The Malik Report
Grand Rapids Griffins Tuesday practice news: Van Andel will be packed Wednesday all’s well otherwise
by George Malik on 06/11/13 at 06:31 PM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins and Syracuse Crunch (with inspirational material in tow) took to the ice to prepare for Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals tomorrow evening (7 PM EDT, AHLLive.com/WOOD Radio), but as of 6 PM EDT on Tuesday, the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer offers us a story about scrached Crunch players Jared Nightingale and J-F Jacques trying to keep their heads up while literally playing supporting roles...
As the ice resurfacer circled around them after a Syracuse Crunch practice earlier this week, defenseman Jared Nightingale and Lightning player development coach Stacy Roest moved to the middle of the rink to avoid getting run over.
Nightingale kept asking questions and Roest responded with animated gestures. Roest once played with legendary Detroit blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom, and Nightingale wanted Roest to pass on a few tips from that time.
"Lidstrom is a guy you can learn a lot from,'' Nightingale said. "He made it look really effortless. I think it's a wasted opportunity if you can't soak it up and ask questions.''
And, for veterans like Nightingale and forward J.F. Jacques, that's about the best payoff they can realistically hope for from sweating out workout after workout these days.
Nightingale is 30, a pro since the 2005-06 season. Jacques is 28 and has been around since the 2004-05 season, a stretch that includes 166 playoff games.
There is little question that both have the savvy to contribute to the Crunch this postseason, but so far neither has been tapped on the shoulder to do that."You wouldn't be a true competitor if you didn't want to be in the lineup. It doesn't do good sulking about it,'' said Nightingale, who dressed for 56 Crunch games this season.
"It's our job, right? We're used to that. That's the game,'' said Jacques, who came over in a midseason trade. "We're not playing. We want to play. We come to the rink, we have fun together. I'm not looking at anything but winning the Cup.''
The Grand Rapids Griffins expect a crowd of 9,000 at Van Andel Arena for Wednesday’s Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals. As for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, 6,500 tickets had been sold, nearly double the 3,500 from 9 a.m. Monday, according to Tim Gortsema, the Griffins’ senior vice president of business operations.
“I think we’ll get to 9,000 given that we’re at 6,500 now and what we’ve received so far,” he said.
The Griffins, with a 2-0 lead against Syracuse in the best-of-seven series, play 7 p.m. Wednesday with Game 4 at 7 p.m. Friday. Game 5, if necessary, would be 7 p.m. Saturday.
Friday’s ticket sales have been more brisk, Gortsema said, with 8,100 tickets sold, while Saturday was at 3,200.
“So far it seems more fans are choosing Friday because, one, it’s a weekend game and two, potentially it could be a series clincher,” Gortesma said.
The crowds would be well above what the Griffins have averaged so far in the postseason. In a league-high 10 playoff games, they are averaging 4,059, compared to 5,041 for Syracuse, which seats just over 6,000.
The Grand Rapids Press did post a photo gallery from Tuesday's practice, and Wallner offered a short summary thereof while noting that most teams holding a 2-games-to-none lead in the Calder Cup Final tend to win it:
In the history of the Calder Cup Finals, a team with a 2-0 lead has gone on to win the series 36 of 39 times, giving the Grand Rapids Griffins reason to be encouraged with three games possible at home this week.
The team practiced Tuesday at Van Andel Arena for the first time since Sunday’s 6-4 win in Syracuse, following a 12-hour bus ride home and a day off Monday.
"I thought we didn’t practice well that first day (in Syracuse), but I thought we had a pretty good practice today,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We want to have great habits every single day. It doesn’t always translate into how you play the next night, but I’m confident we’ll come out and put our best foot forward.”
The next two games will be 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday at Van Andel Arena. Game 5, if necessary, will be 7 p.m. Saturday. Games 6 and 7 would be played in Syracuse on June 18, 20.
Syracuse, which had won 11 of 12 before the finals, hope to be one of 24 teams that have won a best-of-seven series after trailing 0-2, the last being Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2011. But in the finals, it happened only in 2010.
The Grand Rapids Griffins website's Mark Newman noted that the Griffins' status as a young team means that the playoff-inspired maturation as hockey players has out-paced the players' ability to grow post-season facial hair...
The 2012-13 season has been a process of maturity for the Griffins’ rookies, and overseeing the whole process has been both a challenge and a joy for Blashill, who came to Grand Rapids after one season as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. Blashill has been like a clean-shaven barber, trimming the Griffins’ roster to the select group of guys who can make the organization look good in its first appearance in the AHL’s Calder Cup championship round.
“He’s been only getting better, just like a lot of the players,” said team captain Jeff Hoggan, the one player on the Griffins’ roster to have previously won the Calder Cup (2003 with Houston). “He says the right things at the right time and says the right things to the right guys at the right time.”
The Griffins might look like a scraggy bunch, but Blashill brings a team into the finals that is dressed for success. In his words, the Griffins are “battle-tested” and need to be “ready to play right off the drop of the puck.”
The reality is that the difference between success and failure in the playoffs, especially the finals, is razor-thin. A good first impression is critical. The Griffins scored the first goal in Game 1 and Game 2 victories at Syracuse.
“Momentum in a game is always a big thing,” Blashill said, “so if you can jump to a lead in any game, that’s a positive. But the one thing we know is you don’t win the game in the first 10 minutes or first period. You win it over the course of 60 minutes, and sometimes 60-plus.”
Blashill has been preaching about the “process’ all season long, and his young players have listened.
“Every minute of every game is really important,” said [Tomas] Jurco, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against Oklahoma City to send the Griffins to the Calder Cup Finals. “We’ve been working really hard all season and to get here is really exciting. It’s a great feeling for everybody on this team.”
Newman continues and discusses Petr Mrazek's dominant play, too, so his article is more than worth your time...
And in the "pump 'em up" department, the Griffins have posted an insiprationally-themed recap of Games 1 and 2:
In a very different kind of "inspirational" department, the Grand Rapids Press's Wallner spoke to Griffins co-owner Dan DeVos about his take on the series thus far...
DeVos wouldn’t make a prediction against Syracuse in the Calder Cup Finals, but said, “We are not planning on going back” to Syracuse for games 6 and 7.
“Yes, I think our team can go all the way,” he said. “We knew going in it was going to be very, very tough, but I know our team now seems to be peaking at the right time and I’m confident that they can pull us through and win a couple more games.”
The Griffins were successful in Syracuse last weekend, winning the opening two games, 3-1 and 6-4, giving hope for DeVos’ first title since leading the way for the arrival of the franchise in 1996 as a member of the IHL. The closest he and the Griffins have come was in 2000 when the team lost in the finals of the Turner Cup to Chicago in six games.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people associated from the league in owners, past owners,” he said, “and it’s been great to hear from them and offering their support.”
As well as the fact that, well, should the series go back to Syracuse, the Griffins have already spent 24 hours busing from Grand Rapids to Sarnia, ON, through Southwestern Ontario to Niagara Falls, and then onward to Syracuse--and back--necessitating a bit of a travel break:
The team drove 12 hours on two buses to get there and back. They drove through the night after Sunday’s game, arriving back in Grand Rapids shortly after 8 a.m.
“Clearly that is an expense issue,” he said, “and this league is not set up to be flying all over the place, and this is at the outer limits of driving, but we would certainly look into that.”
The Griffins are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and have seen attendance increase each of the past four years. They were fourth in the AHL during the regular season at 7,681.
“We’re very pleased,” he said. “We’re near the top of attendance and the fans have been great. Our relationship with the business community is solid, our sponsors have been supportive and their relationship with the arena is good, so all around we’re very, very pleased.”
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