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03/20/2006 5:03 PM - Grand Rapids Owns a Nine-Point Lead on the AHL Field

This Week’s Games

Thu., March 23 - GRIFFINS at Cleveland Barons - 7:05 p.m. - WOOD 1300 AM/B2 Networks

Sat., March 25 - Rochester Americans at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. - WOOD/B2

Sun., March 26 - Rochester Americans at GRIFFINS - 4 p.m. - WOOD/B2

Last Week’s Results

Tue., March 14 - GRIFFINS 5 at Milwaukee Admirals 3 - 46-16-1-4, 97 pts. (1st, North Division)

Wed., March 15 - Manitoba Moose 2 at GRIFFINS 3 SO - 47-16-1-4, 99 pts. (1st)

Fri., March 17 - Cleveland Barons 2 at GRIFFINS 3 - 48-16-1-4, 101 pts. (1st)

Sat., March 18 - Toronto Marlies 3 at GRIFFINS 4 OT - 49-16-1-4, 103 pts. (1st)

You’re Unbelievable: Playing four games in five nights last week - and five in seven, dating to last Sunday - the Griffins posted perfect 4-0/5-0 records, coming from behind in each game to earn the win. Grand Rapids, which has rallied in six of its last nine victories, maintains the AHL’s leadership with 49 wins (49-16-1-4), 103 points and a 0.736 winning percentage. With 10 games left on their schedule, the Griffins own a nine-point lead over both Houston and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the chase for the AHL’s regular season title (Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy).

Scorching Run: The Griffins have won seven straight games, their longest streak since their team-record nine-game run from Dec. 22, 2000 to Jan. 12, 2001. After claiming 10 wins in their last 11 games, they need eight wins in their final 10 contests to tie the single-season AHL record of 57, set by Binghamton in 1992-93.

Updating the Race: Grand Rapids enjoys a 15-point lead over Syracuse in the North Division race, as it takes aim at its third division title in five AHL seasons (Central in 2003, West in 2002) and the fifth in its 10 seasons overall. The Griffins’ magic numbers for securing the division crown stand at 10 points over Syracuse and eight over Manitoba.

The Century Mark: The Griffins on Friday reached the 100-point mark for the fourth and fastest time in franchise history. Greg Ireland’s team joined the 100-point squads from 2002-03 (106 pts., coached by Danton Cole), 2000-01 (113, Bruce Cassidy) and 1999-00 (111, Guy Charron), reaching the milestone in just 69 games, four fewer than the 2000-01 edition. Grand Rapids is on pace for a team-record 117 points.

Pack ‘Em In: Saturday’s capacity crowd of 10,834 at Van Andel Arena marked the Griffins’ seventh sellout of the season, their most since playing before eight packed houses during the 1999-00 campaign.

Wild Weekend: When the Griffins host Rochester this Saturday, the first 1,500 kids will receive “squishy” bobbleheads of captain Matt Ellis, courtesy of Fox Motors. Fans registering on the concourse will have a chance to win a Fox Motors automobile during an intermission, and the commemorative alternate jerseys worn by the Griffins will be auctioned off to fans, with proceeds benefiting Bauer Christian Reformed Church. Sunday’s rematch is Merrell Family Night. Fans can save $28 on four south-end lower bowl tickets by picking up an exclusive voucher at one of these retailers: Bill & Paul's, Gazelle Sports, Mieras Family Shoes, Muller's Shoes, and Track 'N Trail. Following both games, fans can take part in post-game autograph sessions and skates on the Van Andel Arena ice.

A Night to Remember: During Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win against Toronto, the Griffins set or tied numerous team and individual records:
• The Griffins improved to 33 games over 0.500 for the first time in franchise history;
• They increased their AHL-high goal total to 283, breaking the team record of 279 goals set in 2000-01;
• Jimmy Howard tied Mike Fountain’s mark with his eighth straight win;
• Matt Ellis recorded his team-record seventh shorthanded goal of his career;
• Donald MacLean scored his league-leading 52nd goal in overtime, tying the Grand Rapids single-season pro hockey record (George Parker, 1950-51 IHL Rockets);
• Bryan Helmer logged his 41st assist, breaking the Griffins record for a defenseman set by Niklas Kronwall in 2004-05.

Smashing Debut: Rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard today was named the CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending March 19. Howard, who will turn 22 on Sunday, led the Griffins to four come-from-behind victories last week, becoming the first netminder in franchise history to earn four wins in a span of five nights. He went 4-0 with a 1.46 goals against average and a 0.943 save percentage, and his overtime victory on Saturday against Toronto enabled him to tie Mike Fountain’s franchise record with his eighth consecutive win. A top candidate for the AHL’s All-Rookie Team, Howard places among the league leaders with a Griffins rookie-record 21 wins (7th, 21-4-2), a 2.70 GAA (14th) and a 0.905 save percentage (20th). During March alone, he is 7-0 with a 1.69 GAA and a 0.932 save percentage, and he has led the team to points in 19 of his last 20 decisions (17-1-1-1).

Rare Breed: Currently among the league leaders with 24 goals (T30th) and 317 penalty minutes (2nd), Darryl Bootland on Friday became the first AHL player in 11 years to post 20 goals and 300 PIM in the same season. Former Griffin Matt Ruchty was the last of eight players in league history to accomplish the feat, notching 26 goals and 348 PIM for Albany in 1994-95. Next up for Bootland is the 30/300 club, which has only one AHL member: Carl Mokosak of the 1985-86 Hershey Bears (30/312).

Extra, Extra: Wednesday’s heavyweight bout with Manitoba required a Griffins-record and AHL season-high 14 shootout rounds to decide, with Grand Rapids prevailing 4-3 in the shootout and 3-2 in the game. Jimmy Howard was brilliant in goal, stopping 32-of-34 shots during play and 11-of-14 attempts in the shootout. The teams traded goals in the first (Ryan Bayda and Tomas Kopecky), seventh (Jesse Schultz and Valtteri Filppula) and eighth (Lee Goren and Kopecky) rounds before Eric Manlow ended matters by beating Wade Flaherty with a backhand in the 14th frame. Four of the six meetings between the Griffins and Moose this season have required a shootout, with Grand Rapids claiming three victories…Donald MacLean netted his second overtime goal of the season on Saturday versus Toronto, improving the Griffins’ records in overtime to 5-1 this season and 27-9 all time.

Nobody Does it Better: After breaking Michel Picard’s nine-year-old franchise record for goals (46) on March 5 versus Rochester, Donald MacLean hit the 50-goal plateau with two lamplighters on March 12 at Chicago. He became the first player in five seasons (Hartford’s Brad Smyth in 2000-01) and the 46th player in AHL history to reach the golden milestone. His unprecedented success can be seen in the following numbers:

0 – Griffins players who have led the league in goals (Binghamton’s Denis Hamel stands second with 46);
0.60 – MacLean’s goals-per-game average for his Griffins career (previous franchise record = 0.45, Mark Mowers);
0.76 – His goals-per-game average this season (franchise record = 0.56, Michel Picard in 1996-97);
8 – Consecutive games in which he recently scored a goal (Feb. 25-March 14, 10 goals), breaking the previous team record of six;
23 – Players in AHL history who have scored at least 53 goals, his next increment;
30 – Games, out of the last 32, in which he has recorded a point (32-19—51);
37 – Games, out of the last 40, in which he has recorded a point (40-23—63);
51 – Goals scored in his last 59 outings (0.86 per game);
52 – Goals scored this season, tying for 24th in AHL history and equaling the Grand Rapids pro hockey record (George Parker, 1950-51 IHL Rockets);
59 – His current goal-scoring pace, a total that would tie for fifth in AHL history;
80 – Points this season, ranking fourth in the AHL and eighth on the Griffins’ single-season chart.

Helmer’s Helpers: Bryan Helmer’s franchise record-tying seven-game assist streak was snapped on Tuesday in Milwaukee, but his good fortune resumed later in the week. He appeared in his 700th AHL game on Wednesday, extending his point streak to eight games with a goal, then notched the 400th point of his AHL career with an assist on Saturday. That assist also gave him 41 on the season, breaking the Griffins record for a defenseman set by Niklas Kronwall in 2004-05. Helmer has points in 16 of the last 22 games (2-20—22) and 22 of the last 29 contests (3-28—31).

Hundred for Hudler?: Only 94 players in AHL history have eclipsed the 100-point plateau, but Jiri Hudler is attempting to join that exclusive club. Hudler’s 87 points – currently third in the league and just six off the leader, Houston’s Kirby Law – put him on track for 99, which would fall two shy of the franchise mark set by Michel Picard in 1996-97. Just the third player in franchise history to reach 87 points, the third to score 35 goals and the fifth to bag 52 assists, Hudler could join Derek King (83 points in 2000-01) as the only Griffins to win a scoring title.

Spread the Wealth: The Griffins’ offense has been incredibly balanced this season. Grand Rapids has set franchise records for the number of players with 50 goals (1), 20 assists (12), 30 assists (7), 40 assists (4), 30 points (11), 40 points (10) and 50 points (7), while tying the marks for players with 20 goals (5), 30 goals (2), 40 goals (1) and 80 points (2).

League Leaders: Jiri Hudler: 35 goals (5th), 52 assists (T3rd), 87 points (3rd) and seven game-winning goals (T3rd); Donald MacLean: 52 goals (1st), 80 points (4th), 20 power play goals (2nd), eight game-winning goals (2nd) and a plus-18 rating (T6th); Eric Manlow: 44 assists (T11th) and 62 points (T18th); Valtteri Filppula: 41 assists (T18th) and a plus-17 rating (T11th); Tomas Kopecky: Plus-17 rating (T11th); Bryan Helmer: 41 assists (T18th), a plus-24 rating (3rd) and 51 points (T5th among defensemen); Kent McDonell: 14 power play goals (T17th) and five game-winning goals (T12th); Darryl Bootland: 317 penalty minutes (2nd); Nate DiCasmirro: Plus-26 rating (2nd); Matt Ellis: Three shorthanded goals (T7th) and a plus-17 rating (T11th); Clay Wilson: Two shorthanded goals (T20th); Jimmy Howard: 21 wins (7th), a 2.70 GAA (14th) and a 0.905 save percentage (20th); Joey MacDonald: 17 wins (T16th) and two shutouts (T13th).

Who’s Hot?: Tomas Kopecky has points in eight of his last 12 outings (5-6—11)…Brett Lebda has points in three of five games since returning from Detroit (1-3—4)…Nate DiCasmirro has points in three straight contests (1-3—4) and five of the last seven games (3-6—9)…Matt Ellis owns a three-game goal streak (3-0—3) and has points in four of the last five games (3-1—4)…Jiri Hudler has points in four straight contests (2-2—4), as well as 11 of the last 13 games (9-7—16) and 13 of 17 games (10-12—22)…Darryl Bootland has goals in seven of his last 11 outings (9-3—12).

This Week in Griffins History: March 20: Matt Ellis equals Kory Karlander’s six-year-old team record with his fourth shorthanded goal of the season, helping the Griffins to a 4-1 win over Edmonton. Meanwhile, the Griffins host a visit from the Stanley Cup for the third time in less than three years (2005). March 21: Jeff Nelson's two goals power the Griffins to a 4-2 win at Quebec (1997). March 22: Playing in just his second pro game, rookie forward Tim Skarperud nets a natural hat trick to lead the Griffins to a 4-3 overtime win at Milwaukee (2002). March 23: Griffins defeat host Quebec, 3-1, to sweep a two-game series in Quebec City. Danton Cole notches the game-winning goal in both contests. The wins enable the Griffins to claim their first-ever Turner Cup playoff berth (1997). March 24: Grand Rapids becomes the first IHL team to clinch a playoff berth and sets a team record for wins (41) with a 5-3 home triumph over Milwaukee. Kevin Miller ties Pavol Demitra’s franchise mark with his second hat trick of the year (2000). March 25: Tying a team record by making his 15th straight start, Joey MacDonald records 47 saves in a 3-2 shootout win over Houston. Matt Ellis forces overtime by scoring with just 27.8 seconds remaining. Raymond Giroux’s successful penalty shot for the Aeros marks the first such goal ever allowed by the Griffins (2005). March 26: All-time Griffins games played leader Travis Richards makes his 600th regular season appearance in a Grand Rapids uniform during a 4-0 loss at Utah (2004).

Scouting Report

Thu., March 23 at Cleveland Barons (23-42-2-2) – Quicken Loans Arena – 7:05 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:59 p.m. Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 7-1-0-0 Overall, 3-0-0-0 Road. Ninth of 10 meetings overall, fourth of five in Cleveland. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 20-9-0-0-1 Overall, 8-5-0-0-1 Road. NHL Affiliation: San Jose Sharks. Head Coach: Roy Sommer (5th season). Spy Glass: Since suffering a 4-2 home loss to the Barons on Dec. 10, the Griffins have outscored Cleveland by a 21-6 count while winning four straight meetings…Cleveland has lost four straight, while the Griffins have won seven in a row…Grand Rapids’ 3-2 win on Friday eliminated the Barons from playoff contention…Jiri Hudler leads all scorers with 14 points (4-10—14) in the season series, while Jimmy Howard is 4-1 with a 1.51 GAA and a 0.940 save percentage against the Barons.

Sat., March 25 vs. Rochester Americans (32-32-2-2) – Van Andel Arena – 7 p.m.
Sun., March 26 vs. Rochester Americans – Van Andel Arena – 4 p.m.

Radio: WOOD 1300 AM at 6:40 p.m. (Sat.) and 3:40 p.m. (Sun.). Web Casts: Video ($6 – B2 Networks) and audio (free) available through Season Series: 2-1-0-0 Overall, 1-0-0-0 Home. Fourth and fifth of six meetings overall, second and third of three in Grand Rapids. All-Time Series (W-L-T-OTL-SOL): 8-6-1-0-0 Overall, 4-2-1-0-0 Home. NHL Affiliation: Buffalo Sabres. Head Coach: Randy Cunneyworth (6th season). American Pride: The Amerks enter the week nine points behind Toronto and the North Division’s final playoff spot…Since losing 4-1 in Rochester on Dec. 16, the Griffins have won the last two meetings by a combined 10-1 score…Jiri Hudler has four goals in three games versus the Americans.

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