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December 2012 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Emergence of kids keeps team rolling...
By Jason Kasiorek
January 1, 2013

While the team expects offensive contributions from established players like Frankie Pare, Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Tatar and Brendan Smith among others, it's the Griffins' next wave that was drawing attention in December. Rookie phenom Petr Mrazek proved that last month wasn't a fluke, bettering his already impressive numbers with a 5-2 record and 1.71 GAA. He wasn't alone as Sophomore Landon Ferraro served up a big month offensively with 4 goals and 5 assists to go along with his stellar defensive play. Also stepping up was freshman center Riley Sheahan who has started to come into his own with 4 goals and 7 points including an impressive audition as first line center.

December saw the Griffins post an 8-4 record keeping them firmly in first place in the Midwest Division, two points ahead of the Rockford IceHogs. Overall the team stands at 18-10-1-1, for 38 points, which sees them third in the Western Conference and 10th overall in the AHL. The team slipped offensively from 4th overall to 11th, scoring 92 goals (3.07 per game). Defensively however, they have risen 13 places to 7th overall giving up 2.67 per game (80 goals in 30 games). The Grand Rapids fans have made the Van Andel Arena the 8th best average attendance with 6681 people per game.

The following is a review for December:

OFFENSE - The top six had been fairly well set in stone until Andersson was knocked out of the lineup. It was the bottom 6 that was in a state of flux as coach Blashill tried to find the right combination, including recalling players from the ECHL to throw into the mix. The top line of Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist accounted for 9 goals and 15 assists in 12 games in December and didn't miss a beat when Sheahan filled in. The second line with Riley Sheahan between snipers Frankie Pare and Tomas Jurco slumped a bit offensively but still managed 7 goals and 14 points on the month. Captain Jeff Hoggan and speedster Landon Ferraro were the two constants on the third troika, joined by Louis-Marc Aubry, Trevor Parkes and Andrej Nestrasil at times. Aubry looked the best but did not produce much offensively. The fourth trio featured heavyweight Triston Grant and defensive ace Mitchell Callahan. They were centered by Brent Raedeke and Aubry for a bit before Luke Glendening was recalled from Toledo and claimed the spot as his own.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Gustav Nyquist 12 2 8 10 8 2 35NHL ready winger keeps piling up points.
Landon Ferraro 12 4 5 9 13 1 31Speedy forward having breakout season.
Tomas Tatar 12 3 5 8 8 1 46Clutch scorer at the top of his game.
Riley Sheahan 12 4 3 7 14 3 21Looks like a fit on the top line.
Joakim Andersson11 4 2 6 31 1 29Strong play cut short by injury.
Frankie Pare 12 3 3 6 0 -1 22Streaky sniper endures cold stretch.
Jeff Hoggan12 1 2 3 2 2 15Energy winger steps up when needed.
Luke Glendening 6 1 1 2 4 2 6Mid-month call-up proves he belongs.
Triston Grant 12 1 1 2 31 1 15Physical winger shows new life with Glendening.
Trevor Parkes5 0 1 1 0 2 4Banger becomes victim of numbers game,
Tomas Jurco 11 0 1 1 4 1 18Tough month for freshman forward.
Mitchell Callahan12 0 1 1 36 0 16Aggressive forechecker finds new style suits him.
Andrej Nestrasil 3 0 0 0 0 1 2ECHL scorer doesn't show much in limited time.
Brent Raedeke 3 0 0 0 12 0 3Defensive center sent down to ECHL.
Louis-Marc Aubry 9 0 0 0 15 0 9Hulking forward defensively sound, still looking for scoring touch.

DEFENSE - The starting six on the backend for Grand Rapids have settled into their roles and played them well in the last month. As a unit, they are all capable of carrying the puck up ice and into the zone, something they do several times a game. They have been the key to the Griffins successful transition game and have frustrated opponents with size, skill and speed. The first pairing has been Brendan Smith with veteran Nathan Paetsch, a tandem that can handle the puck as well as any forward line. Steady Brian Lashoff spent the month paired with an improving Adam Almquist and hard nosed Brennan Evans helped settle down first year blueliner Chad Billins on the third pairing. Max Nicastro and Gleason Fournier split the month between the AHL and the ECHL but did not see any game time in Grand Rapids.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Nathan Paetsch12 0 5 5 4 -1 20Veteran puck mover gives powerplay bite.
Brendan Smith 12 2 2 4 23 3 25 Top prospect improved but inconsistent.
Adam Almquist 12 1 3 4 4 -4 15 Rookie rearguard learning on the job.
Brian Lashoff 12 2 1 3 4 3 17 Two way defenseman becoming a leader.
Chad Billins 12 0 1 1 2 7 11Smooth rookie trades offense for defense.
Brennan Evans 12 0 0 0 11 11 8Rugged defender a rock on the blueline.

GOALTENDING - Rookie starter Petr Mrazek continued to shine in December, putting up incredible numbers. He posted a 5-2 record in 7 starts with a miniscule 1.71 goals against and 93.7% save percentage. Those numbers were nearly a goal less per game than last month, putting him among the league leaders. Backup Thomas McCollum was no slouch in relief with a 1.99 GAA and 92.5% save percentage. His record of 3-2 includes getting blown out by Toronto mid month 5-0.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Grand Rapids has gotten things done so far this season with the man advantage. The 7th ranked unit in the AHL has converted 19.1% of their chances with the extra man. The home unit was rated 10th at 18.3% (15 for 82) while the road unit ranked 6th at 20.4% (10 for 49). Tomas Tatar has 6 powerplay markers, followed by Nyquist with 4 and Smith with 3. Ferraro, Pare, Andersson, Sheahan and Almquist all have 2.

The team has not done quite as well while shorthanded. Despite scoring 5 shorthanded goals, good enough for 2nd in the AHL, the Griffins are ranked towards the back of the pack. The home unit, a woeful 21st has killed off 69 of 85 powerplays for an 81.2% rate. The road unit has been better, ranked 14th at 83.3% (40 for 48). Overall the team sits in the 20th spot at 82%, having killed off 109 of 133 chances. Ferraro and Sheahan each have a pair of shorties and Trevor Parkes has one as well.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Brennan Evans. Evans settled down after a rocky start and is giving the Griffins the hardnosed defensive defenseman they have been looking for for quite a while. He may not score much, but he stops the opposition from scoring and sticks up for his teammates. He turned in a team best +11 in his last 12 games and helped rookie powerplay man Chad Billins improve in his own end (-9 to -2 in December.)

Offense - Landon Ferraro. Ferraro has been one of the brightest lights so far this season. Finally healthy after several seasons, the speedy forward is showing off a complete package of skills. He leads the league in shorthanded points, is a fixture on the powerplay, and is third on the club in goals and scoring despite playing on the third line.

CURRENT INJURIES - Frankie Pare - Undisclosed... Joakim Andersson - Undisclosed...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - D Max Nicastro recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... D Gleason Fournier assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... RW Luke Glendening recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... D Fournier recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... RW Andrej Nestrasil recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... RW Nestrasil assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Brent Raedeke assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Nicastro assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Raedeke recalled from Toledo (ECHL)...

KEY STATS - Gustav Nyquist is tied for 12th in scoring with 29 points... Landon Ferraro is tied for first with 4 shorthanded points... Petr Mrazek is fifth in the league with a 2.12 GAA... Thomas McCollum is 18th with a 2.51 GAA... Mrazek is also 5th in shootout percentage at 88.9%, having stooped 8 of 9 shooters... Riley Sheahan leads all rookies with 2 shorthanded goals... Chad Billins is 5th in rookie powerplay assists with 8... Brendan Smith is tied for first among defenseman in shootout goals with 2... Frankie Pare had the 2nd longest goal-scoring streak this season at five games...

IN THE PIPELINE - Coming off the heels of a 6 game winning streak, netminder Jordan Pearce had a rocky December. He posted a 3-4 record with a bloated 3.42 GAA and 87.6 Save Percentage. Willie Coetzee kept up his hot hand, producing a five game goal scoring streak which saw him end the month with 6 goals and 7 assists in 12 games with an astounding 51 shots on goal. Sophomore sniper Andrej Nestrasil counted 16 points in December and an ECHL best +13, which was part of the reason he was recalled to Grand Rapids over Coetzee (-2 in the same span). Blueliner Gleason Fournier spent the month bouncing between the AHL and the ECHL but managed to suit up for five scoreless games in Toledo, with a +3 rating. Fellow rearguard Max Nicastro also found time to suit up for five contests in between recalls, posting 2 assists, 10 shots and a +4 rating.

UP NEXT - After enjoying life at home during the holidays, the Griffins will spend most of January as road warriors after an early game at home against the entertaining Oklahoma City Barons. The team will travel to the windy city for a game against the Wolves, head up to Milwaukee for a Sunday afternoon match against the Admirals, and then back to Illinois for a pair against the Rockford IceHogs with 1st place in the division likely at stake. They get a break with a home contest versus last place Peoria mid-month, before moving to Charlotte for a pair of contests. The road trip finishes up with a third match in 10 days in Rockford. The boys can finally unpack the last week, as the Van Andel arena will host Oklahoma City and the Aeros (twice).