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January 2007 Griffins Report
Ireland Keeps The Ship Afloat During Troubled Times...
By Jason Kasiorek

Griffins head coach Greg Ireland has had his headaches this season trying to mold essentially a new club into a playoff contender despite a revolving door of a roster and some discontented players. But among the things this coach has shown in his two and a half seasons with the Griffins is his work ethic and ability to improve his players. Alongside assistant Jim Paek's stellar work with the young defense, most notably Derek Meech, Tom Galvin and Jonathan Ericsson, Ireland has weathered the storm and kept his team on the brink of a playoff berth.

In the absence of last season's firepower, GI has taken players like Eric Himelfarb off the scrap-heap, remaking their games and molding them into successful contributors in the lineup. Players like Ryan Oulahen, Jeff Campbell and Matt Ellis have also taken tremendous steps forward under Ireland's tutelage. To look at his success rate from last season, simply look at the parent wings roster to see the former Griffins dotting the list.

His biggest challenge of the year is still ahead, coaxing enough out of this team to make the playoffs. Whether this is the lineup he does it with or not, he has shown he is up to the challenge.

The Griffins currently stand in 4th place in the Northern Division, a distant six points behind Manitoba for third spot. Grand Rapids finds itself two points out of a playoff spot with a record of 21-20-4-2, good enough for ninth in the Western Conference.

The following is a review for January:

OFFENSE - With Josh Langfeld (5-2-2-4) recalled to Detroit most of the month, the Griffins default number one line with Miller (11-1-8-9) and Keller (8-4-0-4) was surpassed in production by Captain Ellis' (10-3-9-12) troika featuring a surging Matt Hussey (10-3-5-8) and Campbell (11-3-5-8). Hussey is playing his best hockey of the season alongside the always stellar Ellis, resulting in the two of them being recalled to Detroit for a game mid-month. The number two line as of late has been gaining momentum as Himelfarb (11-4-1-5) has stepped up his offensive contributions centering an improving Oulahen (11-2-5-7) and a resurgent Darryl Bootland (11-3-4-7). Scott Barney long on the list of underachievers has started to show signs of producing, adding 5 points in 8 games to double his totals on the season. Brock Radunske (7-0-0-0) has filled in on the fourth line along with Brendan Brooks (9-2-0-2), but neither has seen much ice time. Rookie Jamie Tardif turned some heads in his brief 2 game stint as an injury fill in, providing energy and a point per game before returning to Toledo (ECHL).

DEFENSE - The Grand Rapids blueline had an up and down month, with several members not playing up to previous standards. Ericsson has not been as impressive since recently being paired with veteran Brad Norton, as he must spend more time covering up his partner's gaffes. Kyle Quincey has not been the same since his last concussion and has missed the last several games with a shoulder injury. Meech has taken advantage of playing with Danny Syvret to start bringing his offensive game back online, almost doubling his season's totals with a goal and three assists on the month. Dan Smith has started to turn his poor start around, clamping down defensively, and adding some grit and feistiness from the backend, he has also raised his team worst plus/minus rating from -12 to -7.

GOALTENDING - What started out as a day to day ankle sprain has cost starter Howard the whole month of January, leaving Stefan Liv and a rotating committee to patrol the crease. The Wings sent down GR's all time wins leader Joey MacDonald for a few games, but recalled him when they ran into injury problems of their own. MacDonald split his two decisions and played well enough to win both. Liv continued to make progress, turning in a 5-3 record in the eight games he saw prior to being shelved with a groin injury. With no healthy netminders in the system (3rd stringer Logan Koopmans has been out with an injury since his last stint in Grand Rapids), former MSU puckstopper Dominic Vicari was thrown to the wolves in his first AHL start. Vicari gave up 4 goals on 7 shots before being pulled in favor of Muskegon Fury backup Ryan Cyr, also making his AHL debut, who played well in a losing effort the rest of the way. Liv was able to play through his injury the next night, and Howard was slated to return after the All-Star break.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The penalty killing unit led by Ellis, Oulahen, and Himelfarb has improved greatly in January, especially at home where they rose 7 spots from a disappointing 21st to a middle of the pack 14th (26 for 156 83.3%). On the road they are the 12 rated unit at 82.1% (24 for 136), good for an overall rating of 13th at 82.8% (50 for 290). The powerplay, however, can be summed up in one word - abysmal. With an overall ranking of 26th (out of 27) scoring at just 13.6% and falling fast, this remains one of the biggest pieces that needs to be fixed if this club is going to make the playoffs. They are equally dreadful at home (13.9% 21 for 151) and on the road (13.3% 15 for 113). Kip Miller leads the way with 8 goals with the man advantage, with Langfeld (6), Ellis (5) and Ericsson (4) are not far behind.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Ellis. His first NHL recall has turned the gas up even higher on the flame that is his game. He has found an even higher level, and has been a demon on the forecheck and while shorthanded. His scoring totals have been surging to previously unattainable heights, and his leadership on the ice has helped keep this ship afloat through a trying season.

ROOKIE WATCH - The team had two less rookies for most of January with the demotions of McGrath and Galvin. Evan was farmed out to Toledo (ECHL) to regain his confidence after struggling in GR most of the season, while Galvin was the victim of numbers with a reasonably healthy blueline and was sent to Muskegon (UHL) to get playing time. Liv stepped up to do an admirable job filling in for Howard, posting a five game winning streak and 2 shutouts before crashing back to earth. It says a lot about his character that he played injured to give his team a chance after witnessing the debacle with Vicari the night before. Ericsson had an off month, though most of the problem was him trying to do too much. A change in partners would also help his development. Before being felled by an injury, Keller was showing off his blossoming skill as a sniper, netting 4 goals in 8 games. Campbell has developed some great chemistry on a speedy energy line with Ellis and Hussey, and has also started to find his way onto the score sheet with more regularity without giving up his strong defensive play.

CURRENT INJURIES - Jimmy Howard - Ankle; day-to-day... Kyle Quincey - Shoulder; day-to-day... Ryan Keller - Rib Cage; day-to-day...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - D Tom Galvin Assigned to Muskegon (UHL)... G Brian Gratz Signed to PTO... Gratz released from PTO... G Clayton Pool Signed to PTO... Pool Released from PTO... Josh Langfeld Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Joey MacDonald Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... Galvin Recalled from Muskegon... D Jon Insana signed to PTO... C Evan McGrath Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... MacDonald recalled by Detroit... G Dominic Vicari Signed to PTO... Vicari released from PTO... RW Jamie Tardif Signed to PTO... LW Matt Hussey Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Matt Ellis Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Ryan Cyr Signed to PTO... Ellis and Hussey Assigned by Detroit... Cyr released from PTO... Tardif Released from PTO...

KEY STATS - Miller is 14th in league scoring with 48 points... Ericsson has broken into the top 20 in defenseman scoring with 22 points; that also ranks him 4th in rookie D scoring... Liv and Howard are in a 10-way tie for 6th with 2 shutouts... Miller is tied for 9th with 32 assists; 15 on the powerplay good enough for 11th... Ellis is tied for 5th with 3 shorthanded goals... Bootland is tied for 9th with 4 game-winners... He is also 4th in penalty minutes with 150...

IN THE PIPELINE - Center Evan McGrath has found his offense in the ECHL. The first year forward, recently demoted from the AHL, has been a shot of adrenaline for Toledo's offense, scoring four goals and five assists in five games. Also taking flight with the Storm is rookie power forward Mike Walsh who looks to be putting things together as he posted 11-4-5-9-14 totals doubling his output for the year. The 6'2" Michigan native looks to be on the verge of breaking out and becoming a force at both ends of the ice. Winger Stephane Goulet, assigned to Stockton (ECHL) earlier in the season has had a hard time finding the net, but has started to contribute in other areas, and could benefit from some more ice-time with the call-up of Tyler Spurgeon to Wilkes-Barre (AHL). Galvin returned to the powerhouse Muskegon Fury (UHL) at the start of the month, and was a stellar +9 in 12 games in January also adding a goal and 4 assists. Logan Koopmans has been on the long-term injury list since being returned from Grand Rapids (AHL) and is expected to miss several months with a groin injury.

UP NEXT - The Griffins start February off in the cozy confines of Van Andel Arena with match-ups against Peoria and Syracuse. A quick trip to the Corn Belt is on tap next with a two game series in Iowa against the Stars. Then its home again for a Friday-Saturday pair against former Griffin Donald MacLean and the San Antonio Rampage. Another game against the Crunch is sandwiched between two road games versus the Rivermen before returning back to GR for a pair of contests featuring the Hamilton Bulldogs. The short month comes to a close on the road with a Wednesday night tilt in Rochester for another crack at the surging Americans.

Click Here for a look at the current roster.