By now, the confetti has settled and the great halls of the Van Andel Arena have fallen silent; void of the hockey fans that graced them only a few days ago. The echos of the crowd chants and whistles have faded into summer. For now, the famous “Freezer on Fulton” will be transformed night after night for concerts and events, but in the hearts of Grand Rapids’ hockey fans, no amount of pop stars and hair-band legends can compare to what took place Tuesday, June 13, 2017.
The road to the Calder Cup is stained with blood, sweat and even a few tears. For some, it may be the only chance they get in their professional careers to win a national championship and to have such an honor placed upon them. For others, it is only a taste of what is to come as their careers go to new heights and their quests lead them to Lord Stanely’s cup. As the final horn sounded Tuesday night, there was a mixture of exhilaration and sadness within me. As I stood there sharing that special moment in my hometown’s history with 11,000 fellow fans, I realized that this would be the last time I would see some of the boys inside the walls of the Van Andel.
I am filled with immense pride to have watched so many young men grow into outstanding athletes and leaders, but that same pride leaves a bitter after-taste. There may come a day very soon, where the ability to watch the smooth skating of Tomas Nosek or the rough and tumble play of MVP Tyler Bertuzzi will disappear from Grand Rapids. We as fans have had the distinct privileged watching these fine players become who they are suppose to be.
The Griffins, like any team hoping to have their chance to hoist the Calder, surmounted incredible obstacles. Overcoming injuries and call-ups during the regular season, Grand Rapids proved to be a team not solely based on one man’s ability. Throughout the playoffs, with the help of their now legendary coach, Todd Nelson, they learned that sweeping a series doesn’t make you untouchable, that arrogance will be the demise of any man and what it means to truly become a team on and off the ice.
Following Tuesday’s win was Friday’s community celebration. Filling Rosa Parks Circle to capacity with thousands of fans baking in their jerseys in the hot summer sun to show their love and support for their Griffins. It was an emotional gathering as we laughed, cried and relived the glory with our fellow citizens and team. We said “hello” to the Calder and “goodbye” to hockey season in one breath – until October that is.
As I sit, reliving every moment, I am overwhelmed. Only here, is there a day officially dedicated as “Griffins Day” and only here are the radio broadcasters, commentators and mascots just as much of the team as the players themselves. The celebration will continue until the battle begins once again with the start of a new hockey season, and then we will defend our title. The Calder is home at last in Hockeytown West and if next season is anything like this one, it’ll stay here.