The winning atmosphere fostered by the Griffins on the ice extends to the organization’s community relations efforts.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Success, for a professional hockey team, is usually measured in wins and losses.
The Grand Rapids Griffins organization, however, has bigger goals. Through their many community relations programs and events, the Griffins do their best to give back to the area that has shown them tremendous support for more than two decades.
“We not only can boast of two Calder Cups in the past five years, but we are incredibly proud to share the many stories tied to our commitment to community and the many lives our organization has touched through countless community appearances and the raising of millions of dollars for those in need,” said Bob Kaser, vice president of community relations and broadcasting for the Griffins.
The Griffins have embraced a philanthropic philosophy that supports a wide variety of programs that impact individuals and groups of all sorts, from helping those who are financially or physically disadvantaged, to school, safety and youth hockey initiatives that ultimately help make West Michigan a better place to live.
Kaser said it’s a philosophy based on principles that start at the top.
“We have owners, the DeVos and Van Andel families, who, as most people know, continue to have an indelible impact in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area,” he said. “We are proud to follow their lead and contribute to the betterment of West Michigan communities and the people that live in them.”
Of course, it helps that the Griffins’ roster is comprised of big-hearted young men who willingly embrace the organization’s altruistic efforts.
“What’s important to understand as it relates to the our community efforts is that we are so fortunate to work with, in my estimation and with all due respect to other sports, the very best of all athletes,” Kaser said. “Hockey players are extremely genuine and sincere in their desire to make a difference in their respective communities, and that’s universal in the pro hockey ranks.”
Tom McCollum, the team’s only three-time IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year nominee, embodies the tireless efforts of so many players to do whatever they can for the betterment of the community. Other examples through the years have included Jimmy Howard (a two-time nominee), Bryan Helmer, Francis Pare and Derek Meech, to name just a few.
Thanks to their selfless spirit, the Griffins organization has been able to expand its outreach efforts over time.
“It’s been very exciting to watch several of our community programs grow each year,” Kaser said. “I love the fact that back in the day, we had this vision of the Great Skate blossoming into something far bigger and that the event now has grown from a 24-hour skate to a whole weekend’s worth of activities.
“The Great Skate Winterfest raises in excess of $40,000 for the Griffins Youth Foundation each year, thanks to our great fans, area youth and high school hockey teams, and continued support from local businesses and media. And the best part of all is to see the interaction between our players and fans at the event itself.”
Another event that has grown beyond the organization’s wildest dreams is the annual Griffins/Grand Rapids Sled Wings sled hockey game, which gives the Griffins a chance to get on the ice with a talented team of children and young adults with disabilities.
“We had to change the format a few years ago because the Sled Wings annually kicked the Griffins’ backside – it was always our worst loss of the year,” Kaser said with a smile. “When our players get on those sleds, it doesn’t take too long for them to figure out that the Sled Wings deserve a tremendous amount of respect.”
Kaser said that while many events and programs sponsored by the organization would not happen without the support of the players, he would be remiss not to mention that there are countless hours spent by Griffins staff to make each initiative a reality.
“From Tip-A-Griffin – where Griffins players serve food and wait tables at local restaurants – to Hockey, Hops & Hope – a wine and beer tasting benefit for Easterseals Michigan – everyone in the Griffins organization contributes in some form or another to our community endeavors,” Kaser said. “From top to bottom, we are very proud of all their efforts.”