This weekend’s home games held many ups and downs for Grand Rapids. Dropping Friday’s game in overtime against the Rockford Icehogs, the Griffins earned a point but extended their losing streak nonetheless. Saturday featured drama from start to finish against the Milwaukee Admirals. Having already lost Carter Camper to injury a few games prior, Grand Rapids also lost one of their top producers, Turner Elson, to an excruciating hand injury. Shortly thereafter, Filip Zadina left the ice with a lower-body injury.
On top of losing now three players to injury, the Griffins have had to relinquish Filip Hronek and Wade Megan to the Detroit Red Wings to supplement their growing injury list. Despite limping (literally) through the weekend, the Griffins did manage to break their losing streak Saturday in a very dramatic fashion.
Here are this weekend’s home ice highlights!
*As a result of Saturday’s altercation involving Matt Puempel, he is sitting out Sunday’s game against Rockford to serve his first pro suspension*
Player of the Game:
Grand Rapids vs Rockford: Libor Sulak
Sulak was a highly anticipated addition to the Detroit system last season. He spent five games with Detroit before returning to Grand Rapids and since then, has developed into one of the strongest and smartest defenseman. Friday night, Sulak was definitely the most consistent and wisest skaters on the ice. Several times, he had used is long reach to lift a stick, poke check and at one point, held off three guys at once. In spite of Rockford putting up an irritatingly proficient fight, Sulak found ways to win along the boards and remain focused. The Icehogs successfully got under the Griffins’ skin, even knocking enforcer, Dylan McIlrath down a few times, but Sulak remained unphased.
Grand Rapids vs Milwaukee: All of them
Saturday night’s match against the Admirals has left me at a loss to choose one player of the game. The entire team deserves the credit for their performance. Having come back (twice) from two separate two-goal deficits to force overtime and then win in a shootout, took every last skater. The bench was looking very slim towards the end of the night, but guys stepped up exactly when they needed to. Trevor Hamilton tallied his first AHL goal, Dylan Sadowy netted his first of the season, Joe Hicketts hammered a shot to tie the game with 1:17 remaining in regulation and Dominic Turgeon sealed the deal in the shootout. Axel Holmstrom earned three assists on the night as well. Even with some top scorers in Camper and Elson, gone indefinitely, the team rallied for one heck of an outcome.
Play of the Game:
Grand Rapids vs Rockford: Turner Elson Ties for First in AHL for Shorties
I’ve often spoken about Turner Elson and how much value he has added to the team in the last two seasons. After spending most of his pro career floating from one team to the next, Grand Rapids extended his contract. He had a healthy summer and has put up the points to prove his value. Friday night, Elson further plead his case to remain in the Detroit system by tallying his third short-handed goal of the season. Receiving a cross-ice pass from Colin Campbell, Elson whipped the puck at the net and beat Icehog goaltender, Delia. Now tied for first in the AHL for short-handed goals, Elson is forcing people to pay attention to him.
Grand Rapids vs Milwaukee: Joe Hicketts Forces Overtime
There’s a lot of good that can be said about Hickett’s game. He’s smart, physical and on Saturday, he had the perfect shot. Milwaukee dominated the first period by scoring two goals within three minutes of puck drop. Coming back to tie it in the second period, Milwaukee responded by beating Sateri twice more. Grand Rapids rallied and with 1:17 remaining in regulation, Hicketts fired a shot from the slot beating former Griffin, Tom McCollum. It was a precise and timely goal that made Joe the hero. He has a powerful shot and thanks to his ability to quickly release, he forced overtime which later lead to a shoot-out win for Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids vs Rockford: Can’t Connect
The Griffins had a hard time finding twine Friday against the Icehogs. Terry, Zadina, Campbell, and Elson all had amazing opportunities (rare with how Delia was playing) that just didn’t seem to connect. Whether it was because Carter Camper was out of the lineup or they weren’t communicating on the ice, its hard to say. In any case, the fact that our scorers weren’t able to find the back of the net was a bit stressful. Though they forced overtime and did get a point off the loss, it seemed like they struggled to make a play. The Icehogs stayed on the Griffins’ defense really well and didn’t allow too many plays to develop.
Grand Rapids vs Milwaukee: Reckless Penalties
Milwaukee is number one in our division and there’s a reason for it. They get under your skin and attack when you’re just fired up enough to lose focus. Unfortunately for Grand Rapids, what would have been a minor penalty for Matt Puempel, turned into him being removed from the game. Though the injuries of Saturday night were definitely more costly, those couldn’t be avoided necessarily. Puempel’s recklessness, on the other hand, could have. He lashed out, punched a guy in the face, argued a bit too much and found himself hanging out in the locker room in his warmup pants for the rest of the night. The penalty was served by Zadina and Campbell joined him shortly thereafter. The penalties cost Grand Rapids much-needed offensive power and exhausted an already weary team.
Quotable: Lockerroom Talk
“Every time I see a bouncing/bobbling puck, I make sure I stay on that defenseman to make sure he either has to make a play or pass it. Soupy (Campbell) was just in the right spot when I batted it out the air. I didn’t expect it (to go in) at all!” – Turner Elson about his short-handed goal
“It feels great! The win speaks to that. The guys battled hard, battled through adversity and it’s a good team.” – Trevor Hamilton about his first career AHL goal
“It’s a character move… we came back and we’ll grow from that. It felt like a playoff game out there. It was a lot of fun and intensity…I feel way more comfortable out there.” – Axel Holmstrom following his three-point night
Keys for the Future: Recovery is Key
Grand Rapids is now faced with a challenge going into the next week of games before the holiday break. Having to face-off against Rockford once again Sunday night, Cleveland Wednesday and back-to-back games Friday and Saturday in Manitoba, they are in desperate need of getting healthy again. Calling up Bryan Moore and Tyler Spezia from the Toledo Walleye to fill some gaps, they’re hoping to fill some gaps. The loss of Camper and Elson primarily, are huge deficits to the scoring. Both top-line skaters averaging a point per game production, its a huge hit to the offensive end. Both are necessary parts of Grand Rapids’s offensive power, and without them, the younger guys will have quite a few minutes to make up for. The loss of Zadina in terms of his development are looking to be decently great as well. Depending on the severity of the injury (lower body), he may miss part of the World Junior Championship that he was scheduled to leave for on December 20.
Having the ability to call up guys from Toledo like Moore and Spezia, who are both very talented and edgy players, is a plus. However, the existing roster is taxed and exhausted. The locker room looked more like a medical ward than a hockey team hangout following the games this weekend. Though Camper is on the mend and should be back shortly, Elson and Zadina could be looking at a lot of time. Thankfully, Grand Rapids has a very talented roster that is well aware of their duty in situations like this.