The reigning Calder Champions won their title last season the hard way.
Winning the Midwest Division, the Grand Rapid Griffins were the third seeds in the west and not one of the initially touted teams to win the championship.
They would be taken all the way in the first round by sixth seeds Houston, before finally seeing them off comfortably in game five.
Next up were the Calder Cup finalists from the previous year in the shape of the Toronto Marlies.
A series that started with a dominating victory for the Griffins, ended up being a top turvy encounter.
The pivotal moment coming in game six as the Detroit affiliate staged a stunning third period comeback, scoring three goals in the space of five minutes to win the game and take the series in six games
Oklahoma City Barons would be the opponents in the Conference Finals and another tough encounter would see the Griffins being taken all the way once more. Three of the seven games would be decided by a solitary goal including game seven where another third period comeback saw them prevail.
Full of confidence after coming through a fair bit of adversity in previous rounds, they surged into a three game advantage over the Syracuse Crunch. The New Yorkers would take the next two tilts before Grand Rapids took the Calder Cup in game six.
Roll forward to this season and they are right back into the swing of swing and it’s not just the AHL side that has benefited.
Beginning the season with an 8-1 demolition of Rochester, the Griffins have registered a pair of seven straight wins which has helped propel them to the top of the Western Conference and third overall.
It has been their strength in depth which has been most impressive.
Petr Mrazek had an incredible rookie season in net with a 23-16-2 record and stats of 2.33GAA and 0.916SV%.
This season he’s been even better, going 10-2-1 with 2.09GAA and 0.927SV% statistics.
Currently up with the Detroit it’s been left to his partner Tom McCollum to take the bulk of the work for the Griffins and his numbers (12-6-1, 2.37GAA, 0.919SV%) are almost as impressive as Mrazek’s.
Gustav Nyquist was the leading points scorer with sixty to his name and yet again he’s been a standout with 21pts in 15 games.
He’s another that is with the Red Wings right now and he hasn’t disappointed at the NHL level with nine points in sixteen outings.
Tomas Tatar was the second highest scorer during the regular season and a standout in the Calder Cup run. Not likely to ever see the Van Andel Arena again anytime soon, he’s spent this season with the Red Wings and has 15 points to his name.
Joakim Andersson responded well to being sent to the Griffins in September and was a big contributor before his call-up to Detroit half way through the season.
Just ten starts in the Calder Cup but more stellar contributions during those, has led to him starting every game for the Red Wings this season.
Tomas Jurco managed 28 points in his rookie year. He has the same this year at PPG pace and has dressed for the big club on a half dozen occasions
Adam Almquist played his first full AHL season and was the Griffins leading defensemen in points with 31. No goals for him this season but already has 19 assists to his name.
Teemu Pulkkinen spent the majority of last season with Jokerit before joining the Griffins late to play in two regular season games and then the playoffs. Unsurprisingly he didn’t pull up any trees but the experience has obviously benefited him with twelve goals and twenty-eight points this season.
Riley Sheahan had a decent rookie season, averaging 0.50PPG and putting 16 points on the board during the play-offs. Another who has been called up to Detroit for a handful of games, his play with Grand Rapids has stepped up a notch and is PPG average shows that accordingly.
All nine gentlemen I’ve spoken about are Detroit draft picks and still very much young talent, which is perhaps the most impressive factor.
On it’s own, winning the Calder Cup isn’t important but for what it means to the future of the organisation is and the Detroit Red Wings are certainly doing it right.
Despite the call-ups and losses from last year’s roster the Griffins keeps on improving and blooding new young talent, like Ryan Sproul for example. The rookie defensemen has 21 points in 34 games.
You may not like the Detroit Red Wings but they sure know how to build for the future and it starts with the Grand Rapid Griffins.