All Systems Go
This Week’s Games
GRIFFINS vs. Rockford IceHogs // Fri., Oct. 15 // 7 p.m. // Van Andel Arena
Listen: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 7 p.m.
Watch: AHLTV (Free view for opening weekend)
Season Series: First of eight meetings overall, first of four at Van Andel Arena
All-Time Series: 52-36-9-11 Overall, 33-11-5-5 Home
NHL Affiliation: Chicago Blackhawks
Noteworthy: The Griffins came away with points in seven of the eight games last season against the IceHogs with a 4-1-2-1 record. Grand Rapids is also 16-10-6-6 in the last five seasons against Rockford. Prior to their 9-4 win at Rockford on March 3, 2021, the Griffins’ last nine-goal outing was a 9-1 win at Rockford on Feb. 5, 2016. They came within two goals of matching their team record, set in an 11-6 victory at Rockford on Jan. 19, 2013.
GRIFFINS at Milwaukee Admirals // Sat., Oct. 16 // 7 p.m. EDT // Panther Arena
Listen: WOOD 106.9 FM/1300 AM at 6:35 p.m.
Watch: AHLTV (Free view for opening weekend)
Season Series: First of 12 meetings overall, first of six at Panther Arena
All-Time Series: 102-68-7-7-8 Overall, 48-35-5-5-5 Road
NHL Affiliation: Nashville Predators
Noteworthy: Grand Rapids’ 102 victories over Milwaukee are the most against any opponent in franchise history. Furthermore, the Griffins have faced the Admirals more than any club in the AHL, competing in 192 games dating back to the 2001-02 campaign when both teams joined the AHL from the International Hockey League. Last season was the first year that the Griffins and Admirals did not play each other due to Milwaukee opting out of the shortened season.
26th Season of Hockey: The Grand Rapids Griffins begin the franchise’s 26th overall season of play, 21st as a member of the American Hockey League and 20th as the primary affiliate of the 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on Friday evening when they host the Rockford IceHogs. This marks the first time the Griffins will begin their season at Van Andel Arena since 2017. Grand Rapids has competed in 1,913 games between the IHL and AHL and has amassed a 1,010-695-27-64-117 regular season record (0.582), to go along with 17 playoff appearances, seven division titles and two Calder Cups (2017, 2013).
Simon Says: Ben Simon, 43, begins his fourth season as Grand Rapids’ head coach. A year ago, he guided the Griffins to a 16-12-3-1 record (36 points, 0.563) and a third-place finish in the Central Division. Simon has only coached in one full AHL season as head boss, as his second and third campaigns were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During his inaugural year at the helm in 2018-19, he became the eighth head coach in franchise history to lead the Griffins to the postseason during his first full season behind the bench. Simon served as an assistant coach in Grand Rapids from 2015-18 under Todd Nelson and helped the franchise win its second Calder Cup in 2017. He is the fourth former Griffins assistant to then become the head coach. Appearing in 21 games and scoring nine points (4-5—9) with the Griffins in 2006-07 as part of an 11-year professional playing career, Simon is the third former Griffins player to serve as Grand Rapids’ head coach, joining Nelson and Danton Cole (2002-05).
Longest Head/Assistant Coaching Tenures in Griffins History:
|Rank||Coach||Seasons*||Regular Season Games||Position(s)|
|1||Jim Paek||9||708||AC 2005-14|
|Mike Knuble||9||551||AC 2013-22|
|3||Ben Simon||7||399||AC 2015-18, HC 2018-22|
|4||Danton Cole||5||372||AC 1999-01, HC 2002-05|
|5||Curtis Hunt||4||328||AC 1996-00|
|Greg Ireland||4||320||AC 2003-05, HC 2004-07|
|Curt Fraser||4||316||HC 2008-12|
|Todd Nelson||4||308||AC 2002-03, HC 2015-18|
|9||Jeff Blashill||3||228||HC 2012-15|
|Bruce Ramsay||3||228||AC 2015-18|
*Includes partial seasons
Winning Ways: The Griffins have earned 40 or more wins and accumulated 90 or more points in six of the last eight seasons, excluding the 2020-21 campaign since there were only 36 games played. Grand Rapids has qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs in a franchise-record seven consecutive seasons and have advanced to at least the second round on five occasions, including Calder Cups in 2017 and 2013.
Sustained Success: Since the 2012-13 season, Grand Rapids ranks third in the league in both regular season wins and points.
Roster Breakdown: Fourteen players (forwards Riley Barber, Jonatan Berggren, Taro Hirose, Chase Pearson and Joe Veleno; defensemen Brian Lashoff, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Murphy, Wyatt Newpower, Dan Renouf, Donovan Sebrango and Luke Witkowski; goaltenders Victor Brattstrom and Calvin Pickard) on the roster are under contract with the Red Wings, while eight players (forwards Patrick Curry, Turner Elson, Jon Martin, Dominik Shine, Tyler Spezia, Kirill Tyutyayev, Hayden Verbeek, and Dennis Yan) are playing on a Griffins contract. Seven players are Red Wings draft picks (Berggren, Brattstrom, McIsaac, Pearson, Sebrango, Tyutyayev, and Veleno).
Rookies: The Griffins have six players who are considered rookies this season including defensemen Jared McIsaac and Wyatt Newpower, forwards Jonatan Berggren, Patrick Curry, and Kirill Tyutyayev, and goaltender Victor Brattstrom.
GRG → DRW: Nine former Griffins players begin the season on the Red Wings’ active roster, including Tyler Bertuzzi, Danny DeKeyser, Filip Hronek, Dylan Larkin, Gustav Lindstrom, Michael Rasmussen, Moritz Seider, Givani Smith and Filip Zadina.
West to East: Since the Grand Rapids-Detroit affiliation began in 2002-03, 105 Griffins have gone on to play for the Red Wings. In fact, 18 Griffins alumni wore the Winged Wheel during the 2020-21 season.
Return of Riley: Riley Barber led the Griffins in goals (20), points (34) and points per game (1.06) a season ago. His scoring pace equaled a 48-goal, 81-point clip in a regular 76-game AHL season. Barber also ranked second in the league for goals, just one shy of Cooper Marody (who played seven more games), and was named a Central Division AHL All-Star. Six game-winning goals tied a career best while his four-game goal streak from Feb. 26 through March 11 also matched a career high. The forward added seven multi-point outings out of 32, including a career-high four points (2-2—4) on May 7 against Chicago. Finally, Barber posted a nine-game point streak (8-5—13) from Feb. 5-March 11 that was the longest ever to start a player's Griffins career as well as the longest from the start of a Griffins season.
Rarified Air: Brian Lashoff’s 513 games played for the Griffins rank first among active AHL players who have spent their entire AHL career with the same club and tie for eighth in league history among one-team players. Of the players ahead of him on that list, the most recent – and, coincidentally, the record-holder – last played during the 1970-71 season (Bill Needham of the Cleveland Barons, 981 games played). Lashoff tied No. 8-ranked Stan Smrke (Rochester 1957-67) on March 26, 2021 and is now four games behind No. 7 Pete Kapusta (Providence Reds 1946-55). Lashoff is still 142 games away from breaking the Griffins’ all-time record, held by Travis Richards with 655 games (1995-2006).
Home Sweet Home: Under fourth-year head coach Ben Simon, the Griffins will begin a full 76-game schedule when they host Rockford on Opening Night presented by Huntington Bank, marking the first time since 2017 that they’ll open the season at Van Andel Arena. During their last season opener at home, the Griffins downed Manitoba 5-2 on Oct. 6, 2017 with Elson securing a career-high four points. This year will mark just the eighth time since the 2004-05 campaign that Grand Rapids will open its season at home. Since 2004, the Griffins are 4-2-0-1 in season openers at Van Andel Arena and have outscored their opponents 21-18. Also since 2004, Grand Rapids is 8-6-2-1 in season openers at any venue.
Full Send: The AHL will return to a full 76-game schedule in 2021-22 for the first time since the 2018-19 campaign and will go back to normal divisions this season; Atlantic, North, Central and Pacific. All but the bottom two teams from each division will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, which returns for the first time since 2019. The return of the AHL postseason will feature 23 teams with five rounds of playoffs leading to the crowning of a Calder Cup champion. The top two teams in the Atlantic Division, the top three teams in each of the North and Central Divisions, and the first-place team in the Pacific Division will receive first-round byes into the Division Semifinals. First-round matchups will be a best-of-three series while the Division Semifinals and Finals will feature five games. The Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals will be a best-of-seven series.
Oldies but Goodies: The Griffins roster features six veterans including forwards Riley Barber and Turner Elson, and defensemen Brian Lashoff, Ryan Murphy, Dan Renouf and Luke Witkowski. A player receives veteran status if he has competed in at least 260 games in the NHL, AHL or overseas. Lashoff leads all veterans on the team with 649 career-games played in the NHL and AHL, including 513 with Grand Rapids, which ranks first among active players who have spent their entire AHL career with the same club and tie for eighth all-time in league history. Murphy has appeared in 475 outings, which ranks second on the roster while Elson places third with 397 contests.
European Influence: Grand Rapids and Detroit has a long tradition of possessing high-level European talent and this season will be no different. Forward Jonatan Berggren and netminder Victor Brattstrom hail from Sweden while forward Kirill Tyutyayev comes to the state of Michigan from Russia. All three will make their North America debut with the Griffins. Berggren has spent three seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with Skelleftea and has logged 60 points (14-46—60) in 99 outings. Fellow forward Tyutyayev has totaled 52 points (14-38—52) in 70 games between Gornyak Uchaly in the Supreme Hockey League (VHL) in Russia and Yunost Minsk in Belarus. Goaltender Brattstrom has spent time in the SHL and Allsvenskan in Sweden as well as the Liiga in Finland. The fifth-year pro has amassed a 66-43-7 record while holding a 2.27 goals against average.
Time to Celebrate: Although the 2021-22 season will mark the franchise’s 26th campaign overall, the Griffins will celebrate as if it were the 25th season. The celebration was put on ice last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with fans returning to Van Andel Arena in full force, the upcoming season will include a variety of festivities and promotions to honor the franchise’s first quarter-century. It will have been 583 days since Grand Rapids competed in front of more than 750 fans. The Griffins will welcome back 10,834 of their closest friends to Van Andel Arena for 38 games, including 27-prime home dates (15 Fridays and 12 Saturdays).
Powerful Play: Following a 2019-20 campaign in which they finished sixth in the AHL’s power play rankings at 20.9%, the Griffins exceeded that mark in 2020-21 with a power play conversion rate of 21.5%, the fifth best on the circuit. Grand Rapids’ home power play ranked third-to-last in the AHL, having converted 13.1% of its chances. However, the road power play was deadly at 30%, which was the second-highest percentage in the league a year ago.
Under New Leadership: Pat Verbeek takes over as the new general manager of the Griffins, a position previously held by Ryan Martin. In addition to his new role in Grand Rapids, Verbeek will retain his assistant general manager position with the Red Wings working under Detroit GM Steve Yzerman. Verbeek will oversee all aspects of hockey operations for the AHL franchise, including player personnel decisions, player development, contract negotiations and player movement.
Voice of the Griffins Returns: On Feb. 8, the beloved 22-year Voice of the Griffins, Bob Kaser, underwent successful heart surgery at the Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids to repair several blocked arteries. Released from the hospital on Feb. 14, his recovery is now complete and will return to the booth this season alongside fellow veterans Larry Figurski and Lou Rabaut. Kaser is the newest member of the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame after he was awarded the Warren Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 28, 2021. Everyone in Griffins Nation, the Griffins organization, the AHL, and the Michigan hockey community welcomes Bob back with open arms and are looking forward to hearing more of his historic soundbites this season.
Rockford Notes: First of eight meetings overall, first of four at Van Andel Arena…The Griffins finished the 2020-21 campaign 3-1 at the BMO Harris Bank Center, a venue in which they went 3-7-2-3 in 15 visits from 2017-20...Grand Rapids has lost two straight overall and two straight on the road, and the team has won only one of the last five meetings with Rockford (1-1-2-1). However, the Griffins did take points in seven of the eight games last year against the IceHogs with a 4-1-2-1 record...The Griffins are 16-10-6-6 in the last five seasons against Rockford...Grand Rapids will play in its first season opener at Van Andel Arena since 2017…Prior to their 9-4 win at Rockford on March 3 last season, the Griffins’ last nine-goal outing was a 9-1 win at Rockford on Feb. 5, 2016. They came within two goals of matching of their team record, set in an 11-6 victory at – you guessed it – Rockford on Jan. 19, 2013…Rockford is Grand Rapids’ fourth most frequent opponent as tonight’s game marks the 109th meeting between the two franchises (Cleveland 110, Chicago 172, Milwaukee 192)…Griffins head coach Ben Simon served as an assistant in Rockford for two seasons (2011-13)…Rockford head coach Derek King played in Grand Rapids from 1999-01 and 2002-04. He is the franchise’s all-time leading playoff scorer (16-25—41) and ranks fifth in regular season points (73-130—203).
Griffins in the NHL: Twenty-three Griffins alumni are featured on NHL opening-day rosters. Moritz Seider is set to become Grand Rapids’ 187th NHL alumnus on Thursday night. With Grand Rapids alum Riley Sheahan skating for the Seattle Kraken in their debut on Tuesday, Oct. 12, all 32 NHL franchises have had a former Griffin play for them at some point.
Familiar Faces in Different Places: A number of key contributors to last season’s 16-win team now find themselves with new clubs for the upcoming season.
- Dennis Cholowski: Placed second among Griffins defensemen with 10 points (3-7—10) in 13 games with Grand Rapids in 2020-21 and totaled three points (1-2—3) in 16 games with Detroit; Signed a one-year contract with Seattle (NHL) on Sept. 7;
- Evgeny Svechnikov: Logged eight points (3-5—8) in 21 games with Detroit and two points (1-1—2) in four games with Grand Rapids, 2017 Calder Cup champion; Signed a one-year contract with Manitoba (AHL) on Aug. 20;
- Joe Hicketts: Paced all Griffins defensemen and ranked fifth among all skaters with 18 points (1-17—18) in 32 games in 2020-21, 2017 Calder Cup champion; Signed a two-year contract with Minnesota (NHL) on July 28;
- Gregor MacLeod: Tied for eighth among Griffins forwards with eight points (2-6—8) in 17 outings; Signed a one-year contract with Nurnberg (DEL/Germany) on July 25;
- Pat Nagle: Led the Griffins goaltenders with a 2.78 GAA while showing a 6-6-0 record and a 0.892 save percentage; Signed a one-year contract with Lehigh Valley (AHL) on Sept. 17;
- Dominic Turgeon: Placed seventh among Griffins forwards with 13 points (6-7—13) while his goal total ranked fifth and assist count took sixth, 2017 Calder Cup champion; Signed a one-year contract with Minnesota (NHL) on July 28;
- Dylan McIlrath: Eight points (2-6—8) in 29 games ranked third among Griffins blueliners, 2017 Calder Cup champion; Signed a two-year contract with Washington (NHL) on July 28;
- Troy Dello: Notched two assists in 19 games for Grand Rapids during his rookie season; Signed a one-year contract with Laval (AHL) on July 12.
Photos by Mark Newman & Nicolas Carillo/Griffins