GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The 2016-17 season ended on home ice with confetti falling from the ceiling as the Grand Rapids Griffins won their second Calder Cup title in franchise history. They will try to be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Hershey Bears did it from 2008-2010.
Head Coach: Todd Nelson enters his third season as the coach of the Griffins. He is considered the “original Griffin” since he was the first ever player to sign with the Griffins when the franchise was founded in 1996. He has a record of 91-53-8 as the Griffins bench boss.
Captain: Matthew Ford was named the Griffins captain for the 2017-18 season. Ben Street, Brian Lashoff, and Eric Tangradi have been named the assistant captains for this season.
Last Season: The Griffins finished last season with a record of 47-23-1-5 (100 points) and finished second in the central division of the Western Conference. They swept the Milwaukee Admirals in the first round of the playoffs, beat the Chicago Wolves in five games in the Central Division finals, then beat the San Jose Barracuda in five games to claim the Western Conference title. The Griffins then went on to win the Calder Cup in six games against the Syracuse Crunch.
Last season was magical. The Griffins featured a lot of depth which helped them down the stretch of the regular season. Grand Rapids had as many as nine players called up to the Red Wings at once due to a rash of injuries with the parent team, which did not seem to have any negative impact on the team. Just in time for the playoff run, all players that were with the Red Wings stepped back into the lineup, and it was as if they never left. The team went on to virtually manhandle all of their Western Conference postseason opponents before beating the Syracuse Crunch to claim their second Calder Cup Championship in franchise history.
- Ryan Sproul will be on the Griffins opening night roster after he cleared waivers. He played most of last season with the Detroit Red Wings before he underwent ACL surgery in March.
- Jared Coreau will likely be the starter once again for the Griffins. Surprisingly, Coreau cleared waivers to be assigned to the Griffins. Don’t be surprised if Coreau spends time with the big club this year in case of an injury.
- Veteran AHL goalie Tom McCollum returns to the Griffins after he was acquired by the Red Wings for a seventh-round pick during the off-season. McCollum will likely serve as the backup for Jared Coreau but may play meaningful minutes if Detroit summons Coreau.
Players to Watch
- Dylan Sadowy – The winger had somewhat of an unexpectedly rough first AHL season. In only 38 games, Sadowy had four goals after he had back-to-back 40 goal seasons in the OHL. Sadowy was acquired by Detroit in 2016 from the San Jose Sharks, and the organization likes his speed. Look for him to rebound and have a solid year for the Griffins.
- Ben Street – Street re-signed with the Red Wings organization in June. The 30-year-old center was a key player for the Griffins last season during their championship run. In 62 games with Grand Rapids, he collected 55 points (25G, 30A). He also appeared in six games for the Red Wings, picking up one assist. Look for Street to be one of the leading scorers for the Griffins once again.
- Matt Lorito – The 5-foot-9 wing enters his second season with the Griffins. Lorito was one of the leading scorers in the AHL last season for an extended period. He was also a member of the All-Star team. He has excellent speed and a great ability to make plays offensively. Last year, he had 56 points (22G, 34A) in 61 games for the Griffins. He also played in two games for the Red Wings last year picking up one assist. Lorito will no doubt have another solid season for Grand Rapids.
- Vili Saarijärvi – The Finnish defenseman enters his first professional season. He provides an excellent scoring touch as well as great speed for a blueliner. Expect him to help the Griffins defense this year as he will play a lot of meaningful minutes as a rookie.
- Goalie – Coreau returns as the probable starter for the Griffins. He has had three solid years for the Griffins and looks to continue his success. Tom McCollum will likely serve as the backup. McCollum is an excellent goaltender who could start on most teams in AHL. If Coreau were called up or suffered an injury, there is no doubt McCollum would be able to fill the shoes of the starting goaltender.
- Defense – The defense is going to be the backbone of this team. Losing a veteran like Nathan Paetsch is never easy, but Brian Lashoff should be a good fit for leading a young group of blueliners. Dylan McIlrath will be in his first full season with the Griffins. He helped the Griffins late in the season with his size and physicality.
The Griffins will have their third captain in three years with Matt Ford recently being named the captain. Nathan Paetsch served as the most recent captain but did not return to the Griffins, signing a contract with the Rochester Americans. Jeff Hoggan was the captain from 2012-16 leading the Griffins to their first ever Calder Cup. Hoggan spent last season with the AHL’s Iowa Wild before retiring this offseason.
Key Returning Players
- Robbie Russo – Probably the best defenseman for the Griffins, Russo returns for his third season. He was an All-Star last season. Russo has a great shot and should be one of the Griffins top defenders again.
- Evgeny Svechnikov – The young winger will enter his second full season as a pro, but will start the campaign on injured reserve. Once healthy and back playing, he is expected to produce big numbers for the Griffins.
- Dan Renouf – The blueliner will be in his second full season with the Griffins. Last season, Renouf was a staple on the Griffins defense providing grit and toughness. He also spent time with the Red Wings last season.
Key Departed Players
- Mitch Callahan – A fan favorite in Grand Rapids for six years, the winger signed with the Edmonton Oilers during the off-season and will play for the Bakersfield Condors. Callahan was one of three players to play for both championship teams. The Griffins do not play Bakersfield during the regular season.
- Tomas Nosek – Nosek was considered the Griffins all-around best player. He was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights during the expansion draft. He experienced his best season as a pro last year picking up 41 points (15-26-41).
- Kyle Criscuolo – Signed with the Buffalo Sabres during the offseason played in one full season for the Griffins but was a substantial offensive threat for Grand Rapids with great speed. He will likely be playing with former Griffins Conor Allen and Paetsch for the Rochester Americans.
I see the Griffins again competing for a Calder Cup Championship. As long as they can manage to stay healthy, there is no doubt that they can make another deep postseason run.