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February 2007 Griffins Report
Meech Makes His Own Name...
By Jason Kasiorek

Derek Meech does not want to be remembered as the guy that was NHL all-star Dion Phaneuf's junior defense partner. If he keeps playing the way he has lately, that should not be a problem. Meech has caught fire at just the right time, chipping in 11 points (3-8-11) in 10 games including 2 shorthanded goals.

Struggles with confidence and consistency have kept the young blueliner from Winnipeg as an afterthought in the AHL with Grand Rapids while his former partner rocketed to stardom in the senior loop. But a late season surge last year coupled with an increase in responsibility this season (being named an alternate captain) have helped Derek overcome those problems to become the Griffins best defender for most of the season. But it wasn't until a mid-season recall to Detroit for his NHL debut, and a surprise nod to the AHL mid-season classic that the rest of Meech's game came on-line. Before his recall, the steady blueliner's offensive totals read 24-0-3-3, his numbers after - a stellar 30-5-15-20.

He still has plenty of challenges ahead, leading his team to the playoffs and continuing to play at a high level. But if he can, it should make it easier to convince the Wings that he is ready for the prime-time soon.

Grand Rapids used an 8-2-1 record in February to climb into playoff position, currently holding the 8th seed in the conference. Seated 4th in the Northern division with a 29-22-5-2 record, The Griffins are 8 points back of Hamilton for third.

The following is a review for February:

OFFENSE - Lack of harmony and consistent production continued to haunt the forwards and led to a series of transactions that produced some significant turnover up front. Brock Radunske, Ryan Keller, Scott Barney and Brendan Brooks were all shown the door during February, while Tony Voce, Ben Simon, Jonas Johansson and Adam Keefe were new faces welcomed in. The troika of Matt Ellis (8-7-3-10), Matt Hussey (11-4-8-12) and Jeff Campbell (11-3-5-8) played well enough to see two of its members recalled to the NHL. Sniper Darryl Bootland (11-4-4-8) usually played with speedy Eric Himelfarb (11-4-3-7) with a variety of wingers on the other side. Wiley pivot Kip Miller (11-2-7-9) and left wing Ryan Oulahen (11-1-5-6) generally were paired with a rotating cast of right wings. Rookie Evan McGrath (7-1-0-1) usually centered the fourth line recently paired with former junior teammate Keefe (3-0-0-0). Rounding out the forwards were versatile Jamie Tardif (8-1-2-3), feisty veteran Simon (1-1-1-2), powerplay specialist Voce (5-0-1-1), and slick skater Johansson (1-0-1-1).

DEFENSE - With injuries to the number three tandem of Brad Norton and Jonathan Ericsson who have missed most of the month, Tom Galvin and Jon Insana became bigger parts of the puzzle. Insana paired with Kyle Quincey to form a very effective #2 tandem, playing at even strength and on the penalty kill. Galvin spent most of the month partnered with the smooth Danny Syvret and the two of them looked very comfortable together. The number one pairing featured ace Derek Meech and veteran Dan Smith. They enjoyed a tremendous month together, combining offense with airtight defense, raising Smith's +/- rating to even from a team worst -10 just last month.

GOALTENDING - Jimmy Howard finally returned from the injured list the weekend before Valentines Day. He made the most of his time back however, winning 4 of 6 starts with a 2.48 GAA, a 90.9% save percentage, and 2 shutouts. He also spent a few days in Detroit backing up former Griffin (and now former Red Wing) Joey MacDonald. Last weekend he won a 0-0 contest against Hamilton in the shootout, stopping 25 shots for his 16th win of the campaign. His battery-mate Stefan Liv was on a roll of his own, winning 4 of his 5 starts, and losing the 5th in OT. Stefan turned in a 2.71 GAA for February and a 90.7% save percentage.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins penalty killing unit has been a potent weapon the last month or so, not only shutting down the opposition, but seemingly scoring shorthanded goals at will. Ellis, Meech and Himelfarb led GR's penalty killers to a great month at home stopping 29 of 32 powerplay chances (90.6%), while scoring 7 shorthanded goals. Overall this spurt raised them to the 12th spot in the league at 85.2%. If only the same things could be said of the Griffins powerplay. For the second straight month it resides in the 26th overall spot (out of 27 teams) at an awful 13.9% (45 for 323). Adding Voce and Simon should help this unit bounce back in the last quarter, but it has a long way to go to be respectable.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Meech. Derek has been on fire since the AHL all-star game. Besides being a rock defensively, he also contributed an unheard of 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points in 10 games. He has been a huge part of the Griffins penalty killing unit where he has tallied 3 shorthanded goals. "Meecher" is proving he is ready for a shot at the next level, and his time in the AHL grows short.

ROOKIE WATCH - McGrath returned from Toledo with some jump in his step and renewed confidence, having posted 15 points in 9 games with Toledo (ECHL) last month. The rookie center was engaging and making things happen on the ice instead of waiting for the play to come to him. It was another steady month for Galvin, who got a lot of ice time with injuries to Norton and Ericsson. Netminder Liv continued to improve between the pipes, winning 4 of his 5 starts to push his record to 12-10-1-1. That's quite a comeback when you consider he started the season 1-6-1. Ericsson was on the shelf most of the month with a knee injury suffered at the beginning of the month. Campbell added 8 points in 11 games in February, cementing his spot in the lineup. His speed and hard work have endeared him to coach Ireland. Former camp tryout Jamie Tardif joined the team at the end of January and played well enough to earn a contract for the rest of the season. An aggressive, speedy young winger, Tardif goes to the net and will bang along the boards.

CURRENT INJURIES - D Jonathan Ericsson - Knee - 1-3 Weeks... D Brad Norton - Back - Indefinite...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - D Tom Galvin Recalled from Muskegon (UHL)... RW Jamie Tardif Signed to PTO... C Evan McGrath Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... RW Tardif signed to SPC... G Jimmy Howard Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Brock Radunske Assigned to HC Davos (Swi)... G Howard Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Tony Voce Acquired from Philadelphia (AHL)... RW Brendan Brooks Loaned to Manitoba (AHL)... RW Adam Keefe Acquired from Manitoba (AHL)... C Matt Ellis Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Danny Syvret Recalled by Edmonton (NHL)... LW Matt Hussey Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Ben Simon Acquired from Syracuse (AHL)... RW Ryan Keller Traded to Syracuse (AHL)... RW Scott Barney Traded to Hershey (AHL)... RW Jonas Johansson Assigned by Washington (AHL)... D Jim Jackson Signed PTO...

KEY STATS - Howard is 5th in the AHL in Shutouts with 4 while teammate Liv is tied for 10th with 2...Howard is also 6th in Shoot-out Wins with 3... Himelfarb and Ellis are tied for 2nd in the league with 4 shorthanded goals apiece... Meech is right behind them tied for 10th with 3... Miller is 16th in league scoring with 57 points... He is also tied for 6th with 39 assists; 17 on the powerplay good enough for 13th... Bootland is tied for 2nd with 6 game-winners... Ellis is tied for 6th with 5... Booter is also 4th in penalty minutes with 185...

IN THE PIPELINE - Winger Mike Walsh continues to make a name for himself in the ECHL with his improved play. Walsh posted 11-6-6-12-10 totals, his best month of the season, including his first pro hat trick. The budding young power forward should be able to turn a strong finish into an AHL job next season. Winger Stephane Goulet, assigned to Stockton (ECHL) earlier in the season continues to struggle with his adjustment to the pro ranks. The former 50 goal scoring junior only managed one goal in 13 games, showing 13-1-5-6-10 totals. Logan Koopmans has been on the long-term injury list since being returned from Grand Rapids (AHL) and is expected to return soon after missing several months with a groin injury.

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids starts out the month on a two week road trip with stops in Syracuse, Rochester and a pair in Omaha. They return home for a week, facing Iowa on a Wednesday, and then a big set of games with division rival Manitoba. The next day the Griffins play in Milwaukee before returning the favor by playing two in Manitoba, before finishing up the trip in Toronto. Next up is a weeknight contest against the always dangerous Admirals, a road game versus the Bulldogs in Hamilton, and then home for a contest against crowd favorite Chicago.