer noted that there's something of a coaching connection between the two teams--sort of...
Jon Cooper coached the Crunch for much of the season before getting hired as bench boss in Tampa Bay in March. One of his very best friends in hockey is...Grand Rapids head coach Jeff Blashill. If not for an unforeseen turn of events with the Lightning, Blashill and Cooper would be squaring off for the Calder Cup.
"Could you imagine? The perfect storm, he and I going against each other,'' Cooper said Friday.
Cooper and Blashill go back many years. Blashill used to work as an assistant at Ferris State, and he recruited some of Cooper's players out of junior hockey. The two also coached against each other in the United States Hockey League.
Blashill said Cooper called to congratulate him after the Griffins won the Western Conference finals, and joked that Cooper trashed-talked him about their run coming to an end against the Crunch.
"You know Jon. Of course he talked trash,'' Blashill said. "I've never known him to be diplomatic. Or he's definitely not diplomatic with his buddies.''
"They (Grand Rapids) play that Detroit style, which is a skill game, but they also have that grit to them and compete extremely hard.
"I'd never been in the Syracuse arena (before this season). That first period, I'd never seen our own team respond like that. They were in awe of the Crunch and the building. After that game, everything I had heard about that team was exactly true. They are a gritty, know-how-to-win team.
"When you win, and you've learned to win (in Norfolk last season), it has an amazing effect on your group. Syracuse is like that. It will be an interesting series. Both goaltenders (Syracuse's Cedrick Desjardins and Grand Rapids Petr Mrazek), to me, have played very well.
"The one thing with Syracuse is they should be fresh with the amount of games they've played (12, vs 18 for Grand Rapids). It doesn't sound like much. But it's a lot at this time of year.
"I wouldn't be comfortable making a prediction. But it will be a good series. One team (Syracuse) has done it and knows how to do it. If there was an advantage, that would probably be it.''
TampaBayLightning.com's Brittany Zion posted a slate of game-day notes...
Paquette's Debut: The Lightning's 2012 fourth-round draft pick from Gaspe, Quebec made his AHL debut during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals last week. Paquette also logged some time in Syracuse's series-clinching win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday. The 19-year-old rookie signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on May 3, 2013.
The Bearded Crunch: Several members of the Crunch team are sporting signature playoff beards as they gear up for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday night. When asked about his facial hair, Tyler Johnson said, "It's way better than last year's (beard), but I still have a wimpy mustache."
One of the most infamous beards is that of defenseman Radko Gudas who was noticeably absent from the team's morning skate on Friday. Gudas was injured in the second period of the Crunch's 7-0 Eastern Conference Finals win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last Saturday and did not return to the game.
Gotcha, Coach! A large copy of head coach Rob Zettler's headshot from his '92 - '93 season with the San Jose Sharks was spotted hanging behind the team bench during Friday's morning skate. A Crunch player who asked to remain anonymous said the photo is part of a series of lighthearted pranks planned for the week. Zettler played 16 seasons as a defenseman in the NHL before beginning his coaching career.
As did the Crunch's website...
Game 1: (E3) Syracuse Crunch vs. (W3) Grand Rapids Griffins
7 p.m. at War Memorial Arena, Syracuse, N.Y.
The Syracuse Crunch open up their first Calder Cup Finals series in franchise history with Game 1 Saturday at the War Memorial againt the Western Conference champion Grand Rapids Griffins. The Crunch are 11-1 in the Calder Cup Playoffs, three more wins than any of their previous postseasons, defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games for the Eastern Conference title. The Grand Rapids Griffins, seeded third in the Western Conference, are 11-7 in the playoffs, and have won two winner-take-all games, Game 5 in the first round vs. Houston and Game 7 in the Western Conference Final against Oklahoma City.
Coverage: Tickets are available for Saturday and Sunday by calling the Crunch office at 315-473-4444 or online at Ticketmaster. Time Warner Cable Sports Channel broadcasts tonight's game live at 7 p.m. with Dan D'Uva calling the play-by-play (Ch. 19, HD 813). Online video is available for free on AHL Live for every game of the Calder Cup Finals. Register for free access by using the promo code CALDER2013.
Listen to live play-by-play on The Score 1260 and iHeartRadio with pregame coverage starting at 6:45 p.m. The radio broadcast will also be carried by SiriusXM NHL Network (XM 92 & Sirius 207). After the game, join Dan D'Uva and a guest in the War Memorial basement for “The Shootout Show” airing on The Score 1260. For in-game updates on Twitter, follow @SyracuseCrunch and broadcaster @Dan_Duva. For post-game recap, visit http://www.SyracuseCrunch.com and join the conversation on Facebook.
The Griffins are led by left wing Tomas Tatar (11g-5a-16pts), right wing Tomas Jurco (7g-6a-13pts), and center Luke Glendening (5g-8a-13pts). Jurco has goals in three straight games, and points in four-in-a-row. Regular season leading scorer, Gustav Nyquist rejoined the team after a playoff stint with the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL. He has two points in four playoff games with the Griffins. Grand Rapids also got Joakim Andersson and Danny DeKeyser from the Red Wings. In goal, Petr Mrazek has played in all 18 games for the Griffins, posting an 11-7 record with a 2.18 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. The rookie has four shutouts, including a pair in the Western Conference Final against the Barons.
With an 11-1 record this season, Cedrick Desjardins has set a new record for goalie wins in one postseason. 11 victories during the 2013 postseason is a Crunch franchise best. The previous best was 1996 when Syracuse was 8-8, losing to Rochester in the Conference Final, 4-1. Mike Fountain's eight victories in '96 was the previous mark.
With a win last Saturday, the Crunch moved to 43-42 in their Calder Cup Playoff history, and are above .500 during postseason play for the first time since their first postseason in 1996.
14 Crunch players had at least two points against the Pens in the Conference Finals. Mark Barberio led the Crunch with six points, including three assists in the Game 5 clincher. He's now second among defensemen in playoff scoring, with ten points. Tyler Johnson has points in back-to-back games. It's the first time he's registered points in two straight games since scoring points in six straight games to start the playoffs.
Vlad Namestnikov has a three-game scoring streak (2g, 1a) for the first time in his professional career. He scored his first playoff goal to open the scoring in ECF Game 3, May 29 in Wilkes-Barre. That marker stood as the game-winner, the first of Namestnikov's pro career. The rookie had 21 points (7g, 14a) in 44 regular season games.
With two assists in Game 5 against W-B/Scranton, Ondrej Palat extended his league lead in postseason scoring at 20 points. Palat's 15 postseason assists are also tops in the league.
Andrej Sustr also had three assists Saturday in Game 5, his first career three-point effort. A feat not accomplished since May 5, 2008 when Zenon Konopka registered three assists (and a goal), the 2013 Crunch have five times equaled the franchise record of three assists by one player in a playoff game: Palat, Apr. 27; Taormina, May 2; Palat, May 11; Barberio and Sustr, June 1.
And TheAHL.com offered game-day notes as well:
2013 Calder Cup Finals - Game 1 - 7:00 ET
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsChannel, ESPN America
Webcast: AHL Live (free offer)
The Calder Cup Finals return to Syracuse for the first time in 75 years as the Eastern Conference champion Crunch host the Western Conference champion Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 1 of the AHL's best-of-seven championship series tonight... The Crunch (founded in 1994) and Griffins (joined the AHL in 2001) are both in the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in their histories... The Syracuse Stars were the first league champions in 1936-37 and lost in the Finals in 1937-38, but no Syracuse team has gotten this far since... Both of these clubs were division champions and the 3-seed in their conference coming out of the regular season... The Crunch, winners of 11 of 12 games during the postseason after sweeping Portland and Springfield and ousting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in five games, are the first team to reach the Finals with just one loss since Rochester (11-1) in 1996... Grand Rapids outlasted Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals with a 5-4 win in Game 7 on Wednesday, reaching the Finals with an 11-7 record... The Griffins also went the distance with Houston in the best-of-five first round, and disposed of Toronto in six games in round two... The Crunch outscored the Penguins 16-4 over the last four games of their conference final series... Ondrej Palat (5-15-20) is tied for the AHL playoff scoring lead, with Tyler Johnson (9-8-17) three points behind... Tomas Tatar (11-5-16) is Grand Rapids' postseason scoring leader followed by Tomas Jurco (7-6-13), who scored the series-winning goal late in Game 7 vs. Oklahoma City, and East Grand Rapids, Mich., native Luke Glendening (5-8-13)... With Chad Billins (2-9-11) and Riley Sheahan (2-9-11) tallying 11 points each, four of the Griffins' top eight playoff scorers are first-year pros, as is starting goalie Petr Mrazek (11-7, 2.18, .921), who has recorded four shutouts in 18 playoff starts after posting one whitewash in 42 regular-season contests... Both Mrazek and Syracuse's Cedrick Desjardins (11-1, 1.86, .920) had two shutouts during the conference final round... After Gustav Nyquist (1-1-2) and Joakim Andersson (1-3-4) rejoined the lineup from Detroit for Game 4 vs. OKC, the Griffins scored 15 goals in four games and went 6-for-14 on the power play (after starting the series with five goals in three games and 0-for-9 on the PP)... Syracuse is averaging 4.00 goals per game in the playoffs while allowing just 1.91 goals per game... In Calder Cup Finals history, the Game 1 winner has gone on to take the series 75 percent of the time (57 of 76).
2013 Calder Cup Finals – Series “O” (best-of-7)
E3-Syracuse Crunch vs. W3-Grand Rapids Griffins
Game 1 – Sat., June 8 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
Game 2 – Sun., June 9 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 6:00
Game 3 – Wed., June 12 – Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., June 14 – Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 15 – Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 18 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 7 – Thu., June 20 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern
About Last Night...
The Boston Bruins won the Prince of Wales Trophy and earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, completing a four-game sweep... Adam McQuaid, who played three seasons with the Providence Bruins (2007-10) and reached the AHL's conference finals in 2009, scored the only goal in Game 4 while 2008 AHL All-Star Tuukka Rask made 26 saves for the shutout... Boston will face the winner of the Western Conference Finals between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Game 1 Histories
The home team (higher seed) is 13-7 in the opening game of the Calder Cup Finals since 1993, but 5-7 since 2001:
2012 - NORFOLK 3, Toronto 1
2011 - HOUSTON 3, Binghamton 1
2010 - Texas 2, HERSHEY 1
2009 - Hershey 5, MANITOBA 4 (OT)
2008 - CHICAGO 5, W-B/Scranton 4
2007 - Hamilton 4, HERSHEY 0
2006 - MILWAUKEE 2, Hershey 1
2005 - Philadelphia 1, CHICAGO 0
2004 - MILWAUKEE 2, W-B/Scranton 1 (OT)
2003 - Houston 2, HAMILTON 1
2002 - Chicago 5, BRIDGEPORT 4 (OT)
2001 - W-B/Scranton 4, SAINT JOHN 3
2000 - HARTFORD 1, Rochcester 0
1999 - PROVIDENCE 4, Rochester 2
1998 - PHILADELPHIA 3, Saint John 2 (2OT)
1997 - HERSHEY 4, Hamilton 2
1996 - ROCHESTER 5, Portland 3
1995 - ALBANY 4, Fredericton 3
1994 - PORTLAND 5, Moncton 1
1993 - ROCHESTER 5, Cape Breton 4 (OT)
There have been 13 overtime games played in the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs so far... Road teams are 10-3:
Apr. 26 - Texas 3, MILWAUKEE 2 (Brett Ritchie, 11:44)
Apr. 26 - Charlotte 4, OKLAHOMA CITY 3 (Brody Sutter, 3:06)
Apr. 27 - SPRINGFIELD 2, Manchester 1 (Cody Bass, 10:36)
Apr. 27 - W-B/Scranton 3, BINGHAMTON 2 (Chad Kolarik, 8:18)
Apr. 27 - SYRACUSE 4, Portland 3 (Richard Panik, 6:36)
Apr. 28 - Hershey 5, PROVIDENCE 4 (Jon DiSalvatore, 3:05)
Apr. 28 - SPRINGFIELD 3, Manchester 2 (Cody Bass, 18:44)
*May 1 - Toronto 3, ROCHESTER 2 (Will Acton, 5:14)
*May 2 - Syracuse 4, PORTLAND 3 (Ondrej Palat, 19:43)
*May 4 - Springfield 4, MANCHESTER 3 (Nick Drazenovic, 8:06)
May 9 - Oklahoma City 2, TEXAS 1 (Anton Lander, 1:28)
May 15 - Providence 2, W-B/SCRANTON 1 (Carter Camper, 0:31)
May 20 - W-B/Scranton 2, PROVIDENCE 1 (Trevor Smith, 3:26)
*indicates goal ended series
From the Griffins' side of things, the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner noted that http://www.AHLLive.com is streaming the game if you a) register and b) use the promotional code, "CALDER2013," and Wallner got to hang out with the Calder Cup, too...
Wallner offered pluses and minuses regarding the series at hand, and I'd prefer to accentuate the positive...
• The top line of Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar is back and better than ever. The return of Andersson, the burly center, and Nyquist, the shifty right winger, from the Detroit Red Wings made all the different in the Oklahoma City series. And Tatar was already on a roll with 11 goals in the postseason. In four games back together, they have combined for four goals and five assists. Plus, with them back, the power player has surged, too. Grand Rapids has gone 6-for-14 as opposed to 0-for-9 in the first three games. Coincidence?
• The Griffins have persevered. There were back-to-back losses to Oklahoma City, followed by a tornado in that city that postponed the next game. The blew Game 6 and a chance to clinch on Tuesday, but came back to win in the third period in Game 7 on Wednesday. They’ll need all the perseverance they can find against Syracuse.
• What? The penalty kill in this category? Yep. The Griffins were near the bottom - 29th out of 30 teams - on the penalty kill during the regular season, and had their down moments in the opening two rounds. But against the Barons, it was impressive. Oklahoma City, with the top power play in the league, was 1 of 24 the final five games. And the goal was on a five-on-three.
Wallner's game-day story involves the fact that the Griffins' players believe that their team's glue guy...Is in fact their coach...
“He’s made a huge difference,” said Gustav Nyquist, the Griffins leading scorer the past two seasons. “He’s been a great coach for us this year, and helped a lot of us younger guys become more prepared for the NHL.”
How much credit should Blashill get?
"The majority of it," said Jeff Hoggan, the Griffins' captain. "You keep talking about leaders, but he's the main leader. He prepares the most, keeps everyone playing at the top level. He's just really well prepared and well spoken. He says the right thing at the right time."
“Curt Fraser was a terrific coach and there are many explanations for not getting into the playoffs,” said Ryan Martin, assistant general manager of the Red Wings. “But when he left, I remember Ken (Holland) and Jim (Nill, the assistant GM at the time) talking about Jeff as the ideal coaching candidate. We just weren’t sure how he’d receive the invitation.”
Blashill and the Griffins had little chance to work together. The usual September training in Traverse City among Red Wings and prospects was postponed by the growing strife in NHL labor negotiations at the time. When Grand Rapids opened camp Oct. 1, Blashill met many of the players for the first time. That scenario played out elsewhere in the AHL, but a new coach taking over a playoff-less team made it a bigger challenge.
To his advantage, Chris Chelios stayed in Grand Rapids most of the season while the lockout was in place to work with defensemen. Other former Red Wings, such as Chris Osgood and Kris Draper were around daily, as were Holland and Babcock.
There were early mistakes. Goalie Petr Mrazek was sent down to Toledo at the end of camp, and the team began the season 1-4-0-1. In early November, the team had to deal with the bizarre super drunk driving arrest of center Riley Sheahan, who was pulled over wearing a purple teletubby costume. But Mrazek arrived in November and thrived, as did hard-working center and Grand Rapids native Luke Glendening, each of whom were called up from Toledo. Sheahan even bounced back to get on a roll in February.
At the end of the year, the Griffins had taken over first in the Midwest Division. They never relinquished it, despite the shuffling of players to the injury-riddled Red Wings once the NHL season finally started.
“I think he helped a lot because he was in Detroit last year and he knows what it takes to be a full-timer in Detroit,” said Nyquist, who was one of eight Griffins this season who spent time with the Red Wings. “He knows the systems very well, and it’s great for us younger guys to learn from him and be a part of this.”
And the Grand Rapids Press's Dean Holzwarth offers a statistical comparison of the teams' "leaders" and stats, too.
Update #3: From the Bolts' website, here's the Crunch's morning skate report in video form:
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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.