Grand Rapids Griffins (4-3-0-0) at Rockford IceHogs (1-6-1-0)
Game Time: 7 p.m. at BMO Harris Bank Center
Griffins Game #8 * Road Game #6 * AHL Game #97
Season Series: 1-0-0-0 Home Series: 0-0-0-0 Road Series: 1-0-0-0
All-Time Series: 49-35-7-10 All-Time Home Series: 32-11-3-4 All-Time Road Series: 17-24-4-6
Griffins at IceHogs
Second of eight meetings overall, second of four at the BMO Harris Bank Center…The Griffins will try to continue the momentum from their 3-1 win at Rockford on Feb. 18, when the 13 shots they allowed to the IceHogs were one more than Grand Rapids' franchise record for fewest allowed in a game...Grand Rapids hasn't had a great deal of recent success at the BMO Harris Bank Center, going 3-7-2-3 in 15 visits to Rockford from 2017-20...The Griffins' win here a couple of weeks ago was just 14th by the visiting team in the last 41 games in this series, dropping the home team's record to 27-10-2-2 (0.707)...After killing off 30 of the last 31 IceHogs power plays during the 2019-20 campaign, the Griffins smothered all five Rockford advantages on Feb. 18...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).
Tonight's matchup will be the only game for the Griffins in a span of 10 days, tiding them over until a return trip to the BMO Harris Bank Center next Thursday, March 11. In fact, Grand Rapids will play each of its next four games against the IceHogs -- including a pair at Van Andel Arena on March 13 and 16 -- marking just the third time in the Griffins' history that they'll play four consecutive regular season games against the same opponent. The Manitoba Moose were the foe on both prior occasions, in November 2006 and November 1997.
A Tale of Two Cities
Last Friday, Chicago — at that point the AHL’s last undefeated team at 7-0 — was dealt its first loss of the season by the Griffins at Van Andel Arena, as Grand Rapids jumped out to leads of 1-0 in the first four minutes and 3-0 before the game was 23 minutes old en route to claiming a 4-1 win, their fourth straight...When Riley Barber banked a backhand off Antoine Bibeau’s leg from below the goal line at 3:59 of the first, it gave Chicago its first deficit in a span of 334:49, dating to the second period of the Wolves’ second game on Feb. 6...Barber’s second goal of the game, 2:02 into the second, put the Wolves in a three-goal deficit for the first time this season...Chicago returned the favor with an 8-4 win on its home ice on Sunday, snapping Grand Rapids' run...The Griffins, who had surrendered a total of four goals during their four-game streak, a combined eight goals in their previous five games, and only 11 goals over their first six games, allowed their most goals against in more than 10 years, dating to a wild 10-8 win at Chicago on Nov. 27, 2010...It marked only the eighth time in 25 seasons that Grand Rapids yielded eight or more goals to the opposition.
Sunday's loss at Chicago marked only the second time this season -- and the first since opening night -- that the Griffins were out-shot, and the first time that they allowed more than 30 shots, a total that they have reached on five occasions. Grand Rapids ranks fourth in the AHL in shots allowed per game (25.57) and is tied for seventh in goals allowed (2.71).
Nine of Grand Rapids’ 19 goals this season have been scored after the second period, including eight during the third period and Dennis Cholowski’s overtime tally on Feb. 20 versus Cleveland…The Griffins’ first three wins of the season each came after the game was tied through 40 minutes of play...Friday’s win over Chicago marked the first time in six games that Grand Rapids held a lead at either the end of the first period or the end of the second period.
The Griffins' power play has connected in six of seven games thus far, including a season-best 3-for-4 on Sunday in Chicago. Grand Rapids has climbed to fourth in the AHL rankings at 29.0% (9 for 31)...The Griffins had killed off 12 consecutive opponent power plays over a span of three games before yielding a goal to the Wolves in their first opportunity on Sunday. Chicago went 2-for-4 during the game.
Riley Barber notched the first two-goal game by a Griffin this season in Friday’s 4-1 win over Chicago. Then in Sunday's road rematch, he notched a goal and an assist to push his team-leading point total to 10 (5-5--10, tied for second in the league) and his team-high scoring streak to seven games...Barber and Kyle Criscuolo are tied for the AHL lead with six power play points apiece...Three other Griffins extended scoring streaks on Sunday, including recently recalled Red Wing Michael Rasmussen (five games, 2-3—5), Dennis Cholowski (four games, 2-5—7) and Taro Hirose (four games, 1-7—8)...Hirose’s three-point night (1-2—3) marked a season-high for a Griffin, and Cholowski moved into a tie for fourth among AHL defensemen in points (3-5--8).
This Date in Griffins History
2006: In a 5-2 loss at Chicago, Donald MacLean ties a single-season team record with his 46th goal.
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. Released from the hospital on Feb. 14 and now recuperating at home, 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 was once again kind to the Griffins, as they posted a winning record for the month (4-3-0-0) for the 11th straight year, going a combined 72-35-5-6 (0.657) since 2011.
Milestones Achieved and Within Reach
Dylan McIlrath reached 400 AHL games on Friday against Chicago. Other milestones on the horizon include:
Griffins – Two wins for 1,000 regular season victories in franchise history
Kyle Criscuolo – One goal from 50 for his AHL/pro career
Turner Elson — Four games played for 200 as a Griffin
Brian Lashoff – Four assists for 100 as a pro
Gustav Lindstrom - Four points for 50 as a pro
Dylan McIlrath – Three games played for 200 as a Griffin
Dominik Shine – Five points from 50 for his Griffins/AHL/pro career, five games played for 200 as a Griffin
Dominic Turgeon – Four points from 100 for his Griffins/AHL/pro career
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 507 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?
Seventeen members of the Griffins’ current 24-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.
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 204-135-14-21 (0.592) 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 998-686-27-61-116 (0.583) 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 Todd Reicher/IceHogs