The Grand Rapids Griffins marked their first ever Calder Cup title with a banner raising ceremony on Friday night in front of a sold out Van Andel Arena.
The Pregame Celebration
Four months to the day after Grand Rapids closed out a 4-2 series win over the Syracuse Crunch in the War Memorial Coliseum at Oncenter, the banner commemorating their championship was raised to the rafters for “as long as this building shall stand” as put by Griffins color commentator Larry Figurski in a pregame speech as part of the ceremonies.
Figurski’s speech paid acknowledgement to the longtime West Michigan hockey fans who had supported the old IHL franchises in the 50’s (Grand Rapids Rockets) and the late 70’s (Grand Rapids Owls), for the city a third franchise was the charm. Figurski then introduced every member of the defending Calder cup champions one by one, which concluded with captain Jeff Hoggan skating out to roaring applause with the Calder cup in his hands.
The Griffins then all gathered around the end zone and watched as the banner made it’s way up, the banner was brought out by former players from both Grand Rapids franchises as well as former Griffins players, including Darren Helm, who was in the lineup on this night starting an AHL conditioning stint to get back with the Detroit Red Wings.
Time to Get to Work
After the festivities there was still a game to play against the visiting Milwaukee Admirals, affiliate to the Nashville Predators. The raucous sellout crowd of 10,834 (though it was probably over 11,000 with SRO’s) was treated to a great start to the game. Just 1:20 into the first Gustav Nyquist got the Griffins on the board, then as if the building needed to be more amped up just 28 seconds later, Griffins enforcer Triston Grant dropped the gloves with Michael Liambas and just like that the energy and excitement seen during the Griffins Calder cup run was on full display again.
The Admirals got on the board and took a bit of life out of the crowd on a power play goal scored by Anthony Bitetto at 12:46, but a little under three minutes later Jeff Hoggan put one home on the doorstep to give the Griffins the lead going into the first intermission.
Grand Rapids came out well in the second period, however things started to unravel near the end as Milwaukee scored two goals in a span of 49 seconds to take the lead 3-2. The final stanza saw a Griffins squad that just couldn’t complete a play to equalize. Their best chance came with just three seconds remaining in the game with a six on four advantage, Cory Emmerton fired a shot from the slot that beat Admirals netminder Marek Mazanec put rang off the bottom of the left post and out. 10,000 plus went from joy to heartbreak in an instant. No review was apparently needed and the Admirals spoiled the Griffins banner night with a 3-2 victory.
It’s Not All Bad News
While Milwaukee ultimately won the game, it was perhaps maybe an omen that the Griffins were to lose this game. On October 12 of last year the Griffins played their home opener against the Admirals, and they lost by the same score of 3-2. Should history repeat itself like it had in the home opener, Grand Rapids supporters will be celebrating again in June. In other non-speculative news, the Griffins are off to a great start sitting on five points in four games. They travel to Rockford on Saturday to finish out the weekend, and will be back at the Van Andel next Friday hosting the Charlotte Checkers.
Zak DeBeaussaert is a Grand Rapids Griffins writer for THW. A broadcasting junior at GVSU, he can also be found on thefarmclub.net where he writes for the Detroit Red Wings and Chelsea FC. You can occasionally hear his voice calling club sports games for the Grand Valley State Lakers on WCKS: The Whale Radio (whaleradio.org)