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March 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Balanced attack powers Griffins down the stretch...
By Jason Kasiorek
April 1, 2013

Grand Rapids finds itself in unfamiliar territory, sitting in first place, playing out the last stretch of the season while waiting for the playoffs to start. One of the keys to this years' run has been a balanced scoring attack. The team could have as many as six 20 goal scorers and another five in double digits including two defensemen, rookies Adam Almquist and Chad Billins. The last time that happened for the Griffins was 2005-06, a year which saw the team advance to the third round of the Calder Cup Playoffs before injuries and a lack of depth derailed them.

The Griffins compiled a 8-6-0-1 record in March riding the AHL's 4th best offense at 3.15 goals per game. Firmly seated in first place in the Midwest Division with a 38-23-3-3 record (82 points), Grand Rapids is seven points ahead of the 2nd place Milwaukee Admirals. This also leaves them 3rd in the Western Conference and 8th overall in the league. Van Andel arena has seen the fourth highest crowds on average in the AHL at 7440 per game over 34 home games.

The following is a review for March:

OFFENSE - Grand Rapids struggled a bit offensively during the month, but definitely had the personnel to go on another scoring rampage. The top trio had rookie Riley Sheahan centering Frankie Pare and either Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist. This group scored 10 goals and 15 assists in March, and that was with Sheahan's slump and Tatar taking some time to adjust to being back in the AHL. The second line put up nearly identical scoring totals (9-14-23) and was perhaps the most entertaining during the month. Tomas Jurco has been a wizard with the puck and Jan Mursak is making up for lost time in the scoring department, showing great chemistry with center Landon Ferraro. Utility man Luke Glendening continues to show his worth, picking up the slack and moving in to center the third line with Captain Jeff Hoggan and feisty Mitchell Callahan. Callahan was pretty quiet after ending his big scoring streak, but the line put up very respectable totals (10-11=21) and were a factor almost every night. Louis-Marc Aubry enjoyed his most productive stretch of the season playing between enforcer Triston Grant and Andrej Nestrasil. This line also saw some spot duty from Brent Raedeke, and the group provided some needed energy. Top prospect Calle Jarnkrok got into a couple of games at the end of the month, and is adjusting to the North American game.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jeff Hoggan 15 8 3 11 8 11 25Captain picks up the slack on offense.
Jan Mursak 14 3 8 11 8 11 25Red Wings refugee tears up AHL.
Gustav Nyquist 7 4 4 8 6 0 21Consistent scorer earns NHL recall.
Tomas Tatar9 3 4 7 4 -3 32Adjusting after return form NHL.
Tomas Jurco15 3 4 7 0 6 34Creative puck-handler finds the groove.
Frankie Pare 15 2 5 7 8 -4 36Streaky sniper hits 20 goal mark for 3rd time.
Luke Glendening15 1 6 7 9 3 27Versatile forward fills void at center.
Louis-Marc Aubry 13 3 3 6 15 4 15Big center enjoys productive stretch.
Landon Ferraro 15 3 2 5 13 2 30Defensive ace in scoring slump.
Andrej Nestrasil10 2 1 3 0 2 9Forward uses big frame around net to earn ice time.
Riley Sheahan 15 1 2 3 6 -5 22Fab freshman hits the wall.
Mitchell Callahan 15 1 2 3 6 -3 36Gritty grinder settles down after scoring run.
Brent Raedeke 4 0 1 1 5 0 3Spare part sees spot duty.
Triston Grant 15 0 0 0 33 1 14Slumping policeman's impact lessens.

DEFENSE - The Griffins caught a break while trying to solidify their backend in the wake of Smith and Lashoff graduating to the NHL. Former NHL'er Brent Skinner, toiling in the CHL signed a try out and played well enough to earn a contract for the rest of the season. Solid Nathan Paetsch has been paired with the impressive but inconsistent Adam Almquist. Stay at home veteran Brennan Evans and rookie puck mover Chad Billins have also seen time on a tandem for coach Blashill. The third pairing has seen Skinner playing alongside Max Nicastro or Gleason Fournier depending on who is in the lineup and how much ice time they get. The impending arrival of either Ryan Sproul or Dan Dekeyser could change the sixth spot.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Brent Skinner15 0 7 7 4 -1 15Reclamation project comes up big.
Adam Almquist 12 3 3 6 6 6 21Streaky freshman returns from injury.
Chad Billins 15 2 3 5 8 5 17 College phenom keeps improving.
Nathan Paetsch15 0 4 4 10 5 22Veteran mentor playing at a high level.
Brennan Evans 15 0 3 3 37 2 27Rock solid defender brings physical game.
Gleason Fournier 4 0 2 2 0 -1 4Powerplay specialist sees spot duty.
Max Nicastro 4 0 1 1 5 1 4Injuries and inconsistency plague rookie rearguard.

GOALTENDING - Backup Thomas McCollum played well in March, turning in a very strong month. In 5 starts he was 4-1 with a 2.16 GAA and 92.7 Sv%. That stretch lowered his GAA to 2.77, raised his Save Percentage to 90% and left him sitting at a career high 16 wins. His partner Petr Mrazek played better then his record indicated as the exuberant rookie posted a 4-5-1 record. His other numbers however were very good, showing a 2.41 GAA and a 91.8% Save Percentage in that span.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins powerplay has kept them near the top of the offensive leaders all season long. The 8th ranked powerplay in the AHL at 18.5% (54 for 292) has been pretty even both at home (18.8% 28-149) and on the road (18.2% 26 for 143). Nyquist leads the way with 25 points with the man advantage, followed by Billins (5-11=16), Tatar (7-8=15) and Ferraro (6-8=14). Pare and Sheahan have also both contributed 6 goals while blueliner Paetsch has added 10 assists.

The penalty kill remains the achilles heal of this year's Griffins squad hovering around 79.8% which leaves them 29th in the AHL. At home the team is ranked 22nd, killing off 114 of 139 opponent powerplays (82%) while the road unit is 28th at 77.4% (103 for 133). Ferraro is the top shorthanded scorer in the league with 6 points (3+3). Sheahan has 2 goals and an assist, with Parkes, Skinner, Paetsch and Hoggan each adding a shorthanded tally.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Offense - Jeff Hoggan - The captain stepped up in a big way in March, nearly doubling his goal output on the season by adding eight. As the offense struggled, he put the team on his back and kept them on track without sacrificing any of his strong defensive play. A great leader in the room, Hoggan is making his value known as the games get important.

Defense - Brett Skinner - Skinner may be the story of the second half. The Griffins needed defensive help after unexpectedly losing Lashoff to Detroit and found former New York Islander Skinner playing in the CHL. He moves the puck well, has good wheels and makes smart decisions in his own end. His strong play has allowed him to be paired with Fournier or Nicastro, allowing Paetsch to be more involved in the offense. His seven assists in March were second only to Mursak's eight.

CURRENT INJURIES - No Significant Injuries.

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - Add D Cody Lampl signed to PTO... Delete D Lampl released from PTO... Add LW Tomas Tatar returned by Detroit (NHL)... Delete RW Gustav Nyquist recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Delete D Gleason Fournier assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... Add RW Gustav Nyquist assigned by Detroit (NHL)... Add D Fournier recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... Delete RW Nyquist recalled by Detroit... Add C Calle Jarnkrok assigned by Detroit (NHL)

KEY STATS - Gustav Nyquist is tied for fourth in AHL Scoring with 60 points... Chad Billins is tied for 10th in defenseman scoring with 34 points... Riley Sheahan is 14th in rookie scoring with 35 points, while Billins is tied for 16th with 34... Petr Mrazek is 14th in GAA at 2.37... Mrazek is also 9th in wins with 21 and Thomas McCollum is 20th with 16... Nyquist is 18th in goals with 23... Nyquist is 7th in assists with 37... Nyquist is also tied for 14th with 9 powerplay goals... Nyquist is tied for 13th with 16 powerplay assists... Landon Ferraro is tied for 3rd with 3 shorthanded goals... Ferraro is tied for 3rd with 3 shorthanded assists and is first with 6 shorthanded points... Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar are tied for 10th with 5 game-winning goals... Tatar is 12th in shots on goal with 179...

IN THE PIPELINE - Netminder Jordan pearce had a rough month between the pipes for the Toledo Walleye, turning in a 1-3 record with a 3.72 GAA (one goal higher than his average to date) and an 88.6% save percentage. He was blown out of two games lasting 11 minutes and change after giving up 4 goals on 8 shots in 1 and making it through the first period after allowing 4 goals in the other. Rumors are abounding that he will retire at the end of the season to pursue his medical degree. ECHL all-star Willie Coetzee broke out in a big way last month, scoring six goals and 14 assists in 14 games with 46 shots on goal. The streaky sniper is trying to earn another shot in the AHL next season, his last on this contract. Trevor Parkes continues to tear the cover off the ball at the ECHL level, proving that he belongs at the next step. The feisty winger notched 10 goals and 22 points in 14 games, raising his season total to 30 points in just 19 games.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - March saw the number of Griffins who have played an NHL game this season jump to 34. Netminder Petr Mrazek was one of the rookies to make the bigs for the first time since the last report. Current stats as of 4/1/13:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 367 2 9 21 2
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 26 3 4 7 8 5
Sheldon Brookbank, Chicago 18 10 1 15 -2
Carlo Colaiacovo, Detroit 3 00 0 0 -1
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 14 00 0 2 -2
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 6 0 0 0 04
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 36 3 3 6 4-1
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 33 2 8 10 27 -1
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 29 6 7 13 4 -4
Darren Helm, Detroit 1 0 0 0 2 0
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 31 7 15 22 18 -9
Chris Kelly, Boston 23 2 4 6 12 -6
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 29 3 8 11 24 16
Mike Knuble, Philadelphia 21 4 4 8 18 -3
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 37 1310 23 26 -7
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 36 5 20 25 36 -8
Brian Lashoff, Detroit 30 1 4 5 15 -9
Ville Leino, Buffalo 8 2 4 6 6 0
Andreas Lilja, Philadelphia 1 0 0 0 0 -1
Derek Meech, Winnipeg 13 00 0 2 1
Chris Mueller, Nashville 7 2 1 3 2 1
Jan Mursak, Detroit 2 0 0 0 4 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 36 3 7 10 110 4
Kris Newbury, Rangers 5 0 1 1 9 1
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 10 1 2 3 0 2
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 26 1 1 2 14 8
Brendan Smith, Detroit 25 0 4 4 22 0
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 5 2 3 5 2 3
Jamie Tardif, Boston 2 0 0 0 0 0
Tomas Tatar, Detroit 18 4 3 7 4 2

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit 7 2-2-1 2.92 .879
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 30 15-10-4 2.45 .915
Joey MacDonald, Calgary 13 4-5-1 2.79 .898
Petr Mrazek, Detroit 2 1-1-0 2.02 .922

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids cruises into April in the midst of a seven game road trip, finishing up with a contest in Houston and a pair in Abbotsford against the Heat. The middle of the month features a four game homestand which will largely decide the seeding in the Midwest division with key contests against division rivals Chicago, Milwaukee and a pair against Peoria. The team then closes out the regular season with a pair of road matches versus the Monsters and Wolves. The Griffins will then be in an unfamiliar place as they gear up for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in several seasons.