Dec. 2, 2013
by Alan Cross – griffinshockey.com
On Sept. 29, the Detroit Red Wings placed center Cory Emmerton on waivers in order to become cap compliant and alleviate an overstocked roster. The St. Thomas, Ontario, native cleared waivers and was subsequently assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins just over a week later, on Oct. 10.
While indefinitely returning to a lower level of play could be considered a bump along Emmerton’s professional road, he has accepted his mission with a mentality geared toward progressive results. His high-end skill and adaptability have proven extremely valuable to the Griffins, whose 15-4-1-1 record this season has proven that last year’s Calder Cup title was no fluke.
Before being promoted to the Wings full-time for the 2011-12 season, Emmerton skated in three full seasons with Grand Rapids from 2008-11. The 6-foot, 191-pound center’s consistency was on full display during his first stint with the Griffins; Emmerton tallied 35 points (10-25—35) in the 2008-09 season, 37 points (12-25—37) in the 2009-10 season and 38 points (12-26—38) in the 2010-11 season.
And he hasn’t seemed to lose his touch.
Since being assigned to the Griffins, Emmerton has notched 14 points (3-11—14) in 18 games and currently ranks fifth on the team in scoring. The seventh-year pro has once again become a reliable contributor for the team, having earned points in 12 of his 18 appearances this season. Furthering his accolades, Emmerton is on his second four-game point streak of the season, earning five points from both Oct. 26-Nov. 1 and Nov. 20-30.
“I think it took a couple of weeks to get readjusted back to a different league and a different style of hockey,” said Emmerton. “My minutes were suddenly way up when I got here; I was playing a lot, so my body actually needed some adjusting. I feel better now. I feel like I’m playing more to my capabilities.”
Many of Emmerton’s experiences with the team this year mirror those of his first run with the Griffins; it’s the same arena, same city and same organization. Still, coupled with the knowledge he gained while with Detroit, his professional mentality has undergone a natural transformation.
Largely, he’s feeling a bit older.
“It’s weird to be 25 and feel older on the team. I remember when I was young here, and I saw the guys who were 25 and they seemed like they were so much older than me,” Emmerton said. “The biggest thing is to lead by example. We have enough guys in the locker room that were here last year that did a great job as the vocal leaders and emotional leaders. I think the biggest thing for me is to try to blend in with them and just lead by example.”
Being stocked with accomplished veteran players comes with both its benefits and drawbacks for the Griffins. Per the AHL’s definition, seven players on the team qualify as “veterans”: Patrick Eaves, Emmerton, Brennan Evans, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan, Nathan Paetsch and Jordin Tootoo. Eaves and Tootoo were sent to the Griffins from the Wings on consecutive days in mid-November, also as a result of Detroit’s cap-relief efforts.
While experience is never a bad thing, each team in the AHL is essentially restricted to dressing only five veteran players each game in order to maintain its purpose as a developmental league.
The AHL’s development rule states:
“Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as "development players". Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.”
The arrivals of Eaves and Tootoo tipped the scales in terms of the older/younger player balance on the team. Grand Rapids’ veteran players continue to sit out on a rotating basis, but, based on early-season success, it hasn’t noticeably affected team chemistry. And it definitely has not affected Emmerton, who has sat out only once, on Nov. 22 vs. Iowa.
The Griffins’ success so far has been a joint effort, a perfect storm of talent and leadership between the players and coaches. Emmerton finds that the coaching styles between Mike Babcock in Detroit and Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids are consistent, yielding results on both ends of the spectrum. It has helped him to easily transition into his expanded role.
“I think the biggest thing is that they’re very similar in the way that they teach the systems they want to run and what they expect from everyone,” said Emmerton
And they don’t often lose their cool.
“They’re both very smart guys. They manage the bench well. You don’t see any panic from them, and that’s a big thing as a coach,” Emmerton said. “As a player, you can kind of sense panic from your coach whether they’re showing it or not. You can just feel it.”
Although Emmerton may consider himself an “older player,” one thing is clear from his accomplishments this season: his hockey career is far from over.
“Your ultimate goal is to play at the highest level you can. Playing in the AHL isn’t miserable, it’s not the worst thing that I could be doing,” Emmerton said. “Obviously, I want to be in the NHL, but I’m counted on here, and I have an important role. It’s different and it’s hard to put into words how I feel. I went from playing maybe fourth-line, third-line minutes to playing one the first line. It’s a big difference. But, ultimately, I still want to be in the NHL. That will never change.”