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Adam Almquist, Henrik Zetterberg (l-r)

Nov. 18, 2013

by Alan Cross –

Throughout the history of the organization, the Grand Rapids Griffins have compiled an extensive list of NHL graduates, regularly gathering accolades and constantly shaping the future of hockey. Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey, Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and many more players, including those who have extended beyond the reach of Detroit, are all alumni of the Griffins.

This season is no different.

The Griffins have already graduated five players to the NHL since October, four of whom were part of the 2013 Calder Cup–winning roster: defenseman Danny DeKeyser (10/2/13 DET vs. BUF), center  Luke Glendening (10/12/13 DET vs. PHI), defenseman Xavier Ouellet (10/21/13 DET vs. SJ), defenseman Adam Almquist (11/4/13 DET at WPG) and defenseman Chad Billins (11/5/13 CGY vs. MIN). While Ouellet never saw ice time with the Griffins until this year, he served as a “black ace” during the first three rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Billins, who is a Port Huron, Mich., native and former Ferris State Bulldog, signed a contract with the Calgary Flames earlier this summer, and DeKeyser has garnered a full-time roster spot with the Wings. Of this season’s NHL graduates, Almquist is the only active member of the Griffins roster to produce a point for their parent club, despite both Glendening and Ouellet appearing in more games.

For someone who only made his North American debut late in the 2011-12 season, Almquist has already seen many of his dreams come to fruition. Most recently, the 5-foot-11, 173-pound defenseman made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 4 and subsequently tallied his first NHL goal on Nov. 7 versus the Dallas Stars.

“It was a dream come true. It’s a goal I’ve had since I was a young kid,” said Almquist about his promotion to the Wings. “It was a big moment, and it was a lot of fun to enter Joe Louis Arena.”

Still, Almquist treated his first game at the Joe as just other day at the rink, channeling his nerves and excitement into productivity.
“I tried to treat it like just another game. Obviously it was a bit different, but I always play under pressure. I actually think it’s more pressure back home when I play there. There’s always pressure in any game,” said Almquist. “Of course there were a little bit of nerves, too. It was my first NHL game and it was a little bit new, but I think I was fine.”

In less than two months, Glendening and Ouellet have each made the trip between Grand Rapids and Detroit five times; Almquist has gotten the call once. The regular switching forces the players to juggle the systems and nuances of two different teams, which can be tricky.

“I picked up on a lot of things at training camp, and both the Griffins and Wings play pretty similarly. Not exactly the same, but pretty similar,” said Almquist. “It’s a little bit of a different game in Detroit, but you adjust and learn the plays.”

The adjustment didn’t take long for the bluelining Swede, as he notched his first goal in only his second NHL game. Almquist’s goal was assisted by Detroit captain and Swedish superstar Henrik Zetterberg, who has been more than accommodating when it comes to his compatriot’s transition to the big leagues.

“Zetterberg is a huge role model in Sweden, and he’s a really nice guy. Obviously, he’s a really good captain, just like Jeff Hoggan,” said Almquist. “Everybody is really helpful, everyone is really nice and they all treat me like I’ve been there all year. If I have something to ask, I just ask and they all help me.”

And when it mattered most, Zetterberg certainly helped.

“I saw Todd Bertuzzi was rimming the puck down the ice. Zetterberg got it, and when he looked up, I was sneaking to the net behind the forward. He sent me a really, really good pass, and I just shot it.”

For a man of few words, the smile on Almquist’s face spoke volumes as Zetterberg and Bertuzzi joined in on Almquist’s celebration. The tens of thousands of screaming fans at Joe Louis Arena weren’t the only people happy to see the goal. Almquist’s milestone achievement reverberated halfway across the world in Jonkoping, Sweden, where his dad was celebrating the goal from their home, much to the surprise of Almquist’s sleeping mother.

“My dad was for sure happy. He yelled a little loud in the middle of the night and woke up my mom. It was fun, and I was happy for sure too.”

In 2012-13, his first full year with the Griffins, Almquist saw a tremendous amount of success; he ranked among the team’s top-scoring blueliners with 10 goals (T1st), 21 assists (3rd), 31 points (T2nd), a plus-13 rating (T1st), four power play goals (2nd) and a 0.108 shooting percentage (1st) in 68 games. During the playoffs, he finished fifth among AHL defensemen in scoring with 10 points (3-7—10) while tying for first in goals. Furthering his 2012-13 accolades, Almquist recorded his first-ever hat trick, including the overtime winner, during a four-point night on March 23, 2013 at Lake Erie, becoming the third defenseman in franchise history to net three goals in one game.

Still, there is a lot for Almquist to accomplish yet before earning a full-time gig in the NHL, primarily gaining weight and, along with it, strength, considering the fact that he currently weighs in at 173 pounds. As the season progresses, Almquist, along with Glendening, Ouellet and other Detroit hopefuls, will continue their athletic metamorphoses, helping to secure Detroit’s, and their own, future in the NHL.

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