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CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Six Grand Rapids Griffins alumni have been selected by their native countries to play in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

Half of the 12 participating nations will have a former Griffin on their men’s ice hockey roster, including Germany, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.

The roll is led by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall (SWE), currently recovering from a knee injury suffered during training camp. Kronwall, who led Grand Rapids in scoring and was named the American Hockey League’s defenseman of the year in 2004-05, had a starring role for Sweden during the 2005 IIHF World Championship. After scoring six points and helping his country to a fourth-place finish, he was named by the media to the tournament’s all-star team.

Left wing Michael Hackert (GER) made his North American debut with the Griffins this season, contributing three assists in 16 games. Signed by the Red Wings last summer, he returned to the Deutsche Eishockey Liga on Dec. 8 to help facilitate his selection to Germany’s Olympic squad.

The other four Griffins alumni are preparing for their second Olympiads. Three-time NHL All-Star and current Los Angeles Kings left wing Pavol Demitra (SVK) scored 50 points (20-30—50) in 42 games with Grand Rapids during its inaugural 1996-97 season. Julien Vauclair (SUI), who manned the Griffins’ blueline during the 2001-02 season, became the franchise’s first active player to participate in the Olympics when he helped Switzerland to a 2-1-1 record in Salt Lake City.

The final two Olympic alumni, forwards Konstantin Shafranov (KAZ) and Aigars Cipruss (LAT), saw limited action with the Griffins. Shafranov logged 24 games for Grand Rapids in 1999-00, while Cipruss appeared in a single game during the 1996-97 season.

A seventh Griffins alum, Jason Spezza (CAN), has been named an alternate for Team Canada. Spezza, who made his pro debut with Grand Rapids and scored his first pro goal during the 2002 Calder Cup playoffs, currently is tied for fourth in the NHL scoring race (13-34—47) as a member of the Ottawa Senators.

The men’s ice hockey schedule begins with a preliminary round (Feb. 15-21) in which each country will play five games. Quarterfinals on Feb. 22 and semifinals on Feb. 24 will lead up to the Bronze Medal Game on Feb. 25 and the Gold Medal Game on Feb. 26.

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