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For the Grand Rapids Griffins, Luff is in the Air

#AHL | The long road to recovery for @Matt_Luff25 wasn’t an easy one. After three months, he’s ready to get back to work with @griffinshockey. @FPHGriffins talks with Luff about what it took to get back in the game

Matt Luff prepares for the faceoff against the Gulls. Photo courtesy: Nicolas Carrillo

For the Grand Rapids Griffins, Luff is in the Air

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Every player in the American Hockey League dreams of that call. You know the one – the parent club calls and says “you’re the guy” and soon enough the dream comes true beneath the lights and cameras of the National stage.

Matt Luff is no stranger to the call. With 87 NHL games in his back pocket for two different franchises, the experience he brought made him a primary target for Detroit GM Steve Yzerman to inject a reliable forward at both the NHL and AHL level into his depth chart. After starting the season with seven points in five games for the Grand Rapids Griffins, Luff got the call to Detroit following a slew of injuries to the Red Wings.

“It’s a huge honor anytime you get to play for an NHL team, especially one with so much history like Detroit has.” Luff said of his call up. “Getting that call was huge. Going there, I just wanted to make a good impression. I know I was a under ten [minutes] a night guy, I just wanted to get pucks to the net and be a fourth-line energy buzz saw.”

Unfortunately, Luff’s stint in Detroit would be one of the unluckier ones of the Oakville, Ontario native’s career. In just his second game with the Red Wings, Luff took a puck to the mouth that resulted in sixteen stitches and some missing teeth. A week later, a hit from behind by Juraj Slafkovsky would put Luff on the mend long-term. The hit cost Slafkovsky two games, but Luff would miss nearly 12 weeks of game action to recover.

“It’s tough. I’ve never been out that long. It’s basically an offseason, three months. Physically it sucks – mentally it’s tough. The process was so hard. It was a grind, and then there are highs and lows for the team. You want to be out there helping them out.”

So began the road back. It was an every day battle for Luff to rehab and recover. The process can be not only physically draining but mentally as well. Luff tried to take his recovery in stride, and being around his teammates and the staff in Grand Rapids helped motivate him to get back on the ice.

“Being around the guys is great and the staff in Grand Rapids is awesome. I just try to catch a good vibe from those guys. It’s no fun for them having me in there seven days a week for the last three months. They got no days off and I got the same guy working on the same part of my body. It sucks going through it – overall being around the guys is nice, but it’s also tough. I want to be out there and I want to play.”

Week by week, Luff continued that process of getting back into game shape. Over the course of several months, it was that step-by-step approach to his rehab that would get Luff closer to returning to the lineup. Still, there would be setbacks, and by no means would it be easy on him.

“The process.” Luff would say was the hardest part of his recovery. “I can skate with no stick, no puck. Then I can skate with a stick. Then I can skate with a puck a month and a half later. Knowing you’re going on the ice, basically bag skating yourself so your legs are where they’re at. Each week, there’s a different kind of process. If it wasn’t going well or something hurts, you had to figure out what made it hurt and restart that and delay it another day or week. Near the end, I think it was a little more mentally tougher. Each week, you’re trying to improve and if there was a setback you don’t be pouty about it.”

Luff stuck to the grind, and on January 24th the Griffins officially activated him to the roster after nearly three months of work.

With a couple practices in the books and a full weekend of games on the road, Luff is ready to get back to business with the boys.

“It’s always nice being back out there with those guys and back in the swing of things. Here we go, it’s game time. I’m back to my routine and it’s more exciting. I feel like a young kid again. It will be exciting, I’ll try not to gas myself in my first few shifts.”

Luff brings a huge piece back to the Griffins. For a team dead last in goals for in the Central Division, suddenly they add a forward that’s been nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL over the last five seasons. Starting off the season on a tear, Luff will look to reclaim that scoring touch that has made him a successful player at this level. It all begins with a confidence in himself.

“You got to compete. You’re going to get hit and you can’t really shy away. I got to have full confidence that my injury isn’t going to affect me. I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t have full confidence, but it’s a different mentality getting in the game. Just get back, find my game and once you get going – keep it going. I just got to show up and produce like I do.”

The Griffins are on the road in Milwaukee on Saturday night at 6 PM CST, and quickly turn around to visit the Chicago Wolves on Sunday afternoon at 3 PM CST. They’ll visit Milwaukee again and Texas before heading into the All-Star break.

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    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHWolves.

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