GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins rang out 2018 in the same way they concluded the vast majority of their games this year: with a victory.
Joe Hicketts’ slap shot with 4:44 remaining on Monday gave the home squad a 2-1 win over the Rockford IceHogs in their 22nd annual New Year’s Eve game at Van Andel Arena. Harri Sateri was brilliant between the pipes with 31 saves, as the Griffins closed out the calendar year with a regular season mark of 47-21-4-5 (0.669).
Now 4-0-1-0 in their last five outings and 19-11-3-2 on the season, the Griffins have closed to within a single point of first-place Chicago in the Central Division race, as their 43 points tie Iowa for second. Grand Rapids will begin 2019 with a two-game trip to Pennsylvania, beginning with this Friday’s visit to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for a 7:05 p.m. tilt with the Penguins.
Vili Saarijarvi had the Griffins’ best scoring chance during a scoreless opening period, as his shot from the slot with 6:28 left hit the crossbar and dropped just outside the goal line, a call that was upheld by video review.
Afforded 1:18 of 5-on-3 power play time midway through the second frame, Grand Rapids did not squander its opportunity. Taking a feed from Brian Lashoff at the right faceoff dot, Chris Terry sent a cross-ice slap pass to Carter Camper, who squeezed a shot between Kevin Lankinen and the near post from below the left circle at 11:19.
A potential tying goal by Luke Johnson three minutes later was waved off due to goalie interference, as Johnson was well into Sateri’s paint when he deflected Graham Knott’s shot into the net. But Lucas Carlsson scored one that counted for the visitors at 15:50, as he launched a slap shot from just inside the blue line by the Rockford bench that sailed past Sateri’s blocker.
Nick Moutrey nearly gave Rockford the lead with less than nine minutes left in the third when his backhand shot from the right side slipped beneath Sateri, but Saarijarvi, Camper and Lashoff quickly converged on the puck at the left post to keep it from crossing the goal line.
That defensive effort proved to be pivotal four minutes later when Hicketts instead gave Grand Rapids the 2-1 advantage. Taking a pass from Terry at the point, Hicketts slid down into the right circle before teeing up a slap shot that found Lankinen’s five-hole at the 15:16 mark.
The IceHogs pulled Lankinen in favor of an extra attacker with more than two minutes left, but the Griffins’ defense held firm to post the team’s fourth straight New Year’s Eve win. Grand Rapids is now 11-9-1-1 in its year-end celebrations, including a 3-0-0-1 record versus Rockford, which it has faced to close out each even-numbered year since 2012.
Lankinen finished with 26 saves for the IceHogs, who fell to 15-13-3-4.
Notes: The crowd of 10,834 marked the Griffins’ sixth consecutive New Year’s Eve sellout…Grand Rapids went 1-for-5 on the power play while Rockford was 0-for-3…The Griffins improved their home record to 12-3-1-2.
Three Stars: 1. GR Sateri (W, 31 saves); 2. GR Hicketts (game-winning goal); 3. RFD Lankinen (L, 26 saves)