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Griffins Get Big Performances From Several Players In A 7-4 Win Over The Gulls

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Xavier Ouellet, Tomas Jurco, Eric Tangradi, & Robbie Russo celebrate a Griffins goal against the San Diego Gulls on November 20, 2015
Xavier Ouellet, Tomas Jurco, Eric Tangradi, & Robbie Russo celebrate a Griffins goal against the San Diego Gulls on November 20, 2015
Griffins Hockey

There was a buzz in the air in Van Andel Arena Friday night when the Griffins hosted the San Diego Gulls. Maybe it was the $2 beers many people in the crowd were drinking, maybe it was the excitement of getting Andreas Athanasiou back and having Tomas Jurco return for a conditioning stint. Maybe it was the budding hope that after a win on Wednesday night, the Griffins could pull off another win and make it two in a row for the first time all season. For me, there was a nervous excitement that combined hope, optimism, and a little bit of fear. The Griffins season so far had been mostly frustrating, disappointing, and painful, and that's just from my perspective as a fan. There was just something about this game that felt different though. As I sat watching warm ups, focusing on  Tomas Jurco and Andreas Athanasiou, knowing that those two players would be crucial to a Griffins win, and as Jared Coreau let the team out onto the ice, there was hope.

Just 2:12 into the 1st period Antoine Antoine took a holding penalty and the Griffins 11.3% power play would get its first crack at the Gulls. The power play unit of Eric Tangradi, Andy Miele, Anthony Mantha, Ryan Sproul, and Xavier Ouellet lined up in the Gulls zone, the puck dropped, Tangradi won the faceoff back to Sproul at the left point, and Sproul ripped a one timer past John Gibson and into the back of the Gulls net. The crowd went wild! That goal 2 seconds into the power play was the first of 7, no that's not a typo, goals the Griffins would score against the Anaheim Ducks' farm team. This was just the 4th time this season the Griffins had scored more than 2 goals in a game and  was one more goal than they had scored in their previous 3 games combined.

This was the game we've been waiting for all season long. The Griffins unquestioningly played by far their best, most complete game, the offense was there, the defense was great, Jared Coreau was fantastic in net, and their abysmal special teams really came through. They were 4 for 9 on the power play and 3 for 5 on the penalty kill. I can't even describe in words how great, amazing, and emotional this game was. To finally see the team playing the way we knew they could, get rewarded for it, win a freaking game, and feel the relief from the players was almost overwhelming to watch; but in a good way.

There were a lot of exciting, encouraging things about this game, but I'm compelled to first talk about someone who literally gave me tears of joy when he completed his hat trick.

The Red Wings sent Tomas Jurco to the Griffins on a conditioning stint on Tuesday. Wednesday he has an assist in the Griffins 3-2 win and he had a little rust to shake off. Friday night he scored 3 power play goals, tying a Griffins franchise record (Teemu Pulkkinen '14-'15 & Joe Murphy '01-'02), had an assist, and 4 shots on goal. With every period he got better and looked more confident. He played on a line with Eric Tangradi and the returning Andreas Athanasiou, and Jurco and AA made sweet magic together. It was so good to see Jurco playing again, and scoring goals, and starting to remember how to be Tomas Jurco. Even through just this one game I could see him progressively shaking off the rust, and shedding a little more of the grinder mentality. By the end, he was clearly regaining some offensive mentality and the skilled passing and shooting he was doing was gorgeous; almost classic Jurco. I'm assuming he's healthy and healed since he's on a conditioning stint, and this time in GR is a great opportunity to get the kid going again and let him regain some confidence.

Andreas Athanasiou returned for his first game back with the Griffins after being sent down on Thursday after playing 6 games with the Red Wings. AA hadn't really been playing like himself before his call up, but upon his return Friday night he played his best game of the season in a Griffins jersey. He had an even strength goal and 2 power play assists on Tomas Jurco goals and he was on his game.

Ryan Sproul has what might have been his best game as a Griffin. He had a power play goal, an even strength assist, 4 shots on goal, and even more impressive was his defensive play. He made several smart defensive plays to take away shooting lanes or eve break up odd man rushes. In one case he hustled to get back on a Gulls breakaway and made a perfectly timed sprawling move to take away what very well may have been a Gulls goal. I remember only one time I mentally chided him for making a blind backhand pass to the slot in the Gulls zone while on the power play, because the puck went right to a Gulls player. I came away more impressed with Sproul in this game than I think I've ever been before. Can he repeat the performance? I sure hope so.

Jared Coreau had a really good game, he was making glove saves with swagger, doing a good job of seeing the puck through bodies, and made 31 saves in the game. He's now 4-2-1 on the season with a .915 SV% and 2.78 GAA. I don't know how Nelson doesn't give Coreau more starts than McCollum with the way they're both playing. Two of the goals on Coreau Friday night were on the power play and Coreau didn't have much of a chance on either one. He's playing great and with confidence and the team seems to feed off that confidence as well.

I still feel bad for Tomas Nosek, because his linemates are Danny Cleary and Colin Campbell. I brought a friend with me to the game who's been to maybe 10 games now, and that's the extent of her hockey experience. At one point during the game when Tomas Nosek carried the puck into the zone and passed it to one of his linemates, she exclaimed, "No don't pass it to them". Her assessment from watching that line was that Campbell and Cleary aren't good players and Nosek should just keep the puck to himself. I actually laughed out loud very hard, because it's true and sad all at the same time. Nosek still isn't on the power play, which I don't understand.

Even a hat trick and 4 points for Jurco, and a goal and 2 assists for Athanasiou don't do justice to what those two did on the ice. Watch these highlights and tell me you don't need new pants.

The Griffins are on the road tonight visiting the Chicago Wolves at 8 PM. Unfortunately they'll be without the services of Zach Nastasiuk and Anthony Mantha who were injured on Friday. Nastasiuk was injured sometime late in the 1st period or early in the 2nd, and Mantha was probably injured in the fight with Stu Bickel mid way through the 3rd period. Tyler Bertuzzi and Martin Frk will be back in the lineup to replace Nasty and Mantha.

Here's the Box Score and the play-by-play recap of the game.

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The Grand Rapids Griffins knocked off their second Western Conference power in three nights on Friday, setting a season-high for goals to clip the San Diego Gulls by a 7-4 count and spoil the visitors' first-ever visit to Van Andel Arena.

Tomas Jurco notched four points and tied a franchise record with three power play goals, becoming just the third Griffin to accomplish that feat, while Andreas Athanasiou chipped in a goal and two assists. Both players rejoined Grand Rapids earlier this week from the Detroit Red Wings. 

After snapping Rockford's 10-game point streak on Wednesday, the Griffins used the strength of a four-goal first period - their highest-scoring frame of the season - to drop a Gulls team that started 9-2 before its current 0-3-0-1 slide.  

Thanks to their first back-to-back wins of the season, the Griffins have earned points in four of their last five games, posting a 3-1-0-1 record since Nov. 11. They'll now take aim at their first road victory of the season when they visit the Central Division-leading Chicago Wolves on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.

The Griffins' power play, which had gone scoreless in 16 tries over the last five games and was just 1-for-29 over the past seven, connected twice before the game was eight minutes old. Ryan Sproul got things started at 2:14 off of an Eric Tangradi faceoff win in the right circle, sending a blast inside the left post from the high slot.

Jurco scored the first goal of his conditioning stint at the 7:33 mark to make it a 2-0 game. Athanasiou, who just returned from Detroit on Thursday, threaded a nifty cross-ice pass to Jurco, who ripped a shot over John Gibson's glove from the right circle.

Less than a minute later, Mitch Callahan set up shop outside the crease to tip Sproul's shot into the top left corner, giving the Griffins (4-8-0-1) a 3-0 cushion with 11:36 still remaining in the period.

The Gulls (9-5-0-1) finally countered on a Max Friberg deflection that beat Jared Coreau during a power play at 13:06, but the Griffins would score once more to take a 4-1 advantage to the locker room. Athanasiou finished off a 3-on-1 break and a nifty exchange with Anthony Mantha to put another puck past Gibson from the doorstep with 2:39 left.  

San Diego lit the lamp 5:52 into the second to pull within two. Joseph Cramarossa beat Sproul to a loose rebound at the left post and managed to slip it past Coreau, sparking a surge by the visitors that saw them carry the play for the balance of the period. Coreau was more than up to the task, though, making a series of impressive stops during a pair of Gulls power plays to finish with 15 saves for the frame.

Having withstood that punch from San Diego, the Griffins pushed their margin back to three at 1:12 of the final period, as Tangradi tapped home Jurco's centering feed for a 5-2 lead. But the Gulls refused to fly away quietly, with Brandon Montour scoring a power play tally through a screen from the point at 6:18 and Brian McGrattan solving Coreau during a scrum 2:33 later for a goal that was subsequently upheld upon video review.

San Diego's chances to get the tying goal took a huge hit with 4:54 remaining, in a sequence that gave the Griffins the opportunity they needed to slam the door. Shane O'Brien, whistled off for tripping Athanasiou behind the Gulls' net, then took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to give Grand Rapids a four-minute advantage that it would capitalize on twice to finish a season-best 4-for-9 on the power play. Jurco snapped a shot from the edge of the right circle at 17:03 - just three seconds before O'Brien's first penalty was set to expire - before popping home a rebound at 17:46 to seal San Diego's fate and match Teemu Pulkkinen's (2014-15) and Joe Murphy's (2001-02) power play hat tricks. 

Coreau improved to 4-2-1 on the season by turning aside 31 shots, while Gibson allowed all seven Griffins goals against 33 saves.

Three Stars: 1. GR Jurco (three PP goals, assist); 2. GR Tangradi (goal, assist); 3. GR Athanasiou (goal, two assists)