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Hispanic Heritage Night a Big Win for Griffins

#AHL | Saturday was Hispanic Heritage Night in Grand Rapids, and for @griffinshockey and their fans the representation goes beyond the game of hockey. @FPHGriffins breaks down a special night for fans, players, and staff

Jared McIsaac celebrates at center ice with the team after Saturday's win. Photo courtesy: Nicolas Carrillo

Hispanic Heritage Night a Big Win for Griffins

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – On Saturday night, the Grand Rapids Griffins played host to the Cleveland Monsters in a pivotal game for both squads looking to climb up their divisional races and back into playoff spots. There was certainly a playoff feel heading into Saturday’s contest, but there was an entirely different vibe both on the ice and in the crowd.

Saturday was Hispanic Heritage Night for the Griffins, a special theme celebrating players and fans of Hispanic backgrounds. Leading into the night, the Griffins revealed a unique jersey that the home team would wear for the evening.

Griffins forward Dominik Shine was excited about the opportunity to wear it.

“I think it’s really cool.” Shine said of the jersey. “Nick, our photographer, designed it and it meant a lot to him. It was really cool to see how excited he was about it and that made me happy and proud to be a part of it.”

The energy in the building on Saturday was something altogether unique in hockey circles. The concourse at Van Andel Arena was adorned in art by Arturo Morales Romero – a local muralist. During intermissions, performances from Ballet Folklorico de GR performed traditional Mexican folk dances for the crowds. Throughout the evening, DJ Money Mike – another local artist – spun the tunes with a Hispanic flair (while mixing in some crowd favorites – “Baby Shark” never leaving the arena playlist).

While the Griffins went on to win 6-2 in the crucial game, the night meant even more for some of the others in the building, including Nicolas Carrillo – the designer of the “Los Griffins” jersey and the digital media manager for the team.

A Piece of Home

Most people working in the sport of hockey come from lands of frozen lakes and have been born, bred, and raised in the sport. It’s a common trope that’s seen from the front office to the box office.

Carrillo has a different story.

“I moved to the United States [from Ecuador] in 2018 and I started working for the Griffins in 2019 as a digital media intern, then when Covid hit all sports events were shut down as we know.” Carrillo explained. “Then when things started to get back to normal, I was offered a full-time position with the Griffins which for me has been a blessing. Hockey in Ecuador is not a very common sport, so in the past years I’ve been exposed to this sport where every game, every season is different from another, which makes hockey such a fast and interesting game to watch.”

Working full-time with the team as their digital media manager now, Carrillo produces the graphics on Griffins game day and creates the media shared out by the team. With his background, Carrillo was asked to design the Griffins’ jerseys for this special event. The task was a daunting one – expressing a variety of cultures altogether on one jersey. It was a task that took Carrillo time to work with.

“It took me a while to think about the best way to approach the task knowing that not only did I want the jersey to be a faithful representation of my own roots as an Ecuadorian but make sure at the same time people from other Latin countries could also relate to it. I did a lot of research around other Latin American countries trying to represent the large population of Latinos in the States.”

When the finished product came out, the buzz was immediate even before the Griffins hit the ice with the design. Carrillo’s careful touches to represent those cultures were felt on the front and backs of the pieces, and each of those unique pieces added more character to the sweater.

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The front-face of Carrillo’s jersey design. Photo courtesy – Nicolas Carrillo

“The first thing I was sure of is that I wanted to put something from my country, Ecuador, on the jersey.” Carrillo explained of the process. “I couldnʼt pass up the chance to immortalize my Ecuadorian roots in a hockey jersey. Because of that, I chose to base the jersey on “la Escuela Quiteña de Arte” that in English would translate to the Quito School of Art (Quito is the capital of Ecuador). What I remember most is that our churches are beautiful. I can clearly remember the churches all covered in gold, otherwise called “pan de oro”, or gold leaf. Because of this I already knew what color the jersey was going to be, gold of course. For the details of the jersey I added local plants on the sleeves and bottom part of the jersey, similar to the baroque art used in facades and retables in Latin America art. The upper part of the jersey close to the shoulder and elbow I added a colorful wrist band to represent the different ethnicities around Latin America. The back of the jersey close to the neck thereʼs a mountain that represents the Andes mountains in South America and the sun god Inti, ancestors of the Incas.”

“For the main Griffins logo I thought that it would be a good idea to use an approach similar to some of the other teams, changing their main logo to a Día de los Muertos skull as a representation of Mexican culture. I know a large majority of people in the US have close ties to Mexican culture, so that’s what you see as the main logo, the Griffins eagle with bones as a skull.”

On a night like this, Carrillo saw himself as part of that effort not just to celebrate his heritage or that of thousands of fans and countless others in the community, but to celebrate even more than that. A community that opened up to him, and one that he wants to give back to through the jersey.

“It means everything to me.” Carrillo said of Saturday night. “It has allowed me to grow professionally, it has given me the freedom to try new ways to do my job. Hockey has welcomed me with open arms no matter where I came from or what language I speak. For me this game is about the fans; giving the fans good quality content and knowing if they are coming to a Griffins game they are going to have a great time and build memories that for them will last forever. For some of our fans it could be their first or last hockey game, and as part of the griffins staff and hockey lover it is my responsibility and duty to make that fan or fans have the best time of their lives.”

Shine on You Crazy Diamond

Saturday night was also a terrific night for the Griffins on the ice. Falling behind 2-1 to the Cleveland Monsters after one period of play, the Griffins rode on the play of their heart-and-soul leader in Shine. Following a great defensive play in the neutral zone, Shine went in all alone and beat Monsters goaltender Pavel Cajan for the tying goal.

Just a few minutes later, he buried another on an odd-man rush to put the Griffins ahead – a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game en route to a big 6-2 win. With three goals in the two games of the weekend, Shine was officially en fuego.

“Our line played really well tonight.” Shine said of his success. “The new guy, [Riley] Sawchuk, he’s got good wheels and obviously [Tyler] Spezia can skate. I think we were just playing fast, they got in late last night so I think they were tired and we just took advantage of it.”

“He wears his heart on his sleeve.” Head Coach Ben Simon said of Shine. “He’ll do anything for this team and this organization. To see him have a good night, all the guys in that room are extremely happy for him.”

It was a big night for the Griffins on and off the ice. The players loved wearing the jerseys, and the fans loved the interactions with a base that doesn’t get a lot of representation in the sport. Carrillo hopes to see that change after a night like this one.

“I really hope that the Hispanic community feels welcomed into the sport.” Carrillo said. “I truly believe that hockey is a sport that welcomes everybody with open arms. I really believe that making a night just to celebrate Hispanic heritage is a big deal, for me it is a way of showing respect for the Latino communities and their growing influence in our community.”


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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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