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Game Notes: Griffins vs. IceHogs - Oct. 15, 2021

Grand Rapids Griffins (0-0-0-0) vs. Rockford IceHogs (0-0-0-0)

Game Time: 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena

Game Day Preview - October 15 vs Rockford IceHogs

Griffins Game #1 * Home Game #1 * AHL Game #2

Season Series: 0-0-0-0 Home Series: 0-0-0-0 Road Series: 0-0-0-0
All-Time Series: 52-36-9-11 All-Time Home Series: 33-11-5-5 All-Time Road Series: 19-25-4-6

Griffins vs. IceHogs
First of eight meetings overall, first of four at Van Andel Arena…The Griffins took 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).

Home Sweet Home
Under fourth-year head coach Ben Simon, the Griffins will begin a full 76-game schedule when they host Rockford for Opening Night presented by Huntington Bank. During their last season opener at home, the Griffins downed Manitoba 5-2 on Oct. 6, 2017, with Turner 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. The Griffins have won four of the last five home openers.

2020-21 Season in Review
The Griffins skated in their 25th season a year ago and concluded the campaign with a 16-12-3-1 record, 36 points and a point percentage of 0.563. Grand Rapids finished the delayed, shortened and no-playoffs season in third place in the Central Division behind leaders Chicago and second-place Cleveland. The Griffins possessed the fifth-best powerplay in the league with a conversion rate of 21.5% while the penalty kill was working at a 74.8% clip. The team was outscored by its opponents 96-97 and ended the year 4-5-0-1 in its last 10 games. Forward Riley Barber paced the club in points (34) and goals (20) while fellow forward Taro Hirose led the roster with 23 assists. In net, Pat Nagle registered the lowest goals against average (2.78) and Kevin Boyle logged the best record (7-3-1).

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).

Fresh Faces
The Griffins’ roster features seven rookies including defensemen Jared McIsaac and Wyatt Newpower, forwards Jonatan Berggren, Patrick Curry, and Kirill Tyutyayev, and goaltender Victor Brattstrom. Among those rookies, Newpower, Berggren, Tyutyayev and Brattstrom will all make their Grand Rapids debuts this year. Newcomers to West Michigan that will skate in their first game as a Griffin include defensemen Ryan Murphy and Luke Witkowski, and forwards Jon Martin and Dennis Yan.

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 Divisions. All but the bottom two teams from each of the four divisions will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, which returns for the first time since 2019. 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 clun 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 and Calder Cup Finals will be a best-of-seven series.

Time to Celebrate
Although the 2021-22 season will mark the franchise’s 26th campaign, 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 home games, including 27 prime home dates (15 Fridays and 12 Saturdays).

This Date in Griffins History
2016: The Griffins swept their home-and-home series against the Chicago Wolves with a 4-2 victory on Saturday at Allstate Arena. Evgeny Svechnikov tallied his first professional goal in the contest while Anthony Mantha, Robbie Russo and Matt Lorito added tallies of their own. Griffins’ netminder Jared Coreau turned aside 23-of-25 shots to earn his second win in just as many games. Eric Tangradi suited up for his 300th AHL game as the Griffins started the season with two wins for the fifth time in franchise history and first since the 2007-08 campaign.

European Influence
Grand Rapids and Detroit have 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.

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.

Hometown Hero
Holland, Mich. native Luke Witkowski will become the fourth West Michigander to play with the Griffins. Witkowski will join East Grand Rapids native Luke Glendening, Kentwood local Mike Knuble and Muskegon legend Justin Abdelkader. Witkowski spent two years with Detroit from 2017-19 but never saw action in the AHL.

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.

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.

Upcoming Milestones
Jonatan Berggren—One game away from 100 pro appearances
Turner Elson—One point from 100 for his Griffins career
Brian Lashoff—Three assists away from 100 as a pro
Jon Martin—Six games away from 250 pro appearances
Ryan Murphy—Four points away from 150 for his AHL career
Chase Pearson—Three games away from 100 as a Griffin and four points shy of 50 in a Griffins uniform
Dan Renouf—Four games away from 150 Griffins appearances and two games away from 300 as a pro
Dominik Shine—Two points shy of 50 for his Griffins career
Joe Veleno—Three points away from 50 as a pro
Hayden Verbeek—Two games away from 100 for his pro career
Ben Simon—One game away from coaching in 400 as part of the Griffins staff and three away from 300 as a head coach at any pro level.

Under New Leadership
Pat Verbeek takes over as the new general manager for the Griffins, a position previously held by Ryan Martin. In addition to his new role in Grand Rapids, Verbeek retains his assistant general manager position with the Red Wings working under Detroit GM Steve Yzerman. Verbeek oversees 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.

Photo by Nicolas Carrillo/Griffins

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