Calder Cup Champions - 2013 & 2017
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Griffins vs. IceHogs Storylines - Central Division Semifinals

Grand Rapids finished the regular season series against Rockford with a 6-4-2-0 record, including 2-2-2-0 at Van Andel Arena and 4-2-0-0 at the BMO Center. After going 1-2-0-0 in the first three meetings, the Griffins went on a seven-game point streak (5-0-2-0) against Rockford from Jan. 13-April 5 before dropping the final two games. The Griffins have been held scoreless five times during the regular season, three of which came against the IceHogs. Five of the 12 meetings were decided by just one goal. Zach Aston-Reese led Grand Rapids against Rockford with seven points (3-4—7) in 11 games, while Brett Seney paced the IceHogs against the Griffins with 13 points (5-8—13) in 12 appearances. Leading each team in net were Sebastian Cossa, who went 5-2-1 with a 1.98 GAA and a .920 SV% in eight games, and Rockford’s Jaxson Stauber, who showed a 3-0-0 mark with a 1.63 GAA and a .930 SV% in three contests.

The Griffins and IceHogs have met just once before in the Calder Cup Playoffs, as Grand Rapids defeated Rockford 4-1 in the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals. The Griffins are 2-0 at home and 2-1 on the road against Rockford in the postseason. This is Grand Rapids’ 18th playoff berth, and it possesses a 98-82 ledger and 20-15 series record, which includes games in the IHL’s Turner Cup Playoffs from 1996-01. The Griffins have a 6-5 mark in a best-of-five series. This will be Rockford’s ninth Calder Cup Playoff appearance in 15 seasons. The IceHogs are 24-30 in postseason games and have a 6-8 series record. Last season, Rockford defeated Iowa 2-0 in the first round before being bested 3-0 by Texas in the Central Division Semifinals.

Other storylines of the series include:

  • Grand Rapids clinched its playoff berth on March 27 by virtue of a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Monsters. This marked the team’s earliest clinching date since 2017, when the AHL’s eventual Calder Cup champions secured their spot on March 26. Clinching a spot with 25 days remaining in the regular season also marked the earliest the Griffins have clinched relative to the date of their finale since 2006, when the AHL’s regular-season champions locked up their berth with 34 days to play;
  • First-year head coach Dan Watson will make his Calder Cup Playoffs debut. He is the ninth head coach in franchise history to lead the Griffins to the postseason during his first full season behind the bench, joining Dave Allison (1996-97), Bruce Cassidy (2000-01), Danton Cole (2002-03), Greg Ireland (2005-06) Curt Fraser (2008-09), Jeff Blashill (2012-13), Todd Nelson (2015-16) and Ben Simon (2018-19). Watson has never missed the playoffs during his seven seasons as a head coach. With the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, Watson went 51-34 (.600) over five postseasons, reaching the Kelly Cup Finals twice (2019 and 2022) and leading Toledo to four Western Conference Finals berths (2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023);
  • After missing the postseason in 2018-19, Rockford has claimed three straight playoff berths from 2022-24 and has reached the Central Division Semifinals for the third consecutive time. The IceHogs’ best finish came in 2018 when they reached the Western Conference Finals before being defeated 4-2 by the Texas Stars;
  • The Griffins and IceHogs have a few connections on championship-winning teams. In 2023, assistant coach Steph Julien helped lead Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship with Rockford’s Colton Dach and Ethan Del Mastro. Carter Mazur and Drew Commesso competed together for Team USA at the 2023 World Championship last summer. In 2022, Sebastian Cossa and Del Mastro won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. Cossa also won the 2022 WHL Title with the Edmonton Oil Kings alongside IceHogs’ Jalen Luypen. Mazur, Antti Tuomisto, Shai Buium and Rockford’s Cole Guttmann captured the 2022 NCAA Title with the University of Denver;
  • Rockford’s assistant coach Jared Nightingale is a familiar name, as he competed for Michigan State University from 2002-06 and for the Griffins in 2014-15. Nightingale also played under Dan Watson’s Toledo Walleye squad from 2014-17, serving as captain for all three seasons. Jared’s brother Adam Nightingale is currently the head coach of Michigan State;
  • Josiah Didier (2019 Charlotte) and assistant coach Brian Lashoff (2013 and 2017 Grand Rapids) are the Griffins’ previous Calder Cup champions. Brogan Rafferty (2023), Joel L’Esperance (2018) and Michael Hutchinson (2014) all have made a Calder Cup Finals appearance. David Gust is the lone IceHog to capture the Calder Cup, doing so in 2022 with the Chicago Wolves. Rockford’s Zach Sanford won the 2019 Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.