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ORIGINAL SIX

03/01/2006 10:18 AM - As the Griffins celebrate their 10th anniversary season, a few staffers remember the beginning

Story and photo by Mark Newman

For hockey fans, the term “Original Six” conjures great respect and nostalgia, referring to the six National Hockey League teams that existed from the 1942-43 season to the circuit's expansion in 1967.

The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers are all still in existence today.

For the Griffins, the “Original Six” refers to the non-playing members of the organization who have been a part of the “team” since the club’s inaugural 1996-97 season.

Travis Richards is the only player who has appeared in all 10 seasons with the Griffins, but the hockey staff and front office include six individuals who have been with the organization from the beginning.

Holdovers from the hockey side are general manager Bob McNamara and medical therapist Rob Snitzer, while the front office includes Bob Sack, senior vice president of sales and marketing; Tim Gortsema, vice president of finance and administration; Lourie (Boike) Hurley, director of ticket operations; and Lisa Vedder, accounting manager.

They share a common bond that comes from creating something special, a bond that has strengthened, not lessened, over the years. As players have come and gone, they’re the glue that has held the organization together.

“We’re a team in the office as well as the ice,” Vedder says.

When players refer to chemistry, they’re talking about a way of working together that this group embraced long ago. From the start, they’ve been joined by an esprit de corps, a willingness to do whatever it takes to keep the customer - the average fan as well as the seaon ticket holder - happy.

“We’ve always done a little bit of everything,” Hurley says. “If there are mailings that have to go out, we all help. Ticket renewals? We all pitch in and call.”

When Hurley was hired, she says her position had no formal title, unless “hodgepodge” counts. Before taking over the Griffins’ ticket department, she oversaw the Name-the-Team contest and helped organize the first Griffins Youth Foundation golf outing.

It’s no different today. Vedder does more than crunch numbers in the accounting department. On most game nights, she works in customer service, handling everything from lost children to ticketholder complaints.

“There’s no boredom in our jobs,” Vedder says. “There are always new issues, different things to do and different ways to do them. Life in this office is ever-changing.”

Indeed, a job in the Griffins front office has never been your typical 9-to-5 fare.

“We’ve always worked long hours, but it’s usually fun,” Hurley says. “I love my job. If I ever get up in the morning and I don’t want to go to work, that’s the time to find a new job.”

Where other work can be mundane and mechanical, a day in the Griffins office is always interesting.

“There’s always been this buzz,” Hurley says. “From the beginning there was a new buzz almost every day, whether it was opening the team store, new sponsors coming on board, or signing our first player.”

She still remembers the thrill of seeing the inaugural Griffins team on the ice for the first time. “Everything was working toward Opening Night, so going to those first practices at Belknap Ice Arena was really exciting. We actually had a team!”

And yet it is not necessarily a love of hockey that bonds this group together. Just ask Vedder.

“I’m probably the least sports fan in this office, and the funny thing is I’m married to a sportswriter," says Vedder, whose husband, Steve, is a regular contributor to The Grand Rapids Press. “What keeps our jobs interesting is the variety of people we get to meet.”

Just as every game is different, so is every day for the Griffins’ front office. Nothing is out of the ordinary. When a fan spills beer on the coat of a child, Vedder finds herself washing and drying the jacket in the team’s laundry room, checking on its progress between periods.

“There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes out of making sure our fans have a positive experience,” she says.

So that means changes every season - new twists, new promotions, new options - to keep the fan base happy. “We’re always doing something different, running different promotions for the fans. There are always new challenges to face.”

Of course, keeping 5,000 season tickets holders is a challenge in itself. “The challenge is meeting the different expectations of a diverse group,” Hurley says. “It’s all about finding a happy balance.”

After 10 years, the Griffins feel a special bond with their fans.

“Some of them are very tied to the organization,” Hurley says. “You practically know their life history. You know them all, but on different levels. They often feel like they are part of the organization.”

In many ways, they are.

“We wouldn’t be here without the fans,” Hurley says. “They feel a part of the team, and that’s the way it should be.”




Griffins general manager Bob McNamara brings players to Grand Rapids; Rob Snitzer does his best to keep them healthy once they're here.

The team’s medical therapist has worked more than 1,400 professional games, the majority in Grand Rapids, where he found a home after spending several years with AHL teams in Prince Edward Island and Moncton.

“It’s a great organization,” says Snitzer, who met his wife, Margo, at a Griffins’ Christmas party and now has two children, Mallory, 2-1/2, and Wyatt, eight months. “I have the privilege of knowing that we’re treated very well here.”

Although medicine is an evolving science, his mission has remained essentially the same - to keep the players in their peak physical health and work with team doctors to direct the rehabilitation of injured players.

If he’s enjoyed his work a little more this season, it’s a reflection of the Griffins’ success. “When you win, there are less ice bags, less band-aids. When you’re winning, you don’t hurt as much.”

Like the rest of the organization, he longs for a championship. “We’ve had a good run, but I’d like to see us win it all. For once, I'd like to see us win that final game.”


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