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Jake Paterson, Jared Coreau (l-r)

July 11, 2014

by Alan Cross –

The Grand Rapids Griffins’ future was on full display last week at the Detroit Red Wings’ Development Camp, where a handful of players with Griffins
experience were among 44 prospects sharpening their skills in Traverse City.

“I feel lucky to be able to work in an organization that has done such a good job drafting, and we have such a good depth of talent,” said Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill following the conclusion of camp on July 8. “That depth of talent was on display lots last year with all the injuries [in Detroit], and I feel like it’s continuing to be replenished. For me, I think we’re real lucky that the scouting job allows us to have a lot of good talent.”

Andreas Athanasiou, Jared Coreau, Alexey Marchenko, Zach Nastasiuk, Richard Nedomlel and Jake Paterson took part in five days’ worth of on-ice and off-ice workouts, scrimmages and educational sessions.

While most Griffins fans are familiar with the working relationship between Grand Rapids and Detroit, some may be unfamiliar with the key role that the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye have in the development of the organization’s future NHLers.

The ECHL serves as a developmental hub for up-and-coming professional hockey players who haven’t quite made the leap to the AHL. Many of Grand Rapids’ most pivotal players, such as Petr Mrazek, Tom McCollum and Andrej Nestrasil, spent time in Toledo honing their skills before being promoted to the Griffins full time. Even Luke Glendening, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with the Wings, split his 2012-13 season between the Walleye and Griffins before earning his keep in Detroit.

In just the last few months, the Walleye have undergone changes that will have a significant impact on the development of future Griffins and Red Wings.

Since their inaugural season in 2009-10, the Walleye had a joint affiliation with both the Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. However, Toledo and Chicago announced in April that the two teams would end their affiliation at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. The Indianapolis Fuel have become Chicago’s new ECHL affiliate, leaving Toledo as a Detroit-exclusive talent pool.

Toledo’s announcement was followed up two months later with a press conference announcing Derek LaLonde as the team’s new head coach, in the wake of former head coach Nick Vittuci stepping away to focus on his role as director of hockey operations. Prior to joining the Walleye, LaLonde spent three seasons with the United States Hockey League’s Green Bay Gamblers, where he compiled a 111-54-14 record and helped the team to regular season and playoff championships in 2011-12. In 2012, LaLonde was named the USHL Coach of the Year.

“I had a good working relationship with Nick Vittuci when he was [Toledo’s head coach], and I’ll have a real good working relationship with Derek LaLonde,” said Blashill. “I have a personal relationship with Derek that precedes this job, so I think he wants to be very active in learning the things that are important to the Red Wings organization.

“He was on the ice with me [at development camp], he was in all of our meetings, he’s going to come up to the prospects tournament, so I think that helps the transition as players move from level to level, no different than the transition as players move from Grand Rapids to Detroit. Mike [Babcock] and I talk basically a couple times a week. I think Derek and I will have similar conversations. I think it only helps both our professional development and helps us get better but also helps the players as they transition from level to level.”

Coming off the heels of a 21-44-4-3 record in the 2013-14 season, which ranked last in the Eastern Conference, the Walleye hope the team’s changes will have an impact on their output.

A few Griffins hopefuls who attended Detroit’s development camp were along for Toledo’s rocky ride last season, including 6-foot-5, 228-pound defenseman Nedomlel.

“It’s been fun in Toledo; too bad I couldn’t have been in Grand Rapids more,” said Nedomlel. “I was trying to do my best and help the other guys. I’m not really the guy who is going to get in there and get the points, but I try to take advantage of that and make a couple points. Then I started to play power play, and I thought I did a good job. I was able to work on defensive skills more.”

Joining the Detroit organization just over a year ago on a three-year entry-level contract, undrafted goaltender Coreau also spent the majority of last season with the Walleye. In 20 games, he produced a 1-12-6 record and a 4.03 goals against average. The 6-foot-5 goaltender faced similar woes in his five games with Grand Rapids, posting a 0-4-0 record and a 4.39 GAA.

“We’re adults. We’re pros. People have tough seasons, and nobody is going to pat you on the back and tell you it’s going to be OK,” Coreau said. “You just have to keep going and working hard. Sometimes it turns around and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, you have to keep working.”

All challenges considered, Coreau’s positive attitude remains intact.

“It’s a big season coming up here for me, and I think the lessons learned last year are definitely going to help me,” said Coreau.

Coreau will spend a majority of his second professional season with Toledo, where he’ll likely be joined by former Saginaw Spirit goaltender Paterson. The 20-year-old netminder was drafted in the second round (80th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and he briefly served as a “black ace” with the Griffins during the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs.

“It’s a pretty likely scenario that me and Jared might both be in Toledo,” said Paterson. “So you have to head into [the season] with the right mindset and try to stop as many pucks as you possibly can.”

With Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum manning the pipes in Grand Rapids for the third straight season, both Coreau and Paterson will have to battle for occasional back-up duty.

“I need to win. That’s the biggest thing,” said Coreau. “Go in there, show I can win. Work hard. Put the hours in. Be a good teammate and go from there.”

Regardless of a player’s level of development, one demand of the Detroit organization remains constant: work hard.

“The one thing that I talked to the players about is that if they’re going to take one thing away from this camp, take away the level of work ethic and daily attention of detail that the Detroit Red Wings organization demands,” said Blashill. “Hopefully if they can walk away with that knowledge, it’ll help them a lot and really prepare them to become Red Wings in the future. Some in the future, some in the not-so-near future.”

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