GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With the loss of Tyler Bertuzzi and Martin Frk, the Grand Rapids Griffins lost 87 points from last year’s Calder Cup-winning team. They still had point leaders Matt Lorito, Ben Street and Evgeny Svechnikov, but if they wanted any chance of repeating, they would need to find some more offensive production.
Enter Matt Puempel.
Puempel scored his team-leading 17th goal in a 4-1 win against the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,834 at Van Andel Arena. The 25-year-old leads Grand Rapids with 38 points in 37 games, including six power-play goals and 10 power-play assists.
He notched his sixth power-play goal Saturday, launching a rocket from the top of the left faceoff circle to beat IceHogs goalie Matt Tomkins to tie the game at 1-1.
A 30-goal scorer during his rookie season with the Binghamton Senators, Griffins coach Todd Nelson said he knew Puempel could be a point-per-game player.
“He was definitely capable of doing so,” Nelson told Wings Nation. “I thought tonight he played a strong game. Scored a nice goal, it was a big goal for us just to get on the board. He’s been pretty consistent all year, and we are happy to have him.”
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) January 28, 2018
Saturday’s goal was the fourth goal in five games for Puempel; he has eight points in his past six games.
On Sunday, Puempel will participate in his first AHL All-Star Classic, starting with the skills competition, which you can watch on NHL Network, or Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW in Canada at 8 p.m.
Hicketts, Turgeon return to GR
Dominic Turgeon and Joe Hicketts made their return to the Griffins after having five- and one-game stints, respectively, with the Detroit Red Wings.
“It was really cool,” Turgeon said of his NHL stint. “I definitely learned a lot, the pace of the game is definitely different. A lot of smart hockey players up there, so it was fun.”
Turgeon’s father, Pierre Turgeon, who is an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings, made it to Chicago to see Dominic Turgeon’s first game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 14. He said his father gave him some advice before the game.
“Just have fun and play my game — play a strong 200-foot game,” Dominic Turgeon said.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Turgeon played 9:30 on the penalty kill, or an average of 1:54 per game. He was on the ice for one power-play goal against. Turgeon said there wasn’t much of a learning curve with the PK system in Detroit.
“There’s definitely a lot of similarities,” he said. “I definitely take a lot of pride in PK, so it was an easy adjustment.”
Hicketts, arguably the most-anticipated call-up, wasn’t able to get more than a game with the Red Wings, but nonetheless, he said he enjoyed his time in the NHL, a 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 22.
“It was great, I think winning (the game) heightens that experience that I had,” Hicketts said. “Whether it was the guys taking me under their wing. (Niklas) Kronwall and (Mike) Green, I tried to pull a lot of experience from them and (Henrik) Zetterberg, those guys who have been there.”
He also saw some PK time, notching 4:22 in his only game and allowed four shots. Hicketts said he wasn’t deterred from playing his aggressive style despite it being his first stint.
“I wanted to go in there and assert myself physically,” he said. “I think when I’m at my best is when I can kinda read and jump into plays and jump into holes. I got caught one or two times, but all in all, I think that’s going to happen when you got the nerves in your first NHL game.”
He said the two biggest differences between the AHL and the NHL are speed and hockey IQ.
“The speed of the game, it’s moving quick,” Hicketts said. “Guys are where they are supposed to be. Guys are, not saying they aren’t smart (in the AHL), but they are just that step above in their hockey smarts (in the NHL). I feel like I fit right in there and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Nelson said he saw a renewed sense of confidence in both Turgeon and Hicketts.
“Anybody that goes up for one or two games and comes back down, especially if it’s your first call-up, you always have a lot more confidence when you come down,” Nelson said. “It makes you hungry because they had a taste of the National Hockey League and they want to get back up there and try to stay. It was a good experience for both guys, and they are better for it.”
Griffins overcome early-season struggles
The Griffins struggled against the IceHogs earlier in the season, going 0-3-0-3 through the first three months. After Saturday’s win, Grand Rapids has won its past three games against Rockford.
Nelson said other than a 7-2 loss on the road, most of the games against the IceHogs were close and could have gone either way. He added he was impressed with his team’s ability to limit their scoring opportunities Saturday.
“We had a bit of rust in the first period, but I didn’t think it was a bad period at all,” Nelson said of Saturday’s game. “We weren’t as sharp as we were in the second and third. We turned the puck over a lot more in the first, which caused headaches.
“We’re playing against a real good hockey team, to limit them to 17 shots, that’s a pretty good game.”