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Game Notes: Griffins at Admirals - May 15, 2024

May 15, 2024
Written By: Andrew Streitel

Grand Rapids Griffins at Milwaukee Admirals

Game Time: 8 p.m. at Panther Arena

Griffins Playoff Game #5 * Road Playoff Game #3 * AHL Game #R1

Regular-Season Series: 4-3-1-0 Regular-Season Home Series: 3-1-0-0 Regular-Season Road Series: 1-2-1-0

All-Time Regular-Season Series: 113-83-7-9-8 All-Time Regular-Season Home Series: 61-39-2-3-3 All-Time Regular-Season Road Series: 52-44-5-6-5

Playoff Series: 0-0 Playoff Home Series: 0-0 Playoff Road Series: 0-0
All-Time Playoff Series: 6-4 All-Time Playoff Home Series: 3-2 All-Time Playoff Road Series: 3-2

Setting the Stage 
The Griffins clinched their 18th playoff berth in 28 seasons with a 37-23-8-4 record and 86 points, claiming the second spot in the Central Division, seventh in the Western Conference and 13th overall in the AHL. Grand Rapids will face the top-seeded Milwaukee Admirals (47-22-2-1, 97 pts.), who have reached the Central Division Finals for the third consecutive season. The Griffins finished the regular-season series against the Admirals with a 4-3-1-0 record, including 3-1-0-0 at Van Andel Arena and 1-2-1-0 at Panther Arena. Neither team posted a shutout during the regular-season series but the Griffins held Milwaukee to just one goal on three occasions. Grand Rapids possesses a 101-83 ledger in the postseason and 21-15 series record, which includes games in the IHL’s Turner Cup Playoffs from 1996-01. The Griffins have a 7-5 mark in a best-of-five series. This is Milwaukee’s 18th Calder Cup Playoff appearance in 21 seasons. The Admirals are 72-76 in AHL postseason games and have a 14-16 series record. Last season, Milwaukee took down Manitoba and Texas to claim the Central Division title before being defeated 4-2 by the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Western Conference Finals. 

How We Got Here 
After finishing in second place in the Central Division in the regular season and receiving a first-round bye, the Griffins took down the third-seeded Rockford IceHogs 3-1 in the Central Division Semifinals. The Milwaukee Admirals completed the regular season in first place in the division and faced the fourth-seeded Texas Stars in the Central Division Semifinals. After dropping the first two games of their series against Texas, Milwaukee went on to take all three must-win games at home to defeat the Stars, 3-2. The Admirals became the 13th team in AHL history to win a best-of-five series after trailing 2-0 (Grand Rapids was the 11th, against Toronto in the 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals). The Griffins have advanced to the Central Division Finals for the first time since their 2017 Calder Cup championship run, while this is Milwaukee’s third consecutive appearance in the division finals. The Admirals have set a new franchise record by earning a playoff series win in three straight postseasons. 

Going Way Back 
The upcoming series between the Griffins and Admirals will actually mark the fifth series ever between pro teams from Grand Rapids and Milwaukee. The Grand Rapids Owls defeated the Admirals four games to three in the 1979 IHL Turner Cup Quarterfinals.

This Date in Griffins Playoff History
2015: Five Griffins score goals and six enjoy two-point nights, as a well-balanced attack paces Grand Rapids to a 5-4 victory over Toronto at Van Andel Arena, giving the Griffins a 2-1 series lead.

Prior History
The Griffins and Admirals will renew a rivalry that dates back to the 1996-97 season when both were members of the International Hockey League. The teams have met a combined 220 times in the regular season, with the Griffins possessing a 113-83-7-9-8 record. The Griffins’ 220 meetings against Milwaukee are the most of any opponent Grand Rapids, and the Griffins’ 113 wins are the most against any foe. Grand Rapids is 6-4 overall against Milwaukee in the postseason, including 3-2 at home and 3-2 on the road.  The Griffins and Admirals have met three prior times in the Calder Cup Playoffs, with Grand Rapids holding a 2-1 series advantage. Every series between Milwaukee and Grand Rapids has ended in a sweep. The Griffins swept the Admirals 3-0 in both the 2017 and 2016 Central Division Semifinals, and Milwaukee went 4-0 against Grand Rapids in the 2006 Western Conference Finals. 

Historic Bout 
On Feb. 25, the Griffins and Milwaukee Admirals made AHL history, as it was the first meeting between two teams riding point streaks of 14 games or more. Grand Rapids entered the night with points in 14 straight games and Milwaukee was on a 19-game winning streak, which was the second-longest run in AHL history. The Griffins came away victorious in a 4-2 win to extend their point streak to 15 outings (11-0-2-2), snapping the Admirals’ historic run. Sebastian Cossa finished with 37 saves and Marco Kasper was credited with the game-winner. 

Made the Nice List
Before the Christmas break, the Griffins were tied for the fourth-lowest points percentage in the AHL with a 9-13-3-1 record (.423). Grand Rapids then went on a tear to finish the season, as it held the fifth-highest points percentage in the AHL since Dec. 27 with a 28-10-5-3 mark (.696), just behind Milwaukee (.702). The Griffins, who sat in sixth place at the holiday break, quickly catapulted themselves into second place in the Central Division, which was their best finish since the 2017-18 season. 

TeamRecord Since Dec. 27Points %AHL Ranking
Coachella Valley32-6-4-5.7771st
Grand Rapids28-10-5-3.6965th

Power Outage 
The Griffins failed to convert on eight power-play opportunities during their Central Division Semifinals series against the Rockford IceHogs. This was the first time in 36 all-time postseason series that Grand Rapids did not score at least one time on the power play, dating back to 1997 when the team competed in the IHL Turner Cup Playoffs. 

Leaders and Best
Jonatan Berggren leads the Griffins with five points (3-2—5) in four games this postseason, including all three game-winning goals. Berggren became the only Griffin and just the 13th player in AHL history to score two sudden-death overtime goals in a single playoff series. The Swede also tied a franchise record (Stacy Roest, 2003 vs. Chicago) by scoring his third game-winning goal of a single playoff series. Berggren and Austin Czarnik are tied for the team lead with three goals, and Carter Mazur paces the squad with three assists. In net, Sebastian Cossa holds a 3-1 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage. For Milwaukee, Zach L’Heureux ranks first with nine points (5-4—9) and five goals in five outings, while Juuso Parssinen has five helpers to lead the Admirals. Netminder Troy Grosenick possesses a 3-0 ledger with a 2.34 GAA and a .920 SV%.  

Against Top Seeds
Dating back to the 2000 IHL Turner Cup Playoffs, the Griffins have a 4-7 series record when they face a No. 1 seed. Grand Rapids has won four of the last five series against a top seed. The Griffins are 26-31 in games against a top seed, including a 16-11 mark at home and a 10-20 ledger on the road. The Griffins have faced a top-seeded Milwaukee squad twice before (2016, 2006) and are 1-1 against them with a 3-4 record in games played. The Admirals swept the Grand Rapids 4-0 in the 2006 Western Conference Finals before the Griffins returned the favor with a 3-0 sweep in the 2016 Central Division Semifinals. 

Lock it Down
This series will feature two of the top defensive teams in the AHL during the regular season, as the Admirals finished third with 2.68 goals against per game and the Griffins tied for seventh at 2.81 goals against per game. Both netminders for Grand Rapids (Sebastian Cossa 2.41 GAA, Michael Hutchinson 2.89 GAA) and Milwaukee (Yaroslav Askarov 2.39 GAA, Troy Grosenick 2.56 GAA) held a goals-against average below 2.90. Grand Rapids averaged 2.38 goals per game against the Admirals, while Milwaukee showed 2.25 goals per game.  

On The Rise
While the Griffins continue their Calder Cup push tonight in Milwaukee, their sibling team in the DP Fox Sports organization will begin a potential four-day, two-match quest for its own title about 500 miles to the southwest. The Grand Rapids Rise women’s volleyball team is competing in the inaugural Pro Volleyball Federation Championship in Omaha, Nebraska, with a semifinal match against the top-seeded Atlanta Vibe set for 7 p.m. EDT tonight. Should the fourth-seeded Rise pull the upset, they’ll face either the second-seeded Omaha Supernovas or the third-seeded San Diego Mojo in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. EDT Championship Final in Omaha. Including tonight’s other semifinal bout between Omaha and San Diego, all three matches will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

Bench Boss
On April 27 in a 3-2 overtime victory over Rockford, first-year head coach Dan Watson joined seven other head coaches who won their first postseason game behind the Griffins’ bench. Watson also became the eighth of the last nine Griffins head coaches to win his first playoff series, defeating the IceHogs 3-1. 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).

From Friend to Foe
The Griffins and Admirals 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 Milwaukee’s Jake Matier and Reid Schaefer. Cossa and Luke Prokop won the 2022 WHL title with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Captain Josiah Didier and Rolan McKeown won the Calder Cup together in 2019 with the Charlotte Checkers. Milwaukee’s Jasper Weatherby competed for the Griffins last season after being traded from San Jose to Detroit on Jan. 18, 2023. Weatherby went on to record 11 points (3-8—11) in 31 outings for Grand Rapids. Matt Luff spent the 2021-22 campaign with the Nashville organization and suited up for 30 games with Milwaukee, amassing 31 points (14-17—31).

A Cut Above
There have been 10 different Calder Cup champions since 2011, with Grand Rapids being the only team to earn multiple championships (2013 and 2017) during that time. The other winners were Hershey (2023), Chicago (2022), Charlotte (2019), Toronto (2018), Lake Erie (2016), Manchester (2015), Texas (2014), Norfolk (2012) and Binghamton (2011).

Hard to Kill 
During the Griffins’ franchise-record run of seven straight playoff appearances from 2013-2019, they won two Calder Cups (2013 and 2017), twice lost to the eventual champion (Texas 2014, Lake Erie 2016), and twice lost to the cup runner-up (Utica 2015, Chicago 2019). During their 13 previous AHL playoff runs, they won those pair of cups, lost to the eventual champion on four occasions, and also lost to the other finalist four times. Including their first five seasons as members of the International Hockey League, the Griffins have qualified for the postseason on 17 prior occasions, winning it all twice, losing six times to the eventual champ, and losing four times to the runner-up.

First Time for Everything
Dominik Shine, among Grand Rapids’ all-time regular season leaders in games played (422, 3rd), goals (61, T18th), points (138, T20th) and penalty minutes (477, 8th), is the only current Griffin who had played a postseason game with the franchise before this year. Shine earned his first series win last week against Rockford, as he totaled 10 playoff games as a member of the 2018 and 2019 teams that each lost in the Central Division Semifinals. Two other longtime Griffins saw their first playoff action with the team in the division semifinals, including Taro Hirose (248 games played, 151 assists (3rd), 201 points (6th)) and Tyler Spezia (240 games played). 

Been There, Done That 
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. Kevin Gravel (2015 Manchester) and Roland McKeown (2019 Charlotte) are the two Admirals who’ve captured the Calder Cup 

Between the Pipes
Rookie Sebastian Cossa has taken over the starting role for the Griffins, as he went 3-1 in the Central Division Semifinals with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage. During the regular season, Cossa tied for sixth on the circuit with a 2.41 GAA to go along with a .913 save percentage and a 22-9-9 record. Yaroslav Askarov and Troy Grosenick split time in net for Milwaukee during the regular season. Askarov ranked fifth in the AHL with a 2.39 GAA and Grosenick placed 18th with a 2.56 GAA. Askarov competed in Games 1 and 2 of the division semifinals but lost both and posted a 4.13 GAA and a .840 SV%. Grosenick took over the crease for the remainder of the series with the Texas Stars and went 3-0 with a 2.34 GAA and a .920 SV%. Grosenick competed against the Griffins in the 2017 Western Conference Finals with San Jose. During the that series, Grosenick showed a 1-4 ledger with a 3.73 GAA and a .892 SV%.  

What a Season it was 
The Griffins secured at least a point in 38 of their final 49 regular-season contests (29-11-6-3), which included a 28-10-5-3 (.696) mark since Dec. 27, the fifth-best record in the AHL. The Griffins enjoyed a franchise-record 19-game home point streak (14-0-3-2) from Jan. 13-April 5, beating out the previous mark of 16 games that was established from Jan. 9-Feb. 27, 2004, that was the longest such streak in the AHL since the Providence Bruins went 18-0-3-2 over 23 games in 2015-16. The Griffins saw their overall 18-game point streak (13-0-3-2 from Jan. 13-March 2) come to an end on March 4 in Cleveland, which was one game shy of tying the franchise record of 19 contests (Feb. 4-March 20, 2015 15-0-3-1) and was the second-longest run in the AHL this season. Grand Rapids’ nine-game road point streak (8-0-0-1) from Dec. 27-Feb. 17 was their longest since an 11-game run (9-0-1-1) from Jan. 29-March 12, 2015 and was tied for the second longest in the AHL this season. The Griffins finished the regular season with a 23-7-4-2 record (52 pts.) at Van Andel Arena, an increase of 11 wins and 21 points over their 2022-23 showing (12-17-4-3, 31 pts.). It marked their most wins and points on home ice since the 2016-17 campaign, when the eventual Calder Cup champions went 25-11-0-2 (52 pts.) in front of their faithful. Grand Rapids went 2-9-2-1 (.250) in its first 14 games on the road, before earning a point in 15 of its final 22 road outings (12-7-2-1, .614) to finish 14-16-4-2 away from home. 

Regular Season Series Notes
Grand Rapids finished the regular season series against Milwaukee with a 4-3-1-0 record, including 3-1-0-0 at Van Andel Arena and 1-2-1-0 at Panther Arena...Neither team posted a shutout during the regular-season series, as the Griffins held Milwaukee to just one goal on three occasions…Four of the eight meetings were decided by just one goal...Carter Mazur led Grand Rapids against Milwaukee with eight points (5-3—8) and five goals in seven contests, while Joakim Kemell paced the Admirals against the Griffins with five points (3-2—5) and three goals in eight appearances...Leading each team in net were Sebastian Cossa, who went 3-0-1 with a 1.47 GAA and a .925 SV% in four games, and Milwaukee’s Troy Grosenick, who showed a 2-0-1 mark with a 1.62 GAA and a .949 SV% in three contests...Eemil Viro skated in his 200th pro game on Nov. 4 at Milwaukee...Matt Luff appeared in his 200th AHL game on Feb. 25 against the Admirals...Curtis Hall suited up for his 150th pro game on March 30 at Milwaukee...Taro Hirose claimed sole possession of third place on the Griffins' all-time assist list with his 136th helper on Dec. 1 against Milwaukee and later registered his 150th assist as a Griffin on March 30 at the Admirals...William Wallinder secured his first AHL assist on Nov. 4 at Milwaukee...Brogan Rafferty skated in his 250th AHL game on March 30 at Milwaukee...Emmitt Finnie made his pro debut against the Admirals on March 30...Jonatan Berggren appeared in his 100th game as a Griffin on Jan. 10 against Milwaukee.

The Champs are Here
The Griffins’ roster is comprised of numerous coaches and players who have either reached a playoff final or won a title for their respective pro, college, junior or national team(s). Most recently, Shai Buium won the 2024 NCAA title with Denver, Steph Julien claimed the 2023 World Junior Championship as an assistant coach for Team Canada, and Brogan Rafferty reached the 2023 Calder Cup Finals with Coachella Valley.