It started modestly enough.
Jeff Blashill’s appointment as Griffins boss at the end of last season put into motion this grand season for Grand Rapids but it hasn’t been easy for the former Western Michigan coach. With the parent team struggling with injuries and inconsistency, the men behind the bench in Grand Rapids had to juggle lineups almost nightly to accommodate the player departures and returns. Guys like Joakim Andersson, Brian Lashoff, Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar were shuffled between Detroit and Grand Rapids constantly during the season, and three of those players were big contributors to this year’s Red Wings team, which came within one win of their first conference finals appearance since 2009.
The Griffins are still playing hockey in mid-June, which is rare for them. In the last few years, as the Red Wings’ cap situation has been somewhat in a state of flux, general manager Ken Holland has rebuilt the lower levels of the organization through the draft and through his vast Scandinavian scouting network. The results are paying off. Grand Rapids won their first two Calder Cup Finals games in team history against Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse (the defending Calder Cup champions) and are just two wins from lifting the trophy. Andersson and Nyquist rejoined the team after Game 7 in Chicago and have brought even more depth to a loaded offensive front. They join guys like Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco, Jan Mursak, Francis Pare, and erstwhile Teletubby Riley Sheahan in a formidable forward corps. The Griffs scored nine times in the first two games against Syracuse.
Defensively, the Griffs have been bolstered by the return of Danny DeKeyser. DeKeyser bypassed the AHL on his way to Detroit but broke his thumb in Game 2 in Anaheim and was out until the Calder Cup Finals began. This experience could prove invaluable for the Western Michigan product. The Griffins have been excellent in the creating offense from defense department this postseason; Adam Almquist, Chad Billins, and Nathan Paetsch all have at least 10 points in the playoffs, so DeKeyser’s healthy return improves the defensive side of the defense. In goal is Petr Mrazek, who is 13-7 with a 2.21 GAA and .921 save percentage in the Calder Cup playoffs. He could be backing up Jimmy Howard in Detroit very soon.
The Griffins can lift the Calder Cup as soon as Friday, but there’s a third game in this series tomorrow night that the Griffins must win to truly put themselves on the cusp. What an experience it must be for these young players, some of whom had their hearts broken in overtime in Chicago not too long ago but are back now and vying for a Cup of a different kind. And it looks like they might just win it.