Good luck, I am not. I picked up tickets for Games 4 and 5 of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ Calder Cup finals series against the Syracuse Crunch, hoping to see my hometown team celebrate a championship.
Unfortunately, the Griffins lost a ref-aided heartbreaker on Friday night, then turned around and took a 5-2 whacking on Saturday to prolong the series. The upside of relatively cheap lower-bowl tickets was getting a first-hand opportunity to see some of the next wave of Detroit Red Wings prospects (including guys who had played important roles in the 2013 NHL season, like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Brian Lashoff and Danny DeKeyser).
Some thoughts on a few of the Griffins from Games 4 and 5:
1. It’s been a disappointing reality that Jan Mursak will leave the Red Wings organization this year, as he’s been squeezed out of a competitive forward depth chart. But it was even more upsetting after seeing Mursak play live a couple more times. He was arguably one of Grand Rapids’ best forwards in the team’s final two home games, using his speed and creativity with the puck to create opportunities wide.
He also scored a goal in Friday night’s Game 4 by crashing the net on a rush and poking home a rebound, just the type of goal the Wings have had trouble coming up with in recent seasons.
2. Danny DeKeyser might be worn down after jumping from Western Michigan to Detroit to Grand Rapids, all over the span of a few months. He also might still be a bit rusty after sitting out several weeks with a hand injury. Whatever the case, he was far from at his best over the weekend, particularly in that critical Game 5. DeKeyser took two early penalties in that one — an interference call after a misplay at the Crunch blue line and a hook deep in Grand Rapids’ zone. Later, he completely missed the net on a wide-open shot attempt from the top of the circle, with the Griffins down two.
3. It’s easy to see why Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is so high on former Michigan (and East Grand Rapids) center Luke Glendening. The 24-year-old Glendening does all the little things that Babcock has come to value in guys like Cory Emmerton, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, including winning draws and playing key minutes on the penalty kill. Glendening actually plays a game similar to Emmerton, though he’s more aggressive in the corners and in front of the net.
4. Goalie Petr Mrazek has a very bright future with the Red Wings, but you don’t have to be an NHL scout to see that he could use more time to hone his game. Mrazek allowed a couple of very important, fairly weak goals in Games 4 and 5 — both of which went on to stand as the game-winners. In Game 4, he was beaten glove side on an unscreened slap shot off a rush; in Game 5, the Crunch took a 3-2 lead, after Grand Rapids had been dominating, when Mrazek allowed a wrister to slide through five-hole on a Syracuse power play.
5. Tomas Tatar is the real deal. Sure, it’s a step down from the NHL playoffs but the Slovakian youngster now has 14 goals during the postseason. He had the game-tying goal in Saturday’s game, flying to the net to tap home a Gustav Nyquist pass on a three-on-three, and he consistently created chances by attacking the defense. There are times when Tatar maybe makes a move too many or tries to go with the flashy play over the safe one. He has the look of a legit NHL scorer, though.
6. Speaking of Gustav Nyquist … he does not appear to have suffered any hangover from playing big minutes in Detroit. There’s little doubt that he is the Griffins’ best all-around forward — which made his ejection from Game 4 on a questionable spearing call hurt all the more. That setup for Tatar was a brilliant backhand pass around a sprawling defender.
7. All systems go on Tomas Jurco, too. Similarly to Tatar, the biggest challenge for Jurco — in addition to playing a little more physical game — is just continuing to progress as a smart hockey player. From a speed and skill perspective, he’s pretty close to being ready for the next level. If he gets better at the little things, Babcock and GM Ken Holland won’t be able to hide him in G.R. for much longer.
8. Two other young centers who could be in the mix for the Wings in 2013-14, Landon Ferraro and Riley Sheahan, made less of an impact over the weekend than I was hoping to see. Ferraro did pick up an assist in Friday’s game and created some opportunities with speed through the neutral zone, but both players were pretty quiet in Games 4 and 5.
Personally, that was more of a letdown in Sheahan’s case. The Wings definitely would like to see him make some major strides in the near future, but he was the Griffins’ fourth-best center all weekend.
9. There might be a future in the organization for former Ferris State standout defenseman Chad Billins. The Griffins had a number of defensive breakdowns in all situations on both Friday and Saturday, but Billins plays a pretty steady game. He’s a little undersized at 5-foot-10 and 175 — sort of against the grain for how the Wings have been trending on the blue line — but he does a nice job moving the puck and playing at home.
10. Joakim Andersson really struggled in the face-off dot, particularly on Friday. I don’t have any numbers, in terms of his success rate there, but Glendening was far and away the Griffins’ best guy in the circle. That Andersson letdown was unexpected, given how well he’d done in that regard for the Wings.