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December 2011 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Rookies Gaining Traction...
By Jason Kasiorek
January 1, 2012

Most teams would not be able to take the recall of three of the teams top four scorers and post a better record, especially not a team in the basement like the Grand Rapids Griffins, but that is just what they did. While there were several contributing factors to the team's first winning month of the season, one of the biggest is the emergence of the rookies forced into a regular rotation because there was no one else to play. The results speak for themselves as the team was competitive and the rookies held their own. The line of Louis-Marc Aubry between Trevor Parkes and Mitchell Callahan really stood out with their blend of speed, grit and energy, quickly earning more ice time from Coach Fraser. Add to that first year center Landon Ferraro and his face-off prowess, and the play of several 2nd year players, and you can see that the kids are alright - in Grand Rapids.

With a 5-2-3-2 record for December, the Griffins easily had their best month of the season, raising their record to 13-13-4-2 in 32 games. Their 32 points rank them 4th in the Northern Division, 7 points out of first place. They are climbing out of the basement, moving from 28th to 23rd in the AHL and have also moved up three spaces from 15th to 12th in the Western Conference. Grand Rapids enjoys the third best average attendance in the AHL at 6843 fans per game, entertaining fans with its 8th ranked offense, scoring 3.06 goals per game. On the flip side, the team also has the 27th ranked defense, allowing 3.22 goals per game.

The following is a review for December:

OFFENSE - Due to injuries and recalls, the Griffins essentially lost their one of their top lines for most of the month. With Chris Conner's recall Joakim Andersson centered Gustav Nyquist and Fabian Brunnstrom on an offensively potent trio. But Andersson and Nyquist were recalled to Detroit, and Brunnstrom ended up on the shelf with an ankle injury. The lines the latter part of the month were pretty stable. Tomas Tatar and Frankie Pare flanking Jamie Johnson continued to lead the team in scoring, posting 11 goals and 22 assists in December. Brent Raedeke found himself centering a line with Jan Mursak on one side and either Adam Estoclet or Fabian Brunnstrom on the other. They were more of a two-way combo, but still managed to score 5 goals and 7 assists.
The bottom two lines really stepped up this month and relished the extra icetime to make life miserable for the Griffins opponents. The energy line of Louis-Marc Aubry between Trevor Parkes and Mitchell Callahan has been arguably the team's best line the last couple weeks. With a combination of speed, energy and grit this trio has buzzed around the defensive zone taking the puck away and creating scoring chances. They also managed 4 goals and 8 assists in 12 games. The other energy line centered by faceoff wiz Landon Ferraro with speedy sniper Willie Coetzee and lately gritty blueliner Greg Amadio playing up front have also provided a lot of energy and physical play.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Tomas Tatar 12 4 8 12 18 -3 34Young gun cranks up offense and intensity.
Jamie Johnson 12 4 7 11 6 -3 24Scoring pivot bests last season's numbers already.
Frankie Pare 12 3 7 10 10 0 23Flying Frenchman breaks out of season long slump.
Gustav Nyquist 10 3 5 8 4 -8 29Leading scorer needs to tighten up without the puck.
Brent Raedeke12 3 4 7 8 4 20Checking center starts to produce with ice time.
Joakim Andersson 9 4 2 6 4 1 16Solid center turns hot start into NHL recall.
Willie Coetzee12 3 1 4 2 5 17Streaky scorer can still find the back of the net.
Mitchell Callahan 12 2 2 4 19 2 19Rookie shows he can play not just fight.
Louis-Marc Aubry 11 1 3 4 6 -3 21Freshman pivot brings speed, energy and thunder to fourth line.
Fabian Brunnstrom5 1 2 3 4 2 18Two-way winger as asset after return form injury.
Trevor Parkes 9 1 2 3 6 1 16Return from ECHL brings aggressive defensive checker.
Adam Estoclet7 1 1 2 2 2 10Spare forward having hard time cracking the lineup.
Landon Ferraro 12 0 2 2 12 2 15All the pieces are there except offense and consistency.
Jan Mursak 3 0 1 1 0 -2 6Speedy winger still working on timing.

DEFENSE - This group increased it's offensive contributions in December, but were still an adventure defensively. Brendan Smith exploded for 9 points in 12 games paired with the reliable Doug Janik for the clubs top pairing. The steadily improving Sebastien Piche has earned a regular slot usually with veteran Garnet Exelby. Piche, a noted scorer at the junior and ECHL level seems to be much more concerned with his own end at this level, and has shown a willingness to play physical and throw his body around. He has even displaced Greg Amadio as of late with the defensive defenseman taking shifts up front on the wing. The third pairing has been inconsistent at best featuring shooter Logan Pyett and two-way defender Brian Lashoff. Lashoff has had a tough season with a team high -14, but has had some strong games as of late and looks to be finding his stride. The same can marginally be said of Pyett whose struggles in his own end are well documented, but his offense, missing earlier in the year, is starting to show itself regularly.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Brendan Smith12 4 5 9 17 1 21Points pile up as blue-chipper establishes himself.
Logan Pyett 12 1 6 7 8 -1 37 Scoring coming online, defense still needs work.
Doug Janik 12 1 4 5 12 5 27 Versatile veteran gets it done again.
Garnet Exelby 12 1 3 4 24 -1 26 Fiery defenseman makes it tough for opponents.
Brian Lashoff 12 1 1 2 6 -6 19Playing better, but still a lot to learn for young defender.
Sebastien Piche 9 0 1 1 6 -2 8Improving in first extended look in AHL.
Greg Amadio 9 0 1 1 22 -4 3Gritty pugilist sees time up front as a forward.

GOALTENDING - After missing most of November with a concussion, starter Joey MacDonald had a tough month between the pipes for Grand Rapids. He had a decent enough record at 2-2-2-1, but after coming into December with a 2.17 goals against average and .930 save percentage his monthly marks of 3.69 and .873 were well off the pace. His backup Jordan Pearce did not fare much better in his three appearances before suffering an ankle injury that took him out of the lineup. Pearce had a loss and a shootout loss in his two decisions. Thomas McCollum came back from the ECHL and reeled off three consecutive wins and showing off some confidence while doing so. His number were fairly pedestrian (2.95GAA, .895Sv%), but he looked as solid as he has at any point in his three years in the organization, hopefully a sign that his troubles are behind him.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins special team play continues to hold around the middle of the pack for both Powerplay and Penalty Killing. The home powerplay unit raised its percentage form 13% to 15.6% but remained ranked 23rd (12 for 77). The road unit moved up to 14th with a 17.7% rate of success (14 for 79), helping their overall ranking move from 23rd to 21st at 16.7% (26 for 156). Johnson's 5 man advantage goals are the team high, with Nyquist and Tatar (3 each), and Conner, Pare, Anderson and Brunnstrom scoring at least 2.

At home the penalty killers have done a better job as of late moving to the 13th ranked unit at 82.9% (63 for 76), but the road unit stumbled a bit, falling from 13th (82.9%) to 19th (81.2% 56 for 69). Overall they are firmly in the middle of the pack at 15th, killing off 82.1% of the penalties (119 for 145). Conner's two shorties are still tops for the Griffins, but Smith and Johnson each have a shorthanded goal as well.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Brendan Smith. Smith has finally picked up his game to the level it was at last season. He is playing an aggressive game, jumping up into the play, and most of all unleashing his cannon of a shot. The points have started to come, with 10 in the last 12 games. It is no coincidence that with his resurgence, the powerplay has also started to rise from the AHL depths.

Offense - Tomas Tatar. Tatar has rebounded from a painfully slow start to take his place near the top of the team's scoring list. The gifted puck carrier is going into the high traffic areas and using his lightning quick release to score goals. He is also showing a propensity to put his head down and bull the puck to the net to create scoring chances. His consistency has also improved as he is now a factor in almost every game.

CURRENT INJURIES - Travis Ehrhardt - Shoulder 5-6 weeks... Chris Minard - Concussion - Indefinite... Jordan Pearce - Ankle day-to-day...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - LW Chris Conner recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Bryan Rufenach assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... LW Fabian Brunnstrom Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... G Thomas McCollum assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... RW Trevor Parkes recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... LW Tomas Tatar recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Tatar assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Joakim Andersson recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Jan Mursak assigned by Detroit (NHL) on conditioning assignment... LW Gustav Nyquist recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Thomas McCollum recalled from Toledo (ECHL)...

KEY STATS - Jamie Johnson is tied for 12th in the AHL with 14 goals... Gustav Nyquist is tied for 12th with 21 assists... Nyquist is 11th in league scoring with 30 points... Doug Janik is tied for 10th in the league at +12... Garnet Exelby is 3rd with 117 penalty minutes while teammate Greg Amadio is 16th with 84... Conner is tied for 3rd with 2 shorthanded goals... Johnson is tied for 7th with 4 first goals... Conner is tied for 3rd with 2 unassisted goals... Brendan Smith is tied for 4th with 3 shootout goals... Smith and Landon Ferraro are tied for 5th with 1 shootout game-winning goal... Tomas Tatar is 11th with 104 shots on goal... Johnson is 13th in shooting percentage at 23%... Nyquist is tied for 2nd in rookie scoring with 30 points... Nyquist also leads all rookies in assists... Smith is 15th in defense scoring with 17 points; teammate Doug Janik is 20th with 16... Johnson has the 2nd longest goal scoring streak in the league at 5 games... Nyquist is 4th in rookie powerplay assists (10) and points (14)... Mitch Callahan is third among rookies with 8 major penalties...Logan Pyett is 5th in shots on goal among defenseman with 89... Greg Amadio is first among blueliners with 10 major penalties... Frankie Pare is tied for the third longest active assist streak at 4 games... Chris Conner is tied for 1st in the AHL scoring 2 shorthanded goals in the same game... Garnet Exelby is has the second highest single game penalty minute total this season with 29... Jordan Pearce holds the dubious honor of having given up the most goals in a single game this season at 7... Joey MacDonald is tied for 16th with 8 losses... MacDonald is tied for 6th with 2 shutouts... Macdonald is also tied for 8th with 2 shootout wins...

IN THE PIPELINE - Blueliner Bryan Rufenach saw his offense tail off this month for Toledo (ECHL). He produced 2 goals and 3 assists on 37 shots in the 12 games he played for the Walleye. Fellow defenseman Gleason Fournier did not fair much better, as the offensive rearguard posted a goal and two assists in 12 games with a -3 defensive rating. Winger Andrej Nestrasil is still adjusting to the pro game as well, turning in a goal and six assists in 12 games. The streaky sniper went scoreless in his first 3 games of the season, then scorer 7 points in 7 games before being held off the scoresheet the next 4. Netminder Thomas McCollum had a good month for the Walleye, turning in a 4-3 record in 8 appearances with 2.73 GAA and 90% save percentage.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Joakim Andersson became the 33rd Griffins alumni to suit up for an NHL game this season when he joined the parent Detroit Red Wings. Current stats as of 1/5/12:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 394 6 10 24 3
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 40 0 0 0 1
Sean Avery, Rangers 153 0 3 21 2
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim 36 02 2 37 1
Fabian Brunnstrom, Detroit 5 0 1 1 4 -2
Chris Conner, Detroit 6 1 2 3 0 2
Mark Cullen, Florida 6 01 1 2 2
Mark Eaton, NY Islanders 22 0 1 1 4-2
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 30 2 2 4 23-6
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 29 4 3 7 86
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 39 1 6 7 35 14
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 38 13 20 33 10 12
Alexandre Giroux, Columbus 9 1 0 1 8 -2
Darren Helm, Detroit 36 4 8 12 4 4
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 38 11 14 25 22 6
Chris Kelly, Boston 36 12 10 22 19 21
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 31 1 7 8 17 8
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 38 510 15 22 -13
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 39 8 12 18 22 -1
Ville Leino, Buffalo 29 3 7 10 4 -7
Derek Meech, Winnipeg 2 0 0 0 4 1
Chris Mueller, Nashville 2 0 0 0 0 -2
Chris Neil, Ottawa 31 5 7 12 80 -7
Kris Newbury, Rangers 6 0 0 0 24 2
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 4 0 1 1 2 1
Scott Parse, Los Angeles 9 2 0 2 141
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 35 4 16 20 42 0
Mattias Ritola, Tampa Bay 5 0 0 0 6-2
Brendan Smith, Detroit 3 0 2 2 4 -1
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 40 14 26 40 22 -3
Jason Williams, Pittsburgh 7 1 1 2 4 1

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 34 24-9-1 1.99 .927
Drew MacIntyre, Buffalo 2 0-0-0 1.40 .944

UP NEXT - The Griffins play eleven games in January and only five in the comfy confines of Van Andel arena. They start the month on the road against the Abbotsford heat in a pair of contests that are sure to be physical. They then return home for games against Houston and Texas before heading out for a pair in Charlotte against the Checkers. Towards the end of the month GR has a three game homestand featuring teams they are fighting for playoff position, the Lake Erie Monsters and a double helping of the Rochester Americans. The team finishes the month on the road with two contests in Peoria with the Rivermen.