Grand Rapids Griffins (2-2-0-0) vs. Cleveland Monsters (0-2-0-0)
Game Time: 4 p.m. at Van Andel Arena
Griffins vs. Monsters
Second of eight meetings overall, first of four at Van Andel Arena…The Griffins drew first blood in the series last Saturday at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, scoring the final three goals in a 3-1 triumph...Grand Rapids beat Rockford by the same score two nights ago to carry consecutive wins into today’s matchup, while the Monsters have been idle during the last week and remain winless...Grand Rapids and Cleveland are Central Division foes for the first time since 2017-18, following the Monsters’ two-year foray into the North Division and Eastern Conference...These teams split a four-game series in 2019-20, with each winning and losing once on the other’s ice...Griffins head coach Ben Simon is a native of the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights.
After closing out a four-game road stretch that was their second-longest ever to start a season (five straight in 2009-10), the Griffins finally return to Van Andel Arena today for 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...All time, the Griffins are 13-10-0-1 in home openers.
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.
No Soup For You
The 13 shots surrendered by the Griffins in Thursday’s 3-1 win at Rockford were one more than the franchise record for fewest allowed. Two decades ago they held visiting Hershey (Oct. 13, 2001) and host Houston (March 31, 2000) to just a dozen shots each in shutout victories...Kevin Boyle was the beneficiary of that stingy defense, earning the victory to improve to 1-1 with a 2.04 GAA and a 0.902 this season. Not to be outdone, Pat Nagle owns the same record alongside a 2.03 GAA and a 0.929 save percentage.
Newcomer Riley Barber paces the Griffins with five points (2-3—5) and owns a four-game point streak. He and Kyle Criscuolo, whose three-game point streak (2-1—3) was snapped two nights ago, have each contributed three power play points this season, sparking an attack that converted once in each of the first four games and has gone 4-for-17 thus far (23.5%)...Michael Rasmussen (1-2—3) has tallied points in three of the first four outings, while Dennis Cholowski has three points (1-2—3) in the last three games.
This Date in Griffins History
2000: The Griffins blast a team-record 54 shots (since surpassed) in a 2-1 shootout win over the Detroit Vipers.
Deuces Are Wild
Each of the Griffins’ first four games this season has been decided by two goals, although the final margin in both of Grand Rapids’ wins as well as one of its losses at Chicago was inflated by an empty-netter.
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 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...Taro Hirose (0-2—2), Givani Smith (0-1—1) and Dylan McIlrath (0-1—1) all registered assists in their Griffins season debut at Rockford on Thursday after coming down from Detroit’s earlier this week.
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 2-2-0-0 so far this February.
Milestones Achieved and Within Reach
On Feb. 11 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. Last 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 – Four wins for 1,000 regular season victories in franchise history
Riley Barber – One game played for 300 as a pro
Kyle Criscuolo – Two goals from 50 for his AHL/pro career
Turner Elson—Six 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—Two games played for 400 in the AHL, six games played for 200 as a Griffin
Dominik Shine – Six points from 50 for his Griffins/AHL/pro career, eight games played for 200 as a Griffin
Dominic Turgeon – Six 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 504 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.
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 202-134-14-21 (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 996-685-27-61-116 (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 Sam Iannamico/Griffins