Get While the Gettin's Good
Tim Gettinger joined the Griffins this season after five years in the New York Rangers organization.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Tim Gettinger has carved a niche for himself as a depth player at the NHL level, having appeared with the New York Rangers in 16 NHL games spread over all but the last of five seasons in the Original Six franchise's organization.
But after spending the entire 2022-23 season with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack, the 6-foot-6 winger felt it was time for a change.
"At my age , I felt I was ready for a new opportunity, and when the Red Wings expressed an interest, everything worked out perfectly," he said. "I had gone back and forth with the Rangers, but this was a chance to be closer to home.
"My wife's from the Detroit area and both of my parents are from Michigan, so it felt like this is the place I wanted to be. I couldn't be happier to be here."
Gettinger grew up in the Cleveland area, but he is far from being a fan of the Buckeyes. Due to his parents' ties to the Wolverine State, he has always been a big Michigan fan.
"It was always tough living in Cleveland with all these Ohio State fans," he said. "In grade school, I took a lot of harsh words whenever the Buckeyes beat Michigan, but obviously it's different now. I guess I got the last say."
He is glad to get the chance to play in Grand Rapids, a city that had oddly remained relatively unknown to him.
"I didn't know much about Grand Rapids, because even after growing up playing hockey almost everywhere, I don't think I ever played hockey here," said Gettinger, who was out with an injury when his Hartford team visited Van Andel Arena in December 2022.
"I knew a couple of the guys in Hartford [Turner Elson, Matt Lorito] who had played here and they talked about how amazing it was – the way you are treated, the fan support, and everything – so it seemed like the perfect spot for me."
Of course, Gettinger is just plain happy being able to play the sport he has always loved, following in the footsteps of a brother eight years older (he also has a sister who is six years older).
"I'm the youngest and, honestly, it was all hockey growing up," he said. "As soon as I was able to stand, we were playing mini sticks. I was always the goalie. My brother would put me up against the couch and shoot balls or pucks at me. From the start, I was hooked on hockey and I just stuck with it the whole time."
Gettinger got his first skates when he was two years old. "I was on the ice right away," he said. "My earliest memories are playing in the driveway with my brother. He was always my idol because he was older and he was already playing at the time, so it was cool to go to his games as a kid."
Growing up in the Cleveland suburbs 20 minutes west of downtown, Gettinger played in the Cleveland Barons AAA hockey program. Originally, he thought he was destined to become a goaltender.
"For the first year or two of hockey, they rotate who plays goalie and I always wanted to play goalie for my team," he said. "But after I played a bit I realized I liked scoring goals, and that's when I decided that maybe playing in goal is not for me."
Gettinger was usually tall for his age.
"I was always taller than most kids when I was growing up, but I wasn't taller than everyone by a lot," he said. "I went through a growth spurt – I grew three or four inches – around my freshman year of high school. At some point, I was probably 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds and I probably looked awkward. It took a while, but once I started putting on a little bit of weight, I got more comfortable with my body."
He credits his coaches for showing him how to make the most of his size.
"I had a lot of good coaches growing up. For me, it was learning how to play as a big guy," he said. "The big thing was learning how to move my feet and play with size. Once I added some weight and got more comfortable with my size, I felt I was ready for the next level."
At age 16, Gettinger left home to play junior hockey for the OHL's Soo Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
"For a kid from Cleveland, the OHL is not usually on the radar," he said. "Everyone's thinking about the college hockey route and, being a big Michigan fan, I went to a lot of Michigan hockey games growing up. That was always my dream, but as I learned more about what the OHL could offer, I started changing my thinking.
"There were a lot of sit-downs with my parents, trying to figure out what was the right call," he said. "I was a decent student, but I decided playing in the OHL was the right decision for me. I was able to keep doing my education from my high school back home, so everything worked out."
Living not far from the shore of Lake Erie, Gettinger was not unfamiliar with winter weather. While he knew all about lake effect snow, he still was unprepared for the frigid temperatures that awaited him.
"I moved up there, and a week or two before Halloween there was three feet of snow," he said. "It's cold and lots of snow, but I loved it because the whole community and the atmosphere up there is so great with how much they love their hockey. It was awesome."
Gettinger was good enough during his first year in junior to be named to the 2015 OHL All-Rookie Team that included Red Wings forward Alex DeBrincat and Ottawa Senators defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
"I think it was a matter of getting my feet warm," he said. "It's tough when you first start playing junior hockey, but each year I felt more and more comfortable. I felt like I got stronger each year."
If he ever felt any impending homesickness, he had family close by.
"My parents came up quite a bit, but my grandparents lived in Cheboygan, which was about an hour and a half drive away, so I could drive down there and hang out with my grandparents for a day whenever we had some time off," he said.
Gettinger was drafted by the New York Rangers in the fifth round (141st overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft after his second year with the Greyhounds.
"It was a dream come true," he said. "It's one of those things when you're watching hockey non-stop as a kid and you see these guys playing and you think, 'I want to be that one day,' and so the opportunity to be drafted, especially by an Original Six team, is amazing."
Gettinger contends that he had no allegiance to a specific NHL team growing up. "Being from Cleveland, you're relatively close to Pittsburgh, Columbus and Detroit," he said. "I kind of grew up following the Capitals because I was an [Alexander] Ovechkin fan."
He increased his point total each year – 25, 39, 54, then 69 points – as well as his goal total, which went from 10 in his first season to 31 and 33 in his last two years. Gettinger served as captain of the 2017-18 Soo Greyhounds team that enjoyed a spectacular season, breezing through the regular season with 116 points and a remarkable record of 55-7-6.
The Greyhounds, who strung together a 23-game winning streak, were favorites to win the league championship, only to come up short to the Eastern Conference champion Hamilton Bulldogs in the OHL finals.
"Everything was clicking for a while," he said. "We had a core group that progressed each year together and everything just jelled. I was the captain, and we had a close team and all the pieces came together."
He had taken his cues from defenseman Darnell Nurse, a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers who served as the Greyhounds' captain during Gettinger's first year in the Soo. "I watched how he led the team, how he talked to the guys regardless of their age," he said. "Being named captain was a great accomplishment and that's something I'll never forget."
Gettinger spent the next five years of his career with the Rangers organization.
"Being a 20-year-old, it's tough for any guy trying to play pro hockey, but we had a good group of guys who helped me learn the pro game," said Gettinger, who played in Hartford for Kris Knoblauch, the current coach of the Edmonton Oilers who replaced Jay Woodcroft this past November.
"The coaching staff helped me tremendously," he said. "It's a long season, but you learn what you have to do day in and day out. You're not going to have your A-game every day, but you have to come to the rink ready to play regardless. "
Gettinger got into four NHL games in his first pro season, making his NHL debut in Madison Square Garden against Ovechkin and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Nov. 24, 2018.
"We had a game in Bridgeport the night before and we were getting ready to play when the coach called me in and said it looks like you're getting called up. At that moment, everything is such a blur," he said.
He called his parents, Gary and Shelli Gettinger, along with his brother, Grant. "They're all crying and I'm crying and that's one of those conversations that I'll always remember," he said. "There wasn't much talking, just a lot of tears because they knew how hard I had worked and that getting to play in the NHL was my goal."
His parents and brother were able to attend his first NHL game, along with his girlfriend (now his wife), Skylar Byrne, who happened to be visiting him in Hartford at the time of his recall.
"To get to play my first NHL game against the guy I looked up to as a kid and to play in Madison Square Garden, one of the coolest buildings and a mecca in the sports world, was just amazing," he said. "At that age, it wasn't something I was expecting, but after a shift or two, I started feeling a little more comfortable, even though it was definitely kind of a crazy blur."
Gettinger would eventually play a total of 16 games with the Rangers, spread over four different seasons. He earned his first and only NHL point to date when he was credited with an assist on a goal by defenseman Jacob Trouba on Nov. 22, 2019.
Over time, he learned how to handle the shuttle between the AHL and the NHL.
"The first call-up was definitely eye-opening," he said. "When you come back down, you start to think about what do I need to do to get back up there. You see what those guys do up there, what it takes to play in the NHL every day, and you try to bring that back and continue to work hard every day for your next chance.
"You have to just go out there and work hard and the rest will fall into place."
This past summer was a time for new beginnings for Gettinger. He tied the knot with Skylar, who had played a year of hockey at Oswego State, a Division III school in Upstate New York, northwest of Syracuse.
"We met when I was playing junior hockey through some mutual friends," he recalled. "She came to a game when we were playing in Flint and we started dating. We got married last July, but with the hockey season coming up, we decided to wait on our honeymoon. We'll go somewhere this summer, but we're still figuring it out."
He admits that signing with the Red Wings seemed like a monumental move.
"For me, it was a big change because I had been in one place ever since I had been drafted," he explained. "I was with the same organization for almost seven years, counting the years after the draft, and after playing pro there for five years, I knew everything there and had become super comfortable.
"Coming here, I didn't know anybody on the team or the city, so it was a whole new environment. But I was ready to face the challenge head-on. I was ready for a new opportunity and I'm glad I took it."
While Gettinger scored six goals in his first 10 games, the team struggled to find its footing. He felt the Griffins were finally getting over the hump as the midpoint of the season was approaching.
"We have a good mixture of talented young guys and a good older group, but we've been kind of up and down, some good games and some bad games, but that's going to happen during a long season, so guys are starting to get more comfortable," he said.
"It's tough to come into pro hockey and expect success right away, but the young guys have stuck with it and the results are finally coming."
Still only 25, Gettinger has enough years of experience that he tries to share encouragement where appropriate.
"If everyone's feeling good about themselves, it's going to show out on the ice, so that's what I try to do — try to keep guys positive and happy," he said. "We're really close as a group and I think it's starting to show. Day by day, we've gotten better and better.
"Just take one game at a time and, eventually, we'll get things rolling."