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Grand Rapids — Last year, there was speculation Anthony Mantha was going from junior hockey straight to the NHL.

That had Red Wings fans clamoring for his arrival.

Scoring 81 goals in 81 games, and having the size (6-foot-4, 214 pounds) can do that.

But 12 months later, Mantha is with Grand Rapids, reflecting on what has become a difficult transition.

"I expected a lot more from myself," said Mantha, who has 33 points (15 goals) in 62 games in the American Hockey League. "It was a hard season to adapt, coming back from an injury."

He suffered a fractured left tibia during the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City.

Penciled in to start on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm to open camp, Mantha instead didn't play for two months, and spent the entire season in the minors.

"When I came to Traverse City I was 100 percent, and then the injury took two months of training and off the ice, it was real tough," Mantha said. "We can't use that as an excuse. It's late and we're in the playoffs now and I have to focus on what is ahead."

While Red Wings fans were disappointed, some in the organization were, too. Among them was senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, who told Fox Sports Detroit that Mantha's season was, "very, very, very disappointing. And I say that with a lot of sadness. Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him."

Mantha, however, isn't paying attention to the comments. "I just try to focus on my play," Mantha said. "I can be an impact player the rest of the (playoffs). I just have to focus on this and play my hockey."

Mantha's 33 points were ninth among Griffins players, and he enters this weekend with three points (one goal) in 12 playoff games.

"It's been a bit of a roller coaster for him, and especially in terms of emotions," Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. "He had the huge expectations coming in and he had the injury, and then it was a harder transition than he thought.

"It's all part of the process of developing into a player."

But it's an education that'll make Mantha better.

"You don't want to go through these types of experiences in the NHL; you'd rather go through them in the AHL, that's a big thing," Blashill said. "When he does face struggles in the future, he has something to fall back on and how he dug his way out."

Griffins fall to Utica

Sven Baertschi scored three goals, all in the second period, leading Utica to a 4-1 victory Thursday over Grand Rapids.

The Comets took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series which resumes Friday in Grand Rapids.

Marek Tvrdon scored the lone Griffins goal, assisted by Jeff Hoggan and Dylan Larkin (Waterford/Michigan).

Griffins goalie Tom McCollum stopped 21 of 25 shots.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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