Let’s go back to November 14th; The Grand Rapids Griffins lost their 9th game out of 11 contests to start the season and new era under head coach Todd Nelson. This included scoring six goals in six losses in October and scoring four goals just once in the month in a 4-3 win against the Charlotte Checkers. November to that point was not much better, as the team scored four goals in three losses and five in one win against the Iowa Wild.
Overall, the Griffins were being outscored 38-19 in a 2-8-0-1 start. The team went winless when they outshot their opponent six times and won both of their games when being outshot themselves five times. Leading the league in shots on goal per game (36+) yielded little result, as the team was dead last in goal scoring at 1.4 goals per game. A spark was needed, and it would soon be provided with the return of Tomas Jurco on a conditioning assignment and reassigning of Andreas Athanasiou.
In the five games Jurco suited up for the Griffins, the team won all five with Jurco scoring five goals and nine points in the run. The return of Athanasiou helped tremendously as well, as the 21-year old in his first four games back totaled three goals and seven points. Jurco departed for Detroit after five games, but the team did not falter. Nearly a month has passed since Jurco last skated with Grand Rapids on November 27th, and the numbers of “8” or “1” in the “L” or “SOL” columns have not changed in those 26 days. If you want to go back farther, those numbers have stayed stagnant since the Griffins fell to the Monsters on that Saturday nearly two weeks before.
The Griffins broke their franchise record for consecutive wins when they won their 12th game in a row on December 16th. They have since extended it to 14 with back-to-back wins against the Texas Stars last weekend. The team has vaulted itself from the basement of the AHL with all 28 of a possible 28 points to third place in the Central Division and fourth place in the Western Conference with 33 points. The team has since turned their 19-38 GF/GA ratio into 78-62, outscoring their opponents 59-24 in 14 (FOURTEEN) games. They have outshot their opponents 8 times and have averaged 30.6 shots per game while giving up 1.7 goals per game in that span.
“I think we always knew e had the potential and this is a team we should’ve been from the get-go and for whatever reason we started slowing. Things weren’t going our way and finally now we’ve started to come together as a group and bounces started to go our way and the ship’s righted.”
-Nathan Paetsch, Griffins Defenseman
Now, in a winning streak that stretches to fourteen, there is some puck luck involved, but the Griffins have really gotten contributions all across the board. The goaltending has been sparkling since the slow start, as the combo of Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum has posted a .948 save percentage in 14 games.
I think this group is starting to understand and starting to mature as a group how to shut teams down.
-Todd Nelson, Griffins Head Coach
Andreas Athanasiou since his return from Detroit has played in 12 of the 14 games and recorded a point in all but two of them as he posted seven goals and 14 points. Anthony Mantha has started to play the best professional hockey of his career to date, as in the nine games he played in during the streak he posted five goals and 14 points to run his season total to seven goals and 18 points in 20 games.
Newcomer Robbie Russo (right-handed defenseman) who was picked up as a free agent draftee that could not come to terms with the Islanders now has amassed two goals and 16 points in 21 games played. Xavier Ouellet, believed to be the next defenseman up for the Wings, has two goals and 12 points. 2012 2nd-rounder Martin Frk, who has struggled to get acclimated to the AHL level(82GP, 9G, 24P 2013-15) now has seven goals and 11 points in 16 games played. The list goes on from Eric Tangradi(12G, 21P) to Mark Zengerle(3G, 13P).
It is always a great sign for the franchise to see the farm team performing well, but in the case of the Griffins, it’s how they’ve done it. Coming back from a scoring drought to score at a clip of 4+ goals per game without back-to-back 30-goal scorer Teemu Pulkkinen, buying into Todd Nelson’s message despite the circumstances, especially after what Jeff Blashill left, and learning to persevere overall as a group should get Hockeytown’s faithful excited for the new era of studs coming through the ranks.
That era is arriving very soon.
quotes courtesy of Grand Rapids Griffins and mLive
stats courtesy of griffinshockey.com and hockeydb