20 Reasons To Get Excited for the 20th Anniversary Season (2015-16) of Grand Rapids Griffins Hockey
Fall is here, which means hockey season is right around the corner. The 2013 AHL Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins will kick off the 2015-16 season on October 9th in Bakersfield, California as they take on the new affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. The Griffins (primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings) will have a different look this season, thanks to a new jersey design and the graduation of several players to the NHL. Teemu Pulkkinen, Landon Ferraro and Petr Mrazek won’t be back, but young players like Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Nosek will entertain fans and help the team stay competitive this season. This is the 20th season of Griffins hockey in Grand Rapids, so we put together a list of 20 reasons for fans to be excited for the upcoming season.
1. New Head Coach Todd Nelson – With the departure of incredibly successful head coach Jeff Blashill to the Detroit Red Wings, the Griffins looked to a familiar face from the past for their new bench boss. Nelson was the first player signed by the franchise back in 1996, and played in 236 games for the team. He played three games in the NHL For the Pittsburgh Penguins (1) and the Washington Capitals (2). He won two UHL championships as the coach of the Muskegon Fury, and was the head coach of the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons for four and a half seasons before taking an assistant coaching job with the Edmonton Oilers (NHL) for the second half of the 2014-15 season.
2. Bobblehead Giveaways – One of the Griffins’ most popular giveaways the past few seasons, bobbleheads are back for 2015-16, with Teemu Pulkkinen (Feb. 6) and Tom McCollum (Feb. 27) being honored this season. These are usually limited to the first 2,500 fans in attendance so be sure to show up early.
3. New Teams Will Visit – the past offseason saw a huge shakeup among AHL teams, with many relocations and new franchises. The Griffins will see two new teams visit Van Andel Arena, as the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers) visit on April 16 and the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks) visit on November 20. The 2015-16 season also sees the return of the Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets), a former rival of Grand Rapids from 1996-2011. In addition to this, the San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche) and Lake Erie Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets) have new NHL affiliations for this season.
4. Andreas Athanasiou – One of the Griffins’ most impressive players during the 2014-15 season (despite missing significant time with an injury), Andreas Athanasiou could very well be on track to make his NHL debut this season. His speed makes him incredibly fun to watch, and last season he netted 16 goals and added 16 assists during the regular season. A fourth-round steal for Detroit in 2012, he added another five goals during the playoffs.
5. Anthony Mantha – It was a rough AHL rookie season for the 2013 first-round pick, as he managed 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games. After back-to-back junior seasons of 50 goals or more, expectations were sky-high for Mantha to set the AHL on fire and that didn’t happen. He is poised for a breakout season and should see top-line playing time for this season. The 6′ 5″ center has the talent and goal-scoring ability to succeed at the NHL level, and this will be an important season for his development.
6. Star Wars Night – March 12 is the date for this ever-popular promotion, which features members of the 501st Legion Great Lakes Garrison will be in costume as characters from the popular film franchise. This game will likely sell out, so get your tickets early and be ready for a night of lightsabers, photo opportunities and fun.
7. Annual Matinee Game – This game got pushed back a little later in the season, but it will still be something to behold when thousands of kids on school field trips head to Van Andel Arena as part of this year’s matinee game. The Jan. 27 game starts at 11 a.m., giving fans a chance to go to a game and still have most of their day left afterwards. This is typically one of the loudest and most energetic games of the season despite the early start.
8. Decades Nights – There are two of the popular “throwback” nights this season, with ’90s night on December 4th and ’80s night on January 29th. You can expect to see employees and fans showing off appropriate throwback clothing, and some quality music flashbacks as well.
9. Opening Night Sellout Streak – The Griffins have sold out Van Andel Arena for 19 consecutive opening nights. Don’t be part of the reason this streak ends – be part of history instead and be there when the San Antonio Rampage visit on October 16th.
10. $2 Beers and $2 Hot Dogs – The popular Friday night promotion is back again, offering cheap food and drink (21+) for 14 different games.
11. Dylan Larkin – The big question for Griffins and Red Wings fans this season is where 2014 first-round pick Dylan Larkin starts the season. There’s no question that Larkin has the talent to play in the NHL, but will Detroit’s management keep him there or send him down to Grand Rapids where he can get top-six playing time? Any fans that saw Larkin’s pro debut last season – three goals and five points in six playoff games – should be salivating at the thought of watching him play for the Griffins for even part of a season.
12. Tyler Bertuzzi – This will be the first season in the AHL for the Red Wings’ 2013 second-round draft pick. He is the nephew of former Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi and 43 goals and 98 points for the Guelph Storm (OHL) last season before joining the Griffins for two regular season games and 14 AHL playoff games.
13. Andy Miele – The 2011 Hobey Baker winner (best NCAA player) is back for a second season in the Detroit organization after proving to be one of the Griffins’ most consistent forwards last season. The former Phoenix Coyotes draft pick had 26 goals and 70 points in 71 games during the 2014-15 season, and will be looked to this season for more offense and leadership.
14. Winning Wednesdays – This promotion is simple: if the Griffins win their Wednesday home game, all fans in attendance can get free tickets to the next Wednesday game. There are nine of these games on the schedule.
15. New Year’s Eve Game and Fireworks – The New Year’s Eve game features an earlier 6 p.m. start time, giving fans plenty of time to still attend downtown events or make it home in time to watch the ball drop. After the Griffins take on the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators), stick around for an amazing indoor fireworks show.
16. New Logo/Jerseys – In August, the Griffins revealed a new logo that features a fiercer looking Griffin protecting the Grand Rapids skyline. The new home jerseys will feature that logo on white with black shoulders and striping. Road jerseys will be black with silver striping and both jerseys feature a lace-up neck, which is a first for the team. This is the biggest logo and color scheme change in franchise history, and a great choice to modernize alongside the 20th anniversary celebration.
17. Great Skate Winterfest – This celebration of hockey features 34 consecutive hours of fun at Rosa Parks Circle’s outdoor skating rink in downtown Grand Rapids (just a few blocks from Van Andel Arena). The event kicks off Saturday, Jan. 23 and features sled dogs, ice sculpting and family activities. After the Griffins’ home game that evening, at least one player per hour will be on hand for fans to skate with. The event is a fundraiser for the Griffins Youth Foundation. Look for more information and a schedule of player skate times a few weeks before the event.
18. Griffins & Sled Wings Game – This outstanding community event gives fans the chance to meet the entire team and get autographs before the Griffins split up and join teams of sled hockey athletes from Grand Rapids for a spirited but fun game. This season’s event takes place on February 9th at Griff’s Ice House, and if you’ve never had a chance to attend, we definitely recommend it.
19. Franchise Records – Many of the Griffins’ franchise records are out of reach for current players, but goaltender Tom McCollum has a chance to reach a few of them this season. He needs to play 16 more games to tie Joey MacDonald for the most games played by a Griffins goaltender, and his 88 wins put him within reach of MacDonald’s career mark there (109). He also has a decent shot at breaking the franchise record for saves, as he needs about 525 to overtake MacDonald in that category. This will be McCollum’s seventh season with the Griffins.
20. 5th Annual Purple Community Game presented by Van Andel Institute – This game honors cancer survivors while also raising funds for ongoing research, and it has turned into one of the most emotional and rewarding games each season as a result. Griffins players wear special purple jerseys for this game, then sign them and auction them off afterwards. Purple t-shirts and purple rally towels are just of the few things that have awaited fans on their arrival in previous years.