Deep playoff experience will help Griffins, Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ken Holland couldn’t have been more pleased last weekend.

The Red Wings’ general manager was watching the organization’s minor league affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, put the finishing touches on defeating San Jose and advancing to the Calder Cup Finals.

“You look around and there’s 9,000 fans cheering, a tremendous atmosphere, a championship atmosphere,” said Holland of last Saturday’s 4-2 victory at Van Andel Arena. “This is a great experience, a great opportunity, for our young players to go through something like this, a championship series, and go through the moment.”

For the second time in five years the Griffins and Syracuse Crunch will battle for the Calder Cup, with Games 1 and 2 tonight and Saturday (7 p.m.) in Grand Rapids.

The Griffins won the 2013 Calder Cup — the first hockey championship in Grand Rapids — in six games.

“This is my 14th year, I know hard it is,” said defenseman Nathan Paetsch, one of three Griffins (Mitch Callahan, Brian Lashoff) who remain from the 2013 championship team. “It’s my second trip in 14 years. It’s real special. I hope the young guys realize it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“We’re lucky to be in this situation and have the type of team management has built.”

Getting this deep in the playoffs, said Holland, isn’t just a benefit for the Griffins in the lineup — but also the ones who aren’t.

Prospects such as Dennis Cholowski, Giovanni Smith and Filip Hronek, all recent draft picks, are among the Black Aces, players who are practicing daily, working out, and traveling with the Griffins but not in the lineup.

“They get to experience it, see what it takes to be successful at this level, and seeing the excitement in the arena,” Holland said. “This is a positive experience for them, too.

“You have to experience the big moment. If you’re not in the NHL playoffs, you have the American League, the players who participated in the World Championships (last month), you have to experience the big games at this level.”

To reach the finals, Grand Rapids split the first two games at San Jose — then won three consecutive games at Van Andel Arena to win the series, 4-1.

Always considered a fine hockey market, Grand Rapids has been particularly rabid in these playoffs with big crowds and an excited atmosphere.

“We fed off our crowd,” Paetsch said.

The goaltending of Jared Coreau and a balanced lineup, with all four lines contributing at points during the San Jose series, were Griffins’ keys.

Against a similar Syracuse lineup, the Griffins will depend on their balance in this series.

“We got key goals at key times, big saves at the right time, we played four lines and they (San Jose) played mostly three and that had a bearing,” Griffins coach Todd Nelson said. “It’s nice to have that depth. We can roll four lines.”

Syracuse vs. Grand Rapids

All games at 7 p.m.

Friday: at Grand Rapids

Saturday: at Grand Rapids

Wednesday: at Syracuse

June 9: at Syracuse

x-June 10: at Syracuse

x-June 13: at Grand Rapids

x-June 14: at Grand Rapids

x-If necessary