Resilient Griffins Win Calder Cup

Down 3-2 early in the third period, Grand Rapids Griffins fans let the home team know exactly what they wanted.

“We want the Cup! We want the Cup! We want the Cup!”

The Griffins didn’t need a reminder of what was on the line, but a not-so-gentle suggestion from the fans certainly doesn’t hurt.

In the end, the Griffins delivered, but they needed to go through adversity to get it.

Martin Frk’s shot from the blue line beat Mike McKenna at the 12:41 mark of the third period — the first time the Griffins held a lead in the game — and Grand Rapids held on to beat the Syracuse Crunch 4-3 in Game 5 and win its second Calder Cup title in five years Tuesday.

Griffins Overcome Deficits

The Griffins faced deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in Game 5, but each time the Crunch took the lead, the Griffins weren’t ready to give up. Tyler Bertuzzi’s goal 3:50 into the third period off a nice feed from Frk tied the game at 3-3, and it would be the last time the Crunch led the game. It was Bertuzzi’s 23rd postseason goal, which passed Teemu Pulkkinen (22) for most in franchise history.

While constantly playing from behind might be hard for some teams, if you ask the Griffins, one-goal deficits don’t bother them.

“We know how good we are, we know what we need to do to win games,” Mitch Callahan told The Hockey Writers. “We’re playing at home right now, so one-goal difference, it’s not a big deal for our team.”

The Griffins are no strangers to overcoming adversity. They were 5-4 during these playoffs when allowing the first goal. Those four losses signified the four times the Griffins lost during the Calder Cup playoffs — once each in the second and third rounds and twice to Syracuse in the final.

Even after a humbling 7-3 loss to the Chicago Wolves in the second round, the Griffins didn’t let one bad game affect them and went on to win the next three games to win the series 4-1.

“The resilience we have is tremendous,” said Jared Coreau, who made 29 saves for the Griffins. “Brian Lashoff, he won it here before, he’s been a pro for years. He said it all through the playoffs, he said the resilience we have is second to none. … Syracuse played so hard, such a great team, it was a tough series, tight games.”

Winning at Home is ‘Special’

When the Griffins won the Calder Cup in 2013, the Griffins had two opportunities to win their first title at home, but the Crunch forced a Game 5 and a Game 6, which the Griffins won in Syracuse.

This season, the Griffins again would have two opportunities to close the series at home but only needed the first opportunity to celebrate a championship on home ice.

Both teams were perfect at home entering the final, but only the Griffins came out with their perfect record intact, winning all 10 playoff games at Van Andel Arena.

“Every year, it doesn’t matter what team you’re on, the start of the year, you always say you want to take care of home ice,” Coreau said. “That’s for regular season and playoffs. We executed our game plan. I mean 10-0, I think we have to give credit to our fans. We love playing at the Van Andel.”

And the fans love seeing the Griffins play at Van Andel. It didn’t matter if it was a goal or clearing the puck on the penalty kill, the sold-out crowd of 10,834 roared each and every time the Griffins gave them something to cheer about.

“It’s real sweet to win it on home ice,” said Callahan, who along with Nathan Paetsch and Brian Lashoff were on the 2013 Calder Cup-winning team.

Todd Nelson
(Ross Bonander / THW)

For Griffins coach Todd Nelson, he was able to exercise some personal demons, as he was the coach of the Oklahoma City Barons team that lost Game 7 at Van Andel Arena in the Western Conference final to Grand Rapids during its Calder Cup title run in 2013.

“I also lost in this building in 2013 in Game 7, which was a heartbreaking game,” he said. “I guess patience is a virtue — good things happen to people who wait. It’s pretty emotional.”

And while the fans ultimately don’t have any say in what happens on the ice, Nelson appreciates the support the Griffins have had all season.

“I think the fans had something to do with that, as well,” Nelson said of being undefeated at home. “We knew we had been strong all year at home and in the playoffs. If we could just get one at Syracuse, which we did. We have two cracks at it at home, I’m just so happy the series is over. It’s a see-saw battle, it could have gone either way.”

The Griffins and their fans are happy it went their way.