Grand Rapids Griffins (12-9-3-0) vs. Rockford IceHogs (10-15-1-0)
Game Time: 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena
Griffins Game #25 * Home Game #12 * AHL Game #246
Season Series: 4-1-2-0 Home Series: 1-0-2-0 Road Series: 3-1-0-0
All-Time Series: 52-36-9-10 All-Time Home Series: 33-11-5-4 All-Time Road Series: 19-25-4-6
Griffins vs. IceHogs
Eighth of eight meetings overall, fourth of four at Van Andel Arena…The Griffins on Saturday missed a chance to sweep a road series against the IceHogs for the first time ever, losing 3-2, but they still finished the 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 four straight on the road, and the team has won only one of the last four meetings with Rockford (1-1-2-0)...The Griffins tonight will play their first-ever regular season home game in the month of May. Grand Rapids hasn’t played at Van Andel Arena in May since its run to the Calder Cup in 2017...The Griffins had earned points in all six clashes with Rockford this season prior to Saturday’s regulation defeat...Grand Rapids played four straight games against Rockford from March 3-16, marking just the third time in the Griffins' history that they played 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...The 13 shots allowed by the Griffins in their 3-1 win over the IceHogs on Feb. 18 were one more than Grand Rapids' franchise record for fewest allowed in a game…Prior to their 9-4 win at Rockford on March 3, 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…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).
A First Time for Everything
Last Wednesday’s win over Rockford marked the third game in the Griffins’ 25 seasons that featured a penalty shot for each team and the first-ever at Van Andel Arena, as Mitchell Fossier beat Kevin Boyle at 4:58 of the third and Ivan Nalimov stoned Taro Hirose with 2:26 remaining. On Oct. 11, 2008 at Lake Erie, Darren Helm was stopped by Jason Bacashihua while Daniel Larsson denied Kyle Cumiskey (both in the first period). On April 10, 2011 at Milwaukee, Ilari Filppula could not beat Atte Engren, and Jordan Pearce turned back Ryan Flynn.
The Griffins and IceHogs played near duplicate games at Van Andel Arena on March 13 and 16. Both games were 2-1 overtime wins for Rockford, with the IceHogs rallying from a 1-0 deficit, Matt Tomkins making more than 40 saves to help his team survive a massive shot deficit, and Dylan McLaughlin securing the second point for the visitors by scoring in the extra session. On March 13, the Griffins outshot Rockford 43-22, Tomkins made a career-high 42 saves, and McLaughlin scored 2:14 into overtime. On March 16, Grand Rapids held a 47-22 advantage in shots, Tomkins again set his career-best with 46 stops, and McLaughlin tallied 19 seconds into OT.
After playing just 16 games overall and only four times at home during the first 70 days of this season – owing to both a light early schedule and six postponements since March 16 – the Griffins on April 16 began a stretch which has them scheduled to play their final 16 games and 12 home contests over a span of only 30 days. Updating those numbers, Grand Rapids will play its final eight games and five home contests over the next 13 days.
Last Time Out
The Griffins’ rally from a 3-0 deficit came up a goal short on Saturday, as they lost in regulation to the Rockford IceHogs for the first time in seven meetings this season. The IceHogs converted just six seconds into their first power play opportunity with 4:18 left in the opening period, as Brandon Pirri slammed the puck into the back door. With the Griffins on their second power play late in the frame, they allowed their fourth shorthanded goal of the season at the 18:59 mark, as Dylan McLaughlin broke in alone on Kevin Boyle and slid a shot inside the left post. McLaughlin now has a goal in four straight games against Grand Rapids. Former Detroit draft pick Alec Regula pushed the margin to 3-0 at 6:21 of the second period, but Taro Hirose cut the Griffins’ deficit back to two just 13 seconds later, scoring from the right circle off a feed from Hayden Verbeek. A redirection by Dominic Turgeon at 7:05 of the third tightened the score to 3-2. He darted through the slot to tip Jared McIsaac’s shot, and Ivan Nalimov could not come up with the bouncing puck. The Griffins were held to a season-low 19 shots, three nights after Rockford limited them to 21 shots in Grand Rapids’ 3-2 home win.
Youth is Served
On Thursday against Chicago, the Griffins had four rookie defensemen in their lineup – Charle-Edouard D’Astous, Tory Dello, Jared McIsaac and Donovan Sebrango – for the first time in more than four years, dating to a 5-1 win at Milwaukee on April 15, 2017 when five first-year blueliners took to the ice: Hicketts, Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek, Patrick McCarron and Dan Renouf. Grand Rapids again had four rookie D in the lineup on Saturday in Rockford, with Patrick Holway taking the place of D’Astous and making his pro debut.
In Saturday’s game in Rockford, Hayden Verbeek notched an assist in his Griffins debut and Jared McIsaac recorded his first pro point with an assist.
Congrats Are in Order
Joe Veleno made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings last Tuesday in their 1-0 shootout loss at Columbus, logging two shots and winning 57% (4 of 7) of his faceoffs in 14:59 of ice time. He became the 185th Griffins alum to play in the NHL, after recording 23 points (11-12—23) in 54 games with Grand Rapids last season. Veleno has now played four games with Detroit, totaling five shots and four penalty minutes while averaging 15:10 of ice time.
This Date in Griffins History
2015: The Griffins become the 11th team in AHL history to win a best-of-five series after having trailed 0-2, completing their remarkable comeback with a 3-1 victory over Toronto in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Tom McCollum shines with 35 saves and Alden Hirschfeld nets the game-winner as the Griffins improve to 5-1 overall and 5-0 at home when facing playoff elimination under coach Jeff Blashill. Grand Rapids also moves to 3-0 in winner-take-all contests during Blashill’s tenure, and the Griffins advance to the second round for a third straight year for the first time in franchise history. (Bonus: That was Ben Simon’s last game as an assistant coach with Toronto before joining the Griffins in the same role.)
That’s a Wrap
The Griffins on Thursday concluded a seven-game April homestand that surpassed their most regular season home games ever during the month. Prior to this season, their high-water mark for regular season games at Van Andel Arena during April had been five, established in 2015.
Life of Riley
Riley Barber has registered points in three straight games (1-2—3) and in 19 of 24 contests this season. His 15 goals on the season tie for second in the league, his 25 points (15-10—25) tie for 18th and his 12 power play points tie for fifth. He posted a nine-game point streak 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.
While Gregor MacLeod’s career-high four-game point streak (2-2—4) was snapped on Thursday, he still has points in six of his last nine appearances (2-4—6)...Charle-Edouard D’Astous has an assist in four of his last eight outings...Second on the Griffins in scoring with 19 points (5-15—20) in 21 games, Taro Hirose has points in eight of the last 10 games (2-6—8)…Chase Pearson, who has three assists in the last three games, had his third two-assist game and fourth two-point outing of the season on Thursday against Chicago.
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, who has been unfit to play the last 11 games, tied No. 8-ranked Stan Smrke (Rochester 1957-67) on March 26 and is now four games behind No. 7 Pete Kapusta (Providence Reds 1946-55).
A Long Time Coming
On April 17, goalie Kaden Fulcher made his AHL debut and played his first game in more than 15 months, due to an injury that ended his 2019-20 season, the pandemic, and bouncing between the Griffins and Detroit's taxi squad this season. His last game had been on Jan. 4, 2020, when he made 24 saves for the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye in a 5-2 home loss to Indy. Fulcher made 25 saves in that 4-3 overtime loss to Iowa, including 12 during the third period to help the Griffins rally from a two-goal deficit and earn a point. On April 21, he earned his first victory in the AHL and first at any level in more than two years, 2-1 over Cleveland. Fulcher, who was limited to two ECHL games last season due to an injury, made 27 saves in his second career AHL contest, logging his first win since making 27 stops in Toledo’s 5-0 home triumph over Indy on March 3, 2019.
Following a 2019-20 campaign in which they finished sixth in the AHL’s power play rankings at 20.9%, the Griffins have been even better this season, currently sitting seventh in the league at 21.1% and fourth on the road at 28.6%. Their home power play, however, ranks 24th, having converted 12.2% of its chances.
The Griffins stand fourth in the AHL in shots per game (32.50) and are tied for 12th in goals per game (3.08).
For the Defense
Grand Rapids is 12th in the league in goals allowed per game (3.00)…The Griffins have been outshot in only six of their first 24 games, and only three times have they allowed 30 or more shots, a total that they have reached on 16 occasions. Grand Rapids ranks third in the AHL in shots allowed per game (25.46).
In Saturday’s game at Rockford, Joe Hicketts appeared in his 300th pro contest and Turner Elson recorded his 100th pro assist. Upcoming player milestones include:
Turner Elson—Five points from 100 for his Griffins career
Joe Hicketts—Three assists from 100 for his Griffins/AHL career
Brian Lashoff – Three assists for 100 as a pro
Dominic Turgeon—Two games from 300 for his Griffins/AHL career
It’s a Start
The roar of a Griffins crowd was partially restored on March 13 when the team began welcoming up to 750 fans per home game, pursuant to the most recent order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Griffins 2021-22 season ticket members are being given the first opportunity to purchase tickets to home games during the remainder of the 2020-21 season. Other fans can sign up for Griffins Nation, the team’s official email newsletter, to receive priority access to 2020-21 tickets whenever limited seats are made available for sale throughout the season. On occasion, single-game tickets may also be purchased online at griffinshockey.com.
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, his recovery at home continues to go well. 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.
Photo by Nicolas Carrillo/Griffins