GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Wednesday night’s game marked the finale of a five-game homestand for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Despite the raucous crowds of Van Andel Arena, the Griffins lost three straight that saw them falling behind in the Central Division race. Entertaining the Iowa Wild at home and trailing five points behind just a quarter of the way into the season, the Griffins desperately needed a win.
Continuing his conditioning assignment, Magnus Hellberg made his second start of the season for the Griffins made his second start of the season for the Griffins. Across from him would be Iowa’s Zane McIntyre, who had picked up a win in his last four straight starts.
The Griffins also got some badly needed reinforcements up front: veteran forward Alex Chiasson, who signed with the Griffins last week, made his debut in the lineup on Wednesday, bringing 631 games of NHL experience with him.
Facing a must-win scenario, the Griffins’ offense found its rhythm en route to a 6-2 win to wrap up the homestand.
It didn’t take long for the Griffins to get on the board in this one. Just 2:39 into this one it was Albert Johansson making a move at the blue line for a lane to the net and beating McIntyre cleanly for the 1-0 Grand Rapids lead.
Albert Johansson nets his first American Hockey League goal 👏@griffinshockey | #IAvsGR pic.twitter.com/SDkLldHrD9
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) December 8, 2022
It was the first goal of the season for the 2019 2nd round pick out of Sweden, and his first in North American. Naturally, it felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulders.
“It was fun.” Albert emphasized. “I had a couple of chances the games before, but finally I get the puck in the net. It was fun.”
“He’s been a pleasant surprise for us.” Head coach Ben Simon said of the young defender. “You never know with some of these first year pros out of Europe. The thing we like as a staff is his consistent competitive nature. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and plays hard every night. He’s been competitive – that’s his biggest quality.”
The 1-0 score would hold up into the first intermission, but not without a few instances of physical play both in between and after the whistles. A playoff atmosphere was already setting up between two teams jockeying for position.
With former Griffin Joe Hicketts taking a penalty a minute in, the Griffins power play went to work. Chiasson got the puck in front of McIntyre and feathered a no-look pass over to Pontus Andreasson, who had a wide open cage to deposit the puck and extend the Griffins’ lead to 2-0.
With the physicality of Simon Edvinsson picking up, the Wild took a penalty for retaliating against him and the Griffins would make Iowa’s undisciplined response pay. On the power play, McIntyre wasn’t able to control a Taro Hirose shot and Joel L’Esperance picked up the rebound for the three goal lead for the hometown side.
“He’s been pretty consistent all year for us.” Simon said. “Tonight he limited his turnovers and was a little more net focused and as a result tonight he scores a couple goals.”
Again, the Wild led their frustrations get the best of them. With Dakota Mermis sitting in the box, Iowa got their best chance of the game so far on a Steven Fogarty shorthanded breakaway. Hellberg stood tall in his crease, stopping the first chance and the rebound to keep the Wild off the board.
Ohhhh we see you Magnus 😩 pic.twitter.com/mmgCB8nrLE
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) December 8, 2022
“It’s got to be discipline no matter who you’re playing.” Simon said of the chippy play. “Sometimes it’s beneficial to take a punch to the face or a slash behind the play that the refs aren’t always going to see. That comes with experience and making sure that you’re not getting too hot at times and even keeled.”
The Wild finished the period by going after Edvinsson once more – Fogarty with a headlock takedown followed by a shot to the face from Hicketts while Edvinsson was getting to his skates. The 2021 6th overall pick by this point was clearly in the heads of the Wild lineup by this point.
“Tonight [Edvinsson] was way more competitive on a shift to shift basis than he has been all year.” Simon said of Edvinsson. “Making sure that if he plays that way every night and he plays with a burr up his you-know-what, he’s going to have a lot more success. It gets you more engaged and it draws your buddies into the game. Tonight was probably his most competitive game of the year.”
With Iowa on the man advantage, it would be Mermis that would finally get the Wild on the board and bring the score to 3-1. Less than 40 seconds later, however, Steven Kampfer would respond with a point blast to restore the Griffins’ three-goal lead.
Iowa would not go gently into that good night – AHL rookie scoring leader Sammy Walker banged home the rebound of a Simon Johansson shot to bring Iowa within two goals again at 4-2.
It would be too little, too late for the Wild. L’Esperance would add his second of the night just after the ten minute mark and the Griffins would lock it down defensively the rest of the way. Kampfer would also get his second on an empty netter as the Griffins walked this one home by the final of 6-2.
Hellberg made 40 saves for his first win of the season, while McIntyre stopped 31 of 36 in the losing effort.
- Joel L’Esperance – 2 goals
- Taro Hirose – 3 assists
- Alex Chiasson – 2 assist
The Griffins hit the road, heading to the east coast to play the Springfield Thunderbirds on Friday evening and the Hartford Wolfpack on Saturday. For an up and down roller coaster of a season, Coach Simon has the key for consistency:
“Keep grinding. That’s all you can do. I don’t know any other way. The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
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