GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It’s no secret the Grand Rapids Griffins have a lot of skill this season. Almost everyone is well aware of the five first-round picks who have started with the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL team — seven if you include veterans Dylan McIlrath and Matt Puempel, who were selected in the first round by the New York Rangers in 2010 and Ottawa Senators in 2011, respectively.
The hype only seemed to intensify after an 8-5 win against the Chicago Wolves on Oct. 5 with three of those first-round picks scoring or picking up assists. It appeared this year’s Griffins team might be the Toronto Maple Leafs of the AHL — score in bunches and outlast the opponent.
However, Friday saw a different version, as the Griffins, in their season home debut, mustered just one goal on 39 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals at Van Andel Arena.
Michael Rasmussen picked up the lone point for the “first-round five” (with Evgeny Svechnikov still up with the Red Wings), as he won a faceoff on a power play to Joe Hicketts, who slid the puck over to the right side, where Chris Terry rocketed a shot past Troy Grosenick.
FINAL – Griffins 1, Admirals 4.
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) October 12, 2019
Terry said mistakes are expected with a young group, but it’s part of the learning process.
“There’s going to be mistakes. You gotta roll with the punches,” he told Wings Nation. “You have 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds that are high-skilled players, but at the end of the day, this is a step below the NHL. This isn’t juniors. It’s how they bounce back, how they correct those mistakes and live and learn from that.”
And as a 19-, 20- or 21-year-old, it can be hard to keep emotions in check. The highs will be high, and the lows will be low. Filip Zadina experienced that last season with the Griffins, as he had four two-goal games and a seven-game point streak as part of his highs, but he also had multiple pointless streaks and only scored in one of the Griffins’ five playoff games to end the season.
It’s hard for teenagers to navigate the rigors of professional hockey, but luckily for them, they have quite a few veterans to lean on. Terry said he tries to keep the situation positive as much as he can.
“I think there’s a lot of voices and critics in the organization, and there are high expectations for them,” he said. “Sometimes just telling them, ‘It’s OK, it’s still hockey, have fun.’”
Speaking of Zadina, the kid can’t seem to buy a goal these days. After going goalless in the Prospect Tournament, Zadina continued his drought, despite having numerous opportunities, including a point-blank chance that Grosenick robbed.
Captain Matthew Ford said as long as he and the other prospects continue to generate scoring chances, the goals and assists will come.
“One of the things I’ve always said is it’s about getting opportunities,” he said. “I don’t think you can count the goals and assists always. The problem that you have is when you’re not getting those chances, that’s when you have to work harder to get those chances. (Zadina is) getting those chances right now. It’s going to come.”
Nobody looked particularly great in the first period, as the Admirals scored on back-to-back power plays to take a 2-0 lead about midway through the first frame. Moritz Seider had a bad turnover in his own end early in the period, but he followed up with a nice pass on the power play by springing Zadina on a mini-breakaway that he wasn’t able to convert.
It was a veteran play, something we’ve seen somewhat regularly from the 18-year-old, as Seider casually drifted through the neutral zone and hit a streaking Zadina, who split the defense at the blue line for the scoring chance.
“He’s got a lot to learn,” coach Ben Simon said of Seider. “Again, like some of the other guys, he’s done a lot of good things. A couple of things we’ve gotta continue to teach and hammer home. He’s an 18-year-old kid playing in this league. It’s going to take some time. He’s a competitor.”
Seider said he understands there will be growing pains throughout the season, but he’s happy with the two games to start his professional career.
“We are a pretty young team, so we have to figure out a couple of things, and it’s a learning process,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with the results.”
With that being said, he also knows there always is room for improvement.
“I mean, I’m 18, (I can) improve every single thing,” he said. “That’s what I try every single day in practice.”
Not only do the Griffins have veterans on their roster who can help the young players adapt to life as a professional hockey player, but they have former players in the front office, such as recently retired Niklas Kronwall, who can lend his knowledge and experience in the form of coaching, as he did Thursday.
15 years ago he was a kid in Grand Rapids hoping to make it to Detroit. Today former @griffinshockey and recently retired @DetroitRedWings defenseman Nick Kronwall was back in GR working with the Red Wings blueliners of the future. Hear from Nick tonight at 6 on @WOODTV pic.twitter.com/Km9nHkbVNU
— Larry Figurski (@larryfigurski) October 10, 2019
“Anytime you get a guy of his character and his demeanor, and then you combine that with his playing experience,” Simon said of Kronwall. “He’s played down a little bit. Obviously, the career that he had. To have him around these young defensemen that we have, and even just our young players, is a great, great resource for us.”