As the sun came pouring through the Grand Rapids skyline, fans filed into the Van Andel Arena for yet another battle for glory. Riding the coat-tails of Friday’s victory over the Milwaukee Admirals, Grand Rapids fans were thirsty for more. With rally towels in hand (regrettably I must admit that a man in a Pittsburgh jersey gave me mine), the faithful piled into the arena.
As soon as the puck dropped in Sunday afternoon’s game, the momentum could be felt from both sides. With a ferocity that is seldom seen in regulation games, the Admirals and Griffins bashed and smashed their way along the boards, which set the tone for the 60 minutes that would follow. Only 25 seconds after the puck hit the ice, Grand Rapids’ Eric Tangradi rifled a shot pass Admiral’s netminder, Mazanec. While the celebration was still being had, Admirals’ Kamenev answered back with a shot of his own. Recent acquisition Axel Holmstrom (GR) got a piece of the action at 8:37 off a centering feed from Svechnikov.
To say there was tension would be the understatement of the series. Thirteen penalties in the second period alone (including double minors) were assessed. Fists flew, tempers flared and both teams made it glaringly obvious they were not interested in beating around the bush (the face would do just fine). Amidst the fury and dog-piles, Grand Rapids winger, Tyler Bertuzzi, fresh out of the sin bin, took a pass from Matthew Ford and sought the best kind of retribution; a goal.
I will stray from the point for a brief moment here, by saying that one of my favorite things about hockey is the fan reaction. There are few things in the world that can compare to the feeling thousands of people leaping to their feet in celebration. We are comrades and we feel everything. I digress. I will do the Admirals credit here by saying that they fought hard defensively. Though the Griffins did lead the game in shots by 10 for quite some time, they did their part and battled along the boards and neutral zone in championship fashion. Though dirtier than I’d prefer, it is hockey afterall. That’s to be expected.
The third period was a strange compilation of rocket momentum and a 2 minute dead-stop of Grand Rapids offense following Gaudreau’s (MIL) goal at 12:35, to then an explosion of domination and power by the Griffins. Much to the relief of the crowd, holding their breath no doubt, Bertuzzi and Ford capitalized on the empty net and sealed the deal in a decisive 5 goal victory.
I agree with the many writers and critics who believe that this Griffins team is Calder Cup material. The aggressive forechecking, driving defense and pin-point accurate scoring has given this team confidence and their fans, hope.