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Griffins Dim Stars in 4-3 Shootout Win
Unlikely hero's lead the way...
By Jason Kasiorek
February 22nd, 2019

The Griffins got help from some unlikely hero's to rebound from a 1-0 early deficit and beat Landon Bow and the Texas Stars in a 4-3 shootout win. Givani Smith (4) and Libor Sulak (3) scored key goals to give the Griffins the lead, and journeyman Derek Hulak scored in 5th round of the shootout to seal the win. The Griffins also got a goal from Turner Elson (13) at the buzzer in the first period that made the game three one, but then had to settle for overtime and a shootout as the Stars rallied back. Patrik Rybar made 34 saves for his 13th win and was a difference maker for his team.

Big hit by Givani Smith at the line to steal the puck. Grand Rapids scrambling around in their own end early leads to trouble as Dennis Cholowski tripped over the goalpost and lost his footing. This allowed a clear lane for Gurianov to bring the puck to the net and blow it by Patrik Rybar for a 1-0 lead. In what would be a steady theme all game long, the officials made a brutal call, sending Dylan McIlrath off for a phantom trip and setting up the first of many powerplay opportunities for Texas. Wade Megan on the forecheck really pressuring the Stars' puck carriers. Great play by Smith, using his body to protect the puck as he cut across the crease. He hit Dennis Hulak for a shot, then picked up the rebound and roofed it for a beautiful goal. A few minutes later, both sides with a man in the box playing 4-on-4, Libor Sulak burned right up the middle and smoked a shot past Bow for a 2-1 lead. Smith showing some great anticipation showing up at the net just in time to pick off a back door chance by Texas and send it up ice for a rush. Christoffer Ehn with a sick pass through his legs to Dominic Turgeon for a point blank chance. Turner Elson on his knees in the dying seconds chipped the puck in over Bow for a powerplay goal to extend the lead to 3-1. Shots on goal: GR 14 - Tex 9.

Elson got wiped out along the board and Chris Terry went right over and and threw the Stars player around to show his displeasure. On the ensuing powerplay, Dowling snapped a shot from the circle in over Rybar's shoulder, stick side, to cut the lead to one. Sulak pushing and shoving between the whistles and playing much more intense than normal. Terry, chasing down the puck carrier whacked at the puck and ht the stick and got sent right back to the box. Another great play by Smith to knock down a clearing attempt in the offensive zone and then keep it deep while getting knocked down. Turgeon and Campbell found some open ice for a good shorthanded chance. Texas tied the game with another powerplay goal, Hansson somehow found a hole and snuck a shot through Rybar. Giveaway by Ehn in the slot, but Rybar came up big to recover. The Griffins looks shorthanded for a lot of this period. Texas doing a good job of clogging things up, playing a smothering defense and hooking and holding to ensure the Griffins can't get any open ice. Shots on goal: GR 7 - Tex 16.

McIlrath with a big hit along the endboards to take out a Stars' player. Griffins trying to get setup and Sulak ripped a big shot that got through to the net. Sulak on the back-check caught up the puck carrier, bumped him and stripped the puck away, before accelerating away behind the net and up ice into the Stars zone for a chance. Elson and Caamano came to blows by the benches and Elson took the worst of it, heading to the room for repairs and leaving a bloody mess behind. Zadina got high sticked by the penalty boxes, and no call made despite it blatantly happening in front of the referee. Shots on goal: GR 6 - Tex 9.

The Griffins had a good chance and then turned the puck over for a breakaway in on Rybar, who made the stop. Filip Zadina worked his way in for a great chance then went back to Cholowski who ripped a shot off Bow's mask. Zadina blazed up the ice and into the zone leaving a drop pass for Megan for a chance. Rybar had to come up with another huge save with Texas pressuring. Hicketts with a lane fired a wrister that Bow snared. Shots on goal: GR 4 - Tex 3.

The Shootout:
Matt Puempel kicked off round one for the Griffins by cutting in from the side and sending a bullet past Bow top shelf. Travis Morin returned the favor for the Stars, beating Rybar stick-side midway up. Turgeon went next, made a nice move to make Bow move and then slid the puck between his legs for a goal. Hargrove flew in on Rybar, but the rookie netminder came out out poked the puck away to take away the chance. Chris Terry started the third round, cutting in from the wing for a shot that Bow snared. Hanley kept the Stars in it by roofing a shot that just went in under the bar to knot the score at two. Filip Zadina deked Bow and completely turned him inside out but the griffins nemesis still managed to get a glove on the shot. Condra made a nice move but Rybar flashed a quick glove to take away a great opportunity. Dennis Hulak went in on Bow and fired a pedestrian shot that Bow closed the pads on, but somehow the puck trickled through and into the net to give Grand Rapids the lead. Dowling had a chance to keep the Stars alive, but Rybar again with a big glove save to take the win 4-3 in a shootout. Shots on goal: GR 1 - Tex 0. For the game: GR 32 - Tex 37.

#15 Elson - #19 Camper - #25 Terry
#26 Ehn - #22 Megan - #11 Zadina #73 Puempel - #23 Turgeon - #45 Campbell
#54 Smith - #10 Holmstrom - #39 Hulak

The line blender was in full effect in the latter stages, but one of the more intriguing lines was:
#54 Smith - #19 Camper - #11 Zadina

#2 Hicketts - #44 Cholowski
#18 Lashoff - #52 McIlrath
#4 Sulak - #27 Chelios

Starter: #42 Rybar
Backup: #33 Kaden Fulcher

#9 Saarijarvi
#12 Pope
#55 Ford
#65 Shine
#91 Frk


#73 Puempel - #23 Turgeon - #15 Elson
#22 Megan - #19 Camper

#23 Turgeon - #45 Campbell/
#18 Lashoff - #2 Hicketts/#52 McIlrath

#15 Elson - #22 Megan/#39 Hulak
#4 Sulak - #27 Chelios


Givani Smith played a big game and looked almost like a different player. A couple of times he stuck the knee out and brought the puck to the net and looked like the real deal. He played a physical, controlled game and was dangerous at both ends of the ice. Even more important than the goal he scored was the defensive game he played, where he was especially impressive breaking up plays and fueling the transition game. It would be pretty easy to say this was his best game as a pro, but he was a force for the Griffins. The rookie winger has really been ramping up his game the last few weeks and looks very confident. With his physical tools and his skill set, he could develop into a force especially at this level.

Libor Sulak also played an inspired game, playing with good intensity and pace, and really showing off his skating and offensive skills. He out-skated several Star's forwards, and carried the puck up ice with authority. When he is on, he is an impact player that looks like a future NHLer, and he was on tonight. For a big man, he has soft hands and his skating is world class.

Christoffer Ehn showed off his incredible speed and made some sick passes, sometimes threading the needle through traffic, sometimes making a trick play behind his back, tape to tape to a Griffins player. Unfortunately he may also need a few games to get used to the level of play in the AHL as he turned the puck over several times, probably due to his teammates positioning and defensive acumen compared to the NHL.

The Griffins 6 man defensive unit last night was a strong point as there were no weak links. Saarijarvi drew out as a scratch, something in my opinion that is long overdue. The parings really seemed to work as a nice blend of offensive defenseman and stay at home defenders, and they were solid. How this unit shakes out down the stretch and into the post-season, especially with the return of Hronek at some point will be an interesting story.

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