10 Reasons Why You Should Check Out Grand Rapids Griffins AHL Playoff Hockey This Week
The Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, are currently battling the Utica Comets (AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks) in the Western Conference Finals. The series is currently tied 1-1, with the Comets taking the first game by a 2-1 score and the Griffins bouncing back to take the second game by a 4-2 score. Both of those games were played in Utica, but now the Griffins return home for three games in four nights. Game 3 will take place Thursday, May 28 at 7 p.m., Game 4 is Friday, May 29 at 7 p.m., and Game 5 is Sunday, May 31 at 5 p.m. All three of those games take place at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, with tickets and more information available at http://griffinshockey.com/. The Griffins captured their first-ever Calder Cup championship in 2013, and have adopted the slogan “Bring it Back” for this year’s playoff run. Here is Travel The Mitten’s list of 10 reasons to check out Grand Rapids Griffins AHL playoff hockey this week/weekend.
1. $2 beers and $2 hot dogs – the Griffins have extended their popular Friday night promotion for the entire playoff run. From 6-8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, select domestic drafts and/or hot dogs are just $2 each.
2. Only remaining hockey in Michigan – the Griffins are the last team standing as far as Michigan hockey teams are concerned. The Detroit Red Wings bowed out of the playoffs after losing a seven-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and college (Michigan State, University of Michigan, Western Michigan, etc.) and junior (Saginaw Spirit, Plymouth Whalers) seasons have ended as well.
3. Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill – with Mike Babcock’s departure from the Red Wings, there has been a great deal of speculation that the very successful Griffins coach is next in line to take the helm in Hockeytown. A Michigan native and Ferris State University alum, Blashill led the Griffins to a Calder Cup championship as a rookie coach in 2013, and he has 134 regular season wins. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is expected to be in Grand Rapids this week to watch the games and speak with Blashill, and there’s always a good chance that former Red Wings players like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Jiri Fischer and Chris Chelios could be there as well.
And now, we take a look at seven Griffins players worth keeping an eye on in this series:
4. Teemu Pulkkinen – the AHL’s regular season goal scoring leader (34 goals) hasn’t stopped scoring since re-joining the Griffins for the playoffs. The red-hot Finnish winger has 14 goals and 18 points through 12 playoff games, and will continue his assault on the team’s record books as the series shifts to Van Andel Arena.
5. Tyler Bertuzzi – a second-round pick of the Red Wings in 2013, Bertuzzi joined the Griffins after a successful junior career with the Guelph Storm (OHL). In 10 playoff games, he has 7 goals and 10 points and has been a great replacement for injured winger Mitch Callahan.
6. Dylan Larkin – the Red Wings’ first-round pick in 2014 (15th overall), Larkin is only 18 years old but has already added 2 goals for the Griffins in his first two games as a professional. After a great freshman season at the University of Michigan (15 goals and 47 points in 35 games) and an appearance for Team USA at this year’s World Championship, the Waterford native decided to turn pro and was able to join the Griffins for the series against Utica.
7. Tom McCollum – now in his sixth season with the Griffins, McCollum has been incredibly solid for the team this postseason. When the Griffins won it all in 2013, McCollum had to watch as Petr Mrazek spent all but a few minutes of the playoffs between the pipes. This time it’s his turn to shine, and so far he has posted an 8-3 record with a 2.56 goals-against average. After giving up a costly pair of soft goals in the first game against the Comets, McCollum bounced back with 32 saves in a crucial victory on Monday night.
8. Jeff Hoggan – while his name may not show up much on the scoresheet anymore, Hoggan is without a doubt the glue that holds this team together. He was the second-oldest player and oldest skater in the league this season, his third as captain of the Griffins. This season he received the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award, given to the AHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. Hoggan played a huge role in helping bring the Calder Cup to Grand Rapids in 2013, and his leadership and hard work will be a critical part of their quest to bring it back.
9. Anthony Mantha – the Red Wings’ first round pick in 2013 (20th overall) came to Grand Rapids with a great deal of hype and high expectations. Mantha’s final year of QMJHL junior hockey saw the 6′ 5″ center score 57 goals and record 120 points in 57 regular season games and another 24 goals and 38 points in 24 playoff games. After suffering a fractured tibia during summer’s prospects camp, he was forced to miss Red Wings training camp as well as the first part of the Griffins season. He managed 15 goals and 33 points in 62 regular season games, but has so far been pretty quiet in the playoffs. With the Comets focusing their defensive efforts on shutting down Pulkkinen, Andy Miele and Tomas Nosek, look for Mantha to get more than a few opportunities to shine in the next three games.
10. Andreas Athanasiou – a fourth round pick of the Red Wings in 2012, Athanasiou has impressed with his speed and scoring ability as an AHL rookie this season. He socred 16 goals during the regular season despite being limited to 55 games due to a broken jaw, and he has chipped in four more goals in the playoffs. His speed and energy make him fun to watch, and as the clip above shows he can put together a highlight-reel goal if he gets a good chance in the offensive zone.
If you can’t make it to the game, it is available for viewing on AHL Live ($$) or you can catch the radio broadcast on WOOD 1300 AM (also on iheartradio).