April 19, 2017
By Pete Wallner, MLive.com
GRAND RAPIDS - Mitch Callahan vividly remembers what it was like after the Grand Rapids Griffins won the Calder Cup Trophy in June, 2013.
"We got off the plane and got a police escort downtown. It was about 1 a.m. when we got to the rink," Callahan said. "And there were about 100 fans cheering for us when we got off the charter bus. Then Hoggie (Jeff Hoggan) brings out the cup and is waving it around and the fans went nuts. It was unbelievable."
Then, he added with a smile, "Look forward to doing it again."
Callahan, Brian Lashoff and Nathan Paetsch are the remaining players on the team from the franchise's lone AHL championship.
In a league where change is the common denominator, the Griffins are fortunate to have history on their side as this year's Calder Cup Playoffs begin.
The Griffins, after equaling the franchise's 76-game best output with 100 points, open the Central Division Semifinals at home 7 p.m. Friday as a No. 2 seed against the No. 3-seeded Milwaukee Admirals.
By nature, the Griffins want to see what touted prospects such as Evgeny Svechnikov, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Robbie Russo can do in the postseason. But to make a run, it will require the influence of veterans. Always has.
"We talk about experience and it's evident more than anytime else in the playoffs," said Griffins coach Todd Nelson. "Let's face it, we're going to face adversity and we're going to face tough times. Those guys who have gone through it and succeeded, those individuals are invaluable."
Each of the three has a story to reach this point of the season.
Paetsch is the oldest at 33 and was named the team captain at the outset of this season. In 2013, he was in his first season in Grand Rapids after a season in Germany following four with the Buffalo Sabres.
He remembered the title team was much like the current team.
"We had a very cohesive group with a lot of good, young talent with a mix of older guys - much like we have now," Paetsch said. "But there were young guys who made a big difference as it went along. There was guys like Luke Glendening who came out of nowhere to have a huge postseason for us (with six goals after eight in the regular season).
"So now we have someone like Kyle Criscuolo, one of those finds they seem to come up with every year who can help make a big difference."
Lashoff spent part of the 2012-13 season with the Detroit Red Wings - his first time in the NHL - and returned to play in 18 playoff games. He has appeared in 117 games with the Red Wings since 2013, including all of 2013-14, as his presence and role in Grand Rapids as grown.
"That year was just so amazing," Lashoff said of 2013. "The first thing you think of is the chemistry. The guys on the team, young and old, were so tight. We had guys go up for a portion of the year - like what happened this year - then come back and fit right in. That's one of the reasons we had so much success."
Callahan, meanwhile, was in his first full season with the Griffins. He played on the third and fourth lines and mostly provided energy and an edge. He had 11 goals in the regular season and added six in the postseason.
"I was more of an energy guy," Callahan recalled. "... We produced but we were there to create energy and be sound defensively."
Now, the roles have evolved for the three, who unanimously agreed there are similarities between then and now.
"When you go through a playoff run, it's like a roller coaster and you don't want to get too high or too low," Lashoff said. "I think we have a good mix of veterans who have been there with younger players who have the talent."
"We've had good teams since then and didn't win. I was young, coming off a title on the WHL and kind of thought winning championships was easy. Now, I've learned it's not easy, and it's important to embrace every little detail.
"If there's a message from the older guys to the younger guys it's that a chance like this and teams like this don't come around every day, so you want to make the most out of it."