Could you feel the cool breeze on your face? Could you see the orange, gold, and yellow changes happening in the leaves? Could you smell the anticipation as over 12,000 fans packed into Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the season debut of the Grand Rapids Griffins versus the Chicago Wolves? Hockey season is back and the hometown team gave their sold out house what they came for, a 3 – 1 win over their out-of-town rivals.
After the usual home season opener festivities – the introduction of the entire team, coaches, trainers, and support staff – the game got underway. The Griffins rolled out a starting lineup of Anthony Mantha #8, Nick Jensen #14, Brian Lashoff #18, Eric Tangradi #26, and Matt Lorito #28. Opposing them for the Wolves were Morgan Ellis #4, former Griffin Landon Ferraro #13, Kenny Agostino #18, Chris Butler #25, and Brett Sterling #29. Jared Coreau #31 for the Griffins and Jordan Binnington #35 for Wolves covered the pipes.
Both teams played well and appeared to be very closely matched in style, talent, and game play. The usual early season game jitters were present and appeared for both teams in the form of some poor stick handling at times, and some sloppy skating. Overall, for a first face off of the season however, these teams came prepared and capable of some strong play.
With the first period underway, Landon Ferraro grabbed 2:00 at 9:37 for holding, but the Griffins were unable to capitalize on the power play and the Wolves returned to full strength. Shortly after, it appeared that the Griffins may have made the first mark of the game, but the goal was waved off as the net was dislodged and Head Coach Todd Nelson chose not to challenge the call. Grand Rapids redeemed that loss shortly thereafter when they drew the first blood of the game at 14:55 on a goal by RW Mitch Callahan (Assists: Criscuolo, Bertuzzi).
At 16:40 Griffins LW Anthony Mantha drew a kneeing penalty, but the Wolves, like their opponent before them were able to find the light in the net. The period ended with former Michigan State University standout and Wolves LW Mackenzie MacEachern #15 in the box (at 19:47) for hooking. The teams took to the locker room with the Griffins at 1, the Wolves 0.
With MacEachern still sitting in the box as the 2nd period got underway, the Griffins were able to finally make good on a power play and at 0:35 Anthony Mantha (Assists: Lorito, Paetsch) was able to get the puck past Binnington and the Griffins went up 2 – 0. At 6:12, Bertuzzi got tossed for 2:00 for roughing, but the team held strong in the penalty kill. Three minutes later the Griffins got called again, this time for too many men on the ice. Evgeny Svechnikov #77 served the time but the Griffins continued to dominate the penalty kill and the Wolves came away from the power play empty handed. The Wolves finally got an opportunity to get on the board at 15:17 when Brett Sterling (Assists: Ferraro, Hunt) finally moved the puck around the opposition and past Coreau. It was the first and last goal of the night for the boys from the windy city. As the period closed, the score was Griffins 2, Wolves 1.
The third period opened with both teams playing hard and both on a mission: the Griffins to hold their lead and the Wolves to take it away. The third period action was fast and there were several good plays and takeaways by both teams. Due to the hard action and objectives of both teams to meet their goals this also seemed to be where some of the sloppiest stick handling occurred. Several times, clean passes were made to players on both sides who were in good position to make an attack but either bobbled the puck or missed the pass altogether. Not unusual for a first game of the season as the players get their legs under them for the first time and get used to playing with the new players on their teams.
The Griffins managed to glide through the 3rd period without a single penalty while the Wolves were tagged twice. The first, at 14:20, was on Connor Bleackley #10 for holding. The Wolves were strong on the penalty kill and the clock continued to count down with an unchanged score. At 17:53 Alex Friesen #8 was called for slashing, putting Chicago down a man again. To try and tie the game and force the overtime, Wolves Head Coach Craig Berube pulled Binnington from the goal and placed five on the offensive. The Wolves did an excellent job of applying pressure to the Griffins and Grand Rapids goalie Jared Coreau, while under that strain, remained solid. Then at 19:42, the Griffins were able to wrest the puck away from the Wolves near center ice and Grand Rapids Mitch Callahan #15 (Assists: Aubry, Nastasiuk) hit the empty net for the final goal of the game. The game ended 18 seconds later with the Griffins securing their home opener win 3 – 1.
Overall, both teams looked solid for a season opener. Errors aside, these teams were well matched in this game and goalies Coreau and Binnington performed exceptionally. Coreau made 27 saves on 28 shots on goal, and Binnington
saw 31 saves against 33 shots on. With 13 of their 20 players returning from last year, it will be interesting to watch how the Griffins develop over the course of this season. Likewise, with solid experienced talent like Ferraro, and strong up-and-comers like MacEachern, the Wolves may have a good season ahead. It’s just too early to tell – and that’s why we come back night after night.
The Griffins and Wolves face off again tonight, this time in Chicago.