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October 2007 Griffins Report
Home Isn't Where the Heart Is...
By Jason Kasiorek
November 1, 2007

After the parent Detroit Red Wings retooled the club, adding several offensive and defensive weapons to the roster, expectations were high for the 2007-08 season. Fueled by a 3-0 start on the road, those expectations rose and fans in Grand Rapids awaited opening day with heightened anticipation. Then the team and the fans came crashing back to reality with three straight blowout losses at home marked by a lack of heart, effort and energy.

There were several things working against the Griffins in the early going, most notably, a new Coach in Mike Stothers, over 50% turnover in club personnel since last season, injuries to key players (Quincey, Helm, Insana) and a lack of pre-season "tune-up" games due to the combined training camp the organization held. But this does not explain the discrepancy between home and road contests, nor does it excuse the lack of emotion or effort evident at Van Andel Arena.

After eight contests in the month of October the team stands with a 5-3-0 record, good enough for 7th in the Western conference and third in the northern division. Grand Rapids boasts the longest road-winning streak in the AHL this season, but has also lost all three home contests by a wide margin, outscored 15-4.

The following is a review for October:

OFFENSE - Coach Stothers' number one weapon so far this season has been the line of Carl Corazzini (8-4-3-7-0-0) between Mark Cullen (8-2-6-8-6-+2) and either Johan Ryno (7-1-3-4-8-+2) or Brett Engelhardt (8-2-4-6-6-(-2). This line has scored in 6 of the 8 games and has been a consistent offensive threat. The second line of Mark Hartigan (8-3-2-5-12-(-1), Randall Gelech (8-2-2-4-4-(-2) and a variety of linemates, most often either Igor Grigorenko (5-0-0-0-4-(-1) or Mattias Ritola (8-0-2-2-12-+2) has clicked in spurts, but needs to become more consistent at both ends of the ice. Evan McGrath's (7-1-3-4-2-+2) strong start most recently paired with the emerging Jamie Tardif (8-3-1-4-2-0) and Ryan Oulahen (8-2-2-4-4-(-1) has made his line #2b on the depth chart. Tardif especially has been coming into his own on the scoresheet, a nice reward for one of the teams' hardest workers in the early going. Rugged Adam Keefe (7-1-0-1-27-(-2), has provided a physical presence, and rookie Darren Helm (3-0-0-0-0-0), recovering from an injury suffered in training camp, round out the forward corps. The forwards as a whole do not seem to display a lot of grit or sandpaper, and with the lack of a hitting game, have been too easy to play against.

DEFENSE - On paper, the defense was expected to be the team's biggest strength with veteran's Garrett Stafford (8-2-2-4-6-0), Brad Ference (8-0-0-0-18-(-5), and Kyle Quincey (2-0-0-0-2-(-2) complimented by the speedy Jon Insana (2-0-0-0-0-(-2) and up and comers Jonathan Ericsson (8-2-3-5-2-+3) and Jakub Kindl (8-0-3-3-8-(-3). So far the results on the ice have not matched the hype as Kindl and Ference, among others, have struggled mightily. Ericsson has not been the same force he was the first half of last season at either end of the ice, despite putting up decent numbers. The absence of Quincey and Insana to injuries for a large part of the month did not help. Unheralded Tom Galvin (6-0-3-3-0-+5), signed to a PTO on the eve of the season was the team's most consistent blueliner in the early going.

GOALTENDING - Much like the rest of the team, Jimmy Howard had an up and down start to the season, winning his first two starts with impressive stats on the road. He then was blitzed at home, due in part to a lackadaisical team in front of him, and managed a win despite a shaky performance in Hamilton before being recalled to Detroit. Adam Berkhoel, Howard's backup, managed to split his four decisions, but has not looked particularly strong in any of his starts. He was yanked from his last start after giving up 6 goals on 26 shots behind a porous defense, and needs to rebound. Journeyman Cody Rudkowsky played OK in his 10 minutes and change of relief work, but the jury is still out on him.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Special teams play is just another indicator of the Jekyll and Hyde play of the team so far this season. The AHL's 8th ranked powerplay on the road (5 for 26 - 19.2%) has been a key to the 5-0 road start. At home it drops to an abysmal 24th at 9.5 % (2 for 21) and has been a huge factor in why the team is 0-3 in its own building. The penalty killing has been even worse as opponents have connected for 5 goals in 31 attempts (83.9% kill percentage) on the road, good enough for 14th in the league. In the cozy confines of Van Andel Arena they are 24th, having killed off 14 of 18 attempts for a 77.8% rating. The teams #1 powerplay unit of Engelhardt, Corazzini, Cullen, Stafford, and Ericsson has each notched one goal with the man advantage, as has rookie forward Johan Ryno.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Jamie Tardif and Carl Corazzini - A tie this month. Corazzini is a speedy, highly skilled forward who always seems to be around the puck. He has a nose for the net, and tremendous chemistry with linemate Cullen. His two game-winners pace the club, and he is generally good for a couple of dangerous chances a game. Tardif has worked his way up from the fourth line with his tremendous hustle and willingness to play hard in all areas of the ice. Whether its sacrificing his body to block shots on the PK or paying the price to go to the net, Jamie has stood out each game. Starting to show up on the scoresheet, his three goals are tied for second on the club.

ROOKIE WATCH - The Griffins started the season with seven rookies, but loaned defenseman Cleve Kinley and forward Mike Walsh to teams in the ECHL shortly after the first game. Super prospect Igor Grigorenko did not have an impact on the scoresheet or on the ice, and as expected, was returned to Russia for the balance of the season with instructions to get into shape before next fall if he wants another crack at the NHL. Another blue chipper, blueliner Jakub Kindl got off to a rough start at both ends of the ice, and needs to relax, simplify his game, and start showing the skills that made him a first round draft pick. Speedy Darren Helm missed the first part of the month recovering from an injury, and has not played regularly since returning. Mattias Ritola continues to display world class skills in spurts, but lacks the confidence and consistency to make things happen at this point. He seems to improve each game and, if he can get it together, should be another steal for the organization. 6'4 winger Johan Ryno is the only rookie that has made much of an impact on the scoresheet, notching a point per game while playing the wing on the number one line. He hasn't done much since being moved down in the lineup, and needs to be more intense and use his size in order to be successful.


NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - G Adam Berkhoel, D Brad Ference, D Garrett Stafford, D Jakub Kindl, C/RW Carl Corazzini, RW Brett Engelhardt, RW Randall Gelech, and C Mark Cullen Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Jon Insana, D Cleve Kinley, RW Adam Keefe, and RW Jamie Tardif released from Detroit Training Camp... LW Neil Clark signed to PTO... D Tom Galvin Signed to PTO... C Evan McGrath, LW Ryan Oulahen, LW Darren Helm, and RW Johan Ryno assigned by Detroit (NHL)... G Jimmy Howard, C Mattias Ritola, and D Jonathan Ericsson Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Igor Grigorenko and Left Wing Mark Hartigan Assigned by Detroit... LW Neil Clark Released from PTO... D Cleve Kinley assigned to Texas (ECHL)... LW Mike Walsh assigned to Dayton (ECHL)... RW Igor Grigorenko Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Jimmy Howard Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Cody Rudkowsky Signed to PTO...

KEY STATS - Jonathan Ericsson is tied for 17th in defensemen scoring with 5 points... Jimmy Howard is tied for 10th with 4 wins... Carl Corazzini is tied for first in the AHL with 2 game-winning goals... Tom Galvin is tied for 18th at +5... Brett Engelhardt is tied for 4th for the longest point streak at 6 games... 5-0 on the road, 0-3 at home...

IN THE PIPELINE - Second year pro Mike Walsh has gotten off to a slow start since being assigned to Dayton (ECHL), going scoreless in two games. Rookie blueliner Cleve Kinley has been quite an offensive force for the Texas Wildcatters (ECHL) with four points in four games, good enough for 10th in the league.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Darryl Bootland, a surprise to make the Islanders out of training camp, got into 4 of the 8 games the team played before being sent to Bridgeport (AHL) to make room for injured players coming back. Current stats:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Kevyn Adams, Carolina11 0 1 1 11 -4
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo 10 2 2 4 8 -3
Sean Avery, Rangers (Inj.) 2 0 0 0 2 -1
Darryl Bootland, Islanders (Min) 4 0 1 1 2 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 2 0 0 0 0 -2
Pavol Demitra, Minnesota 8 3 5 8 6 -2
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 10 0 0 0 0 -1
Matt Ellis, Detroit 10 2 2 4 4 4
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 13 2 2 4 4 2
Shane Hnidy, Anaheim 13 0 1 1 12 -4
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 13 2 1 3 2 2
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 10 2 2 4 2 5
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 13 0 2 2 0 5
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 11 1 2 3 12 -1
Brett Lebda, Detroit 13 1 2 3 12 5
Derek Meech, Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0
Glen Metropolit, Boston 10 1 1 2 2 1
Mark Mowers, Anaheim 11 1 0 1 6 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 10 0 1 1 23 4
Karel Rachunek, Devils 10 0 1 1 6 1
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 10 1 12 13 6 2
Todd White, Atlanta 11 2 4 6 6 -1
Jason Williams, Chicago 11 4 6 10 4 -3

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Patrick Lalime, Chicago 3 2-1-0-0 2.70
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 0 0-0-0-0 0.00

UP NEXT - The Griffins kick off November with a home and home series against the always-dangerous Rochester Americans. Then it's the team's first trip to Rockford, IL for a game against the IceHogs, followed by a pair of home games versus the Toronto Marlies and Quad City Flames. A pair of games in Manitoba versus former Griffin Drew MacIntyre and the Moose highlights the middle of the month. Next, the team hosts three teams at Van Andel arena against Calder Cup Champion Hamilton, and a pair of contests against the Iowa Stars. Finally the team goes out on the road for games against Rockford, Toronto and former coach Greg Ireland's San Antonio Rampage.