Grand Rapids Griffins (1-2-0-1) vs. Chicago Wolves (2-1-0-0)
Game Time: 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena
Griffins Game #5 * Home Game #2 * AHL Game #67
Season Series: 0-0-0-0 Home Series: 0-0-0-0 Road Series: 0-0-0-0
All-Time Series: 90-71-2-6-3 All-Time Home Series: 44-32-2-4-2 All-Time Road Series: 46-39-0-2-1
Griffins vs. Wolves
First of 12 meetings overall, first of six at Van Andel Arena…Grand Rapids has faced Chicago 172 times in the regular season dating back to their IHL days, the second-most of any Griffins opponent (Milwaukee, 193)…The Griffins went 3-7-0-0 against the Wolves a season ago and possess a 19-22-0-1 record against Chicago over the last five years...In the past four seasons, the Griffins are 5-10-0-0 against the Wolves at Van Andel Arena...The last time Grand Rapids held a winning record against the Wolves in West Michigan was in 2016-17 when it went 4-1-0-0...Grand Rapids and Chicago have played in 15 consecutive games at Van Andel Arena that have been decided in regulation, dating back to March 17, 2017 when the Wolves were upended 5-4 in overtime...Both Grand Rapids’ (29.4%, 5th) and Chicago’s (23.5%, T7th) power play percentage rank in the top 10…Chicago (21-9-1-2, 45 pts, 0.682) won the Central Division in 2020-21 during the shortened, no-playoffs season...As part of his 11-year pro career, Griffins coach Ben Simon registered 87 points (37-50—87) in 196 games with the Wolves from 2001-03 and 2004-05 and was a part of their first Calder Cup title in 2002.
Last Weekend’s Results
The Griffins dropped two games at the Manitoba Moose this past weekend but secured a point in a shootout loss on Sunday. During Friday’s 1-0 defeat, Calvin Pickard recorded his most saves (37) since Jan. 5, 2020 when he made 39 stops in a 5-4 losing effort at San Antonio. On Sunday, the Griffins fell 3-2 in a shootout. Ryan Murphy bagged his first goal of the season and pushed his team-high point total to five (1-4—5), which is tied for second among AHL blueliners. Dennis Yan collected his second goal of the campaign, which places second on the roster. The Griffins failed to convert on three shootout attempts and Victor Brattstrom allowed just one tally in the shootout. Brattstrom registered 28 saves in a losing effort.
Brian Lashoff’s 517 games played for the Griffins ranks first among active AHL players who have spent their entire AHL career with the same club and tie for seventh 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. 7-ranked Pete Kapusta (Providence Reds 1946-55) on Oct. 24 at Manitoba. Lashoff is still 138 games away from breaking the Griffins’ all-time record, held by Travis Richards with 655 games (1995-2006).
Holland, Mich., native Luke Witkowski became the fourth West Michigander to play with the Griffins on Oct. 15, 2021 against Rockford. Witkowski joined 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.
This Date in Griffins History
2017: Matt Lorito returns from a three-game injury absence to register his first career hat trick and lift the Griffins to a 5-3 come-from-behind victory over Chicago.
No Time to Dilly Dally
The Griffins saw their franchise-record 33-game streak of consecutive road contests decided in regulation come to an end last Sunday when Grand Rapids was upended in a shootout at Manitoba. The streak began back on Dec. 29, 2019 and reached 33 contests after Friday’s outing in Manitoba was decided in 60 minutes. The previous record was 23 straight road games from March 1, 2009 through Dec. 13, 2009.
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, converting 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. This season has been no different through four games as the power play is converting on 29.4% of its opportunities, which ranks fifth in the AHL.
The Red Wings on Tuesday assigned center Kyle Criscuolo to Grand Rapids. The sixth-year pro competed in 29 games with the Griffins a season ago, totaling 19 points (11-8—19) and 16 penalty minutes. The Southampton, N.J. native will enter his fourth season with Grand Rapids and has made 109 appearances with the Griffins, earning 60 points (28-32—60) and recording 30 PIM. As a first-year pro with Grand Rapids, Criscuolo was part of the Griffins’ Calder Cup championship team in 2017. In addition, Grand Rapids released center Josh Dickinson from his professional tryout.
After leading the Griffins in assists a year ago with 23, Taro Hirose is off to a great start as he has bagged four helpers in the opening four games, which is tied for the team lead with Ryan Murphy and is tied for fifth in the league. All four of his assists have come on the power play, which ranks second in the AHL.
AHL Leaderboard Tracker
Taro Hirose—Tied for fifth with four assists, four power play assists rank second
Ryan Murphy—Four assists are tied for fifth, five points (1-4—5) are tied for second among defensemen
Joe Veleno—Two power play goals are tied for second
Kirill Tyutyayev—Two assists are tied for 12th among rookies
Calvin Pickard—1.01 goals against average rank ninth, 0.968 save percentage is tied for second
Taro Hirose—One assist from 50 as a Griffin
Brian Lashoff—Three assists from 100 as a pro
Chase Pearson—One point shy of 50 in a Grand Rapids uniform
Luke Witkowski—Three points from 50 in the AHL
Tyler Spezia—Five assists from 50 as a pro
Jonatan Berggren—Three assists from 50 as a pro
Jon Martin—Two assists from 50 as a pro
Time to Celebrate
Although the 2021-22 season marks 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. The Griffins will welcome back up to 10,834 of their closest friends to Van Andel Arena for 38 homes games, including 27 prime home dates (15 Fridays and 27 Saturdays).
Under New Leadership
Pat Verbeek takes over as the new general manager of 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.
The Griffins roster features six 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 all made their Grand Rapids debut during opening weekend. Newcomers to West Michigan that skated in their first game as a Griffin on Friday, Oct. 15 against Rockford included defensemen Ryan Murphy and Luke Witkowski, and forward Dennis Yan. The sixth-year pro Jon Martin made his first appearance in a Grand Rapids uniform on Oct. 22 in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Grand Rapids and Detroit has a long a tradition of possessing high-level European talent and this season is 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 made their North American debuts with the Griffins during opening weekend. Berggren spent three seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with Skelleftea and logged 60 points (14-46—60) in 99 outings. Fellow forward Tyutyayev 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 spent time in the SHL and Allsvenskan in Sweden as well as the Liiga in Finland. The fifth-year pro has amassed a 66-44-8 record while holding a 2.30 goals against average.
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 European elite leagues. Lashoff leads all veterans with 653 career-games played in the NHL and AHL, including 517 with Grand Rapids, which ranks first among active players who have spent their entire AHL career with the same club and tie for seventh all time in league history. Murphy has appeared in 479 outings, which ranks second on the roster, while Elson places third with 400 contests.
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 points 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 power play 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).
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 has returned 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. 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