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Grand Rapids Griffins 2020-2021 Season Preview

Grand Rapids Griffins 2020-2021 Season Preview

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.- When the Griffins open the season on February 5, 331 days will have passed since they last played a hockey game. For the 2020-21 season, the Griffins will play an abbreviated, 32 game slate against Central Division teams only. On the slate this season for the Griffins are the Rockford IceHogs, Iowa Wild, Chicago Wolves, and Cleveland Monsters.

Grand Rapids will have some fan favorites back with the team, as well as a good mix of young prospects and AHL veterans. Once again, the Griffins will call the Van Andel Arena home. The Chicago Wolves will be the only team changing locations as they will host their home games at the Triphahn Center; the Wolves practice facility. There is no word on if fans will be allowed to attend a Griffins games this year, but we should see some exciting hockey as always in the Central division.

Initial Schedule:

Fri., Feb. 5, at Chicago Wolves, 8 p.m., Thur., Feb. 11, at Chicago Wolves, 3 p.m., Sat., Feb. 13, at Cleveland Monsters, 4 p.m., Thur., Feb. 18, at Rockford IceHogs, 7 p.m., Sat., Feb. 20, CLEVELAND MONSTERS, 4 p.m., Fri., Feb. 26, CHICAGO WOLVES, 7 p.m., Sun., Feb. 28, at Chicago Wolves, 4 p.m., Wed., Mar. 3, at Rockford IceHogs, 7 p.m., Thu., Mar. 11, at Rockford IceHogs, 7 p.m.

Head Coach:

Ben Simon, third year as Head Coach, 67-54-18 overall record

Last Season:

29-27-7

2019-2020 Season Summary

The Grand Rapids Griffins finished the 2019-20 regular season in third place in the Central Division. The Griffins were fighting for a postseason spot all season; which would have been the 18th postseason birth in franchise history.

Tragedy struck the Griffins last year when their long-time video coach, Bill LeRoy, passed away suddenly on November 1, 2019, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. LeRory battled Type 1 diabetes for most of his life.

Chris Terry led the team in goals (21), assists (30), and points (51). Calvin Pickard led the way for the goaltenders with a record of 17-12-4, with a .903 save percentage.

The final game of the regular season proved to be special for defenseman, Brian Lashoff. Lashoff appeared in his 500th career game with the Griffins. He signed with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and has spent his entire professional hockey career with the organization.

There were 13 players who played for the Red Wings and Griffins last season; Madison Bowey, Dennis Cholowski, Jonathan Ericsson, Jimmy Howard, Joe Hicketts, Taro Hirose, Lashoff, Gustav Lindstrom, Dylan McIlrath, Calvin Pickard, Givani Smith, Evgeny Svechnikov and Filip Zadina. Both Lindstrom and Smith made their debuts.

Hot or Not?

The biggest question will be the offense. The Griffins have lost a lot of offensive firepower by not bringing back Terry, Matt Puempel, Matt Ford, and Eric Tangradi. They should have Riley Barber who should make up for some for the loss of goal scoring. Turner Elson and Svechnikov can also score and will be relied on to do so more often.

The defense will likely be the strongest unit for the Griffins this season. The Griffins will have veterans like Lashoff, Hicketts, McIlrath, and Cholowski back with the team. Jared McIssac is in camp with the Griffins and will hopefully make an impact this season. Additionally, Griffins signed the Red Wings third-round pick, Donovan Sebrango, to an Amateur Tryout.

The goaltending situation is an interesting topic, thanks to the taxi-squad. Pat Nagle and Kevin Boyle are in camp with Grand Rapids, while Pickard and Kaden Fulcher both remain on the Red Wings taxi-squad. I would expect one of them to be assigned to Grand Rapids at some point this season.

Who’s Back?

  • Turner Elson- Elson enters his fourth season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Elson had 22 points last season (9-13-22). Elson will be leaned on to provide some much-needed offense this season.
  • Chase Pearson– Pearson enters his second pro season with the Griffins. Pearson took leaps last season and become effective on the penalty kill and chipping in on the score sheet. Pearson had 22 points last season. (8-14-22).
  • Joe Hicketts- Hicketts is one of the main staples of the defense and should be again this season. Hicketts will return for his fifth season with Grand Rapids. He led all Griffins blueliners in scoring last season with 27 points (2-25-27).  He had become a fan favorite in Grand Rapids with his grit and the energy he brings on a nightly basis.

Who’s Through?

  • Chris Terry- was not re-signed by the organization. Terry signed with the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the KHL.
  • Matt Puempel- was not re-signed. Puempel signed with the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish League
  • Matt Ford– was not re-signed. Ford was the captain for the previous three seasons. Ford is still a free agent.

Who’s New?

  • Riley Barber- Barber is a goal-scoring threat and will likely be the main catalyst for the Griffins offense. Last season, Barber scored 16 goals and also collected 21 assists. He has hit the 30 goal mark in the AHL is a consistent threat to find the back of the net.
  • Kyle Criscuolo- Criscuolo is new for the 2020-2021 season, but this marks his second tour of duty with the Griffins. Criscuolo played one full season in 2016-2017 and was an instrumental part of the Griffins Calder Cup Championship run. He is one of the veterans of the team and will be someone that the younger players can lean on. Last year Criscuolo scored 14 goals and had 30 assists.
  • Kevin Boyle- Boyle may very well get a bulk of the time in net this season with Pickard likely remaining on the taxi squad. Boyle was signed by the Red Wings to provide goalie depth in the organization. Last season, Boyle had a record of 9-7-2 with a .928 save percentage.

What to watch for

The Detroit Red Wings are in a rebuilding stage with means that the Griffins roster could ultimately change on a nightly basis due to the amount of prospects that the Red Wings will want to look at. I do expect the Griffins to be a great defensive team with above-average goaltending. Like I mentioned above, scoring could make or break this team. A player to watch out for this season is Evgeny Svechnikov. After battling injuries and offensive struggles, he is undoubtedly out to prove some people wrong. I look for Svechnikov to have a big year.

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    Anthony Noffke covers the Grand Rapid Griffins for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinGriffins.

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