GRAND RAPIDS, MI – For the second time in five years, the Grand Rapids Griffins are Calder Cup champions.
Thanks to third-period goals by Tyler Bertuzzi and Martin Frk, the Griffins rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Syracuse Crunch in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals on Tuesday to win the hard-fought series 4-2, becoming just the fifth active AHL franchise to claim multiple Calder Cup titles.
Bertuzzi, who set the Griffins’ franchise record with 23 career playoff goals, was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He registered 19 points (9G, 10A) in 19 playoff games.
Mitch Callahan, Brian Lashoff and captain Nathan Paetsch each hoisted the Cup for the second time as Griffins, while Todd Nelson – the first player signed by the Griffins in 1996 – became just the third person ever to win the Calder Cup as a player (1994 Portland), assistant coach (2008 Chicago) and head coach, joining Bob Woods and one-time Griffins head coach Mike Stothers. Continuing the theme, Griffins majority owner Dan DeVos brought a third sports championship to Michigan’s second-largest city, including the ArenaBowl XV title won by the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League in 2001.
The Griffins caught the game’s first break less than three minutes in when Ben Thomas’ try from the right circle clanged off the near post behind Jared Coreau. Grand Rapids escaped even more peril by killing off a pair of Crunch penalties before the game was 10 minutes old, highlighted by Coreau’s point-blank rejection of Joel Vermin late in the second penalty kill.
The home team’s luck ran out at the 14:09 mark after Coreau went behind his net to play the puck. Two Crunch forecheckers caused him to hesitate before a spinning Cory Conacher deflected his pass into the left circle to Yanni Gourde, who whipped a shot into the vacated cage before the diving goaltender could get back into position.
The Griffins received three power plays of their own in the final five minutes before intermission, and their series drought of 18 straight fruitless chances finally ended during a carryover 18 seconds into the middle period. Syracuse defenseman Jake Dotchin threw the puck out front from below his goal line and Tomas Nosek deflected it to the stick of Matthew Ford, who ripped it into the far corner from the edge of the right circle for his AHL-high sixth power play goal of the postseason.
Syracuse answered at 7:51 when Matt Taormina rushed down the slot to pop a rebound past Coreau’s glove, putting the visitors back on top by a 2-1 count. But the Griffins again tied it only 3:59 later, as an ill-advised pass by goalie Mike McKenna from behind his net was picked off in the left circle by Ben Street, who quickly centered it to Callahan for an easy tap-in.
The Crunch took a 3-2 lead into the final period thanks to Gourde’s second goal of the night at the 18:10 mark. Coreau made a string of saves as the Griffins scrambled around their own net, but Gourde finally found and deposited a rebound from below the left circle.
Grand Rapids forged its third tie of the contest on Bertuzzi’s record-setting goal 3:50 into the third period, as he slammed home a Frk rebound at the right post to surpass Teemu Pulkkinen in the all-time record book. Frk then provided the game-winner with 7:19 remaining, launching a patented slap shot from above the right circle that McKenna had no chance on.
The Griffins withstood a final push from the Crunch to claim their first championship on home ice, bookending the 2013 title they won in Syracuse.
Continuing its proficiency at closing out playoff foes, Grand Rapids won its fifth straight home game when its opponent faced elimination, dating to 2014.
Coreau, who finished the playoffs with a 15-4 record, made 29 saves, while McKenna stopped 22 shots.
Grand Rapids is the 14th city all time and the seventh current AHL locale to claim two or more Calder Cup championships…Of the other four active franchises to win at least two Calder Cups (Hershey 11, Rochester 6, Chicago 2 and Lehigh Valley/Philadelphia 2), only Hershey (1958-59; 2006, 2009-10) and Rochester (1965-66, 1968; 1983, 1987) ever accomplished the feat within a span of five seasons.