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Griffins Rebound, Split Weekend With Stars

Jonatan Berggren celebrates his first goal of the season with the Griffins bench (Photo Courtesy: Texas Stars)

Griffins Rebound, Split Weekend With Stars

CEDAR PARK, Texas – After suffering a quick defeat on Saturday to the Texas Stars, the Grand Rapids Griffins needed a response as they continued their 8-game road trip with a weekend finale in Cedar Park. In a Central Division that’s had very little separation early on this season, points were going to be key every night for Coach Ben Simon’s club.

The Griffins responded with a stronger 60-minute effort that saw them come out of Sunday with a 4-3 victory, splitting the first weekend series between these two teams.

First Period

The name of the game early on was special teams. Texas again got off to a fast start outshooting the Griffins 5-0 in the first five minutes, and on the power play Curtis McKenzie cleaned up a jam play to put the Stars ahead 1-0 early.

With a chance on their own man advantage, the Griffins cleaned up their own garbage courtesy of spark plug Dominik Shine, finishing the play from Cross Hanas to tie the game halfway through the opening frame.

Grand Rapids’ next power play would also yield results. Unfortunately for the Griffins, it was going the other way. A mishandled puck led to a shorthanded rush finished off by Rhett Gardner past Jussi Olkinuora that would restore Texas’ lead.

As the clock ticked down and with the puck spent heavily in Grand Rapids’ zone, it appeared as though the Stars were going to take the lead into intermission at first. Griffins defender Eemil Viro had other plans; after winning a puck battle along the boards, Viro cut into the middle of the ice and wired a shot past Texas goaltender Anton Khudobin to tie the game at 2-2 with under two minutes to play.

Viro’s goal was his first in North America, and was huge to get the score tied heading into intermission despite being heavily outshot on the Griffins’ side.

Second Period

Whatever adjustments or motivational speeches were given in the visiting locker room in the intermission paid immediate dividends for the Griffins. Just 37 seconds into the period Joel L’Esperance cut in along the wing and fed a backhand pass to a wide open Jonatan Berggren, one timing his chance in past Khudobin for a 3-2 Griffins lead. Berggren’s return this weekend was a huge relief for the Griffins following a four game absence from a blindside hit in their home opener, and his first goal of the season marked all systems go for the second-year forward.

Just a few minutes later, the Griffins returned to the power play. Their puck movement opened up a lane for Austin Czarnik, who beat Khudobin with a shot that the Stars goaltender had a difficult time tracking.

After giving up 4 goals on 11 shots, Khudobin’s night was done – he was replaced in net by Matt Murray of Saturday night’s victory.

Grand Rapids’ effort in the second was much more focused – they attacked loose pucks with intent and pressured the Stars’ defense unlike they’d seen this weekend, outshooting Texas 10-4 in the middle frame. Despite the effort, Texas wasn’t going away. A centered puck from Fredrik Karlstrom took a funny bounce and beat Olkinuora through the five hole to pull the score to 4-3 Grand Rapids.

Third Period

The final frame was dominated by physical play early with both teams trying to gain the edge on the other. Jerad Rosburg scored the first big hit on Hanas in the corner following a chance along the wing. The Griffins didn’t like the hit, and Shine – ever the spark plug of this hockey team – took the matters to exact some justice in his own hands with a huge hit on Rosburg behind the Stars’ net.

As time wound down, the Stars put the pressure on to find the equalizer. Twice they thought the game was tied they were either denied by the clang of the goal post or by the staunch effort of Olkinuora to hold the line amid the chaos.

Eventually, time wound down on the Stars and the Griffins would skate out of Texas with a 4-3 win to close out the weekend.

Three Stars:

  1. Simon Edvinsson – 2 assists
  2. Austin Czarnik – 1 power play goal
  3. Rhett Gardner – 1 shorthanded goal

Takeaways:

  • Berggren’s return is a huge boost to this Griffins club. As their leading scorer last season, his continued development will be a driving force in Grand Rapids’ attack, especially with Matt Luff called up to the Red Wings. His insertion to the lineup adds a dynamic that was sorely missed in his absence, and his presence on the power play is an x-factor for this team.
  • Special teams are a work in progress, but there is visible progress. Three power play goals for the Griffins this weekend without Luff would have been a stretch to call for going into Texas. After McKenzie’s goal early on, the Griffins clamped down on the penalty kill the rest of the game. The misplayed puck on the Gardner shorthanded goal shows there is work to be done, but overall this team already appears much more improved on special teams compared to last year’s squad.
  • Speaking of progress, the youth on the blue line continues to shine for the Griffins. Edvinsson is a point-per-game player from the back end as a teenager. Viro showed off his skill with the puck for his first of the season. Albert Johansson continues to be rock steady in his own end while Jared McIsaac and Donovan Sebrango mature into their games. With so much youth on the back end, there will be lessons learned on the fly. So far, the defensive corps has been spreading their wings with poise and presence.

Looking Ahead:

The Griffins’ road trip continues to Des Moines, where they will play the Iowa Wild for a two-game series on Thursday and Friday, November 3-4.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2022 season!

    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinWolves.

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