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Grand Rapids Griffins vs. Houston Aeros Series Preview

The Grand Rapids Griffins start their opening round playoff series against the Houston Aeros tonight. The team sent along a really great series preview which I've included below. There's so much good stuff in here. Also, I've made a bet with Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness over this series. Loser has to write something nice about a player of the winner's choosing. For more Griffins coverage check out and

Jason Kasiorek -


Game 1 - Fri., April 26 - GRIFFINS at Aeros - 8:05 p.m.
Game 2 - Sun., April 28 - GRIFFINS at Aeros - 6:05 p.m.
Game 3 - Wed., May 1 - Aeros at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (season ticket Game A)
*Game 4 - Fri., May 3 - Aeros at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game B)
*Game 5 - Sat., May 4 - Aeros at GRIFFINS - 7 p.m. (Game C)

* If necessary. All times Eastern and subject to change. All games on Newsradio WOOD 106.9 FM & 1300 AM.

Sheahan980c.jpgThe Lowdown: The Griffins qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 11th time in their 17-year history, claiming the third seed in the Western Conference (42-26-4-4, 92 pts.) after winning the Midwest Division and finishing eighth overall in the AHL. Grand Rapids will meet the sixth-seeded Houston Aeros (40-26-5-5, 90 pts.) in the best-of-five Western Conference Quarterfinals, marking the second time the teams have faced off in the postseason. Grand Rapids won the season series 4-2, including each of the last three contests (Feb. 6-April 2). For the Griffins, it’s a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, when they upset the second-seeded Hamilton Bulldogs in the North Division Semifinals before being swept by Manitoba in the North Division Finals. Houston has made the playoffs in five of their last six seasons and in 15 of the last 17 seasons. The Aeros have won two championships – the 1999 Turner Cup (IHL) and the 2003 Calder Cup. They advanced to the Calder Cup Finals in 2011 but fell in six games to the Binghamton Senators.

Last Time Around: Grand Rapids and Houston have met in the Calder Cup Playoffs once before, squaring off in the 2003 Western Conference Finals. The Griffins fell into a 3-1 series hole before becoming just the third team in AHL history to win consecutive overtime games when facing elimination – winning Game 5 by a 5-4 score in double overtime and Game 6 in a low-scoring 2-1 affair – to extend the series to a seventh game on home ice. However, Houston skated into Van Andel Arena and defeated the Griffins 2-1 to advance to the Calder Cup Finals, where they eventually claimed the championship in seven games over Hamilton. It marked the fourth straight year in which the team that beat Grand Rapids in the playoffs went on to win the championship.

Get Your Tickets: Tickets for home Game A (series Game 3), which are included in Griffins full season ticket packages, are now on sale for $33, $27, $23, $19, $17 and $15 (additional $2 per ticket on day of game), reflecting a league-wide increase of $1 over regular season prices. Playoff tickets may be purchased in person at The Zone at Van Andel Arena and all Star Tickets locations, by phone at (800) 585-3737, or through

Check the History Books: The Griffins have had a long history with the Aeros, as Houston is one of just three active teams to have played against Grand Rapids in the IHL prior to joining the AHL in 2001-02. In 17 seasons, the Griffins show a regular season record of 40-32-6-3-7 (W-L-T-OTL-SOL) against the Aeros, including a 21-16-2-1-4 mark at Van Andel Arena and 19-18-4-2-3 at the Toyota Center and Compaq Center.

Home Ice is Nice: The Griffins enjoyed home-ice advantage in 10 consecutive playoff series from 2001-06, but they were the lower seed in each of their last three series (2007-09). In the 2009 North Division Semifinals, the third-seeded Griffins won a playoff series as the lower seed for the first time, dispatching the Hamilton Bulldogs in six games before a four-game sweep by division-champion Manitoba.

Welcome Return: This season marked several returns for the Griffins, including their first appearance in the postseason since 2008-09. Additionally, the team captured their first division title since 2005-06, when they finished first in the league. For capturing the Midwest Division crown, the Griffins earned the N.R. (Bud) Poile Trophy, an honor they earned as Western Conference champions in 2005-06 and, before that, as West Division champions in 2001-02. The 92 points accumulated by the Griffins was their seventh-highest total in their 17 seasons.

Playoff Promotions: In celebration of the team’s return to the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Griffins are adapting their popular Friday promotion and will offer $2 beers and $2 hot dogs for all home playoff games, including Fridays, from the time doors open until one hour after the start of the game. Griffins playoff rally towels, courtesy of Auto Value Parts Stores, and fans will also receive a Griffins team poster following the game. Fans can also purchase a Playoff 4-Pack to receive four or more tickets to a playoff game of their choice to save $3 off of day-of-game pricing per ticket

Playoff Facts and Figures
: Grand Rapids has won eight of its 18 total playoff series and owns a combined 45-47 record during those games, going 20-26 on home ice and 25-21 on the road…Eighteen postseason games involving the Griffins have gone to overtime, with the team posting a 10-8 record: 6-7 in single overtime, 3-0 in double overtime and 1-1 in triple overtime…Grand Rapids is 1-3 in best-of-five series and 7-7 in best-of-seven series…Grand Rapids’ all-time record in Game 1 of all series is 7-11…The Griffins’ active leading playoff scorer is Francis Pare, who is tied for 48th all time with four points (2-2—4) in 10 games. Brian Lashoff, who will start the postseason with the parent Red Wings, is tied for 38th with five points (1-4—5) in eight games.

Bench Bosses: Jeff Blashill led the Griffins back to the playoffs during his first season behind the team’s bench, helping the team to a 42-win season. Blashill previously led the USHL’s Indiana Ice to a Clark Cup championship in his first-ever season as a head coach at any level in 2009. He also led the CCHA’s Western Michigan Broncos to the CCHA championship game for the first time since 1986 in his lone season as the Broncos’ bench boss in 2011. He helped Detroit extend their postseason streak to 21 seasons as an assistant coach in 2011-12, but the Red Wings fell in five games to Nashville…Houston’s John Torchetti is in his second season as the Aeros’ head coach, compiling a 75-51-10-16 regular season record and losing 3-1 to Oklahoma City in the 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Torchetti has served as a head coach in five different leagues: NHL (Florida, Los Angeles), AHL (Houston), IHL (Fort Wayne), CHL (San Antonio) and QMJHL (Moncton) but has never won a championship. He’s also been an assistant/associate coach for four NHL clubs: Tampa Bay, Florida, Atlanta and Chicago, where he was a part of the 2010 Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks.

The Stories: The clash between Grand Rapids and Houston presents numerous storylines:
• Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan was a rookie on the 2003 Houston team that won a seven-game series over Grand Rapids in the Western Conference Finals before winning a Calder Cup;
• Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek was playing for the Aeros when they won the IHL’s Turner Cup in 1999;
• The Griffins tied for seventh in the AHL with 234 goals, but they only managed 14 in six games against Houston; five came in a 5-1 win on April 2. However, the Griffins surrendered only 10 to the Aeros;
• Houston defenseman Steven Kampfer, who hails from Ann Arbor, Mich., played for the University of Michigan from 2006-10 and was a teammate of Griffins center Luke Glendening in his final two seasons;
• The Aeros were led in scoring by Justin Fontaine, who was a member of the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2010-11, when they defeated the University of Michigan and Luke Glendening in the NCAA national championship;
• Griffins’ leading goal-scorer Landon Ferraro was a teammate of Aeros netminder Darcy Kuemper with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels from 2008-10;
• Grand Rapids’ Tomas Jurco and Houston’s Zach Phillips were members of the Saint John Sea Dogs team that won back-to-back QMJHL President’s Trophies in 2011 and 2012, as well as the 2011 CHL Memorial Cup. Aeros forward Charlie Coyle, recalled to the parent Wild, was also on the Sea Dogs last season;
• Both teams have parent clubs fighting for the final playoff spots in the NHL, and the result could have an impact on either team’s roster when the regular season ends. Nine players played for both Minnesota and Houston: Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Matt Hackett (traded to BUF), Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper, Johan Larsson (traded to BUF), Marco Scandella and Jason Zucker. Ten players skated for Detroit and Grand Rapids: Joakim Andersson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonas Gustavsson, Brian Lashoff, Petr Mrazek, Jan Mursak, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan,Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar.

2012-13 Griffins vs. Aeros

Griffins Records: 4-2-0-0 Overall, 1-2-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 3-0-0-0 in Houston
Aeros Records: 2-3-0-1 Overall, 2-1-0-0 in Grand Rapids, 0-2-0-1 in Houston

Nov. 4 – Griffins 2, Aeros 1 SO – Toyota Center

In just his second AHL start, Petr Mrazek picked up where he left off the night after his Griffins debut and turned away 30 of the Aeros’ 31 shots. Landon Ferraro opened the scoring at 6:07 of the second period, and the game remained 1-0 until Chad Rau struck at 9:40 of the third period. Grand Rapids killed off a penalty for the final 1:40 of the overtime period to send the game to a shootout.Brendan Smith and Francis Pare converted their opportunities and Mrazek shut down four consecutive Houston shooters to seal the victory for the Griffins. Matt Hackett, who would be traded later in the season to Buffalo as part of a package for Sabres captain Jason Pominville, made 31 stops in the shootout loss. The win was the Griffins’ second in a season-high eight-game winning streak that helped them ascend to the top spot in the Midwest Division.

Jan. 25 – Aeros 1, Griffins 0 – Van Andel Arena
A red-hot Darcy Kuemper steered aside all 28 shots the Griffins fired his way to record his third shutout in his 11th appearance of the season. Petr Mrazek continued his strong play against Houston with 26 stops on his end in front of a sellout crowd at Van Andel Arena. The game’s lone goal came at the 17:03 mark of the second period after Justin Fontaine jammed a loose puck off a David McIntyre shot past Mrazek’s pad. Steven Kampfer took a delay of game penalty with just 3:08 remaining, but the Griffins, even after pulling Mrazek for an extra skater, were unable to solve Kuemper.

Jan. 26 – Aeros 5, Griffins 2 – Van Andel Arena
A second-straight capacity crowd of 10,834 witnessed Houston become the first of only two teams this season to sweep a two-game set against Grand Rapids (Peoria, March 17-19). Charlie Coyle scored two of the Aeros’ five goals, while Darcy Kuemper improved to 4-0 lifetime at Van Andel Arena with a 33 save performance, including a staggering 20 in the third period. Chad Billins’ second professional goal opened the scoring but Houston netted two goals in a 1:56 span late in the second and two more in a two-minute stretch early in the third to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Griffins coachJeff Blashill used an unorthodox strategy to awaken his team’s offense, pulling netminder Petr Mrazek for the extra skater during a power play with 11:34 remaining in the contest for a 6-on-4 advantage. He was rewarded when Riley Sheahan scored to pull the Griffins within two, but Johan Larsson eventually sealed the victory for Houston with an empty-net goal with less than four minutes remaining.

Feb. 6 – Griffins 2, Aeros 0 – Van Andel Arena

After an 18-day layoff, Tom McCollum returned to action to stop all 28 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season while becoming just the fourth goaltender in franchise history to play in 100 career games. Riley Sheahan opened the scoring just 3:45 into the contest, sweeping a rebound of a Brett Skinner shot past Darcy Kuemper. The Griffins, who had shut out the Abbotsford Heat 1-0 in their previous outing (Feb. 2), were just six seconds away from shutting out an opponent 1-0 in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history, but captain Jeff Hoggan scored into an empty net in the dying moments to seal the Griffins’ 2-0 victory. Grand Rapids handed Kuemper his first-ever loss at Van Andel Arena, while improving a season-best shutout streak to 154:19 by the end of the night.

March 29 – Griffins 3, Aeros 2 – Toyota Center
Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan led the way against the club he skated for from 2001-04, tallying two goals and an assist. Although the teams combined for just 12 regulation goals in their previous four meetings, they scored early and often in this contest, starting with Hoggan’s first of the night when the game was just 29 seconds old. Chad Rau and Nick Petersen scored for the quick-strike Aeros just 19 seconds apart to take the lead, but Hoggan answered at the 7:49 mark to even the game at two. The offense quickly dried up over the next two periods though, as the game remained 2-2 until Chad Billins snuck in from the point to tap home a rebound with just 2:01 remaining. Hoggan picked up his third point of the night with an assist, as did Jan Mursak, who assisted on all three of the team’s goals. Tom McCollum earned the win behind 27 saves, while Houston’s Cody Reichard stopped 33 of 36 in the losing effort.

April 2 – Griffins 5, Aeros 1 – Toyota Center
After scoring eight regulation goals in the team’s five previous meetings, the Griffins exploded for five goals against the Aeros in an historic victory. Francis Pare led the way and become just the second player to score 100 goals in a Griffins uniform, notching his 100th and 101st in the win. Chad Billins opened the scoring at 7:58 of the second period and sparked a run that saw Grand Rapids tally four times in a span of 5:03 to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco and Pare scored before the end of the frame, with Pare adding his second of the night to make it 5-0 at the 6:10 mark of the third period. Stephane Veilleux was Houston’s lone goal scorer, finally solving Tom McCollum exactly 100 seconds after Pare’s second of the night.

Tale of the Tape: Here’s how the two rivals stacked up in key categories during the regular season:

Grand Rapids


Overall Record

42-26-4-4, 92 pts. (1st Midwest/8th AHL)

40-26-5-5, 90 pts. (4th South/10th AHL)

Home Record

21-12-3-2, 47 pts. (T9th)

21-11-3-3, 48 pts. (8th)

Road Record

21-14-1-2, 45 pts. (T6th)

19-15-2-2, 42 pts. (T10th)

Power Play

60-for-325, 18.5% (T8th)

60-for-316, 19% (7th)

Penalty Killing

244-for-304, 80.3% (29th)

238-for-288, 82.6% (T18th)

Penalty Minutes

16.04 avg. (16th)

13.22 avg. (28th)

Goals For

3.08 avg. (T7th)

2.79 avg. (16th)

Goals Against

2.70 avg. (13th)

2.62 avg. (T7th)

Shots For

30.67 avg. (9th)

28.18 avg. (26th)

Shots Against

27.86 avg. (T5th)

29.24 avg. (T10th)

Team Leaders

Games Played

Billins/Evans/Hoggan (76)

Zack Phillips (71)


Landon Ferraro (24)

Jason Zucker (24)


Gustav Nyquist (37)

Brian Connelly (34)


Nyquist (60)

Justin Fontaine (56)


Jan Mursak (+15)

David McIntyre (+19)

Penalty Minutes

Triston Grant (196)

Paul Mara (89)

Power Play Goals

Nyquist (9)

Zucker (12)

Shorthanded Goals

Ferraro (3)

Carson McMillan (3)

Game-Winning Goals

Tomas Tatar/Joakim Andersson (5)

Zucker (8)


Petr Mrazek (23)

Matt Hackett (19)


Tom McCollum (2)

Darcy Kuemper (4)

Goals Against Avg.

Mrazek (2.33)

Kuemper (1.88)

Save Percentage

Mrazek (0.916)

Kuemper (0.934)

Regular Season Series Notes: No player had more than four points during the teams’ six-game season series. Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan had four points (3-1—4) in six games, while Jan Mursakpicked up four points (0-4—4) in just two contests. Justin Fontaine led Houston with four points (1-3—4) in six games against the Griffins…Hoggan shared the team lead with three goals against the Aeros, matching the total of Chad Billins. Charlie Coyle and Chad Rau were the only Aeros to have more than one goal against the Griffins…Goaltending was a major factor in the season series. For the Griffins, Tom McCollum was 3-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and a 0.964 save percentage, while Petr Mrazek was 1-2 with a 1.98 GAA and 0.929 save percentage. For Houston, Matt Hackett had a 0.93 GAA and 0.969 save percentage in his lone appearance, while Darcy Kuemper went 2-2 with a 1.72 GAA and a 0.942 save percentage…Triston Grant had 29 penalty minutes in six contests against Houston, having fought the season-series leader for Houston, Ryley Grantham (27), three times over a two-game period…The road team was victorious in all but one of the six meetings (Grand Rapids won 2-0 at Van Andel Arena on Feb. 6)…The Griffins have won four straight games at the Toyota Center, dating back to March 11, 2012…Grand Rapids scored four goals in the second period of the April 2 contest between the clubs, just one shy of their season high (Jan. 4 vs. OKC, 2nd)…The Griffins were 2-for-22 on the power play against the Aeros (9.09%) but killed off 21-of-23 (91.3%) power play attempts...The 20 shots by Grand Rapids in the third period of the Jan. 26 meeting were the second most it had in a single period (21, Feb. 24 vs. SA, 2nd).

Tell Me What It Takes: The Griffins’ quest to advance in the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs will be headlined by a handful of players who have won championships in their careers, starting with captainJeff Hoggan, who captured a Calder Cup with Houston in 2003. Two of the team’s rookies enjoyed championships seasons last year: Chad Billins, who helped Ferris State capture the CCHA regular season championship en route to an appearance in the NCAA national title game, and Tomas Jurco, who won his second straight QMJHL President’s Cup with Saint John last spring after winning the CHL Memorial Cup in 2011. Brennan Evans joins Jurco as the team’s other Memorial Cup winner, winning the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup and Memorial Cup in 2002 with the Kootenay Ice. Brett Skinner won back-to-back NCAA championships with Denver as a sophomore and junior in 2004 and 2005. Other cup winners include Mitch Callahan (WHL Chynoweth Cup – 2009 Kelowna) and Adam Almquist(SEL Championship – 2010 HV 71), as well as both of the team’s coaches: Jim Paek (Stanley Cup – 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh, IHL Turner Cup – 1989 Muskegon and 1999 Houston) and Jeff Blashill(USHL Clark Cup – 2009 in his debut season as a head coach). In addition, although they have been with Detroit for most of the season’s second half, Brian Lashoff won a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship with the United States, and Joakim Andersson won back-to-back championships at the junior level in Sweden.

Playoff Roster: The following 28 players are eligible to suit up for the Griffins in the postseason: goaltenders Tom McCollum, Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce; defensemen Adam Almquist,Chad Billins, Brennan Evans, Gleason Fournier, Richard Nedomlel, Max Nicastro, Nathan Paetsch, Brett Skinner and Ryan Sproul; and forwards Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan,Willie Coetzee, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendening, Triston Grant, Jeff Hoggan, Tomas Jurco,Jan Mursak, Andrej Nestrasil, Francis Pare, Trevor Parkes, Teemu Pulkkinen, Brent Raedeke,Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. Additionally, if assigned by the Red Wings, defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff and forwards Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist will be eligible for Calder Cup Playoff action.

Oh Captain, My Captain: One of the hottest Griffins over the second half of the season was captain and former Calder Cup-winner Jeff Hoggan. After recording 14 points (5-9—14) in the team’s first 38 games – leading up to the NHL season starting on Jan. 19 – Hoggan rattled off 31 points (15-16—31) in the final 38 games, including 14 (7-7—14) over the team’s final 14 contests (March 22-April 21). It marked the fourth time in his 11 years as a pro that he reached the 20-goal plateau, as he finished fourth on the team with 45 points (20-25—45) in 76 games. Hoggan also boasts the most AHL playoff experience on the team at 38 games.

It’s Been Awhile: Four players on the playoff roster were on the team when the Griffins last made the playoffs in 2009. Two of those players are with the parent Red Wings as of the start of the postseason in Joakim Andersson (1-2—3 in 10 GP) and Brian Lashoff (1-4—5 in 8 GP), who both skated for Grand Rapids on amateur tryouts during that postseason before joining the team full-time in 2010-11. The only other two are Jan Mursak (0-3—3 in 13 GP) and Francis Pare (2-2—4 in 10 GP).

Experience Counts: Only nine players on the Griffins roster have AHL postseason experience. In addition to the four players who skated during the 2009 Calder Cup Playoff run (Joakim Andersson,Brian Lashoff, Jan Mursak and Francis Pare), Brennan Evans (0-1—1 in 14 GP), Triston Grant(1-5—6 in 35 GP), Jeff Hoggan (8-10—18 in 38 GP), Nathan Paetsch (2-2—4 in 25 GP) and Brett Skinner (0-8—8 in 28 GP) have playoff experience at this level. Nine players have professional postseason experience at other levels: Adam Almquist (1-11—12 in 21 GP, Sweden), Andersson (2-3—5 in 22 GP, Sweden), Evans (2 GP, NHL), Hoggan (2 GP, Germany), Gustav Nyquist (4 GP, NHL), Paetsch (1 GP, NHL; 2 GP, Germany), Teemu Pulkkinen (2-5—7 in 13 GP, Finland), Skinner (6 GP, Sweden) and Tomas Tatar (5-3—8 in 13 GP, Slovakia). The Griffins also have five players who recently saw ECHL playoff action with the Toledo Walleye: Willie Coetzee, Andrej Nestrasil, Max Nicastro, Trevor Parkes and Jordan Pearce.

Thank You, Fans!: With a near-sellout crowd of 10,829 during their regular season home finale on April 19 versus Peoria, the Griffins finished their home slate with an average attendance of 7,681 (291,892 total), giving them an increase for the third straight year and the sixth time in the last seven seasons. Hershey, which finished with an increase for the 10th straight season, is the only AHL team with a longer/better attendance trend since 2006-07. The Griffins finished fourth in the league in attendance, trailing only Hershey, Chicago and Providence. Grand Rapids’ six sellouts surpassed its total from the last two seasons combined (one in 2011-12, four in 2010-11) and were its most in any season since 2008-09 (six).

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