The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/23/14 at 02:48 PM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins are busy this afternoon...
And as the Griffins will open their first-round series against the Abbotsford Heat on Friday, the Griffins posited a press release framing the match-up:
GRIFFINS VS. HEAT
Game 1 – Fri., April 25 - GRIFFINS at Heat – 10 p.m.
Game 2 – Sat., April 26 – GRIFFINS at Heat – 10 p.m.
Game 3 – Wed., April 30 – Heat at GRIFFINS – 7 p.m. (season ticket Game A)
*Game 4 – Fri., May 2 – Heat at GRIFFINS – 7 p.m. (Game B)
*Game 5 – Sat., May 3 – Heat at GRIFFINS – 7 p.m. (Game C)
No Cigar: The Griffins entered the final week of the regular season looking to clinch the Midwest Division title, as they had led the division ever since Nov. 3. Having already clinched a playoff berth on March 28 at Rockford, the Griffins held a four-point lead over the Chicago Wolves with two games remaining on the schedule, while Chicago had one game in hand. However, the Griffins fell to the Lake Erie Monsters 4-2 on April 18 at Van Andel Arena and 4-3 in a shootout at Quicken Loans Arena on April 19. Entering the final night of the regular season, the Griffins and Wolves were tied at 98 points each, but Grand Rapids’ shootout loss to the Monsters yielded only one point, while the Wolves trounced the Milwaukee Admirals 6-0 to earn two points and take the Midwest Division crown by a single point. Had the two teams tied in points, Grand Rapids would have clinched the title. Instead, the Griffins earned the fourth seed in the Western Conference and gear up to face the fifth-seeded Abbotsford Heat in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Pre-Heat: The defending Calder Cup champion Griffins qualified for the postseason for the 11th time in their 18-year history with a 46-23-2-5 record, claiming the fourth seed in the Western Conference and finishing fifth overall in the AHL. Grand Rapids will meet the fifth-seeded Abbotsford Heat (43-25-5-3, 94 pts.) in the best-of-five Western Conference Quarterfinals, marking the first time that the teams have faced off against one another in the postseason. Grand Rapids won the season series 3-1, including both matches at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre. Founded in the 2009-10 season, the Heat will make its third playoff appearance in its five-year history. In both previous postseason appearances, the Heat lost in the second round (4-2 to HAM in 2009-10; 4-1 to TOR in 2011-12). This will mark the final time that Abbotsford will contend for the Calder Cup, as the franchise will be moving locations following the conclusion of the playoffs..
Get Your Tickets: Tickets for Games 3-5 (Home Games A-C) are now on sale for $33, $27, $23, $19, $17 and $15 (additional $2 per ticket on day of game), reflecting a league-wide increase of $1 over regular season prices. Playoff tickets may be purchased in person at The Zone at Van Andel Arena and all Star Tickets locations, by phone at (800) 585-3737, or through http://griffinshockey.com/buytickets
Looking Back: In their brief five-year history against each other, the Griffins possess a 10-7-1-2 record against the Heat, including 5-3-1-1 at home and 5-4-0-1 on enemy ice. Similar to Grand Rapids’ 3-1-0-0 record against the Heat this season, including a 3-0 shutout on Jan. 17 at Van Andel Arena, the Griffins posted a 3-0-0-1 record against Abbotsford during the 2012-13 regular season.
Playoff Promotions: The Griffins are extending their popular Friday promotion and will offer $2 beers and $2 hot dogs for all home playoff games from the time doors open until one hour after the start of the game, while supplies last. In addition, Game 3 will feature a playoff rally towel giveaway, courtesy of Auto Value. Playoff 4 Packs are available for every home playoff game. Starting at just $56, they include four (or more) tickets and offer a savings of $12 compared to the day-of-game price. For more information or to purchase a Playoff 4 Pack, call (616) 774-4585 ext. 2.
Playoff Facts and Figures: Grand Rapids has won 12 of its 22 total playoff series and owns a combined 60-56 record during those games, going 27-32 on home ice and 33-24 on the road. The Griffins have won their last five road playoff games and their last four playoff series...Grand Rapids is 2-3 in best-of-five series and 10-7 in best-of-seven series...Grand Rapids’ all-time record in Game 1 of all series is 10-12...The Griffins’ active leading playoff scorer is Landon Ferraro, who is tied for 13th all time with 16 points (5-11—16) in 24 games. Riley Sheahan, who will start the postseason with the parent Red Wings, is also tied for 13th place with 16 points (3-13—16) in 24 games, and Tomas Jurco is tied for 19th place with 14 points (8-6—14)...Grand Rapids will try to become the first AHL team to repeat since the 2009 and 2010 Hershey Bears and the 10th all time...The Griffins own an all-time series record of 4-2 versus Canadian playoff foes (Toronto 2-0, Hamilton 1-0, Manitoba 1-2).
Bench Bosses: 2013-14 AHL Coach of the Year Jeff Blashill led the Griffins to the playoffs for the second time in his two seasons behind the team’s bench, helping the team to a 46-win season. Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the 40-year-old Blashill helped the Griffins maintain prominence this season in defense of their 2013 Calder Cup title despite a large-scale roster overhaul. Despite turnover which saw only four of their top 12 scorers from a year ago and just three of their top 10 playoff producers play a majority of this season in Grand Rapids, the Griffins have posted three separate seven-game winning streaks and have held first place in the Midwest Division since Nov. 3, never losing more than two consecutive games in regulation at any point this season. Blashill’s influence has had a huge impact on the parent Detroit Red Wings as well, as he’s prepared 10 of his 2013-14 players for their NHL debuts, including nine as members of the Wings. All told, 18 members of Blashill’s 2013-14 squad were called up to play a total of 391 NHL games, and 13 players from his Calder Cup championship team logged time in Detroit this season, helping the club extend its playoff streak to 23 consecutive seasons. In February, Blashill became the first Griffins head coach in 12 years to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic, guiding the AHL All-Stars to victories over Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in both the skills competition and All-Star Game. In 2012-13, his first season as a head coach at the pro level, Blashill led the Griffins to the Calder Cup, marking the first championship in the franchise’s 17-year history. Joining the Heat as an assistant coach in 2010-11, Troy Ward is in his third season as Abbotsford’s head coach. A St. Paul, Minn. native, Ward began his coaching career after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and captaining their hockey team to an NAIA National Championship. Ward first stepped behind the bench at his Alma Mater from 1987-90, before moving to the University of Denver (WCHA) as an assistant for three seasons. His next stop was a two-year stint with the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) as the head coach / GM where he amassed a winning percentage of .594. After two seasons with the Indianapolis Ice (IHL) as an assistant, and three seasons in the same position with the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), Ward’s next challenge was with the Trenton Titans (ECHL) in 2000-01 where as the head coach he guided the club to a Conference Title and was named the ECHL Coach of the Year. Ward returned to his college hockey roots from 2002-05 with the Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA) and was promoted from assistant to associate coach after a season of service. Prior to his time in Abbotsford, he spent three seasons with the Houston Aeros (2007-10, AHL) as an assistant coach – two of which he served as assistant GM. This season, Ward led the Heat to a 43-25-5-3 record, good enough for second place in the West division behind only the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy-winning Texas Stars.
Long Time No See: In his second professional season, former Griffin and 2013 Calder Cup champion Chad Billins now plays for the Heat. With 42 points (10-32—42), Billins led all Heat defensemen in the regular season and was a member of Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill’s 2014 AHL All-Star Team, Billins’ second appearance as an All-Star in two seasons. While with the Griffins, Billins earned 37 points (10-27—37) in 76 regular season games and 14 points (2-12—14) in 24 playoff appearances. The Marysville, Mich. native’s 100 games with Grand Rapids during the 2012-13 season made him a member of an exclusive club, along with Jeff Hoggan and Brennan Evans, of skaters who appeared in every regular season and postseason game during the season.
2013-14 Griffins vs. Heat
Griffins Records: 3-1-0-0 Overall, 1-1-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 2-0-0-0 in Abbotsford
Heat Records: 1-2-0-1 Overall, 1-1-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 0-1-0-1 in Abbotsford
Jan. 17 – Griffins 3, Heat 0 – Van Andel Arena
Two landmark figures in Griffins history, Calder Cup champion Chad Billins and record-holding goaltender Joey MacDonald, returned to Van Andel Arena in the season’s first meeting between Grand Rapids and Abbotsford, in which Tom McCollum blocked all 35 shots he faced en route to earning a victory for the home team. David McIntyre earned the first goal of the game when he collected his own rebound and lifted the puck over MacDonald’s shoulder at 18:25 of the first period. In the middle frame, Mitch Callahan put away an Adam Almquist rebound to put the Griffins up by two. At 11:16 of the third period and all alone in the Heat zone, Ferraro extinguished Abbotsford’s fire once and for all when he rifled a slapshot towards MacDonald’s net from along the left boards. Missing his mark, the puck instead deflected off of the skate of an Abbotsford defenseman and caught MacDonald unaware, earning the Griffins their 3-0 margin.
Jan. 18 – Heat 3, Griffins 2 – Van Andel Arena
Abbotsford rookie goaltender Joni Ortio, who finished his season with a stellar 27-8-0-2 record, turned away 31 of 33 shots to lead the Heat to 3-2 rematch victory over the Griffins. A shorthanded tally by Carter Bancks at 10:46 of the first period temporarily stunned the Griffins, but Nathan Paestch quickly redeemed Grand Rapids’ power play just :43 later with a blistering shot from the right circle to tie the game at one apiece. Martin Frk assisted on the goal, earning his first career AHL point. The Heat bounced back in the same frame with a Max Reinhart goal, but the Griffins once again answered the call with another blueliner goal by Xavier Ouellet. Markus Granland scored the game-winning tally for Abbotsford at 7:53 of the third period, and although the Griffins pulled Tom McCollum in favor of an extra attacker in the final 90 seconds, they were unable to crack an acrobatic Ortio with a late-game rush and fell to the Heat, 3-2.
Feb. 28 – Griffins 4, Heat 3 SO – Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre
Two defenseman scored for Grand Rapids in the shootout to help lift the defending Calder Cup champion over Abbotsford, 4-3, in the third of four meetings between the two teams. The Griffins’ top scorer of the campaign, Teemu Pulkkinen, tallied two goals for the second game in a row, while Petr Mrazek blocked 31 of 34 shots and seven of eight shooters in the shootout to earn his fourth consecutive win. Defenseman Nick Jensen assisted on Pulkkinen’s second goal to earn his first AHL point. Both teams launched a flurry of shots, with Abbotsford sending 34 shots at Mrazek before the shootout and Grand Rapids rattling off an eventual 38. In his second career shootout attempt, Brennan Evans connected in the fifth round of the shootout to extend the skills competition into extra rounds after Sven Baertschi sniped the puck past Mrazek in the lower left corner in the fourth round. Gleason Fournier put away the game-winning shootout goal in his first attempt this season to end the contest in the eighth round.
March 1 – Griffins 5, Heat 2 – Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre
In the final regular season matchup between Grand Rapids and Abbotsford, the Griffins fought back from a first-period two-goal deficit to defeat the Heat, 5-2. Max Reinhart solved Tom McCollum twice in the opening frame with goals at 1:23 and 19:48 before Grand Rapids exploded with five unanswered goals with the help of a stonewall performance by Petr Mrazek, who entered the game in a relief effort for McCollum. A dominant 20-6 shot advantage in the second period saw Andrej Nestrasil put the Griffins on the board at 13:20 with a bullet from the high slot. The third period sealed the deal for the Griffins with goals courtesy of Jeff Hoggan, David McIntyre, Jordin Tootoo and a final empty-net tally by Teemu Pulkkinen.
Tale of the Tape
Here’s how the two rivals stacked up in key categories during the regular season:
Regular Season Series Notes: Abbotsford forward Max Reinhart dominated the points column in the four-game season series with five goals and two assists, while owning an even rating and posting only two penalty minutes. No other Heat player has more than a single goal against the Griffins this season. Abbotsford’s Sven Baertschi (1-4—5) had the next-highest point total in the series, with Teemu Pulkkinen (3-1—4), Jordin Tootoo (1-3—4) and Adam Almquist (0-4—4) tying for third. Corey Locke tallied two assists against the Griffins while with Abbotsford after collecting three points (1-2—3) against Grand Rapids while skating with the Chicago Wolves earlier in the campaign. Joni Ortio is the only goaltender remaining on the Heat who has faced Grand Rapids, as Joey MacDonald has not been assigned by the Calgary Flames following the conclusion of their season and Olivier Roy is currently with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces. Ortio backstopped the Heat to their only win over the Griffins this season, a 3-2 edging at Van Andel Arena on Jan. 18, finishing with a 2.00 GAA and a 0.939 save percentage. Petr Mrazek owns a 2-0 record (1.71 GAA, 0.938 save percentage) in the series and McCollum owns a 1-1 record through three appearances (2.16 GAA, 0.938 save percentage). Defenseman Ryan Sproul is the leading penalty-getter with 10 PIM, compared to Abbotsford’s leading six PIM each for Dean Arsene and Shane O’Brien. Grand Rapids scored four goals in the third period of the March 1 game, just one shy of their season high (five goals, Oct. 4 at RCH, 2nd).
The Boys Are Back: The Griffins’ quest to advance in the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs will be spearheaded by 13 players who were members of last season’s championship roster, including Adam Almquist, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Brennan Evans, Landon Ferraro, Gleason Fournier, Triston Grant, captain Jeff Hoggan, Tom McCollum, Petr Mrazek, Andrej Nestrasil, Nathan Paetsch and Teemu Pulkkinen. In addition, several members of the Griffins’ roster served as “black aces” during the 2013 playoffs: Nick Jensen, Max Nicastro, Xavier Ouellet, Trevor Parkes and Ryan Sproul. Martin Frk comes equipped with a breadth of playoff experience, having won the QMJHL President Cup and the CHL Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads last season. Hoggan, who also won the Calder Cup with the Houston Aeros in 2003, looks to lead the Griffins squad to another title, which would be his third AHL championship.
Playoff Roster: The following 31 players are eligible to suit up for the Griffins in the postseason: goaltenders Jared Coreau, Tom McCollum and Petr Mrazek; defensemen Adam Almquist, Mattias Backman, Brennan Evans, Gleason Fournier, Nick Jensen, Alexey Marchenko, Richard Nedomlel, Max Nicastro, Xavier Ouellet, Nathan Paetsch and Ryan Sproul; and forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Colin Campbell, Willie Coetzee, Cory Emmerton, Landon Ferraro, Martin Frk, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan, Mattias Janmark, David McIntyre, Zach Nastasiuk, Andrej Nestrasil, Trevor Parkes, Teemu Pulkkinen and Jordin Tootoo. Additionally, if assigned by the Red Wings, forwards Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan will be eligible for Calder Cup Playoff action.
Experience Counts: Fifteen players on the Griffins roster have AHL postseason experience. In addition to the 12 players who skated during the 2013 Calder Cup Playoff run — Adam Almquist (3-7—10 in 21 GP), Louis-Marc Aubry (0-1—1 in 14 GP), Mitch Callahan (6-5—11 in 24 GP), Brennan Evans (2-6—8 in 24 GP), Landon Ferraro (5-11—15 in 24 GP), Gleason Fournier (0-1—1 in 6 GP), Triston Grant (2-2—4 in 24 GP), Jeff Hoggan (5-7—12 in 24 GP), goaltender Petr Mrazek (15-9 record, 2.31 GAA in 24 GP), Andrej Nestrasil (0-0—0 in 1 GP), Nathan Paetsch (0-11—11 in 24 GP) and Teemu Pulkkinen (3-2—5 in 14 GP), Cory Emmerton (1-0—1 in 9 GP), David McIntyre (3-2—5 in 10 GP) and Jordin Tootoo (9-2—11 in 21 GP) also have playoff experience at this level. Four players have professional postseason experience at other levels; Alexey Marchenko (0-0—0 in 7 GP, KHL), Trevor Parkes (3-2—5 in 6 GP, ECHL), Mattias Janmark (1-3—4 in 10 GP, SHL) and Mattias Backman (2-11—13 in 23 GP, SHL)
Thank You, Fans!: In their regular season home finale on April 18, the Griffins welcomed a capacity crowd of 10,834 for the eighth time this season and the fourth time in their final six games, finishing the season with an average attendance of 8,220 that ranks second in the AHL and stands as their largest attendance since the 1999-00 season and fifth-highest of all time. Grand Rapids has realized attendance increases for four straight seasons and seven of the last eight years. Only the Hershey Bears had a greater average attendance than the Griffins (9,664), finishing the season with 367,238 total fans.
Update: Ferraro reports that the Griffins have landed in Vancouver...
And the team released a playoff-context-setting video:
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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.