Sports stats

 Grand Rapids Griffins

Griffins Begin Playoffs Saturday in Rockford

April 25, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Grand Rapids Griffins News Release

Grand Rapids Griffins left wing Zach Aston-Reese skates around the Rockford IceHogs
Grand Rapids Griffins left wing Zach Aston-Reese skates around the Rockford IceHogs
(Grand Rapids Griffins, Credit: Rockford IceHogs)

This Week's Game

GRIFFINS at Rockford IceHogs // Central Division Semifinals - Game 1 // Sat., April 27 // 8 p.m. EDT // BMO Center

Listen: 96.1 The Game at 7:45 p.m. EDT

Watch: AHLTV

2023-24 Regular-Season Series: 6-4-2-0 Overall, 4-2-0-0 Road

All-Time Regular-Season Series: 67-47-11-11 Overall, 27-31-4-6 Road

All-Time Playoff Series: 4-1 Overall, 2-1 Road

NHL Affiliation: Chicago Blackhawks

Setting the Stage: The Griffins clinched their 18th playoff berth in 28 seasons with a 37-23-8-4 record and 86 points, claiming the second spot in the Central Division, seventh in the Western Conference and 13th overall in the AHL. Grand Rapids will face the third-seeded Rockford IceHogs (39-26-5-2, 85 pts.), who have reached the Central Division Semifinals for the third consecutive season. The Griffins finished the regular-season series against the IceHogs with a 6-4-2-0 record, including 2-2-2-0 at Van Andel Arena and 4-2-0-0 at the BMO Center. After going 1-2-0-0 in the first three meetings, Grand Rapids went on a seven-game point streak (5-0-2-0) against Rockford from Jan. 13-April 5 before dropping the final two meetings. The Griffins and IceHogs have met just once before in the Calder Cup Playoffs, as Grand Rapids defeated Rockford 4-1 in the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals. The Griffins are 2-0 at home and 2-1 on the road against Rockford in the postseason. Grand Rapids possesses a 98-82 ledger in the postseason and 20-15 series record, which includes games in the IHL's Turner Cup Playoffs from 1996-01. The Griffins have a 6-5 mark in a best-of-five series. This will be Rockford's ninth Calder Cup Playoff appearance in 15 seasons. The IceHogs are 24-30 in postseason games and have a 6-8 series record. Last season, Rockford defeated Iowa 2-0 in the first round before being bested 3-0 by Texas in the Central Division Semifinals. The IceHogs' best finish came in 2018 when they reached the Western Conference Finals before being defeated 4-2 by the Texas Stars.

The Promised Land: On March 27, the Griffins clinched their 18th playoff berth in 28 seasons with a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Monsters at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins return to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2019, ending a drought that included two postseasons (2020 and 2021) that were canceled due to COVID-19. This marked the team's earliest clinching date since 2017, when the AHL's eventual Calder Cup champions secured their spot on March 26. Clinching a spot with 25 days remaining in the regular season also marked the earliest the Griffins have clinched relative to the date of their finale since 2006, when the AHL's regular-season champions locked up their berth with 34 days to play. Exactly three months prior to clinching, the sixth-place Griffins were tied for the fourth-lowest points percentage in the AHL, bringing a 9-13-3-1 record (.423) into their first game after the Christmas break. They then went 28-10-5-3 mark (.696) from Dec. 27-April 21, which was the fifth-best mark in the league and solidified their hold on second place in the Central Division.

Take Me Back: The Griffins and IceHogs have met in the playoffs only once before, with Grand Rapids besting Rockford 4-1 in the 2015 Western Conference Semifinals by virtue of going 2-0 at Van Andel Arena and 2-1 at what was formerly the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Griffins scored five goals in three of their wins during the series, which was dominated by Teemu Pulkkinen's scoring prowess (7-2-9 in 5 GP) and Tom McCollum's netminding (2.20 GAA, .925%) and served as a sensational coming-out party for Tyler Bertuzzi. The rookie from OHL Guelph, who joined Grand Rapids with two games remaining in the regular season, tallied four goals and six points in the series. In Game 4 in Rockford, he scored his second goal of the night 13 seconds into overtime to lift the Griffins to a 2-1 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead. The fastest playoff overtime goal in franchise history gave Bertuzzi five goals and three game-winners in just seven playoff games and jumpstarted his postseason legend that would culminate in winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as AHL Playoff MVP in 2017.

Prior History: The Griffins and IceHogs will renew a rivalry that dates back to the 2007-08 season when Rockford joined the AHL. Since the 2007-08 campaign, the teams have met a combined 136 times in the regular season, with the Griffins possessing a 67-47-11-11 record. The Griffins' 136 meetings against Rockford are the third most of any opponent Grand Rapids has faced behind Milwaukee (219) and Chicago (202), and Grand Rapids' 67 wins are the fifth-most against any opponent.

Made the Nice List: Before the Christmas break, the Griffins were tied for the fourth-lowest points percentage in the AHL with a 9-13-3-1 record (.423). Grand Rapids then went on a tear to finish the season, as they held the fifth-highest points percentage in the AHL since Dec. 27 with a 28-10-5-3 mark (.696). The Griffins, who sat in sixth place at the holiday break, quickly catapulted themselves into second place in the Central Division, which was their best finish since the 2017-18 season.

Bench Boss: First-year head coach Dan Watson will make his Calder Cup Playoffs debut. He is the ninth head coach in franchise history to lead the Griffins to the postseason during his first full season behind the bench, joining Dave Allison (1996-97), Bruce Cassidy (2000-01), Danton Cole (2002-03), Greg Ireland (2005-06) Curt Fraser (2008-09), Jeff Blashill (2012-13), Todd Nelson (2015-16) and Ben Simon (2018-19). Watson has never missed the playoffs during his seven seasons as a head coach. With the ECHL's Toledo Walleye, Watson went 51-34 (.600) over five postseasons, reaching the Kelly Cup Finals twice (2019 and 2022) and leading Toledo to four Western Conference Finals berths (2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023).

First Time for Everything: Dominik Shine, among Grand Rapids' all-time regular season leaders in games played (422, 3rd), goals (61, T18th), points (138, T20th) and penalty minutes (477, 8th), is the only current Griffin who has played a postseason game with the franchise. He is looking for his first series win, as he totaled 10 playoff games as a member of the 2018 and 2019 teams that each lost in the Central Division Semifinals. Two other longtime Griffins will see their first playoff action with the team, including Taro Hirose (248 games played, 151 assists (3rd), 201 points (6th)) and Tyler Spezia (240 games played).

Hard to Kill: During the Griffins' franchise-record run of seven straight playoff appearances from 2013-2019, they won two Calder Cups (2013 and 2017), twice lost to the eventual champion (Texas 2014, Lake Erie 2016), and twice lost to the cup runner-up (Utica 2015, Chicago 2019). During their 13 previous AHL playoff runs, they won those pair of cups, lost to the eventual champion on four occasions, and also lost to the other finalist four times. Including their first five seasons as members of the International Hockey League, the Griffins have qualified for the postseason on 17 prior occasions, winning it all twice, losing six times to the eventual champ, and losing four times to the runner-up.

A Cut Above: There have been 10 different Calder Cup champions since 2011, with Grand Rapids being the only team to earn multiple championships (2013 and 2017) during that time. The other winners were Hershey (2023), Chicago (2022), Charlotte (2019), Toronto (2018), Lake Erie (2016), Manchester (2015), Texas (2014), Norfolk (2012) and Binghamton (2011).

Images from this story

Grand Rapids Griffins left wing Zach Aston-Reese skates around the Rockford IceHogs
Grand Rapids Griffins left wing Zach Aston-Reese skates around the Rockford IceHogs

(Rockford IceHogs)

• Discuss this story on the American Hockey League message board...

American Hockey League Stories from April 25, 2024

The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

Other Recent Grand Rapids Griffins Stories

Sports Statistics from the Stats Crew
OurSports Central