Loyal Griffins fans will tell you that they knew all along that the Griffs would beat Chicago to advance to round three of the Calder Cup playoffs. What no fan will tell you (or they will at least hesitate to admit) that there were times when they doubted and held their breath.
With a definitive lead in the second series, the Griffs scared their hometown fans half to death with a devastating loss in game three. Like any Detroit affiliated sports fan, we blamed the goaltender, the rigorous post-season travel schedule and Gary Bettman – because somehow the NHL commissioner was rigging AHL games too. Deep down however, we knew that our well-seasoned team wasn’t about to give up just yet. Riding the coat-tails of a game four win and after a jarring reminder from Coach Nelson, that arrogance would be their downfall, the Griffins claimed the series in game five at Chicago, and proved that their tenacity was far superior to momentary disappointment.
With a roster teeming with rookie talent such as Hicketts, Renouf and Criscuolo, the following series will be a testament to the veteran leadership – for better or for worse. Closing out the second series, the Griffins have proven to be a team built on comradery and steely determination. As the playoffs progress, my eyes will be on the young ones; the budding players who are now experiencing playoff hockey at a higher level. The challenge, I’m sure, is readily accepted and anticipated.
As series three draws closer, the Griffins must prepare to embark on the grueling coast-to-coast travel and encounter a familiar foe; the San Jose Barracuda. Meeting a handful of times in the regular season, San Jose has left the Griffins win-less more than once. Beginning the series away will be a detriment to Grand Rapids, but with fresh legs, eager youth and bolstered by the veterans, they will come out of the gate ready to reclaim the Calder.
My expectations are much like many Griffins fans, however, they are seasoned with a little bit of realism. Though I’d love to think that the third series will be a sweep, weathered fans know better. San Jose will not be overlooked and should not be taken lightly. I would venture to say that this series may be the most difficult of them all. If I had to predict, I’d say to expect seven games for a 4-3 victory for the Griffins. Bold? Yes, of course – is there any other way to be in the playoffs?
The loyal fan following will be behind their Griffins every step of the way. Between late night viewing parties at Peppino’s and dusting off that old FM radio to listen to the familiar voice of Bob Kaser, we’ll be pulling for them here in Hockeytown West. The freezer on Fulton will be ready for their return – all of us anxiously awaiting the return of the Calder Cup to Grand Rapids.