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March 2008 Griffins Report
Kids Step Up As Playoff Chase Falls Short...
By Jason Kasiorek
March 1, 2008

With the way this season has gone for Grand Rapids, it was only fitting that minutes after playing their best game of the season, they were mathematically eliminated from post-season contention by a Syracuse victory over Toronto. The team was never able to catch a break, and every time they got one hole patched another would spring a leak; losing streaks, injuries, recalls, uninspired play, goaltending lapses... it was all there. So the Griffins miss the playoffs for the third time in franchise history, and are in danger of setting all time futility marks in wins and losses.

The bright spot lost in all this is the strong play of several of Detroit's young prospects. With the team being stripped of it's veterans through injuries and recalls, several of the Griffin's young players have been thrust into prominent roles, and have excelled. Red-hot Darren Helm has elevated his game to earn a regular spot on the #1 line, scoring over a point per game in the last stretch and showing he did not look out of place in a brief shot in the NHL. Linemate Mattias Ritola continues to improve as a two way player and had a nice scoring streak of his own earlier in the month. Former OHL scoring ace Evan McGrath responded to the challenge of centering the second line by posting 7 goals and 3 assists in 14 games, easily his best stretch as a professional, re-establishing himself as a legitimate prospect. Third year man Ryan Oulahen, balancing the weight of the Captaincy on his shoulders, also stepped up to score 10 points in March. Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey have both elevated their games since being returned from Detroit (NHL) where they proved they are almost ready for prime time.

After a 4-9-1 record in March the Griffins are officially on the outside looking in for the postseason. They currently stand 5th in the Northern Division, a distant 9 points behind 4th place Hamilton and only 1 point in front of 6th place Lake Erie. Their record of 28-38-2-6 leaves them 13th of 15 teams in the Western Conference, falling fast with 6 games left.

The following is a review for March:

OFFENSE - Grand Rapids enjoyed it's most productive offense stretch of the season, scoring 45 goals in 14 games. The number one line (14-15-25-40-+4-123 shots) started out the month with veteran playmaker Mark Cullen between speedy Carl Corazzini and slick stickhandler Mattias Ritola, but that only lasted four games as Cullen was lost for the season with a bad shoulder. Super rookie Darren Helm stepped in and ripped off an incredible scoring streak culminating in a trip to Detroit. The second line (14-13-14-27-(-7)-126 shots) was surging center Evan McGrath flanked by workhorse Jamie Tardif and either Frankie Lemieux or Tyler Redenbach. This line was especially effective on the powerplay where it saw time as the #2 unit. The third troika (14-7-9-16-(-11)-84 shots) featured gritty wing Mark O'Leary and steady Ryan Oulahen playing with a variety of wingers, usually Randall Gelech. Other players in the mix were Zack Torquato, Jozef Fojtik, Landon Novotney and Cory Emmerton who saw spot duty as extra forwards.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Carl Corazzini14 4 13 17 6 -3 51Veteran winger stepped up to pace club offensively.
Darren Helm9 7 5 12 10 -1 29Red-hot rookie finds the range and earns first NHL recall.
Evan McGrath14 7 3 10 4 -3 30Picked up the slack offensively with first hot stretch as a pro.
Ryan Oulahen14371017-9 41Young Captain puts up points but team worst -9 rating concerning.
Jamie Tardif14 4 4 8 23 -3 56Snake bitten winger getting great chances with solid two-way play.
Mark Cullen4 2 5 7 2 5 10Veteran Center scores at torrid pace before injury ends season.
Tyler Redenbach111454223Showing good chemistry with McGrath and Tardif.
Mattias Ritola12 2 2 4 4 3 33Stepped up game around NHL recall, points still coming slow.
Francis Lemieux1213410-3 17Feisty forward fighting for lineup spot.
Mark O'Leary103 0 3 20 0 14Surprise signing plays well at both ends of the ice, earning regular spot.
Randall Gelech141236-2 29Injuries help defensive winger reclaim his game.
Zack Torquato71018110Rookie pivot getting his first taste of the pro game.
Cory Emmerton1 0 11 0 0 2Gifted playmaker earns first point in second AHL stint.
Landon Novotney2 0 00 0 0 2College free agent hasn't shown much in limited ice time.

DEFENSE - The Griffins blueline finally had some consistency this month and the results were evident on the ice. Garrett Stafford, playing his best hockey of the season, was paired with Jonathan Ericsson on the number one pairing both at even strength and on the powerplay. The suddenly truculent Kyle Quincey settled in with steady Tom Galvin as the shutdown pairing, also seeing lots of time on the Penalty Kill. This left surprising rookie Jason Jozsa with project Jakub Kindl on the third pairing. Jon Insana filled in as needed, but lost his regular spot on the blueline when Ericsson returned from Detroit.

March Thumbnails:

Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Garrett Stafford 14 3 10 134 -2 31Offensive blueliner recovers from slow start to dominate.
Kyle Quincey 14 27 9 59 0 29Physical defender enjoys best stretch as a pro.
Jonathan Ericsson 10 3 3 6 15 -1 23Big Rig shows off versatility playing up front and on the blueline.
Jason Jozsa 14 1 3 4 12 -4 26Points start to come with time quarterbacking #2 powerplay unit.
Jakub Kindl 14 0 2 2 19 -5 21Getting Better slowly, but still a ways to go as -32 defensive rating can attest.
Jon Insana 9 0 1 1 2 0 3Lost his regular spot in the lineup.
Tom Galvin 14 0 1 1 6 1 16Steady stay at home type brings consistency.

GOALTENDING - The bottom fell out this month for both netminders as the hunt for a playoff spot grew to a close. Berkhoel won his first two starts of the season, but dropped all four of his other appearance on the month. Howard, a mid-season All-star, got roughed up several times on route to his worst month as a pro. He finished the month the same way he started it, getting the hook in the first period of a dreadful game. Howard posted a 2-6 record with a 3.56 GAA and an 88.6% save percentage in March.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins powerplay unit has continued its second half climb up the charts, moving from 29th in January to 17th at 16.3% (66 for 405). The home unit has done most of the heavy lifting, ringing up 10 goals in 47 chances (21.3%) in March to take over the 11th spot in the AHL at 17.8% (35 for 197). The road unit has gotten better, scoring 7 goals in 35 chances (20%) to boost their rating to 21st in the AHL at 14.9% (31 for 208). Evan McGrath led the way with three powerplay markers in March, closely followed by Helm, Tardif, Ericsson, and Stafford with two each.

The penalty killing units slid a bit in March, falling from 16th to 20th in the AHL at 82% (327 of 399). The Griffins are slightly better at home (82.2%, 152 of 185) than on the road (81.8%, 175 of 214). The drop could be attributed to the loss of penalty killers Cullen, Helm, McCarty and Ericsson for significant portions of the month. Darren Helm notched a rare feet in March, scoring a shorthanded goal on a 5-on-3 advantage against Lake Erie.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Darren Helm. Helm had some serious competition from Corazzini and Stafford, but in the end, the speedy rookie edged them both out with his best month as a pro. Darren elevated his game this month adding offense to his already impressive credentials, earning his first NHL recall. He plays in all situations, and as the season has gone on, he has gained the confidence to make plays, not just pass the puck. If he can add some muscle in the off-season, he probably won't be long for the AHL.

ROOKIE WATCH - Blueliner Jozsa has not looked out of place this month, playing solid defense, and with some time on the powerplay even putting up some points. Ritola was on roll early on, earning his first NHL stint, but has not been able to build on that upon his return. The skill is evident, but he just doesn't show up on the scoresheet regularly. Helm has taken flight the last month, scoring 7 goals in 9 games and becoming an offensive force on the top line. Kindl continues to make small improvements, but with a gaudy -32 defensive rating, worst in Griffins history by a huge margin, he clearly still has work to do. Torquato has seen limited time in his pro debut, and while he clearly has some skill with the puck, he has some work to do on his skating before he will become a regular. Emmerton is looking to rebuild his status after a disappointing junior campaign, and started out on the right foot, notching his first AHL point in his first game of the season. Novotney was a fill-in for injuries and recalls and only saw a few shifts a game, he has gone to the press box as the roster has filled back out.

CURRENT INJURIES - D Brad Ference - Wrist Surgery, Out for the Season... C Mark Cullen - Shoulder Surgery, Out for Season... G Logan Koopmans - Hernia Surgery, Out for Season...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - G Dan Turple Assigned by Atlanta (NHL)... LW Josef Fojtik assigned to Flint (IHL)... RW Darren McCarty Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Turple Recalled by Atlanta (NHL)... D Jonathan Ericsson Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Mark O'Leary signed to PTO... G Jimmy Howard Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Darren Helm Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Cleve Kinley assigned to Texas (ECHL)... C Mattias Ritola Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Kory Karlander signed to PTO... G Howard Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Zack Torquato Signed to ATO... C Ritola Assigned by Detroit... LW Karlander Released from PTO... LW Helm Assigned by Detroit... G Howard Recalled by Detroit... D Russ Moyer returned from injury and released from PTO... LW Landon Novotney Signed to ATO... G Mitch O'Keefe signed to ATO... LW Cory Emmerton Signed to ATO... G Howard Assigned by Detroit... G O'Keefe released from ATO...

KEY STATS - Garrett Stafford is tied for 12th in defenseman scoring with 41 points... Jimmy Howard is among the top 20 netminders in the league in a couple of categories: tied for 17th in Wins with 20... tied for 15th with 2 Shutouts... tied for 7th with 4 Shootout Wins... Jakub Kindl has the second worst +/- rating in the league at -32...

IN THE PIPELINE - Winger Mike Walsh had an up and down month in Dayton (ECHL), netting 3 goals and 5 assists in 16 games. He also launched 52 shots on net in that span, but his defensive game suffered, with a -6 rating, moving him to -9 for the season. Blueliner Cleve Kinley returned to powerhouse Texas (ECHL) where he picked up where he left off, notching 8 points in 8 games and a +3 rating. Sniper Josef Fojtik has struggled to find the net since returning to Flint (IHL) with only one goal in 5 games, but he has also added 3 assists in that span.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Clay Wilson, Darren Helm and Mattias Ritola became the latest Griffins to make their NHL debuts. So far this season, 39 former Griffins have suited up for at least one game in the NHL. Current stats as of 4/1/08:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Kevyn Adams, Chicago24 0 2 2 13 -7
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo 53 10 17 2742 -14
Sean Avery, Rangers 54 15 17 32 152 8
Darryl Bootland, Islanders (Min) 4 0 1 1 2 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 43 0 8 8 63 1
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 32 1 1 2 76 4
Pavol Demitra, Minnesota 66 15 35 50 24 6
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 36 0 3 3 46
Matt Ellis, Los Angeles 51 3 5 8 22 5
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 7 1 0 1 2 -4
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 75 19 17 36 26 17
Mark Hartigan, Detroit 20 1 1 2 10 -3
Darren Helm, Detroit 6 0 0 0 2 -3
Shane Hnidy, Boston 73 2 6 8 69 -2
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 78 12 28 40 24 12
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 75 11 19 30 30 3
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 75 5 7 12 43 2
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 62 7 26 33 44 24
Joel Kwiatkowski, Atlanta 17 0 55 18 -4
Josh Langfeld, Nashville 2 0 00 0 0
Brett Lebda, Detroit 75 3 10 13 42-1
Darren McCarty, Detroit 10 0 0 0 0
Derek Meech, Detroit 300 3 3 4 -5
Glen Metropolit, Boston 79 11 21 32 36 -4
Mark Mowers, Anaheim (NWT) 17 1 0 1 8 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 656 14 20 171 -1
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 60 0 0 4 -3
Karel Rachunek, Devils 47 4 9 13 40 3
Mattias Ritola, Detroit 20 1 1 0 0
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 73 33 56 89 59 24
Garrett Stafford, Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Vandermeer, Phoenix 1 0 0 0 0 0
Todd White, Atlanta 72 14 23 37 36 -13
Jason Williams, Chicago 40 13 21 34 20 -1
Clay Wilson, Columbus 4 1 1 2 2 3

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 4 0-2-0-0 2.13
Patrick Lalime, Chicago 31 15-12-2-0 2.88
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 1 0-1-0-0 4.00
Drew MacIntyre, Vancouver 2 0-1-0-0 2.95

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids finishes up their season with six games in April, kicking off on the road against the first place Toronto Marlies. They return home for a Friday night contest vs the Aeros, and then head back onto the road for games on Saturday against Rochester and Sunday in Hamilton. The final weekend of the season features a Friday and Saturday night series against Drew MacIntyre and the Manitoba Moose.