June 14, 2013
by Mark Newman - griffinshockey.com
Reprinted from “Calder Cup Chronicles” commemorative publication.
With one word, Francis Pare summed up the feelings of his long-running teammates in the Griffins locker room after the team advanced to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time.
“I’m going to enjoy it just like a little kid,” said Pare, now in his fifth season in a Griffins jersey.
Sharing his excitement were Brian Lashoff and Jan Mursak, who have appeared in at least parts of five and six seasons in Grand Rapids, respectively, along with Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, who have played the better part of four seasons with the Griffins.
“Obviously, not making the playoffs the last three years was tough, but the core group of guys here have learned a lot,” Lashoff said. “This year has been a lot of fun.”
The Griffins beat Houston in five games in the first round, Toronto in six games in the second round, then Oklahoma City in seven games to advance to the American Hockey League finals for the first time. Grand Rapids reached the Turner Cup Finals in the old IHL in 2000.
“It’s been a while, so we’re extra excited,” Mursak said. “We’ve played a lot of good teams in the playoffs and the games have been close, but we beat them. To come so far, we want to win it all now.”
Syracuse entered the finals with an 11-1 postseason record. Ten Crunch players were also members of last year’s Calder Cup-winning Norfolk Admirals team that finished the postseason with 10 straight wins. “It’s going to be a really tough challenge,” Tatar said.
The Griffins got a boost when Andersson and Gustav Nyquist returned to Grand Rapids, along with newcomer Danny DeKeyser, after the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Me and Gus were just hoping to get back and play in the playoffs with these guys,” Andersson said. “After we lost to Chicago, we were happy when the Red Wings told us we were going to fly to Oklahoma the next day.”
The Griffins have had a close-knit team throughout a 2012-13 season that has had its share of ups and downs, literally. Andersson, Nyquist, Tatar and Lashoff all saw action with the Red Wings.
Callups, injuries and occasional losing streaks only helped to strengthen the bond among the players. It’s all about team spirit, according to Pare; or, as the French might say, esprit de corps.
“We’ve been through some rough times and some good times, but we just stick to the plan,” Pare said. “We’ve got almost 30 guys in the room and everybody really gets along. We’re just having the best time of our life right now.”
“This is a really good group of people, and they’re really good hockey players as well,” Tatar said. “We’re happy that we made it this far and now we’re just one step away.”
There’s a cliché that championships go to the team that wants it more, and while that might be a bit of an overstatement, there’s little doubt that the Griffins are ready to do whatever it takes.
“We’re hungry – we want to win. That’s the only thing on our minds,” Lashoff said. “Not being in the playoffs has been tough for us, but going through adversity is only going to help us.
“We’ve played a lot of games this year, but I think that’s going to help us. When you get to this stage, nobody is tired. Everyone is really excited and wants to go.”
“The team that leaves more on the ice normally wins in the end,” Mursak said. “We have to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing. Syracuse has a really good team, but we can beat them.”
“This team just finds ways to win hockey games – and that’s what it’s all about,” Andersson said. “We’re excited to be playing for the championship. It’s not every year that you get to do that.
“It’s going to be fun.”