03/29/2014 2:12 PM
Defending a Calder Cup championship presents a major challenge. After first qualifying for the playoffs, the Griffins will be poised to pursue the goal of winning the Cup a second time.
Winning a championship is never easy. Doing it a second time may be even harder.
Since the Calder Cup was first presented in 1938, there have been only nine instances where a team has successfully defended its title. The Grand Rapids Griffins are ready to face the challenge and become the 10th team to repeat.
Competing in the American Hockey League complicates the challenge. In its developmental role for the NHL, the AHL serves as a revolving door for talent, with players often traveling back and forth between the two leagues. Rosters change from one year to the next, making the quest to defend a championship all the more difficult.
The Griffins said goodbye to some key contributors after raising the Cup – Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson graduated to the Detroit Red Wings, Jan Mursak and Francis Pare are now playing in the KHL in Russia – but the organization welcomed the arrival of a number of promising prospects, including several young defensemen in Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen.
Some faces have changed, but the team is not materially different.
03/29/2014 2:02 PM
With his transformation as a player nearly complete, Landon Ferraro has recast his role in a way that will ultimately make him a better pro.
Landon Ferraro smiles when he thinks about his maturation process, how he had to modify his style of play in order to become a more responsible player at both ends of the ice, how he learned that being defensively responsible was an attribute that was just as important as being able to score goals.
Now in his third year with the Griffins, Ferraro has come to grips with the development process.
"Coming into Grand Rapids, I thought, ‘I'll play half a year here and then I can move on,’" Ferraro said, relaxing after a recent practice at Van Andel Arena. "I don't know one player who doesn't think that way, but you figure out pretty quickly that between maturing as a player and learning what role you're going to play – not to mention building strength – it's going to take time. I feel like I finally figured that out."
Ferraro turned pro after a junior hockey career as a pure offensive-minded prospect. With diligence and determination, he’s worked to discredit that description, remaking himself into a defensive force and becoming one of the top penalty killers in the American Hockey League.
03/29/2014 1:56 PM
In the Griffins’ broadcast booth, Larry Figurski is the epitome of the Most Valuable Professional, a polished and perceptive hockey authority who is plugged into the finer points of the game.
In the world of hockey, players who skate on the same line often talk about chemistry. They talk about how they feel like they can nearly read each other's minds, how they can anticipate what their teammates will do, even before they do it.
It's a relationship that's almost instinctual to the point where no words are necessary.
Words, however, are the specialty of Griffins play-by-play announcer Bob Kaser and color analyst Larry Figurski, who nonetheless have developed the kind of rapport that allows for smooth skating back and forth during their on-air description of the action.
When Kaser joined the Griffins organization in 2000 he needed a sidekick, someone who could offer quick analysis of the action. That voice would ultimately be Larry Figurski, a local sportscaster who had grown up with dreams of not only playing in the NHL but someday doing hockey play-by-play.
01/30/2014 10:28 AM
Cory Emmerton is determined to take his career day-by-day and continue to prove that he can be a valuable two-way player at the NHL level.
Cory Emmerton is not taking anything for granted. When it comes to professional sports, he knows that nothing is given, everything is earned, and there are no guarantees.
At the age of 25, the young Red Wings center has already learned the harsh realities of the business. Faced with salary-cap issues and too many forwards, Detroit placed Emmerton on waivers before the season with the intention of sending him back to Grand Rapids, where he had begun his pro career in 2007.
After two full seasons in Detroit, including last year when he was one of only four players to dress for all 48 Red Wings games, Emmerton thought he had shown he was a capable NHL player. But he was now on his way to the minors – a victim of Detroit's roster crunch.
"The waiting is the hard part," he said of being placed on waivers. "You can end up anywhere. I was just hoping to be picked up and get a chance to stay in the NHL, somewhere new, somewhere I could develop new roots. And then nothing happened."
To his relief, 36 hours later he was back to Detroit, where he found himself in the starting lineup for the Red Wings' season opener after the organization decided to put Patrick Eaves on long-term injured reserve.
01/30/2014 10:22 AM
After two turbulent seasons, Andrej Nestrasil is finally steering his career in the right direction.
There is a pivotal point in a hockey player's career where he finally establishes himself, a time when he realizes it is his moment to shine and that if he doesn't grab the proverbial brass ring, he could lose his chance to make his mark.
For Andrej Nestrasil, that moment may have come at the end of the Griffins' triumphant Calder Cup championship run, but it wasn't on the ice. It was in the air. On a plane. With a microphone in his hand.
On the flight back to Grand Rapids, the 22-year-old Red Wings prospect took a leading role, stepping into the spotlight as he playfully interviewed many of his teammates for a local television station, taking charge of the post-game celebration by injecting a little extra excitement into a time that every player on the plane would remember for the rest of his life.
Nestrasil had practiced with the Griffins during the entire postseason run and had dressed for only one game, but it would be enough to get his name on the Cup. In the end, he had experienced the whole process. There was no way that he was going to let down his teammates at that moment.
MAKING THE GRADE
January 30, 2014 10:17 AM
January 30, 2014 10:11 AM
NO BUS FOR GUS
December 13, 2013 1:34 AM
December 13, 2013 1:29 AM
HAVE ICE, WILL TRAVEL
December 13, 2013 12:55 AM
December 13, 2013 12:51 AM
December 13, 2013 12:41 AM
October 18, 2013 12:03 AM
October 18, 2013 12:02 AM
HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS
October 18, 2013 12:01 AM
GOOD HEAD START
March 13, 2013 12:05 AM
March 13, 2013 12:04 AM
March 13, 2013 12:03 AM
THAT SPECIAL FEELING
March 13, 2013 12:02 AM
A DECISION WITH CLASS
March 13, 2013 12:01 AM