Grand Rapids Griffins (1-2-0-0) at Rockford IceHogs (0-3-1-0)
Game Time: 7 p.m. at BMO Harris Bank Center
Griffins at IceHogs
First of eight meetings overall, first of four at the BMO Harris Bank Center…Grand Rapids has not posted a winning record at the BMO Harris Bank Center in any season since 2016-17, going 3-7-2-3 in 15 visits to Rockford over the previous three seasons...Since the 2016-17 season, the home team in this series has posted a 27-9-2-2 record (0.725)…Dominik Shine (2-4—6 in 9 GP) tied Chris Terry (3-3—6 in 9 GP) for the scoring lead in last season’s head-to-head series...The Griffins killed off 30 of the last 31 IceHogs power plays during the 2019-20 campaign...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 and is the franchise’s all-time leading playoff scorer (16-25—41) and ranks fifth in regular season points (73-130—203).
After closing out a four-game road stretch that is their second-longest ever to start a season (five straight in 2009-10), the Griffins will finally return to Van Andel Arena on Saturday to host Cleveland at 4 p.m. on Opening Night presented by Huntington, their first home game in 346 days. When last we saw the Griffins play within friendly confines, they defeated Iowa 4-1 on March 11, 2020. Saturday’s game will be closed to the general public with no tickets available for purchase.
Ready for Our Closeup
All 15 Grand Rapids Griffins regular season games at Van Andel Arena during the 2020-21 regular season will be televised live to fans across West Michigan on WXSP-TV. While the Voice of the Griffins, Bob Kaser, continues his recovery from heart surgery, WOOD TV8 sports anchor Larry Figurski – a veteran of 21 seasons as a Griffins color analyst – will handle the play-by-play duties alongside commentators Lou Rabaut, also a longtime analyst on Griffins broadcasts, and Mike Knuble, the former NHL star and current Griffins assistant coach.
Crisco Fries ‘Em
Kyle Criscuolo has started hot in his return to a Griffins uniform, as the 2017 Calder Cup champion lit the lamp during a power play in each of the team’s first two games at Chicago before chipping in an assist last Saturday in Cleveland to push his point streak to three games (2-1—3).
Newcomer Riley Barber assisted on both of Kyle Criscuolo’s power play goals against Chicago before scoring a goal and adding an assist on Saturday in Cleveland. His four points (1-3—4) lead the team…The Griffins have scored one power play goal in each game this season, and Criscuolo (2-1--3) and Barber (0-3--3) have factored into the scoring of each…Evgeny Svechnikov (1-1—2) and Michael Rasmussen (0-2—2) have each tallied points in two of three games thus far.
Comings and Goings
After a quiet beginning to the season transaction-wise, with no movement between Grand Rapids and Detroit from Feb. 2-13, five players have made either an eastward or westward trip on I-96 since Sunday. That day, goaltender Kaden Fulcher, left wing Taro Hirose (0-2—2 in six games with Detroit this season) and defenseman Dylan McIlrath were assigned to the Griffins from the Red Wings’ taxi squad. Then on Tuesday, Givani Smith (1-3—4 in eight games with Detroit) was sent to Grand Rapids in an identical transaction, while Detroit summoned right wing Evgeny Svechnikov (1-1—2 in three games with GR) to its taxi squad…I-96 was well-traveled last season, when the Red Wings recalled or assigned a player from or to Grand Rapids 85 times before the campaign ended five weeks prematurely due to the pandemic. By comparison, over the course of a full 2018-19 season, the Griffins saw just 62 recalls to or assignments from Detroit.
Lots of Debuts
Last Thursday’s 4-2 loss at Chicago marked the pro debut for forward Max Humitz and defenseman Donovan Sebrango, a third-round selection (63rd overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Rookie forward Patrick Curry made his AHL and Griffins debut after playing eight games with Detva in Slovakia earlier this season, and goalie Kevin Boyle saw his first action as a Griffin after posting a 62-38-10 record in 117 AHL games with San Diego from 2016-20.
We Miss You, Bob!
On Feb. 8, the beloved 21-year Voice of the Griffins, Bob Kaser, underwent successful heart surgery at the Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids to repair several blocked arteries. He is expected to miss the better part of this 30-game shortened season. Everyone in Griffins Nation, the Griffins organization, the AHL, and the Michigan hockey community wishes Bob all the best in his recovery and a quick return to health. We can’t wait until he is back in the booth.
February has historically been very kind to the Griffins, as they’ve posted a winning record for the month 10 years running, going a combined 68-32-5-6 (0.662) from 2011 to 2020. They are 1-2-0-0 so far this February.
Milestones Achieved and Within Reach
Last Thursday in Chicago, Evgeny Svechnikov’s assist on Kyle Criscuolo’s power play goal gave him 100 points (38-62—100) in 184 games as a Griffin, while Dennis Cholowski’s goal marked his 50th point (13-37—50) in 146 pro games with Grand Rapids and Detroit. Then on Saturday in Cleveland, Turner Elson’s two assists gave him 150 points (70-80—150) for his 368-game AHL career. Other milestones on the horizon include:
Griffins – Five wins for 1,000 regular season victories in franchise history
Riley Barber – Two games played for 300 as a pro
Kyle Criscuolo – Two goals from 50 for his AHL/pro career
Brian Lashoff – Four assists for 100 as a pro
Dominik Shine – Six points from 50 for his Griffins/AHL/pro career
Dominic Turgeon – Six points from 100 for his Griffins/AHL/pro career
This Date in Griffins History
1997: Grand Rapids hosts the 1997 IHL All-Star Game before a sold-out throng at Van Andel Arena. Pokey Reddick, Michel Picard and Jeff Nelson represent the Griffins on the Eastern Conference squad, but it’s the Western Conference that claims a 6-4 victory.
Changing of the Guard
Prior to the season, the Griffins named Brian Lashoff as the 17th captain in franchise history, while Kyle Criscuolo, Turner Elson, Dylan McIlrath and Dominic Turgeon were selected as alternate captains. Lashoff, 30, begins his 12th season in a Griffins uniform, having made his debut as 18-year-old on March 29, 2009 at Philadelphia. One of three players to be a part of Grand Rapids’ 2017 and 2013 Calder Cup championship teams, he played his 500th regular season game with the Griffins on March 11, 2020 against Iowa, joining Travis Richards (655) as the only players to hit that milestone out of the 526 who suited up for Grand Rapids over its first 24 seasons. Lashoff’s 503 games rank first among active AHL players who have spent their entire AHL career with the same club and rank ninth in league history among one-team players. Of the eight 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). Next for Lashoff to eclipse are the 513 games that Stan Smrke played for the Rochester Americans from 1957-67. Over those 502 games, Lashoff has contributed 107 points (25-82—107) and 263 penalty minutes, to go with 20 points (5-15—20) and 34 PIM in 75 Calder Cup Playoff games, the second-most in Griffins history behind former captain Nathan Paetsch’s 78. Lashoff’s resume also includes 136 games and 15 points scored (2-13—15) over parts of seven seasons (2012-15; 2016-20) with the Detroit Red Wings, along with a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship earned by helping the United States defeat host Canada for just its second tournament championship ever. The Albany, N.Y., native had previously served the Griffins as an alternate captain for six seasons (2012-13; 2015-20), and now he wears the “C” for the first time since his final junior season with Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League.
Are You Experienced?
Nineteen members of the Griffins’ current 26-man roster saw action in at least one game with the club last season — from Notre Dame product Tory Dello, who made his pro debut in the final game before the shutdown, to Dominic Turgeon, who appeared in each of the team’s 63 contests — while Kyle Criscuolo has returned to Grand Rapids after having helped the Griffins win the Calder Cup as a rookie in 2016-17. Brand new to the team are goaltenders Kevin Boyle (AHL San Diego) and Kaden Fulcher (ECHL Toledo), defenseman Donovan Sebrango (OHL Kitchener), and forwards Riley Barber (AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), Max Humitz (WCHA Lake Superior State) and Patrick Curry (H-East Boston U.).
It Is So, Joe!
Defenseman Joe Hicketts and left wing Taro Hirose are the Griffins’ top returning scorers from a season ago, when their 27 points tied for third on the squad with current free agent Matthew Ford (10-17—27). Only Chris Terry (21-30—51), now with the KHL’s Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL), and Matt Puempel (17-22—39), who has reunited with 2019-20 Griffin Joe Veleno in Sweden with Malmo, tallied more points.
Pick Up Where You Left Off
Pat Nagle finished 2019-20 by going 6-3 with a 2.33 GAA and a 0.925 save percentage in his last 10 appearances, and he allowed two goals or less in five of his last nine starts. The former Ferris State Bulldog appeared in 20 games for Grand Rapids last season after totaling only eight games in the AHL – including three with the Griffins – during his first eight pro seasons. If Nagle had enough minutes to qualify (about 64 shy), his 2.32 overall season GAA would have ranked eighth in the AHL. So far this season, Nagle is 1-1 with a 2.03 GAA and a 0.929 save percentage, having earned win No. 1 in 3-1 fashion last Saturday in Cleveland.
At the Helm
Ben Simon begins his sixth season with Grand Rapids and his third as head coach. He served the first three seasons as an assistant under Todd Nelson, now an assistant coach with the NHL’s Dallas Stars. The 42-year-old Simon guided the Griffins to a 29-27-3-4 record in 2019-20, putting the team in position for what would have been an eighth straight postseason berth before the final 13 games and playoffs were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His club achieved that franchise-record seventh consecutive playoff appearance during the 2018-19 season by posting a 38-27-7-4 mark (0.572), and he played an integral role in helping the club win its second Calder Cup in 2017. During Simon’s first six seasons as a coach in Grand Rapids, the Griffins have compiled cumulative records of 201-134-14-21 (0.591) in the regular season and 24-14 (0.632) in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Griffins in General
Grand Rapids is in the franchise’s 25th overall season of play, 20th as a member of the American Hockey League and 19th as the primary affiliate of the 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings…Grand Rapids is 995-685-27-61-116 (0.582) in the regular season since 1996-97 to go along with 17 playoff appearances, seven division titles and two Calder Cups (2017, 2013)…Grand Rapids has qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs a franchise-record seven consecutive times — and was in position to do so for an eighth straight season when the COVID shutdown hit in last March — and advanced to at least the second round in five of those postseasons.
Photo by Dominic Stankiewicz/Griffins