Like the snow that has fallen all night in Michigan, the San Diego Gulls received a cold, wet welcome from the Grand Rapids Griffins at Van Andel Arena last night, falling 7 – 4 in regular play. After struggling in the early games of the season, the Griffins looked more like the three-time Calder Cup contender and 2013 Champion than they have so far this year.
With a combined total of 16 penalties during the game, both teams capitalized on the power play advantage, with Grand Rapids notching four of their total goals on the power play and San Diego two. This was an incredible power play conversion by both teams, at 44% by the Griffins and 40% for the Gulls.
Grand Rapids’ Tomas Jurco, down on a conditioning stint from the Detroit Red Wings, undoubtedly earned his place as the first star of the game. With three power play goals, earning him the hat-trick, and an assist, his 4-point game elevated him to an elite group, being only the third Griffin in the 20-year franchise history to accomplish this feat.
Griffins defenseman Ryan Sproul, assisted by Eric Tangradi opened the challenge with the first goal at the 2:14 mark, on the opening faceoff of a holding penalty on Gulls forward Antoine Laganiere. With goals at 7:33 by Tomas Jurco (Assists: Athanasiou, Paetsch) and again at 8:24 by Mitch Callahan (Assists: Mantha, Sproul) the Griffins took the decided lead in the game.
Not wanting to be blanked in the first period by their challenger, the Gulls hammered back on a power play created when Griffins center Andy Miele was sent to the box for hooking. Left wing Max Friberg, assisted by Chris Mueller and Brandon Montour, slipped the puck past Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau, and the Gulls made the board at 13:06 into the game. The Griffins countered at 17:21 with center Andreas Athanasiou (Assist: Mantha) plugging one past Gull goalie John Gibson, the first period ended with the Griffins in a 4-1 lead.
The second period saw the Gulls return to the ice with their shields up. Through two opposing power plays, the Gulls held off Grand Rapids, not allowing a single goal for the Griffins in the period. San Diego, on the other hand, managed to get one on net at 5:52. The goal, from center Joseph Cramarossa (Assists: Bailey, McGrattan), was the first and only of the period, sending the Gulls to the locker room, still down 4-2.
Things started fairly quickly as the teams returned for the third and final period of the contest. Grand Rapids notched one at 1:12, when Eric Tangradi (Assists: Jurco, Russo) scored. San Diego retaliated with a power play goal at 6:18 by defenseman Montour (Assists: Friberg, Mueller). At 8:51 San Diego again lit the lamp on a puck slipped past Coreau by right wing Brian McGrattan (Assists: Bailey, Noesen). Those two goals marked the end-of-the-end for the Gulls, however, and the Griffins Tomas Jurco came back to score two more power play goals, one at 17:03 (Assists: Athanasiou, Paetsch) and almost immediately again at 17:46 (Assists: Callahan, Ouellet) to seal his hat trick, the period, and the game at 7-4.
The game was a big win for the Griffins, who are fighting to recover from a very poor showing early in the season. Currently slotted at #13 in the AHL Western Conference, the win over #7 San Diego, and over #6 Rockford just a few nights before comes as a much needed confidence builder for the struggling Michigan team.
Both teams played excellent hockey. San Diego was hurt by their high percentage of penalties, however, and Grand Rapids took full advantage of those opportunities. Additionally, the four power play goals by Grand Rapids was an incredible feat for a team that had gone scoreless for their 16 previous power plays. Jared Coreau allowed four goals against 35 shots on, and the Gulls Gibson allowed seven against 40.