0Joe Veleno
Photo Credit: Jenae Anderson - Access Hockey MI

A night of firsts for Griffins: Veleno nets first goal, Puempel notches first hat trick

It feels like the first time

It feels like the very first time

Foreigner’s 1977 hit belted over the Van Andel Arena speakers late in the third period Friday night, as Grand Rapids Griffins forward Joe Veleno scored his first career professional goal in a 4-1 win against the Manitoba Moose.

It wasn’t a snipe or a dirty dangle or a one-timer from a cross-ice feed, but it was a sense of relief for the 19-year-old, who hadn’t recorded a single point in his first six professional games.

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“Yeah, it’s huge,” Veleno told Wings Nation of his first career goal. “It was a little frustrating. Nothing really happening offensively (for me). It’s a tough league to put up good numbers. I was lucky enough to capitalize on that one. It’s a big relief for sure.”

To top it off, Filip Zadina gave Veleno the biggest bear hug imaginable after his linemate finally broke through on the scoresheet, showing he was just as excited to see his centermen notch his first professional goal.

As coach Ben Simon alluded to Oct. 11, the last time I saw the Griffins play, he’s not worried about the lack of scoring from the Detroit Red Wings’ young prospects, noting players can contribute in other ways than on the scoresheet.

“He’s learning, learning on the fly,” Simon said of Veleno. “It’s a tough league to play as a centerman. He’s doing a lot of good things, there’s some things he has to clean up, as well. He’s willing to make adjustments, he’s willing to put in the time to improve his game.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight. He’s not a short-term project. These are kids that need to develop down here, and that’s why they’re here. … All these younger players, they think you gotta have points to have success. When you can have an impact on the game in a positive way even if you don’t score goals and you don’t have an assist. As you get older, as you progress throughout your career, I think you figure that out a little bit.”

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Matt Puempel, on the other hand, has had no issue getting his name on the scoresheet.

One of the first-round picks not selected by the Red Wings, the 26-year-old scored his third, fourth and fifth goals of the season to notch his first career hat trick. He leads the team in goals and is second on the team in points (eight).

“I was the beneficiary of some good plays from some other guys,” Puempel said. “It was nice to get a few there — more importantly, get the win here and kinda build on that.”

Puempel’s first goal, especially, happened because of a great play from Chris Terry. Before collecting a loose puck, Terry saw Puempel streaking for the slot, curled away from a defender, hit Puempel, who buried the puck five-hole to give the Griffins a 1-0 lead early in the second period.

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“I think he saw me before he got the puck,” Puempel said. “We kinda made eye contact there to jump in behind their D, made a great pass and just try to get it off as quick as I could.”

After what appeared to be Puempel’s third goal coming on an empty-netter, the play was ruled offside. However, about a minute later, Puempel had another opportunity and fired the puck into the empty net. Veleno said he was happy to see Puempel record the hat trick.

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“Yeah, he’s been really good,” Veleno said. “He stepped it up big time. He’s been really huge for us. … He’s a scorer, and he shoots the puck well. It’s nice to see that for him.”

Simon opted to roster 11 forwards and seven defensemen, noting the team had success with it in its 3-0 win against the Milwaukee Admirals on Wednesday. However, he added the constant jumbling of lines that rostering 11 forwards and seven defensemen will do might have contributed to allowing 37 shots on goal.

“We gave up way too many chances tonight,” Simon said. “(Manitoba is) a hard-working team, though. I don’t want to take anything away from them. They work hard, they get pucks and bodies to the net. They do a pretty good job generating offense. We’ve got to clean up a lot defensively and manage the puck better.”