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November 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Hot start powered by elite arsenal...
By Jason Kasiorek
December 1, 2013

Grand Rapids surprised a lot of people last season en route to their first Calder Cup Championship. This season they started out with a target on their backs, but it has not made any difference. With a stacked lineup of elite scorers, and a star between the pipes in Petr Mrazek, this team has been dominant from the first drop of the puck. The only hitch has been that they have too many good players and due to problems in Detroit, have too many veterans. This has led Coach Blashill to have to rotate two out of the lineup each night. The team has so many potent scorers, they almost didn't miss a beat when Gustav Nyquist was recalled to Detroit for the season. The Griffins sport the number one ranked offense in the AHL scoring an average of 3.86 per game and the number two ranked defense, surrendering an average of 2.43 goals per game.

Grand Rapids turned in a 10-2 record in 12 games for November, scoring 49 goals and surrendering only 24. This leaves them 1st in the midwest division with a 15-4-1-1 record, 7 points ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee. Their 32 points put them in 2nd place in the Western Conference and 3rd overall in the AHL. The team is 4th in the league in average attendance with an average of 6722 per game in the cozy confines of Van Andel Arena.

The following is a review for November:

OFFENSE - On any given night the Griffins are scratching players who could start for almost any other team in the league. They also scored 49 goals in their last 12 games and are firing on all cylinders, getting offense from all four lines. The top line most nights has been Calle Jarnkrok centering Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist. With Nyquist's graduation to Detroit, Patrick Eaves has slid into his spot. The trio accounted for 17 goals and 20 assists for 37 points in 12 games.

Cory Emmerton has been centering the second line with Jeff Hoggan and Teemu Pulkkinen. With Hoggan sitting out some games as part of the rotation, Riley Sheahan has also seen spot duty on the wing. They tallied 23 points (11 goals and 12 assists) on the month and played a solid two-way game.

The third line has seen a lot of movement but at times has consisted of Luke Glendening, Landon Ferraro, Sheahan and recently Jordan Tootoo. They have scored some timely goals, but have really done the heavy lifting in terms of defensive responsibilities. This has been the shut down line, but still managed to add 6 goals and 14 assists to the attack.

The energy line has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. Andrej Nestrasil was finally starting to fulfill some of his promise centering this group before being pushed to the bench by the return from injury of David McIntyre. Physical Triston Grant and the suddenly potent Mitch Callahan complete the line, which notched 11 goals and 10 assists in November. Louis-Marc Aubry was a frequent scratch and was eventually bumped down to Toledo with the arrival of Tootoo and Eaves.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Tomas Jurco12 7 6 13 6 10 39Offensive wizard takes game to next level.
Gustav Nyquist 7 2 9 11 4 3 11AHL's 3rd leading scorer recalled to NHL for good.
Mitchell Callahan 12 6 3 9 23 9 30Gritty winger becomes consistent scoring threat.
Teemu Pulkkinen 12 5 3 8 8 6 22Rookie sniper keeps scoring.
Calle Jarnkrok12 5 3 8 6 9 17Two-way center adjusting to AHL steadily.
Cory Emmerton 11 3 5 8 8 4 23Veteran forward provides defensive help.
Riley Sheahan 12 2 6 8 2 3 16Developing into top defensive forward.
Jeff Hoggan 9 3 4 7 4 4 29Picked up where he left off last season.
Patrick Eaves 5 3 2 5 4 2 18NHL spare part on a roll in AHL.
Andrej Nestrasil8 2 3 5 4 4 6Big forward finally looking like AHL'er.
Luke Glendening9 2 3 5 6 4 15Hard worker adds more grit to game.
Landon Ferraro 12 1 4 5 4 2 31Excelling defensively, still looking for scoring.
Triston Grant 9 1 3 4 22 5 16Physical winger off to surprising start.
David McIntyre 7 2 1 3 4 2 6Rounding into form after returning from broken hand.
Jordan Tootoo 7 1 1 2 7 1 9Brings speed and energy to the lineup.

DEFENSE - The Griffins' blueline has been hampered as of late by the veteran rotation that Coach Blashill has employed meaning that one of Brennan Evans or Nathan Paetsch has been out of the lineup the last five games. Paetsch in particular has missed the last four contests, allowing Gleason Fournier a regular opportunity to play, mostly with savvy Xavier Ouellet. Ouellet has been solid defensively, and has started to add some offense as he adjusts to the pro ranks.

Sophomore Adam Almquist has played with Alexey Marchenko recently at even strength and on the powerplay. Marchenko especially has been very impressive in the early going, while Almquist earned his first NHL recall (and scored a goal). This tandem has been very effective at both ends of the ice.

Veteran Evans has been paired with high-scoring rookie Ryan Sproul, with Evans filling the mentor role again this season. Sproul is among the league leaders in scoring from the blueline and has been very effective on the powerplay. His shot is becoming well known around the league, and his defensive game is improving from Evans' Tutelage. Richard Nedomlel got into a couple of games, but has been farmed out to the ECHL and replaced by Nick Jensen. Jensen is looking to make his AHL debut after returning from a shoulder injury suffered in development camp.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Ryan Sproul 12 2 7 9 6 10 27Rookie rearguard making a name for himself with big shot.
Alexey Marchenko 12 1 8 9 4 10 10 KHL blueliner makes rapids adjustment to AHL.
Adam Almquist 9 0 7 7 4 4 16First NHL recall highlights solid start.
Nathan Paetsch8 0 6 6 4 4 11Veteran mentor playing at a high level.
Xavier Ouellet10 1 3 4 2 6 11Solid freshman plays like veteran.
Brennan Evans 11 0 2 2 18 11 6Steady defender still rock solid.
Gleason Fournier 7 0 0 0 0 3 4Puckmover finally breaks into the lineup.
Richard Nedomlel 3 0 0 0 2 -2 1Hulking rookie sent to Toledo for more seasoning.

GOALTENDING - For all the talk of the Griffins league leading offense, the stellar work turned in this month between the pipes has gone a bit under the radar. Petr Mrazek earned his first career NHL shutout, and won all six of his AHL starts to go undefeated for the month. His numbers were all-star caliber with a 1.67 GAA and 93.9% save percentage with the Griffins and 0.00 and 100% save percentage in his only game for the parent Wings. Thomas McCollum continued his great start to the season by posting a 4-2 record in six games with a respectable 2.35 GAA and 92.2% save percentage. McCollum is enjoying the best start to his career and looks like a new man after signing an AHL contract over the summer.

SPECIAL TEAMS - With the AHL's number one offense, the Griffins have obviously had some success with the man advantage. The home unit is ranked #2 in the loop at 26.7% (8 for 30) while the road unit sits at 20th (15.2%). Overall the team has scored 18 goals in 96 chances (18.8%) good enough for 9th overall. Jurco (3+4=7), Nyquist (1+7=8), Almquist (0+6=6), Sproul (2+3=5), Pulkkinen (2+2=4), Jarnkrok (3 goals) and Hoggan have all been staples on the powerplay, but Marchenko (0+2=2) and Eaves (1+1=2) have been added as of late.

The home penalty killing unit, while improving, was ranked 27th out of 30 teams, having surrendered 9 goals in 37 chances (75.7%). The road unit however was in the top 10 (9th) at 86.2% having stopped 56 out of 65 chances. This left the team 20th overall (82.4%) having killed off 84 of 102 enemy powerplays. Mitch Callahan is among the league leaders with 2 shorthanded goals on the season and usually sees time with Cory Emmerton. Riley Sheahan and Landon Ferraro are primarily the other PK tandem up front, with Luke Glendening filling in as necessary. The defense is rotated around quite a bit, but Evans, Marchenko, Paetsch and Ouellet see a lot of time shorthanded. Ferraro has the team's other shorthanded tally, giving the Griffins three, while they have surrendered two themselves.

THREE STARS OF THE MONTH - First Star - Mitch Callahan - Callahan has done more with less so far this season than any of his teammates. He scored 6 goals and 9 points this month leaving him as the second leading goal scorer on the team. All this comes while seeing the majority of his minutes on the 4th line and penalty killing units and not seeing powerplay time. The gritty winger has developed his all around game and skillset to become a dependable offensive presence, while growing into an ace penalty killer and top defensive forward.

Second Star - Tomas Jurco - The slick Slovakian sniper has picked up where he left off in last years playoffs, posting 7 goals and 13 points in 12 games this month. His production has remained constant despite the loss of linemate Gustav Nyquist to Detroit. Among the leading scorers in the AHL, Jurco has taken his game to the next level and is knocking on the door for his first NHL recall.

Third Star - Petr Mrazek - Mrazek won all 6 AHL starts and his only NHL start this month. His numbers during that span are pretty heady and he is playing with a lot of confidence. The second year netminder is taking his place among the top goalie's in the league and is showing he can be a dominant starter.

CURRENT INJURIES - Willie Coetzee - Knee - Indefinite.

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - G Petr Mrazek Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Jared Coreau Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... D Adam Almquist Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Martin Frk Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Richard Nedomlel Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... G Coreau Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... G Mrazek Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Almquist Assigned by Detroit... C Luke Glendening Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Xavier Ouellet Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Ouellet Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Jordan Tootoo Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Glendening Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Patrick Eaves Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Glendening Recalled by Detroit... C Glendening Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Nick Jensen Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Jensen Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Louis-Marc Aubry Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... LW Gustav Nyquist Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Jensen Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)...

KEY STATS - Tomas Jurco is tied for 6th in league scoring with 23 points... Gustav Nyquist is tied for 12th with 21... Alexey Marchenko is tied for 4th in plus/minus at +13, which also leads all rookies... Thomas McCollum is tied for ninth in GAA at 2.28... Mrazek is 11th at 2.29... Ryan Sproul is 14th in rookie scoring with 15 points... Marchenko (+13), Sproul (+12) and Xavier Ouellet (+10) are 1-2-3 in rookie plus-minus... Sproul is 6th in defense scoring (15 points), while Marchenko and Adam Almquist are tied for 9th with 13 points each... Almquist is also 4th in defense assists with 13... Mitch Callahan is tied for 2nd in the AHL with 2 short handed goals...

IN THE PIPELINE - Despite having a large contingent of Detroit prospects on the roster, the Toledo Walleye have struggled on the ice. Their leading scorer is Trevor Parkes, who added 8 goals and 13 points in 12 games and continues to show he can score in the ECHL. Louis-Marc Aubry was recently assigned from Grand Rapids and after riding the pine so long it will take him awhile to get up to speed. In his first four games, the big forward has scored a goal and an assist along with 17 shots on goal. Defenseman Max Nicastro, back for his second season, chipped in 2 assists in 12 games and was only -5 in that span with most of that coming in three lopsided losses.

Several rookies are undergoing their trial by fire as a pro with Toledo in the early going. Martin Frk has tallied 3 goals and 4 assists in 9 games but has an atrocious -8 rating in that span, an indication his game still needs some work. Center Kevin Lynch has struggled as well with only 3 points in his last 11 games, and Marek Tvrdon has notched 6 points in his last 10 games, but none in his last 3. Netminder Jared Coreau picked up his first and only win of the season this month. His record for November stood at 1-4-1 with an inflated 4.52 GAA and a 86.7% save percentage.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - November saw 34 former Griffins on NHL rosters, not counting Trevor Parkes and Jared Coreau who were recalled by Detroit but did not see game action. Luke Glendening, Adam Almquist, Xavier Ouellet and Chad Billins made their NHL debut's this season. Current stats as of 12/1/13:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 283 8 11 6 3
Adam Almquist, Detroit 21 0 1 0 -1
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 28 3 5 8 4 -3
Chad Billins, Calgary 2 0 2 2 0 -1
Sheldon Brookbank, Chicago 18 12 3 26 2
Carlo Colaiacovo, St Louis 2 01 1 4 0
Danny DeKeyser, Detroit 22 27 9 12 2
Patrick Eaves, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 -2
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 4 0 1 1 20
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 18 1 6 7 16 7
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay 27 9 10 19 8 -2
Luke Glendening, Detroit 9 0 0 0 4 -3
Darren Helm, Detroit 14 7 3 10 2 5
Jiri Hudler, Calgary 26 7 16 23 2 -4
Chris Kelly, Boston 27 3 4 7 8 -1
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 28 1 9 10 8 -2
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 23 22 4 6 -4
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 26 3 18 21 24 12
Brian Lashoff, Detroit 24 0 2 2 14 2
Ville Leino, Buffalo 16 0 5 5 6 -3
Chris Mueller, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 28 4 1 5 69 2
Kris Newbury, Philadelphia 4 0 1 1 7 0
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 6 4 1 5 2 3
Xavier Ouellet, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 28 0 3 3 22 -10
Brendan Smith, Detroit 18 0 4 4 30 -5
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 27 10 13 23 16 -8
Tomas Tatar, Detroit 20 3 6 9 2 2
Jordan Tootoo, Detroit 8 0 0 0 5 -4

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit 9 7-0-1 2.16 .929
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 19 6-7-6 2.57 .913
Joey MacDonald, Calgary 7 3-3-1 3.17 .885
Petr Mrazek, Detroit 1 1-0-0 0.00 1.000

UP NEXT - The Griffins will see action in 12 games in the month of December including 8 home games. The team starts a five game homestand with a pair of contests against the Rochester Americans, then a Wednesday night game featuring the Chicago Wolves, and finally another pair of games versus the Milwaukee Admirals. Next on tap is a quick bus trip to Iowa and then back home to host the rough and tumble Rockford IceHogs. A three game road trip with stops in Chicago, Milwaukee and Rockford bookends Christmas, and the team finishes the month with two games at home against the Toronto Marlies including the annual New Years Eve Game.